Saturday, August 10, 2013

Presidential Joke Day, Ingersoll Day, good and bad baseball milestones

On August 11, 1984, President Ronald Reagan got ready for his weekly radio address with a mike check. According to Wikipedia, his little remark (meant only for the technicians) was a riff on the opening line of the morning's prepared speech. His speech called for him to say, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they've too long been denied — the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do." Instead, just for giggles -- and never dreaming that this would get out -- he said, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

It got out. (The disgruntled technician who leaked the tape may have been a Democrat. Or, given the text of the actual speech, an atheist. Maybe both.)

The Russians (then more formally known as the Soviets) were miffed. No apparatchik could survive long with a madcap sense of humor. Or any sense of humor at all. Indeed, in this one respect, if this one only, the old Soviets could have passed for Germans (to their mutual mortification). The Soviets took the President's weak joke seriously (or claimed to) and demanded an apology. From there the story just got bigger and bigger to the point where most of the Usual Suspects tell us that August 11 is Presidential Joke Day.

If President Reagan's faithless technician that morning was an atheist, perhaps he was miffed that the President failed to acknowledge Ingersoll Day. and most of the other Usual Suspects offer Ingersoll Day as a possible observance today.

Lawyer and Civil War veteran Robert G. Ingersoll, "the Great Agnostic" and freethinker whom the Humanist Institute commemorates today, was born on August 11, 1833. Wikipedia also notes that Ingersoll was Attorney General of the State of Illinois from 1867-1869. As a Republican.

That's certainly something you'd not be likely to see these days. We do not refer to any scarcity of Republican officeholders who reject religion -- there's no doubt a lot of skeptics and scoffers in both parties, even if they're not as candid about it as was Mr. Ingersoll. No, we just can't help but note how odd it is to think of a Republican rising to statewide office in Illinois in our current day and age....

But forget politics. We promised baseball milestones, good and bad.

First the good: Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run on August 11, 1929 in a game against the Cleveland Indians. Lou Gehrig stroked his 27th homer of the season in that game as well, but the Yankees committed four errors and the Tribe prevailed 6-5. And the game -- a Yankees game, mind you -- was played in two hours exactly.

But then the bad: Once the last game on August 11, 1994 was in the books, major leaguers went on strike. The rest of the season was canceled. There were no playoffs or World Series.

Fans were angry at baseball and stayed away in droves in 1995 when the parks finally reopened. Cal Ripken would help rekindle America's love affair with its national pastime in September 1995 when he broke the aforementioned Lou Gehrig's streak of consecutive games played. But what really put the fannies back in the seats was the amazing increase in the number of home runs -- chicks were digging the long ball -- McGwire dueled with Sosa -- records set by Ruth and Maris were easily eclipsed. It was almost as if some magic potion had been added to the players' training table.

As we now know, of course, the magic potion was steroids, all too frequently injected in clubhouse bathrooms. MLB looked the other way for the longest time because revenues were going back up. Money was being made. Careers were made... and ruined. Sportswriters -- those born-again virgins who police entry into Baseball's Hall of Fame -- knew darn good and well that PEDs were being liberally used -- but they cashed their checks and laughed along with Sammy Sosa when he said his new muscle-bound physique came from "Flintstones Vitamins." And he we are, almost 20 years later, trying to root out drug contamination in America's game, still suffering from the effects of the 1994 players' strike.

Sunday will also be Alcatraz Day. The first inmates of that notorious prison arrived on the island on August 11, 1934.

And the Mayan Long Count Calendar -- you remember, the calendar that was supposed to end, and with it the world, last December? -- well, according to Wikipedia, the Mayan Long Count Calendar began on August 11, 3114 B.C.

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