Friday, July 1, 2011

Battle of the Brim

Christy Mathewson: "The Christian Gentleman"
 What the heck are our nation's English teachers doing? We are in the middle of a major cultural shift, I think: nothing means anything anymore, especially to our young lads and lasses. (By this, I am talking about things having meaning outside the obvious, not about general apathy.)

I just had a Facebook discussion with some friends -- some old friends and some young people who are former students of mine. It was light-hearted and stemmed from a status I posted. I am a Philadelphia Phillies fan and we have a pitcher named Vance Worley who is a great young arm with a bright future in the game. But he leaves his hat brim flat, which, to me, looks stupid. I have also joked about his apparent attitude in the dugout. Here is the status:

Dear Vance Worley: You are a talented boy, but a boy you are. Please keep in mind that you are on a team with two of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. Sit up straight in the dugout. Stop chewing your gum like that. And I think it is only fair to warn you: I will, at some point, jump onto the field, slap the hat off of your head, bend the brim properly and put it on you the right way. Love, Chris
Of course, this was meant to be a light-hearted joke. I respect Worley's pitching and, in the end, don't care if he wears a dead chinchilla on his head. Nevertheless, the jokes ensued, mostly from former students accusing me of being a curmudgeon -- which may or may not be true. (Secretly, I hope it is.) At the end, a few people started getting a little mad and that's what got me thinking.

Yes, my post was a joke. But "many a truth . . . " they say. I really do get the impression from Worley that he is a little full of himself. If I found myself in the Phillies' dugout, my first year out of the minors, beside the likes of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and beside guys like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, I'd have been a little wide-eyed and timid. Worley doesn't seem to be, to me.

Do I have enough knowledge to judge the guy? Of course not. He might be the nicest fellow in the world. He surely has the potential to be great at what he does. But, if my impression of him is wrong, it may be a result of the fact that some young people don't think anything means anything anymore.

Posture, appearance, dress -- they all say something. Slouching in church sends a message to those around you. It may be that you are deep in prayer when you slouch, but that doesn't change the fact that you look like you don't care.

On the Worley issue, one of my former students, a fine baseball player and a smart guy, said:

as long as you're doing your job it doesn't matter how you look, he could wear his hat backwards for all I care as long as he pitches well
True? Of course it is. The record books won't show his hat brim. They'll show his numbers. But, something is lost when we forget about the stories we tell with our mannerisms, clothes and projected attitudes.

Ty Cobb: a legend with a different legacy than Christy's
These things do have meanings. These meanings may not affect the "bottom line" but they exist, nevertheless. Baseball and life are about lots of things, but life doesn't come down to numbers -- you still have to interact with people who will like you, sort of like you or hate you. Baseball works the same way, outside the numbers.

Chase utley, the Phillies' second baseman plays great ball. But, I like him on the field, He plays baseball the way I think it should be played: with confidence and dignity; with that low-key demeanor that never reduces his staggering talent to a celebration that imples a great play or a homerun was a surprise to him. (Still, I was disappointed when he famously cursed during the 2008 World Series victory celebration -- it meant something negative to me and, I suspect, to a lot of little kids -- despite the fact that many dismissed it as no big deal.)

I'm not trying to wring an ocean out of a dish rag with Worley's hat and posture. As I said, it was meant as a joke, but a joke that shouldn't be completely dismissed. If we lose the idea that our outward projections are meaningless, we lose the heart of our civility after a time.

A woman might be moral and pious and kind to those around her, but should she go to church in a bikini? I mean, as long as she is a good person, who cares what she wears? An extreme example, but you get my point.

I hate ties, but sometimes it is right to wear one. It may not be "me," but it might show someone else what I feel about a given situation.


  1. Torn. That's the only word that I have for this. I complete agree with you. There is something to be said for good ol' fashion respectful appearance and demeanor. I also couldn't disagree more. I really do believe that what we show outwardly shouldn't (SHOULDN'T) have anything to do with our beliefs, ethics or behavior. I really do find nothing wrong with that woman going to church in a bikini. It's extreme, but that's a choice...although the priest may see it as disrepectful. Isn't it enough that she's making the sincere effort? Not sure.

    The one point I will wave the banner about it Sir Vance-a-lot's hat. A baseball brim should never be that flat. It's just not right. Call me an old fogey, but it seems that a perfectly straight brim is some sort of sin against nature.

    I'm all for freedom of choice; that above almost everything else, but sometimes right is right. How's all that for the best non-response I could muster?

  2. I see one major flaw in your logic: You are Philadelphia Phillies fan???? Say it ain't so, Chris!

    -Boston born and bred

    GO SOX! ;)

  3. Mr. Keen -- As yo might be able to tell, I 'm a little torn, too. In fact. I was just reading today about Penn and the Quakers who refused to take off their hats in deference to others. they even wouldn't call anyone "Mr." becaus eit impleid superiority. Ther is something cool about the "screw you" mentality and doing what one wants. Still, it always seems to come down to balance. So, I'm with you on the vascillating response.

  4. THC-- this might sound like it's way too easy, but guess who my second favorite team in baseball is? The Red Sox. Honest Abe. My favorite player of all time is Ted Williams. To my misery, I left my cherished Red Sox hat on a roller coaster last year. Still, you know who I was rooting for in the Phils/Sox series last week, for sure. World Series this year? (Doom to the Yanks, either way.)