A Mixed Message? Or a Muddled One?

10687166_984356634924184_7682380790675437760_nYou tell me.

Seems to me that in this case the confusion’s by design as a way to “spark discussion.” That means people are free to make of it what they will … just as they will make what they will of other displays of the Confederate Battle Flag along highways.

Sometimes if you want to send a message you first have to figure out how to communicate your intent. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if other people can’t figure out what you want to say … or offer different meanings.

Three Years, Three Flags

This past weekend the Virginia Flaggers celebrated their third anniversary of existence. Let’s enumerate the organization’s accomplishments during that time …

Three flags.

That’s right, three flags flying along interstate highways (damn symbols of federal power), with one of them visible to most people (the Burnside flag north of Fredericksburg). The Butler flag (Chester) remains a bit too short and a bit too close to an overpass for easy viewing, and I’ve seen no reports of how visible the Cold Harbor flag (hereafter the Judson Kilpatrick flag, in honor of his 1864 raid on Richmond) is from the road.

Oh, there have been some admirable acts of public service at cemeteries, and some entertainment provided for local and national media (I am not alone in finding the Flaggers to be entertaining). However, the raising of the Butler flag appears to have been the group’s high point (and not a very high one at that, judging from the height of the flag pole), for the erection of two additional flag poles has not drawn a lot of attention, although they are more visible than is Susan Hathaway at the VMFA.

Elsewhere, however, the Flaggers have failed to achieve their goals. No Confederate Battle Flags fly outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, despite three years of protesting. The Museum of the Confederacy does not fly a Confederate Battle Flag at either its Richmond or Appomattox sites. Lexington, Virginia, continues to bar the flying of the Confederate flag on city light poles, and Confederate Battle Flags no longer adorn the Lee Chapel above the Edward Valentine tribute to Robert E. Lee.

Even some of the most visible Flaggers have assumed lower profiles, at least in certain places. Susan Hathaway no longer is a fixture on the sidewalk by the VMFA, while Tripp Lewis has failed to deliver upon his promise to sue various folks. At many Flagger functions the artful photography of Judy Smith fails to conceal the fact that there are more flags than Flaggers.

The Flaggers often ask whether people are angry enough yet. Perhaps it’s time to ask whether they are still awake. Still, happy anniversary, Virginia Flaggers. You’ve brought a lot of laughter into our lives. May this coming year be no different.

Quote of the Week: September 21-27, 2014

And now, in the category of who gets the last laugh:

Broadcasters like Olbermann can’t rain on Jeter’s farewell; God already did

Surprisingly, Olbermann did not play “God agrees with me” card, but he almost did. Jeter’s defenders have accused the broadcaster of raining on the parade that is the #Season2Remember farewell tour, especially its final ceremony planned for September 25 (ironically, the day after the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention).

New York was very much engulfed in rainstorms the day of September 25, with forecasts calling for more of the same through the final Jeter farewell game at Yankee Stadium. On this point, Olbermann couldn’t resist.

“Derek Jeter is not going to be able to make that stop,” he said by way of closing the segment.


About Last Night

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI agree that Derek Jeter’s “farewell tour” has been overhyped (although I enjoyed seeing it in Texas, just like I enjoyed Mariano Rivera’s “farewell tour” last year). This was largely due to the overcommercialization of it (last night they were already collecting dirt from the Yankee Stadium infield at short … remember the shift, guys … get that dirt, too) and the excessive analysis, some of which explains the unwarranted extreme backlash comments of Keith Olbermann and others (of course, Olbermann was getting over his Goodell rants, so maybe he forgot to change gears). Moreover, one would be clueless to think that Jeter himself was not aware of this and even contributed to it (exhibit A: the ads). And yes, other guys are departing the game with less fanfare, although they were classy and memorable in their own way.

All of this is true.

And yet you can’t take away last night. Indeed, last night, complete with the crowd chants, Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s decision to pitch to Jeter, and Jeter’s own memorable (if, indeed, flawed) game performance suggests that had people just let things play out, we’d still be left with a moment many of us will recall fondly, with a smile and a tear. Certainly Jeter was moved, and it was good to see that. He had also delivered in the moment, and it was good to see that.

For me … the last time I remember a walkoff hit like that in a meaningless regular season game made memorable by circumstances?  August 6, 1979. That was another game against an Orioles team headed for the postseason, where an Orioles pitcher decided to pitch to a Yankees hitter wearing #2, with a result that brought a similar explosion of cheers, tears and yells. Jeter himself said last night that this year has been like a funeral. Back in 1979 the team had just attended one for another captain whose number is now to be found at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

Some things are intangible. This is especially the case with Mr. Intangibles. No, he’s not one of the top five Yankees, although I think he’s easily in the top ten (the top five are 3, 4, 7, 5, and 8 from St. Louis). So, for that matter, is Rivera. And one can cite all sorts of numbers pro and con. But something about Derek Jeter transcended all that, much like something about Joe DiMaggio made him so much more than the sum of his parts. In Jeter’s case I’ve always thought it was a combination of his effort, his intelligence, his style, and his humanity (I’d argue that Jeter’s greatest skill was his ability to be calm in clutch situations, and last night he admitted that didn’t come easily). His postseason body of work is what counts for most of us, and five rings ain’t bad in today’s game. He always worked hard and tried to do his best. Who can ask for more?

We don’t need the hype. The reality last night was amazing enough. To borrow from someone else, I could not believe what I just saw … and yet, as Yankees announcer Michael Kay put it, fantasy became reality. What we could not have anticipated we nevertheless expected. It is at the heart of our joy of sports, and it will last as long as memory endures. Enjoy.

One Pitcher, Two Home Runs

Murcer HRDennis Martinez had a remarkable major league career. Making his first appearance as a Baltimore Oriole in 1976, he also pitched for the Montreal Expos, the Cleveland Indians, the Seattle Mariners, and the Atlanta Braves, where he ended his career in 1998. But it was not until recently that I put 2 and 2 together, because Martinez served up two rather big home run pitches to two Yankees who both wore #2.

On August 6, 1979, Martinez started against the defending World Champion New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. It was clear that 1979 would be the Orioles’ year, and they had won the first three games of the series against the Yankees. That may be in part because the minds of the Yankees, and certainly their hearts and souls, were elsewhere. For it was on August 2 that Thurman Munson died in a plane crash at Canton, Ohio. Four days later the Yankees returned from Munson’s funeral to confront Martinez and the O’s.

The Orioles took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh, when both Bucky Dent and Willie Randolph reached base with two out. Martinez then faced #2, Bobby Murcer, who was commencing his second stint with the Yankees. having returned to the team as the result of a trade with the Chicago Cubs that June. Murcer had struggled in his return in pinstripes: earlier that day he had delivered one of the eulogies at Munson’s funeral. That evening he was hitless in three at bats. To see what happened next, go to the 1:50 mark of the video below for the entire at bat, or 1:51 for the pitch and swing in question:

Murcer would cap the comeback performance by driving in Dent and Randolph in the ninth inning with an opposite-field single against Tippy Martinez.

Fast forward to Opening Day, 1996. With the Indians as defending American League champs, Martinez took the mound to face the Yankees. At shortstop for the Yankees (Murcer’s original position, by the way) was a young man named Derek Jeter, wearing #2. Here’s what happened when Martinez faced Jeter that afternoon.

Jeter 1 HR

That was the rookie’s first major league home run. Holy Cow indeed. I miss Phil Rizzuto.

Two home runs, each by #2, their first home run for the Yankees that season … all courtesy of El Presidente. Not that Martinez had a bad career. Nicaragua’s first major leaguer, he won 100 games in each league and pitched a perfect game while with Montreal in 1991. But for Yankee fans, these are his most memorable moments.


The End Is Near

If you don’t know that this is Derek Jeter’s last season of playing major league baseball for the New York Yankees, you live a very sheltered life. For many of us, 2014 has been one long farewell tour, with every moment informed by the fact that this could be the last time that Jeter does this or does that (I predict we’ve already seen the last time Derek Jeter saw postseason play, and that’s when he went down with an ankle injury that marked the beginning of the end to his playing career–the 2012 playoffs).

Moreover, for Yankee fans this isn’t the first farewell tour we’ve experienced. Just last year Mariano Rivera, also returning from a season-ending injury, announced that 2013 would be his last season. That announcement also sparked a farewell tour, with teams giving him gifts, an emotional All Star Game appearance, and ample press coverage capped by this event:

With Jeter, we’ve seen even more fuss, with commercials, various hashtags, and even more souvenirs than marked Rivera’s retirement.

It was not always this way.

Mickey Mantle’s last great hurrah in pinstripes came in the 1964 World Series, where he hit three home runs, marked by a walkoff blast at Yankee Stadium in Game 3.

(Mantle recalls that home run here. More details are here.)

That said, Mantle was already falling apart. By 1967 he had moved to first base, his batting average sagged (eventually bringing his lifetime average under .300), and his bat, while still potent, connected for far fewer home runs (82 over those last four years).

Two of them were particularly memorable, however. First came home run number 500, at a time when very few people had reached that mark:

The Mick beat the shift …you can’t position a fielder in the stands (unless, of course, you’r Derek Jeter). Number 2, by the way, was third base coach Frank Crosetti.

If you watch the entire clip. you can see that Mantle was a shadow of what he had been.

The second memorable Mantle homer cam near the end of the 1968, when Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers, on his way to a 31-win season (they last time that’s been done), decided to give Mantle a sendoff gift of his own, one that enabled Mantle to pass Jimmy Foxx for third (at the time) on the all-time home run list.

Mickey Mantle rounds third after homering off Denny McLain, September 19, 1968. [New York Times]
(Mantle recalls that moment here. So does the Detroit catcher, who was not Bill Freehan. McLain recalls it here [go to the 6:10 mark]. Note the differences in recollections, including McLain’s change of heart about who was catching. So much for the “they were there, so they should know” school of historical evaluation. The box score proves helpful).

Mantle struggled through the remainder of that season, but it was not until the Yankees went to spring training in 1969 that he announced his retirement. It would be left to a young Bobby Murcer to attempt to fill his cleats (Murcer would start the season at third, endangering the lives of fans who sat behind first, and was shifted to the outfield, eventually inheriting Mantle’s center field position).

Mantle murcer 1969

That June, the Yankees held a day for Mantle to mark the retirement of his number and the placement of a plaque to him in center field (this was in the days before Monument Park at either the renovated stadium or the new ballpark).

(If you want the full ceremony, go here. Even in 1969 some Yankee fans booed Roger Maris. You’ll also see the last player prior to Thurman Munson to wear #15, Tom Tresh.)

And here, at last, is Mantle’s last home run at Yankee Stadium …

I guess Ford took lessons on grooving a pitch from McLain.

I suspect we may never see Jeter play in an Old Timers Game at Yankee Stadium. Even Joe DiMaggio came to understand that playing in such games, while fun, diminished the brand, especially when fans in attendance had never seen him play for real.

So savor the moments that remain, now that you know what’s ahead … and how it used to be.


Secession in the News

By now we all know that Great Britain has remained Great Britain and the United Kingdom has remained the United Kingdom, instead of becoming somewhat not-so-Great Britain and less-than-United Kingdom. But what about the United States? Well, look here.

Coming to you from the hotbed of secessionist sentiment … those southeasterners can’t even match Idaho unless they embrace the margin of error. 🙂

Another Defense of George McClellan

This defense of George B. McClellan (which consists  of many links and a little commentary) is offered in typical style by its author, who should be familiar to some readers of this blog.

I found most amusing the following claim:

McClellan was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in the 1864 election. Incredibly, despite all the advantages that Lincoln enjoyed, McClellan received 45 percent of the vote. If Southern citizens had participated in the election, McClellan almost certainly would have won the popular vote.

If southern civilians had voted in 1864, then there would have been no war going on … and McClellan would not have secured the nomination. Indeed, although McClellan was not in favor of the Lincoln administration’s policy on slavery and emancipation, he wanted slavery to end (saying that McClellan was proslavery would indeed be a smear). The chances of a majority of southern voters supporting a candidate in the middle of the nineteenth century who opposed slavery in the slightest? Zero.

Note, however, the careful use of the word “citizens.” The writer clearly wants to keep black people away from the ballot box in his counterfactual fantasy.

Rarely have I seen such a bizarre leap in logic, but there you are. McClellan deserves far better than this.