When Michael Piñeda of the Yankees was caught with pine tar on the back of his neck the other day, my thoughts flashed back to a high-school football game I covered, oh, a few years ago.
In bright sunshine, with witnesses in the stands, a defender put the slug on an opponent – on the 50-yard line. The referee tossed him. After the game, the crusty old coach told the wave of reporters (that is to say, me), “Geez, I told the guy, don’t do stuff like that in the middle of the field.”
The operative phrase was, “in the middle of the field.” Whack the guy in the bottom of the pile. Knee him. Gouge him. But, geez, not in full view.
They all know. That’s my theory about sports. Coaches have a pretty good idea what their players are up to but cannot afford to “know.” During the great steroid frolics, owners and general managers did everything but administer the injections.
(Looking back, I heard one owner make creatine jokes before I knew what he was talking about, and one terrific player talk about a “major-league coffee” before a game.)
Some of the best people I have known in baseball relied on little tricks of the trade. Rick Honeycutt used a tack in his glove to cut the baseballs, alter their aerodynamics. Got caught by the home-plate umpire, Bill Kunkel, himself a former pitcher. Geez, not in the middle of the field.
Rick is a great guy, now in his ninth year as the Dodgers’ pitching coach.
I once saw Elston Howard set a world record for a lumbering catcher in full gear sprinting from home plate to the dugout tunnel after catching one hellacious curve from Whitey Ford for the last strike against the Tigers. Elston took the ball with him, I might add, and was on the George Washington Bridge heading home to the beautiful Arlene Howard before the Tigers could scream for the ball – and Elston’s belt buckle, which was filed to nearly lethal sharpness.
And so it goes. Briana Scurry moved forward from the line to smother a penalty kick during the shootout for the final of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The referee did not notice, or chose not to notice, Scurry’s dancing feet. The U.S. beat China a minute later.
Donna Lopiano, then of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and one of the strong, ethical voices in sport, called Scurry’s move cheating. I called it gamesmanship and wrote a whole column about it:
Everybody in baseball knows what pitchers do, as Tyler Kepner writes in the Friday Times.
Piñeda deserved the 10-game suspension not so much for cheating but for a worse violation.
Geez, not in public.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)