A couple of weeks ago, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire won his 1,000th game. It was a unique accomplishment. There are only 10 managers in the history of baseball to achieve that with one team.
The Twins won the Central Division six of Gardenhire's first nine seasons. Three hard-to-watch seasons since made it a grind to get to 1,000. Still, "Gardy" is highly praised by those in baseball. By all accounts he is a good and decent person who is easy to root for. The milestone win was a feel-good story early in a new season.
That is unless you are not prone to feeling good.
Many apparently aren't, judging by those commenting anonymously on the Minneapolis Star Tribune website. Comments there included "The 1,000 was possible only because the Pohlads don't have the guts to fire someone who is incompetent," and "He has run this team into the ground. So what if he has 1,000 wins?" and "Gardenhire is the most overrated manager in baseball."
I enjoy good debate, but on-line comments are frequently only snarky criticism. I don't know why I read them; it's the part of me that cranes my neck to see an accident.
The majority of remarks about the struggling Twins are hyper-negative. A low point, if that is possible, came when Joe Maurer was dealing with one of his injuries. A commenter simply wrote, "I hate Joe Mauer." If Joe Mauer really brings so much displeasure to your life, why wouldn't you simply go do something else?
If you are an internet user, you know that this phenomenon isn't particular to the Twins. Venomous comments can be found about any public figure. It's a little better where posters are required to identify themselves.
The Journal, like the Star Tribune. allows comments online with the use of a "Display Name." A small few use their real name, but most have handles like "lovebear" or "DefenderofTruth."
Back in February, Denny Warta wrote a letter expressing an opinion about a water park in New Ulm. You could disagree with his position, and comments that followed did that. What was surprising was the mean tone in several. "I think this town would benefit more from a water park then it does from folks like Mr. Warta." And "Maybe Mr. Warta the self proclaimed local historian can quit living in the past."
Now if you've been paying attention at all, you know that Denny Warta is a tremendous spokesman and promoter for New Ulm. To answer cynicism with cynicism, I would suggest that Denny has accomplished more in his left pinky finger than these detractors have in their entire bodies.
So even here in our small-town world, we are not immune from this urge to make snide comments. I suppose this existed long before the internet in the form of gossip. I know I am capable of a smartass statement now and then. But the ability to share them anonymously with a large audience is new.
Is there a reservoir of meanness in all of us that is seeking an outlet? I thought of that the other day when Pam and I were working in the yard. I was behind a shed when I heard Pam yelling at Winnie the Farm Dog. I ran out to see Winnie making a full-yard run at our goose. (I call him "Goose," named after Goose Tatum of the Harlem Globetrotters, of course.)
I've seen this before. When Winnie is in a good mood, she likes to chase Goose briefly causing a great flurry of honking and wing-flapping. Goose is never hurt by this, just annoyed. Why does Winnie do it? I told Pam it is "recreational meanness." Unlike on-line commenters, Winnie has the excuse of being a dog.
When I began this column in 2012, internet comments were new to me. I remember being excited the first time I saw "Comments (1)" on the nujournal.com website. I clicked on it and was slightly bemused to find, "What a waste of pixels. Does this writer have a point?"
I had to admit the pixel line was funny. And I can only assume any readers who have hung in there now realize "Weeds" seldom has a point. In a world filled with writers who have copious points, I generally avoid them.
Years ago, I wrote a column for the Sleepy Eye paper. This was before the internet, and comments were not anonymous. The person giving the opinion was standing in front of me. Comments could be dangerous back then.
Once I got into an argument with a guy at the City Limits Bar. I think it was over some great issue of the day, like one of us sitting in the other's chair. It escalated, but I was sober enough to decline his offer to go fight outside. In a huff, he stomped off, yelling back over his shoulder, "Yeah, and your column sucks, too."
Well. I felt a reply welling up inside of me, something about being surprised that he could read. Out of a desire to keep my teeth, I suppressed that.
Ah, but it is not all darkness and despair in the world of comments. For you see, I have been blessed with a Fairy God-Commenter. No matter how much I get ripped, I can count on the kindly, nay saintly, GrandmaD to come to my defense. Someone might comment that, "This guy's a blathering idiot." Just when I'm feeling down, GrandmaD responds, "He's really not that bad."
Other times, a critic might write that, "This column doesn't make any sense." And GrandmaD replies, "I think what the writer meant to say was" and then proceeds to paint my thoughts in a positive light. Sometimes I read her rejoinder and say to myself, "Is that what I meant? Hey, I like that." GrandmaD has picked me up off the ground, dusted me off, and sent me back out to fight in the column wars several times.
Someone asked me if I know who GrandmaD is. I said that I don't. But I picture her as an ephemeral being, floating just off the ground, exuding iridescent light. Bless you, GrandmaD. And to paraphrase Jimmy Durante, "Good night, GrandmaD, wherever you are."