LONGSHOTS: Declaring independence of how others play the game
by Dave Long
I was watching The Patriot with Mel Gibson on TV Sunday night and my mind drifted to wondering what it must have been like at the time of the Revolutionary War. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a fictional story inspired by the real-life Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, who kept General Cornwallis and the British at bay in South Carolina during the Revolution.
With the Fourth of July on tap this week it’s a good time to think about those days, though for many, I’m afraid, it’s become nothing more than a three-day weekend for ball games and barbecues and not for reflection on what those people had to give up to fight. I wonder, for instance, how harmonious the lead-up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence was. Did a “We’re all in this together” spirit prevail? Or was it just the majority ruled in the Sharks-and-Jets bickering way of today, where each side hears the racket coming from the others but doesn’t listen to what’s being said? In that world, Paul Revere’s effort to tell all the British were coming would have been second-guessed by the opposition as being slower than David Ortiz going from first to third.
Of course the real story often depends on who it comes from today. In our history books the original GW and the rest of the boys are heroes. But to Cornwallis the founding fathers were traitors and the Swamp Fox was a terrorist. And if they were around then, god only knows what Rush and the Fox News Channel would have been calling people who wanted to make change in the colonies by breaking away from Britain. I suspect the nicest would have been “liberals and far left loons.”
It’s one of the things sports has in common with politics — there is a lot of yakking about every thing you do. But it’s distinctly different as well, where in sports there are my-way-or-the-highway bosses, like Bill Parcells, who rule like a king — you don’t like it? see you later, pal — which can work great for a football team. Of course, after the owners acted like omnipotent rulers for the first 60 years of baseball it led to the Players Association being formed in the 1960s, with one of its founding fathers being Republican Kentucky Senator and then righty fireballer Jim Bunning. That eventually also led to a revolt by the minions via several strikes and 40 years of acrimony.
I don’t mind dissent. It would be pretty boring if everyone agreed and it’s an important part of our democratic system. But how it’s done is another story, in that it’s often used as a tactic to make the other side look bad, while being masked as political convictions. That passes for democratic dissent today, which I don’t think is good. Nor is selectively taking individual mistakes to paint misleading impressions of a job someone is doing.
Take Theo Epstein for instance. If you look just at his mistakes you can make him look pretty bad if you don’t bother to find out the entire story. Like the 2004 title was actually a combination job where Dan Duquette doesn’t get the credit he deserves for putting key pieces like Manny, Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and Pedro on that team. And while he correctly let Pedro and Derek Lowe walk after that season, out-of-shape David Wells was Pedro’s replacement and he gave big money to a perennial .500 pitcher in Matt Clement. He also released current AL home run leader Carlos Pena at the end of 2006, who’s hit 100 homers since, including 46 in 2007. That seems like a whopper to me.
Then in the winter of 2007 he spent over $200 million on three players. Not quite what the heavily criticized Yankees did this off season, but similar. Julio Lugo is a flat-out bust. JD Drew isn’t a bust, but with him on pace for his third straight 130ish game and 68 RBI season, Theo spent twice as much on him as he should. And then there is Dice-K. This year’s struggle aside, you can make a solid case his $10 million salary is the going rate for a guy who’s won 34 games in two seasons. But when you throw in the $50 million posting fee paid to get his rights, he becomes a $100 million pitcher — which he certainly is not.
The point isn’t to hammer Theo for his mistakes. It’s that everyone makes them and the ones who bring them up most often in a political democracy these days are opponents looking to obscure what really counts — the bottom line. Which for Theo is he did what no one had done the 86 previous in Boston by winning twice in five years. And with a bulging farm system, he has them in position to win this year and in the foreseeable future. That’s darn good and something to think about when someone is ranting and raving about one mistake and not the total picture.
That’s the problem with a democracy: it isn’t easy. Even when you’re trying to do the right thing it seems there is always someone on the other side. As Abe Lincoln once said, you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Take the reaction to the Manchester School Board’s decision to introduce pay-to-play for extracurricular activities. It was done to keep sports like hockey, wrestling and skiing from being dropped — which is a good thing for more than the kids and parents involved. That made some happy and outraged some others, like the woman who asked on the Union Leader blog, “What’s going to be next, $25 for math class?” Of course, someone else suggested it was a good tax because the one paying out is the person using the service. Both have a point — but what tends to often get lost in the passion of the moment is that the (volunteer) board was trying to do something good. And even if you don’t agree with it, it wouldn’t hurt to appreciate how much all put into their non-paying job.
So that’s what I’m going to think of when I wonder about the greatness of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and the others from the early days. I’ll listen to those on the other side, if they do the same. I’ll appreciate how much people put in at home and in the wars abroad to make the democracy work. And I’ll fight the impulse to finger-point, to honor all that has been done to lay the ground for the great country we live in.
In other words I’m going to try and not take it all for granted — like most of us do.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.