Wake Me When an Owner Goes Yard

WITH MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S most recent collective bargaining agreement having expired, and negotiations on a new CBA stalled, the league’s owners have imposed a lockout on its players. Instead of an off-season filled with trade rumors and free-agent signings, we are forced to read about revenue sharing, minimum salaries, luxury taxes, and the like. MLB has even taken the absurd and childish step of scrubbing all references to current players from its and its teams’ websites.

The knee-jerk reaction, and one I freely indulged in when the players went on strike during the 1981 season, is predictable: “These men get paid truckloads of money to play a kids’ game, and they have the temerity to demand more? How dare they!”

An important stipulation here: Yes, compared to other, more essential professions, many (most?) professional athletes are wildly overpaid. Cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers — teachers especially — are among those whose responsibility for the well being and health of a functioning society demands that we pay them more. The grotesque absurdity of a ballplayer raking in tens of millions of dollars a year while teachers have to reach into their own pockets to provide basic supplies for their students is a searing indictment of our society’s prioritization. Obscene doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing, though. The bigger obscenity, by far — and that’s saying something — is sports owners’ unbridled greed. They attempt to squeeze every last penny out of every last player, not caring or even noticing that their wallets grow ever fatter by the year. And you want to talk about a failsafe investment?

In 2000, David Glass purchased the Kansas City Royals for $96 million dollars. Over the next 20 seasons, the Royals were among the worst teams in baseball, making the playoffs just twice, losing 100 games or more six times, and finishing last in their division seven times. Yet just over two years ago, Glass sold the Royals for a reported $1 billion. That is a one-thousand-percent markup if you’re keeping score at home. I’m neither a sports economist nor a labor expert, but if you ask whether it’s the owners or the players whom baseball’s money structure benefits more, the answer is inarguable. And it’s not just baseball.

Baseball is my first and best sporting love. I have watched it literally for as long as I can remember. I have gone to countless games, worn the t-shirts and caps, contributed mightily to the owners’ coffers with many, many purchases of laughably overpriced beer and tepid hot dogs. And in precisely zero instances have I parted with my heart or my cash because of who owns the team.

Ruly Carpenter, Bill Giles, and John Middleton are the names at the top of the Phillies’ org charts over the years, and bully for them. But my allegiance and love belong to Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa, Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Pete Rose (I know, I know), Gary Matthews, Al Holland, Sixto Lezcano, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Curt Schilling (I KNOW, I KNOW), Jim Eisenreich, Terry Mulholland, Mitch Williams, Scott Rolen, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Thome, Aaron Rowand, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Brad Lidge, Roy Halladay, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, and Bryce Harper. They belong as well to every last fringe player, every utility infielder, fifth outfielder, left-handed relief specialist, and set-up man, every guy who had the smallest cup of coffee in red pinstripes.

They’re the ones I’ve lived and died with. They’re the ones I’ll always live and die with. So more power to them. Spare me the tears for the miserly, rapacious sharks who sign their checks through gritted teeth with one hand while counting their towering piles of dough with the other. | DL

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Blurbers

WITH RAVES FROM OUTLETS ranging from The New York Times and The Guardian to The New Yorker and NPR, I expected to be wowed by Rachel Cusk’s trilogy-opening novel Outline. I knew going in that this is an unconventional book, and I’m not huge into experimental(ish) fiction, but the wide-ranging praise convinced me to give it a try.

Cusk’s work follows a novelist traveling from London to Athens to lead a weeklong writing workshop. Beginning with the protagonist’s interaction with a seatmate on the flight to Greece, we get ten chapters’ worth of conversations between her and others she encounters. A colleague; her students; the seatmate again; and so on. The writing is compelling, and Cusk’s observations frequently piercing and incisive, but there is barely a plot and no conflict to speak of. I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen to make me interested in the characters. It never did.

With so much applause directed its way, I readily acknowledge that Outline may be a book that is simply over my head. More discerning readers than I called it among the best novels of the year it was published. Regardless, I found it more peculiar and frustrating than trenchant, and I am content to pass on Transit and Kudos, the second and third books in the trilogy, while I read other books more to my liking. | DL

Wake Me When It’s Over

EARLY ON IN these pandemic days of ours, I wrote about how crushingly tired I felt all. the. time.

The hourly fluidity of the situation is terribly draining. And even if you try to consume it in small doses, the relentless torrent of pandemic-related news gives rise to an ever-present nervousness that buzzes quietly in the background. Keeping the buzz at bay requires mental bandwidth, and expending bandwidth seeps energy. I feel exhausted just about all day long.

Then came the summer of 2020, when we were able to get outside and see friends. We gained a greater sense of risk management — of knowing which activities were more dangerous than others. By the end of that year, vaccines were being distributed — an astonishing scientific and public-health feat. Last spring my family and I got our shots, and by early summer, infection numbers were plunging.

The delta variant squashed our optimism for a while. Again, though, the caseload eased. The finish line was in sight.

Cue omicron.

Graphs of infection rates show a near-vertical line over the last couple of weeks. Event cancelations are rampant. Like many others, I’m back to fully remote work for now. For the first time, people I know (and care about) have tested positive (despite being fully vaccinated). As in those first several months, I am venturing out only when I absolutely have to.

And the exhaustion has returned. All day long, I am utterly, hopelessly, helplessly consumed by fatigue, both mental and physical. I can’t concentrate or focus. My mood alternates among sadness, fear, and rage.

And I know I’m not alone. Usually that helps me. Now … not so much.

Are we ever going to get this right? | DL

With a Mid-Season Change in Approach and a Late-Season Kiss from the Football Gods, the Eagles Are In

Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

SHOW OF HANDS: Who had the Eagles in the playoffs when the season began?

Okay, all of you with your hands in the air, put ’em down. We all know you’re lying.

With a rookie head coach, a new coaching staff, an untested second-year quarterback, and the frenzied turmoil that came with the firing of the franchise’s only Super Bowl winner and the trade of its disgruntled shoulda-been franchise QB, the Birds were a mess before a down had even been played. Things only got worse as the team nose-dived to a 2-5 start that included much-derided remarks by the new coach that compared his players to … plants.

Give Nick Sirianni credit, though. He held onto his locker room during those dark days and, just as important, was willing to change his gameplans to play to the team’s strengths. Out went the throw-at-all-costs scheme and in came a run-the-ball-down-your throat approach that paid huge dividends. The Eagles pounded and pounded and pounded the ball for several games, giving their defense a break and opening up more space for Jalen Hurts to take advantage of run-pass opportunities. Over the last few games, Hurts, hobbled by an ankle sprain, has thrown more, and has looked better doing it. Even then, the run game has been solid, despite Miles Sanders’s absence.

The Eagles have won seven of their last nine and, thanks to help from the 49ers and Packers, clinched a wild-card spot without even having to defeat the hated Cowboys this weekend. Has it helped that the Birds’ second-half schedule has been cotton-candy soft? Of course. But how many Eagles teams have we seen over the years roll over on cupcakes they should have devoured? Sirianni’s club is taking care of business, and that’s no small thing.

Even the news that the news that a dozen players were placed in the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol earlier today lacks its expected sting. With the playoffs a lock, it’s hardly the worst situation for the likes of Jason Kelce, Dallas Goedert, Fletcher Cox, and Rodney McLeod to get a week’s rest ahead of the postseason. Sure, they and the others could be back in time for Saturday night’s tilt against Dallas, but if not, no biggie.

Surprise successes are the sweetest kind, and this Eagles season is ending like a brownie sundae. Yes, a loss in the wild-card round is likely. Spotting good teams 10 first-quarter points is not how you win playoff games, and whatever QB the Eagles’ soft-coverage defense faces will be exponentially better than the second- and third-stringers it has feasted on recently. No matter. The Eagles are a playoff team in a year when no one thought they had a chance.

No, not even you. | DL

A Great Book About Mars NOT Written by Andy Weir

THE FIRST CLUE that Sarah Stewart Johnson’s 2020 science memoir, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, is something special is right there on its cover. Above the matter-of-fact subtitle, “Searching for Life on Another World,” sits the work’s evocative, lyrical title: The Sirens of Mars.

The pages that follow bear witness to the title’s poignancy. In prose that is both poetic and clear-eyed, Stewart Johnson intertwines her journey from Kentucky schoolkid to Ph.D. planetary scientist with the history of the pursuit of evidence of life on the Red Planet. These chronicles are necessarily connected; Stewart Johnson began contributing to NASA’s Martian missions while she was a grad student and hasn’t stopped since.

From the debunked canals to failed launches to the dazzling success of the recent rovers, she lays out where we’ve been, where we are, and where we might be going. Stewart Johnson also shares about her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field, and of how she immersed herself so deeply in another world that she sometimes lost her place in this one. She writes all of it with language as lucid and beautiful as the Martian vistas we have been privileged to glimpse in recent years. | DL

I Think I Saw This Movie Already

WELL, HEY, WE made it to another year!

Right? I mean … right?

Having just flipped the calendar, I confess to no small amount of cognitive dissonance. After a catastrophic 2020, last year was to have been COVID-19 II: Humanity Fights Back. Vaccines arrived on the scene, and we had nearly a year’s worth of experience with the illness to inform our public health policy for the next 12 months.

Slam dunk, right?

Yeah, no. Much like Ben Simmons passing up a gimme in the most clutch of moments, the world — led by God-fearin’, science-hatin’ ‘Murca — gave up the ball. Republican “leaders” got themselves vaccinated on the sly while cynically trash-talking the vaccines and urging their followers not to give up their “freedoms.” As 2021 slogged on, only about 60 percent of the country’s population got vaxxed, giving the novel coronavirus plenty of opportunity to mutate — which it happily did. The delta and omicron variants blitzed across the world, sickening and killing far, far, far too many people, children among them.

And so here we are on the first day of the new year, and it feels as if nothing has changed. Remote learning is returning. Restaurants are closing. Masking is back (though it never should have gone away). All that traveling we were going to do in 2022 is now a ginormous question mark.

It’s as if 2021 never happened. If the past 12 months are a blur to you, as they are to me, it’s because we’re in almost the same dire straits we were last January.

Happy New Year? Or Happy “New” Year? | DL