Around the Horn with Paul Ghiglieri – 9th Edition

Welcome to the ninth edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.

There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:

 

The Rundown

Our Main Story

 

It’s nice to be back after a two-week hiatus, but I had to ride the bench for a bit to help care for my newborn son. During that extended respite, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on fatherhood and baseball. The game has changed much since I was a child. Baseball was very much a national conversation in the 1980s and ’90s when I was younger, and most boys looked up to baseball players as heroes and role models. Baseball garners much less attention these days compared to the NFL and NBA, at least in terms of star power among America’s youth.

Nonetheless, it’s rather fascinating to look back at the kinds of players who served as role models when I was a child. Most of them were immortalized in some of the most spectacular posters imaginable. I mean, seriously, you can’t make some of this stuff up:

 

 

If you ever wanted to see how much society has changed, consider that baseball players were once marketed as gun-toting, stone-cold gangsters on the walls of young boys and girls in America. Mobster motifs were all the rage, apparently.

It’s hard not to love the irony of the “Bash Brothers” poster featuring over-sized bats, seeing as both Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco were oversized with ‘roids at the time and may as well have been swinging sticks that large. Don Mattingly, on the other hand, has adopted an entirely different persona in his time as a borderline bumbling manager of the Dodgers and Marlins that it’s hard to fathom he literally was once spraying hits all over the field like a ruthless “Tommy Gun.” You can almost imagine him staring up at the poster in his office before he addresses the media.

However, as good as those posters are, I’ve saved the best one for last:

 

 

Sweet, sweet music indeed, Frank Viola. Though, the tune may be the stuff of nightmares when you consider what it would be like to wake up to that over your bed at age seven.

Regardless, the take away here is that baseball players back then were heroes akin to the demigods and supers of Marvel’s cinematic universe today, and for me, there was none bigger than Will Clark.

 

 

The guy hit a home run to dead center in the Astrodome off Nolan Ryan in his first at-bat. A six-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate for half a decade during my youth, Will “The Thrill” Clark captured my imagination with his brash confidence and clutch hitting in the biggest spots. His head-to-head battle with Tony Gwynn for the 1989 batting title that wasn’t decided until the final day of the regular season—the same year Clark led the league in runs scored and the Giants to the World Series. It was a season for the ages for a young fan growing up in San Francisco. Not even his Will “The Shrill” moment or his infamous brawl with Ozzie Smith and Jose Uquendo, or even charges of prejudice from a former teammate, dampened my adulation.

And yet, I’d hardly call him a role model at the time. Not that I recall Jose Canseco being written up in the paper for his charitable deeds either, but looking back now, I don’t think it was the constant gritty scowl and often contentious and cocky personality. It was that moments like the grand slam off Greg Maddux in Game 1 of the ’89 NLCS  (the very same that legend says is the reason pitchers now talk in their gloves during mound visits these days, since Clark supposedly read Maddux’s lips saying, “Fastball, high and inside”) and the feeling I had whenever Clark stepped into the batter’s box. Every at-bat felt like a story. An event. He made me want to watch baseball and play the game as well. When people would ask me who my hero was, Clark was always the answer.

Clark’s body eventually began to deteriorate as injuries took their toll, and at the age of 36, after batting .319 with a .546 SLG, he decided to hang up his cleats. Years later, he would admit that he could have kept playing had it not been for the desire to spend more time at home, helping to care for his autistic son.

Today, Clark spearheads Autism Awareness Night at Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) in San Francisco every season during a home Giants game. He remains a man with flaws like any other, but his desire to stop doing what he loved more than anything to be present for something that meant more than baseball has resonated more and more with me as I grow older as both a man and a father in my own right.

I often think about which ballplayers are heroes to the youth of today, even as baseball’s popularity wanes in the national spotlight. How much do we even know about the players of this generation? Take, for example, Tim Anderson. He’s made a name for himself by flipping his bat and using racially-charged language, but who knew he is also doing this every time he steals a base:

 

 

There are countless other examples of great deeds of players on the field, and even mightier ones off it. The greatest active player in the game likely wouldn’t be recognized by most people on the street today, but to those whose lives he has touched through charity, Mike Trout is unmistakable for reasons that extend far beyond anything he does in the batter’s box. Whether it’s visiting sick children in the hospital, bringing presents to a family after their home was destroyed in a fire weeks before Christmas, or partnering with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Orange County, Trout’s kind deeds are what define him as a man far more than his prowess with a bat and glove do.

Baseball players can still be role models and heroes for their actions both inside and outside the diamond. If the game is the greatest metaphor for life, then its authors remain the most paramount poets. Maybe we should take more time to consider baseball beyond the debates over the DH and rule changes and a rabbit ball, the entertainment, and fantasy team fodder.

Perhaps we should enjoy the game as we once did—as a story with heroes and legends, gripping battles, thrilling victories, and soul-crushing defeats—highlighted by an ending where we discover the humanity in those characters that makes them real.

I look forward to telling my children about Will Clark and Nolan Ryan, embellishing it like it was David versus Goliath until their eyes eventually roll, as well as the “Band of Misfits” who won in 2010, and the “Never Say Die” 2012 rogues, and Madison Bumgarner‘s Herculean performance (52.2 innings, six starts, one save, and a 0.56 ERA) during the 2014 World Series that cemented a dynasty. I will share those stories just as they hopefully will watch a generation of players yet to even don a uniform that will captivate and inspire them, too. And I’ll do that as other parents bring their children to ballparks around the country to watch the story of Christian Yelich proving he could do it again, Josh Bell‘s “Phoenix Rising” redemption story after an anonymous scout called him a “big lump,” Kris Bryant‘s comeback story, Mike Fiers‘ finding magic in a bottle (twice!), Tim Anderson giving us all a reason to cheer every time he takes off for second, and so many other great tales and stories, of 2019 and beyond.

Stories that lead us back to ourselves and the role models we seek to be for those we love and care about more than anything.

Even baseball.

 

Out of the Park

A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week

 

Mrs. Fields cookies are hardly the thing most of you would think about when discussing baseball, but maybe you should:

 


Just a ballgirl with a dream to bake cookies, and bake some serious cookies she did. Talk about changing up the recipe!

Speaking of changeups…

 

 

And while we’re on Bauer, his story of a Baltimore Orioles fan who obliterated him is pure gold:

 

 

Finally, is there anything better than Ronald Acuña smacking Orlando Arcia after this stolen base?

 

 

Don’t even think about stealing that man’s fries!

 

Backdoor Sliders

Where Baseball Got Caught Looking

 

While I’ve been busy waxing poetic about baseball in this column, it seems only reasonable that I point out how ugly the game can truly be:

 

 

If you thought that was bad, and it unequivocally was, then I’ve got news for you. There’s worse:

 

 

That might be the worst play in baseball history. The last tee-ball game you played featured better, more competent defense than that play. Before the pitch is even thrown, every soul watching knows any ball fielded on the ground in the infield should immediately be thrown where?

Simon Oriole says… let’s play pickle, I guess.

As terrible as that was, it probably wasn’t nearly as soul-crushing as this:

 

 

LSU stays alive at the SEC Tournament on a walk-off error because… baseball.

 

Extra Bags

 

Our very own Michael Augustine rockin’ the slow jam on Luis Castillo‘s change seems like a groovy way to wrap up this week.

 

 

And that’s the ballgame for this week!

Paul Ghiglieri

Paul Ghiglieri has written fantasy analysis and hardball columns for PitcherList and FantasyPros. A lifelong Giants fan living in LA, he spends his free time writing screenplays with metaphors for life only half as good as baseball.

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