Dodgers in the 2nd 40

I love baseball.  One of the things I love the most about it is that it has such a long regular season.  162 games.  Almost 6 full months.

Growing up, one the most anticipated times of year for me was the April start of the baseball season, when my beloved boys in blue would take the field “for reals.”  As a kid, I would live and die on any given day depending on how the Dodgers did.  When they won, I felt like all was right in the universe.  And when they didn’t, well, to put it mildly, I was crushed.

I got in the habit of following the numbers on a daily basis.  I would actually begin most seasons by clipping out the standings and box scores, game by game, and gluing them in a special notebook I kept.  When the Dodgers hit a slump–or worse–the pain became too unbearable for me to keep up with my record keeping effort.  Even on a good season, I might make it only to mid-May, the ups and downs often being to much to cope with in a portable notebook.

Likewise, for me, the baseball season didn’t end until the Dodgers lost in the playoffs or until all mathematical possibility had been exhausted for them to make it to the postseason.  After that point, I would briefly fantasize about all the teams ahead of the Dodgers becoming impaired in horrible traveling accidents.  Once the postseason began, if the Dodgers weren’t in it, I was looking toward the next April again.

As I grew up, I began to better appreciate the rhythm of the game.  I began to realize baseball, as much as anything, is a game of momentum.  There are key times in the season when it is imperative that your team clicks on the field.  If they don’t, nothing else will really matter in the end.

This is hard for a numbers kid to grasp.  When you’re up at the top, you’re always following the number 2 or 3, almost as much as you follow your own.  When you are the number 2 or 3, you want that number 1 to lose as much as anything.  It all gives the impression that it’s all connected.  And in most sports, it probably is.  But in baseball, well…the only standings that really matter, are the ones at the end of the season.  All you got to do is win more games than the other guys and, while that only happens when you beat the other guys more than they beat you, it’s not as direct a thing as it appears.

That’s when I started to think of the baseball season in quarters rather than in halves.  162 doesn’t breakdown evenly into 4 parts, but I think of it as four groups of 40 games.  As baseball fans, we spend so much time waiting for the first 40 that it’s hard not to give it too much attention.  There are few things more satisfying than a strong start in the first 40.  (For that matter, there are few things more annoying than a weak start.) But, for almost all of us almost every season, the first 40 is still warm-up.  People are finding their groove; teams are finding their formula.  It’s like the first mile of a race: what happens here is less important than what happens later on.

Instinctively, we also pay a lot of attention to the final 40.  It is, after all, the lead in to the big show.  We have a sense of its importance because we know it is the final stretch.  But even more important than winning this sprint to the finish line is what condition you’re in at the end.  Remember, beyond it is the postseason.

And that’s where momentum comes in.  You don’t just want to win more games than the number 2 team, you want to finish the final 40 while playing well.  You want your strongest players to be playing as well as they can, all the magical things that make a winning team to be happening on a regular basis, and all the intangibles to be, well, almost tangible.

I can’t tell you how many times the Dodgers have made it to the end of the season when you know they have the cards stacked against them in the postseason, not because of who they might face but because they’re not playing in that magical zone.  When your team is there?  Well, no matter how good the competition is on paper, they better get out the way.

This momentum thing is important in the rest of the season too.  For me–and this is my childhood brain talking now–the second most critical time for momentum is in the 2nd 40.  Around mid-May up until the All-Star break, when the Dodgers play like champs, it usually has meant a great season.  I can’t think of a time they have done well in the postseason when they didn’t turn in a solid May and June.

Baseball is a long season.  Any team in a season that long is going to have its ups and downs.  The trick to becoming champs is for those ups to be at just the right times so that they expand on themselves rather than implode.

I’m feeling good this season, wishing I had a notebook and a glue stick lying around.  But I also know it’s a long time until July.

Strange Coincidences in History

It has occurred to me that this past Sunday was another strange pop cultural event in the world.

Ronnie James Dio died on May 16, 2010, on the exact 20 year anniversary of the passing of Sammy Davis Jr.  On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died and, 20 years to that day, in 1997, internationally-known Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan died.  Elvis and Nusrat are a pair, each man has a similar standing in his own musical genre, musical culture, and global industry.  Dio and Davis aren’t too oddly matched either, both being notables inside of a larger genre, perhaps not recognized widely as the best but certainly widely known as on of the best by all those who’s opinions matter.

Sammy Davis Jr. is Still Dead…

Sammy Davis Jr. passed away 20 years ago today, on May 16, 1990.  He died of lung cancer, after a lifetime of smoking.

I remember his passing very well.  The Friday before his death–on May 11th–the first story on the evening news in LA was the caravan of celebrities who were making their “final” visits to his Beverly Hills home.  Sammy was on his last legs, and everyone from Sinatra to Martin were paying their respects.  He died on the following Wednesday, the same day Jim Henson died.

Davis was only 64 years old, but because of a somewhat sad childhood, his death ended a performance career of more than 60 years.  That’s right!  Sammy Davis Jr. began performing at the ripe age of 3 years old.!

I won’t chronicle his life here, but I will say he was (in my opinion) one of the most talented performers I have ever seen in my lifetime.  He could captivate a crowd with a voice, and a body, that simply amazed. He was a trailblazer, an icon, and, at heart, a simple song-and-dance man.

His life was as remarkable as his career, filled with tragedy and great success.  One of the most powerful autobiographies I have ever read is his famous 1965 bestseller, Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. I highly recommend it.

Here is the genius in action:

And from a tribute to Sammy Davis, when his illness was somewhat known, Gregory Hines:

Incidentally, Davis was half-Latino.  His mother–who was absent in his life after the age of 3–was born in Puerto Rico, according to Davis’ book. (There is some internet chatter about her actually being Cuban, and Davis hiding that fact for political reasons.)

Beginning the week of his death, billboards with his picture began covering parts of LA.  The campaign they represented, prepared with Davis’ permission, was for the American Lung Association.  It featured a gorgeous black and white photo of Sammy, with smoke in the minimal light, and read: “He took our breath away. Smoking took his.”

Pomona College 2010 Graduation

On Sunday, May 16, 2010, Pomona College will celebrate the One Hundred and Seventeenth Commencement ceremony in the College’s history as we graduate the Class of 2010. This year’s commencement speaker will be Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, the primary federal official responsible for the US immigration system.

As members of the faculty of the College, and as members of the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies, my colleagues and I are honored to participate in a ceremony that celebrates the achievements of the graduating seniors. But we would not be doing our job as members of an institution of higher education–or as people of conscience who have dedicated their lives to advancing understanding for the betterment of our society and world–if we let this moment pass without recognizing the opportunity for learning it provides.

That is why we composed the following, which is being distributed as I write these words:


“They only are loyal to this college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind.”
James A. Blaisdell, President of Pomona College (1910-1927)

As we celebrate the Pomona College class of 2010, we wear white stoles as a symbolic statement in support of immigrants’ fundamental human rights. As people of conscience, we call for 1) an immediate end to the current practice of raids, detentions, and deportations that divide families and violate rights, 2) meaningful legislation which enables real immigration reform, and 3) a fair path to citizenship.


Before 1965, immigration to the US was regulated solely on the basis of “racial fitness.” Northern European migration was easy while migration from Asia, Africa, and Latin America was limited or banned. Still, workers were “imported” from the Third World to do a host of undesirable jobs.

Approximately 14% of the current US population is foreign-born. (US Census Bureau) “Unauthorized” migrants are individuals who either reside or work in the US without authorization. They comprise less than 4% of the US population, but more than 5.4% of the US workforce. (US Dept. of Labor)

17% of US construction workers are unauthorized migrants. 25% of the people who pick your food are unauthorized migrants. (Passel 2009)


According to the Government Accounting Office, on average, ONE person dies everyday while trying to cross the US-Mexico border.

The US does NOT imprison most unauthorized immigrants for criminal violations, because being an unauthorized immigrant is not a criminal offense but a civil violation.

More than 350,000 immigrants are detained by the US each year, including asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, lawful permanent residents and the parents of U.S. citizen children. (US Dept. of Homeland Security)

Immigrants can be detained for months (even years) without any form of judicial review of their status. More than 80% percent can not obtain legal representation. (Human Rights Watch)

Detainees often do not get timely treatment for their medical needs. 74 people have died while in immigration detention over the past five years. Detention facilities standards are not legally binding. With little oversight for abuse or neglect, many US practices violate international standards. (Amnesty International)


The average cost of detaining an immigrant is $95 per person/per day, but alternatives cost as little as $12. Despite the proven effectiveness of these less restrictive alternatives, the US chooses imprisonment. (Amnesty International)

Congress should pass legislation ensuring detention be used as a measure of last resort. When it is used, all detained persons should have access to individualized hearings on their detention.

Reporting requirements should be fair, non-invasive, and not difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means.

The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities. There should be effective independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for any violations.

Compiled by the Intercollegiate Department of Chicano~Latino Studies at the Claremont Colleges.

Re-Writing the Death of Elvis

What, indeed, is the relation between the things we can’t remember and the things we can’t forget?

The question has been nagging me in the past three days as I began to read the flurry of news reports relating to the death of Elvis Presley.  While the “King of Rock and Roll” passed away more than thirty years ago, a new book is alleging his death was not due to excessive weight, heart disease, or drug abuse.  A “longtime friend” of the King himself instead says he died from constipation.

And who is this “long time friend” who is also the author of the forthcoming book?  It’s George “Nick” Nichopoulos, Elvis’ former personal physician.

The man known as “Dr. Nick” to Elvis and the Memphis Mafia is the author of “The King and Dr. Nick,” in which he describes his theory of Elvis’ death as being the result of complications due to bowel paralysis.  The most shocking thing about this claim is that it comes from Dr. Nick, the only person to have faced charges relating to the death of Elvis.

When Elvis died on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42, investigators learned that Dr. Nick and his wife were heavily indebted to the King for an estimated $300,000.  They learned that he has become a close associate of Elvis, as well as his entourage and other notables in the regional music industry (such as Jerry Lee Lewis).  They also learned that Dr. Nick had prescribed more than 5,684 narcotic and amphetamine pills and vials to the King in the seven months before he died. Dr. Nick prescribed Elvis an average of 25 doses of drugs a day.  The day he died, Elvis filed a prescription for 8 medications from his “longtime friend,” Quaaludes, Percodan, Desadrine, Dilaudids, among them.

If Elvis was constipated, the above concoction would be a great start to determining the source.

In January 1980, Dr. Nick–who acted as one of the King’s pallbearers–had his medical license suspended by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for his overprescription of Elvis.  The suspension lasted but three months, but Dr. Nick also faced a jury for his actions.  They acquitted him of malpractice and unethical conduct.  I doubt they would do so today.

George Nichopoulos has a vested interest in floating a different version of the King’s death, because he in the person most implicated in contributing to it!  This fact–and the ones mentioned above–are absent from any of the news stories I have seen.  Indeed, most focus on the “new” theory of the death of Elvis without even a questioning gaze turned back to the source.

Oh, the sorry state of journalism!

Monday Blues

Not a blues in the traditional musical sense of the term, but emotionally…all the way.  The amazingly spectacular Nina Simone in a 1964 live recording.  Dedicated to the great state of Arizona.