Monty Python Says Goodbye in a Most Python of Ways

And now for something completely different.

Normally this space would be reserved for some observations and witty commentary on various happenings from within the world of baseball.

There are certainly many baseball tales that need to be covered as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches on July 31 and teams prepare for the final months of a grueling season.

We will certainly get to all of those stories and more in the coming days and weeks.

But in honor of the end of an era, today we will take a break from covering baseball to focus on Monty Python.

Much like the Spanish Inquisition, I am sure that no one expected that.

So sit back in your comfy chair, and fry up some Spam in your best lumberjack flannel while considering the meaning of life and whether a swallow could or could not carry a coconut.

Monty Python has likely hung up the Spam for good after a farewell performance Sunday in London. Photo R. Anderson.

Monty Python has likely hung up the Spam for good after a farewell performance Sunday in London.
Photo R. Anderson.

These are just a few of the plethora of items that became part of the pop culture landscape over the past 45 years or so thanks to the six members of the Monty Python comedy group who showed that their impact on pop culture was much more than just a flesh wound.

That 45 year comedic chest of drawers was on full display when the five surviving members of Monty Python performed the final show of a 10-day residency “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go” at the O2 Arena in London on Sunday in front of a 16,000-strong audience.

In addition to the London audience the show was broadcast live in theaters across the globe.

While I was not yet born when Monty Python first burst onto the scene with the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, like many people of my generation and those that followed, I discovered a love of Monty Python through reruns on television and by watching their big screen movies.

During high school hardly a day would go by without someone uttering some catch phrase from a Monty Python skit.

With the works of Monty Python playing such an integral part in shaping my comedic sensibilities, it was a given that I would don my “Holy Grail” inspired killer rabbit shirt and attend the live simulcast at my local cinema to be part of the history.

Throughout a roughly two and a half hour show skits and songs from throughout the Python catalog were performed by Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam.

Graham Chapman, the sixth Python, who died in 1989, was certainly there in spirit and he also appeared on film clips, along with some of the original television footage of Python sketches shown on a huge video display.

The performance started by paying homage to another British import that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, as the Pythons entered the stage in a blue police box that looked an awful lot like that time and space traveling time lord Doctor Who’s TARDIS.

While long considered international comedy geniuses who inspired countless comedians who came after them, the members of Monty Python first garnered fame through “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, which aired in England from 1969 to 1974. The Flying Circus landed in America thanks to support from local Public Broadcasting Stations who introduced Monty Python to the American masses in rerun form starting in 1974.

With their place in popular culture so well established it is hard to believe that there were only 45 episodes of The Flying Circus ever made.

Following the success of the television show Monty Python made a number of films, including “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” and “The Meaning of Life”.

It would be nearly impossible for any single live performance to cover every single joke from a 45 year career. Instead of trying to cover it all, the live show took the most memorable skits from the television show and the movies to blend together a retrospective that spanned the entire catalog from lumberjack to spam.

There was even room for a few new interpretations of old classics as well as a prerecorded skit with theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, who at 72-years-old, is roughly the same age as the five surviving members of Monty Python.

After bringing to life so many laughs the performance ended in the only way that it could really, with the five Pythons, dressed in white tuxedos, belting out “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as a sort of prearranged spontaneous encore.

Following the encore, the video display flashed “Monty Python 1969-2014”, indicating that this was likely the end for the group.

Only time will tell whether there is still life left in the old Norwegian blue parrot that allows Monty Python to fly once more and show that they still feel happy and aren’t dead yet.

Regardless of whether or not Monty Python ever performs again, they will continue to live on through reruns and the internet inspiring countless more generations with their quotable potables, silly walks and philosophers playing on the pitch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go in search of a shrubbery.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

The Curious Case of Scott Kazmir

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012. While the Skeeters represented a chance to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and exceled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Gehrig’s Speech is Still Powerful 75 Years Later

There are certain moments in baseball that are timeless and manage to span the generations.

Whether it is a classic call from a broadcaster who has long ago passed away, or the visuals of Hank Aaron rounding third after setting the record for home runs, the visuals and sounds of baseball stick in the memories of fans even if they were not alive when the actual events occurred.

Such is the case with Lou Gehrig’s famous “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech which was given before a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators 75 years ago on July 4, 1939.

In the speech Gehrig listed all of the positives of his life despite being diagnosed with a death sentence in the form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

ALS, now known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. There is no cure for ALS. While advancements in treatment have prolonged patient life, the disease is still considered a fatal diagnosis.

Growing up I had heard the speech as it was part of a greatest moments in baseball VHS tape that I owned. While I had heard the speech for me, as a Cal Ripken, Jr., fan Lou Gehrig was just the final man to pass in the consecutive games streak. I did not really appreciate the full impact of what made the speech so perfect at the time.

Before getting into the speech it is important to look at the man who gave it.

Lou Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row for the New York Yankees until he was physically unable to play anymore. Lou Gehrig was also the first Major League Baseball player to have his number retired.

Lou Gehrig stepped to a Yankee Stadium microphone on July 4, 1939, and told fans he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” despite the fact that he was dying from the inside out.

Throughout the speech, and through eyes welled up with tears, Gehrig thanked teammates, fans, and his family for all of the experiences they had shared together.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Nearly two years to the day after giving that speech Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. His death came almost 16 years to the day after he started his consecutive games streak on June 1, 1925.

It would have been easy for someone like Lou Gehrig to be bitter for being cut down in the prime of his career by such an invasive and painful disease but there is no bitterness in the speech. Many fans at the time probably felt that it was not fair that they were losing their first baseman to an illness that many had likely never heard of.

But instead of being bitter in his circumstances Lou Gehrig found the courage to be at peace with the hand he was dealt and to make the most of the time he had left.

I often wonder how many people when faced with the same circumstances would in the words of Monty Python, “always look on the bright side of life?”

In my own case, I would like to think that I would be able to muster the same positive response as Lou Gehrig but in reality I would likely fall well short of that level of peace in my circumstances.

As for Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, it was finally broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998. Photo R. Anderson

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.
Photo R. Anderson

It is likely that it is a record that will never be broken.

One the night that Ripken broke the streak he showed that Lou Gehrig was very much there in spirit to share it with him.

“Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig,” Ripken said at the time. “I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.”

While Gehrig’s career was cut short it is still a career that reaches through the generations as doctors and others work to find a cure for the disease that bears his name.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a speech to listen to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Celebrating Independence in a Most American Way

Today is the Fourth of July which is a day set aside to celebrate America’s independence from the occupying British forces.

With a roaring declaration in 1776 proclaiming independence, the American forefathers set in motion many of the freedoms and truths that we hold self evident to this very day.

That independence from British rule established principles regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today is July Fourth which means the skies from sea to shining sea will be filled with firework shows. Photo R. Anderson

Today is July Fourth which means the skies from sea to shining sea will be filled with firework shows.
Photo R. Anderson

Each year as part of that pursuit of happiness I try to take part in as many staples of American life as possible. One of those yearly patriotic pursuits is trying to spend part of my July Fourth in a Ballpark watching some baseball.

This year the baseball scheduling powers saw fit that both of my local teams, the Houston Astros and Sugar Land Skeeters, were playing away games today which meant for the first time in several years I would not be able to watch live baseball on America’s birthday.

But, when the baseball schedule taketh it also occasionally giveth.

This giving came in the form of televised Tampa Bay Rays action.

While the Rays are not exactly having a stellar season opportunities to see them on television do not come along often in Texas so I will be watching them tonight while also looking east to see the rockets red glare from the neighboring fireworks show on the bay.

Last year I was able to see the Rays play live against the Astros in Minute Maid Park during an afternoon game but this year my patriotic watching of the Rays will take place with the help of ESPN.

As part of my observance of July Fourth each year I try to eat a Nathan's hot dog in honor of the annual Coney Island contest. Photo R. Anderson

As part of my observance of July Fourth each year I try to eat a Nathan’s hot dog in honor of the annual Coney Island contest.
Photo R. Anderson

In addition to trying to catch baseball games on July Fourth another All American tradition I try to include on this day each year is eating a Nathan’s hot dog.

For about a century now Coney Island, New York has hosted the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Championship.

And while competitors come from nations all over the world to take part, the item remains All-American in that it occurs on July 4th.

Last year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win another title on his path to establishing himself as one of the best competitive eaters of all time.

To honor this achievement of man concurring frankfurter I stage my own mini hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July each year.

While I never eat anywhere near 69 hot dogs, I do venture to my local Sam’s Club to get an authentic Nathan’s hot dog each and every Fourth of July.

Nathan’s was one of the brands I grew up with on the east coast and they are hard to find here in Texas.

Don’t get me wrong there are some very nice hot dog choices here but to me a hot dog on July 4th has to either be a Nathan’s or an Esskay hot dog. I am sure there are people that feel the same way about whichever hot dog they grew up with as well.

A Fourth of July with a hot dog lunch and one of my favorite baseball teams playing on television is about as close to a perfect celebration as I could imagination.

Between those two events I will also catch a concert of patriotic music and a midway full of junk food so my day will be about as American as can be.

Were it not for the Founding Fathers declaring independence so long ago, we would likely drink way more hot tea and enjoy sports such as cricket instead of the good old American Pastime of baseball.  Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the Founding Fathers declaring independence so long ago, we would likely drink way more hot tea and enjoy sports such as cricket instead of the good old American Pastime of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt the founding fathers had hot dogs and baseball diamonds in mind when they decided to break away from the British but I am certainly glad that they did declare independence to allow such things to occur in the centuries that followed.

Otherwise activities today might be filled with watching cricket and shouting “pip, pip” while sipping Earl Grey tea, hot.

Not that there is anything wrong with cricket or Earl Grey tea mind you, but I definitely prefer the American customs that have developed over the past 238 years or so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about patriotism and American traditions has me craving some All-American apple pie.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson