Joe Shlabotnik

I love underdogs in sports.

Hell, I even rooted for both the 1988 and 2021 Baltimore Orioles to just win a game when they eventually ended respective losing streaks of 21 and 19 games…even though if they had kept right on losing in either one of those seasons they could have possibly broken the record of the longest losing streak in major league baseball’s modern era…23 games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t like to see teams get embarrassed because as a fan I know full well what that feels like. I am a product of my environment, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All of our professional teams have a long, inglorious history of being quite far removed from championship glory.  Our current ledger looks like this:

Phillies – World Series Champions in 1980 and 2008. (131 seasons)

Eagles – Super Bowl Champions in 2017. NFL Champions in 1948, 1949, and 1960. (89 seasons)

Flyers – Stanley Cup Champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75. (54 seasons)

76ers – NBA Finals Champions in 1954-55 (as the Syracuse Nationals), 1966-67, and 1982-83. (73 seasons)

Which may be why I love Joe Shlabotnik. It’s usually this time of year – in the baseball dog days of August – when I most often think about Joe. For those who have not previously heard of Joe, he is a fictional baseball player featured in Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic strip. He was Charlie Brown’s all-time favorite baseball player.

Charlie Brown worked endlessly to hunt down any and all memorabilia associated with Joe Shlabotnik. He once bought 500 one-card packs of baseball cards to try and get one card of Joe’s. While he wasn’t successful, his pal Lucy van Pelt bought only one pack and what-do-you-know…she was the proud owner of a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Unfortunately, Lucy then steadfastly refused to trade Joe’s card to Charlie Brown, even though she had no idea who Joe was. Once Charlie Brown exhausted himself trying to entice her to give up Joe’s card…she eventually decided he wasn’t quite as cute as first thought…and tossed the card into the trash.

Charlie Brown also once was under the impression he had a Joe Shlabotnik autographed baseball…which in fact turned out to be a forgery. But, it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s futility trying to get Joe Shlabotnik memorabilia that makes Joe an underdog for us all to root for. It is the “legendary” career of Joe Shlabotnik:

  1. Joe was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season. The one hit was a bloop single…with his team comfortably ahead.
  2. Joe once promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He instead popped out…but circled the bases anyway.
  3. Joe had a knack for making routine fly balls into spectacular catches. He also had a talent for throwing out runners who had fallen between first and second base.
  4. Joe eventually retired as an active player and took a job managing the Waffletown Syrups. He was fired after one game when he called for a squeeze play…with no one on base.

Charlie Brown never got to meet Joe Shlabotnik. He bought tickets to a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes…but Joe was the only athlete who didn’t show up. It turned out Joe had marked the wrong event, city AND date on his calendar. Joe was also invited to attend a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown. He got lost on the way there.

Ironically, this might be one of the best pro sports years we’ve had in a while. The Phillies are competing down the stretch for a wild-card berth. The Eagles should be in the hunt for the post-season. The Sixers should be a lock for their post-season. The Flyers…they will likely have a season similar to the ones Joe Shlabotnik experienced. Not. Good.

In any case, thank you for allowing me to acknowledge Joe as one of my favorite characters in sports. When it feels like the pro athletes representing Philadelphia are performing poorly, I will think of Joe and realize they aren’t that bad.

 

Picture Courtesy United Feature Syndicate

Living In The Moment

I was cleaning off some excess grass from the lawn mower in the front yard a couple days ago when I saw a man and his dog walking on the other side of the street…headed in my direction. They were too far away to say hello, and I was headed back into the garage anyway to get some iced tea I had there.

It had been like mowing on the sun…should have just hired the landscaping crew who came to the door earlier (see above).

While I was in the garage cooling off, as this duo got closer I could hear the man singing to himself (or the dog?). He did not have ear buds or any player device – just him, his dog, and his song.  He was definitely enjoying his walk…this moment. However, his dog was periodically stopping to smell whatever dogs smell off to the sides of sidewalks. What struck me was how the man was singing his tune louder while the dog was walking ahead, but his song’s volume…and its progress…dropped off significantly every time the dog stopped.

I am confident in the brutal heat of the midday sun this man had forecasted to get back home sooner than later, but his dog clearly was operating on a different arrival schedule. I found it amusing how the loudness and pace of his song coincided with the forward movement of his dog. Yet, the man was so patient in ensuring the dog was safe at all times while “off-course,” and didn’t think to continue with either his desired decibel level or lyrical style until his dog was back in line and moving ahead.

I am positive I would never have noticed any of this if I hadn’t been actively trying to be in that moment. Over the last few years, I’m betting you have seen many self-help recommendations for all of us to try to live in the moment. Soak in as much of each day’s blessings as possible when we can find them…be aware of all of the sights, sounds, smells.

It has become a pet project of mine to consciously slow down, breathe, and try to appreciate special moments when I come across them. I don’t want to be as consumed with what is next on the to-do list, or worrying about what might or might not happen in the days ahead. For me, I have written my own healthy prescription to find, acknowledge and appreciate positive moments I come across daily.

Most definitely there are times we can’t possibly live within moments. Life comes at us with velocity, curves, and detours…quite unexpectedly at times. In those circumstances we have to look a bit ahead, look forward. Not just for ourselves, but sometimes for the benefit of others as well.

It was like the dog owner was doing just that, making sure both of them stayed together…living in their moment.

 

Picture Courtesy Universal Studios