The AtHome Pilgrim

Musings at a Slower Pace

AtHomePilgrim

AtHomePilgrim
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"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita," I find myself still asking some of the same questions I did when I was just a punk kid. The Big Things confuse me. Fortunately, though, many little things delight and amuse me, and some Big Things--my wife, our kids, our bird and bunny visitors, food, baseball--make me very, very happy. In my pilgrimage, I try to be guided by the wisdom of dear old Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet!"

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SEPTEMBER 29, 2009 10:24AM

Baseball as Spirit Guide: The Impermanence of Life

Rate: 11 Flag

Watchers of Project Runway know that Heidi Klum tells us each week (several times each week) that, “in fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” The same is true in baseball. Just ask Brad Lidge. 

 

My Philadelphia Phillies picked up Mr. Lidge in a trade before the 2008 season began. He is a closer—the relief pitcher who comes in, usually just for the ninth inning, of a game his team is winning whose job it is to seal the door and ensure the victory, to close the game by throwing unhittable stuff that renders the other team unable to mount a comeback. When the closer succeeds, he is awarded a save, a statistic as important as a win is to other pitchers. When the closer fails, he is tagged with a blown save, which is the baseball equivalent of the Scarlet Letter.

Lidge had been one of the game’s premier closers for the Houston Astros for a couple of years but then blew a save in the playoffs in 2005. That failure seemed to shake his confidence, though he later said that physical problems were the reason that his performance tanked in 2007. Whatever the cause, he lost his job as closer with the Astros that year, and the common wisdom was that he needed a change of scenery. 

So the Phils, looking for a strong closer, picked him up in the 2008 offseason, and Lidge came through last year big time. During their championship season, he saved 41 ballgames out of 41 chances—a record of perfection that was the envy of every closer in the game and a marvel to behold. Yes, some of those saves were a bit on the sloppy side, with baserunners allowed and tough jams that caused anxious fans to gobble antacids. But he came through every time. Then, in the postseason, he saved seven more games in two playoff series and the World Series, including throwing the final strike in the game that gave the Phils the world championship. 

He was on top of the world, and Philly fans loved him. “Lidge Saves,” said one sign at the team’s victory parade, and he was the toast of the town. This year, though, he’s just been toast.

Knee troubles caused mechanical difficulties. The incorrect arm angles that resulted led to pitches that don’t move. His fastball lost its hop, and batters laid off his slider, so devastating last year, and sat on the fastball. He's given up 11 home runs this year, compared to just 2 last year. Failure led to a loss of confidence and several blown saves. The team tried resting him, nurturing him, expressing unassailable confidence in him. Nothing worked. 

The result: Lidge now has an ERA over 7.00, sports a miserable 0-8 record, and, most significantly for a closer, has blown 11 saves. Last week, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had to recognize the inevitable and remove Lidge from the closer role. 

Where Lidge was the darling of the Delaware Valley in 2008, this year he has been an object of scorn. (Though the Philly Phaithful haven’t really given him the full-throated booing they are capable of. While many were ready far sooner than Manuel to demote Lidge from closing games, gratitude for last year remains, and his treatment has been more “ohhhhhhhhhhh” than “booooooooo.”)  

 

What’s the point of this little jaunt through one man’s dream turned nightmare? (To make Mets fans happy? No.) It’s just a reminder of the impermanence of fortune, whether good or ill. The torment that Lidge lived through after the 2005 playoffs gave way to incredibly sweet success last year. But Fortune’s Wheel turns constantly, and this year has been, probably, even worse for poor old Brad than his worst times in Houston.  

Perhaps the Wheel will turn again for him. Perhaps not, as the professional life of an athlete is even shorter than the life of a mere mortal. But it does turn for all of us. 

In ancient Rome, it is said, when a conquering general was granted a triumph, a slave rode with him in his chariot. The story goes that the slave held a golden wreath above the head of the triumphal hero, representing the glory he had won, but also that the slave constantly whispered something in the general’s ear to remind him of his mortality, a beneficial reminder in the midst of such a heady occasion. (Perhaps Lidge heard such a voice during last year's victory parade.) 

Apparently what the slave actually said is not well established among historians. Perhaps the slave pronounced the simple truth we do well to remember in times not only of triumph but also of tragedy. Perhaps he whispered “This, too, shall pass.”  

 

Words © 2009 AtHome Pilgrim.

All Rights Reserved.  

 

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Comments

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aww, I thought you were gonna write about fashion!
anyways, a good, well written post.
thanks for sharing!
Rated.
Debbs, if you saw my clothes, you would know better than to want me write about fashion!
The role of closer is one of the best, and worse in baseball. You have to have an EGO the size of the Sahara Desert and be able to come in when every pitch is scrutinized and televised. A closer can lose his confidence and find himself out of baseball quicker than any other player. But, do it right and you are idolized.
Rated~~
I remember the story of the Roman general from the film "Patton." The way Patton told it, the slave said "All glory is fleeting." I also remember that Jerry Glanville used the story once in a column he wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during his tenure as coach of the Atlanta Falcons. He was fired the next year.

Either way, you're right. And in the end all closers ultimately seem to fail with the possible exception of Mariano Rivera.

As a fan of the second place team in the NL east, I can tell you that seeing Brad Lidge get up in the Philly bullpen last year was like seeing a fin in the water, a hooded executioner walking toward the chopping block. Better get to the set-up man before Lidge gets warm or this game is over. But this year, he has lost that intimidating presence. A mere mortal, Lidge.

Over the years the Braves have acquired a number of closers who were past their glory years: Al Hrabosky, Bruce Sutter, Jeff Reardon, and it was sad to watch them fail. I'll never forget how everybody loved Bob Wickman one day and then discarded him the next. Most Braves fan barely remember that Mark Wohlers was on the mound when the Braves finished off the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 World Series, but they (me included) will never forget the gopher ball he served up to Jim Leyritz the next year. "All glory is fleeting."

Anyway, thrilled to see you back on point with a little baseball. The season is almost over (I'm rooting for the Brewers and Dodgers this week with the Braves two back in the wild-card). Maybe Lidge can redeem himself somewhat in the playoffs. Or maybe not.
rated for your fabulous discussion of baseball. I don't even check the standings anymore this time of year: the Mariners have been out of it for a while.
Scanner: There's another thing closers need: a short memory!

T Michael: Yes, Mariano is an amazing exception. The Braves' lack of a closer was what prevented them from winning more than one Series all those years they made the playoffs, I think. Too bad. As for this year, I hope we don't see them (though it means we'd make the NLCS, since we can't meet in the first round)--your pitching scares me. Best of luck to ya!
Thank you, flw, for your kind thoughts despite your disappointment!
I tell you what's scary to me: Ryan Howard.
T Michael: I hear you. I feel that way about Pujols.
I'm a Cubs fan, so you'll excuse me if I choose not to discuss bullpens. Kevin Gregg? Carlos "Kerosene and Matches" Marmol? Angel Guzman? Ugh.

Philly Phans must be maturing. A long while ago I attended an Expos-Phillies game in Veterans Stadium (I TOLD you it was a long time ago.) Mike Schmidt, the finest third baseman it's been my pleasure to watch in fifty years of baseball, struck out swinging in each of his three at-bats.

He comes to bat in the bottom of the ninth... as he strode to the plate, there were more "Boo"s heard than on a dozen Halloweens. Expos had a two-run lead; Schmidt had two men on base with two outs.

WHACK!! The ball soared high into the velvet Philadelphia sky-- home run! Phils win!

The rafters of that venerable park shuddered from the overwhelming sound of cheers from the fans. The fans that booed him lustily just seconds before.

Ah, well... that's Philadelphia, I guess.

Great post. Take heart-- even Mariano Rivera has had his share of awkward blown saves.
Carolina: re: Cubs bullpen, one of my son's college roommates was a Mariners fan. The two of them traded "I hate Jose Mesa" stories.

re: Mariano--ah, yes, Dave Roberts, anyone?

re: Philly fans--They were always unaccountably hard on Schmidt--a real lapse on their part, in part because from the way he moved he didn't seem to be trying, and Philly fans respect effort, so he seemed to be not working hard enough. Also, in their defense, I've seen other cities do similar things. But they really should have been nicer to Michael Jack Schmidt.

Schmidt had a great line about Philly media: "Welcome to Philadelphia, where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day."
A fabulous allegory of life's high and low moments and how during those low times, you learn who your true friends are. Most of us have witnessed both sides of the coin—We just have to keep on keeping on...
Baseball and life - see, sports matter!
skye: It's interesting how athletes are loyal to their teammates. (Tennis is the ultimate narcissistic sport?) They have each other's backs. That's what we all need, right? "Got to make the best of .... a bad situation . . ." Gladys Knight, I think?

Owl: This was a question?

Seriously, I know I'm just a guy who'se been socialized to like sports. But I do think (need to think?) we can learn things from it. The competition, the daily challenge, the craft, the mental balance. Those are all lessons we all can use.
I seem to have more friends who are Phillies fans each year (SALLY!!!) and every time the Phillies are discussed i feel like I am sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving. My mpotent cries of "Yeah, will we got Ryne Sandburg" grow dim with the realization that Ryne Sandberg (to speak directly to your excellent piece) is now a grandfather!
Ryne a Grandpa? Whoa.

Just remember one thing, Chicago: That Wheel is always turning. It may turn very slowly for some teams, but if the Bosox and the Chisox and the Phils can do it (we won't even mention the Marlins and Diamondbacks, may someone curse their ballparks), even the Cubbies (and the Indians) can. It's just a matter of time.

Think about it. Do you wish you were a Pirates fan? You wouldn't even have three other people to commiserate with!