Sunday, January 27, 2019

Ours Go to 11: Volume 35, Names that Essentially Define an Art Form (and Serve as Shorthand for Greatness)

As some may know, for the last couple years, I've also maintained a blog called 6word Portraits, on which I celebrate a noteworthy artist, leader, athlete, etc. each day, typically on their birthday.

Today's entry of Mikhail Baryshnikov got me thinking about individuals whose names--often just a surname--essentially serve as shorthand for an entire art form or idiom.

As in, "He/she is going to grow up to be a real __________" and the connotation would be widely understood by a large percentage of the population, at least of a certain age.

Obviously, it's an imperfect list, as I am not ranking or reflecting mere virtuosity, but my perception of genre-defining fame (as a white suburban Chicago Jewish male of 50 years old).

But here goes:

1. Shakespeare
2. Mozart
3. Picasso
4. Houdini
5. Hemingway
6. Hitchcock
7. Rodgers & Hammerstein 
8. Baryshnikov
9. Einstein
10. Elvis
11. Sinatra

A few others

"Bird" (Charlie Parker)

Brando (or Olivier)
Lucy (Lucille Ball)
Babe Ruth
Michael Jordan
"Lady Day" (Billie Holiday)
Pele (or Messi for the modern age)
Carson (Johnny)
Vin Scully
Frank Lloyd Wright
Ansel Adams
Beau Brummell

Monday, January 21, 2019

'I Have a Dream' -- Full Text of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Speech at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.

So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy, which has engulfed the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, “When will you be satisfied?”

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality; we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one; we can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No! no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations.  Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering.

Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama — with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado; let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia; let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee; let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ramble On: A Fun Night Watching Loyola Beat Valparaiso in College Basketball

Unlike some previous years, my recent barrage of Best of 2018 blog posts didn't contain any references to my sports fandom, whether in noting games attended, teams followed, athletes admired or moments savored.

But along with largely stellar and highly enjoyable seasons by the Chicago Cubs and Bears--which ended all too abruptly, in the former case with me in attendance at a marathon Wild Card loss--the Loyola Ramblers' run to the NCAA Final Four was a definite highlight.

I don't follow college basketball very closely during the regular season, and didn't know the 2017-18 Ramblers were doing really well until just days before they made the tourney.

So although I probably could've gone to a game last season--or many others--I never gave it much thought.

But it was a thrill following Loyola through the tournament, and although they haven't played that well to date this season--they now stand at 11-7--I've had in mind that I should get to a game.

Although it may have been just as easy on prior occasions, I seized the opportunity last night, as Coach Porter Moser, the world's most famous nun--99-year-old Sister Jean, who delivered an invocation--and the Ramblers hosted the Crusaders from Valporaiso University.

Valpo, at 4-0, had been atop 3-1 Loyola in Missouri Valley Conference play, but somewhat surprisingly, the matchup failed to fill the Gentile Arena, with less than 4,500 seats on the lakefront campus.

I would've been able to buy a seat at the box office for $14-$20, but on Monday night found one for just $6+ fees on StubHub.

And getting to the game after work downtown was as easy as can be, with the arena just steps from the Loyola stop on the CTA Red Line.

From the tourney run I had come to recognize a few Ramblers still on the team--Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, Cameron Krutwig--and they were among six Loyola players in double figures.

Valparaiso's starting center was a 7'1" junior named Derrik Smits, who I assumed and was able to corroborate as the son of longtime Indiana Pacers center, Rik Smits.

Moser seemed considerably more demonstrative than I'd perceived from TV, as he seemed to be screaming at someone after nearly every play. But the Ramblers crushed the Crusaders 71-54--they had been up 29 with 6:31 left to play--and this seemed the kind of game that could be a catalyst to better fortunes going forward.

Having attended Northern Illinois University in the late '80s, when the football and men's basketball teams were so-so at best, I've never acutely experienced big-time college athletics.

Over the years, I've been to a handful of Northwestern, DePaul and UIC games, but never Loyola, whose hardcourt success was typically middling (or not even) in the past few decades until last season.

Given its smallish capacity, the Gentile--pronounced genteel--Arena presumably doesn't compare to the atmosphere my nephews are experiencing at Indiana University.

The student section--which I was not in--was boisterous, but not quite rocking. The environment around the arena actually seemed to be a good one for families, which is only kinda complimentary

Still, the Ramblers played well and the crowd was excited, so my evening was sufficiently fun.

I'm glad I went, don't know why I hadn't before, and hope the Ramblers can ride a hot streak the rest of the season into another NCAA tourney bid.

And the right opportunity presents itself, I'd happily ramble over again.

Here's a clip of the Loyola band playing "Sweet Caroline" before the game, followed by a bunch more photos.

Coach Moser in the middle.

All photos by Seth Arkin. Please do not repost without permission and attribution.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Of Theater Critics and Vampires: Brendan Coyle is Terrific, but 'St. Nicholas' Could Use More Bite -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

St. Nicholas
by Conor McPherson
directed by Simon Evans
starring Brendan Coyle
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 27

I don't care about vampires.

I appreciate that ever since Bram Stoker introduced Count Dracula in 1897, vampires have been imaginatively used in a variety of fictional vehicles.

Each book, movie, TV show, etc. chronicling vampires--Interview with a Vampire, Twilight, Underworld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, their myriad volumes, offshoots and numerous other examples--deserves to be judged for its own artistic merits, often going well beyond blood-sucking.

And to lump them all together would be in vain.

Or in vein.

Certainly, Conor McPherson's 1997 play, St. Nicholas--so titled for reasons that escape me--is about much more than vampires. And as it features just a single character, we don't actually see any...unless the man onstage has been bitten and converted, which I won't reveal.

A monologue across two acts, St. Nicholas--now at the Goodman in a production created by London's acclaimed Donmar Warehouse and featuring Brendan Coyle of Downton Abbey fame--spends most of Act I with the unnamed character regaling us about having been a noted theater critic in Dublin.

He speaks of his profession, approach and eminence with a mix of ego and ambivalence--plus plenty of enmity for his peers--and having attended the show's Press Night opening, it was fun to imagine some of McPherson's witty lines going over with actual critics.

I can't deny having some self-identification when Coyle's critic spoke of having written reviews--at least mentally--before the performance has ended.

Although I am not a Downton Abbey watcher for whom delight in seeing Brendan Coyle onstage was abetted by familiarity with his supposedly sizable role as a valet named Mr. Bates, he was appreciatively terrific.

Better, I perceived, than the play as written.

And I've been a Conor McPherson fan since having seen his Dublin Carol at the famed Gate Theater in Dublin in 2000. Soon after I saw The Weir at Steppenwolf in Chicago--Coyle starred in the original London and Broadway productions--and have subsequently seen Shining City, The Seafarer and The Night Alive.

Some works have been better than others, and I now view McPherson's oeuvre as a step below his Irish contemporary Martin McDonagh, but they're both in the top rank of contemporary playwrights.

Admittedly not always to my loving, McPherson plays often have a supernatural bent.

And in this case, I enjoyed--and, probably not inconsequentially, understood and cared about--the first part of St. Nicholas, with the cranky theater critic talking about drunken exploits, encounters and one particular instance of extramarital lust for an attractive actress (who he saw in a version of Salome) considerably more than I did about his interactions with a vampire.

I won't reveal exactly when and how the critic meets the vampire, or what happens from there except that it spurs him to head to London, but I also can't say I much cared.

Sure, there was likely some allegory going on, about criticism, critics, aging and alcoholism, and probably some comeuppance for the character's widespread contempt.

But truly, the main reason it made for a compelling night of theater--beyond the harangues about those who review it--was the performance of Coyle.

If you're a big fan of his from the hit PBS series, by all means you should probably catch him here. If nothing else, he's onstage the entire two hours--minus intermission--and barely even pauses for a breath.

It's understandable why Donmar resurrected St. Nicholas around Coyle, and why Goodman's Artistic Director Robert Falls jumped at the chance to share it with Chicago audiences.

It's hard to envision anyone playing this role any better.

And while I didn't wind up a huge fan of the play--or its take on vampires--I remain an admirer of the playwright, and newly appreciative of a TV star that any critic can see is quite at home in the theater. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Just a Click Away: Retracing My Life Via Google Maps

The grounds of my grammar school.
Click the link, then after it opens, click your browser's [Back] button.

I was born here, or so I've been told.

I grew up here. (with a bit of intentional ambiguity in deference to current residents)

I went to grade school here.

This was my local park. 

My best friend lived here.

This was my Junior High School.

At 12, I attended my first rock concert here (and many more since): Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. It was then called the Rosemont Horizon.

My high school (it's changed quite a bit).

My first job was at a law firm in this building (I was a messenger)

From age 16 to 20 I worked here during the summer (and at it's now demolished counterpart)

Chick Evans Fieldhouse at my college. I saw R.E.M. here in October 1986.

My freshman dorm

My other college residence

During college, I ate here often.

My first post-college job was here, under a different name (theirs, not mine)

I lived here briefly with my grandma, before...

At 20, I moved to Los Angeles and lived here for 3 years

My first job in L.A. was at a bank in this building

I worked part-time at a SUBWAY restaurant that was located here, until I robbed at gunpoint, twice in 2 weeks

My second full-time job was at Nationwide Advertising, in this building

I also worked part-time at a Kinko's located here

In Rio de Janeiro in 2014, I stood here.

In early 2015, I visited Mexico City. The Diego Rivera murals adorning three floors of this courtyard made it one of the coolest places I've ever been.

In Lima, I ate at two of the best restaurants in the world: Maido and Astrid y Gaston.
The location of La Rosa Nautica made it pretty special as well.

I haven't mentioned New York City, but have been there 18 times. This is my favorite spot in the city.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ours Go to 11: Volume 34, The Best Debut Albums of All-Time (in a pop/rock vein)

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin I. 

1. The Ramones - self-titled
2. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced
3. Van Halen - self-titled
4. Led Zeppelin - self-titled

5. Guns 'n Roses - Appetite for Destruction
6. The Clash - self-titled (UK version)
7. Pearl Jam - Ten

8. The Doors - self-titled
9. R.E.M. - Murmur
10. The Beatles - Please Please Me
11. Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks 

Honorable Mention

Elvis Presley - self-titled
Elvis Costello - My Aim is True 
The Velvet Underground & Nico - self-titled
Talking Heads - '77
Steely Dan - Can't Buy a Thrill
Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville
Arcade Fire - Funeral
Boston - self-titled
The Band - Music from Big Pink
The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man
Foreigner - self-titled
The Cars - self-titled
Cheap Trick - self-titled

Two Personal Favorites

Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger
Stereophonics - Word Gets Around

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Pithy Philosophies #40

Seth Saith:

Notions of perfection invariably impede accomplishment.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Doinks for the Memories: A Tough but Oddly Apt Way for a Great Chicago Bears Season to End

Well, if nothing else, the most famous word in Chicago today is an onomatopoeia:


Which, as coined by the legendary John Madden, describes the sound of a football hitting a goalpost, or the crossbar.

Cody Parkey's field goal attempt, which would've given the Chicago Bears a 18-16 victory in Sunday's NFL playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles, did both.

Double doink!

This after, rather famously, four doinks--2 on field goal attempts, 2 on extra point attempts--by Parkey in a game against the Detroit Lions on Veterans Day.

So, with the Eagles 16-15 win, the Cinderella storyline of Nick Foles continues on. Nationally.

Foles is a journeyman quarterback, who has been the Eagles' backup to Carson Wentz the past two seasons. When Wentz, a young star, was injured late in the 2017 season, Foles took over and--with astonishing efficiency & stats--led the Eagles to an NFL title, including a Super Bowl upset of the New England Patriots and the legendary Tom Brady.

After the first two games of 2018, Foles relinquished the starting role to Wentz, under whom the Eagles were sitting at 6-7, unlikely to make the playoffs. Then Wentz is hurt again, Foles steps in, wins three games, gets Philadelphia into the playoffs, and--with a clutch touchdown pass with a minute left Sunday--past the first round.

He seems like a nice guy, so good for him.

But as a lifelong Bears fan, I'm--um--disappointed.

Certainly, in the failure of Parkey, even if the ball was partially blocked, as has now been officially ruled.

He failed to get the job done--as he candidly admitted in a postgame interview--but while I may be pissed about the result, I don't hate him or wish him anything but well.

Maybe the Bears should have kept Robbie Gould a few years ago, maybe they should've signed someone other than Parkey or jettisoned him following the Lions loss and other misses, maybe Parkey shouldn't be back next season despite having signed a 3-year contract.

But anyone taking to social media and threatening the guy is a real piece of sh*t.

And don't tell me how much he gets paid; that's immaterial. He's a human being, he tried his best, it didn't go as hoped.

Sometimes doink happens. Repeatedly.

Much of what I like about these Bears is how much I like these Bears.

Leading into the game, I was as excited as I'd been about a Bears game since Super Bowl XLI in 2007--which they lost to the Indianapolis Colts.

Yes, the Bears made the playoffs in the 2011 season, and beat the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round before losing to the Green Bay in the conference championship. But though I certainly rooted for the Bears, I never could much stomach QB Jay Cutler, and hence wasn't as happy and hopeful as I was cheering for this year's team.

To remind, the Bears finished last in the NFC each of the last four years, the first 2 and part of the 3rd with Cutler. In 2017, still under dismal coach John Fox, the team went 5-11 and quarterback Mitch Trubisky--whom General Manager Ryan Pace had selected #2 overall in the NFL Draft after seemingly unnecessarily trading up--showed few flashes of stardom.

Pace hired an enthusiastic young coach, Matt Nagy, and stunningly traded for defensive superstar Khalil Mack just before the regular season started.

Still, with the jury still out on Trubisky in Year 2, I--though I can't now find the Facebook post--predicted the Bears to go 8-8, which most comments called an overreach.

In their first game, against the rival Packers, the Bears--with Mack looking dominant--seemed poised to pull off a great win before letting Aaron Rodgers pull another comeback out of his discount double-check.

And while they then won their next three games, they lost the following two in distressing fashion, and Trubisky was having some good games and some lousy ones.

But the defense continued to jell in to the league's best, and the Bears won 9 of their last 10 regular season games.

So a team I was hoping would go .500 wound up 12-4, losing those four games plus the playoff one by a total of 11 points.

Sometimes they looked truly dominant, like a Super Bowl title wasn't a fantasy, but at other times they clearly didn't. Though Trubisky had some great games, he continued to be up & down.

And Sunday's game against the Eagles felt similarly confusing. Going in I thought they should win handily, but neither team was great in the first half and the Bears were up just 6-3 at halftime.

The Eagles had a 10-6 lead at the end of the 3rd Quarter and another stalled Bears drive led to a Parkey field goal, making it 10-9 early in the 4th.

Trubisky seemed to break through with a solid drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Allen Robinson, which--with a failed 2-point conversion--gave the Bears a 15-10 lead with 9 minutes left.

The Bears held the Eagles at bay on the their next drive, but then gave the ball back on a 3-and-out possession, with a short punt giving the Eagles the ball at their own 40 yard line. (Let me say here that while running backs Jordan Howard and Tariq Cohen have been terrific at times, the Bears' seeming inability to sustain time-consuming, run-driven drives has been an apparent weakness--during the season and again yesterday.)

The vaunted Bears defense did its best, but allowed Foles to drive down the field, and ultimately throw a touchdown pass on 4th-and-2 from the 2 yard line.

With just 48 seconds, Trubisky did well to get Parkey into field goal range, and he actually made his first "game-winning" attempt--but after Eagles coach Doug Peterson had called time out to ice him.

Which seemingly worked.


So yes, missing the crucial field goal can be pinned on Parkey's--even if it was partially blocked--but there was plenty of blame to go around (and he had made all 3 of his previous FG attempts).

And as any sports fan knows, that's how it goes. 

It would've been a great win, but it was an exciting game all the way until the last second--much like the Cubs' marathon Wild-Card loss--and it's not like they destroyed the Eagles. Or even outplayed them.

And the season was all I could ask for. Short of a Super Bowl. 

Which doesn't seem an implausible possibility in years to come.

He's still got a way to go, but Trubisky's grown impressively in his 2 seasons, and should only get better. I like rooting for him, and all of these Bears.

For me, that matters as much as the end result. Almost.

And pitchers and catchers report in 5 weeks. 

Friday, January 04, 2019

Proof That Life is a Crapshoot: A Somewhat Random, Somewhat Revelatory Look at the 2009 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft

Link to read this story
Last month, in what has been the biggest trade of this baseball off-season, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Unless you're a really avid baseball fan, you might not even know his name, but he's been one of the game's best players for the past several years.

This includes being an All-Star each of the last six seasons, hitting at least 33 home runs in four of those and winding in the top-11 of MVP voting five times, with three top-3 finishes.

Now 31, Goldschmidt made his major league debut with the Diamondbacks on August 1, 2011 at the age of 23.

Just two summers before, after three years of college--at Texas State University, where he had considerable success--Goldschmidt was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the annual MLB Amateur Draft.

In the 8th round!!!

245 players--at least 200 of whom even the most hardcore baseball fan has likely never heard of--were selected before Paul Goldschmidt.

To which the few of you actually reading this might say, "Big fecking deal, it happens," which is of course, true.

Mike Piazza, now a Hall of Famer, was famously drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft. 1389 players were taken ahead of him, none of whom have or likely will make the Hall of Fame.

So yes, baseball--and any sport--is littered with stories of "Can't Miss" prospects who surely did, and conversely, lightly-regarded players who became legends.

Click image to enlarge; click here to access
But without trying to make this some kind of treatise or thesis, I've long been fascinated by the "hits and misses" of the MLB Amateur Draft--which has far more rounds than the NFL, NBA or NHL drafts--at face value, but also as some sort of life lesson.

Now before I get too deep into this, let me explain a few things.

It's the beginning of 2019 and, after posting a bunch of "Best of 2018" lists on this Seth Saith blog, I don't yet have anything obvious to write about.

I haven't seen any concerts, musicals or plays to review, and don't have much coming up soon.

And without wishing to reveal much, some systems are down at work, so there isn't much to do.

As a baseball fan, I often like to peruse, and while glancing through draft classes isn't anything new for me, I have presently focused on 2009--partly due to Goldschmidt, partly because it's now a decade ago, partly due to other anomalies I'll address, but really kind of randomly as well.

Other than as a Pepsi and peanuts vendor in my teen years, I've never worked for a baseball team, and have no real knowledge--beyond reading and seeing Moneyball, itself providing widely-universal life lessons--about how their front offices and scouting systems work.

Mike Trout page on
I imagine there are some differences between teams in how the scouting operation is structured and how well it is funded, but my assumption is that every major league franchise spends millions each year in employing numerous scouts--and perhaps also relying on freelancers and purchasable resources--in order to gauge the talent of high school and college baseball players across the country...and around the world.

Especially when it comes to baseball as baseball--and not some allegory--that end part is an increasingly important caveat.

Unless it has changed recently in ways which I'm unaware, the MLB Amateur Draft focuses only on selecting players from high schools and colleges in the United States, including Puerto Rico. Currently there are 40 rounds and about 1,200 selections made by the 30 teams, with a few more "supplemental" picks I won't delve into here.

Click image to enlarge; click here for article
The draft used to be even bigger; in 2009, when Goldschmidt went #246, there were 50 rounds and 1,521 picks made.

But per the latest statistics I could find, nearly 30% of current major leaguers--and presumably a similar portion of those in the minor leagues--are from other countries: the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan, Korea, Cuba, etc., and unless they moved to the U.S. to play high school or college ball, they weren't part of the amateur draft.

Teams otherwise scout and sign non-U.S. players, without a draft system. (I don't know the success rate for foreign player acquisitions, but imagine it is also relatively low.)

With minor league affiliates to populate at at least 4 different levels, major league franchises presumably expect most draft picks will never reach the major leagues, let alone become starters or stars, and the influx of fantastic foreign players makes the chances even lower.

Still, in trying to get to my real point here, every major league franchise spends millions of dollars and man-hours on "baseball experts" who presumably possess a somehow proven ability to gauge the abilities of young ballplayers and--without meaning disrespect to the scouts or players who "miss"--they are incredibly wrong most of the time.

Hence, in general, take "expert" assessment--or people telling you what you can or cannot do or become--with a grain of salt.

For although, generally, a good portion of first round picks wind up making the major leagues, consider this:
In Round #1 in 2009, 49 players were selected. Of these, only 6 position players have had 900 or more big league at bats, and just 13 pitchers have appeared in more than 100 games.
I know these are old-school stats, but there are only two 2009 first-rounders with 90+ major league home runs and just 4 pitchers with 50 wins.

Some players are drafted out of high school--and may or may not sign at that point--and others out of college, so ages vary among the 2009 class from about 27 to 31. Hence, my bar for "making it" may not be universally applicable, but the point is that only about 12% of the 2009 first-round truly has.

And the biggest superstar by far--Mike Trout--went #25, to the Angels, who with their first-pick of round one took Randal Grichuk at #24 (he's turned out pretty good too, as the only other 90+ homer guy, but has 91 to Trout's 240).

You can see Round 1 of the 2009 MLB Draft here--and all the rounds of all drafts by entering the proper variables--so I won't add to anyone's Google grief by naming highly-drafted players who "didn't make it," but the guys taken #3 and #5 never even reached the major leagues, and there are very few starters, let alone stars, from the 1st round. (Other draft classes are likewise hit and mostly miss.)

But what really strikes me is that--besides Trout, who himself shows the fallibility of so-called experts--there are far more great successes taken in Round 7 or later than in the 49-pick first round.

And I'm only counting here the draft slot upon which a player was signed, as many--such as Goldschmidt in Round 49--were taken out of high school, didn't sign, and were re-selected higher after college.

The fun--now I tell you--really is in some of the specifics. (These are all 2009 draft/signee examples.)

- J.D. Martinez (195 career HR; full stats) - 20th round (pick #611)

- Khris Davis (48 HR in 2018; full stats) - 7th round (226)

- Matt Carpenter (36 HR in 2018; full stats) - 13th round (399)

- Dallas Keuchel (2015 Cy Young winner; full stats) - 7th round (221)

- Dan Straily (132 pitching starts; stats) - 24th round (723)

- Scooter Gennett (2018 All-Star; stats) - 16th round (496)

- Trevor Rosenthal (great closer before injury; stats) - 21st round (639)

- Matt Adams (96 HR; stats) - 23rd round (699) - like Rosenthal, taken by the Cardinals

- Brian Dozier (172 HR; stats) - 8th round (252) - 6 picks after Goldschmidt

- Yan Gomes (2018 All-Star; stats) - 10th round (310)

- Justin Bour (84 HR; stats) - 25th round (770)

- Brandon Belt (112 HR; stats) - 5th round (147)

- Kyle Seager (175 HR; stats) - 3rd round (82)

- Nolan Arenado (186 HR; stats) - 2nd round (59)

So sure, the first overall pick in 2009, Stephen Strasburg, has had a pretty stalwart career (stats), despite a number of injuries.

And some other players--Mike Leake (taken at #8), A.J. Pollock (#17), Grichuk, James Paxton (#37)--have had decent careers, with a few others having some solid seasons.

But pretty much all the other first-rounders from 2009--except, of course, Trout--have been flops, to one extent or another. Some perhaps due to injury; others, who knows why?

I respect the game of baseball--and how difficult it must be to hit or pitch a ball consistently, for years on end--enough not to belittle anyone who, despite clearly formidable talent, failed to make it.

The success rate is so low, even among the "can't miss," that I also won't condemn scouts or teams for getting it right so seldomly. Or wrong so often.

Though I do ponder whether there is some systemic issue that doesn't allow even the most adroit scouts to identify players who will make it vs. those who won't. Is it really that much of a crapshoot?

But well beyond baseball, or athletics, it does make you wonder:
If so much effort and expertise is invested into ascertaining "who will be great?" with so little acuity, why believe what anyone says about you and your potential. 
Whatever you wish to do, in the New Year and beyond, don't feel daunted.

24 teams--even his own--didn't know Mike Trout would become the best player in baseball, as he has been since the age of 20.

And you can be pretty sure that none of the 610 people drafted ahead of J.D. Martinez--despite a few similar success stories cited above--after he had played at Nova Southeastern University, in 2018 hit .330 with 43 home runs, 130 RBI and a 1.031 OPS playing for the World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Or earned $23.75 million.

And before you tell me AL MVP Mookie Betts was even better, even he was just a 5th round pick, #172 overall, in 2011.

Nobody knows.

Anything is possible.

As the great Joe Strummer--who has nothing to do with baseball--once said:

The future is unwritten.