We’re giving up

According to Bridge Michigan today, vaccination clinics are being canceled or are having difficulty filling appointments with those willing to get a shot against COVID-19. About 40 percent of Michigan residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine. Nationwide polling shows that around a quarter of Americans don’t plan to get vaccinated, with a lot of those people identifying themselves as Republicans.

I drove by a small rural bar on Saturday. I’ve been in the place a number of times over the years and found it to be a pleasant hole in the wall, simple and rustic, with good bar food and reasonably cheap beer. On Saturday their parking lot was completely full, with an overflow of pickup trucks parked across the road as well. Some people were milling around outside, some smoking and some not, but not a single mask to be seen. If I’d gone inside I’m pretty sure I’d have been the only person wearing one.

I know we’re tired of the pandemic. I certainly am. I’m tired of not seeing friends and family. I don’t like wearing a mask in public any more than the people at the bar do. While the transition to working from home was easier for me because I’d done it for years when I was self-employed, I miss going to the office and seeing colleagues. At work, I feel like I’ve lost the ability to communicate with my team and others effectively – despite having even more virtual “meetings” – and I fear we’re kidding ourselves that we’ll ever return to normal. All of that makes me want to give up, too, especially after I get my second shot on Thursday.

I want to encourage people to hang in there, get vaccinated, and we can go back to the way we were sooner rather than later. But I get the frustration and even the anger. We thought we knew how the world worked and then suddenly it didn’t work that way, and it feels like it never will be that way again. If we can’t make it to the magical “herd immunity,” what’s the point?

Those of us who choose to get vaccinated will have our COVID fears greatly reduced. It’s still possible to get COVID, of course; none of the vaccines provide 100% protection. But with the vaccine, an illness from COVID is much milder, even asymptomatic. You can still spread the virus, though, even if you’re feeling fine, so masks will still be a good idea to avoid infecting others who have opted not to be vaccinated.

But there’s the problem. If someone doesn’t want to get the vaccine – and it’s not required – why am I going to have to keep doing things I don’t want to do to keep them safer? I know it’s the moral thing to do, but it’s going to be increasingly hard to convince myself of that as the spring and summer roll along.

It feels like we’re giving up. I hope we live to regret that.

Cardboard Tigers: Seelbach, Sharon, Slayback

Fourteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Chuck Seelbach
Chuck Seelbach – 1973 Topps #51
Chuck Seelbach
Chuck Seelbach – 1974 Topps #292

Chuck Seelbach was the Tigers’ closer in their 1972 American League East championship year, appearing in 61 games, finishing 34 of them and picking up 14 saves, which was 7th in the league. The role of “closer,” as we know it today, was quite different in the early seventies, and the key relief role that Seelbach filled was usually a multiple-inning job and didn’t always translate into a save opportunity. The “save” had only been an official MLB statistic since 1969, and teams had only started to play with the idea that a single pitcher might finish every close game that his team was leading as is common now.

In any case, Seelbach was effective in the late innings for the 1972 team and a big reason why they were able to win the division. He went 9-8 with a 2.89 ERA in addition to his 14 saves. He appeared in a total of one inning over two games in the American League Championship Series against Oakland, giving up four hits and two earned runs for an ERA of 18.00. 1972 was the last season without the designated hitter in the AL, so Seelbach also had 26 plate appearances in his career, hitting .143 with two doubles.

In 1973 he starting having arm problems which limited him to just 7 innings that year and 7 2/3 innings in 1974. He spent some time back in Toledo in ’73 as well. He retired at the age of 26 and went on to teach history at his alma mater, University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, for 39 years. One of his sons, Michael, has been an actor in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Reefer Madness, and Wicked.

Dick Sharon
Dick Sharon – 1974 Topps #48
Dick Sharon
Dick Sharon – 1975 Topps #293

If you had to guess where Dick Sharon grew up from either of these cards, but especially the 1975 one, you’d have to say “California,” right? The dude looks like a lost member of Fleetwood Mac. Sharon was born in San Mateo and grew up in Redwood City, which eventually became part of Silicon Valley and now is the headquarters of companies like Oracle, Electronic Arts, Evernote, Box, and Informatica. But back in the early seventies, the only worries Dick Sharon had were where to point his bat to indicate where his next hit was goin’ or showin’ off his awesome follow-through.

Unfortunately for Dick, as much as he looked the part, he had limited success when he actually got to the big leagues. Drafted by the Pirates in 1968 as a third baseman, he was traded to Detroit before the 1973 season for Jim Four and Norm McRae. He hit .242 with seven home runs in 91 games for the Tigers in 1973, then dropped to .217 with only two dingers over 60 games in 1974. He was part of the three-way trade involving Ed Brinkman and Bob Strampe that brought slugging first baseman Nate Colbert to Detroit after the 1974 season.

Sharon played 91 games for the Padres in 1975, hitting .194 with four home runs and 20 RBI. He was traded three times in the next offseason, first to the Cardinals in October; then to the Angels in January; and finally to the Red Sox in March. He spent the 1976 with Boston’s AAA farm team in Pawtucket before retiring.

The notes on baseball cards can be kind of desperate for something nice to say sometimes. Sharon’s 1974 card notes that he “has excellent baseball instincts.” Well, you’d hope so. On the 1975 card Sharon is described as “a sure-handed ballhawk, Dick improved his Batting Average (no idea why that’s capitalized) in each of his four minor league seasons.”

Sharon became a expert fly fisherman in Montana after his major league career ended, owning an equipment shop and leading trips all over the world.

Bill Slayback
Bill Slayback – 1973 Topps #537

Bill Slayback was another member of the 1972 AL East champion Tigers, starting 13 games in his rookie season and going 5-6 with a 3.20 ERA. He also finished five games, though he didn’t record a save. Slayback was drafted in the 7th round of the 1968 amateur draft out of Glendale Community College in California. He moved up the Tigers’ system with stops in Batavia, Lakeland, Rocky Mount, Montgomery, and Toledo before getting called up to the big club in June, 1972. His major league debut on June 26 against the Yankees was a masterpiece, as he threw seven innings of no-hit ball before giving up an eighth-inning single to Johnny Callison as the Tigers went on to win, 4-3.

He spent most of 1973 back in Toledo, then all of 1974 in the majors. Two more seasons (1975 and 1976) in the Tigers’ new AAA affiliate, the Evansville Triplets, finished Slayback’s professional career.

In 1973, Slayback co-wrote a song with Tigers radio play-by-play legend Ernie Harwell called “Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry),” that got some airplay in the U.S. and Japan. Slayback performed the vocal and played most, if not all, of the instruments, was about Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

The song was mentioned in one of Aaron’s biographies, with author Tom Stanton describing Slayback as “something of a Renaissance man. He sang, played numerous instruments, painted, sketched, and made furniture.” In 2006, he released a new CD that got a positive review from then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who knew Slayback from when he was a minor league manager in the Tigers’ system in the seventies. Slayback didn’t look like he should be in Fleetwood Mac, like his teammate Dick Sharon, but he’d have been more useful holding a guitar or playing keyboards alongside Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood, and the McVies.

Bill Slayback died on March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. He was 67 years old.

A move away from the GOP by U.S. businesses, however unlikely, would be a defining moment

The backlash against Georgia’s recently-passed restrictions on voting, especially by voters that are more likely to support Democratic candidates, continues to build. Several Georgia-based corporations, including Delta Air Lines (which is the state’s largest employer) and Coca-Cola, have gone from carefully parsed statements of displeasure about the new legislation to stronger public comments from the companies’ CEOs on national media. Major League Baseball – rather surprisingly, in my opinion – decided to move this year’s All Star Game and Amateur Draft from Atlanta to Denver due to the controversy.

In yesterday’s Morning Brief from Yahoo! Finance, editor-in-chief Andy Serwer suggests the fallout from the ongoing situation is “changing the relationship between politics (mostly the GOP) and business.”

Used to be that if you ran a business in America you’d stay as far away as possible from politics, (unless you sold George McGovern T-shirts or some such.) The math was simple. Take a stand and potentially lose 40% to 60% of your customers. So most businesspeople when asked a question about politics kept mum, even when they felt strongly about an issue.

We accepted this choice of money over principles because as customers, employees or shareholders while we might not agree with someone’s politics, we just wanted the business relationship and knowing someone’s politics might make things awkward, inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Serwer quotes Dick Parsons, who is the former CEO of Citigroup, Time Warner, and was also briefly the chairman of the board of CBS. Parsons is African-American and a “lifelong Republican,” he said. He was one of 72 Black executives who signed a letter protesting Georgia’s new law.

My party has sort of said, ‘Well, look, we got one or two choices, we can either battle for those votes going forward or we can just try and preclude them from showing up again. And I think the direction that has been taken, certainly in Georgia and in other states is, ‘let’s not go out and battle for those votes. Let’s just try and keep them from showing up.’ That’s just flat wrong.

Dick Parsons

Companies like Delta and Coke have faced boycotts from both sides of the political spectrum: from the left for not speaking out soon enough or more forcefully; and from the right for now being too “woke.” Faced with that type of pressure, the traditional relationship of American businesses to the Republican Party is looking like it needs some counseling.

Senate Minority Leader (few things give me more pleasure than writing that phrase, even though because of the filibuster he still has tremendous power over what can and can’t get passed in Congress) Mitch McConnell made it clear that he doesn’t believe corporations should be playing politics:

Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box…. My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Of course, that doesn’t include corporate free speech in the form of massive contributions to Republican campaigns, which McConnell is explicitly in favor of. “Give us the money and keep your mouth shut” is the real message here, which is not unlike getting mugged in broad daylight.

Adam Serwer (no relation to Andy Serwer), senior editor at The Atlantic, also wrote on the topic recently with a warning not to buy this “rebellion” against corporations by the GOP.

Republicans cannot imagine labor relations as exploitative except in that someone might have to sit through a tedious video on race or gender sensitivity in the workplace. They do not perceive the concentration of corporate power as perilous unless companies’ desire to retain their customer base interferes with Republican schemes to entrench their own political dominance. They see freedom of speech as vital, unless it prevents them from using the state to sanction forms of political expression they oppose. Their criticisms of “woke capital” go no deeper than this.

As such, the Republican anti-corporate turn is entirely superficial. That’s a shame, because the concentration of corporate power has had a negative effect on American governance, leading to an age of inequality in which economic gains are mostly enjoyed by those in the highest income brackets. Since the 1970s, despite massive gains in productivity, most Americans have seen their wages rise very slowly, while the wealthiest have reaped almost all the gains of economic growth. That outcome was a policy choice, not an inevitability.

I suspect that this posturing by both corporations and the GOP leadership will ultimately not change very much. But it’s possible if politicians like McConnell overplay this, assuming that there’s no where else for American business to go but back into their loving arms, they could be in for a surprise. The Democrats could make a play to be more friendly to business, provided improved respect and rights for American workers was part of the deal. Again, not likely, but not impossible. The Democrats would also have to overcome the antipathy of the left-wing of the party toward big business, which wouldn’t be easy at all. But an opportunity exists.

Injury bug bites baseball man, leaves mark

A crazy number of major leaguers have been bitten by the injury bug in the first week of the 2021 season. I know this because nearly half of my fantasy team have already been day-to-day, on the injured list (IL), or are already done for the year. This includes two of the pitchers I drafted fairly high, James Paxton of the Mariners (who is looking at Tommy John surgery which will end his season) and Trevor Rosenthal of the A’s (who is having thoracic outlet surgery that will put him out at least a couple of months if not longer).

While my lineup has been affected pretty hard, fortunately I don’t take it all that seriously. Fantasy baseball – and football in the fall – mostly gives me a reason to keep up with who the players are. I like baseball a lot, but if I don’t have a reason to follow other teams’ lineups, I probably wouldn’t have much of an idea who they were.

For example, I don’t play fantasy hockey and watched the Red Wings play Nashville the past few nights (due to COVID protocols, the NHL is playing mini-series instead of one-off games, as is traditional). After two nights, I still don’t know who most of the Predators are. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Red Wings I’m not too familiar with, too.

What’s the reason for all of these baseball injuries? I suppose it could be over-training, or under-training, or just bad luck. But my guess is it’s how players are handled these days, and it has a lot to do with the amount of money teams have invested in them. When a guy was making $40K per season back in the 1970s and he strained a muscle or tweaked an ankle, he probably would just play through it, partially because he didn’t want to lose his job to the next guy in line and partially because rehabilitation techniques weren’t as sophisticated. Spit on it, rub some dirt on it, and keep playing was the attitude when I played ball in high school. (Full disclosure: I was terrible.)

These days, if a player has a minor injury, he gets held out for a game or two, and if it doesn’t improve right away it’s off to the ten-day injured list. When you’re paying someone hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, you’re going to protect your investment. Understandable, but frustrating to fans – and fantasy players.

Les cadets crient «M’aider!”»

The things you learn when you’re learning another language

The international voice distress call is “mayday,” used to call for help in both in the air and on the water. The word is a phonetic transliteration of the French m’aidez or, in its infinitive form, m’aider, literally “help me!”

The term was coined by the radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, F.S. Mockford, in the early 1920s. Since most air travel was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris at that time, Mockford figured that a word that was easy to remember but had an underlying meaning in at least one of the two languages would be ideal, and “mayday” was born.

I learned the origin of the second word this morning reading a translation of a golf article in Le Journal de Montréal. My iPad translated “caddie” as “cadet,” which it turns out is the French source word for caddie. A cadet is more commonly a trainee military rank, but the Scots borrowed the word in the late 1600s to mean someone who did odd jobs, and eventually it was applied to the person who carried a golfer’s clubs. Incidentally, the derogatory term “cad” also is derived from this Scottish borrowing of “cadet.”

UPDATE: Tigers will not go 162-0. Could go 161-1, trend is now 108-54, though.

The Tigers lost today to the Indians, but ended up winning two of the three games in their opening series. But there goes the perfect season. Rule 5 draftee Akil Baddoo hit a home run in his first major league at bat today, a remarkable thing in itself, but he also did it on the first major league pitch he had ever seen in a regular season game. His parents, who were at the game, we’re very excited. And so was I.