Friday, May 11

Jose Gets All Melodramatic

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Jose loves Tim Wakefield and Jose loves the knuckleball. Or more accurately, Jose loves Tim Wakefield because of the knuckleball. This is not a secret.

Time and time again, Jose has described how he became enamored of the knuckleball while watching one of the Niekro brothers on The Baseball Bunch. (Note: Isn’t it time for a new Baseball Bunch? Could Barry Bonds play the Johnny Bench role, teaching kids the fundamentals, like hitting, throwing and proper use of performance enhancing drugs? “Cream on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, clear on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays kids. But on Sunday you rest. That’s God’s time.) Jose has described his lifelong effort to throw knuckleball and how it has resulted in him throwing exactly two out of, perhaps 10,000 pitches thrown. Jose has even claimed that he likes the knuckleball because it is like magic. It is the baseball equivalent of having a 5’3’’ NBA player who is in the league solely on his ability to hit half court set shots. At least that’s why Jose thought he loved the knuckleball. But he has had a change of heart. He has, if you will, flip flopped or perhaps sandaled.

Jose loves the knuckleball, because it is a metaphor for life. maybe not for everyone’s life, but for Jose’s life. The thing about the knuckleball that is so extraordinary is that unlike other pitches, it cannot be controlled, only directed, managed. Tim Wakefield cannot force the knuckleball up or down in the zone. He cannot choose for it to be a strike or a ball. What he can do is affect how sharply it breaks by speeding it up or slowing it down. And time after time, he can repeat, with the greatest possible precision, the exact motions that have brought him, and other knuckleballers before him, optimal results. Sometimes the outcomes are excellent, and sometimes, like now or in his magical 1995 stretch, they are astonishingly good for lengthy stretches. At others, such as when he was left off the 1999 ALCS roster after he seemed capable of blowing a 98 run lead in Game 4 of the ALDS, nothing he does seems to matter.

This is how life goes for Jose. He keeps the fingernails of his being trimmed and filed to exactly 3mm, he goes out of the figurative pitching motion and does his best to make the little tweaks required to keep the knuckleballs of daily life breaking hard over the plate. Sometimes the results are wonderful. Sometimes the Jason Giambis of despair, the Derek Jeters of adversity swing and miss and look as foolish as jesters. Sometimes, even thought they swing and miss, the ball evades the catcher and sneaks to the back stop, as seemingly good fortune melts into bad. But other times, there is Aaron Boone. Other times, Jose does the best he can, rotates the horsehide of his being forward by exactly one-fourth of a rotation, and still, there is no break, no movement. Whether it is a gust of wind from the frozen north, a butterfly batting its wings in Malaysia or a fan sneezing in section 23, the knuckleball fails to knuckle, the good intentions yield bad results and the ball makes an abrupt about face into the bleachers and into the emotional void of failure.

Jose cannot control his life any more than Tim Wakefield can control his knuckleball. He can only put faith in the soundness of his actions, the purity of his intentions and know that when his wins and losses are counted up at the end of the season, his record will be a little above five hundred. No, he may not be extraordinary, but he will be effective, he will be valued and maybe, just maybe he will hit that hot streak, that mystical spot at just the right time, and he can do something truly legendary.

2. With Hideki Okajima’s latest scoreless inning last night, that man who was once known as “the other Japanese guy” is now well on his way to being known simply as “OK.”

In light of OK’s emergence as the best setup man in baseball, Jose would like to revive a long dead, failed product. Now, Jose is always looking for opportunities to revive failed products ranging from PB Max candy bars (note: if only Pedro Borbon would return) to new Coke (note: is Steve Howe dead?), but this one is special.

In the summer of 1994, a series of chain letters mysteriously began to spread through Boston and perhaps the country like Herpes Simplex II through Daytona Beach. These letters spoke of a mysterious beverage that had brought great good fortune to those who consumed it and grave misfortune to those who had not. This beverage was called OK Soda. But despite the incredibly illegal marketing idea, despite the cool 800 number where on could hear stories of the great powers of the alterna-beverage as well as bird calls, the product failed. Perhaps it was because cynical Generation Xers realized that OK was secretly a product of the Coca-Cola Corporation, or perhaps it was because it tasted like a mix of Mountain Dew, Orange Fanta (note: the American kind, not the good European kind) and day old Folger’s crystals. Either way, no one drank it.
But now that there is, at last, a credible spokesman, it is time for OK Soda to make a comeback. According to wikipedia, it can be duplicated by mixing ¼ orange soft drink,¾ semi-flat Coca-Cola a splash of Dr. Pepper or Sprite. Jose calls on all Fenway stand concessionaires to start making this concoction as tribute to OK, our left-handed life saver. Let us all join together when he enters the game, no matter the hardship, no matter the burden and raise our glasses and recite the OK Soda slogan: With Hideki Okajima in the game “Things are going to be OK.”

Official Soft Drink of the Boston Red Sox?

3. There was a brawl last night at the Boston Pops and it got Jose thinking. Jose thinks a lot about the differences between high culture, like the symphony or professional wrestling, and low culture like baseball or cockfighting, and he thinks they could learn some things from each other.

  • You never hear orchestras talking about how they need a new publicly financed symphony hall to remain economically viable or how the seats are too small and uncomfortable for modern people. Why is that? Don’t they know that if an institution is important to a city they can get a free ride?
  • Jose knows the brawl wasn’t among musicians but what if it had been? If a clarinetist got into a fight with a cellist, would the rest of the woodwinds have to get involved to defend their compatriot? Would it be a rallying moment leading to better woodwind play for the rest of the orchestral season?

  • They should sing Sweet Caroline before the last song at the Symphony.

  • Why no wave at the Symphony? Not during the good parts with the brass, but during the boring string solos?

  • Do professional musicians ever refuse to talk to jerk music critics?

  • Jose is always quick to condemn performance enhancing drugs in sports, but so many musicians throughout history have used drugs to enhance their performance. From Miles Davis and pot, to Yo-Yo Ma’s crystal meth habit. Should Jose be condemning them too?

  • Given that the Boston Pops is basically the Boston Symphony Orchestra minus the best player in each instrumental section and plus someone worse in each section, why are they so celebrated? Isn’t it a little like taking the staring nine and top two pitchers away from the Red Sox, and bringing up 11 minor leaguers to fill in. Jose wouldn’t care how charming and cute the manager was, he still wouldn’t want to watch it.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Wednesday, May 9

Men of Cruelty

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Terry Eurona won his 300th game as Red Sox manager last night, and Jose is genuinely happy for him, and, in a real way, happy for America.

We live in an age where cruelty is rewarded, not only rewarded but revered. In a time when Bill Parcells is lionized for his efficient, professional meanness, when CEOs are praised to the hilt for the callousness of their layoffs, when “you’re fired” is a beloved catch phrase more than a statement of lives and families destroyed, it is refreshing to see one of the genuinely good people have such success.

Despite the constant clamoring among this fan base, among every fan base for men of cruelty, for old school Dick Williams, Bill Fitch, Bobby Knight types who will bludgeon and brutalize spoiled, athletes into humble submission, these men are wrong for this day and age. And Jose is glad. It is a sign of progress, when personal viciousness is no longer a virtue.

And thus, Tito Eurona, surprisingly enough, is a man of today, a modern man and a modern manager. When Tito took this job, he said something to the effect of “I’m a nice guy, and I don’t want this job if it means I have to stop being nice.” It was a good sound bite, it was a sign of decency, but what one didn’t know was that it was a management manifesto, and a sound manifesto at that.

Be nice.

Pretty simple, pretty good. Don’t be a push over, but don’t be a d*ck. Air grievances privately, rather than on the back page of the Herald. Treat players fairly. Only criticize constructively. Do not tear people down.

Tito has not only won, he has not only been nice, but he has won by being nice. And he’s done it 300 times.

2. Last Thursday, Jose attended the battle of Japan with one of Jose’s People, Empyreal Environs, who has somehow, in the just the last 10 years, reached the level of delusion required to write about every single Red sox game (Note: The correct amount of time for it to take is 27 years.). Think about this. She arrived in Boston at the height of the Steve Avery era, and yet still chose, CHOSE, to descend into the madness.

While the conversation throughout the evening was scintillating, as one might expect from a meeting of Boston’s two premiere Japanese American baseball minds, one subject of conversation stood out as particularly exceptional—when is it okay for a Red Sox fan to accept a Yankee autographed ball?

The impetus for this particular discussion was Empyreal’s story of the difficult choice a friend had (note: Jose thinks it was a friend and not a relative… or Empyreal herself… Jose spent much of the evening in a haze, as one tends to when the $101 million starter walks 800 batters) as to whether or not to accept a Yankee ball autographed by among others, legendary alcoholic and peeping tom Mickey Mantle, despite his being a Red sox fan.

It got Jose thinking. Would he accept a Mantle ball? No. What about a 1996 Yankee ball? Please. A Lou Gehrig ball? Is ALS contagious? (Note: No) What about a Ruth ball? Red Sox era yes, Yankee era no. Braves era, absolutely. An Andy Stankiewiecz ball? Tempting on an ironic level, but still no.

So Jose gave it a lot of thought and determined that there is only one Yankee ball he would ever want (Note: Aside from Jim Bouton.). Jose would accept, hell, Jose would pay for a ball signed by both Thurman Munson and Corey Lidle. There. He said it. It’s tasteless, but he said it. And it was funny, as plane crash jokes tend to be. Actually, Jose would like one ball even more than that. If he could get a Yankee ball signed by Thurman Munson, Corey Lidle and…

Nuts, Jose really wanted to put Jorge Posada in there. He hates Jorge Posada…weasel faced creep, but damn it, Jose simply cannot wish death in a plane crash on anyone. Too bad. It would have been funny too. Maybe if Munson and Lidle had died peacefully in their sleep, Jose could have joked about having Posada’s name on a ball with them, but a plane crash? That’s too tacky even for Jose… barely.

3. Curt Euro, shockingly, called out Barry Bonds yesterday for cheating on his wife, cheating on his taxes and cheating at the great game of baseball.

He was unusual in being willing to call out Bonds in earnest and publicly when disturbingly few active players are willing to do so. That said, his statement lacked balance. While Euro did list all of the things that Bonds does cheat at, he utterly failed to list the many aspects of life wherein he has not cheated.

Consider the following:
• Bonds has not, as best we know cheated at cards.
• He has never performed Cheat, by the Clash at karaoke.
• He is not a “pumpkin eater.”
• Not a big fan of Cheetos. (Note: Wait… that’s Cheetah, not cheater?)
• Not technically a member of the Guerrero wrestling family (Motto: Cheat to Win.)
• Has never hit opposing player with a steel chair.

On the other hand, Jose is pretty sure he has a Jessie “The Body” Ventura inspired tattoo reading “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.)

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Tuesday, May 8

Get With the Losing Team

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Once, there was a man.

He was a great man, a rewriter of history, the idol and envy of millions. From modest beginnings, he rose to become greater than any before him, to become, perhaps, the greatest of all. But you know what happens to the great don’t you? Pride flows from power, heroism becomes hubris and nemesis, as the Greeks might say, is a bitch.

From his height of power, from the peak of his influence, he had nothing left to do save submit to Newton’s cruel discovery and fall, fall ever faster to Earth. Into exile he went, a comfortable exile an exile softened by all the riches of the age, but an exile nevertheless, away from the power, away from the intrigue and off to a gilded prison.

But for great men, a comfortable retirement is no comfort at all. Power is the only comfort, adulation the only opiate. And so he escaped from his exile, as fate demanded. Oh, he escaped with visions of glory restored, power reclaimed and in short order those visions were fulfilled. Hysterical woman screamed his name, praising the nobility of his return, weeping, saluting what seemed an inevitable restoration of a powerful and feared empire.

His name, you might be surprised to hear, was not Roger Clemens. Not at all.

This is the story of quite a different author of history, one of smaller stature than Clemens, and with, remarkably, a smaller ego to boot. You have, perhaps, heard of him. His was called Napoleon Bonaparte.

On March 1, 1815, Napoleon returned to France, having escaped from exile in Elba, that Houston of the Mediterranean, and, after converting the French Fifth Regiment of the Line to his cause upon encountering them at Grenoble quickly regained his position as Emperor of France.

Like Napoleon before him, Roger Clemens returns in dramatic fashion, taking in the cheers at Yankee Stadium, like Napoleon on that first day of March. Clemens standing in the owner’s box might as well have declared “Soldiers of the Fifth, you recognize me. If any man would shoot his emperor, he may do so now.” And he might as well have been greeted with cheers of "Vive L'Empereur!"

But the story does not end there. Nor does it proceed neatly to the French Empire reclaiming the continent. For all of the enthusiasm his return generated, Napoleon’s restoration ended a scant 100 days later in disaster.

And with barely more than 100 days left in the baseball season why should the Clemens restoration end any differently than that of Napoleon? Is Clemens a greater man? Is he more heroic? Has he faced adversity with more bravado?

No, he has not. No he is not. Like Napoleon before him, Clemens comes to save, to restore an empire that has crumbled, that has turned to dust as luxury, as decadence, as an endless thirst for domination overextends resources and engenders a certain incurable madness.

And like Napoleon the crowds may cheers Clemens’ return, they may envision a restoration of the grandeur that was. But like Napoleon, Clemens will battle his Wellington, he will meet his Waterloo and he will end up on his St. Helena.

Seperated at birth?

2. You know who Jose blames for Clemens signing with the Yankees? Grady Little.

Now this isn’t a reflexive thing, like Jose automatically blaming Grady for a warehouse fire in Lawrence or World War I, this is serious. Grady is responsible, because he attempted to change destiny, which, as anyone who has read Oedipus Rex or seen Terminator 3 knows, is impossible.

Roger Clemens is fated, absolutely guaranteed, to end his career by picking up the loss in a pathetic performance against the Boston Red Sox.

The script was written. Game 7, 2003 ALCS and a Roger Clemens who has vowed to retire is nothing short of pathetic. His last game ever, will be a classic Clemens playoff implosion against the soon to be World Champion Red Sox. Except Grady attempts to alter the future. He kneecaps John Wilkes Booth, he poisons FDR, he hand delivers the Zimmerman Telegram, he does everything he can to fight off destiny when he leaves Pedro in and the Red Sox lose. Thus, Clemens goes on to pitch again.

But you can’t fight destiny any more than you can fight nightmares. It just keeps coming.

Since that day, Jose has been waiting for a season ending match up between Clemens and the Red Sox, such that the circle may be closed. He thought we would have it in 2004 when Clemens’ Astros nearly battled the Red Sox in the World Series, but Clemens couldn’t overcome the kryptonite that is Jeff Suppan.

So Jose has waited, waited each year as Clemens has put off retirement again and again, waited as he has taunted and teased Red Sox fans with the prospect of a return, waited for the final chapter. And here it is. Roger Clemens is, once more, a Yankee. And his last start of this season, the last start of his career, will come against these Boston Red Sox. Clemens will collapse. The Red Sox will win. Destiny will take its bounty.

3. Last year as Roger went through his absurd little process, Jose compared him to Italy in World War I, waiting to see who was most likely to triumph before jumping in with the winning team in return for a stunning ransom. It is now clear that this analogy was incorrect. For the second straight year, Clemens has chosen to go after the king’s ransom, but he has chosen to do so with a losing team. Thus, Jose would like to formally apologize to the nation of Italy circa World War I for the comparison. For you to be like Clemens, you would have had to assess the situation, bide your time and then join up with the Central Powers shortly after the Second Battle of the Somme in 1918, once defeat was assured. Jose regrets the inaccuracy.

Jose would like to find a substitute historical analogy, but he is, as yet, unable to find any nation, any person, so eager to freely choose what will clearly be the losing side in any conflict. It appears, that in the entire history of statecraft, there is no one as stupid or as arrogant as Roger Clemens.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.