RAHM WATCH: Mayor Mudpuddle and the hypocrisy of the Fifth Floor's fair weather baseball fan

One of the most abrasive propaganda points in the Summer of 2014 is the emergence of Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago as a fan of Little League baseball. Of course, Rahm's hyped interest in Little League happens to coincide with the fact that the Jackie Robinson team from Chicago's South Side has been national news, most recently after beating Philadelphia in a tight game on August 21, 2014.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have cut Park District and Chicago Public Schools budgets so that baseball for most Chicago kids is out of reach, but when the Jackie Robinson Little League team went to Williamsport, Rahm jumped once again in front of the TV cameras for some propaganda time with little black children.But Rahm's interest in Chicago's youth baseball is about as hypocritical as the interest he sometimes expresses at other high profile media events. It's all for the show.

The best way to learn about Rahm's actual baseball interests is to take a tour from the far north side of Chicago all the way to the Indiana border this morning, after the heavy rains during the night of August 21 - 22, 2014. Can Chicago kids play ball this morning on the fields near public schools and at the city's public parks? No. Why not? Mayoral hostility to public services and public servants.

At that point, instead of dubbing our mayor as Chicago's number one (opportunist) fan of youth baseball, he should get the name he has earned by his actual praxis:


Across Chicago on any wet morning, the baseball fields that might be hosting kids and the adults who love them -- and love the game -- are unused because they can't be used. Years of official mayoral neglect (and hostility to teachers and Park District workers and budgets) have left the city with massive mudpuddles instead of baseball fields from Howard St. to Hegewisch. And while a handful of fields are well maintained (and not just at parochial schools) like the one behind Gwendolyn Brooks High School, it is in spite of Mayor Mudpuddle's policies, not thanks to Rahm.

It's 2014.

Barely half of Chicago's public high schools can afford to field baseball teams in the third summer of Rahm. The mayor's hypocritical austerity budgets have gutted the pay of the coaches. Those are the men (and women) who begin nurturing young baseball players in elementary school, then continue with them in high school from frosh soph through varsity.

Baseball, like politics, requires multiple skills. Each of those skills has to be improved at each level and practice may never make perfect (it's one of the joys of baseball), but given the chance, kids will improve at each level so they are ready for the next.

But when the levels are cut off, as Rahm has guaranteed with his budgets for both the public schools and the Chicago Park District, that's not going to happen. Kids who would love to be playing baseball in Middle School and High School are frozen out. Families who want their kids to play are spending hundreds of dollars per season, not for expensive "travel teams", but for the basics.

The main reason there are few Chicago kids (of any color) playing baseball during the warm weather in Chicago is that City Hall has systematically gutted the budgets of the parks and schools where almost all kids would get to play. The fields are a dangerous mess, and the coaches aren't supported to do their jobs year in and year out. The only alternative left for some -- not all -- of the kids is teams that are organized through great sacrifice (and cost), like the Jackie Robinson all-stars. Or moving to the suburbs. A family that can afford to move in down the block from the Emanuels (who like to talk the talk about being "from Chicago" but actually evacuated the city so that Rahm and his brothers could attend New Trier High School in Winnetka.

Chicago kids face high prices and muddy and dangerous playing fields. The problem is not the same in Rahm's home high school district, New Trier. There, in Chicago's affluent northern suburbs, kids can play a variety of sports at all levels from elementary through high school. And baseball fields are maintained, not neglected.

The majority of Chicago baseball diamonds this morning (August 22, 2014) are as muddy as the infield at Wrigley Field became two nights ago and for the same reason -- stupid "bottom line" economics. Obscene philosophies that talk endlessly about the "bottom line" and repeat mantras about how every public service has to be labelled an "investment".

Rahm Emanuel and the Ricketts family (which owns the Cubs) share the same tunnel vision of reality: bottom line is everything. And so, there weren't enough grounds keepers at Wrigley Field the other night to get the tarp on to the infield. The Ricketts family had cut their hours to avoid paying for medical benefits. And there are not enough baseball fields and coaches for Chicago kids to play on in late August 2014 because Chicago's mayor likes to parade around in a yellow shirt for the TV cameras, while he cuts school and park budgets and then acts as if rutted fields, mud, and austerity can all be solved by the magic of "markets."

Just as gang violence is limited to certain parts of Chicago, so are sports opportunities. Bad playing fields are not true in the city's wealthier suburbs -- including the one where the Emanuel family actually lived while calling themselves "from Chicago" (as so many people who are afraid of the city are wont to do when they are far away).

In the suburbs, the baseball fields are designed so that the rain runs off the infields, not into the baselines. At Portage Park, where my two sons play Little League, the fields are neglected to the point where after every rain they can be used. Why? Because they rain drains into the basepaths along the first and third base lines, and then flows into home plate, where the catcher can sit in a slippery mud puddle if he want to try. But that is true of dozens (perhaps hundreds) of public school and Chicago Park District baseball fields this morning.

Another way to view Mayor Mudpuddle's hypocrisy about kids playing ball this morning is to visit the pitcher's mounds at any of dozens of parks. In the suburbs, the mounds are repaired after each game (and sometimes re-clayed during the games themselves). The reason is as simple as why Sox Park has a smooth mound that is not a danger to elite professional athletes. Every game damages the mound, so after every game it has to be repaired. Otherwise, a rut as deep as a baseball is dug in front of the pitcher's rubber, just as a swamp behind home plate is where the catcher gets to sit and the umpire squat. Dangerous? Sure. But part of the price of playing for love of the game in the town operated by the values of Mayor Mudpuddle.

That's the reality in Chicago -- but not in Wilmette and Winnetka -- as Rahm tries to grab a few headlines on the backs of the Little League kids and coaches out on the South Side this week.

Mayor Mudpuddle is afraid to even attend a White Sox game today, because the majority of fans know him and would boo if they saw his face on the Jumbotron. And while he may show up for a well controlled photo op at Jackie Robinson Park or perhaps at the Negro League restaurant, everyone who actually knows Chicago's youth baseball programs knows that Rahm is and has long been part of the problem, not part of the solution.


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