Hit and Miss

      Following up on my February salute to Yogi Berra for his highly productive season in 1950, a few sluggers are certainly on a pace to average about one strikeout per game in 2017. Kris Bryant, one of the most likeable players in Major League Baseball for his enthusiastic approach to playing the national pastime, deserved to be named NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and Most Valuable Player in 2016. In those two seasons Bryant hit 65 home runs and struck out 353 times. Mike Trout, the American League golden boy with 2012 ROY honors and two MVP awards to his credit, had 168 homers and 784 strikeouts through the end of 2016. In 19 seasons Berra homered 358 times and fanned 414 times. Even more remarkable are the statistics for Yogi’s teammate, Joe DiMaggio: 13 seasons, .325 batting average, 361 home runs, 369 strikeouts. (Statistics exclude postseason appearances.)  Fans who say, “Who cares? An out is an out” need only look at the Cubs highlights for the game versus the Milwaukee Brewers on April 8, 2017. By making contact and hitting the ball somewhere, on the ground or in the air, the Cubs scored 11 runs on 17 hits with no home runs or triples and every starter got at least one hit. Texas Leaguers and swinging bunts look like line shots in the box score.

Berra would likely counter the suggestion that pitchers in this century are better than they were when he played by pointing out that the Pinstripers weren’t just facing batting practice hurlers. The Yanks won 103 games in 1954, yet finished a distant second to the Cleveland Indians who won 111 games largely due to the strong arms of three Hall of Famers: Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon. Mike Garcia, the fourth starter for the Indians, did not make it into the Hall of Fame, yet he was probably Cleveland’s most effective pitcher in 1954 with a record of 19-8 and an E.R.A. of 2.64, best in the American League.

For those who argue that pitching is better now than it was decades ago because training programs make today’s starting pitchers stronger and more durable, remind them of the statistics of two other Hall of Famers.  Lefty Warren Spahn, who pitched over 5,200 innings, won 20 or more games 13 times, threw 382 complete games, and won 23 games in 1963 at the age of 42 and would have recorded 24 victories that season had not one of his 7 defeats occurred because his teammates failed to score a run in a 16-inning marathon in which the gallant Spahnie threw over 200 pitches.  In 1965, the year Spahn retired, right-hander Ferguson Jenkins began his HOF career.  Fergie, a power pitcher who recorded 3,192 strikeouts in his 19-year career, pitched over 4,500 innings, threw 267 complete games, and won 20 or more games in six consecutive seasons for the Chicago Cubs. In 1971, the year Jenkins won the Cy Young Award, he threw 30 complete games, which equals the total of complete games recorded by all of the Chicago Cubs pitchers in the last 11 years (2006 through 2016).


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Count ’em Out

One of the most popular rhyming phrases used by sportscasters and sports writers during the month of March is “One and done.” The expression is used most frequently to describe basketball players who leave college after one year of eligibility for a lucrative career in the National Basketball Association, though it has also been applied to teams who make the NCAA tournament and are eliminated after losing the first game.

The snide who reside in press boxes or courtside might even use those words when teams underperform. For instance, this year “one and then undone” could apply to the Duke Blue Devils who were devilishly done in by allowing 65 points in the second half against South Carolina on March 19th. In one way, however, it may be good training for any Duke players who leave before graduation because NBA teams regularly give up over 100 points a game.

The rim rhymers and post poets who move on to “Two and through” and “Three and flee” could give some hope to the downtrodden who have been tearing up their bracket sheets and pulling out their hair by inserting some catchy lines into their patter that might trickle down to the players by exhorting them to defend their end of the court by becoming a “pain in the lane.” Picture cheering sections encouraging players with “Leap and keep,” “Steal and deal,” “Block and rock,”  “Learn the burn,” “Take and break,” “Peel and wheel,” “Feed and lead,” “Get it back– then attack,” and then  “Pass it and cash it.”

Although players earning double doubles in assists and steals may not impress NBA scouts, they do double the pleasure of coaches wanting to reach the Final Four. College athletes with eyes dazzled by the prize would be advised to fix their gaze on the goal and adopt a motto even Abe Lincoln would favor: “Four and score.”



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Smoke Gets in Your Lungs

The recent full-page ad in several magazines which presented a brand of e-vapor inhalation stuck me as being most peculiar. Barely discernible through the  foggy cloud of a woman blowing smoke toward a microphone in what really could be called Smokey Joe’s Café are a big XL in red letters and the words “Full on vapor”[N.B. vapor, not flavor] and the phrase “XL draw XL taste XL experience.” Those are the only words promoting the experience. Below the photo is a boxed warning in easy-to-read lettering: “Warning: This product is not intended for use by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or persons with or at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or taking medicine for depression or asthma. Nicotine is addictive and habit-forming, and is very toxic by inhalation. Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea, and stomach pain. Inhalation of this product may aggravate existing respiratory conditions.”

How many adults on this planet do not suffer from one of the conditions described in the box?  Surely this is unique way of promoting a product by listing many more deleterious effects of using it than advantages to purchasing it.  Even in the 1950s, when concerns about smoking began to appear, tobacco manufacturers concentrated on the virtues of their brand, e.g., “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Sometimes the advertisers answered singing questions such as “What have Viceroys got that other filter tip cigarettes haven’t got?” with “20,000 tiny filters to filter, filter, filter your smoke so the rich, rich flavor comes through.” We knew the pitch was a smokescreen, but at least it was a positive one.

Today even the smokeless tobacco options feature happy young men and women playing games inside or outdoors accompanied by cheery phrases “When good times become great times” and “A pinch better”  and “Mint masters,”  the only caveat being “This product may cause gum disease and tooth loss.”

What would happen if other companies followed the e-vaporators on the downer trail by inserting more discouraging than positive language in their ad campaigns?

Right below that colorful come-on extolling the virtues of a 10-night cultural cruise to the fascinating island nation of Cuba spotlighting the quaint villages and natural parks would be the wording; “Warning: Any deviation from guided tours will likely result in prolonged captivity in durance vile. Visitors donning false beards and furtively running though jungles muttering anti-communist slogans may be subjected to target practice. Tourists with a history of asthma or respiratory problems are advised not to attempt to smuggle one of the 1950s American automobiles out of the country because smugglers in the past have been stuffed four at a time into trunks of vehicles best known as 1955 Chevy Hell Airs.”

The invitation to “Make Outside Your Kind of Beautiful” certainly seems appealing when teamed with a tall patio fireplace and pristine stones under an open wooden canopy, complemented by lit candles placed on an onyx table while a young couple sipping wine enjoy a tranquil evening. The company that creates “the setting for moments that last a lifetime” might add “Warning: Our products not for use in any climate that is subject to winds over 5 MPH, rain, sleet, or snow. Any leaves, branches, or deceased animals should be removed immediately or patio stones may be discolored permanently. Unlike model holding glass of wine in photo, purchasers of this product are advised to dump contents of liquids in the faces of seated companions rather than drop on stones or throw in fireplace.”

The upwardly mobile yearning for high-end watches are encouraged to “Begin their own tradition” because “You never actually own a Patek Phillipe, you merely take care of it for the next generation.” There is plenty of space below the Diamond Ribbon model for this warning: “The tradition begun may be one of making payments in perpetuity, which is why banks may own more of timepiece than purchaser. Those not meeting payments may be taken care of ways that may prove harmful to breathing.”

Even a clean ad showing a barebacked man apparently about to try on a yellow Hermes coat with the simple wording “Objects for Life” would need a warning along these lines: “Exposing skin to the sun without adequate sunscreen will result in melanoma spots larger than the white circles on the jacket shown. Sunscreen might attract hordes of yellow jackets.”

Anyone who has marveled at the sleek lines of modern chairs seen in glossy home magazines and revered by interior decorators would agree that the Knoll line is modern always because modern always works. The warning by the sharply-angled red chairs that resemble aircraft wings would be succinct: “Sitting in these chairs is not recommended for people with arthritis, rheumatism, sciatic conditions, limited vision, and irascible temperament.”

“The only refrigerator that gives you the chills” pitch might give some readers the willies and the urge to give Jenn the Air. The wide-open obsidian interior displaying well-lit, perfectly ripe food in a state of freshness can best be achieved in a photographic studio and has never appeared in any home for longer than thirty minutes. Such beauty is a joy that won’t last forever because buyers would have to be cautioned “Finding yourself transfixed in front of the beauties of the obsidian interior will likely lead to wheezing, sneezing, pneumonia, and consumer remorse.”

Duck hunters who want to “dominate the skies” are encouraged to buy and use Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 like the rugged, drenched hunter kneeling on wave-splashed rocks. “When you chase an obsession to extremes, this is what you take with you.” The one-inch space at the bottom of the ad would leave room for this warning: “What you may bring back with you is hypothermia, frost-bitten fingers, and hopes dashed upon the midnight rocks.”

Benelli’s catch phrase, “Simply perfect,” should inspire the providers of noxious vaping products to replace the smokescreen and persiflage in their ads with a stark skull and crossbones, the simply perfect symbol for piracy and death.




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Summer Batters 49, Winter Blahs 0

One way to shut out the winter blahs is reading about baseball and the joys of being outside on a nice summer day. David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 is the one of the best books on baseball from a time when love of the game took precedence over money. Now we live in an era when fame is regularly confused with accomplishment. Halberstam focuses on the 1949 pennant race between the Boston Red Sox led by Ted Williams and the New York Yankees led by Joe DiMaggio.

Halberstam captures an era when teams traveled by train and therefore had more time to think about baseball and talking about the game with teammates. Teams were often on the road for ten days or longer, although no team had to travel west than to the banks of the Mississippi. The 16 Major League franchises then were located in Ohio (Reds, Indians), Michigan (Tigers), New York (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers), Missouri (Cardinals, Browns), Illinois (Cubs, White Sox), Massachusetts (Braves, Red Sox), Pennsylvania (Phillies, Athletics, Pirates), and Washington, D.C. (Senators).

Readers are advised not to skip the epilogue after the final game of the World Series is described in chapter 15, for they will be rewarded with universal truths rendered by the likes of Bart Giamatti, John Updike, and Joe Lelyveld. Lelyveld, Pulitzer-prize winning correspondent for The New York Times, spoke for all of us who grew up listening to   sportscasters and fervently swinging for the fences with our favorite slugger when he told Halberstam in 1987 that he knew Tommy Henrich hit about 15 game-winning home runs in the first half of the 1949 season because “I helped him do it” while listening to Mel Allen’s description of Yankee games.

1949 was just the start of something big for Casey Stengel, in his first season as skipper of the Yankees, and for Yogi Berra, who answered criticism over looks and language with outstanding achievement. The list of managers who led a team to five consecutive World Series Championships and catchers who won three Most Valuable Player awards is a short one.

Gag writers who poke fun at the Yogiisms reputedly uttered by the Hall of Famer might gag on Berra’s statistics for his first season as full-time catcher  in 1950 when he was only 25: 656 plate appearances, 116 runs scored, 192 hits, 124 RBIs, .322 batting average, 28 home runs, 12 strikeouts. In 2017 when some of the most respected hitters in the game will go down swinging a dozen times in a week, how many position players appearing in over 150 games will homer twice as often as they fan?  Yogi’s spirit might get the last laugh by putting a wee twist on Willie Keeler’s famous saying: “You can’t hit them where they ain’t if you can’t hit them.”

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Romance on the High Cs

It is customary during the month of February for starry-eyed lovers to remember favorite lyrics and melodies that were popular when they were first dating. “They’re playing our song” is not just an old-fashioned phrase. Many of the comments to be found on YouTube attest to the fact that songs from our youth still strike a responsive chord on heartstrings. Even if the lyrics don’t specifically carry the words “Hello, Young Lovers,” hearing them once again brings back those days when even kings went a-courting.

I can readily understand why so many people consider Barry White’s 1974 hit “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” as “their song” because its driving beat throbs with amorous rhythm, and it remains perhaps the best recorded accompaniment to making love. Cynics who disparage the 1970s as a vacuous decade dominated by disco music and repetitive chords tend to overlook the fact that the period from about 1968 through 1982 produced some of the best soft-rock groups who turned out songs that still can wring the hearts of lovers everywhere. If you want to bring back the look of love in your lover’s eyes, try these tuneful expressions of affection that remain “gentle on my mind”:

“You Are the Woman”   “Just Remember I Love You”   Firefall

“Can’t Find the Time”  Orpheus

“You Can Do Magic”  America

“Suavecito”   Malo

“Nights Are Forever Without You”   “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye”   England Dan and John Ford Coley

“Rings” Cymarron

“This Time I’m In It for Love”  Player

“Pieces of April”  Three Dog Night

“Sharing the Night”  Dr. Hook

“Welcome Me Love”   Brooklyn Bridge

“Strange Magic”  ELO

“Could It Be That I’m Falling in Love”  “One of a Kind Love Affair”  Spinners

“Come and Get Your Love” Redbone

“Sweets for my Sweet, Sugar for My Honey” may be drifting too far back into the 1960s and too saccharine for today’s tastes, but this personalized sentiment from 1973 delivered by Don Goodwin will never go out of style:  “This Is Your Song”





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Peculiar Science 6

The January/February Popular Science gets off to a stumbling start as readers are encouraged to flee for their lives from zombies in an augmented-reality app called Zombies, Run! Before listening to characters “babble about the apocalypse,” readers should listen to their heads which advises them not to take the counsel of immature minds babbling about their adolescence.

Booking a room in a Swedish ice hotel is about the last place people shivering through the coldest months of winter want to read about, yet it is the highlight of the page titled “We’re We’ve Slept.” Bedding down on slabs of ice, even in fur or in sleeping bags, is not the closest thing to home but rather the closest thing to Nome. Even a Pocket Rocket canister stove that “will stick to you forever” will last no longer than the pneumonia invading your body from a night of ice slabbing.

All students who struggled with physics will find little comfort after gazing at the billions of stars on pages 20 and 21, then learning that a professor has announced that after surviving the most stringent test ever thrown at Einstein’s theory, “general relativity has passed.” That collective murmur heard across the country is from zombified readers muttering, “I wish I had.”

In this hectic world there seems no escape from e-mailers and telemarketers, yet the “Holes in the Map” section indicates that about 100 groups of Uncontacted People live “in isolated areas across the globe, including parts of the Amazon.” That must account for the missing workers who operate forklift trucks, are lodged under conveyor belts, or have been mistakenly sealed under bubble wrap and Styrofoam in unopened boxes in Amazon warehouses.

We don’t need writer Michael Koziol to inform us on page 24 that the billions of planets in our galaxy are “So far away.” Carole King told us that back in the Age of Aquarius.

2100 A.D. seems so far away, yet forward-thinking Peter Hess recommends the best place to live in the United States at the dawn of the next century will be Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Readers still alive in 83 years should book their reservations for the Geriatric Winter Games no later than 2098.

The nine-page feature story on “Life Made in China” can be summarized quickly by the double-page spread on pages 36-37 and the wording under the title: “Shenzhen is ground zero for the new culture of globalization” and “But it is actually creating something.” The hazy photo shows what it is creating: lung-clogging smog.

Readers who choose not to emigrate to Michigan or follow the Proxima Trail to a new solar system can stargaze from home like Galileo by building a type of telescope used by the pioneering astronomer, starting with a toilet-paper tube. Wags named Seymour Butts desiring only to point the homemade telescope toward Uranus may be better served by shopping through a novelty catalog for their diversions.

The Modern Explorers kit shown on pages 80-81 contains some practical items like a first aid kit and water filter. Survivalists only accustomed to backyard sleepovers may find that the cricket powders and bars no more tasty than the rain poncho tucked inside the kit.

It might be best for those traveling in distant lands not to bunk down anywhere near where drones may be flying overhead. The Brothers Hassini are commended for developing a “zero-casualty mine sweeping” drone which goes off to fly another day after exploding hidden mines. What about the modern survivalist who just happens to be sleeping off a cricket supper under a rain poncho in the nearby shrubbery?

Masculine readers who see the word “EXPLORE” on the cover, beckoning them to discover what lies within, are also likely to concentrate on the caution: “May Cause Wanderlust,” causing them to let their lust wander past all the palaver about building a sextant from junk and let the sex instinct lead them beyond silly questions like “Can you fertilize Martian crops with human poop?” and bizarre conjectures like “I wish someone would invent a sunscreen pill” to what matters here and now posed in the ad query on page 94: “Male enhancement Pills…Do They Really Work?”











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Yearning to Fly without Wings

Every issue of The Red Bulletin claims to go “Beyond the Ordinary” by covering extremely risky sports and daredevil activities that would surely daunt Old Scratch himself who did some remarkable freefalling of his own.  In the January 2017 issue the staff takes flying leaps to a new level. The Gallery section jumps off the deep end with a shot of a skydiving team ascending behind hot-air balloons on a pendulum swing just before a beginning a four-second descent and a 5,900 freefall. “It’s everyone’s dream,” skydiver Georg Lettner says, “to swing higher and higher, and finally jump off and fly.” Speak for yourself, Georg. It is also everyone’s nightmare to plummet from a high place in a parachute that never opens.

According to the secretary of the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club quoted on page 25, ice sailing on frozen lakes near Madison is “The closet feeling to flying to can get.” Judging by the warm temperatures forecast for Wisconsin this week, being on frigid waters in boats equipped with sails will be the closest feeling to drowning you can get.

On page 62 Bryce Menzies is shown airborne in a truck during his record-breaking 379-foot leap over a ghost town in New Mexico. The editors coyly add “And a crash that make you cringe.” The prospect of whether Menzies will crash again at some time and become a ghost himself will also leave readers cringing.

Jumping out of a plane without a parachute is more than a little cringe-worthy, yet the editors applaud one Luke Atkins who did exactly that and lived to share his story. “The landing didn’t hurt,” Atkins said. “My right shoulder looked like a tennis racket had smacked me, but it was gone in the morning.” He doesn’t say whether his shoulder or the pain had disappeared by the dawn’s early light.

Right up to the final page titled “Makes You Fly” the editors have their heads in the clouds by showcasing a wakeboarder easing his way over a flying container in Pula, Croatia. (There is no indication successful jumps are met with cheers of “Pula Pula” in the same way Yalies love to chant “Boola Boola” at football games.) “The first time is scary,” says wakeboard pro Felix Georgii. “But after a while you just love it.” Most readers are likely to say to themselves and anyone nearby, “You just love it. We’re still cringing.”

Those same readers are not likely to “Love the Beast” shown swimming on page 71 by going cageless shark diving and believing that sharks are “not to be feared but embraced.” Constant Reader who is encouraged to “Open Your Mind” is likely to respond with “Only if you can guarantee that the sharks will not open their jaws while being hugged.”

Even fewer readers of The Red Bulletin taking part in the Dakar Rally which just concluded on January 14 followed the advice given in tip #37 regarding what to do if a vehicle hits an animal: “Put it on the barbecue. South American steaks are the stuff of legend.” Solid evidence for the indigestibility of road kill can be found in Loudon Wainwright’s legendary “Dead Skunk.”

The best counsel given in the entire magazine as to whether anyone should attempt the exceedingly dangerous activities described in The Red Bulletin can be found in the final words of tip #39 regarding the chances of winning the Dakar Rally: “See how it works, get good at it…Otherwise, never.”

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