AS SUMMER BECKONS, so does the agonizing avalanche of "serious" baseball literature. A new book by NYU president John Sexton, "Baseball as a Road to God," discusses how the game has a sacred dimension to it that connects fans to certain truths. Over the years, we hear it again and again about baseball: It's redemptive, it's restorative, it's reminiscent of simpler times, it's reflective of the American spirit blah blah blah blah blah.
Me? I just want the Pirates to win.
Indeed, as a long-suffering-in-silence fan of the Pittsburgh baseball club, I'd like to take a moment to express a sentiment of frustration as loudly and clearly as possible:
Enough is enough, you stinkin' losers.
It's now 20 consecutive losing seasons, the longest such streak in North American professional sports history, we're told.
(There could be a longer streak in South America, or perhaps Antarctica, but that might be in a sport without the transcendental timelessness of baseball.)
The last time the Pirates had a winning season, George H.W. Bush was still in office. Then they went 0 for 8 during the Bill Clinton presidency, 0 for 8 during the George W. Bush years and now 0 for 4 through Barack Obama's first term.
There's an outside chance another Bush or Clinton could be in the White House before the Pirates finish over .500 again.
(Speaking of which, let me make a plea to Jeb Bush and George P. Bush and Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton: No more Bushes or Clintons in the Oval Office. Give someone else a chance, huh? P.S. This goes for the Kennedys, too - there's got to be a couple of them lurking somewhere near the Potomac. And while we're at it, no more Ryans coaching in the NFL. Thank you.)
I'm supposed to be encouraged by the fact that the Pirates improved from 57-105 in 2010 to 72-90 in 2011 to 79-83 in 2012. Please. That's like going from spam for breakfast to boxed mac-and-cheese for lunch to a microwaved fish stick for dinner.
(Incidentally, I just described my previous life. Nowadays, I am blessed with Toni - a.k.a. She Is The One - who sometimes starts my morning by feeding me grapes directly from the vine and then fills the afternoons and evenings with an endless stream of scones, quiche, arugula-pear-and-goat cheese salads, lobster roll sandwiches, roasted Brussels sprouts, salmon lasagna and carrot cake. For me, it's been the culinary equivalent of going from D.C. United to Manchester United.)
Sure, this could be the Pirates' year. We have the astonishing closer Jason Grilli. At this time last year, I believe he was an assistant district manager for a drywalling concern; now, he leads the MLB in saves - a perfect 22 for 22. Grilli's been so good, he could put his thumb in a dike and stop global warming.
And I guess some folks are fooled by the Pirates' 34-22 record. In fact, one of my favorite poker pros, Pittsburgh native Josh Brikis, tweeted me on April 14: "1st Place Buccos! U like the sound of that?" What, was this kid born yesterday in a turnip truck?
In 2011, the Pirates had a winning record at the all-star break and were in first place in the NL Central on July 25; they ended the season 18 games under .500. In 2012, the Pirates were 63-47 on Aug. 8, then lost 36 of their last 52 games. They collapse quicker than a Rutgers background check.
Frankly, I shouldn't even be in this position of perennial Steel City angst. I wasn't born in Pittsburgh and don't live there; heck, I've never even set foot in Pittsburgh for as much as an airport layover. As a kid, I inexplicably latched on to the Pirates and the Steelers, and thanks to the likes of Roberto Clemente and Franco Harris, was rewarded with years of adolescent joy. Ah, but as with the rest of life, things change - and never for the better - and I've spent much of my adulthood perusing Pirates box scores that read, "Other Team 7, Pittsburgh 2."
Alas, baseball, I am reminded by the late Bart Giamatti, is "designed to break your heart."
Then again, if I weren't so stubborn and simply started following the NHL, at least I'd have the Penguins.
Ask The Slouch
Q. After seeing your use of statistics and the word "cognoscenti" in your column on baseball closers, it became apparent to me you couldn't have gone to Maryland; this knowledge is too far above its academics. Where did you matriculate post-high school - the University of Phoenix online or Motorcycle Mechanics Institute? (Rick Matzko; Punta Gorda, Fla.)
A. I audited several courses at DeVry, then hung out at the Algonquin Round Table in a local truck stop.
Q. Cheap beers, like your precious PBR, are rising in price because of "hipsters." When did The Slouch become a hipster? (Dan Shepard; Plainfield, Ind.)
A. I am so unhip, I don't even know what a hipster is. So back off, Jack.
Q. Are you in favor of the limited use of "challenge flags" and instant replay at the National Spelling Bee? (William Gross; Pittsburgh)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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