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

By Published: December 20, 2012
Part of it was that Smoltz hadn't had as many opportunities as Ripken to observe Ichiro in action, and part of it was that throughout his long, successful career as a professional pitcher, he'd instinctively ascribed any number of singles, doubles, triples and homeruns to a hitter getting lucky—in the same manner as hitters like Ripken, who, having been gunned down too many times to mention by a rainbow changeup or unmoving fastball that should have been hit into the seats, will say of a pitch that "the pitcher got away with one." Perhaps the biggest part of baseball's essential battle between a pitcher and a hitter is to never fully credit the opponent or grant him more respect than necessary. It's hard enough as it is.

That was a significant element in the standoff between Ripken and Smoltz. There is also such a thing as an insurmountable difference of opinion. No matter how well you know, love and respect someone; no matter how much you believe a person has the right to an opinion; no matter how willing you are to defend to the death their right to say it, you remain unwilling to relinquish your own viewpoint or entertain a discussion that would allow another to erode it. Ripken and Smoltz were in their corners,

A readily available option in this situation is to suspend any further discussion for the moment. Not forever, just for now. No one needs to win the argument. You can be right without your opponent being wrong—you can both learn something from the experience. Maybe after more returns come in, maybe after further review, the tectonic plates will bump or slide slightly.

Ripken was thinking: Lucky? Ever heard of a swinging bunt? Ever seen anybody hit and take his first step toward first base in the same motion? Then move a pair of 38-yr-old legs fast enough to arrive ahead of a professional infielder's throw? Do you know what the all-time record with 262 hits in a season and a .322 lifetime batting average mean?

Smoltz was thinking: That's great hitting? Are you kidding me? That cheap little hit? Hell, even I could swing through a pitch and occasionally catch a piece of it. Running out the hit, well...

Fast-forward to Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. With Derek Jeter on first and Russell Martin on second, two outs, Detroit's Doug Fister pitches to Ichiro Suzuki, whose infield hit bounces lightly to shortstop Jhonny Peralta like a flat stone skipping along the surface of a pond. Instead of killing the rally, #51 runs the 90-yard sprint to first full-out, and beats the throw. The bases are loaded for the Yankees.

For the ALCS, Smoltz has a new broadcast partner, former Mets/As/Expos pitcher, Ron Darling. These two ex-hurlers have been talking shop pretty seriously since the beginning of the broadcast. After Ichiro has just hit one where they ain't (or at least, ain't ready), has flown up the first baseline and is safe at first, you can almost hear Smoltz smiling to himself as he recalls the exchange with Ripken. Describing Ichiro's swinging bunt, he says to Darling, pitcher-to-pitcher, "Once again, Ichiro has done what he does better than anyone..." I know I smiled. And I'd be willing to bet that somewhere, Ripken was saying something on the order of, "Watch Sabathia's pitching plane... he's 6'7," but to a right-handed hitter, his pitching plane looks higher than that, like he's going to bounce it off your head."

What a difference a day makes.

The Color Purple

What John Smoltz and Cal Ripken accomplished in the space of five telecasts is something the U.S. President, Senate and House of Representatives should consider trying to accomplish in five weeks—you know, allowing them extra time for lots of backroom deal-making, long lunches of spinach salad and twice-a-week workouts at the gym, and listening to jazz.

Because what Smoltz and Ripken did in five nights, and the Capitol Hill gang could do in five weeks, jazz musicians do every night.

They improvise and make it happen.

Jazz performance is the most democratic activity on this planet. Not only do the musicians have their own viewpoints and approaches, they are encouraged by the other musicians to have them! Put on the spot and asked to perform, they don't hem and haw or call for a meeting, they use their imaginations and improvise. Like Ichiro, with his gymnastic, sideways slide into home with the first Yankees run of the series.

Can you imagine a political system operated that way? No Good Guys versus Bad Guys, no Republicans versus Democrats. No Red States versus Blue States. Just me and thee?

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