...a potent blend of Miss Manners and Batman

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Demise of Baseball

Last night one of my granddaughters asked me to explain an old photo. It featured me and her grandmother smiling next to a tall man in a uniform from the "California Angels," before that team became the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim," which was a few decades before they became known as "that old base-ball team that used to play near San Angeles, CA." My grand-daughter had never heard of baseball.

"Gertrude," I asked, "Do you have a few minutes for a story?" She obliged by tapping her arm to turn off her i-Skin, but I waited until she had pressed her temples firmly to turn off her internal speakers. Then I began.

I asked if she knew that there were four major sports.

"Sure," she replied. "Football, basketball, soccer, and Nascar."

"Well," I told her, "it used to be baseball, football, basketball, and hockey."

"Hockey? You've got to be kidding," she said. "Wait, was this before basketball went co-ed?"

I explained how hockey had died a natural death after people no longer understood the concept of ice or winter. On her recent trip to the Albert Gore Presidential Museum, she had seen old 2-D photos of snow, so this part made sense to her. But explaining the death of baseball was another matter.

"Ok, it went like this, Gerty. You see, back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, a baseball player sued baseball for the right to be a free agent. That meant he could negotiate his own salary with whatever team wanted to pay him the most."

"Like school teachers," said Gertrude.

"Right. And the players had a union that fought for their rights," I explained.

"Like babysitters."

"Right. And the team owners got caught trying to keep the players' salaries low, and they had to pay the players for all the money they had been cheated out of. It was $280 million, which was a lot back then." Gertrude's raised eyebrow told me she had a hard time believing that. I continued:

"So the team owners had to give players bigger and bigger salaries to try to get the best players on their teams. This forced them to raise more money, and pretty soon they had to raise ticket prices so that only the rich could afford to go to a game. A family of five, like mine, might have to pay two or three hundred dollars to see a game. Maybe even $500, including parking, food, and a few toys."

"That's my allowance."

"Really? Well, that was a lot back then -- as much as some people earned in a week." Gertrude was speechless.

"To make matters worse, baseball started putting all of its most exciting games on only after kids had gone to bed."

"Why? Was it for mature audiences?" Gertrude had received an old DVD player for Solstice, and her parents, whose own parents were quite permissive, had shown her their favorite old South Park episodes.

"No, it was supposed to be for the whole family. But tv commercials...."

"I've heard of those. Go on."

I continued: "These commercials paid more when the games were on later. So baseball made a lot of money for a decade or two, but then the grown-ups got interested in other things, and the kids who had been asleep during those exciting games got caught up in other sports, like soccer and Nascar."

"I like those sports because women can play on the same teams."

"Yeah, baseball never found a way to include women, even as umpires. Even football made rules that 2 women had to be on the field at all times. It also didn't help that the average baseball game was three hours long."

"Well, that's not so long."

"This was before the water was adderalized. It was hard for most people to pay attention that long."


"So pretty soon, no one cared about baseball, and the sport just kind of died."

"I guess that's kind of sad, but they had it coming, didn't they?"

"Yes, they certainly did," I said. That Gerty is a pretty smart kid.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Of Frogs and Parents

There is nowhere you can go to get away from a Frog. Frogs have been in every borough of The City, in every suburb, and even in the outerlying exurbs of New Paltz. I'm talking about the Rolex of strollers, the Bugaboo Frog.

By "Rolex," I mean overpriced-and-ostentatious. After all, no one needs an $800 stroller that doesn't fold up any more than they need a $10,000 watch that doesn't release endorphins directly into the bloodstream. But Richie and Ricki Rich have been tootling around town with Junior in an extravagant perambulator ever since some Scandinavian genius realized that there was a market for a miniature, manual Mercedez.

The selling point of the Bugaboo series appears to be their complete uselessness for anything other than pushing. They hold almost nothing in the basket below the baby and they are heavy. They are huge when open, but when folded up, they seem to require even more space, necessitating a 1970s-era stationwagon for storage. I believe that most models are offered with a Dominican or Haitian babysitter, tho some parents deign to push the godforsaken things themselves.

I was on a crowded subway train when one such couple attempted to board with their wee one in a Frog. By "in" I mean that they had made no attempt to fold the nearly unfoldable stroller; they had simply made the decision that all of us should make way for their huge stroller and equally huge heads. Everyone looked at them with raised eyebrows, but only one of us knew just what to say. Donning my cape, I lowered my voice a half octave, pointed to my left and in my best Grey Poupon accent said, "The first-class car is at the front of the train. You can get off at the next stop and make a run for it before the subway starts again."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Baseball Hates Its Fans

Here is the future of baseball: empty stadiums

As if baseball wasn't boring enough (and I've been to over 150 games and was a huge rah-rah Yankees fan for years), they've gotten into this idiotic habit of starting their post-season contests after 8pm. Looking ahead at this week, I see that the games of Tuesday and Wednesday are slated to begin at 8:21pm. The reasoning among the idiots who are running (ruining) things -- the dual doofuses of both Major League Baseball and whichever network has decided to lose money on the playoff games that year -- is that starting games early means that commuters in California or, in this year's case, Arizona and Colorado, would miss the beginning of the games. But let's remember two things: 1) The excitement of a baseball game (if there is any) happens at the end of the game, and 2) most post-season games are over three hours long. This means that games starting at 8:21 finish long after most adults, and almost all kids, have headed to bed. And where does baseball think it's going to find the fans of tomorrow if the fans of today are sleeping thru 9th inning walkoff homeruns or tension-frought pitchers' duels?

What baseball and the networks need to do is to begin the post-season games no later than 7pm EST. That means that kids in New York and Boston can watch an entire game, while young'uns on the West Coast can ... watch an entire game. As for their parents, the East Coasters can watch the whole game, but their West Coast counterparts might have to miss the beginnings of games but will always get to watch the end.

Voice of Society Man has spoken -- now who's listening? If only I had a good friend who worked at MLB.

Actually, I do. I've mentioned all of this to him, but he's not high up enough in their hierarchy to make that sort of difference. Well, at least I've tried!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Kobiachi Maru of Grammar

I have finally found work that marries my love of a good joke with my obsession for semi-colons.

I have a new job, one that ranks 2nd on the list of oddest work I've ever been paid for (right after the time where I demonstrated Barbie products in K-Marts thruout Sydney). In my latest incarnation, I'm a work-from-home behind-the-scenes editor for Comedy Central in their effort to create a searchable database of every episode of The Daily Show. A problem has arisen, however, that threatens to undermine my very sanity and put me in Davey Jones' locker: possessives after an S. Thank goodness for Star Trek.

Didn't "Davey Jones' locker" sound wrong in that last sentence? Anyone who's seen a Pirates of the Caribean movie knows that dead seamen find themselves in Davey Jones's locker (dead semen can be found in Davey Jones's tissue in the garbage by Davey Jones's bed). This whole Jones' thing is a leftover from the days when we watched our favourite programmes on the telly with our neighbours. In other words, it's a British thing. Not Cockney-British, but Oxford-British. That is to say, it's pompous.

Steven Pinker, the cunning linguist from Harvard, has written much about this so-called prescriptive language. His point is that language should flow naturally. If I say, "Who did you give the ball to?" it's not like anyone over the age of 2 is going to look at me like I'm from another planet. Prescriptive grammarians would find fault twice in that sentence, but "To whom did you give the ball?" is not the way any adult would speak to a child, and for that matter, it's not the way most of us speak to each other. Put another way: 'Right' isn't what we should say but what we actually do say.

There is a way to placate both sides of this argument. This is where Star Trek comes in: In "Star Trek 2," we learn that Captain Kirk reprogrammed a simulation rather than going down with his virtual ship. The simulation, called the Kobiachi Maru, is meant to test the mettle of prospective captains faced with the certain destruction of their vessel. By hacking into the system, he avoided certain doom. I have taken "Kobiachi Maru" to mean a situation where, faced with choosing between bad choice A or bad choice B, you wisely pick C.

There are many grammatical situations that require a Kobiachi Maru:

A. I told everyone to grab his or her things.
B. I told everyone to grab their things.

Sentence A is gramatically correct but sounds awkward. Sentence B is more vernacular but is technically wrong (according to most prescriptives) since 'everyone' is supposed to be singular. [If you don't believe that 'everyone' is singular, try asking, "Are everyone ready for fish?" the next time you serve dinner.] Our only choice is to make up a new sentence:

C. I told all of them to grab their things.

Ta da. Now let's see if we can apply the Kobiachi Maru of grammar to possessives:

A. She is one of jazz' greatest guitarists.
B. She is one of jazz's greatest guitarists.
C. She is one of the greatest jazz guitarists.

Here is another one:

A.This is Betsy Ross' famous flag
B. This is Betsy Ross's famous flag
C. This is the famous flag that the lying snots of the Ross family claimed Betsy had sewn when in fact she'd done nothing of the sort.

That gives me an idea for the famous final resting place for dead sailors:

A. Captain Jack is in Davey Jones' locker.
B. Captain Jack is in Davey Jones's locker.
C. Captain Jack is dead. Arrgghh!

Oh, for goodness's sake!

About Me

My pesky alter ego who will set you right if you break one of the unwritten rules of getting along