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Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Saint and The Hits Parade: Dodgers 4, Padres 0


The day opens with a nightmare of old friends about to vanish. Jolted to wakefulness, the psychic toll of a history unhappened receding, I recall the events of last night, its joys and tragedies.

My friend who has the magic tickets told me his father decided to move his seats to the new sections just built in the former foul ground of Dodger stadium. The new seats have no pitch, he tells me, and so his mother sees heads, so they have moved elsewhere. This is not unusual, apparently; for some folks, the cost is the issue, as it was for some people who found out the price increase -- $120,000 a year, up from $5,000 -- too rich.
I say all this in hopes of explaining that I knew I wanted to be in the stadium last night when they rehonored Jackie Robinson. As much as I wanted to be present for a Dodger victory, more, I wanted to attend to see what the Dodgers would do on the anniversary of his callup. Last year, I leeched tickets off innumerable people (for which, thank you, thank you, thank you), but there are times you just want to be there, and this was one of those times.
We bought our tickets through the new online service at dodgers.com, which we found to be a most comfortable and pleasant way of getting tickets. Buy the tickets, and in a few moments, you have a PDF which you can print out, scannable at the stadium for entry, and if you so desire, parking as well. I highly recommend it.

The Temple Of St. Jackie

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoom in cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.
-- Woodrow Johnson
Bill James wrote, "Hero worship for Jackie Robinson is virtually an industry". He's broadly right, but there's more to it than mere commerce; the charged rivers of emotion surrounding him bring it nearly to the level of a priestly order, fueled in part by baseball's need for a saint among its all-too-clayfooted modern practitioners. Every few years, when baseball reaches back to recollect something good about the game, when it needs a Field of Dreams to atone for the less-than-heroics on the field, it rattles through the dusty attic of its own memory and pulls out Robinson. Do not cast me into the cynics' camp. Knowing what he accomplished, the strides he made by putting cleats, sweat, and deeds into the words "all men are created equal", it's hard, at times, to avoid breaking into tears. Robinson was bigger than baseball, and Branch Rickey knew it. The platform Jackie had and the herculean self-restraint it required of him (can anyone imagine, say, a Gary Sheffield under those same circumstances?) led to his transformation into a kind of Ghandi figure, a cross between Washington and St. Francis, a man whose moral dimensions leap to the mythic. When Douglas Adams wrote that the ultimate answer to the ultimate question was 42 (Robinson's now-retired Dodgers number), he was closer to truth than he knew.

Rachel Robinson & Milton Bradley
The ceremonies themselves were a mixed bag. April 15th is now Jackie Robinson day in Los Angeles and throughout baseball, giving us something to look forward to besides taxes. Rachel Robinson came out and gave a good short speech about Jackie and baseball. ("My fervent hope is that each and every one of us will continue to press for equal opportunity in our society and our national pastime. That is the lasting value of Jackie's legacy.") The Dodgers then showed a number of kids who had received scholarships -- but whether it was from the Jackie Robinson Foundation or the Dodgers, I don't recall. To Robinson's many accomplishments on and off the field, we may now add faith healing. It was no coincidence Rachel Robinson was escorted by notorious bad boy Milton Bradley, a fellow who could certainly use some of Jackie's legendary self-restraint. Tempting as moralizing about Bradley's tantrums might be, his evolution into one of the game's more interesting characters proceeds in full force. Lest anyone take his recent contrition as a mere PR ploy, I remind the reading audience of the life of St. Augustine -- hardly a straight line to beatification. Justification through acts is a Catholic notion*, and the plain symbology of Bradley's appearance in last night's pregame ceremonies was lost on no one.
Yet for all its high moments and the concerted effort to remind everyone of history and the Dodgers' place in it, the video montage on Dodgervision was an inexcusable disappointment. Sure, a few stills and a couple bits of old Jackie footage came on the screen, but... does anybody think Jackie made it possible for Cal Ripken to make it in the majors? Pictures of almost everyone, anyone besides Jack Roosevelt Robinson flashed on the display. During the ceremonies, they mentioned an exciting play Jackie made coming to home plate, barely missing Yogi Berra's tag; surely they had some archival footage of that? But no, it was one big general baseball-fest, with plenty of modern players -- not a few of them white -- mixed in with old stills of Jackie. Why not, at least, focus on the Dodgers, and in particular, African-American Dodgers? Jim Gilliam, Johnny Roseboro, Don Newcombe, Tommy Davis, Maury Wills... there's a good start right there. All those guys were All-Stars in their day; it's flabbergasting that the Dodgers didn't create something better than that flabby, slapdash presentation. What could have been a highlight reel moment instead turned as bland as a MasterCard ad.

I Understand They Play Baseball Here, Now

The game itself had, at first, an oddly anticlimactic feel to it; having visited the shrine of the immortals, we descended to the grounds where ordinary men merely pitch, hit, strike out, ground out, and belly flop stealing second. Too, we were reminded of what it's like in the upper deck cheap seats, where we frequently (though not always) go when we're the ones paying. A shrill fat girl wearing a Padres' Greene jersey about six seats away in the section opposite us made enough noise to wake Jackie Robinson himself. Four rows beneath us, a burly fellow roared hell back at her, giving avian hand signs and the like; several times he got the whole section in a roar back at her with chants of "Padres Suck", an expression the adorable little eight-year-old girl sitting next to me adopted with gusto. (I showed her how to score a game, which she also followed with great enthusiasm, and I might even have convinced her father to learn how.) Whatever holy waters flowed at Dodger Stadium last night, Milton Bradley played like he'd had a full draft or two before the game, going 2-3 with a walk and a towering solo shot off a shaky Woody Williams that, according to some sources, actually left the stadium altogether. Bradley even said he thought Jackie's ghost paid a visit last night:
"It was definitely a special night," Bradley said. "I'm not really a big believer in ghosts and things like that, but I believe his spirit was out there with me a little bit tonight."
Kent, who preceded him in the batting order, also slugged one to left, but ignominiously grounded out in all his other three at bats, including one inning-ending double play in the seventh. The San Francisco version of Ricky Ledee appeared last night (another 0-4 effort), but the guy the fans really let have it was Hee Seop Choi, who had yet another 0-fer term at the plate. Choi only reached base once, in the first, on a fielder's choice that erased Izturis. It's early yet, but DePodesta's faith in the big Korean slugger is starting to tax the fans' patience. But it was the Lowe Show from beginning to end. Completely mastering a somewhat hobbled Padres lineup, he induced groundout after groundout while ringing up six strikeouts, giving up only three hits and no runs. If Jackie watched the game last night, his ghost smiled upon the Dodgers, though it seems petty to say it; his actual playing days long gone, ascribing the trivia of a division victory to him is unseemly. Besides, real saints have marble statues; baseball contents itself with made-in-China plasticene action figures.

Jackie Robinson Action Figure
I'll take it, and smile.
Recap Box

The Hits Parade

Waiting at a red light at an intersection in Burbank after the game, I watched as a teal blue blur whizzed past me, and before another second had passed, another black shape came flying past me on my left, smashing the silver Toyota next to me back twenty feet or more, and bouncing into my left front quarter panel, jarring to a stop after a solid thump. A BMW M5 and a Saturn got into it in the intersection in front of us; the BMW was so close to my left side I couldn't open the door safely, so I backed up a foot or so and got out. A long-haired, skinny, fortyish man emerged from the Beamer. "Where did you hit me?"
I gaped back at him in bug-eyed silence.
He was clearly disoriented.
Uh... dude, you were in the intersection, you tell me what happened. His two-year-old car was totalled, and he wanted to know where we hit him?
But I didn't say it. My passengers, my wife and our friend Becky, got out on their side.
I called 911 on my cellphone. Four minutes later, they answered, but by that time a Burbank PD black-and-white showed up. (Hint: if it's a life-threatening emergency, use a landline.) The officer, a diminutive woman, started asking everyone questions.
While she talked to the other parties, I exchanged the usual information with the unfortunate fellow in the Toyota next to us, a nice guy about my age with a slight New York accent who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He kept reiterating how he wasn't at fault; maybe he'd been in too many accidents before, or maybe, not enough. But he was very calm, very easygoing about it
Not so the little 20-year-olds in the Saturn. Obviously dressed for a night on the town, the impact rattled the two girls pretty badly; the driver got a nasty whack on her wrist, which could have been a broken bone. They were so rattled, in fact, that the driver decided she didn't have to give me her driver's license number, something that may come as a shock to the solons in Sacramento. I was near to slapping them (figuratively, of course); I looked at Mr. Toyota with rolled eyes upon hearing the news that a sufficiently hot wardrobe is a free pass. (I'll bet she's a charter member of the Tearduct School of Avoiding Speeding Tickets, too. "Oh, officer snif, my dad will just kill me if I get one! I don't know what to do..." Grrrr...)
Mr. BMW insisted the girls hit him, which, according to my wife who had a better view of things and pieced it together by looking at the damage on the two cars, was total BS. What was more likely was that he was speeding through the intersection against a red light and plowed into the Saturn, sending it spinning into the parking lot. (Whether Mr. BMW was coherent prior to the collision is a subject of some debate around these parts, but we're betting that he might make a fine poster boy for DARE.)
So finally we drove off, the two incapacitated cars and their drivers left behind to wait for tow trucks. Insurance will no doubt sort it out, but it was a hell of a way to follow up a ballgame.

* Update: The original of this read "Though salvation through acts is a notion peculiar to the Protestants...", which merely proves I don't know my theology nearly well enough. Not even Catholics believe in salvation through acts, but rather justification; through God's grace are we all saved, but only the righteous are justified. Calvinist doctrine is in fact even worse; salvation is available, not to those who perform good acts or sincerely repent or accept God's grace, but only to God's elect, known only to Him; all others will perish. Pretty harsh stuff, yet it forms the theological backbone of most modern Protestant Christian denominations, a fact that some of them try to hide. And people wonder why I'm an antinomian.
Update 2: Thanks to Jay Jaffe and Jon for the links back.
Update 3, 4/21: And finally, thanks to Studes at Hardball Times for linking here.

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You are a great writer. Sorry about the accident.

I too noticed the inappropriate video "tribute"

It was really a commercial for MLB. I bet they played it in all the stadiums. Is there nothing MLB won't whore out nowadays?

Lowe was amazing, Choi is a statue: Slow swing, slow runner, slow reflexes on defense. Rember the ball that ricoched off Lowe, Lowe throws to choi right on time and choi juggled the ball? That was one of the three hits Lowe allowed. Inexcusible defense on the corners for the dodgers.

I counted 33 pieces of advertising I could see from my seat. Two years ago, it was 12. At Anaheim 2 years ago, I counted 85. I think dodger stadium will be up to 80 in two more years. Its really quite sad.

I thought Nancy Bea was going to play more, but all I heard was the same dreadful music from last year.

I did enjoy the jackie figurine. It was pretty cool I thought.
I couldn't help but notice the irony last night. Frank McCourt has been s***ting bricks over the Angels' name change -- then goes and send his charges out in Brooklyn uniforms! Supposedly a tribute to the 1955 Dodgers -- except the '55 Brooks didn't wear "Brooklyn" on their road OR home jerseys. The 1945 club was the last to wear "Brooklyn" and then on road jerseys only.
i don't think you are being fair the calvinists... we get a bad rap all the time as being elitist, but the doctrine of predestination is not nearly as gloomy as you make it out to be. Yes, in a sense, salvation is only available to God's elect, but a better way of looking at it is that God, being all-knowing, knows who will be saved before the beginning of time. No man can know who this group of "the elect" may be, so in practice it boils down to the same thing. One can only be confident about one's place in "the elect" by accepting God's grace and repenting of one's sins. All the calvinist doctrine of predestination says is that God knows who these people are before all time, which if you accept the idea of God's sovereignty makes logical sense anyway... in other word's God is the minor league scout who knows exactly which prospects will put up the numbers to make it to the Hall of Fame. But at the induction ceremony, would you say that these prospects made it because God, the master scout, said they would? Or did they make it because their stellar major league careers warranted their inclusion?
Nothing like having a sports-themed blog to debate the philosophies of different Reformation theologians!

I'm glad you made the correction Rob. When I read the original, I first said to myself "What the ...?"

I was brought up Catholics, but I was able to appreciate what the Calvinists were getting at. It's not like Calvinists (in modern day parlance, Presbyterians) are going off and living the good life because they know they have a "Get out of Hell Free" card. They still try to act like good moral upstanding people. However, they do it because it is the right to do in their opinion and not just to save themselves from eternal damnation.

Or becoming a fan of the Devil Rays.
The subtle differences between religious tenets is something I've never really bothered to learn, and so I'm likely to trip over them. I have a Catholic friend who is very well versed in religious dogma who I thought to call yesterday, but as she was unavailable, I resorted to Google. To my horror, I discovered just how wrong I was, and hence the correction. I certainly hope nobody took me seriously. So, delasky, to answer your question, I'm not sure; and if I did say something, I'm sure I'd get it wrong, in somebody's theology.

Bob -- the Devil Rays have fans?

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