The Electronic Strike Zone

Baseball would be a better game with an electronic strike zone.

All the squabbling over balls and strikes that has persisted since John J. McGraw was chewing on Hank O’Day’s ass back in the day is now, at long last, avoidable.

Season after season, decade after decade, players, managers, coaches and umpires come and go but the bellyaching over balls and strikes remains. Take calling the plate off the plate umpire and – what with replays and reviews – there would be very little to bellyache about.

How civilized that would be.

But what really breaks my heart is to see a pitcher in the throes of an impossible situation – bases loaded, ninth inning, tie game, 3-2 count – paint the outside corner at the knees and have the pitch of his dreams called a ball for a walk-off base on balls.

Equally galling is to see the hitter in that situation take a pitch three inches off the plate that is called a strike. The catcher charges out to hug the pitcher, fireworks light up the purple sky, the crowd goes bonkers and the poor hitter who has spent a career developing the kind of plate discipline he has just displayed walks off the goat.

Not fair. It’s just not fair. The game means too much to too many people for that to happen.

The umpires I crossed paths with during my three decades spent covering minor-league baseball seemed like most of the rest of us – good people wanting to do a good job. The ones I encountered were young and still learning, but they certainly weren’t villains or ne’er-do-wells.

But they are being asked to do is way too often humanly impossible. The rules of the game state that a pitch only has to cross any sliver of the plate to be called a strike, and the pitches of today are of the darting, dipping, cutting, sliding, waffling, spinning variety that have been known to arrive at speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour.

Good luck with that.

Don’t give me that balderdash about the “human element.’’ And what I’m not about to stand and listen to is how each umpire has his own personal zone, and how some are “pitchers’ umpires’’ and others are “hitters’ umpires’’ and how it’s up to the players to adjust.

Hogwash. Where does it say in the rule book it’s up to to player to alter his tactics and game-plan to adhere to the preference, if not whim, of a guy who gets paid whether he makes the right call or not?

Finally, at long last, we can clean up this sordid aspect of the game, the one that has induced so much of the bitching, moaning and corrosive ill will over the years.

We have cameras. We have computers. Heavens to Old Hoss Radbourn, we even have lasers.

The technology exits.

Institute the electronic strike zone for the 2018 season and it will be a far better game. MLB can even get really go 21st century with it and wire the plate in such a way that it turns a bright red whenever a pitch that is taken crosses the plate.

Once it’s done, it won’t take a couple of series for everyone to realize what a bad idea it was for humans to call – check that, attempt to call – balls and strikes.

The Kid From Waycross

Of all the great bioflicks never made, right at te top of the list is story of one of my heroes, Gram Parsons. He never found fame, never had a hit, but if you love music honesty compels you to admit how much you owe — how much we all owe — the Kid from Waycross. He also discovered Emmylou, and for that alone he deserves Sainthood.

 

 

The Great Renaissance

The most compelling evidence I’ve come across that we have a say in when we begin our ride through space and time is my birthday, August 16, 1952.

For a guy whose life would not be worth living without music, I could not have come up with a better time of arrival.

Think about it. My earliest musical memories were of Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, Carl Perkins and the one and only Elvis “The Pelvis’’ Presley laying down the asphalt on that magical, mystical musical highway to the Promised Land.

Then, at the tender age of 11, I sprawled out in front of our black-and-white Philco on Forest Avenue in Franklin, N.C. to watch four mop-top weirdos from someplace called Liverpool, England do their thang on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was transfixed. I was pole-axed. I was never, ever, ever, ever the same.

My mother, seeing my wide-eyed wonder, prayed for my soul.

She meant well, but she was too late.

All my life I’ve heard people debate which was the greatest decade of music. The two leading candidates seemed to be the 60s and 70s. Finally, after mulling the question for years, I realized the start and end of a decade is way too arbitrary for a line of demarcation.

Did music suddenly start to suck on Jan. 1, 1970. Of course not. American Beauty showed up in at the Record Exchange on Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street that year, as did Live at Leeds, Let It Be, Layla, Sweet Baby James, After the Gold Rush, Moondance, Bridge Over Troubled Water and CSNY’s Deja Vu.

And did the explosion continue to rock our world all through the 70s? This is just me talking, but I found less and less I really, really, REALLY wanted to listen to by the time the calendar finally turned to 1980.

There’s no doubt in my mind the Beatles hitting our shores in 1964 begat the Tsunami that deluged our musical consciousness for at least the next dozen years. And if I had to pick a time when it all started to peter (as in a verb, not a noun) out was when John Travolta disco danced across our theatre screens in Saturday Night Fever and the whole scene became less about the art and the soul and more about the clothes and what anyone could find to sniff up their nose. Style trumped substance, and we all suffered for it.

But oh those 12 years, from 1964 through 1975, what a time to be coming of age, to be cutting your musical teeth, to be alive. Oh what a lucky boy I was.

One of these days I plan to get around to writing a book about that period, and again, I’m halfway there. I already have my title:

The Great Renaissance.

I defy anyone to name a richer, more vibrant, creative and mind-expanding cosmic period of musical history than what I experienced (and yes, Jimi, I was experienced) from ages 11 through 23. Even the sub-groupings work out so perfectly in that if 1964-75 was the Great Renaissance, then the five years in the middle, 1967-72, was the High Renaissance. And if the double entendre escapes you, you obviously weren’t there.

And what great occurrence transpired right smack in the middle of the High Renaissance, in August of 1969 on a bucolic landscape in upstate New York.

That’s right. Woodstock.

My daughter Rebecca grumbles and rolls her eyes when I go on and on about our period of music. I’m actually proud of the way she champions and defends her music, the music that came along after she was born in 1990. And I’m not too lunk-headed to see that there have always been great musicians making great music. We danced our behinds off this June at Nate’s wedding to a 90s band called, appropriately enough, The Clinton Years. A rowdy and rollicking time was had by all.

But even Rebecca, in a weak moment, will acknowledge that there has never been and likely never will be a band like the Beatles.

As a former journalist, I was trained to qualify and quantify my assertions, to attribute, to deal in facts and not just fly by the seat of my pants. To that end, I spent the morning scrolling through Rolling Stones’ Top 500 albums of all time.

Now none of this is to say that Rolling Stone is the be-all, end-all arbiter of all things to do with popular music, but it is one source worth at least checking out.

And my suspicions were indeed confirmed. Of the list of Top 500 albums of all time, a grand total of 222 (or 44 percent) were released from 1964 through 1975. And that’s not even counting the Greatest Hits collections from artists of that period released later by Rhino and other retro-labels.

What also became apparent was that the concentration of albums from the Great Renaissance got heavier and heavier the higher up the list I went.

Of albums ranked 500-400, 31 were from the GR.

Of those ranked 400-300, there were 34.

Of those 300-200, there were 44.

From 200 to 100 it was 54.

And of Rolling Stones’ Top 100 albums of all time, 59 were from the greatest 12 years of music we’ve ever known.

But listen to this: Nine of the albums ranked in the all-time Top 10 were from the Great Renaissance.

No. 10 was The Beatles’ White Album (1968), No. 9 Bob Dylan’s Blond on Blond (1966), No. 7 The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street (1972), No. 6 Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? (1971), No. 5 The Beatles Rubber Soul (1965), No. 4 Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (1965), No. 3 The Beatles’ Revolver (1965), No. 2 The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) and No. 1, of course, The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

With the one and only Billy Shears.

I know you’re wondering what was No. 8. It was the Clash’s London Calling, a call I have absolutely no trouble with.

How I would love to live through another period to match the Great Renaissance but I suspect one of those come along only in a Blue Moon of Kentucky.

Why I Bother

To think that anything I could write here or anywhere else might change anyone’s mind on politics would be the height of arrogance. It hasn’t taken me all of my 65 years, two months and one day on this ride through space and time to realize that there are those whose opinions are diametrically opposed to mine, and that often the thought and consideration they’ve put into reaching their conclusions is equal, if not deeper, than mine.

Differences, whenever possible, should be celebrated. What a dull life we would lead without them.

So why is this old boy, after 45 years of being politically muzzled by the nature of my job working for a daily newspaper, stepping into the rough-and-tumble arena of political discourse? Why am I pulling out the soapbox to have my say on the hot-button issues of the day? Why do I even bother?

Two reasons.

The first is that I feel the need to stand up for what I believe. And what I  believe is that our politics of America in the 21st century are terribly out of whack. The rich are too rich and the poor too poor.  The disparity of income in American is growing every day and the middle class — the true engine that drives a thriving ecomomy — continues to crater into the ever-widening abyss.

Actually, to backtrack just a bit, my problem is not that the rich are too rich. I have no problem with how much money a person is able to make in America. Incentive is the gear that greases a vibrant economy. So I’m not a socialist and certainly not a communist. Che Guevara might have been a pretty cool guy. He at least seemed to be — if the movie The Motorcyle Diaries had any relationship whatsoever with reality. And you have to admire his commitment, regardless of the cause.

But Che died in the jungles of Bolivia and everything coming from that team since has been just another form of control by the rich and powerful.

What I do have problems with is the richest and most powerful among us using their riches and power to rig the political system in such a way that ensures they will always get what they want whenever they want it. There’s a Club in this country to which only the richest and most powerful belong, and, sad to say — coming from a lifelong Democrat whose mother cut her political teeth on FDR’s New Deal — it enlists members from both parties.

Sure Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Charles and David Koch are card-carrying members of The Club, but so are Chuck Schumer and, yes, Hillary Clinton.  The Democratic party, in my mind, turned its back on the working class of this country and the price we all paid is waking up one day to find Donald Trump — the worst among us, the ugliest of all Ugly Americans — in the White House.

So that’s the first reason I rage against the machine. The second is the scant hope that somehow, someway I might help marshal the energies of the like-minded. Times are scary. We need all the good energy we can get.

Along the way I hope to get comments from anyone who stumbles across this blog. I recognize I’m playing with fire and that some folks’ political passions blow so hot that they feel the need to attack and hopefully diminish those opinions with which they disagree.  But let’s just at least try to keep it civil. My take is that your political opinion is your own and you’re entitled to it. There’s no need for me to be threatened by those with whom I disagree. I will endeavor to show everyone all the respect they deserve.

All I ask in return is the same.

 

Headlong

One of these days I just might get around to writing my autobiography.

After all, I’m already halfway there. I have a title:

Headlong.

Headlong is how I’ve spent my 65 years, two months and one day on this ride through time and space, careening from one pursuit or activity to another in an impassioned frenzy. How nice it would be if I could ever finish one plan or project before starting the next, but that, as I can see by now, would be way too much to ask.

So I just keep living large in my head, picking up a thought here, a reference there, an idea that rattles around until I either commit it to notes – if not, on the rarest of occasions, action – or it goes hurtling off to that great trash bin somewhere in the outer reaches of the cosmos. By now I know that poor bin has to be full to overflowing, but being a certified Ludditte stuck in the 20th century, it will have to remain so until someone shows me how to empty the file.

Looking back, I’ve always been this way. Call it ADD, hyperactivity or just being a damn fool, from my earliest days growing up in the deep reaches of the Great Smoky Mountains (hometown Franklin) I was too wired to do all that needed to be done.

Athletically I had a modicum of ability and talent My father Hobe Collins, after all, played a little college football while attending Western Carolina University (then known as Western Carolina Teachers College) on the GI bill. And brothers Tom and Joe both started at quarterback for the Mighty Franklin High Fighting Panthers. But the reason I was seven games into my senior season before I ever got off the bench had less to do with any desire or skill as a hopeless inability to get a grip on my jangling nerves and fleeting attention span.

I could never settle in, could never settle down. Today, a half-century later, I still have that problem.

What a mess I would have made of this ride through time and space without the blessings and understanding of all the angels in my life, among them mother Frances, brothers Tom and Joe, awesome offspring Nate and Rebecca and first and foremost, my radiant bride, co-pilot and spiritual proctor Tybee. Every family needs a shaman and we’re lucky enough to have ours in Tybee Leigh Terry Collins.

But there have also been others – and hopefully you know who you are – who helped me get to and through college and into gainful employment with the Chapel Hill Newspaper (1972-78) and the Winston-Salem Journal (1978-2017). Writing sports is something I found I could do. I could somehow marshal my attention and energies long enough to watch an athletic event unfold, interview the participants and produce an account that passed enough muster to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

As of August 18, 2017, however, I am no longer a sportswriter. After 45 years in the profession I retired to pursue all my many other passions and interests. The thrill of covering games was long gone, the industry was picking up momentum on his inexorable slide into the dustbin of history and I was Done.

Done, I tell you. I was Done.

I knew I always had my music. Truth be told I’ve been writing songs longer than I’ve been writing sports, if you could call the dimwitted ditties I was churning out at the stupid age of 15 songs. But I did pick up some momentum once I reached 50 and have spent the last 15 years playing around town, writing songs and ram-roding Open Mics at a couple of establishments enlightened enough to enlist my services. And that has been great fun.

Otherwise my time is mostly spent reading, another life-long love. Whenever any budding (don’t you love the term) writer was desperate enough to ask my advice about the craft, my answer was always to same. To write you have to read. Read for knowledge, to stock the mind. Read for style. Read to know how other writers go about doing what they’re trying to do. Because of my love for the written word, I’ve clogged the hard-drive in my head with all kinds of files, features and facts that for the most part might mean nothing to nobody but me. I’m hoping I’m wrong on that score, that what I have to say might be on interest to other travelers on this ride through time and space.

To that end, and, most of all, just to have some pursuit to fill my the hours of the day, I’m launching – with the eminently able assistance of Web-Maestro Rebecca — my blog My Take on Whatever. Here’s hoping you enjoy reading it as much as I surely will laying it on you. Just know you’re always welcome here. It’s always nice to have company on my headlong ride through life.