The Nub

The Fun of Engaging in Work That is Play

(Posted 8/23/14)

A year ago in early June, sales here try Durham Bulls (Triple-A) outfielder Rich Thompson broke his foot while making a running catch in Indianapolis. After 14 minor league seasons – with a few intermittent cups of coffee in the Bigs – Thompson’s baseball career was over. He had just turned 34.

Best-selling author John Feinstein tells what made Thompson a ball-playing lifer in his latest book “Where Nobody Knows Your Name.” “I can’t imagine any job being as much fun, try ” he quotes Thompson saying, patient not long before the fun ended. “I love baseball, he said, “but when you have three kids at my age, it gets tough to keep bouncing around.”

We read the account of Thompson’s bounces through the farm systems of Toronto (which signed him in 2000), Pittsbugh, San Diego, Kansas City, Arizona, Boston, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, soon after checking out a book (“Excellent Sheep”) about elite players in our educational system. Author William Deresiewicz, who taught at Yale and Columbia, strikes a contrasting chord in describing the game prize student-prospects get caught up in. He notes that economics, leading to a career in finance, has become the most popular major at Ivy League schools. It’s where the big money is in the marketplace. The allure of a high-income life prompts many to trade away their career dreams for uninspiring-but-remunerative work. It is true, in our experience, of a large number of would-be space scientists, doctors, oceanographers, engineers, – even ballplayers – from all collegiate levels They gravitate, if not toward the major-league financial game, then into related tech-like and insurance work that assure comfortable security.

Deresiewicz deplores the trend: “You can live comfortably in the United States,” he writes, “ as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist…. You have to live in an ordinary house instead of an apartment in Manhattan or a mansion in L.A.; you have to drive a Honda instead of a BMW… but what are such losses when set against the opportunity to do work you believe in, work you’re suited for, work you love, every day of your life?

The most significant scorebook entry on our wealth-producing, education-fed financial sector is this: economic research, conducted in part by the International Monetary Fund, details harm caused by the widening earnings disparity since the 1980s. The stats suggest the trend has brushed back national growth, and a rally for more income equality, by as much as a third.

Where does the recently retired outfielder fit into the current picture? Rich Thompson has moved into the certified public accounting game, full of work, not play. But it keeps his family afloat – a source of satisfaction, if not “fun.”

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Division Races Outlook: NL East – none; Nats are in. AL East – almost none; Orioles close to in. NL Central – three-team donnybrook, Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates. AL Central – two-team scramble, Royals and Tigers. NL West – Dodgers, Giants duking it out. AL West – Angels and A’s, in what may be the tightest two-team skirmish (now that the LAA’s have lost ace Garrett Richards).

Yearning for Yoenis (Not): “We don’t rely on one guy here; have never relied on one guy here. It’s up to us as a group to pick it up some, because we’re putting a little bit more pressure on pitching at this point than we should.” – Oakland Skipper Bob Melvin, on whether the trade of Yoenis Cespedes has affected the team’s suddenly unproductive offense (largely responsible for its 8-11 record, going into last night’s game, a win overt the Angels). – quoted by NY Times’ John Branch

Castillo’s Challenge: The Red Sox can only hope new Cuban signee Rusney Castillo pays a fraction of the early dividends fellow countrymen Yasiel Puig paid the Dodgers and Jose Abreu the White Sox. Puig signed a seven-year deal for $42 million, more than $30 million less than Castillo will receive ($72.5 million) for the same number of years. Abreu has the highest annual pay – $68 million for six years.

The Hitters Have a Friend: Baseball’s traditional strike zone runs from below the shoulders to above the knees. On YES the other afternoon, Michael Kay noted that umpires rarely call what should be a high strike. Color man John Flaherty said such calls have become more frequent since a video system installed at all parks monitors whether a pitch is on or off the plate (but not whether it’s within the strike zone, letting the umpires judge unmonitored). Said Kay; “It’s a good thing they don’t call the high strike more often. It would further reduce scoring at a time when offense has gotten scarce around both leagues.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

About Richard Starkey

Dick Starkey handled media for former NY Governor Mario Cuomo, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and many other office-holders and candidates. He was sports editor of the Paris-based Herald Tribune. Perfect Pitch partner Robert Sullivan was the first to adapt focus groups to politics and has been called by Cuomo and others one of the "best" pollsters in the country.