Friday, June 08, 2007

All the World's a Stage

As a young man, I grew up as an Oakland A’s fan. The basis for my fandom was borne mostly out of geography and the fact my dad liked them. In the early 80s, the A’s brought Billy Martin on as the manager, and Pops was none too happy about that. I tried to ferret out the reason(s) for his strong dislike – “hate” is too strong a word as my dad reserved that for other more-important items like broccoli and chicken. However, all I could get out of him was Billy Martin argued too much with the umpire. I knew that my dad had done his fair share of umping for Little League through the years, and that was sure to inform his opinion of verbally belligerent coaches/managers, but dad’s view of Billy Martin seemed to have deeper roots than that.

To this day, I can’t figure it out. I did an Internet search the other day on Billy Martin, and I could find no such evidence of a criminal record, of Mr. Martin perhaps marching in an anti-war protest in the 60s (dad’s not much for the hippies), or of Billy killing innocent rabbits. I even went so far as to type in both Billy Martin’s and my dad’s names together, and the only thing I could come up with was a study for adult acne. (I didn’t read the study, but it’s funny that I never have noticed a single pimple on my dad’s face – or Billy’s for that matter.)

Admittedly, I do find it odd that a manager will argue with an umpire. I’ve yet to see an ump reverse his decision because the manager made a cogent, impassioned plea based on reason and pure logic – nor have I seen one reverse the call because the manager’s voice is louder than a Boeing 737 and his face is three deep shades of purple. Most die-hard baseball fans will argue that there’s a well-thought-out craftiness behind the manager’s meltdown. Some say it’s intended to fire up the players. Others argue that it’s the manager’s way of putting doubt in the ump’s mind so the next close call will go his way. Those are feeble attempts to justify the behavior of a grown man who’s being paid millions of dollars to sit around in tight pants and cleats. I think I’ve figured it out.

Is it simply a coincidence that a lot of the Big League managers are built like the fat lady at the opera? Come on, put a Viking helmet and a blonde wig with long braids on Lou Piniella, and you know the aria from “Flight of the Valkyries” is going to start playing in your head. Either that or you’re going to hear Elmer Fudd singing “Kill da Wabbit, Kill da Wabbit.” These middle-aged men in tights are performing for us, the fans! (It’s not as if they’re suited up and ready to fill in at shortstop at a moment’s notice. And although it seems odd that they wear cleats, they go better with the whole outfit – Wingtips or Penny Loafers would just look silly.)

As younger athletes, these managers were able to scale the wall in the outfield to rob a home run or dash across the infield to turn lightning-fast double plays. Although their bodies have since precluded them from these activities, the desire to perform never dies. Kicking dirt and tossing one of the bases into the outfield may seem like protest against the umpire’s call, but it’s really performance art. Why do you think “Dancing With the Stars” attracts athletes? The ranks of managers are full. It’s too bad, though, that the dancing takes place in a studio rather than on a ball field. I would love to see one of the judges take some dirt in the face or get a base thrown at them for a bad score. Now that’s entertainment!

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