Saturday, August 27, 2011

Morals Clause

In the most inspiring news story I've seen in months, residents of the devastated Northeastern coastal areas of Japan have given authorities somewhere between US $65 million and $78 million found on beaches and in the ruins of their towns and cities.  They turned the money in so it could be given to the families of the fallen.  Many of those who did so have lost everything and everyone that they cherished, but they knew what to do with that money.

I really hate to write this sentence, but if millions of dollars washed up on American beaches, the moral bottom feeders of our society would be out there with bulldozers, trying to scoop it up ahead of everybody else.  There would probably be riots.

It's also sobering for me to remember that there was not one recorded instance of looting in the long, disoriented weeks after the water surged ashore.  People went into abandoned stores and left money on the counter for the goods they took.  Sometimes they swept up before they left.

All this comes to mind again because of Hiroki Kuroda, my new hero.  Kuroda played baseball in Japan and, like many Japanese ball players, dreamed of the American big leagues.  His wish came true four years ago when he joined the LA Dodgers.

Kuroda is a wonderful pitcher with a terrible record.  He allows fewer runs per game and strikes out more batters than all but a handful of National League pitchers.  But he's something like 8 wins and 12 losses these days, which puts him into duffer territory.  He is, in fact, the first Dodger pitcher to lose more than 13 games in two consecutive years since 1993.

And why?  Because when he's on the mound, the Dodgers don't score runs.  They almost never, and I mean never, cross the plate more than twice.  It's hard to win a game if your team never scores.

Here's the thing: the Dodgers' failure to score for Kuroda robs him of the recognition he deserves and keeps him from earning anything like the amount of money he "should" earn by contemporary American sports standards.  He should resent it.  He should be trying to get traded to a winning club where he can be the major (and very, very rich) star he deserves to be.

So, during the trading period this season, a much better club made an offer for him.  He would have had a good shot at pitching in the Series.  He'd finally get the kind of money his agent would love to demand.  But when the Dodgers went to ask him how he felt about it, he said no.  The Dodgers were the team who brought him to America, Kuroda said, and they were the team that had his loyalty.

He put the team first.  Hear much of that any more?

We Americans have always prided ourselves on our individualism.  We like to regard America (at least until the last decade or so) as a place where rugged individuals could carve out a corner of the world and claim it.  Claim it for themselves.  There was a certain amount of American scorn for people in other cultures who dressed alike, behaved alike, and--for all we knew--thought exactly alike.  "Sheep" was a word that got some use.  "Conformists" was another.

But you know what?  I'd like to feel for most American behavior the admiration I feel for many Japanese these days.  I'd like to see more American examples of selflessness, of instinctively moral behavior, of putting the well-being of society ahead of our personal wants and needs. Of acting for the larger good.  I'd like to read in the paper next week that a store in, say, St. Louis was left open unattended a day or two and people went in and took what they needed and left the money behind.  And maybe swept up on their way out.

But, as much as I hate to say it, I doubt that I will.  And that makes me sad for my country.

Tim -- Sundays


  1. Don't run yourselves down, most Americans are honest. While holidaying at the Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky in 2003 I accidentally left the trunk of our hire car open with all our bags, and gifts, exposed for anyone to see.
    We returned to the car 50 minutes later with more shopping to find nothing had been touched. Very lucky, honest tourists and locals, or our luggage looked too cheap to bother to steal?
    The mercenary footballers in the English Premier League could learn something about loyalty from Hiroki Kuroda. If we had something like the Roberto Clemente Award here there would not be many contenders among the spoilt womanizers of the Premier League.

  2. Tim, Take heart. Americans are the most charitable people in the world. Last year, individuals in the US gave over $211 Billion dollars to charity, in the middle of the worst recession in decades. We are probably the only country on earth where most of the money for relief organizations and the arts comes from people, not the government.

    Here's a story: in the late 70's, when NYC was considered the most depraved city on earth, I left a big box on my stoop on West 12th Street, full of our garden's over production of zucchini. We left a sign that said, "Organically grown. Take as much as you can use." We went out for The evening and came back about ten pm. The zucchini was gone. The box and sign were still there, as was about five bucks in singles and change, left by who knows who at what time, in full view on a busy street in Greenwich Village, then home to what the world thought were weirdos. New Yorkers, widely considered the most selfish people in the solar system, paid for what we offered for nothing. And no passerby, even after dark, took the money.

  3. Everyday, there are stories of honesty, and people coming to each other's aid, but they don't make the news. While I don't have much hope for the open store, I have found that people on a very local level do respond to need. I'm sure there are lots folk, churches, community centers, etc. helping out on the East Coast right now. Unfortunately, the media focus on the bad things, and you are right, many will take advantage of hardship by looting or price gauging. What is moving about the Japanese is how sustained and quietly they did what was needed. Kuroda is a wonderful story even though I am an S. F. Giants fan. I wish I trusted our ace pitchers to stay even as the team struggles to score runs. I found this to be a very moving post.

  4. Thanks to all for cheering me up. You're right, of course, that America is still (at the individual level, at least) a land of open-heartedness. And you're also right about the media's exclusive fascination with bad news. It used to be said that "No news was good news," but now it seems to be the other way around: Good news is not news.

    The Kuroda story, Lil, just stands out like a beacon against the appalling greed, on both ends of the owner-player divide, in American sports. The great irony of Kuroda's selfless decision is that it benefits the most rapacious and revolting of all baseball franchise owners, and that's saying quite a lot. Both McCourts should be banned forever from owning even a bowling alley.

  5. Ahh, what a post. So many memories it triggered. I grew up rooting for number 21, Uriah, and on that day before New Years 1973 when RC passed away on a mission of mercy I stopped following baseball.

    And, Annamaria, in those days when you lived on West 12th Street, I lived on East 12, across from John's and next to a notorious brothel. Had I left out a box of anything on my stoop in those days it surely would have been smoked...and I mean in the inhaled sense.

    Not sure what all this means, Tim, except that amid all our cultural differences (and rooting for the Pirates is about as big a difference as one can find on the planet) there are always heroes. We just have to keep an eye out for them.

    God bless high inside curve balls, for they keep us on our toes.