In 1987, Pat Tabler was an all-star third baseman with the Cleveland Indians, a young stud with uncanny talent for hitting in the clutch, with a long, successful career in front of him.
Three years later, he was a bench player, and two years after that, he was out of baseball.
The reason why his career plummeted so dramatically is an object lesson in attitudes we see so prominently in extreme right-wing behavior, a study in ignorant certitude and the danger of accepting without question the lessons instilled in us by previous generations.
Pat Tabler is most remembered, especially by Indians fans, for his preposterous ability to get base hits with the bases loaded. In his career, he had 43 hits in 88 at-bats with the bases loaded - a phenomenal .489 batting average.
But in that gaudy statistic is the seed of the reason for his eventual failure as a baseball hitter.
Tabler only listened to one batting coach in his entire life - his father. And his father had a very simple philosophy of hitting - "See the ball, and hit it." That philosophy served Tabler very well in Little League, high school and in the minor leagues. And it served him well in his first few years in the Major Leagues. But it's a different game at the Big League level, and it caught up with him eventually.
There may be no more intense chess game in all of sports than the one between a Major League pitcher and a Major League batter. There is a pitch for each situation, dependent on the inning, the count, the score, runners on base, how many men are out, what's working for the pitcher that day, what the batter's tendencies are. The casual fan watches impatiently for the pitcher to pitch the damn ball. But the pitcher is trying to figure out what he can throw that will get that batter out, and the batter is trying to guess what is being thrown at him and what he can do with it. It requires intense concentration, and every pitch has enormous stakes.
Tabler had great talent. But he could never take his approach to the plate any deeper than "See the ball, and hit it." Batting coaches would be driven up the wall by this attitude. "Okay, one out, man on third, 2-1 count, lefty on the mound. What are you looking for? What are you trying to do? What's your approach? What's your strategy?"
Just what his daddy taught him. "I see the ball, and I hit it."
The coach would scream in response, "THAT'S NOT A STRATEGY!"
It worked for a while. He hit .326 in 1986, fourth in the American League. He hit .307 in 1987 and made the American League All-Star team. And that bases-loaded average - it was just sick. I don't have the stats in front of me, but I seem to recall that those two years, his bases-loaded production was just insane - I recall he hit well over .500 in that situation back then.
But pitchers were figuring him out. They knew he didn't have a strategy. The guy could hit the ball if it was in the strike zone, but if you didn't throw him a strike and it was around the plate, you could get him to swing at bad pitches, and you could get him out.
Except with bases-loaded. You have to throw strikes when the bases are loaded - you can't walk the guy, or you force in a run. You have to put your best stuff up there against him and take your chances. Hence the gaudy numbers with bases loaded, and the mediocre numbers in almost every other situation. Eventually, pitchers didn't throw strikes to him even with the bases loaded, his production plummeted, and he ended his career a few years later as a pinch-hitting scrub.
All because he wouldn't listen to anybody but his daddy.
How many people have set-in-concrete, unshakable, absolute perfect certitude about politics, religion, any sort of human behavior, for no other reason than it's what their parents taught them? How many people have never bothered to question the things they were taught by their parents, never dared analyze their possible limits and frailties? How many people just automatically relay from their parents to their children a set of values badly in need of updating and reconsideration?
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who made a failure lap of the medialately, started her every show by identifying herself as her "kid's mom." She would constantly pound people for the shoddy way they raise their children, that children are the product of the values that are instilled in them by their parents, and that her every act as a human is dedicated to making her child a fine, noble person. And when he joined the service, she was so proud of her "warrior son" and labeled herself a "warrior mom."
That warrior turned out to be a budding sociopath. He wrote on his My Space page:
I LOVE MY JOB, it takes everything reckless and deviant and heathenistic [sic] and just overall bad about me and hyper focuses these traits into my job of running around this horrid place doing nasty things to people that deserve it ... and some that don’t.
...and in another blog entry wrote:
"godless crazy people like me" are now "a generation of apathetic killers."
Yesterday the National Mall was filled with people whom I would wager 98% of them never once questioned the values their parents taught them. For all their criticism of people who think differently than they do - and they have plenty of criticism - they have never given one second's critical consideration of the way they think themselves.
Much lamentation is given over the fact that many young people don't listen to their parents. Possibly more dangerous are the many young people that do listen to their parents and uncritically believe every word they say.