Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2006-06-30 03:36
by Alex Belth

Have you ever heard the term "passing?" Until recently, I had not. The way I heard it used, "passing" refers to a situation where you decide not to address something that might offend you. For instance, you are in a conversation with some people--at work let's say--and somebody says something bigoted. It bothers you but you choose, for whatever reason, not to confront it. You change the subject or ignore it altogether. That's called passing.

Most of us encounter these kinds of situations all the time. Two days ago at the ball game, I found myself unable to "pass." I was watching the Yankee game with my cousin and two guys I played high school ball with--one of whom is a good friend. The two jocks started talking about women and baseball and the gist of the discussion was, "Let's make fun of women because they don't have a clue when it comes to sports." I just knew where the conversation was going and it instantly made me uncomfortable, not only because my girlfriend is a devoted fan but because sitting in front of us was a woman who is more knowledgable about the game than most men could ever hope to be.

I caught myself and thought, "Aha, so this is a 'passing' sitation." At first I didn't know how I was going to respond. One instinct was to join them. I had an ideal story. Earlier in the day, my cousin Eric and I were playing stickball on 5th street between first and second avenues. We were pressed for time and only had about ten minutes left to play when a sexy young thing walked towards us. She had been watching us play for a few minutes when she approached me and said, "Can I play?" She was friendly and exceedingly cute. How do you say "no" to that? If I were single, I'd have turned into Charlie Lau and not only let her play with us but I'd teach her how to hit, anything, in the process. But not only am I not single, I don't have wandering eyes like that and am not that tempted to flirt with hot young East Village women. So I told her that it was nice of her to ask but that we only had a few more minutes left and we wanted to finish our game. "But if you ever see us playing down here again, feel free to stop by and you can join us then." I was as friendly as possible and it felt good not to compromise the moment Eric and I were sharing. She looked surprised--not quite comprehending how we could turn such an offer down--and quietly walked away.

Anyhow, I was pleased with how I handled the situation--tactfully but with conviction. Now, I could use this story as a way to join the "He Man Woman Hater's Club" brewing behind me. Screw women, this is our sport, kind of a thing. I turned around to the guys and instead of directly confronting their chauvanism, or joining it, I started talking to them about Emily and how much of a baseball fan she's become. I told them that sometimes Em will ask me what I think is a ridiculously stupid question but other times she'll come up with something simple and logical that I just can't answer. For instance, say the Yankees are at home and have a runner on first. If the opposing pitcher throws over to first more than once the crowd--any home crowd--will start to boo. One day Emily asked, "Why are they booing?" I stuttered and finally had to look at her and tell her I hadn't the foggiest idea why. "Because...that's just the way it is," was the best I could come up with.

My friend Adam was amused by the story and told me I was so right. The conversation shifted and that was that. But it got me thinking about the different, often refreshing sensibilities women bring to a male-dominated world like baseball. Nancy Smith, the woman sitting in front of us, had an opportunity to meet several of the Yankees last summer and she told me that she had a pleasant ten minute conversation with Mariano Rivera. "He's a very nice man," she reported. What did they talk about? Where he lives when he's up here, how much his kids love the winter and the snow. You know, regular stuff. Things that most guys would never think of talking about if they were to ever to meet a baseball player.

I'd be asking him all sorts of questions about baseball, about pitching. I'd never think to talk to him about such mundane things as the weather. The irony is Nancy probably put Rivera more at ease, and had a more intimate, natural conversation with him than I would have in the same situation. She might enjoy being around him as much as any male fan, but even if she was geeked about it, there was probably nothing urgent beneath the surface, no agenda. She didn't "want" a piece of him, she just wanted to chat.

Nancy's story reminded me of something Jane Gross, a former sports writer, once told Roger Angell (from the story "Sharing the Beat," which can be found in Angell's "Late Innings" collection):

"I think women reports have a lot of advantages [over male reporters], starting with the advantage of the players' natural chivalry. We women are interested in different things from the men writers, so we ask different questions. When Bob McAdoo gets traded from the Knicks, my first thought is, How is his wife, Brenda, going to finish law school this year? And that may be what's most on his mind.

Not better, not worse, just different. Sure, there are times when Emily asks a question that has my snotty-ass rolling my eyes. Other times, she'll just floor me with her insights--whether simple or profound. I deliberately use my love of baseball as a way to relate to other men. But some of the greatest fans I know are women. And that's a beautiful thing, bro.

2006-06-30 04:53:17
1.   randym77
I'm reminded of that X-Files episode about baseball. Mulder shares his love of the game with the clueless Scully by taking her to a park one evening and showing her how to bat.

In reality, Gillian Anderson knows how to bat. She was born in 1968, and Title IX was in effect when she was in school. In between takes, she was whacking them all over the place (with the whole crew clapping and cheering each time she got one out of the park).

These days, there are almost as many female fans as males. The audience for NFL football is something like 43% female. Sure, there are women who don't know anything about sports. There are a lot of men like that, too. In fact, young men aren't as interested in sports as they used to be. At least not mainstream sports like baseball and football. We should welcome any fans we can get.

2006-06-30 05:07:42
2.   rbj
I'll boo when the other guy is constantly throwing to first because it is boring. It's even boring when my team's pitcher does it.
2006-06-30 05:22:01
3.   rbj
And PS, Thanks for nothin' Muts. You guys suck.
2006-06-30 05:48:37
4.   NetShrine
Always smart to pass on an offer like that Alex - or else you could find yourself hand-cuffed to a bed, in your boxers, screaming "It's my only suit! I got it at Mo Ginsburg!" in some hotel as you're getting ripped off.
2006-06-30 06:22:39
5.   Dimelo
This is a very interesting subject and I feel its relative. I've never had the privilege of watching a game with a woman who's Yankee and a baseball fan - someone who understands the game and its pace.

My mom loves baseball, but her reactions are more based on emotions and knowing very little about the game – other than the players. I have found that a lot of the women I end up watching a baseball game with are like my mom. Also, the times I watch a game with a woman or a group of women is also very rare. They don't necessarily have to be my girlfriend or someone I'm in a relationship with either.

Let me give two examples, the first being the score. Imagine in the 1st inning a score of 3 - 0 against the Yankees. Automatically I start hearing "this game is over", "is there anything else to do?", "the Yankees suck, I can't believe they let that team score 3 runs". Those comments automatically make my blood boil. The other annoyance is the pitch count thing, "That pitcher was pitching so well, why did Torre have to bring in Mo", then Mo proceeds to give up a hit and I hear, "why the hell did Torre bring that guy in? I hope they lose this game".

I lived with my sister for a time and she's a huge Yankee fan, but she had to learn to curb her overreaction and understand the fundamentals of the game, however, she still struggled because part of her wanted to scream at the 1st pitch strike, against the Red Sox in a game in April, and that game was in the first inning. I'm not of that ilk. I like to focus on the game and that type of overreaction makes me jumpy.

Alex, I agree that if there are women around then we would appreciate it if our friends didn't bring attention to themselves by making negative comments against women. However, it's something that I've done before and it's something that feels like a natural reaction when you are around a group of male friends you feel totally comfortable with. The majority of women who watch male dominated sports don't understand them all too well. That's a fact. There are some that do understand it well, but it's not the majority. We can't be offended or bothered when people point out the obvious. I am not dissing women, I am merely pointing out the obvious…..there are more than a few blogs run by women and they are extremely knowledgeable about baseball and other sports as well, I am not referring to them and I respect their opinions and analysis. There are also guys that don't understand some of these male dominated sports all too well either. But my experiences have me interacting with more knowledgeable male fans than women. This is simply an issue that's relative.

The other issue that is relative is if a hot girl comes and asks me to join in my game of stickball, at that point I stop thinking and I'm like, "Great!!! Of course you can play". I know all of my friends would understand, too, and they would encourage her to join in as well. If I turned her down….then I would never the end of it either. Now I finally know what that statement means, "birds of a feather flock together".

2006-06-30 06:32:55
6.   Dimelo
I thought "passing" was referring to brown tobacco paper, with something green crunched up inside and it was being passed around a group of friends.
2006-06-30 06:39:09
7.   yankaholic
Off topic.. but Yankee offense centric

did u guys read this note on NYPost

2006-06-30 06:43:53
8.   vockins
My wife, who's from New Zealand, and had absolutely no interest in baseball before she'd met me, suggested the shift for Ortiz six months before any team actually did it. She was also fond of a tone on tone ensemble Cano was wearing during a post game interview.

There are many valid reasons for enjoying the game.

2006-06-30 06:51:08
9.   willdthrill
Jane Gross' anecdote is interesting... but I bet she never had to interview George Bell. Doesn't Suzyn Waldman have a story regarding how she was berated in the Toronto clubhouse by Bell? And that Jesse Barfield had to intervene and stemmed further embarassment by conducting an interview with her?

And Alex, the only insight my girlfriend ever have during a Yankees game is that she articulates her theory that I'm an ass for hurling profanities and small objects at the TV whenever the Yankees do something not helpful to winning. Consider yourself lucky.

2006-06-30 07:05:06
10.   Dimelo
Just read this in the Hartford Courant:
The broken bone in Johnny Damon's foot has healed to the point where neither he nor the Yankees consider it an issue. He has been the DH only once in June (in the second game of the doubleheader Sunday).

Great to hear, Damon.

2006-06-30 07:22:14
11.   Simone
So what is the school of thought on Jeter's lack of home runs? Is he losing power? Or is that hand still bothering him?

The Yankees better sweep the Mets also.

2006-06-30 07:24:10
12.   jonm
Now, the question:
Why did Bill James write "Pass." as his sole comment amount Jeff Bagwell in the revised Historical Abstract?
Before, I thought it was just because he didn't have anything interesting to say about Bagwell. Now, I'm suspicious.
2006-06-30 07:43:45
13.   Jen
Great post, Alex. As a woman and a Yankee fan I appreciate your attitude. It's not always easy to be taken seriously as a fan. It doesn't take long to convince someone that, while I don't know everything there is to know, I can hold my own in a conversation about the team or the game or baseball in general. Unfortunately I'm not always given the chance. I've been lucky in the past year and half at the Stadium to have met some really cool guys. But for every one of them there's about 5 or 6 mooks.
2006-06-30 07:48:55
14.   Ben
8. Vockins-

That's the most succinct and funny post I've read in months. I don't even know what tone on tone is, but it's funny as shit.

2006-06-30 07:51:03
15.   Dimelo
13 "mooks". Like Mookie Wilson mooks? What is a 'mook'? Or is that like a rook in chess? They can only move in a straight line. Not a good understanding of angles. :)
2006-06-30 07:58:48
16.   Max
Alex, one of my favorite posts of yours. A lyrical nod to the bonds good friends have around games, but an open-hearted acknowledgement of how much women contribute and how much knowledge they have.

For some reason, my mind flashed to the long-ago interview with Buster Olney, and his expression of the sad attitudes many players have regarding women:

"You have an incredible amount of access in baseball. A lot of beat reporting is based on relationships you have with the players. A woman can come in there and be the best reporter in the history of the sport, be the greatest writer, and at least a third of the players, if not half, would never accept her. Just because that's just the way of the world I guess."

But I loved the anecdote about Nancy Smith's relaxed conversation with Mo. Talking about the weather, kids. I know Buster talked about how one-way the relationship was between beat writers and the players, how most of the players he interacted with never bothered to ask him about his family...I thought that was sad. Perhaps if more women were accepted in the clubhouse, the dynamic would be more interpersonal.

Then again, maybe not. Male or female, beat reporters and columnists, particularly in the climate of today's sports coverage, are going to be paid to be adversarial toward players. And so the prisoner's dilemma of the clubhouse continues.

2006-06-30 08:08:18
17.   Emy
Vockins- Yeah, my wife used to refer to uniforms as "outfits." Drove me crazy!

I gotta say though, she has become quite a big baseball/Yanks fan since those days (and I still tease her about the outfit comments).

I'm truly blessed to have a wife who appreciates my passion for the game and has taken to it herself. Together we've visited 25 MLB ballparks and she attends nearly every Yanks home game with me. I'm amazed by how much she has learned about the game.

Give the women a chance, fellas.

2006-06-30 08:29:13
18.   Jen
15 Basically a mook is a jackass.

2006-06-30 08:35:16
19.   Matt B
18 - I think I first heard the term "mook" in Scorsese's Mean Streets. "...because this guy's a mook." "I'm a mook?" It quickly worked its way into my vernacular.
2006-06-30 09:07:51
20.   claybeez
Well, in all my relationships prior to getting married I always politely informed my girlfriends that as much as I loved them the Yanks would always be my first love. Admittedly not the most intelligent way to endear myself to someone, but after the shock they seemed to at least appreciate the honesty. None of them really embraced the game though, except for this English bird I was dating who fell in love with baseball and the Yanks when I took her to see the boys at the Coliseum (and this despite it being a sloppily played game by our Boggs and the rest of the Pinstripers).

In my wife, however, I've hit the jackpot. A former softball catcher and volleyball player herself, she already had an appreciation of sports. But despite being from Cubs vs Cards country she embraced my love of the Yanks and has officially joined the fan club. We've gone to about 8 games this season, including the home opener - a birthday present for me. While she's not always seated by my side for every game we definitely talk shop throughout them. She listens to me and then every so often drops a savvy assessment. Towards the end of the game she'll snuggle up as I'm flipping through the BB game thread. We crack up together at the humorous entries and commiserate when the club is reeling. Being able to share your passion of a lifetime with the love of your life is a splendid thing.

2006-06-30 09:16:07
21.   claybeez
When I hear "passing" btw, the first thing I think of is lighter skinned African-Americans who moved to a place where they were unknown and "passed" over to the white community to escape the scourges of racism and bigotry.
2006-06-30 09:25:44
22.   Jon Weisman
I remember well that Angell passage.

I remember my first moment of not passing, as you call it; it came when I was in adult. It was in a discussion about affirmative action and reverse discrimination ... anyway, it's a moment that stuck with me for a long time. It changed me, or signaled that I had changed.

I've actually been thinking of this stuff this week, because over the years I have built up a lot of anger toward things. I'm more angry now than I was as a child (though probably not angry enough). Offline, I am always raging about some injustices I feel - some worthy of rage, some decidedly not worthy of rage. At least in some respects, though, I should be as angry as I am. But it's less fun.

2006-06-30 09:31:24
23.   randym77
My reaction to fans (of either gender) who don't understand the sport is to teach them. I've been lucky that way myself, I guess. I was raised in a strictly football family. My dad still says things like "Baseball is for..." well, "pansies" is the politest word he uses. I came to baseball late, and freely admit I don't know everything.

I used to think it was the most boring sport in the world. So much time spent standing around with nothing happening. How could people stand it?

I got into it gradually, over several years, due to friends who took the time to answer my dopey questions. In particular, an older female friend whose love of the game is in large part responsible for my being a fan. Whenever I visited her, she made me watch baseball. Not only baseball, her favorite team, the Pirates. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and used to go to Forbes Field as a schoolgirl. They let you in free in late innings then, so she'd go over after school in her Catholic school uniform to watch her Bucs. She was there when Mazeroski hit his famous homer, and for many other great moments. Hearing her stories is what made me appreciate the game and its history.

And she does understand baseball. She warned me about Aaron Boone. She warned me about Tony Womack. She warned me about Matt Lawton. The Yanks ought to hire her as a scout. ;-)

2006-06-30 09:48:52
24.   Chyll Will
Love the post today, Alex; something else I can really relate to...(if that girl was as cute as you say, you should have let her pitch; see if her curve was as good as advertised...)

In my family, Baseball was and is a familial bond. My mother was from Harlem and grew up in the Bronx, played all kinds of sports and played stickball and softball. She taught me how to pitch and catch before I joined Little League. I owe more than half of my baseball prowess to her. My enthusiasm owes a lot to the fact that my oldest sister, as I mentioned sometime before, was a Huge Yankee fan. She taught me the fundamentals of the game as a fan, and we often watched the games together on TV talking about a particular player's stats, his approach to an at bat, defense, intangiables, etc.

Wow, now that I think about it, I've a really funny Yankee Stadium Adventure with her and her daughter. Most of my female relations know a thing or two about baseball...

Actually, my girlfriend is kind of new to baseball; she's from Haiti and likes tennis, golf and (naturally) soccer, but took an interest in baseball like most people when I first took her to Yankee Stadium. Soon enough she was asking a lot of questions about scoring points and how many strikes per inning (hee-hee); hey, she's learning and wants to learn, that's what counts; same as I'm learning a lot of new stats from most of you.)

It's the same as a buddy of mine in Atlanta, who only a few years ago got into baseball when he went to Turner Field for the first time, then began swapping perspectives on various players and teams with me. It was actually the Yanks-Braves series in '99 that got him going. I broke it down for him just like my sister broke it down for me.

I'm used to a female knowing as much about the game as I do, and I'm up for anyone who wants to have a game or get into one if they know the password (I got next!), but I got time for anyone who wants to learn.

2006-06-30 09:50:39
25.   vockins
14 It was funny, but I appreciate all of her observations, even the ones that have nothing to do with anything that happens on the field. If she likes Cano because of his fashion sense, that's perfectly valid. (According to her, Cano has the best dress sense of anyone on the Yanks, far and away.) Maybe I wouldn't want her to be the GM, but she's not. She's a fan. Not for the same reasons as me, but that doesn't matter.

Seriously, whatever makes someone a fan is all right with me. Coming to the park to complete the 2500th scorecard of your life? Great, that's quite an achievement. Coming to ogle Jeter's ass? Knock yourself out.

2006-06-30 10:01:24
26.   Chyll Will
21 I'll never pass the paper bag test. But I had that same thought at first, then I thought of someone "passing away". Either one would be kinda heavy here, though that's not to say that they don't deserve some acknowledgement.

23 That's what I'm talking about. I find this blog a lot more informative than newspapers and even most sports shows; I could never afford a baseball clinic like most kids I grew up with, nor can I even go to the Stadium on a regular basis, but I had good sources; and what I learn here is very supplementary.

2006-06-30 10:03:51
27.   Zack
21 Yeah, passing also refers to situations where anyone "passess" for something they are not: gay for straight, black for white, vice versa etc. Been used in lots of thenic studies and gender studies work...So that was my first reaction too, I thought Alex was going to give a tale about something along those line...

On another note, in my family, the women are just aas if not more passionate about the Yanks, and I grew up going to Yankee games with my mom and sister, so I would always laugh when some guy would try to make himself seem more knowledgeable than either of them assuming that because they were 'women' they couldn't know what they were talking about...

2006-06-30 10:45:26
28.   Rich Lederer
As soon as I realized that this article was going to be about one of Alex's splendid observations on life, I couldn't "pass."

Not surprisingly, the piece was "a beautiful thing, bro."

2006-06-30 10:47:10
29.   bloodyank78
Funny how life teaches you lessons. I possessed a mentality similar to Alex's two "jock" friends prior to meeting my wife. Baseball to me was about my love of the game and male bonding w/my bros when watching it. It did not involve women in any regard. Then I met my wife; she came to the US from Cuba in 1982 when she was three. Her father had played ball in Cuba and was a fanatic,so he taught and passed on his knowledge to her as she grew up. So we had just began dating when one saturday afternoon she plops down on the couch w/me while I'm watching a Dodger game. Man on 2B, one out w/ Ceasar Izturis at bat, and she goes, "They should sac bunt here don't you think?" I about shit. I immediately learned about her love of the game and how she had come to learn it and its nuances. It was also around that time that I figured out I had a keeper.
2006-06-30 10:50:35
30.   Dimelo
Off the male bashing a bit. I hate that people have to constantly compare Jeter and ARod to prove or disprove how bad ARod/Jeter are.

2006-06-30 12:02:02
31.   QueenV
Excellent post, Alex!

As a girl, I will agree there are many girls out there that know nothing about baseball. Most girls I know just have no interest in it, except that Derek Jeter has a cute butt. But, I've met lots of guys who know nothing about baseball too. There's nothing wrong with that; my ex-boyfriend was totally clueless when it came to sports. What's really bad though, is when a guy will pretend to know about baseball in an attempt to impress me, because he figures since I'm a girl, I probably won't catch on to his lack of baseball knowledge.

A little story: In the summer of 2004, I was on a first date I never really wanted to be on in the first place. I mentioned I liked baseball, and the guy asked which was my favorite team. I said the Yankees, and he said he really liked them too and can't stand the Mets (he probably wanted to know which team I liked so he could agree with me). I excitedly started talking about how I went to the 2003 ALCS, and how upset I was that I could've bought tickets for Game 7, but I wimped out and bought Game 2 tickets instead. I talked about how Game 7 was the most amazing game I'd ever seen on TV and how it killed me not to be there. He nodded, and said, "Yeah... the Red Sox ended up winning that year, right?" My jaw just dropped right there. Keep in mind the Sox still hadn't won in 86 years at the time. He had no clue what I was talking about!

I politely informed him that the Yankees won that series but lost to the Marlins in the World Series. Then he said the Marlins had some really good players like Randy Johnson. You gotta be kidding me!

Moral of the story: If you want to impress people, just be yourself.

2006-06-30 12:38:06
32.   Alex Belth
Bonus, Babies.

Here's more from Jane Gross and Angell:

"I'm very close to the players' wives. Julius Erving's wife, Turquoise, is a good friend of mine. I don't think the wives worry about me or other women writers when the team is on the road. Athletes' wives have very anxious lives. They have a lot to be nervous about, but the only complaint I've ever had from them is that I get to spend more time with their husbands than they do.

"The other advantage of being a womanis that you're perpetually forced to be an outsider. As a rule, you're not invited to come along to dinner with a half-dozen of the players, or to go drinking with them, when maybe they're going to chase girls. This means a lot, because I believe that all reporters should keep a great distance between themselves and the players. It always ought to be an adversary relationship, basically. That's a difficult space to maintain when you're on the road all through a long season. I can remember a trip, when I first started out, when I called room service for my meals for nineteen straight days. It was hard to take, but later I saw it was really an advantage, a strength.

"I've not always been perfectly at east in a locker room, but I'm comfortable now. It's an earned comfort--it takes a long time. I don't think anybody who hasn't been in a locker room when women are there can believe that it isn't a big deal. Most of the men who have fought so hard to keep women out probably have never seen a locker room with women in it. My presence doesn't change the way the players act or talk. I've begun to see that the pleasure men take in being with each other--playing careds together, being in a bar together--isn't actively anti-female. It isn't against women; it just has nothing to do with them. It seems to come from some point in their lives before they were aware that there were women. They have so much fun together. I really have become more sympathetic to men because of my job."

What a lady, huh?

2006-06-30 12:47:46
33.   Jersey
I read that first line as "Julius Erving's wife, Tortoise."

Very insightful, Alex - you and Ms. Gross both.

2006-06-30 13:27:22
34.   Levy2020
2 Not only is it boring but I would like for Yankees' runners to get a big honking lead without any worry. And also there's a tension before the pitch, and a pitchout is disappointing without beig interesting. That's why I boo.
2006-07-01 19:18:46
35.   Murray
I'd rather sit near a group of women at the Stadium every time: a collection of women is, at its worst, drunk and annoying, whereas a collection of men at its worst at the Stadium is drunk and violent.
2006-07-04 16:10:56
36.   Boston Fan in Michigan
//I'd be asking him all sorts of questions about baseball, about pitching. I'd never think to talk to him about such mundane things as the weather. //

Curious. I know a lot of female baseball fans who would have this reaction as well. In fact, I'd venture to say that the majority of women who love the game among my friends would be more interested in asking Rivera about his cutter or something similar than his home life (of course, when it came to my friends, they would then thank him for 2004).

It's good of you to note that female fans can bring something vital to the game, Alex, but sometimes that something is no different than what a male fan brings to it. Not every female fan is cutely innocent about basic baseball facts while just loving the game in general.

2006-07-05 21:04:42
37.   cooperjude
Re: female fans bringing something different to the game:

For the most part, I introduced my wife to baseball and football, and she now enjoys both, although she still can't bring herself to watch baseball on TV. When we do watch sporting events together, she observes the situation with a considerably more detatched viewpoint than I do. Obviously, she brings a lot less baggage to a game than I do; i.e., a lifetime of watching characterized by a few moments of elation and the rest varying degrees of crapola.

In practical terms, this means that if she thinks "our" team is playing badly, she'll say it immediately and without any varnish on the comment. As the years have passed, my feelings on those comments have changed, but man, in the beginning, that really used to chap my ass. Not surprisingly, I chalk that up to being too emotional about my sports teams, to the point that I hadn't adequately prepared myself for the possibility of disappointment by the time my then-girlfriend would say, "Why are they sucking so bad?"

So yes, I agree. Women can bring different things to the of which is a fresh, and sometimes too sobering, perspective.

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