Well, of All the Cheap Lousy Ways to Save a Buck

A few days ago the Houston Astros continued their fire sale and traded last year’s starting short stop for five minor leaguers, or “prospects.” This is far from the first time that this has occurred but they are definitely into the marrow at this point since they stopped having meat on the bone a long time ago.

Of course, as with the previous salary dumping trades the team tried to spin it as part of their multi-year rebuilding program. As part of the process the Astros are on pace to have the worst record in baseball for the third year in a row. The team is trying to say all the right things about how the trades make them more competitive in a few years while allowing them to keep salaries in check as they try to build a competitive product. Time will tell if their efforts are shown to be worth the sacrifice though.

The team’s activities of shedding more payroll then they are turning around and spending reminds me of a scene from the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In the movie Clark W. Griswald is upset to learn that his boss, in an effort to save money, has eliminated the long standing Christmas bonus program and replaced it with a Jelly of the Month Club. And while, in Cousin Eddie’s words, the Jelly of the Month Club is the gift that keeps giving the whole year long it is not what Clark was expecting. To make a long story short, Clark blows his top, Cousin Eddie kidnaps the penny pinching boss and the police bust the doors and windows down to try and recuse him. Of course, in true movie fashion the boss learns the folly of his ways and reinstates the bonus program since sometimes things look better on paper than they do in the real world.

So, on paper the Astros have this grand plan to build cheap and trade players that make too much money and lather, rinse, repeat, turn around and get more cheap players that can be traded for more prospects. Now, on paper it seems like a winning formula but the reality is very few prospects will ever make it to the majors and there is something to be said for not turning over the full roster every year. Further trades are bound to happen in the next few weeks and months as the Astros seem determined to field the best Minor League team that plays against Major League opponents.

The Astros will have a new league, new uniforms and the same committment to fielding the cheapest team they can when the 2013 season starts.  Photo R. Anderson
The Astros will have a new league, new uniforms and the same commitment to fielding the cheapest team they can when the 2013 season starts.
Photo R. Anderson

I have followed the Astros for around 10 years and have to admit that all of the roster moves have left me scratching my head trying to figure out who is and who is not on the team any more. It has turned into some sort of comedy routine like the famous, “Who’s on First” Laurel and Hardy skit. But unlike the skit this is as real as it gets. I am not a fair weather fan by any means and I still support the team but even my loyalty is being tested by the management’s cavalier approach to sacrificing the present completely in the name of team building. I am sure it is difficult for the players as well to not know when they will be traded or when their next victory will occur. There really seem to be more losers than winners in the short term of this plan to go young and cheap.

This season will mark the first season in the American League for the Astros and instead of fielding a team of stars they are fielding a team of could be stars and may never will be stars. Major League Baseball seems perfectly fine with the salary saving measures. Contrast MLB’s lack of response to the Astros fielding what could be called a non competitive team for the third straight season with how things are handled in the NBA.

A few months back the coach of the San Antonio Spurs decided that most of his star players could use a night off. Unfortunately the team had a game scheduled with the Miami Heat instead of an off day. Still, the coach stuck to his guns and sent the star players home early and played against the Heat with a roster of bench players. Fans who had payed to see the superstars of the Spurs were livid. Some even sued for damages because they didn’t see the people that they paid to see. The bench warmers actually played a competitive game but in the end the Heat won and the coach of the Spurs was fined by the league and reprimanded for not putting his best team on the court.

The Miami Marlins recently traded most of their stars away in a similar salary dump and were put on notice by the league as well. Yet, the Astros who are moving into one of the more competitive divisions in baseball are not receiving any warnings from the league for the quality product they are putting on the field. Granted the Marlins are repeat offenders at dumping salaries at the end of each season but still they seem to field a way more competitive product than the Astros.

Another example of lousy ways to save a buck comes to us from the federal government and in particular a certain division of the government that shall not be named. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that the government would try to save money since most of the news always covers the spending overages but there are always exceptions to every rule.

The failed centralized trash idea.  Some times an idea can stink in more ways than one. Photo R. Anderson
The failed centralized trash idea. Some times an idea can stink in more ways than one.
Photo R. Anderson

Around the first of the year it was decided by this particular government agency that in an effort to save money from purchasing individual trash can liners the custodial engineers would no longer pick up trash at individual desks. Instead, several large trash cans were placed strategically around the building and people were responsible for taking their own trash to these collection points. It was believed that this process could be done with fewer people as well which would lead to additional cost savings. On paper it seemed like a sound idea. In reality it was one very smelly issue. The cans were only emptied twice a week so the halls became littered with overflowing trash and a stench that one should really not encounter in an office building.

After a month of centralized trash, logic prevailed and the desk side trash pick up was resumed. It seemed that the powers that be decided that saving a buck that way was not worth the stench that it caused. Here’s to hoping that the Astros realize the same thing and do not put a stinker of a team on the field. Although, the past two seasons do not leave a warm and fuzzy feeling that it will happen. Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about trash has reminded me that it is time to take out the garbage.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

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With Great Fame Comes Great Responsibility; or Does It?

We are a society that enjoys placing people on pedestals. Whether it is actors, athletes, or any number of other categories, people who possess certain skills are often elevated above the rest. As long as the elevated people behave in the manner that the masses below expect there are no issues. But, once they start to slip, the lofty spot gets a little wobbly ahead of the inevitable crash back down to earth.

As a youngster I had a few role models/heroes from the Baltimore Orioles. I would watch these players and coaches on the television each night and all I knew of them was the persona that was projected through the broadcast. These were the pre internet years and still part of the time when the media didn’t feel the need to report every aspect of a person’s private life. So the elements that were broadcast were largely related to actual performance on the field. If a player happened to go home with someone other than his wife after a game, or went to a bar until it closed, it was not blasted across the sports section the next day.

The media considered it their job to cover the game between the lines and anything else was considered a personal matter between the player and his family and not something to be broadcast across the wire for the world to see. This relationship tended to bond the players and the media together as did the countless hours that the media spent traveling with the players. It was not that the reporters were withholding information from the public, it was that they respected that the athletes were flawed people like the rest of us and there was no need to air dirty laundry that was not related to their jobs.

Sadly by the time I entered the profession the 24-hour news cycle was already in place and the players lost some of their privacy forcing reporters to dig deeper into stories that were not really stories leading to a tabloidization of the sports section. I would love to think that we would grow tired of trash journalism and return to a more noble way to handle things. Sadly, that genie has been out of the bottle for far too long to go back now. Adding to the difficulty of returning to simpler times is the fact that we have generations of people who don’t know any other way to do things.

Frank Robinson at Tinker Field 1986
Frank Robinson at Tinker Field in Orlando, Fl. in 1986
Photo S. Quandt

A few years back, okay a decade or two back, my mother picked me up from school to go see a Spring Training game for my birthday. This particular game featured the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins. We arrived early at the ballpark and as we were reaching our seats Hall of Famer Frank Robinson came out to the wall where people were signing autographs. I took my game program over and waited to get his signature. Instead of moving through the line of children that were waiting Mr. Robinson proceeded to flirt with a pair of women and totally ignored the waiting children. And while this event happened over 25 years ago the memory is still as fresh today as it was then. While Frank Robinson had every right to not sign the autographs, the manner in which he left me and the other kids waiting left a lot to be desired. He could have just said, “sorry kids, I don’t sign autographs” and we would have gone back to our seats but for this “role model” to totally ignore his fans was not the best way to handle things.

Actress Natalie Portman has famously said on numerous occasions that she is not a role model and that her celebrity alone for doing her job does not make her feel any additional pressure or responsibility to all of the people who look up to her. While Natalie is right, what is it that makes people look up to celebrities and athletes and consider them role models? For me, I consider a ball player who plays the game the right way and doesn’t get caught up in scandal a person I can respect. Of course it is getting harder and harder to know who to respect as there are almost daily reports of players who were caught or suspected of using steroids and other banned substances to get an advantage over the competition.

Often times it is a no brainer to catch the cheaters. There was never any doubt in my mind that Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez had a slight advantage that perhaps was pharmaceutical based when they were posting their monster numbers and crashing through the record books like a runaway train. While certain players make it easy to determine guilt or innocence through failed drug tests and other means the line between guilty or not guilty of Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PED use is a little murkier for some.

Another player caught up in the web of suspicion of using PED’s was Roger Clemens. While only “The Rocket” knows for sure what he did and didn’t take, I, and a federal jury, do not believe that he took anything that was illegal to gain an advantage. Do I think that he is a good role model? Not really based on some of his off field activities. Despite not considering Roger Clemens a role model, I do respect the way he played the game and the dominance that he showed for decades. Despite being cleared by a jury in a perjury trial Roger Clemens will face an uphill climb in his bid to gain entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Logic says that based on his career numbers and the legal victory he should be a lock for Cooperstown. But after failing to gain entry on the first ballot it appears the voters have a different take on the matter and the guilty by association tag will follow him for years to come.

Photo R. Anderson
Cal Ripken, Jr. at Baseball City Stadium in 1991.
Photo R. Anderson

One player that I followed that always seemed to play the game the right way, and never got into any controversy was Cal Ripken, Jr. Cal was the longtime shortstop and third baseman for the Orioles. Cal played all of his 21 seasons with the Orioles and became known as “The Iron Man” for breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of 2,130 consecutive games in 1995 and playing in 2,632 consecutive games overall before missing a game for the first time in 1998.

To put things in proper perspective from 1981 to 1998 Cal Ripken, Jr. did not miss a single day of work. Granted, work consisted of playing baseball from April to September so one could argue he had around half of the year off. Still, I am not sure there are many people in any profession that can say that they have gone that long without missing work for vacation or sick days, etc. So I looked up to him for the way he played the game and the quiet manner in which he approached things while amassing some huge numbers for his position. Cal Ripken, Jr. has also written several books on how to play the game and in his retirement is active in placing ballparks in underprivileged areas to ensure that everyone has access to quality baseball fields.

So do players and other celebrities bare a responsibility to be role models? It is hard to say. Is Natalie Portman correct in her assessment that she just does a job and people need to leave her alone or should ballplayers and other celebrities be expected to be more like Cal Ripken, Jr. and continue to give back after their playing days are done? I like to think that players would want to be someone that is worth looking up to but I also know it is the media and the public’s responsibility to identify people who are worth emulating, and those who have behavior traits that should be ignored.

Do I realistically think that this approach will ever come to pass? I like to think that I am optimistic about most things but must admit a large dose of pessimism on that regard. It seems we have now entered a phase where pedestals are built to be broken and while we tend to honor people who build themselves back up after the fall it also seems like many people are knocked down just for sport and the people who just go about their business without drawing excessive attention to themselves are ignored. Now if you’ll excuse me I think younger me needs to come to terms with Frank Robinson giving him the brush off.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

The Family Ties

If we all stop to think about it, chances are many of our interests in life, both good and bad, are influenced by our family members. Sometimes we have interests that run counter to the rest of our family although many other times the family ties that bind us include similar interests running throughout the generations. From a favorite soda, favorite sports teams and everything in between odds are in some way the choices we make are in some small way influenced by our exposure growing up. I have already mentioned the influence that my mother had on my love of baseball but she was far from the only generation in my family to follow the game and in turn share their love for it with me. Now up to bat, my two grandmothers, Granny and Mom Mom who each in their own way shaped how I picture the game and have their own place in my Hall of Fame.

Let us begin with my grandmother on my mother’s side; Edna Kirby, or Granny as she is known to me. Granny lives in Georgia which as many of you know is home to the Atlanta Braves. Despite living about four hours away from Atlanta, Granny always made it a point to watch her beloved Braves whenever they would come on. There were definitely some lean years to be a Braves fan but still she would soldier on with her devotion to her boys and most of all Chipper Jones. Whenever Chipper Jones would make a great play shouts of “attaboy Chipper” would resonate from my grandmother’s recliner. And, whenever Chipper would strike out or make a bad fielding play the battle cry turned to “oh Chipper.”

Checking up on Chipper
Checking up on Chipper at Astros Spring Training in Kissimmee, FL.
Photo by R. Anderson

A few years back my mother and I traveled from Texas to Georgia to visit my grandmother in the hospital. While it was never spoken out loud in the car we both feared that maybe we were driving to say good bye to her based on the severity of why we thought she had been admitted to the hospital. After driving for 16 hours straight we arrived at the hospital and prepared for the worst as we approached the small rural hospital. Nothing really could have prepared us for what we saw though once we got inside though. Instead of a woman near death we found my grandmother standing in the hall in her hospital gown shouting to us to hurry up since the Braves game was on. She did not wait for us to get down the hall. Instead, she turned and went back in her room. By the time we got to her room she was already back in bed and giving us a recap of the game and asking what took us so long to get there. Near death indeed, she was as full of life as ever and it was yet another time to talk about the Braves. To this day whenever we talk to each other the conversation inevitably turns to the subject of how the Braves are doing.

Granny now lives in a nursing home and as often happens when a loved one makes the move to that stage in their live the larger furnishings and other accumulated belongings are divided up amongst the family since there is no room for them in the nursing home. There were not too many items of my grandmother’s that I wanted but I made sure I got her television. It is far from a new television, in fact it is down right old and heavy by today’s standards. There are no HD channels or flat screen components yet to me it is the most valuable TV in the world. For you see, this television that now sits on a dresser in my bedroom is the very same television that showed all of those Braves games that she and I shared together. Sure there are other channels that the TV gets but for me it is the Braves TV and everytime I see it or power it on I think of her and our shared bond over the game of baseball. And on those rare occasions when a Braves game is being shown in Houston I smile a little wider because I know we are both watching the same game.

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My other Grandmother, Pat Hall, or Mom Mom as I call her, also shares a deep love for baseball and for years she lived in the perfect area to take advantage of that. After retiring Mom Mom and my grandfather moved from Maryland to the west coast of Florida near Bradenton. In addition to being located near some really nice beaches which made for great summer days in the surf as well as year round fishing, there was proximity to baseball; lots and lots of baseball.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the layout of baseball in Florida there are several teams that hold their Spring Training games in and around the west coast of the Sunshine State as noted in the photo I took in Sarasota at the Orioles Spring Training facility. Each year when Spring Training rolled around Mom Mom and I would try to plan when I could come down and catch a game with her. Sadly it never worked out that we could see a game in Bradenton but we were able to see several games in Orlando.

A map of the teams that call the Grapefruit League in Florida their Spring Training home.Photo by R. Anderson
A map of the teams that call the Grapefruit League in Florida their Spring Training home.
Photo by R. Anderson

Mom Mom also helped add to my autograph collection as she interacted with many ball players through a part time job that she had at a restaurant that was owned by a former player in the Pirates organization. Every so often a new package filled with autographs of people that she had met would arrive in the mail. Many of those autographs are still displayed in my office. One particularly cool item from those years is an autographed team ball for the Bradenton Explorers of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. The league disbanded after a single season so I consider that extra cool to have that memento of a forgotten era. During one visit to her restaurant I was also introduced to college basketball announcer Dick Vitale. I met him before I really knew who he was so there was not a huge wow factor aside from the normal pleasantries of being introduced to someone and being told that they were famous. Once I did learn who he was I must say as he would surely say, “it was awesome baby.”

Like Granny, Mom Mom also has now moved from the home that she knew to enter that next phase of her life which includes assisted living facilities and the knowledge that the years ahead are fewer than the years behind them. Still, both women remain strong influences on me as a person in all aspects of my life but the influence on the aspects that involve baseball are surely hard to miss. Some day I am sure that I will join the line of people to influence the next generation and in turn they will go on to spread the knowledge and love as well. That is part of the great experience of life. Each generation shares what they know to the next and it builds from there. It also shows the generation to generation appeal of the National Pastime. Like us, the game gets bruised and tattered now and then but it gets up, wipes the orange clay and grass off and moves ahead. We should all strive to be as resilient. Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to see how the Braves are doing.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

In The Beginning

It has been said, rightly so, that every story has a beginning. One need only look at literature to see some opening lines that have definitely stood the test of time. From Charles Dickens declaring in A Tale of Two Cities that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to Herman Melville inviting the readers of Moby Dick to “Call me Ishmael,” history is full of great opening lines and beginnings of stories. These classic openers have grabbed the reader’s attention hook line, and in Moby Dick‘s case very large sinker for generations.

While beginnings are important one cannot and should not stop there. By stopping at the beginning line of A Tale of Two Cities one would know nothing more than that times were both good and bad. The same can be true of Moby Dick where the hunt for the white whale consumes Captain Ahab and his crew and becomes far more than just knowing to call a guy Ishmael. So it is with all of us, while we are not classic literature we also have our origin stories and events that shape who we are and what pursuits we follow. Don’t worry, this is not a back in the day when little Ryan was born kind of story. Although, it is safe to say if we weren’t all born, none of us would be here. No, this is a tale of when my love of baseball took root. and much like Dickens the tale of my first baseball game experience was the both the best of times and the worst of times.

Memorial Stadium 2
Memorial Stadium in Baltimore circa 1983.
Photo by R. Anderson

As I have mentioned previously, I grew up as a Baltimore Orioles fan who bled Orange and Black pretty much from the time I can remember. I followed football as well but baseball was also the sport that drew me in just a little bit more. As such, I tried to catch all the games that I could on the radio and television. I could recite lineups and stats that would make even the most avid statistician take notice. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that I was going to get to go to Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles play in person in September of 1983. Aside from the thrill of going to the game for me, 1983 was a very pivotal year for the Orioles as they were in the first year under new manager Joe Altobelli following retirement number one of Earl Weaver and spoiler alert they went on to win the World Series that year over the Philadelphia Phillies. Of course I am getting ahead of myself since no one new for sure in September what October would hold but needless to say there was a buzz throughout Birdland on the anticipation of what could be.

Speaking of anticipation, like most young boys gong to their first baseball game I had high hopes and higher expectations that I was going to catch a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken, Jr. and get all kinds of player autographs before the game. I was joined in my traveling party by my mom, a family friend and his nephew. The sky was the limit and I was ready to make the most of the ballpark experience. We all loaded into the car and headed up to Baltimore (or Balmer if you are from there) which was about a 30 minute drive from where we lived. Throughout the drive we excitedly talked about who we would see first and which inning we wanted to catch the home run ball in since it would be greedy to want to catch all of the home run balls that were hit our way.

Orioles Program
The 1983 Baltimore Orioles game program.

We arrived in plenty of time having pledged to arrive early and see the sights to avoid the traffic. After walking around the Inner Harbor area it was time to head to the stadium. It was at this moment that the realization occurred that the tickets that would gain us entrance into the hallowed walls of Memorial Stadium were not with us in Baltimore but were in fact back in Gaithersburg which was 30 minutes away and at this time even further away in traffic. Looking back now with 29 years or so of hindsight I want to say that I handled the news of the ticket situation with dignity and grace and the cool assurance that comes from knowing that things like this happen and that the world goes on but the key is to keep calm. The reality of course is that 8-year-old me did not take the news well at all. And who can blame young me? I was at the cusp of seeing my heroes, of eating hot dogs until I was blue in the face and of course catching that pivotal home run and getting all of those autographs. Now, all of that was in jeopardy and I was not pleased and was far from calm.

In the end, we made it to the game around the fifth inning, found our seats and watched the Orioles play the Milwaukee Brewers who had not yet moved to the National League at this time. (Why the Brewers did not move back to the American League instead of the Astros for 2013 is another story for another day, but is no less puzzling). I did not catch that home run ball. I did not get any autographs. I did eat a hot dog and I most definitely discovered that baseball is so much better in person. There is a buzz around ballparks that really can’t be duplicated even with the most high definition of televisions with Dolby surround sound and the freshest of popcorn smells being pumped into the media room. To truly experience baseball is to experience it in person.

Since moving to Texas I have adopted the Astros into my stable of teams that I follow and try to attend as many games as I can each year in Minute Maid Park in addition to traveling the country and going to ballparks both small and large. I have also since caught my share of balls despite striking out in my first attempt in 1983. No matter the ballpark size I still get the same feeling walking in as I did as that 8-year-old boy experiencing it for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a huge fan of crowds so the push and shove on the escalators and concourses can get tiring but once I am in my seat the magic begins all over again and it is like I am seeing it all for the first time through the eyes of younger me. For those few hours in the stadium, I don’t worry about the stress of life or any of the outside world it is just the game and me; well and thousands of my closest friends.

So while that September night in 1983 did not go completely to plan it was indeed the best of times and the worst of times and introduced me to the white whale that I have chased across state lines ever since. It also taught me to always check and double check that I have the tickets before leaving for the ballpark. Now if you will excuse me I think I need to catch up on some Dickens.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

The Earl of Baltimore

Growing up as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles as I did there were several faces of the franchise that helped shape one’s opinion of the O’s. The names and faces that one most identified with was determined mainly on when one first started following the team. For me the names most associated with the Orioles were Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray, and of course the leader of the bunch Manager Earl Weaver.

DSCN2961
Earl Weaver’s retired number 4 at The Baltimore Orioles Spring Training home Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
Photo by R. Anderson

Earl Weaver recently passed away at the age of 82 while on a Fantasy Cruise for Orioles fans. To think that the man so associated with the Orioles would spend his final moments in the presence of Orioles fans, despite having last managed the team over two decades ago, is a testament to the lasting impact that Earl Weaver had on baseball as well as the Orioles who were the only Major League Team that he ever managed. The Earl of Baltimore, as he was known, led the Orioles to the World Series four times over 17 seasons and won the title in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century. Earl Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record and won Manager of the Year honors three times. Earl Weaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

juice
Ticket stub from the December 17, 1989 Orlando Juice versus the Gold Coast Suns Senior Professional Baseball League game where I met Earl Weaver.
Photo by R. Anderson

I was fortunate enough to meet Earl at Tinker Field in Orlando on December 17, 1989. He had recently retired from the Orioles for a second time and like many retirees before him had found his way to Florida. On this particular day Earl was managing the Gold Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association against the Orlando Juice. For me, he could have been managing a team of preschoolers in Tee Ball; it didn’t matter. What mattered was I was able to walk onto the field before the game and meet one of my early heroes. We talked, he signed an autograph and it became the first of many brushes that I would have with sports figures, and other public officials through my career as a reporter and a fan. Despite the ensuing years and other high profile meetings I still consider standing on the third base line of Tinker Field talking baseball with Earl Weaver one of my favorite baseball memories. To this day I have the framed autographed baseball card hanging in a place of honor in my office. Other autographs lose their luster or stay hidden away but not Earl’s. It sort of reminds me of the man himself who was a personality that could not hide and who had many ideas and techniques that were ahead of their time 20 years ago and have now become common place.

Earl was able to see his beloved Orioles reach the playoffs last year after a long drought. I like to think that put a smile on the old school manager’s face. Maybe he even went out in the backyard and kicked some dirt around just to feel like he was back on the field and part of the action. I highly recommended searching for Earl Weaver vs. Umpires videos. There were some classics that make some of the theatrics of the WWE seem pale by comparison. But what else would one expect from an original like that? Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go find some dirt to kick Earl Weaver style.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson