Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Where have you gone, Sandy Koufax?

There is an appropriate place in life for sports.  In life, that is.  I emphasize life because that is, after all, an all-consuming quest of mine--what is this life all about, and what does my existence mean?  This search for meaning then leads me to question the primacy that society grants to irrelevant aspects like, well, sports.

Today's exhibit:
News of Father’s Death Is Withheld From Royals Starter Edinson Volquez
Re-read that.

A man dies.  The news about his death is held back from his son, only because he is the starting pitcher in a World Series game.

No, it was not the team that put a cone of silence all around.  It was the pitcher's family:
According to the Royals, Roandy Volquez, the pitcher’s wife, told General Manager Dayton Moore what had happened and asked him not to tell her husband until after he had finished pitching the biggest game of his career, his first World Series start. The team then asked the broadcasters on Fox not to announce the news, because Volquez routinely goes into the clubhouse between innings, and the broadcasts of the game are usually on.
Let's see.  The wife and the family told the team not to let the pitcher know that his father had died.  And then the broadcaster was asked to keep the mouth shut as well.  Seriously?  Hello, the father is dead!

But, we live in a world where news is hard to contain, right?
Shortly after that, news reports began to circulate that Volquez’s father had died, and even as Volquez went to the mound unaware of what had happened, many people around him knew.
Many people around him knew that his father was dead.  The son was the last to know.  Seriously?  Hello, the father is dead!

It was not as if the father was a mean guy either; three years ago, the son said this:
“It was good for me because my mom and dad always took care of me,” he said in the article. “I started playing baseball when I was 9 or 10, and they took care of me. It was easy for me.”
Of course, it was the wife, the family, who made the decision not to inform Volquez.  But, I can't help thinking that it is so much a reflection of the contemporary values in society.  Yet another example of our messed up priorities.

This story is such a contrast to one of my favorites from the rich lore of baseball.  Another pitcher, another World Series, and a different call on priorities.  Fifty years ago, Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on the first game of the World Series because it was Yom Kippur.  
Koufax, who wasn't particularly observant, had no clue that his decision would carry so much weight—then or now.
"I believe he was thinking, 'I'm going to pitch the next day. What's the big deal? We have [star pitcher] Don Drysdale starting'," Leavy said in a Q and A with Sports Illustrated in 2002. "And, in a way, that makes it even sweeter. Yom Kippur is a day of sacrifice. .... And here's Koufax, who's doing this reflexively not out of his own great belief, but really more in deference to others. So it was a much greater sacrifice on his part. For a more religious man it might have been a no-brainer. For Koufax, it was the right thing to do."
And in doing the right thing, Koufax inspired a generation of Jewish players that came after him.
That was class.  That was demonstrating what was more important in life.

Perhaps far too many people in this world simply do not care about understanding life and its priorities.  They then spend a great deal of time and money on sports.   How messed up is this approach?  Here is another exhibit:
Five former University of Louisville basketball players and recruits told Outside the Lines that they attended parties at a campus dorm from 2010 to 2014 that included strippers paid for by the team's former graduate assistant coach, Andre McGee.
One of the former players said he had sex with a dancer after McGee paid her. Each of the players and recruits attended different parties at Billy Minardi Hall, where dancers, many of whom stripped naked, were present. Three of the five players said they attended parties as recruits and also when they played for Louisville.
Said one of the recruits, who ultimately signed to play elsewhere: "I knew they weren't college girls. It was crazy. It was like I was in a strip club."
It is one messed up life that we lead!


Mike Hoth said...

I love the Sandy Koufax story, because it shows that many people who are surrounded by praise can understand that they are not the most important person in existence. There are plenty of sports players who profess their faith as being the most important, but so few are willing to show it when they play.

Of course, I also love the Koufax story for the 2nd part of it. When Don Drysdale went to the mound and pitched Game 1, he got absolutely destroyed by the Minnesota Twins. After the loss, a reporter interviewing the Dodgers manager joked "I bet you wish Drysdale was Jewish too!"

Anne in Salem said...

I am not as appalled by the wife/family decision as you are. I can understand their perspective, assuming I guess it correctly.

I don't see this as a "nothing is more important than baseball" decision. Baseball is Volquez's vocation, presumably something he's loved since he was 9 years old or longer. He loves baseball. He's not there for the money necessarily. He loves the game and wants to play. Likely, he will never get another chance to fulfill this specific dream, a dream his father undoubtedly shared with him. I can't believe delaying his grief by a few hours made a real difference to the family or to him. It certainly couldn't bring the father back.

I imagine the family would have made the same decision if he were involved in a different once-in-a-lifetime event, say receiving the Nobel Prize or meeting the Dalai Lama, that was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and effort. Would you be as appalled if that were the reason for withholding the information?

Anne in Salem said...

I'll bet his father cheered him on, prouder than all get out. I know my father would.

Sriram Khé said...

It is not the faith per se, but the statement that somethings in life are far more valuable and important and meaningful than a game. Which is why the Koufax stories always note that he was not uber-religious.

As for Anne's comments, well, I will leave it to a family/grievance professional who was quoted in a news report:
“In the scheme of things, maybe he feels like his wife made the right call,” Murphy-Neilson says, noting there are too many unknowns for her to say definitively what she thinks should have happened. But she says the notion of not telling is consistent with a culture that does not often dwell on death.
“Honestly, I think it puts everybody in a terrible position,” she says. “They’re forced to try to pretend with him when they know this terrible news. It’s what we frankly do a lot of in this country around grief, which is, ‘Let’s all just sort of deny and pretend everything is OK.’ So I guess I feel like this is sort of a magnifying of that whole dynamic that seems to occur anyway.”
As I have explored in blog posts--one too many for Ramesh's preference--we have become "a culture that does not often dwell on death" and, by corollary, doesn't care to figure out what is important in life. If minimizing a death and putting a game above all is what floats your boat, well, more power to you ;)

Ramesh said...

As is so often the case, I side more with Anne's view rather than yours.

There are innumerable instances in sports of something similar. Equally so in other professions.

I am not prepared to decry somebody else's order of priorities in life.

Sriram Khé said...

"not prepared to decry somebody else's order of priorities in life" is moral relativism, which should then put you in a libertarian's camp. But, you are not a libertarian ... ;)