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#NPRreads: Senator In Prison, Pitchers Who Hit, Ice Cream, And Overwork

Fri, September 4, 2015 11:25am

Story by Joe Palca


NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you three items.

From Joe Palca, science correspondent:

I learned about this story when it showed up in my Facebook feed. I think I was drawn in by the headline: "The Senator Be Embezzling." I guess for many people the notion of being incarcerated is unthinkable, and Jeff Smith was one of those people until he actually was incarcerated. I was interested to hear his take on the experience, and I think he's a good writer.

"This is the story of what I learned — about my fellow prisoners, the guards and administrators, and the system in which we operated. It is a cautionary tale of friendship and betrayal. It is a story of how politics prepared me—and didn't — for prison, and how prison prepared me for life. But more broadly, it is a scathing indictment of a system that teaches prisoners to be better criminals instead of better citizens, and a prescription for how America can begin to decarcerate and harness the untapped potential of 2.2 million incarcerated people through programs that will transform offenders' lives, infuse our economy with entrepreneurial energy, increase public safety and save taxpayers billions by slashing sky-high recidivism rates."

From Priska Neely, a producer at Weekend All Things Considered:

David Wolman is an incredible storyteller (he recently profiled a man who solves murder cases by painstakingly analyzing pollen), so I'm always anxious to dive into whatever he writes. The Cold War, which he co-authored with Julian Smith, tells the story of two feuding ice cream vendors in Salem, Oregon. It unfolds like a war tale – starting at the height of the feud with "Operation Dessert Storm." One vendor is set up near a playground, when the warring faction approaches.

"Then the kids on the play structure heard something strange. Across the park, a second ice cream truck turned off of River Road and started heading their way. The vehicle moved at a brisk pace, not the typical crawl of an ice cream truck. What's more, its sound system blasted a repetitive, bubbly jingle, drowning out Joplin's ragtime classic.

"The interloper wasn't even a real ice cream truck. It was a 1997 Nissan Quest minivan, seafoam green, covered with neon ads for Bomb pops and Screwballs, and fronted by a shallow, stubby hood that made the whole thing look like a mechanical manatee in colorful disguise. Behind the wheel was a man who'd weathered more than his share of freezer burn and inane music: Efrain Escobar.

"Rick fumbled for his phone. "He's here!" Rick said. 'He's heading right for me!' "

The piece cuts back and forth between battles in the cold war and the backstory of how each vendor "arrived on the Salem ice cream scene." The story draws you in – with drama, complex characters and illustrations that keep you engaged all the way to "Bloody Sundae." I don't want to give away the ending, but things do eventually cool down. (Yay! Ice cream puns!)

As the summer comes to the close, it's a perfect, sweet tale.

From Miles Parks, an assistant producer with Here & Now:

Madison Bumgarner is in the midst of one of the best offensive seasons for a pitcher in the past 40 years. The San Francisco lefty has hit five home runs this season, and these aren't cheap shots. Just watch this bomb, hit off of arguably the most dominant pitcher of this generation. Bumgarner has been the center of one of my favorite Twitter hashtags: #pitcherswhorake, dedicated to guys who throw hard and swat dingers.

But to say the Giants' pitcher is an exception would be an understatement. In this article, Grantland's Jonah Keri explains that pitchers have steadily gotten worse at hitting since the designated-hitter rule took effect in the American League in 1973, culminating in last season's pathetic .122 combined batting average.

The hitting pitcher is dying and we're all worse for it.

"Forty-two years ago, as part of an effort to inject more offense into a sport that was coming off one of the lowest-scoring periods in its history, the American League implemented the designated-hitter rule. Rather than watching pitchers flail away at blazing fastballs and nasty breaking balls, the AL decided that each team could instead choose one hitter from its roster to bat in place of the pitcher. Ron Blomberg played a modest 461 games in the big leagues, but he'll always be remembered for becoming the first DH in MLB history, stepping to the plate on Opening Day of 1973 for the Yankees.

"At that moment, the number of pitchers who'd need to learn how to hit was immediately cut in half. It's no coincidence, then, that pitchers have grown progressively worse at hitting since Blomberg suited up for the Yankees. Since the advent of the DH, the best offensive season for pitchers was 1974 (the year after the DH began), when pitchers collectively hit .165/.208/.204. And nine of the 10 best offensive seasons for pitchers since '73 came in that first decade after the DH was introduced, because there were still plenty of batting-trained pitchers making it to the majors.

"As all the pre-DH stalwarts were eventually filtered out, though, things have gotten much worse. Seven of the 10 worst offensive seasons for pitchers since 1973 have come in the past decade. And the worst of those seasons came last year, when pitchers combined to "hit" a terrible .122/.153/.153."

From Kitty Eisele, a supervising senior editor at Morning Edition:

Stories like these reflect a kind of narrative the author says Americans are internalizing - around high-octane, high-reward jobs – in which only the truly talented, the "elect," can withstand the demands that reward their talents so richly. They show this through their drive and willingness to sacrifice everything for business. And this sets a bar for everyone that demands more than productivity from all of us who work. We're supposed to be infused by passion and indifferent to other claims on or priorities for our time and energy — things that make for rounded, well-lived lives.

"In a workplace that has co-opted the accouterments of romance and religion, where CEOs have visions and passionate managers are work martyrs, productivity is not the only aim. Passion, after all, has no concern for efficiency and martyrdom has never been about getting things done. Both have always been about expressing virtue and devotion. And people have long endured pains and trials to claim a valued self, with the belonging and expression it affords.

...

'Our conception of talent as a path to salvation and rapture in mobile labor markets makes more people embrace those cultures, anxious to prove that they are among the few to have the talent said to be so short. And those conceptions and cultures shape how we work, who we become, and the price we pay for it."

You wouldn't necessarily expect this language from a B-school professor. The author, Gianpiero Petriglieri, is associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, where he directs the Management Acceleration Program.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.