Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


‘Twould be hypocritical of me to crack on someone who seemed to be writing about topics about which they weren’t exactly experts.

Exhibit A: … this Blogge, hello!

Talk about not staying in my lane.

So with that in mind, I shall tread carefully.


Seems like almost every year at this time, someone leaps onto social media to say some intemperate thing about that curious activity about which I swoon, namely, The Marching Band. Makes sense: if you watch TV on New Year’s Day, you may be subjected to more sights and sounds of the marching arts than on any other TV day, what with the Rose Parade and various college football bowl games and all.

So it makes sense that people who are apt to be critical or prone to mockery, regarding this activity, are going to be that way right around the New Year.

And so it was, yesterday, with a fellow called Bill James.

Honestly, if I wanted to save time … I could just direct you to a piece I posted here three years ago; you could read it and every time you read the words “Jim Rome” you could replace them mentally with “Bill James” and be just as far ahead. You would be forgiven if you did this. Or if you didn’t.

Mr. James leapt onto Twitter and, as you do, Tweeted:

Does the world really need marching bands? I know I am [in] trouble for even asking this question, but what do you think?”

And offered Twitter followers a poll, the results of which happened to end up 88 to 12 in favor of “Yes, we need bands”.

A futile poll, as it happened, but 7 to 1 in any sport constitutes a convincing win, I should think.

Myself? Rather than losing my ever-lovin’ mind – as a couple of my colleagues have done – trying to change Bill James’ ever-lovin’ mind – which is futile because anyone who posts an opinion online and is then pushed back against … digs in that much harder and We Shall, We Shall Not Be Moved – I merely sighed, “ah, he’ll never understand, and it’s his loss.”

True enough, at least to me – a fellow who understands that the marching arts can be dreadful if done poorly, BUT if they’re designed and done with a certain amount of skill and caring can be positively transcendent, even if the purveyors do wear feathers on their heads. So there’s that bias built-in.


My curiosity got the better of me, though; and so I peeked at the replies to Mr. James’ Tweet. The replies were predictably – how dare you, sir – but it turns out that Mr. James felt the need to engage with many of the aggrieved respondents. And in the process, he revealed a couple of interesting things about himself.

First, I guess maybe I should have known who Bill James even was.

Not that jazz composer who wrote the theme from “Taxi”.

Not that fellow who co-starred with Will Smith in that romantic comedy movie of a few years back.

He’s a baseball writer. Who invented “Sabermetrics”.

Sabermetrics is the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. … Sabermetricians collect and summarize the relevant data from this in-game activity to answer specific questions. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, founded in 1971. The term sabermetrics was coined by Bill James, who is one of its pioneers and is often considered its most prominent advocate and public face.”


See, I knew I should have recognized that name right away. But I guess I didn’t.

And, more importantly and with less needless snark … something else that Mr. James revealed about himself was this: it turns out that he wasn’t, after all, violating the rule of “only write about what you know”.

One Twitter respondent noted, “That’s a funny question coming from the ultimate sports nerd. Let the music folks have their fun.” Mr. James shot back:

I was in the Marching Band in high school. I was on the field at the halftime of many football games. In retrospect, I’d like to have those 500 hours back.”

In retrospect, it was a shame that there wasn’t one of the Drum Major Academy drum majors in charge of that band, as that student leader might have been able to get to Mr. James before his attitude went all toxic and he either quit the band or destroyed it. (I know; that drum major would have needed a time machine, since Mr. James’ age is closer to seventy than seventeen; you get my point, I trust.)

Sorry! I’m sorry. That was not how I meant this to go. I really wasn’t going to be all snarky about this. I was going to let all it roll off my back. I was going to stay positive.


I know a good way to stay positive. It’s this angle:

When another Twitter respondent wished Mr. James would respect the amount of work that goes into being in a marching band, Mr. James shot back:

I respect their work. I just think I would respect if more if they worked on something more worthwhile.”


Is it worthwhile to commit all that time and effort to marching in a band?

Is it worthwhile to commit all that time and effort to being a Sabermetrician?

Is it worthwhile to make solar panels?

Is it worthwhile to paint sunsets?

Is it worthwhile to learn how to play chess? To play autoharp?

Is it worthwhile to create computer graphics software that will allow more realistic renderings of video-game backgrounds?

Is it worthwhile to write a blog?

Is it worthwhile to commit ridiculous amounts of time and effort to activities that other people don’t understand, and can’t understand, and sometimes even mock?

Sure it is.

Because the alternative is having a population full of people who aren’t curious, aren’t creative, don’t know how to commit time and effort to something … but instead are just drones who only know enough to be “prepared for the 21st century workforce”. Or who would rather mock the people who are curious, creative, and willing to sweat a little – because throwing Internet snark is just easier. Far less risky. Much easier to get attention any which way one can. Look at me and my disdain for people whose activity I think isn’t worthwhile. I made you respond. I win.

Unless, apparently, you get under the skin of the band people, some of whom Tweet things at you like..

It appears the father of Sabermetrics has not found a new audience amongst band members.”


We used to be awfully quiet about you, because we had no idea who you were. Must suck to be insignificant, until the bandos come after you.”


Then it doesn’t make you come out looking like that much of a winner.

At which point it doesn’t seem as worthwhile, I guess.


January 2, 2018 Posted by | arts, band, baseball, DMA, Internet, marching band, music, social media, sports, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rock and a Hard Place

The following thoughts are about interscholastic sports.

Dear reader, I suggest that you read them secure in the knowledge that they were written by a music teacher, one who has been specifically a high school band director. Therefore these are the words of someone who has not always been in a position to see eye-to-eye with school athletic department personnel, shall we say. If there is a community of people who just don’t understand why sports people have to consider themselves so damned important, nay, sacrosanct all the time, it’s us arts types.

Not exactly all sports people, though.

The Boston Globe reports today about a scheduling dilemma that arose this week, which managed to wonderfully highlight the long-standing conflict between some school athletics’ governing organizations and the educational institutions that theoretically they are supporting.

The story boils down to this:

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) chose not to re-schedule its regional semifinal baseball game, scheduled for this morning (Saturday, June 7th), in spite of the fact that its start time directly conflicts with the administration of the SAT test.

Details: the game had been scheduled for this past Thursday, but the local weather forecast was questionable. So the two participating school’s athletic directors suggested moving the game to Tuesday, two nights earlier, after they jointly researched a mutually agreeable alternate location. The MIAA refused the request, stating that the location was too far for either team to travel. On Thursday, the MIAA announced a re-scheduling of the game to Sunday evening, in the interest of “completing the sectional” (whatever exactly that meant) by the end of this weekend – and then, within hours, changed its mind, and set the game for this morning.

Following team meetings yesterday (Friday), both athletic directors said their schools would play on “in some form” – after initially having considered mutually forfeiting the game.

Reportedly, any players who chose to take the SAT exam will have done so without penalty. One of the athletic directors said, “In the end, we are all here for academic reasons. Everyone in the administration is in full support of the players who will take the SATs.” And his school will reimburse those players who opt to play the game rather than take the test.

Those “academic reasons” are clearly concepts that the leaders of the MIAA have long since forgotten, or abandoned. The people running that organization, if they ever were teachers in a past life, obviously have not spent a whole lot of time near actual schools in a while. I don’t know whether it’s fair to try to create a direct analogy between this kind of state school-athletic governing body’s priorities and some of those displayed at times by the NCAA. But it wouldn’t take much imagination.

Let us set aside issues surrounding the SAT, including how much of a revenue generator it may be for a private company or two whose raison d’etre is not the education of students. And let us not deal with some colleges’ gradual move away from requiring their applicants to have taken that test – not all of America’s colleges have made that move, not by a long way. Regardless of any eventual SAT de-emphasis, currently it’s still something that college-bound students need to do.

Let us also set aside the fact that the two schools’ athletic administrators first jointly threatened to do the right thing and forfeit the game, and then caved to the pressure of their governing body (and probably also felt the pressure of “all that work done, all season long, by our student athletes, and then we’re going to deny them the opportunity to play for a regional title because of something that doesn’t affect absolutely every player? Is that fair either?” Which is something to consider, indeed. Okay, Mr. High School Marching Band Director … when your band has put in tons of work since the dog days of August, would it be any easier to pull them out of the State Finals in November for analogous reasons?).

But …

The MIAA surely (surely? maybe it’s not a foregone conclusion that they…) had access to school district calendars and important academic-activity dates. Surely(?) they would have been aware of dates that would present conflicts for a large percentage of its student-athletes. No, they may not be responsible for knowing the date and time of every A/V club fundraiser car wash … but this is the SAT we’re talking about. It’s not that obscure.

And this was an issue of re-scheduling. There was a choice to be made. The MIAA didn’t have to schedule an event in conflict with the SAT. But they went ahead and did it anyway. Because they could. Because, in their minds, the SAT wasn’t enough of a reason not to.

As a school music teacher, I have taken great pains to try to schedule concerts and other performance opportunities – our “games”, if you like – so as to create as few scheduling conflicts as possible. I don’t want to put any of my student musicians between a rock and a hard place: before they get to college, they should be able to experience lots of different activities: sports, music, drama, the list goes on and on. And students shouldn’t be caught between two different egomaniac activity advisors who know, know, that their activity is more important than anyone else’s. Surely we can all play nicely together?

It happens less often than it should. Some years ago, I gently eMailed my school’s girls’ tennis coach with a small request. When he replied, saying yes, I can easily live with having my team captain (we’ll call her Fern) miss the first half of one practice a week because she’s your bass player, and I think she should be able to participate as fully as possible in both activities and have a great senior year … well, let’s just say I was momentarily speechless. I replied to his eMail, thanking him for being very understanding and flexible, and the mutual admiration society was off and running. The only sad part of the exchange was that I felt like it was such a rare occurrence.

Happily, Fern’s tennis matches happened in the afternoon, and my concerts happened at night, so we didn’t have to further test the limits of this newfound detente. And those matches never happened on Jazz Band Afternoons – but I promise I would have played bass myself (a bad thing at the time), rather than keep Fern from playing number-one singles against the hated rivals.

You can imagine that it ain’t always so Little House on the Prairie.

In my head, I’ve always had something of a “priorities pecking order” at the ready. Games trump rehearsals … concerts trump practices … again, I check the sports schedule before scheduling my concerts … but concerts trump re-scheduled meets (and that’s not a hypothetical example; I fought that one about ten years ago). And then the athletic director and I would get in a room and I would still try and find some areas of compromise. Sometimes I shouldn’t have, but that’s my personality, for better or worse.

But the MIAA missed an opportunity to make some kind of small compromise, to acknowledge that the world is made up of more than just them, and instead gave a number of its student-athletes a very difficult choice to make. And all that did was to make them look that much more inflexible and arbitrary. Worse, it’s made them appear unconnected to the second word in their own title: interscholastic.

Horse, meet cart.

June 7, 2014 Posted by | arts, baseball, education, music, news, sports | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Put Me In, Coach

Used to be that if I wanted to get away from the bad news that seems to pervade American life – y’know, the shootings and the natural disasters and the general political scumbaggery – I’d go pick up the Boston Globe sports section and immerse myself in the box scores. At least there, at least half the local sports teams could provide me with a winning narrative at least half the time, give or take the Patriots.

Used to be”, I think, ended probably around the same time that Reggie Lewis died. Which is to say that for the last twenty years or so, I’ve been well aware that Keith and Dan (or whomever)’s “Sportscenter” commentaries were about scores and contract squabbles in equal measures.

If only it were only that simple, lately. The sports world is now shot through with *news* stories, and not inspiring ones, either. Lance Armstrong and his voided Tour de France victories. A high school in Texas building a sixty-million-dollar football stadium (grotesquerie #1), and then discovering that the thing was built with support structures that can’t safely support all the fans they needed to accommodate (grotesquerie #2), even as they were laying off dozens of teachers. Speaking of grotesqueries: ancient zillionaire Donald Sterling, and not merely his backward racist utterances but the fact that the beliefs laid bare by those utterances are indeed entirely relevant because they governed his dealings with the people he held economic sway over, both the millionaire athletes and the minimum-wage apartment dwellers, and what in the living hell is he saying now for the love of heaven please stop and quit while you’re behind?

Kind of a relief to read the stories that have to do with actual competition.  The Ranger skater on a breakaway barrels into the Canadien goalie and the resulting pileup yields a knee injury that takes the goalie out of the rest of the seven-game series. Predictably, the Canadien faithful (and the head coach) conclude that the feet-first trajectory of the New York forward had to have contained intent to injure, and just as predictably, the Ranger faithful tell the Canadien faithful what they can do with their aggrieved fainting spell.

(And this Bruin fan, unaccustomed as he is to rooting for the Rangers, is doing so because the Habs sent his beloved black-and-gold skaters to the golf course for the summer, and is therefore ill-equipped to objectively judge whether he’s looking at “intent to injure” or “intent to score while careening”. Although, look, kids, it was a breakaway. Stuff moves fast, grown men fall down. It’s hockey. Quit yer whining and get on the plane to Manhattan.)

But man, the great wealth of sports world stories that deflate the natural optimism. So imagine my delight at witnessing a sports story that ends well and seems to redeem past injustices.

At the age of about nine, I lost one in the lights.

It was my final season in a four-year career in the heady world of Little League baseball. As I remember it, the team I was on wore uniforms very similar to those of successful major leaguers; and that was about where the similarity ended. Our team lost about once a game, on average.

Over the course of my tour in the Littles, I had found most of my defensive success in the infield. I could fire across the diamond from third with accuracy. I actually was part of a decent double-play combination at age eight. My single inning as a catcher featured a runner barreling home from third, and after the throw arrived from right field, I blocked the plate firmly, and when the umpire asked if I was still holding the ball, I showed it to him (and subsequently begged my coach to move me anywhere else on the field please and thank you).

As a pitcher, I was fine until I hit my first batter. Got him square in the bicep, and after that my inside-pitch location just went all to heck.

So, one night during my tenth year on Earth, the coach sent me out to centerfield.

The scene was movie-grade. It was a night game, under the lights. Somehow, everything looked more pro-baseball. The aluminum bats twinkled. We could imagine far more fans in the stands than were actually sitting on those little tiny bleachers on the third-base line, because it would have been tougher to see the ones that were sitting further up under the nonexistent upper deck anyhow. There were no cornfields around the warning track; in fact, there wasn’t even a warning track, just more grass and eventually the infield on the far corner of the complex. But it was okay.  We were in the majors.  (Of our town, anyway.)

I trotted out to center. Traded a few long tosses with my friend in right field. Bent over to pick a few blades of grass; the usual major-league groundskeeping. The first batter hit a slow roller to second, and I dutifully moved to back him up. You never know; nine-year-olds will occasionally let one through.


I saw the swing, heard the sound of metal hitting baseball, and observed that the baseball was going not to left or to right but straight over the mound, high, and toward me. I took a couple of involuntary steps backward – it had been a pretty loud PING – and looked up.

And my whole field of vision turned violently purple.

At no time had we held practices at night. A crucial error. During the day, there’s only one Sun, and you know where it is, so you know instinctively where not to look. At night, as it turns out, there are at least four suns, two to your left and two to your right, and if you look at any of them, your eyes’ chances of recovering in time to find that incoming artillery dial down to fractions of percentage points.

Couldn’t find the ball. At all.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not known that it was hard, and moving fast, and undoubtedly headed for my braincase. I’d been hit by pitches before, and only at eight-year-old-pitcher speeds. This had the potential to get me good.

In spite of the part of my brain that wanted to look like a dashing sports superstar, the part of my brain that had a little common sense won out. I put my two forearms straight over my head. Protection trumps derring-do. It wasn’t flight, but my instincts told me not to fight with fifty miles an hour worth of cork, rubber and horsehide.

More than a little embarrassing, though, when the ball hit the ground a complete twenty yards in front of me.

I would like to think that I recall picking that ball up and firing a sizzling strike to the third baseman to cut down the runner who was trying to stretch a double into a triple, but it was about forty years ago and honestly I don’t remember. I was so mad that in that moment I probably could used the piqued energy to briefly become the Dwight Evans who used to take a ball that had rattled around in Fenway’s right-field corner and throw it in a physics-defying, nearly-flat parabola directly to Rico Petrocelli at third who then would apply the sweep tag, and none of this one-hopper crap, oh no indeed, and you, dear runner, will take a seat in your dugout and consider the foolishness of trying to run on my arm because you are more out than a guy who can’t find his house keys at two o’clock in the morning in the dead of winter.

No, I probably slunk back to my spot in center and vowed to be perfect the rest of the night.

I’m pretty sure that only I remember that little vignette, now.

Fast-forward four decades or so, to the middle of last week. I stopped off, on the way to a choir rehearsal, to watch my seven-point-nine-year-old nephew and his Little League team do their thing. He was decked out in a Dodger blue t-shirt and cap that in fact read “Dodgers” and “LA” respectively. I sat on the blanket that his mom had laid out on the grass, in foul territory beyond third base, and noted that at least one thing in this country hasn’t changed in all this time. As the sun began to approach the tree line on the other side of the field, kids were working on baseball skills. Coaches’ barked instructions were followed with instant enthusiasm. Running and throwing (and sometimes catching) drills were happening. Number One Nephew was running and throwing with utter second-grade abandon. (Throwing a good deal more accurately than most of his mates, it seemed to me, ten yards ahead into an eight-foot-square net, though that could be Uncle Bias talking.) And, as always happens when a group of three or more kids gather to play ball, one of them and then another one made a two-handed chuck of their fielder’s gloves high in the air. And might have lost them in the lights, if they’d been turned on yet.

Okay, I thought to myself, smiling goofily. The extended Hammerton bloodline has reclaimed that field. Because Number One Nephew was making it happen on the very same ballfield wherein my Centerfield Moment had occurred. For my money, the Curse is Reversed.

And not a contract squabble or a banned-substance suspension in sight.


May 20, 2014 Posted by | baseball, family, sports | , , , | Leave a comment