Trading Places?

As a lifelong, maniacal baseball fan, i cut my teeth reading John R. Tunis books as a boy, listening to Cincinnati Reds baseball covertly after being sent to bed and imagining myself as a pro player one day.   I went to my first games at old Crosley Field and saw legends like Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Casey Stengel, Frank Robinson and Warren Spahn live.  We sat on the third base side in box seats once close enough to hear Deron Johnson spit–which was frequently.

In my boyhood, there was only one thing that mattered–winning the World Series.  It never occurred to us that it was only Americans in the finals and that the rest of the world didn’t know.  It seemed like the biggest event in the universe.

A lot has changed.  Free agency came along and owners stopped “owning” players.  But eventually it made things more interesting–agents, players putting clauses in their contracts to only get red M&Ms, trade clauses of teams where they will NOT agree to be traded (I will not go to Bismark or Kansas City), and the internet Hot Stove.

“The Hot Stove League” was originally a phrase from the old days when men sat around the hot stove in winter, the off season, and discussed trades between teams.  Now it’s all by fax, mobile phone and internet.  Therefore, the most interesting times of the year are the day after the World Series ends until Spring Training and the last two weeks of July.  The former is the time when teams sign Free Agents and make trades.  It is a time when hope springs eternal for teams that finished third last year.  “If we can land a right-handed bat with power and a good starting pitcher, we might win it all next year!”

The period in July is even more interesting.  It is when teams become “buyers” or “sellers.”  Bad teams unload their stars to get rid of salaries when it’s obvious that they won’t win the pennant.  Therefore, baseball teams have had to get rid of the mentality of never giving up until the last out and they are eliminated from contention and replace it with, “How do we manage our player portfolio to minimize losses against probably ticket sales and revenues for overpriced hot dogs and parking to guarantee a small profit for the team this year.  Then we can publicly bemoan that we’re actually losing a ton of money so the players union won’t ask for more.”

The upshot is an interesting time when true fans keep up with rumors.  There is even a website called “MLB Trade Rumors” where Tweets, posts, stories and rumors are reported.  A the top of their home page it says, “IF IT’S WHISPERED, WE HEAR IT.”  On their “About” page, it says, “MLB Trade Rumors is a clearinghouse for relevant, legitimate baseball rumors.”

In other words, if your cousin Leonard says, “I think the Yankees should trade their starting rotation for Jeff Francoeur and a bag of bats,” it may not make it.  Only LEGITIMATE rumors.  I could write a whole blog about how this is determined and who is in charge of “rumor legitimacy,” but for fans, it’s the crystal meth of hope.  So you have things like these actual entries:
“TUESDAY, 10:16am: Giambi injured his left quad last night, and Renck says it’s a potential disabled list situation.  That could end the chances of a July trade.”

“The chances of an Ubaldo Jimenez trade are around 50/50, one source close to the talks tells Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.  To date, I don’t think any reporter has ventured to go above 20%.”  [20% IS PRETTY PRECISE FOR A RUMOR ISN’T IT?]

Actually, no one cares about the World Series winner anymore except for the ten minutes after they win the thing.  Then it’s ON TO THE RUMORS!  Add to this millions of Fantasy Baseball teams and their fake rosters and you have a whole world built on the importance of gossip.  As a minister, I’m supposed to be against gossip, but from the days of the old prayer request time in my early churches, I knew there was more than one way to spread rumors.  “We need to pray for Jimmy McGillicutty and his wife.  She’s been having an affair with that sorry man from Strawberry Plains and it’s tearing their family apart.”  Nodding heads of disapproval masking delight.

It has also led to precision evaluations of players.  There are statistics for everything:  OBP (On Base Percentage–how often the player manages to get on base in any way),  HBP (how many times they were hit by a pitch), SLG (Slugging Percentage–1 point for a single, 2 points for a double, 3 points for a Triple and 4 for a Home Run divided by the number of At Bats).  OPS is On Base percentage plus Slugging.  On and on.  You see how addictive this can be.

Which is why fewer and fewer people actually go to the games or watch them on TV.  Wins and World Series’ victories matter to the players and the two cities who win, but the rest of the fans are too busy thinking about trades and evaluating our own talent to trade and listening to rumors and blogs to actually go to a game.

I did think, though, that baseball has a lot to teach us about evaluating talent.  What if we did this in politics instead of costly wars?  “MSNBC Tweets that Britain may move prime minister to Australia for two Members of Parliament and a judge to be named later pending ethical evaluation.”  “King of Twambia may retire.  Search for new tyrant on the Free Agent Market.”

Or Business?  “Today, we will likely find out if Globehemoth Corporation will be able to unload their three main O’s, their CEO, COO and CFO in a move that most observers see as a salary dump.  The three came in with great reputations but so far have had disappointing performances.  Globehemoth’s Board Chair is said to be looking at minor league up and comers to replace them.”

Even Criminal Justice would benefit from this new way of doing things.  On a recent train ride from Portland to Seattle, the Conductor pointed out McNeil Island Prison in the Puget Sound, and shared with us that it had held, among others, the famous “Birdman of Alcatraz,” Robert Stroud, and Charlie Manson, who did two years there for federal check forgery.  I once heard about a prison warden who said, “The problem with our prisons today is that we need a better grade of prisoner.”  Criminals might feel better about going to a more glam facility, especially with some celebrity fellow inmates.

Perhaps if jailers and wardens were given some leeway to swap prisoners based on celebrity appeal rather than mere crimes and security, we might have a more appealing situation.  “There are whispers that Warden Jones is actually considering a blockbuster trade that would rock the correctional world.  Rumor has it that jailer Bob at LA County Jail is considering a Lindsay Lohan-Paris Hilton swap for loiterers and a couple of prisoners to be named later.  It is clear that the relationship of Jailer Bob and the celebs has soured to the point that he is willing to move them for very little, crimewise.”

I have even thought about churches.  From my first year as a pastor, I considered the joy of being able to willing swap members away.  In the Body of Christ, there are always productive bench players, pinch-hitters, and stars, but like any other organization, there are also clubhouse lawyers, bad attitudes, disappointing Free Agents who came in the door to boost the budget and lead committees to productivity only to end up as Inactive Members and so on.  Team chemistry matters.

But it’s not all negative.  Sometimes in baseball you trade a great left-handed relief specialist to get a good man with a glove who can play five positions.  I’ve always wanted to trade when I was deep in seminary graduates or university people or chaplains or engineers and get a left-handed artist or a tenor for the choir in return.  And you can never have enough stay at home moms with entrepeneurial talents or retirees with time on their hands and good attitudes.

Only thing is, good for the goose, good for the gander.  It might go the other way.  How about CHURCH TRADE RUMORS: If it’s whispered at the annual meeting, we hear it first!

“First Church is considering unloading its long-term contract with Pastor Smith as it rebuilds for the future.  Its economic situation probably calls for fielding a much younger staff team which would cost less but might take a while to turn things around.  Smith got off to a great start his first four years, with 5% growth per year, but personal family troubles and a bout of depression sidelined him for the next three.  His effectiveness has not been the same since.”

“Second Baptist and Third Baptist are mulling over a straight up swap of pastors.  Brother Bildge and Preacher Finch have both been in their pulpits for seven years and both churches are languishing in third place in their respective divisions.  A change of scenery might revitalize their disappointing careers.  Observers note that with Third’s deacon body, no one is likely to find much success at the church.   Their error rate is the highest in all ecclessiological circles.  Bilge, on the other hand, was doing well until he criticized FOX news from the pulpit and has been a lame duck from super wealthy followers of Christ who withheld their tithes in retribution, according to their convictions about discipleship.”

“Mt. Harmony #2 gave their pastor her outright release and she is now a free agent and may negotiate with any team.  It is rumored that the Rev. Alibright Harrison, who was drafted directly from the seminary as a number one pick, never really synched with the General Manager, Elder Neggo, whose tight-fisted philosophy and general conservative approach to church doomed the experiment from the start.”

I want to run the website.  The rumors will dwarf baseball and my job security will never end.

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Gary Furr

Gary is a musician, writer and Christian minister living in Alabama.

3 thoughts on “Trading Places?”

  1. Good stuff, Gary. Equivalent of a 2 – 4 day at the plate. But with the time it must have taken to research and write it, you could have watched the Mariners lose their 17th straight game. A companion blog could be about congregational or pastoral losing streaks. Carl

    1. Losing streaks, man. That would be a whole new blog, Carl! Except the church can’t boo. They just murmur. One thing is the same, though. Ticket sales plummet, they have a lot of team meetings and when the streak goes long enough the manager usually gets the axe first…

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