Jeff, Ingrid & the Kids Came in Handy

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Jeff Gordon salutes the fans who turned out on Sunday. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Gordon salutes the fans who turned out on Sunday. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Monday, July 28, 2014, 1:20 p.m.

Jeff Gordon, bless his soon-to-be-forty-three-year-old heart, didn’t save the day, but he and his lovely wife and precocious children sure did warm up the boredom and make it fuzzy.

Age gives a man an appreciation of the phrase “in due time.” In the waning laps of the Whatever-the-Brickyard-Is-Now 400, Gordon had a pesky problem. It wasn’t just another shiny race car riding in front of his. It was a teammate, Kasey Kahne, one who needs a victory to make the Chase Powerball, but Gordon needed a record fifth NASCAR victory at Indy and a ninetieth career victory, and the man who had won four and eighty-nine, respectively, was bound to go full speed ahead, damning torpedoes and whatnot.

Denny Hamlin's Toyota leads Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevy. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Denny Hamlin’s Toyota leads Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevy. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gordon was cool. He always has been. He waited for a restart, and away he went. Kahne didn’t have the ethanol to make it anyway, so everything turned out for the best.

Good news and bad news. A Gordon victory lessens the perception of boredom. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. had won, people would have filed it away in the part of the brain charged with imagination, and by, oh, 2018, two hundred thousand would claim to have been there for the three-wide finish won by Junior, upside-down, backwards, and on fire.

It's possible this is the entire Nationwide Series crowd (Getty Images for NASCAR).
It’s possible this is the entire Nationwide Series crowd (Getty Images for NASCAR).

It wasn’t a good race, but it became a good story. Dale Earnhardt’s one Daytona 500 victory was a great story, and like this one, a humdrum race.

In fact, in terms of all those considerations image specialists love, it was quite the lollapalooza, beginning on the popular dirt of Eldora Raceway with Darrell Wallace Jr.’s victory, and continuing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Ty Dillon’s victory in the overmatched Nationwide Series, which is rather obviously beneath the big track’s dignity. The big race went to the most graceful racer since Ned Jarrett. A direct descendant of Richard Childress, related by number to Earnhardt, won the little race. An African American demonstrated that NASCAR’s land of opportunity doesn’t have to be coated with asphalt or concrete.

Darrell Wallace Jr. brandishing the golden shovel he won at Eldora (Getty Images for NASCAR).
Darrell Wallace Jr. brandishing the golden shovel he won at Eldora (Getty Images for NASCAR).

It was the best that could be made of a bad situation.

Forget what I think the crowd was. The best counter in the sport, Humpy Wheeler, figured the Brickyard Sprint Cup attendance was less than fifty thousand. The sport used to have lots of funny people. One of them, watching from home like me and almost everyone else in America, opined that there were entire sections on the front straight that could have withstood live hand grenades without any casualties.

Thank the Lord for a good, safe race.

On the one hand, live TV treated attendance as if it were one of George Carlin’s seven words that can’t be said on TV. On the other, when I was watching local news, ad-libbing sports directors couldn’t avoid it. Can you believe the empty seats? I saw an old friend at Fatz Café with his wife and kids.

“Hey, how you been? I watched the race. Wasn’t nobody there.”

A quick flick of the remote control reveals a Dow that is just shy of 17,000. The rich folks, the ones NASCAR reveres, are doing quite well again in spite of Obama. Indy’s a great place to wine and dine. Where were they? Have they rediscovered the Hamptons? NASCAR emperor Brian France was there, and, normally, where France is, the wealthy are sure to follow, right? The emperor’s minions were all hot and bothered, meticulously spewing their tweeting points.

The other major sports would love to draw 80,000 or 90,000.

This one, too.

They’re going to have to do more of what the fans like. The problem is they’re liking less and less.

Setting a Little Something Right

Grady Little
Grady Little

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Clinton, S.C., Sunday, July 27, 2014, 11:45 a.m.

Saturday night I had a chance to do something I’d wanted to do for nearly eleven years.

Apologize to Grady Little.

Little managed the Boston Red Sox in 2003. In Game Seven of the American League Championship Series, he stuck with Pedro Martinez too long. This we know in hindsight, and the New York Yankees won the game and advanced to the World Series on Aaron Boone’s home run off Tim Wakefield in the eleventh inning.

That one game didn’t just cost the Red Sox a World Series. It cost Little his job. I knew Little in 1992, when he managed the Greenville Braves to a record of 100-43 and won the Southern League championship. That team was inducted into the Greater Greenville Baseball Hall of Fame, and Little and pitcher Brad Woodall represented the team, which also included Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Tony Tarasco and several others who later distinguished themselves in the bigs.

After all the speeches, I waited patiently to speak for a couple minutes to Little. I told him I was a lifelong Red Sox fan, which, surprisingly, didn’t make him wince. I told him that I have thought to myself many times how different it would have been had it occurred later. The Red Sox, under Terry Francona, won the World Series the following year. That ended Boston’s mild slump of eighty-five seasons (1919-2003) without a world championship.

“Back then, Boston was crazy,” I said. “Like Charleston, South Carolina, on the eve of the Civil War. You can’t fire a manager for one game.”

“Oh, yes, you can,” Little said, laughing.

Even now, few feel any sympathy for Grady Little. The winners get to write the history, or at least the prevailing views. All the losers get is a minority report.

I didn’t hire him. I didn’t fire him. I just watched on TV, then as now. I just felt like somebody ought to say something.

 

But That Was Back Before the Fall

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Stately Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Stately Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Clinton, S.C., Friday, July 25, 2014, 2:30 p.m.

I think a lot about the way things used to be. You’ll have that with washed-up sports writers. It’s a consequence of age. One looks back more once there’s more to see.

Back in the early nineties, most of us stayed in the same motels. The majority of tracks booked rooms for us, often because it was difficult to find rooms in places like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham if someone didn’t set some aside. Many of the motels were friendly dumps, but they were close to the tracks, and we didn’t do anything in them but sleep and drink beer. I was only vaguely aware that motel points existed, though I was aware of the benefits of frequent flying. Most of the time, we shared rooms.

Coincidentally, the first time I ever had a drink of cognac was in, of all places, North Wilkesboro.

During the first few years of the Brickyard 400, many of us stayed in one of those motels that seemed to have a new name every year. It was within walking distance of the Indianapolis racers’ hangout, Union Jack Pub, and that was before racers stopped hanging out. The motel also had a Mexican joint nearby, and Mexican joints invariably serve cheap beer in very large glasses, which made them well suited to me, Larry Woody, and Jim McLaurin, in particular. The track was easy to reach from there, which was fortunate because sometimes we might not have been inclined to arrive early on race morning.

We got invited to lots of social functions. What were media-driver golf tournaments in the nineties are now titans of industry/driver/charity golf tournaments followed by a fifty-dollars-a-plate dinner. Where it was once a sleeve of Titleists, now it’s a thousand-dollar raffle for a yacht. I played golf back then because I’d have been a fool not to. There were lots of pool parties, a few of which had even been planned. We shot skeet and drank margaritas, or, wait, maybe we shot margaritas and drank skeet. One track gave out free homemade liquor.

Oddly, I remember that clearly.

When NASCAR first came to Indy, in spite of the obligatory dump in which to sleep, we thought we were in high cotton, which I do not think is a word of racial derision in spite of the fact that it contains the word “cotton.” Redskins? An altogether different matter, but it’s apparently all right to be “Braves,” I guess, because they are brave. I’m wearing a cotton shirt, and, when cotton is high, I think there’s a potential to make more of them, most likely in Malaysia.

As usual, I digress.

Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I've seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.
Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I’ve seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.

For about the first ten Brickyard 400s, it never occurred to me that it was a boring race. It wasn’t like Daytona, but neither is Darlington or Richmond or Watkins Glen. I always liked watching a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Jarrett stalk another driver, and, similar to the Indy 500, I just found it exciting to watch the cars dive into turns one and three and drift out to the wall in the short chutes. Two days ago, I watched replays of the races in 1994 and 1998. I still didn’t think they were boring.

I haven’t been to Speedway, Indiana, since 2011. In 2012, my last on the beat, my sister died shortly before the race. I don’t think the racing has gotten more boring, or that it even is. What I think is that the 2008 tire debacle killed the race. People got pissed off, justifiably, and the officials of NASCAR and Goodyear acted like the Habsburg Dynasty instead of the representatives of an activity that relied on working people to succeed.

NASCAR remains in a malaise, and it’s not just the economy, or any of the other bajillion reasons cited. All of them are a part of the reason, but it just went out of style, not to me, not to you, but to the people I see around my hometown. I hear it everywhere, from the nurse taking my blood pressure to the optometrist reviewing the tiny veins and arteries wrapped around my eyes, from a friend’s son playing high school football to a onetime teammate of mine shipping a package at the post office.

“Man, I used to love NASCAR,” they say, over and over, male and female, young and old. “Now I don’t pay any attention to it.”

They never say why. It’s because they don’t know, either. Who knows how and why anything goes out of style? Certainly not NASCAR.

The Hometown Cuisine Helps

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My mother grew up on this street. It's changed. Then again, it's been a while.
My mother grew up on this street. It’s changed. Then again, it’s been a while.

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 4:57 p.m.

Maybe tonight’s Truck race on the Eldora dirt has made me more attentive to the rustic.

I had an appointment this afternoon and decided to have an early supper. I’ve got three of the peaches I bought on the side of road left, so maybe tonight I’ll cut one up and mix it with the rest of the cottage cheese. Fresh peaches and cottage cheese are a smooth combination. Today I’ve written part of a short story (the first two installments are posted at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com), mowed my mother’s yard, paid some bills, and completed some travel plans, and I’m feeling good about myself. Myself feels good, too, because I’ve been outside and sweated. The lady at the doctor’s office said I was good to go, so I didn’t feel too guilty about trying the smorgasbord at Trotter’s.

Trotter’s used to be about a mile from my house. That was when it served as the restaurant at the Holiday Inn, which became the Howard Johnson’s and then the Clinton House (and something else similar), and is now a half-torn-down eyesore that looks exactly like it would on the Gaza Strip.

The new Trotter’s, located in a building of its own, has been open a while, but it’s sort of out of the way for me, and I just hadn’t gotten around to trying it.

The barbecue joint closed a few months ago, and I miss it, but it’s good to have Trotter’s open again because every Southern town needs a place where a man can reliably find country-fried steak, squash casserole, steamed cabbage, and what we are fond of calling macaroni pie.

Sorry. I've just never been one to take photographs of food.
Sorry. I’ve just never been one to take photographs of food.

Outsiders tend to rename our foods. Growing up, I never heard of chicken-fried steak or pulled pork. We had country-fried steak, and our barbecue joints offered the pork options of chopped and minced. No one really ever pulled pork since health departments got so prominent. It’s chopped. Country-fried steak is a little different from chicken-fried. In Texas, they batter and fry the cubed steak (that’s the steak that’s been run through a cubing machine), cover damn near a whole plate with it, and pour gravy (here we call it “sweet-milk” gravy) over it. Country-fried steak simmers in a covered skillet, in the gravy, before it is even served, and the gravy is generally brown instead of gray.

I like them both, but I like our style a little better because that’s the way I was raised. Ditto our mustard-based barbecue. For twenty years, I traveled all over the country, homesick for South Carolina barbecue, and damned if Hickory Hills didn’t close down a year after I got back.

A friend once told me that I could never like what everybody else likes, because, if everybody else started liking it, I’d stop. I think that’s just indigenous to my native state.

Irony, Bonafide

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2008_0120Nashvile0111
Life’s a circus. Figuratively.

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 7:16 p.m.

Sometimes I wonder if my vernacular has grown outdated, and unbeknownst to me, the meaning of “literal” has reversed and “ironic” vastly expanded. Those words, from the perspective of my outmoded brain, are misused about two thirds of the time by the general public and eighty-five percent by broadcasters.

This afternoon, though, I experienced old-fashioned irony.

I was paying bills and noticed I was paying for something I wasn’t getting. I thought seriously about strolling by the local office of this “provider,” but I’ve dealt with the constantly changing personnel there and knew no possible good could come of it. I also knew, when I called, I would have to navigate through a labyrinth of automated quizzes that would impress Maxwell Smart and Agent Ninety-Nine. Today every day is Get Smart, and every corporation is KAOS.

Remedying the problem took seventy-two minutes, fifty-six of which were spent on hold. By the time it was all done, and I could get to the post office to deposit mail that won’t go out until tomorrow, my cell was almost completely dead. I plugged it in, but within the next fifteen minutes, it rang twice because the company with which I’d just spent seventy-two minutes wanted me to complete a customer-satisfaction survey.

Hence the irony.

Through a process no one should have to endure, I managed to get the problem solved. First I was told that nothing could be done about it, and I pointed out that I could take my business to another company, and then I was told it would cost even more money, and I said, well, I reckon it will, and that’s when I spent my first twenty-seven minutes on hold, and then the lady, who was very nice and almost surely not speaking to me from Rangoon, returned to tell me she was trying to trick the system into reducing my rate, and that’s when I spent the other twenty-nine minutes on hold. The good news is that, bored, I searched for something to watch on television, and I found replays of early Brickyard 400s on ESPN Classic.

The lady fixed the problem and gave me a discount on next month’s bill because her company had been penalized for delay of game and unnecessary roughness to me.

Once it was proclaimed that “the customer is always right,” but it sure is a hell of a lot of trouble nowadays.

Take my book. Please. The doctor asked me when it hurt. I said when I do this. He said don’t do that.

Underload to Overload

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The first time I saw Chris Economaki, he was broadcasting from the roof of the Greenville-Pickens Speedway press box.
The first time I saw Chris Economaki, he was broadcasting from the roof of the Greenville-Pickens Speedway press box.

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, July 20, 2014, 3:45 p.m.

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

Most of the time, the show was on from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays, as dependable as Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin and Carol Burnett during the week. I watched A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney win Le Mans via satellite black-and-white, Ken Norton upset Muhammad Ali, figure-eight stock cars race at Islip (N.Y.) Speedway, ice skaters jump barrels, and lumberjacks roll logs. How is it possible for there to be a hundred times as much sports on TV but no barrels, racing or jumping, anymore?

Today fans complain about too many commercials. Until ESPN came along, with cable TV, and the Atlanta Braves on “the Superstation,” NASCAR was a sport seen in person, listened to on the radio, and watched on TV via fifteen to twenty minutes of highlights interspersed with figure skating and cliff diving from Acapulco.

They always showed the wrecks.

One of my father’s favorite occasions to raise hell was when he caught me watching Wide World of Sports, and there was something he wished I was doing that he hadn’t told me to, and he was just in a mood to point out that I was “sitting on my goddamned ass watching the television.”

My father frequently used the Lord’s name in vain, particularly when he was sweaty, but he never dropped F-bombs. Today the reverse is more likely so; of course, my father was an influential man, and he is long dead.

It’s a different world. My life is closer to The Jetsons than The Dick Van Dyke Show. Even imaginary people have changed. Batman, for instance. That last fellow I ever expected to take a bullet to save someone’s life was Archie. What’s next? Jughead brings peace to the Middle East? Veronica and Betty get married?

The trouble, I fear, is that constantly spanning the globe serves the purpose of making everyone constantly dizzy.

In the 1970s, Jim Stafford sang about how he and his brother could “take a trip and never leave the farm.” Doing so today requires no “Wildwood Weed.” Today began at the Hockenheimring, then it was on to Liverpool, then Fenway Park and Toronto, with whistlestops at several other farflung venues during commercial interludes.

Why, I’m on a first-name basis with Nico, Rory, Big Papi, and Sebastien.

Yet I don’t feel like I really know any of them.

As old-fashioned as this is, I wish you’d try reading a novel, preferably one of mine. The Audacity of Dope is available for all you Jim Stafford fans out there, and The Intangibles is set in the 1960s. See how far you can stretch out your attention span. You’d be surprised, plus, it’ll be quaint.

Midweek Blahs

Sometimes I feel I too am in the twilight.
Sometimes I feel I too am in the twilight.

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Clinton, S.C., Thursday, July 17, 2014, 9:27 a.m.

This is an age of immediacy, short attention span, and instant gratification.

So I am writing 5,000-word short stories and linking to them via social media. If I were an actor, I’d be playing against type, like Tom Hanks in Bonfire of the Vanities. Surely I can do better than that.

I have my ups and downs. I had such a nice rationalization of why I got little work done on Wednesday. It was because I spent all day on hold, trying to get a small problem resolved. Small problems take two weeks. It’s how automated customer service works. The corporation saves money by making everything such a hassle that a significant percentage of customers just give up.

The customer is always right. That is so Twentieth Century.

One of my favorite ways to waste time.
One of my favorite ways to waste time.

In the cold, gray light of dawn, I realized that my rationalization was undermined by the fact that I played guitar for two hours in three installments and watched Elmer Gantry, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and Vanishing Point. They were all on DirecTV. I hate it when good movies are on. Bad movies I can just have on TV without paying much attention, like The Weather Channel. Damn it. When a good one’s on, I wind up watching it. Burt Lancaster was spellbinding. Tuesday Weld was gorgeous. Cleavon Little was unforgettable (as was Dean Jagger capturing rattlesnakes out in the desert).

Now the British Open is on. Peter Allis just said Tiger Woods is looking “dangerous and about.” It’s contagious. Scott Van Pelt added that Woods is just “three adrift of the lead.”

Last night President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his Pacific command. That was in my book.

Johnny Winter died at seventy. When I first heard him, he was about thirty.

The Boston Red Sox don’t play again till Friday. It’s a Sprint Cup-free weekend. I am about to lose my mind.

Losing one’s mind is not an altogether bad thing when writing fiction, and this blog occurred when its topic occurred right smack in the middle of the fifth part of my short story, “What I Ain’t Got.” Later today, unless Lawrence of Arabia or something is on, it will be posted at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I encourage you to give my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, a look. I don’t ever plan to tweet them.

I’m Not Being Serious Here

Guitars don't kill audiences. Guitarists kill audiences.
Guitars don’t kill audiences. Guitarists kill audiences.

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Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 9:20 a.m.

On the one hand, I’m glad the World Cup is over. Watching it was amusing and educational, plus, I’ll be performing crummy impersonations of English broadcasters for weeks.

For instance, NASCAR’s recently retired Barney Hall, with an English accent:

“As Logano traverses beneath the flagman’s flowing green colors, they’re off, and I can’t but note for posterity the presence of a stirring array of cars that, together, epitomize the quintessence of this splendiferous sporting regime.”

It’s unlikely to get better. The British Open begins Thursday, the distinguished English being joined by wee Scots and saucy Aussies.

Then, I’m satisfied the eliminations for the 2018 World Cup will begin in a few weeks with the United States taking on Wake Island.

What? No race, either?  (Getty Images for NASCAR)
What? No race, either? (Getty Images for NASCAR)

9:37 a.m.

This week’s checklist for the Race Team Alliance: (1.) self-insuring through Blue Cross, (2.) endless appetizers at TGI Fridays, (3.) yacht discount cards, (4.) an “owners vote” for the Hall of Fame, and (5.) swift takeover of a Caribbean island.

That Rob Kauffman is a can-do guy.

9:46 a.m.

I hate the All-Star Break. Normally, here in exile, my daily schedule involves getting all my work done in concert with the schedule of the Boston Red Sox. It’s not enough they’re in last place. At the moment, they’re not even playing.

If I can make it through to Friday / everything’s gonna be all right, I know / It’s the dullest time of summer / And the Royals are the next tough Boston foe …

For now, my favorite sport is typing. My hobby is coffee.

9:56 a.m.

In West Virginia, TV tells me that “clean coal” is a big issue. I’d settle for “clean journalism.”

I wish I could go to Washington as a lobbyist for guitar rights. Or even Columbia.

Sometimes, while pecking away at this laptop, individual sentences from the nearby TV set pop into my head. Usually, these sentences are attached to the video image of Larry McReynolds, but just now I heard, “The Mexican government is finally going to do something about these train rides.”

The modern-day Woody Guthrie is Juan Gutierrez, I gather.

“See ‘em riding on them trains, D.W.? Them’s train riders.”

Did you get a few chuckles from this fiction? Imagine reading a whole book of it. My novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, are available at a bevy of fine bookstores, one office supply (L&L here in town), online at bn.com, neverlandpublishing.com and amazon.com, where Kindle editions are available at insanely low prices. Mail me a check (see “merchandise”), and I’ll even sign and ship myself. Oh, wait. I’ll sign and ship a book. Or two.

Things I Can and Cannot … Write

Remain calm. All is well. Mike Helton actually said, "We don't know any more than you do." Really? (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Remain calm. All is well. Mike Helton actually said, “We don’t know any more than you do.” Really? (Getty Images for NASCAR)

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Clinton, S.C., Sunday, July 13, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

The struggle is to write when I have something worth writing.

As I grow more distant, I feel less qualified to discuss some matters regarding my longtime beat. This varies from case to case. I learn a lot from watching NASCAR on TV, reading stories, and going through releases, but it’s not the same as being there.

The owners’ formation of an organization – they would prefer to compare it to Costco, while others liken it to the Comintern* – is an issue I can’t really analyze. I wrote what I thought I responsibly could earlier this week, relying on experience and information communicated by friends voluntarily, as in, they called me to gossip.

My first reaction was that it was much ado about nothing, but others tell me there’s more to it. I don’t see Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske as Bolsheviks, but, then again, I don’t see the Chinese that way anymore, either. When’s the last time you heard the term “Red Chinese”? You’d have to be my age. You’d have to remember a time when people thought fluoride in the water was a Russkie brainwashing scheme.

Personally, I wish RTA stood for Rural Transit Authority. Then I’d have options when I wanted to go to the grocery store. What’s it stand for? Race Team Alliance? Racing Teams Alliance? Bruton Smith might call it the UBA for “Ungrateful Bastards Alliance,” but Bruton has long been prone to hyperbole.

On Friday, Jimmie Johnson said a tremendous amount of nothing. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
On Friday, Jimmie Johnson said a tremendous amount of nothing. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)

Here’s what experience in NASCAR, as opposed to my history and political science degree, taught me. You can’t make this story real by relying on what’s on the record. Off the record, you might be able to find some small shreds of truth, whether you can write them or not. When the most valued voices in NASCAR, the drivers, are stuck in the middle between the Lords of Daytona and the despots who own their cars, candor is likelier from a pro wrestler, and the wrestler is going to be much more entertaining.

I can’t hang out in the garage area and chat with what few people there I trust. I have to sit here in the easy chair and wonder why Lug Nut is in Jeff Gordon’s “framily.”

I try to change with the times, and I express lots of controversial views, but I try to express them when I feel qualified to do so and secure in my convictions. I’m modern but not thoroughly modern. (Also, I’m Monte, not Millie#.) I try not to write like I’m there, even though, clearly, there’s a market for it. Who makes that call? I do. I’m the boss. I’m the king of eighty acres, and when I see fit, I can be the court jester, too. It’s good to hold down the payroll.

I sing lots of Kris Kristofferson songs these days.

*Communist International, which existed from 1919 to 1943.

#Obscure movie reference.

Why My Favorite Team Sucks

Rookie Mookie Betts
Rookie Mookie Betts

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Clinton, S.C., Thursday, July 10, 2014, 10:27 p.m.

I’m no sabermetrician, and I don’t have to be. It doesn’t take mathematics to see what’s wrong with the Boston Red Sox. Last year they scored runs. This year they don’t.

This is much easier to accept since the Red Sox are the reigning world champions. Never mind that the team’s record at the moment is worse, at this point, than when Rear Admiral Bobby Valentine ran it aground in 2012. At that point, I thought he’d relegated the Red Sox to Davy Jones’ Locker for the foreseeable future. Then, in an act of charity second only to the Jimmy Fund, the Los Angeles Dodgers took care of Boston’s payroll surfeit, thus enabling the Red Sox to rebuild rapidly. As 2013 began, I wasn’t expecting a World Series. I would have been happy with a winning record (as would I right now). I thought the Red Sox had reinvigorated their lineup with some quick fixes, which was true, and that’s part of the reason the fixes aren’t still working.

Here it is 2014, and everyone is a year older. Shane Victorino has barely played. Jake Peavy is a highly competitive bundle of nothing on the mound. Jonny Gomes staggers around left field like he’s on stilts.

Only Koji Uehara remains the same, though I fear John Farrell is using him too much, particularly when the game requires no saving.

In general, the pitching staff is still good enough to win, particularly the bullpen. Jon Lester and John Lackey are workhorses. The rest of the rotation is erratic, but Clay Buchholz might be okay the second half, and the young arms attached to Brandon Workman and Rubby de la Rosa are finding their range.

David Ortiz is fine. His batting average is down, but I chalk that up to the pure burden of being all four branches of the military for a good part of the year. Ortiz has lost innumerable hits hammering the ball into the teeth of the shift that greets him most at-bats, and I think the urgent need for runs has prompted him to try to pull the ball too much. Lately he’s been peppering the Green Monster again, and I think a healthier team is going to make his batting average healthier. Dustin Pedroia seems to be recovering from the same siege mentality, and I expect he’ll wind up hitting .300 again once the shock of the season to date diminishes.

Having been caught up in the type of front-office frenzy normally associated with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox have tried to be sensible, in general refusing to sign players for longer than their plausible usefulness. That cost them Jacoby Ellsbury, who performed roughly the same function in their offense as the spark in an internal-combustion engine. The Red Sox have a great farm system and committed themselves to using it.

This year, and I mean just this year, the club is a dysfunctional hybrid of too many players too old and too many too young. The only great success story is the excitable Mr. Fixit otherwise named Brock Holt. Jackie Bradley Jr. may be the best center fielder in the game, the position being narrowly defined as the time he’s actually tending that garden. He is so good in the field – so was Ellsbury, but Bradley’s arm is far superior — that it will be fine if he can learn to hit .250 reliably, but that hasn’t happened yet. Xander Bogaerts has been in a tailspin ever since they moved him from short back to third. It seems to be getting back in synch now. Daniel Nava is hitting again. Mike Carp drove in the winning run tonight, Holt last night, and Mike Napoli seems healthy, which in turn takes the pressure off Ortiz.

The only offseason move I hated was the signing of A.J. Pierzynski, to which I can now say good (and expensive) riddance. The bright young catcher, Christian Vazquez, has been handed the mitt. To borrow the archaic term, he dons the tools of ignorance.

Finally, there is Mookie Betts, who is supposed to be an infielder but has been refitted as an outfielder, not without some complications. He injects life into the offense, not yet like Ellsbury, but it’s coming.

In what I’m likely to remember as a wretched campaign, Betts made the play I’ll probably most remember on Tuesday night, when the Red Sox came from four runs down in the eighth inning to defeat the Chicago White Sox. Betts executed the rare infield double. Safe on a close play at first base, he took off for second because he happened to notice that no Chicagoans were in the vicinity. It was the best moment since Ellsbury beat the Yankees stealing home off Andy Pettite in, I think, 2011.

I’m not sure the Red Sox will finish above .500 this year, but I do think they’ll win more than they lose the rest of the way and be contenders again in 2015.

It’s my preference that the front office remain calm. They’ve got a plan. Stick to it. Stay the course. I don’t want the next American League powerhouse to look like the Red Sox with different uniforms.

You know. Like the Oakland Athletics.

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