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Jazz, Baseball, Politics and the Beltway Blues: Our American Dialogue, Part II

By Published: December 20, 2012
Keeping in mind, of course, that when it's handled right you may not crash at all, even if you are rapidly losing altitude. Herbie Hancock tells of the important lesson he learned one night early in his career, playing with Miles and bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Wayne Shorter—The Quintet, as it is called. The multi-Grammy, Academy Award-winning pianist says the band was playing along when he brought his fingers down on all manner of wrong keys, producing a sound he described as not just mildly dissonant, but bad, not even music. He was horrified at his mistake. But Hancock says that without missing a beat, the master trumpeter/bandleader played a single note on his horn that magically integrated the sounds from the piano chord with what the other musicians were playing, unifying it and what the band were doing with the tune's harmonic and rhythmic structure, and moving it all forward. He says the audience never knew the difference. And it wasn't that they hadn't noticed the mistake, but that there had been no mistake to notice.

Baseball Democracy—How Life Imitates the League Divisional Series

Baseball is another example... at least in most years. Sadly, if a casual baseball fan happened to have tuned in late this year, just in time for the World Series, it was anything but entertaining to watch—not even the last innings of the final game, if they bothered to stick around that long. San Francisco's ignominious four-game rout of Detroit wasn't any fun for anyone to watch. Not even died-in-the-wool baseball fans could watch it without wincing, not even the Giants faithful. Even the two teams' respective journeys to league pennants had been unusually tame fare.

No, the hot-ticket games this year came very early in the post-season. The newly added sudden-death wild card games produced the playoffs' two standout teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles, but we had to wait for the League Divisional Series to discover it. Once again the games were broadcast to an unfortunately small audience on Ted Turner's funky little cable station. But small audiences or not, each of the best-of-five series went the distance and was grand theater in its own way. San Francisco and St. Louis both spotted their opponents to two-game leads before mounting necessarily herculean three-game surges to win. Washington, the new darlings of the National League, were a sure World Series bet right up until they met Tony La Russa's terrifying doppelgänger, Mike Matheny.

But by far the hottest ticket of the LDS tier were the five Yankees and Orioles matchups. Lightly or intermittently engaged baseball fans likely missed them. Which is a shame, because these were easily the best games of the 2012 post-season.

Both New York and Baltimore played games of such total commitment and unblinking situational skill that either team could have won the privilege of moving on. Every victory came by the thinnest of margins. At the conclusion of these titanic battles, both teams' squads were utterly exhausted, emotionally and physically. It should have ended there. That was 2012's baseball time capsule.

But instead of going home for the year, like the Orioles—there to rest and view game film, scheming and contemplating the glorious possibilities of next season—the weary Bronx Bombers taped up their bruises and sprains, and went back to work the next day for Act II against the freshly rested Tigers. Predictably, that series' ominous Game 1 injury to Derek Jeter, their captain and spiritual leader, among other things, seemed to utterly silence the team's already less-than-thunderous bats. They couldn't have won a best-of-seven series against the Toledo Mud Hens.

But no matter. They'd played with everything in their considerable arsenal against Baltimore, and won. It's possible no other contending team in the post-season could have done the same.

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