Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Like a Rolling Stone

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Gotham, June 1965

Bob Dylan, equipped with song lyrics from a short story he had written, walked into a New York City studio and recorded “Like a Rolling Stone”.  Forty-six years later, Rolling Stone magazine, partially named after the song (along with influences from The Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters’s song “Rollin’ Stone”) named Dylan’s masterpiece the greatest rock and roll song - ever.  Take umbrage with that ranking if you like, but “Like a Rolling Stone” must at least be on anyone’s short list of greatest tunes – this is undebatable. 

The metaphor-drenched song (classic Dylan) is about a woman of insulated, high society falling from her fragile perch and being forced to confront the real world and those of lesser means - people she once mocked and pacified with her loose change.  As things go awry, the profound loss of privilege is dramatically captured in Dylan’s iconic chorus where he, presumably a man of modest lineage, takes a hint of pleasure in asking, “How does it feel? To be without a home? Like a complete unknown? Like a rolling stone?”

That’s a theory, anyway.  No Dylan song can be completely understood, nor is there ever a singular meaning.  Nevertheless, it appears to be a timeless lesson on the thin line between the haves and haves nots and that karma will have its day with those not remaining mindful of how quickly the order can change. 

Gotham, May 2019

Fifty-four years after Dylan recorded his classic in New York City, the Washington Nationals left the Big Apple on May 23rd with an abysmal 19-31 record.  They had just been swept by the struggling Mets and were in fourth place in the NL East. 

The offseason and spring training – more insulated worlds - in no way predicted such a disaster.  The Nationals did lose Bryce Harper, but they added stud pitcher Patrick Corbin to an elite starting rotation, upgraded at catcher and compiled a versatile roster mixed with veterans and rising stars.  The bullpen was the apparent weakness, but there seemed to be adequate arms to bridge from the starters to proven closer Sean Doolittle. 

When the regular season – the judge and jury - arrived, the verdict was clear: the Nats stunk.  The team was plagued by cold bats, a leaky defense, injuries and bad luck.  And then there was the bullpen.  Other than Doolittle, it was jaw-dropping bad.  Chuck the remote bad.  The eighth inning, the frame where the pen was consistently grotesque, became a thing - first a trending hashtag, then a bad word, and finally, like Fight Club, something you didn’t speak of.

At 19-31, with no ability to hold late-game leads, the season looked lost.  Embattled manager Dave Martinez would surely be fired.  But more than that, an organizational reboot felt imminent.  Could Mike Rizzo, president of baseball operations, be out?  There was even talk of trading Anthony Rendon.  Do what???

But instead of franchise-altering firings and blockbuster trades, the Nats just started to win…and win…and win some more.  The bats got hot.  The lineup got healthy.  The defense tightened.  Rizzo made subtle, discount rack moves to cobble together a serviceable bullpen.  The result: the Nats recorded a post-23 May record of 74-38 to finish 93-69 and secure the top wildcard playoff position.      
We never found out if Dylan’s subject found her way.  Did she find a home?  Did she again become known?  Did she establish herself, gather some moss and cease to be a rolling stone?  We will soon know the outcome for the 2019 Nationals – perhaps by the time this story goes to press.  Will they win the wildcard game and move on to the NLDS?  The NLCS?  The World Series.  They say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (some John Lennon to accompany all this Bob Dylan).  Regardless, we know this left-for-dead baseball redemption project re-established itself and will play games in October, a preposterous thought in late-May.  It is an encouraging story for anyone struggling to find their way or who has had their fate left hanging in the balance by a Dylan song…metaphorically speaking, I hope.   

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