Bad news for a great guy

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I lost contact with baseball for many years in the mid-to-late 90s. I followed it, generally, but I didn’t obsess. I rooted for my team, but it was fairly shallow. It happens to a lot of people in their 20s, even if they were hardcore fans when they were kids. Some of us find our way back. Some of us don’t.

One of the biggest reasons I found my way back was Mac Thomason. Mac is the proprietor of Braves Journal.  As Gleeman put it a few minutes ago, he’s one of the OG bloggers. Hell, he’s been around since before anyone was calling these things blogs. And it was by going to his site every day for Braves updates, analysis and fan chatter that I was able to make it all the way back from near-casual fan to the obsessive I am today.

Maybe worse than an obsessive for a while. Like a lot of people who find themselves reborn in some way, I was a bit too zealous for a little while there. By virtue of Mac’s comments section I let my vitriol regarding the late stages of the Braves quasi-dynasty run a bit too hot at times.  For example, after they traded Kevin Millwood for Johnny Estrada, I said that I wouldn’t watch the Braves anymore until John Schuerholz was “either fired or dead.” Oh, the things one says to a message board no one reads!

Except, people read Mac’s message board.  Important people. People like John Schuerholz, who actually quoted my comment verbatim, and the comments of several other Braves Journal readers, several years later when he wrote his autobiography. He quotes my intemperate words on page 71 in a section talking about how insane fans can be sometimes.  I apologized for that several years ago, but it still embarrasses me.

That whole episode is a testament to just how important and influential a great team-specific blog can be.  It can make and perpetuate fandom.  It can ruffle an organization’s feathers. Apart from wanting to get crappy players out of the lineup, Mac has never been one for crusades — and he has never been the type of team blogger who seeks to curry favor with the organization or get access — but he’s a smart, discerning fan who provides smart discerning (and often grumpy) commentary about his team’s travails on a day-to-day basis and that’s the kind of thing that institutions really don’t much care for. If I worked for the Braves I’d probably consider him a pain in the ass.  If I was Mac, I’d probably take tremendous joy from this.

I’m writing about Mac because today he shared some bad news with Braves Journal readers.  He’s been battling cancer for a while, but things have taken a bad turn.  He had surgery last week, but it was aborted due to the cancer having spread.  Here are Mac’s words from this morning:

From all appearances, the remaining cancer has entered a virulent stage. It is not likely to kill me directly; instead it will decrease the effectiveness of my organs by taking away the space they need to operate. The time frame is unclear, but basically I was told that the best measure if they don’t find a treatment is months rather than years.

We’re not giving up. We are, if we can, going to talk to the doctor in Indianapolis with whom I talked last year, and see if he has any ideas. There is a protocol in trials in Philadelphia which looks promising and applicable to my case. And dammit, a lot of people (including a great-uncle of mine) have lived for a long time with cancer hanging over them. Maybe it’s just the drugs talking, but I don’t expect to go any time soon. I fully expect to celebrate when the Braves lift the 2012 World Series trophy over their heads.

Great. The world’s foremost Braves blogger is depending on Philadelphia for treatment. And people wonder why I don’t believe in God.

OK, sorry. Humor and vitriol are how I deal with sad news, and this is pretty damn sad.  But, as Mac says, it’s not hopeless. And even if it was, I’m not going to give up hope because sometimes all we can do to keep our sanity in this world is to hold on to irrational hope. If not because it will make the situation better, then because it really, really pisses off the fates and dark spirits that seek to hurt us so. They want us broken. Don’t break. Ever.

If you pray, please think of doing so for Mac.  If you don’t, hold a good thought in your heart and mind.  If you’re able, please donate to Mac’s tip jar, on the right hand sidebar of the front page.  If none of those things work for you, at least consider starting ugly rumors about Fredi Gonzalez which may cause him to lose his job so that Mac doesn’t have to embark on his epic final showdown with cancer while annoyances like Fredi Gonzalez running his team float about.

I’m rooting for you, Mac.  Treat cancer like Chipper treats the Mets. Make it your bitch and then name your kid after the place it lives.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.