Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday's Musings on Sports - Piazza, the Kid and the Real Immature One

This past Sunday the Baseball Hall of Fame had its annual induction Sunday when the newest members of the HOF are enshrined. Induction Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year, because you get to see the player as a man and learn more about what drove him to be the best of the best. And this year was no exception.

Some years the HOF inducts a large class which can be as many as five or six players. In other years there might be one or two (or even none). This year, the HOF inducted only two players, but I knew them well - Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. Both players had HOF numbers and incredible careers, but they took completely different paths to get there.

I can recall when Ken Griffey Jr was drafted. He was a #1 overall pick and a star scholastic athlete. He also had the bloodline, as his father (Ken Griffey) won many World Series with the Big Red Machine in the 70s. But a funny thing happened, not only did Griffey Jr (aka "the Kid") make it to the big leagues, he made to the show while his father was still playing pro ball. I'm sure that there must be others (and no I have no desire to Google it) but other than Gordie Howe playing with his sons Marty and Mark in the NHL in the late 1970s, I can't recall any professional athlete who played in the same game with one of his sons.

In contrast to the Kid, Mike Piazza had no family baseball pedigree. The child of first generation Americans who had emigrated from Italy, Piazza was drafted in the 62nd Round, largely as a favor by Tommy Lasorda to Mike's father. But after a rough couple of years in the minors, Piazza became an All Star catcher with the Dodgers and was eventually traded to the NY Mets for whom he hit many memorable home runs and played in historically significant games. Who can forget the Roger Clemens thrown bat incident in the 2000 World Series? Or how about the HR he hit after 9/11 where he was more focused on the first responders than his own feats.

You can watch their induction speeches on line on YouTube, but the one common denominator in their speeches was the admiration they had for their fathers and the classy way that they gave credit to those who came before them.

But as often happens on a day that the sports world celebrates its royalty there was also a childish story from the baseball world. A current All Star pitcher - Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, did not want to pitch in the throwback uniforms which his team was supposed to wear. So he took a pair of scissors and cut up enough uniforms so that the team could not wear them in the game. To their credit, the White Sox did not coddle him or even ignore his actions. Instead they suspended him for five games. 

Driving down from Camp M and listening to these stories, I wondered aloud - what was Chris Sale thinking? 

I could not answer the question, but it did make me think of a dvar Torah that I heard in a Rabbi Mansour shiur about Parshas Balak. Last week's parsha was essentially a story of how Bilaam was unable to curse the Jews, due to a series of events which were meant as signals by Hashem to Bilaam that he should not go forward with his plan. Of course he did not take heed of any of these signals and eventually he was told - "this is what you are going to say", but there was one specific question and answer which drew my attention.

At one point, Hashem sees Bilaam walking with the people from Moab and He says to Bilaam - who are these people you are with? Bilaam does not stop and think - hey Hashem knows everything, He definitely knows who they are. Instead, Bilaam answers the question matter of factly, much the way that he responds later to the donkey's question, instead of asking - how can a donkey talk?

R' Mansour quoted R' Chaim Shmulevitz, who explains that Bilaam misunderstood the question. Hashem was not asking - who are you with? Hashem was asking - why are you with these people when I already told you not to go with.

R' Mansour analogized it to a parent who asks his kid not to hang out with certain other kids. Two days later the parent comes home and sees the kid with the undesirables at the kitchen table. When the parent asks - "who are these kids" he is not asking who they are. He wants to know why they are here.

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