Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday's Musings on Sports - Jorge Ran Out of Juice

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago (he has recently resurfaced on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles), I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

The perennial question for sports teams is, when is it time to rebuild? For some teams, the question seems to be asked every year or two. For other teams which have built around a solid nucleus of young players, the question may come up once a decade or so. However, since time is the only opponent which goes undefeated, there will always be a year when the question needs to be asked.

Of course there is more than one way to rebuild a team. Some teams jettison a veteran player or two and trade for rising stars whose team cannot afford him. Other teams will undergo a retooling process where they seek to improve a particular element of the team, such as pitching or outfield depth. Still other teams choose the demolition approach - get rid of as many players as you can and then start all over.

This year's New York Yankee team is sitting at the cross roads of the above dilemma. Some players on the team are gradually coasting from the apex of their talents to retirement. Other players are still fighting to maintain their level of play. One player who has clearly fallen off the table is Jorge Posada who has lost his starting position and is hitting far below the Mendoza line. This weekend, Posada reportedly told his manager that he did not want to play if the manager was going to bat him ninth in the batting order. The Yankees initially announced that Posada had been held out of the game because of injury. Later, news broke that Posada had sat out because of his distaste with hitting last.

I heard a great interview with former Yankee great Dave Winfield on the Mike & Mike in the morning program which related to the theme of aging athletes. The guys asked Winfield whether he ever had a moment when he realized that he was losing the battle with time. Winfield responded that in 1995 he was playing for the Cleveland Indians and he was lifted for a pinch hitter in a nationally televised game. He realized then that his career was nearing the end.

While I knew that I wanted to write about Posada today, I was unsure how to tie it into Torah. Then while sitting at the daf yomi shiur (Menachos 68) the connection became clear. The gemara on Menachos 68b relates a story about a question that R' Tarfon raised involving two menachos which were offered - one before the omer and one afterwards. The gemara indicates that Yehuda Ben Nechemiah shot down R' Tarfon's question and R' Tarfon became silent. Seeing that R' Tarfon had no response, Yehuda Ben Nechemiah became very happy and his face began to glow. His teacher R' Akiva rebuked him and said - are you happy that you were able to rebut an old sage? I would be surprised if you live very long! The gemara related that Yehuda Ben Nechemiah had challenged R' Tarfon a few weeks before Pesach and that Yehuda Ben Nechemiah did not live to Shavuous.

The fact that Yehuda Ben Nechemiah died in this period is treated by the mefarshim as an indicia that he was among the students of R' Akiva who died because he did not show respect for his fellow man. However, to me it also is an indication as to how Jews treat their aged leaders. The gemara teaches that an old sage is still treated with the respect of a posul sefer torah. Although he is no longer able to coherently relate his learning, he is still entitled to respect and is not banished to the back of the room (or the bottom of the lineup).

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