November 9, 2017

Diocesan Convention Ignores the Needs of the Handicapped

It’s convention time again for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I have been attending these annual events every year since 2002. The diocese’s 152nd annual convention will be held tomorrow and Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh’s North Hills. I'm not looking forward to it.

Diocesan seal
The venue (or venues) for the annual convention varies from year to year, and some facilities work better than others. When since-deposed Bob Duncan was the bishop, at least in the later years of his tenure, the location of the convention was apparently chosen from among churches whose congregations were sympathetic to his theological proclivities. Such preferences led to meetings in churches that were ill-suited to hosting a convention.

Happily, since the departure of Bishop Duncan and his sympathizers, the annual convention has been held in churches that, in large measure, are suited to the purpose to which they are being put. The last five conventions have been held either at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh or at my former church, St. Paul’s, in Mt. Lebanon.

Which brings us to this year’s convention. The last diocesan gathering to be held in North Hills was that of 2011. I have certain negative associations with that church, as I broke a laptop screen at that convention due to my own stupidity, but the church is not responsible for that. However, Christ Church used its basement as well as its worship space. Most notably, the Friday night meal was held in the basement. I was attending with someone who was wheelchair-bound. Although the church proper is handicap accessible, a person in a wheelchair cannot reach the basement from within the building. Access to the basement is provided by a door that opens to the parking lot. An exceedingly steep temporary ramp placed over a series of steps leads down to basement level. Transit over this ramp in a wheelchair is best described as scary as hell.

In the six years since the convention was last held at Christ Church, one might have imagined that either the church would have provided more appropriate access to the basement or the convention would be staged elsewhere. I was told that the church is running a capital campaign which, I assume, will rectify a serious access issue, but the issue remains for this convention.

Why is our church not more sensitive to the needs of the handicapped? The convention need not have been held at Christ Church. I suspect that the fact that the rector of Christ Church is Secretary of Convention and responsible for much of its planning is not unrelated to this year’s choice of venue. That is a poor excuse for making attendance at the convention so difficult for the handicapped.

The 152nd convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should have been held elsewhere.

Update, 11/12/2017. Convention at Christ Church, North Hills, was even worse than expected for the handicapped. Some of the breakout rooms were totally inaccessible to persons with mobility problems. Displays, refreshments, and box lunches were in the basement (undercroft) reached by temporary ramps. The ramps were solidly built but were nonetheless inadequate. To reach the basement, one had to negotiate two ramps placed over sets of stairs. The ramp from the parking lot to the first landing was outrageously steep and could not be negotiated by someone in a wheelchair without help. Going up alone would simply be impossible—this required two strong helpers—and going down alone could only be done if one had a strong death wish. The second ramp, from the landing to the basement itself, was gentler, if not ADA compliant. It included a surprise at the lower end. A wheelchair invariably ran into a post at the end of a ramp if the notch at the bottom of the ramp was encountered unexpected. My wheelchair-bound friend vowed never to set foot (or wheelchair) in Christ Church again.

The pictures below will make clear how difficult entry was.

Ramp from parking lot
Steep ramp from parking lot to landing

Ramp to basement
Ramp from landing to basement, which necessitates a 90° turn

Sign above long ramp
Sign above ramp to basement (where I hit my head only once)

Bottom of ramp to basement
Notch at bottom of ramp to basement guaranteed to snag a wheelchair wheel

October 18, 2017

The Vietnam War in Four Pictures

Like many Americans, I watched all 18 hours of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War. Many have commented on the PBS program, so I won’t try to evaluate it here. Instead, I offer some very personal observations.

I lived through all of America’s involvement in Vietnam, so much of what I saw was familiar. Like any good documentary, The Vietnam War clarified chronology and, to a degree, motivations. I didn’t learn a lot, but there were revelatory moments. I didn’t know how much we had helped the French. I didn’t know that Lyndon Johnson knew before the election that Richard Nixon had discouraged Vietnam from participating in peace talks. I didn’t know much about post-war Vietnam. I was happy to have watched The Vietnam War, but I felt like I was getting my life back when it was over, having been relieved of so much obligatory TV viewing.

A few turning points in the Vietnam War are particularly memorable—Walter Cronkite’s commentary on the futility of the conflict, Lyndon Johnson’s pulling out of the presidential race—but the war, for me, was really captured in four photographs. Those photographs do not summarize the war or present a coherent or chronological picture of it, but they stick in my mind and tell compelling stories. (Click on photos for larger images.)

Execution on Saigon street
Eddie Adams, The Associated Press
This picture was taken by Eddie Adams in Saigon on February 1, 1968, the second day of North Vietnam’s Tet offensive. It captures the summary execution of ­Nguyễn Văn Lém by Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngoc Loan, chief of the South Vietnam police. Adams had not anticipated that Loan would pull out his .38-caliber pistol and shoot Lém through the head. Lém was a Vietcong prisoner who allegedly had led a squad of Vietcong that had killed the family of a friend of Loan’s. The photograph, which won a Pulitzer Prize, emphasized the brutality and lawlessness of the Vietnam conflict.

Kent State shooting
John Paul Filo
This photograph was disturbing is a way that not even pictures of the war itself were. It was not taken in Saigon, but in Kent, Ohio, by photojournalist student John Paul Filo. The date was May 4, 1970. National Guard troops had been called to the campus of Kent State University, site of student protests against the Vietnam War. Ostensibly, the troops were there to disperse protesters. It is unclear why they carried loaded rifles and even less clear why they fired on unarmed students, killing four and wounding 9. Filo’s photo shows 14-year-old runaway Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the slain 20-year-old Jeffrey Miller. This photo, cropped and edited—the fence post over Vecchio’s head was removed—also won a Pulitzer Prize. John Filo brought the increasingly unpopular war home to the United States and raised questions of free speech and assembly under the Nixon administration.

Napalm attack victims
Nick Ut, The Associated Press
 On June 8, 1972, a Vietnam Air Force plan dropped napalm on a group of Vietnam civilians and soldiers mistakenly assumed to be enemy combatants. Nine-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phúc was among the victims of this attack. She tore off her burning clothes and was photographed running naked by Nick Ut, who took her and other injured children to a Saigon hospital. Kim Phúc survived, and her picture is seared in the minds of all who have seen it. A cropped version of this photo ran on the front page of The New York Times and subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize. The picture illustrates the horrors of war and, especially, the ghastliness of the use of napalm. (I feel a special connection to this photograph, having written a poem about an adult Kim Phúc,)

Saigon evacuation
Hugh van Es, Bettmann/Corbis
 Long before anyone in the government was willing to admit it, it was clear that the United States and South Vietnam could not win the war in Vietnam. The U.S. turned the war over to the South Vietnamese not really believing that the South could hold against the North. The situation was even worse than we believed, however, and the U.S. embassy was caught off guard when, on April 29, 1975, North Vietnamese soldiers were about to overrun Saigon. A chaotic evacuation of the embassy and of Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans was quickly arranged. The above photograph shows an Air America (i.e., CIA) helicopter taking evacuees to safety on waiting American ships. An expensive, ill-conceived, and insincere war had come to an end, but other such wars would follow.

Are these the photographs you remember from the Vietnam War?

Clueless Comcast Technical Support

People seem to love to complain about their cable company. Admittedly, cable service seems universally too expensive, a fact that is causing many to abandon cable for other sources of entertainment media. Price aside, however, I have been very satisfied with the functionality of Comcast’s Xfinity X1 platform, which provides both my cable TV and Internet service. Additionally, I have been generally satisfied with Comcast’s technical support. In my experience, telephone technical support has been provided by savvy technicians who are knowledgeable and patient. In-home service technicians have gone the extra mile to assure that my service was up to par.

Either I had an uncharacteristically bad experience last night or Comcast has decided that providing excellent telephone support isn’t important enough to justify its cost.

I am a fan both of baseball and of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Particularly during the fall playoffs, this presents a dilemma. Last night, for example, the Dodgers-Cubs game began at the same time as Rachel Maddow. My DVR is set to record all the Maddow shows, giving me the option to watch at a later time (often the next day). What I planned to do last night, however, was what I have often done when Pirates games conflict with my favorite political show, namely, watch the game on the television without sound while watching Maddow on my phone or tablet. Last night, I got error messages on my phone and tablet when I tried to access the Maddow Show. I also had this problem the night before as well and had simply put up with it. (I viewed Maddow after the game.) I had encountered this problem some time ago and remember a technician walking me through a fix. Unfortunately, I had forgotten what the fix was, so I called Comcast to solve my problem.

Things went badly from the beginning. In the past, it was reasonably easy to get connected to a technical support person. Last night, however, I was immediately connected to someone who spoke barely intelligible English and who didn’t seem to understand my problem. I asked where he was and was told that he was in the Philippines. We didn’t communicate well, and, without my requesting it, he soon connected me to a woman who seemed to be an American.

After listening to a description of my problem, this next person put me on hold for a while. When she returned several minutes later, she assured me that the problem was an outage in my area that had begun that morning. I asked if the error code I had received indicated an outage and what the nature of the outage might be, since my TV and Internet services were working fine and had been all day. I received no satisfactory answers to my questions and asked to talk to a supervisor.

It took a few more minutes to speak to a supervisor, who, I was told, was helping another customer. After yet another explanation of my problem, I was told that, in fact, the system would not allow me to do what I was trying to do. I could not watch a program on my tablet that was currently being recorded on my DVR; I had to wait until the entire program had been recorded. (Meanwhile, I was missing Maddow and the baseball game, as the telephone call was requiring all my attention.) I protested that what I “couldn’t do” was something I had done many times before. My protestations that I most certainly could do what I wanted to do fell on deaf ears. The supervisor seemed as technically clueless as the last two Comcast employees I has spoken to. At this point, I gave up and said that, no, the supervisor couldn’t help me with anything else.

I looked forward to the telephone quality survey in which I had agreed to participate at the beginning of my call. When I received the automated call-back, I, sadly, was asked only two questions: Was I the person who had called for support? How would I rate the service on a scale from 1 to 5? The answers were, of course, yes and 1.

After my DVR finished recording The Rachel Maddow Show, I again tried to view the recording on my tablet. I received the same error message. About 20 minutes later, however,  I was able to begin viewing my recording on my tablet. However, about 40 minutes in, the recording repeatedly reverted to a position about a minute earlier. I had never seen this behavior before. I finished watching the Maddow recording on my television.

I decided to document the fact that the supervisor didn’t know what she was talking about. I arbitrarily chose an in-process program to record. The program was Ink Master: Angles (whatever that is) on Spike. After a couple of minutes, I brought up the recording on my phone. I then took the pictures below of my phone and TV.

TV and phone screens showing that program is being streamed
TV and phone screens. Ink Master: Angles is being recorded (indicated by the red bar under
the top left image) and being streamed on the telephone.

TV and Phone Screens Showing Same Program
TV and phone screens. Ink Master: Angles on TV screen and being streamed on the telephone.
(TV and streamed content are never perfectly synchronized.)

Clearly, Comcast technical support is clueless and needs to be improved. The people I spoke to last night seemed to be consulting documentation of some sort in an attempt to respond to my problem; they didn’t appear to understand what was happening or what was possible. The next time I call Comcast, I hope I get one of the technical people who knows what he or she is talking about.

October 3, 2017

Post-season MLB Games Begin

Tonight, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox play a single game to see which team will be given a chance eventually to play in Major League Baseball’s World Season.  MLB’s regular 162-game season—i.e., a season of 162 games for each MLB team—is complete, and the most successful teams now advance to what is being called the Postseason.

MLB logo for the “Postseason”
As I wrote on my Web site seven years ago, “Postseason,” as a noun, is a horrible neologism. (See “Postseason.”) There is no season having to do with posts. The playoffs that begin tonight would better be designated the MLB “Playoffs” or “Championships” Perhaps “World Series Tournament” would be a good name.

Read the essay on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago and see what you think.

September 25, 2017

Thoughts on North Korea

I had been planning to write an essay explaining why President Trump’s approach to a nuclear-armed North Korea is flawed. But the increasingly hostile rhetoric from both Trump and Supreme Leader Kim requires a special warning and an immediate call to action.

Even if he had the capability to do so, it is unlikely that Kim would try to strike Guam or the mainland U.S. without actual military provocation. Retaliation for such a move would be (and would properly be) swift and decisive. The threat to explode a nuclear weapon in the Pacific Ocean seems less threatening and, therefore, more likely. The threat is real and significant. Korea has no island in the Pacific to use as a target, so the apparent threat is to explode a bomb over water. As Trump has observed, this would create a poisonous fallout cloud that the world has not seen in decades. But would it not, depending upon the circumstances of the detonation, also create a more immediately lethal tsunami? The threat from such a wave would be widespread, endangering not only parts of the U.S., but other Pacific Rim countries, most notably Japan, as well. We cannot let this happen.

Since effecting a brain transplant for our brainless president is impossible, I suggest that Congressional action is called for. Like it or not, we have to live with a nuclear-armed DPRK that possesses ICBMs for the foreseeable future. Kim sees his arsenal as the guarantor of his and his country’s survival. This view is clearly correct, except possibly when the White House is occupied by a madman like Donald Trump.

Congress should pass a law on a bipartisan, veto-proof basis, to the effect that:

  1. The U.S. will not attack North Korea or attempt to change its government unless it or an ally (notably South Korea) is attacked by North Korea; and
  2. No hostile action may be taken by our military against North Korea without a formal declaration of war by the Congress.
Obviously, Trump would not like to see such a bill passed. He might even change his behavior toward North Korea to forestall its passage. If not, such a law would provide North Korea with the guarantee of safety we should be delivering diplomatically, rather than threatening the country gratuitously. 

September 24, 2017

Amnesty Never

It is understandable that people of goodwill can differ on immigration policy. Our national immigration policy has been inconsistent over the years and has been racist as often as not. It is a rational fear that, if the U.S. literally welcomed all comers, we would be overrun, if not by scoundrels, at least by numbers. But draconian restrictions favored by President Trump are clearly excessive. Honestly, though, were I given the task of devising an immigration policy, I hardly would know where to begin.

It is a no-brainer, however, that a good place to start would be consideration of the status of people brought to this country as children by adults responsible for their care. Even in cases where such children may have had some influence over their immigration, they surely cannot be held responsible for it. Children brought here very young have grown to adulthood in America and may have no memory of their putative homeland and little or no facility in its language. These people are culturally American, even if they are not legally American.

President Obama’s DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) provided some modicum of regularization of the status of children brought illegally to this country, but it failed to relieve their well-founded anxieties or to provide concrete hope of ever become full citizens of the United States of America.

It is unclear whether Mr. Trump’s termination of DACA ultimately will work to the benefit of those the program sought to help or whether it will result in shipping its former beneficiaries off to alien domains. Absent favorable court decisions, the fate of so-called Dreamers is in the (not so capable) hands of the Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed interest in saving Dreamers from deportation, but, since anything that can be called amnesty is anathema to the GOP’s ultraconservative base, Dreamers can hardly be sanguine about their continued residence in America, much less their prospects for actual naturalization.

Fundamentally, the Dreamers are as American as any of us. They don’t deserve deportation, and they don’t deserve any kind of amnesty. What they deserve is citizenship, and they deserve it now. Members of Congress, are you paying attention?

September 19, 2017

Impressions of Donald Trump’s Speech to the U.N.

I watched President Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly this morning. I would like to offer a few observations of his performance. By no means is this intended to be a full-blown analysis of the speech. I only want to mention a few things that stood out for me. I’m sure that much analysis will be forthcoming from others in the next 24 hours.

First, I must say that Trump is annoying to watch. He is incapable of adjusting his delivery style to the circumstances of a given speech. He addressed the U.N. in the same fashion as he addresses his rallies. His delivery is always a barely controlled scream that, perhaps except for his most ardent supporters, is hard to listen to. Watching Trump before the General Assembly reminded me, for whatever reason, of Fidel Castro’s addressing the body.

Trump speaking to the U.N.
Trump in a rare two-hand mode
Happily, Trump read from teleprompters and avoided—I sure he was warned to avoid at all costs—his notorious ad libs. His habit of driving home a point through repetition of a word or phrase, or his habit of interjecting his unfiltered innermost thoughts that seem to step all over his message was inappropriate before the General Assembly.

Unfortunately, his use of teleprompters has an annoying side effect. The president looks back and forth to read his text, never looking toward the people directly in front of him. Moreover, when he reads from the left screen, his left hand, with open palm, moves up and down like an American maneki-neko. When he reads from the right, his left hand disappears and his right hand does his little Japanese wave. I suspect that Trump would be struck mute were his hands in cuffs behind his back.

Trump attacked numerous countries by name, some—Cuba for instance—rather gratuitously, I thought. Under the circumstances, one might have expected an American president to say a few negative words about the Russian Federation’s behavior, particularly as regards our most recent national election. One would have been disappointed. At least Trump avoided saying what a great leader Vladimir Putin is!

For the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he saved his biggest insult and most frightening threat. He referred to Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man.” This was, no doubt, intended as an insult and was a shocking departure from what one normally expects in diplomatic discourse. On the other hand, I am not altogether certain that Kim would dislike the sobriquet. (Actually, he might prefer “Nuke Man!”) More worrisome than what seemed a violation of good manners was Trump’s suggestion that, to protect the U.S. or its allies, the president might have “no choice” but to “totally destroy North Korea.” I don’t know if this scared Kim, but it certainly had me thinking about fallout shelters and life after the apocalypse. Someone needs to give this man a shot of testosterone blocker!

Another primary target of our fearless leader was, not surprisingly, Iran. As he has so often, he criticized the Iran nuclear agreement as a terrible deal and intimated that he might withdraw the United States from it. This is problematic, since the agreement is multilateral, not bilateral. Nevertheless, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sitting in the General Assembly, was nodding his head in approval. The reality is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. An agreement involving both nuclear weapon and missile development might have been a more desirable one, but repressing Iranian nuclear weapon development is nevertheless a very good thing in and of itself. Trump spoke instead as though he believes that the current agreement enhances Iran’s prospects for getting the bomb. The agreement does not run forever, but, for now, it seems like a good thing to everyone except Trump and Netanyahu.

For me, the most surprising part of Trump’s speech concerned refugees. It seems that the president has found a way to justify his unwillingness to bring Middle East refugees to this country. It is expensive, he asserted, to resettle refugees in the United States. The money we might spend in resettlement would go further settling refugees closer to where they used to live. Ah, such a charitable man!

Trump made his usual complaints about trade agreements, suggesting that they are invariably not in our own interest. I need hardly say more about this.

The speech was more laundry list than focused address, perhaps because many hands had a part in preparing it. If one were to search for an overall theme, what would be found is a somewhat schizophrenic one: countries should all work together for a better world, but each country should put its own interests first. This seems more about justifying Trump’s own America-first philosophy. It sounds like a plan for us all to retreat into our secure corners and have as little to do with one another as possible. This is not the world I want.

Presidential speeches to the General Assembly are, at their very best, inspiring. President Trump’s speech was anything but that. It was, however, supremely frightening.

September 14, 2017

Baseball Rule Changes for Good or Ill

As the baseball season winds down, I think it a good time to offer some thoughts on aspects of the game.

Baseball diamondThe basic rules of baseball have remained unchanged for nearly a century. Parks have changed shape and size, but the location of outfield fences has never been standard. The height of the mound has been adjusted, but, from a fan perspective, this has hardly been noticeable; pitchers and hitters adjust.

What recent changes there have been have been a mixed bag. Rules intended to avoid injury-producing collisions at second base and home plate, while somewhat annoying, address fairness and (especially) safety concerns. (The NFL should be so concerned about safety.) It is difficult to make a conscientious argument that player safety should be sacrificed for more dramatic player collisions.

The most conspicuous addition to the major league game is the video review of disputed plays. Such an innovation could only be possible when all games are covered by multiple television cameras. The use of replays is frankly irritating, as reviews interrupt the continuity of the game. On the other hand, they largely make the game fairer. I have always been annoyed, for instance, by out calls at second base as part of a double play when the defensive player at second—the shortstop or secondbaseman—is only in the “neighborhood” of the base. (That is, the runner from first has technically not been put out at second but is called out anyway through a kind of gentlemen’s agreement.) The very existence of replays has largely eliminated this unfair stretching of the rules. On the other hand, the ability of one team to lose the right to demand a replay has the potential to allow bad calls to stand. I must grugingly—very grugingly—concede that video reviews have, on the whole, been a good thing.

Of course, the majority of umpire errors involve the calling of balls and strikes, a fact made obvious by the electronic magic employed frequently in televised games. Should balls and strikes be called by electronics, while the home plate umpire’s duties are limited to evaluating swings and misses and defensive plays at the plate? Perhaps, but this might be a step too far from tradition. In any case, allowing video replays of balls and strikes would be a huge departure from tradition and would lengthen games considerably. Nonetheless, it is infuriating when the home plate umpire calls a ball a strike or vice versa. In defense of umpires, however, it must be said that the man behind both the plate and the catcher has a less than perfect view of the plate.

Umpires are human, and they make mistakes. Actually, they make fewer than anyone has a right to expect. In the old days, we simply assumed that their mistakes would even out and not favor one team or the other. There have been some egregious bad calls by umpires, however, and it is probably best that we have a mechanism by which such mistakes can be averted.

The real impetus for this essay is the 2017 rule allowing a batter to be walked merely by declaring the intention that it be so. This new rule is, I think, a bridge too far. Presumably, it is intended to shorten games. (Baseball owners have become concerned with the length of games, which has been increasing of late. Recent rule changes have sought to speed things up, by requiring that a decision to review a play be made within 30 seconds, for example. Frankly, I’ve always felt that a longer game, and particularly an extra-innings game, gives me more entertainment for my money. Apparently, this view is not universal.)

There are a number of reasons to object to no-pitch intentional walks. First, tradition should not be thrown overboard without good reason, and there are, I assert, no good reasons for the new rule. It will not substantially shorten games. Intentional walks are infrequent, and speeding up an occasional game by a minute or two will make no real difference to anyone.

More significant is the fact that the new means of walking a batter relieves the pitcher of throwing four additional pitches. In an era when managers seldom allow pitchers to throw more than 100 pitches in a game, the new rule can have an effect on when a starting pitcher is replaced by a reliever. Realistically, even a soft pitch thrown to complete an intentional walk takes something out of the man on the mound.

Although I have not seen it done in a major league game, I have seen a batter hit a ball while the battery was attempting to walk him. This takes a good reach, but it can be done. The new rule precludes using this unorthodox move. Likewise, a runner on second could conceivably attempt to steal third while an intentional walk is being effected.

Although walking a batter in the conventional manner hardly requires extraordinary skills of pitcher and catcher, it is always possible that a wild pitch or passed ball could allow a runner to advance or even score. Such a surprising and exciting development is not possible if a walk is simply declared.

Finally, I object to the new walk rule as a fan. I was watching a game the other day and took my eyes off the television for just a moment. Suddenly, the batter was on first base. What happened? What did I miss? It was very disconcerting.

Next, I would like to propose a new rule. Bats are shattering with increasing frequency these days. Parts of bats fly off in all directions, endangering both players and fans. Surely nothing is more distressing to a fan than seeing a bat flying in his or her direction (unless, of course, it is being turned around and not seeing a bat flying at your head). The reason this is happening is that, over the years, players have ordered bats with increasingly slender handles. I personally own a bat with a chubby handle and one with a thin handle, and I can tell you that wielding the thin-handled bat is a lot more fun and can result in lots more bat speed. However, the thinner the handle, the more likely the bat is to shatter at the plate.

Hitters like thin-handled bats because they can be whipped around quickly. If the bat splits, the result is often a bloop single. On the other hand—and this is likely not widely appreciated—if a bat breaks, much of the energy that would otherwise go into powering the ball on its way is instead channeled into fracturing and propelling part of the bat. That bloop single could have been a double or even a home run.

My proposal, then, is that bats, whose weight, length, and maximum diameter are already limited, should have their minimum diameter prescribed as well. I don’t know precisely what the measurement should be or whether it should be a function of the type of wood from which the bat is fashioned. Scientific investigation should be able to set minimum diameters for bats that will minimize turning bats into dangerous missiles. (Please don’t anyone suggest that major league baseball should use metal bats!) MLB, are you paying attention?

Finally, I must comment on the designated hitter rule, that abominable newfangled rule that disqualifies the American League from being able to claim that its teams play true baseball. Baseball owners seem to think that a ballgame isn’t exciting unless there is a lot of hitting, particularly home-run hitting. This simply isn’t true, although the spectators who have become addicted to the gladiatorial fight that is football may indeed be bored by well-pitched, low-scoring games. The true baseball fan, I think, is not.

One of the most exciting baseball games I have ever seen was played this past August 23. The Pittsburgh Pirates bested the Los Angeles Dodgers 1–0 in 10 innings. Dodger pitcher Rich Hill was pitching a perfect game through 8 innings. Pirate pitcher Trevor Williams, for the same 8 innings, pitched out of a number of jams while keeping the opposition scoreless. In the top of the ninth, the perfect game was ruined, not by Hill, but by third baseman Logan Forsythe, who misplayed a routine ground ball and allowed Jordy Mercer to reach first. Nonetheless, the no-hitter went into extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Josh Harrison hit a home run to win the game for the home team. The Dodgers had 8 hits and one error. The Pirates had one hit and no errors.

That game may not be direct evidence against the designated hitter, but it certainly supports the notion that a game can be exciting despite few runs being scored and lots of hits being made by both teams.

The designated hitter rule is predicated upon the assumption that pitchers, who play much less frequently than position players and who concentrate on pitching rather than hitting skills, are, in fact, poor hitters. This is generally true, though not tautologically so. (Babe Ruth would have been a famous pitcher had he not been such a spectacular hitter that he needed to be played every day!) The American League says don’t let the pitcher bat; put in a non-defensive player who can hit in place of the pitcher. Although this results in more hits in a game, it eliminates a good deal of managerial strategy, thereby making the game less interesting. There are fewer sacrifice bunts and no need to remove a pitcher from the game for a pinch hitter. Managers have an easier job in the American League, but the game is thereby impoverished.

It is my fervent prayer that the designated hitter never comes to the National League and that the American League will eventually come to its senses and play real baseball again. Meanwhile, I am happy that the Pittsburgh Pirates play in the National League.