A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mick Billmeyer

Ok, let's be honest... who cares about stealing signs? Really.
It's not like it's a corked bat breaking and someone (Sammy Sosa) gets caught using it to get out of the deep slump he was in.
It's not like betting on your own team.
It's not like throwing your own team's games.
In fact, it's really boring. When guys like Brian Roberts wear contacts lens with extra power in them to get that much closer to seeing the movement of the ball out of the pitcher's hand or simply use video to learn to recognize a pitcher's motion to get the jump on the ball coming their way, there is still the need to put the ball in play.
It's not like a catcher gave opposing batters the pitches in advance during a meaningless series of All Star Game at bats to get back at the pitcher who tried to throw a broken bat at his head during an instance of roid rage.
It's simply stealing signs.
In Nascar, they say that if you're not cheating, you're not trying.
In baseball, unless you're Gaylord Perry throwing a spitball or dirty handed Kenny Rogers, you better not be cheating and doing anything to tarnish the sport.
So why get upset at the Phillies for stealing signs? It's not like the New York Giants didn't do it against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 with Herman Frank and his telescope stealing signs off of the opposing catcher so that Bobby Thompson would be in a better position to smack the Shot Heard Round the World.
Sure, they had binoculars going, but isn't that more stupid than anything? They did it in plane sight. Maybe that can take the edge off the rumors about the hidden cameras.
All in all, baseball is what it is... a game of advantages.
Why stress on anything more than that?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stephen Strasburg

I'm still trying to figure out how I didn't go to see this guy pitch in Harrisburg while he was still Triple A. Perhaps, there was the idea that they'd nurse him a little bit, but then they sent him to Syracuse and tonight, he rewarded fans by pitching a 6 inning no hitter before getting yanked from the game.
Maybe they were afraid that he would give up his first hit in the next inning. It seemed like the Senators were afraid of that when they yanked him after facing 16 batters in 5 innings and only letting a runner on who advanced via a passed ball.
But don't just ask me; ask Curt Schilling: "Since I'm 5 years old, I've played the game, love the game. I've never seen anything like this. ... Never. Nothing close. ... Not at that age, that polished. If he comes up to the big leagues -- which he will, in the next, probably, month, some period of time before the halfway point of the season -- he'll immediately, potentially be the best pitcher in the game. He's that polished.
"And I don't know him like a lot of guys that you judge from far away. I've heard nothing bad about the kid. He's got a great work ethic, he's got a pitcher's mind, because there's a lot of guys who get to the big leagues who throw 96 [mph] who never get people out. He's pitching smart, which is rare for a kid his age. He commands the baseball. At that level, that stuff to command the baseball, I've never seen anything like it."

The future of baseball is here. It's a great time to get in on the game now. With all of the young players building up a foundation of excellence, Strasburg's first game can't get here soon enough. I thank the good Lord for giving me the MLB Network to watch it when it happens.
And with the Nationals in 2nd place and 4 games above 500 past the first week of the season, this could be the start of something good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ken Griffey Jr.

They always said that the Kid played the game with class and a sense of fun, but frankly, I never really thought much of him. Maybe if I was a fan of the game when he and his father homered in the same game, but since I wasn't... yeah.
It seemed like it was such a big deal when he came across to the Reds in 2000, but it never was. He hit 40 homeruns the first year and trailed off every year after that except for a slight spike from 2005-2007.
Most of the time, he was injured.
Now, he's just washed up.
It was supposed to be a big deal when he came home to finish where he began. Seattle welcomed him with open arms. He rewarded them with 5 RBIs in 77 at bats. That said, it's hard to hit homeruns when you have a batting average that is points above the Mendoza Line. In addition, he decided that he would go for a nap in the clubhouse, and was unavailable to pinch hit when the Mariners needed him.
As a result, ne now faces the choice of retirement or to be released from Seattle, which really says something because the whole team not named Ichiro Suzuki has either lacked production or been injured too long to truly add up to anything, which really makes me glad that I didn't get Felix Hernandez in my draft this year.
Baseball's last great hope to cleanly climb up the ladder of career homeruns is all but done at 630 (but wait, there is another... THANK GOD for Albert Pujols). Somehow, this seems fitting in this transition year that we are in. Bring in the new. Build for the future. Will Faulkner was wrong. The past has past and it is dead.
How long until the Mariners fire sale? How long until Ichiro finds a new home? How long until King Felix gets sent to a contender and we find out if he's real or hype?
As the cold days of May keep getting cooler, we wait to see what good things that summer will bring.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dallas Braden

It sucks to be Alex Rodriguez today. Sure, he's moving up the homerun list, but it sucks to ask who someone is when you're trying to look really cool after being a lazy ass that just stomps over his base and then to have him end up pitching a perfect game less than 3 weeks later.
E-bay features a 2007 exquisite rookie silver that is bidding at cents under $50.00 with 5 hours to go and it's got a dozen bidders already.
People are taking notice.
Not my fantasy leagues. I grabbed him for the team that he wasn't on right after the game. These people just don't watch rookies. That said, whatever they're doing must be better than I am since I'm 9th and 3rd out of 10 teams... but it is 162 games.
That's 2 no hit games in the first 2 months by 2 young stars.
Speaking of no hitter pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez got robbed by his offense of being 6-0 as he only let up 1 run in 7 innings. It's not Pedro Martinez and Harvey Haddix unloved, but it sure feels like Randy Johnson squaring off against Jose Jimenez and losing 1 game to a no hitter and the other game to a 2 hitter. Prior to getting nailed for a ban substance, those were 2 of his 24 wins. On the flip side, he lost 44 times.
Now that's bad luck.
But Braden is young and has upside. I don't think it's nearly $100 worth of upside that the rookie card might go for when the auction is over, but it's still upside.
Who knows? Maybe he'll be more like Randy Johnson than Len Barker when it's all over, but whatever he ends up being, he's 1 of 19 people to throw a gem.
And that's something.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Robin Roberts

Imagine being a celebrity and going through life with cancer and trying your damnedest to beat it and all of a sudden, the Internet swells up with rumors that you're dead. I can't imagine the mortality that would be associated with cancer let along a false death rumor.
Mark Twain once summer it all up by saying, "stories about my death are premature," but for Robin Roberts, the Phillies pitcher from the 1950's, his life dd come to an end at age 83.
For a man with the benefit of being in a 4-man rotation, his 286 wins and 2357 strikeouts aren't that great of a total, but he did this for a largely lame Phillies team that was at most points lousy (including 107 losses in 1961) and at one stretch the Whiz Kids.
Despite being on a lousy set of teams, he finished his career with a 3.41 ERA.
In a week where famous deaths come in 3s, the Grim Reaper took Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell at 92. I was never a Tigers fan, so I can't say I have any memories of him. In fact, prior to his death, I had no reason to know who he was, but when he died, the MLB paid tribute to him and the rest of the country saw a man who was a legend in his market. I can only imagine that this was how Harry Kalas's death was received by the non-Philadelphia world.
Nevertheless, somewhere in there, Bob Uecker went to the hospital for heart surgery and made it out intact, a little bit worn out from the process, and ready to be again. Whether this is a person or whether it fulfills his goal of returning to the broadcast booth later this season, only time will tell, but we can be truly thankful that the fates and the skills of the surgeons gave him the opportunity to have another go around.
Life seems short and we all deal with mortality in our own different ways. Older men seem to get really quiet while they're watching friends and family shuffle off this mortal coil. Younger people seem to live in an invincible status as if time will never catch up with them. For me, I just notice the white hairs in the mirror and hope that in the downward slide that I'm going to be a silver fox or at least have the energy to do the things that I want to do. Having been fortunate enough to only have had a couple times where my health has been in question, I hope that my body makes it long enough to do the things that I want to do. I hope the same for my wife, my family, and my friends. I'm not ready to deal with death on any level up close and in person. In that, I'm a fairly lucky almost 39 year old. I lost a favorite teacher a few years ago and when I went to his funeral, it was the first one I had been to since 1989. When my grandmothers passed away, I was in England and unable to come home. I never knew my grandfathers, so I've avoided death save a few musicians, a few baseball players, and some historical figures that seemed shocking to think that they were dead, but all in all, it's not like I sat around mourning anyone for a long period of time. Frankly, Michael Jackson didn't mean anything to me, so I can't say that I took his death as anything.
The same can be said for my association with Robin Roberts. I never knew he might have been the best pitcher of the fifties. Never knew. I always thought it would be someone else, but at the end of the day, the eulogies came out. This isn't to disparage him. He was a Hall of Fame baseball great, but it's just that in history, we only have room to tell so many tales, which leads me to wonder what tale anyone will tell about me or those I love when the time comes.
To this, all that is left is the living. Anything else seems rather trivial.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

David Big Papi Ortiz

Ortiz likes it when you call him Big Papi. We like it when you hit like Big Papi. At one time, George Steinbrenner was irate that the Yankees didn't get him. However, since April 17th, Ortiz has hits in 4 games.
Since the season opened, he's sat out 8 times. Mind you, he's the designated hitter. It's not like he's even having to run back to the first sack to catch a ball from deep in the 3rd base hole.
In 67 at bats, he has 3 homeruns and 6 RBIs. Just because he hit his first homerun sooner than May 20th, the date of the blessed event last year, isn't a sign of welcome relief.
The man is earning $13million. When it comes to sitting out 8 days of 1/2 work (offense not defense), I'd be willing to bat .149 and do just that as well. However, this isn't kicking a man when he's down, and frankly, since 2006 ended, he's been digressing into failure more and more. It's a story of the pain of propping a man up when he can't perform, and frankly, at this point, I can't believe anyone would even claim him off of waivers. Nobody wants that salary without a guarantee. I can't even picture the Yankees signing him just because it would rile up Boston fans. In that, there's no point poking a wounded animal with a stick.
But the real issue here is this: Boston's choice of CURRENTLY UNDERPERFORMING replacement players over the last few years based on who is in their lineup today.

John Lackey - $18.7million gets you 2 wins and a 4.50 ERA on the beginning of a long term lease.
JD Drew - $14million puts incentive under Drew's sorry behind to get hot and hit 5 homeruns with a .258 average. Prior to that, he was under .200 for April. Nobody in Boston other than Theo wanted him, and now, we're stuck with him. He didn't pan out for St. Louis, Atlanta, or Los Angeles. After the Phillies fans pelted him with D cell batteries in his Philadelphia debut, they realized that they got the good end of the deal in not getting him (even if Pat Burrell largely was a bust caught looking).
Mike Lowell - $12.5million to be platooned and rescued after being unable to be traded due to failing a physical offsets his .317 average with 1 homerun in 41 at bats.
Josh Beckett - $12.1million for 1 win and a 6.31 ERA. Sure, he helped win a title for Boston and Florida, but we need him performing for the extension he just signed.
Jon Papelbon - $9.35million for an ERA that's just under 2, but he also has 2 losses in 1 month. That's scary.
Adrian Beltre - $9million for him to bat .323, which is good, but the 1 homerun and 13 RBIs isn't, which once again proves 2004 was a contract year mirage.
Bill Hall - $8.5million to be unidentifiable even if he was dancing naked on your front porch.
Daisuke Matsuzaka - $8.33million to find out the gyro ball is a myth and his WHIP makes every inning an adventure.
Victor Martinez - $7.7million for .242 and 1 homerun and a complete inability to throw out runners; thus, it forces Jason Varitek back behind the plate all too often AND he can't throw out runners either.
Marco Scutaro - $5.5million for Theo to believe that defense prevents runs, but batting in 7 runs with 2 homeruns isn't getting the job done.

These aren't even the in expensive replacement parts. In short, this is a team in decline that has no chance to win for a few years. Maybe they can throw money at Pujols, but they need a lot of things.
One is to finally get rid of Wakefield, Varitek, and Big Papi. The past is the past. Let them be bench coaches. Winning requires nurturing young talent now.
Look at what happened to the Orioles in the wake of propping up Cal Ripken's streak - since 1997's division championship, they're a 4th or 5th place failure - and it's not like they have Tampa Bay to kick around since they're in a win or rebuild year. Toronto is rebuilding young and improved. The Yankees are the Yankees.
And the Red Sox... they're holding onto dreams long since dead.
Too bad that they should have learned that sometimes, you have to step on (Nomar's) toes to do well. Too bad they haven't learned it with Ortiz.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Matt Parker and Trey Stone

In 2004, South Park had an episode entitled Up the Down Steroid. In it, Cartman faked that he was disabled to get in the Special Olympics under the assumption that he could win. Meanwhile, Jimmy was training really hard to compete, but he found that "there are shortcuts," and the rest of the episode was typical South Park mayhem. From parodies of roid rage to Timmy's pressure on Jimmy to do the right thing, the lesson was everything from a totally offensive Cartman acting developmentally disabled to sheer hatred for Giambi, Bonds, and McGwire to a lesson learned that the only way to compete is to compete fairly.
All the same, it's hard to believe that the message that was made out of 2 retired players and a hanger on would still have any resonance in today's terms. After all, Manny, Papi, and A-Roid seem to be more current to the talk of steroids in sports, but it's not all sports or pop culture that South Park does. Instead, there is the ability to lampoon things and give lessons in ways that are equally conservative and potty-mouthed DESPITE the fact that this season tends to focus more on KFC and video game ads than it does on anything else.
However, this week when Comedy Central refused to allow any comments to be made about Mohammed, which is actually the 2nd time this happened. So in a very real sense they caved in to the rights of the extremists themselves. Nobody stopped Matt and Trey from putting the fecal material on Jesus and Bush at the end of Cartoon Wars, which was done simply to show that they can mock Christianity and American ideals, but when it came to Islam, we had to fear the wrath of the extremists (not the mainstream believers themselves).
So what does this have to do with baseball, you might be asking.
As America's game, we're to represent everything that is right about America. Sometimes, we do that with Jackie Robinson stealing home. Sometimes, we do it with celebrations for records. Other times, we do it by wearing uniforms that honor the military, the police, and the firemen. Most times, we just rise for the playing of the National Anthem and taking off our caps. A very simple request really, but for some in the stands who call themselves Americans, it's a brief moment of discomfort that doesn't remember the sacrifices of those that have given all for the rights that we have.
All the same, we even make room for people not to stand for the anthem. Carlos Delgado refused to stand because of the Navy's use of Vieques for a bombing range, and while people disputed - even home fans at Shea! - he had the right, and people respected it.
But when America gives way for the rights of extremists to speak - be it radical religion like the Westboro Baptist Church and their "God Hates Fags" campaign at military funerals AND for extremists to make death threats and anti-American speeches under the liberty that America and not their country provide for them (or in the case of Westboro, that they wouldn't allow for all citizens to live in the way that they would want to), it seems absurd.
In a time when a car bomb almost goes off in Times Square, baseball doesn't seem as important as hoping that we have a real life Jack Bauer to clean up the bad guys and save the day.
At least that's what I think.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rickey Henderson

In 1979, Rickey Henderson came to the big leagues and despite a limited batting average of .274 and only a half season of at bats, he still stole 33 bases for that year. To put this into perspective, had he played in the National League, he would have made it to #12 on the leader board that year. In the American League, he tied for #7 despite being far behind Willie Wilson's lead of 83 thefts. Three full seasons later, he passed such notorious base robbers as Ty Cobb, Maury Wills, and Lou Brock's coveted 1974 record of 118 stolen bases in a season.
Had it not been for a pedestrian batting average and a cocaine habit, perhaps Vince Coleman could have caught the record. He did show promise in his first 3 seasons before imploding. Nevertheless, Rickey was never seriously challenged for the all time single season record.
Roughly 12 years into his career, on May 1st 1991, Rickey Henderson heaved second base into the air and declared his supremacy to the world. As Shaq's model at speaking in the first person, Rickey was all ego and all dedication to baseball. He was well on his way to becoming the greatest leadoff hitter in history and at the same point, he was well on his way to sticking around the game too long. Maybe it was to set the all time runs record. Maybe it was to accumulate 1406 stolen bases and to be that far above anyone else who could dare to surpass his record since let's be honest - nobody in today's game could keep up their current pace for 20 years and surpass him. Maybe it was because he wasn't talented enough to do anything else.
Maybe he just loved the game that much.
Whatever it was, Rickey was a hell of a player. From 1979-2003, he played for the Oakland A's, the Yankees, the Blue Jays, the Padres, the Angels, and eventually even made it back to the Big Apple to play for the Mets.
When you played his card in APBA, his numbers were sick. This was a man who could make a single into a triple. He did his 297 home runs including 2 seasons with 28 round trippers. There were 4 total seasons where he was over 20 home runs for the year when the number actually meant something.
He had an OBP that was incredible because of his plate discipline. Had it not been for Barry Bonds' cheating and ability to be hated, Rickey would have the all time walks record as well, but as homerun records go, tis better to walk Bonds than to let him pass the Babe and Hammerin' Hank.
So yeah... today or any annual day after this is the day to raise a glass and toast Rickey.
He was a great baseball star and the Hall of Fame knew it and he knew it, too.
But that's ok. Not everyone can steal that many bases in a year or a career.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fausto Carmona

I can remember the first time I saw Fausto Carmona. It was July 31, 2006, and I predicted to my friend Pete that David Ortiz would take his sorry self deep and in effect win the game. With a single swing of the bat, he did just that.
I was jubilant.
It's not like it takes a Nostradamus all hopped up on mescaline to see the future of that. Frankly, Carmona sucked in 2006. He wasn't cut out to be a reliever. In fact, he was so bad, he went 1-10 with a 5.42 ERA for the Indians that year.
The next year, he rebuilt himself for 1 year and came up with 19 wins and 8 losses and posting an ERA just over 3.00 for the year. Other than 4 bad games after June 1st, he was stellar and would have been a sub 3.00 guy.
However, the next 2 years were back to the same old same old, and he barely played and lost more than he won despite finishing 8-7 the next year.
So this year, he was 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA and I wondered if he refound his steroids connection, and immediately, I felt suckered into picking him up to replace a lackluster Ben Sheets on my fantasy team. Thus, it seems only obvious that Carmona responded by immediately pooping the bed by letting up 6 runs in the first 5 innings.
I guess it's to be expected. He's not that good and really offers no upside except for hope, and frankly, I shouldn't have been buying that Obama T-shirt, but that's fantasy baseball. Promise appears, and we buy in.
Ike Davis comes out of the gate like a beast, and I pick him up for both teams, and he rewards me by starting off the night 0-2. Hence, he's gone for Wade Leblanc - call it betting on the future. It can't be worse than betting on a guy who saw better days when George W. Bush was still in office.
I don't drop Joel Piniero because he has a sub 4.00 ERA and he lets up 9 runs. Welcome back, buddy! That's the Joel Piniero I knew was inside you. Good riddance! Now, I get to add Mike Pelfrey to my roster (guess my fellow teams don't follow rookies like this obsessive blogger!).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix

In the movie Signs, Joaquin Phoenix played Merrill Hess, the brother of Mel Gibson, which seems to be a double edged sword. On one hand, the man makes great movies. On the other hand, he can't manage a wife, he has serious problems with alcohol, and he's got some serious issues with balancing his religion with the world around him, but that aside, he does make great movies. Do you remember Jaguar Paw at the waterfall in Apocalypto? I know we can do without all of his subtle effeminiate villain / gay bashing in Braveheart and The Patriot, but those were some pretty good movies.
And it's not like Joaquin doesn't have his issues either. There was that whole failed rap career and the sense of looking like Matisyahu, but he was a great drunken Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and as a minor league homerun hitter with a propensity for whiffs, he was great in Signs (who can forget how he was told to swing away at that alien). Nothing like taking out some intergalactic rubbish in definitive style. After Will Smith in Independence Day, that's up there.
Nevertheless, in all of my dislike of Ryan Howard and his excessive gift contract (and after Donovan McNabb's ultra long contract from the Eagles, which was recently shipped to DC, it seems like a Philadelphia thing), I have to wonder just how bad a player can be with the almight forward K and backward K before they don't get rewarded.
To this, I give you Austin Jackson. He's batting .314 nearly a month into his rookie season. He's hit his first dinger and has 6 RBIs. It's not tremendous, but it's a start. In fact, in 86 at bats, he has 27 hits. The problem is that he has 32 strikeouts.
This is unacceptable, but seeing as another first full yearer (not technically a rookie), Cameron Maybin of the Marlins, has 29 mighty swings and misses, this is a trend that bears watching. Similarly, Jason Heyward has 25 strikeouts for 4 homeruns. Kyle Blanks also has 27 strikeouts, 2 homeruns, and a batting average south of Mendoza, which means that the pink slip man is getting ready to come a knockin'.
On a better note, Stephen Strasburg of the Harrisburg Senators has 23 strikeouts - except he's throwing them. He did this in 17.1 innings pitched compiling a .52 ERA in large part due to his 16 batter performance that only had 1 runner on base when the catcher screwed up holding a final strike. Since he's on the fast track to Washington, they decided to end his no hit bid to keep him on a pitch count. He should be throwing again Monday. I'll be begging the wife to go to that game. I want to be there for this future pitching ace.
Tim Lincecum, all 4-0 and 32 strikeouts in 27 innings goes into Philly for his 5th win of the season. Since the Phils don't really have it lately, it should be a good game. Besides, he's looking for revenge after that Pedro game last year.
So in the quest for great hitting, men will lay down their self respect and whiff, whiff, whiff. Barry Bonds was the greatest misser of of old. Who will it be for this generation?
So many choices...

Swing away, Merrill.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Albert Pujols

From the good folks at ESPN regarding Mighty Ryan's $125 million over 5 years (with a 6th year option to make it $138 million).

Albert Pujols, another power-hitting first baseman, is due for free agency following the 2011 season and as a three-time MVP is certain to warrant a bigger pact than the one Philly gave Howard. Whether this prices Pujols out of St. Louis or not is a story yet to be written, but if it takes $150-200 million to retain the game's best hitter, we have to think it could impact the other 23 spots on the Cardinals roster. We say 23 because Matt Holliday is inked long-term, too.

Howard's deal could also force the Milwaukee Brewers to trade Prince Fielder, who is considered a better all-around hitter than Howard, and is five years younger. GM Doug Melvin could field calls for Fielder this summer.

The consensus around baseball seems to be that the Phillies overpayed for Howard, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. thinks otherwise. "We're typically not a club that sets markets," Amaro said. "And I don't view this as a market-setting deal. But we feel like this is an equitable deal for both sides."

Keith Law: A bad deal for Philly?

"This is one of the worst extension of its kind -- it's an overpay in both years and dollars. Howard is one of the last guys in the middle of the lineup I'd give that kind of money, too. He's 30, has a bad body, is not a good defender, and has struggled to make contact versus lefties -- he's gone backwards in that area over the past couple of years. If you were locking him up through age 31, it's not so bad. How happy are if you're Albert Pujols? If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year."

Buster Olney: What is Howard worth on the open market?

"Here's one simple barometer on whether or not this was a good deal for the Phillies: If Philadelphia were to put Howard on the trade market today, with almost seven years and $164 million remaining on his deal, how many offers would they get? The answer, in all likelihood: Zero."

Now that I've got some big names agreeing with me on the over-ratedness of Ryan Howard, you might say it feels good to be me, but frankly, I don't know if I can feel good about this whole situation with Albert Pujols. The man needs to stay a Cardinal. I don't even want him on the Red Sox - it's just an unholy tossing of money at someone, and frankly, other than Los Angeles and Anaheim or a $300million a year Yankees team - shades of the Onion anyone? - who else can sign him? Who's capable of an outpouring of $200million over time. We've already seen what that albatros did to Texas with A-Rod draining them of life and winding up in New York all the same. The Mets can't rebuild at that price. Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana are too pricey and it's not like David Wright is going to be cheap. On top of that, they need 3 pitchers minimum.

And every time it seems like Phat Albert might be mortal, he goes the other way. Last night, it was a 3-4 performance with an RBI and a run, so he's batting .325 (Howard is 60 points less) with an OPS over 1.000 (Howard is under .800) AGAIN. This is mediocre for him. It's all just so natural. In addition, Pujols has 7 homeruns to Howard's 3 (RBI's are also 18-16 in favor of Pujols).

The only question is can he hit .400.

And while his whiffs are up this year 14 (the only category that Mighty Ryan is beating him in with 15), frankly, it has been cold and nasty, so once he gets in rhythm, the sky is the limit.

Let's just hope that it doesn't leave St. Louis out in the cold.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sara Tucholsky

It's amazing how some things can just make you feel great to be alive.
Sara Tucholsky was a senior in her final game as a softball player at the end of the 2008 season. Western Oregon was playing Central Washington State and Tucholsky hit her only home run, but in running to first, she missed the bag and when told to turn around, she injured her knee, immediately falling in pain.
Her team mates weren't allowed to run for her, let alone touch her, so the only logical option was the most illogical of all - the opponent's star home run hitter, Mallory Holtman, offered to carry her around the bases with the assistance of another opponent, Liz Wallace.
Today is the 2 year anniversary of that incident.
Often times, sports stars get publicized for the bad things that they do - going into the stands to fight the fans, chasing down the opponent with a baseball bat, sliding headfirst to not destroy the vials of cocaine in their back pockets... it's all too commonly all in a day's work.
But here it was different.
Here, it was the 2-run difference between Central Washington win or lose.
Yet here, it went yard and definitively created a moment that none of those players who were there will ever forget it.
And when I watch this, I can't help but well up with emotion. This is one of the greatest moments in baseball and one of the defining images of sportsmanship.
Maybe you've seen it on billboards or on ESPN.
If you haven't, you should watch it because it's what life is all about. In a world where so many people travel through their daily existence angry, hostile, frustrated or simply dead without being told that they're devoid of all life force, it's nice to know that Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace have class beyond their years.
I'd like to thank them for making me happy to be alive, which I do when I offer this out to students as a journal opportunity in my college English class.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chris Jakubauskas

We all know the power of a baseball to do damage. After all, Randy Johnson did obliterate a dove with his nasty fastball on March 24, 2001.
Many batters have been hit by pitches. Hughie Jennings, Don Baylor, and Craig Biggio made a career of it. Barry Bonds came to the plate clad in armor to protect himself from getting hit. In that, I still wonder who would want to plunk Bonds (nevertheless, I'm hoping Dallas Braden plunks A-Rod, but that's just me).
However, there's nothing scarier for a pitcher than being beaned in the head. While a shot to the groin might sound bad and hurt like hell, not being able to breed or worry about when sex is going to come might actually be a relief for most people, but the thought of a ball coming back at double the speed it came in at and leaving one a vegetable, now that's a different story altogether.
The Deadball era came to an end with Ray Chapman being killed by a Yankee.
Chris' career started off with an event that might see it ending before it truly began. On his fourth batter, he let up his second hit, which created two runs after he left.
Fortunately, he's only on the 15 day disabled list, and while there are no internal injuries or fractures, it's the feeling of will he always be afraid of the ball coming back at him like this. After all, this was his first game in the majors. His parents were there, and with 1 swing of Lance Berkman's bat, he might be done for good.
Not that it matters, but the Pirates might be hurt even more than that 20-0 shutout loss to the Brew Crew the other night, which was their worst shutout loss in their ENTIRE history. That's saying something.
So we here at this fine site hope for the best in physical and working condition for Mr. Jakubauskas.
It's the least we can do as fans of the game and the good things in life.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kevin Kennedy

There's never enough good things to say about sports.
I don't just say this because I watched The Blindside and actually liked it and Sandra Bullock's terrible southern accent. I mean I was literally moved by it, but that's not why I say this.
I don't say this because I'm impressed as all get out by Tim Lincecum and Nelson Cruz's ability to play a sport in 2010 or because a Mark McGwire home run in 2008 inspired me to be a teacher, but those things help.
I'm impressed by guys like former NBA star Kwame James and former Texas and Boston manager Kevin Kennedy who get up on the plane when some freak starts making terroristic threats and needs to be stopped.
James made his heroic actions nearly 10 years ago, and just a few weeks ago, he finally got his U.S. citizenship. This was almost denied because of issues with his work visa when he was cut from an NBA developmental team. However, Hillary Clinton stepped in and kept James afloat and on the path to his dreams. While I could go in depth on how so many people try to come to this country illegally and would just stay because it's what they want, James did it the right way - with a little help from high places - let's call it one hand washing the other. Now, he's an American and loving all that this country has to offer as an official citizen.
He truly has every reason in the world to "feel great."
Kennedy was a little different. He's always been an American, and he wasn't up against a deranged Al Qaeda type, but rather, a deranged man named Stanley Sheffield who was making very real threats. In these times, especially since Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to take down a plane with explosives in his whitey tighties, nobody is taking chances and for the good reason that anyone who has ever been to Ground Zero or to a field outside of Shanksville seems to know.
The words of Todd Beamer are more true now than ever: "Let's roll."
The same feeling that comes from the sports / street slang of Nike's "Just do it" commands the member to act now, to make it count, to stand up, to excel, to be great, and in the nature of doing it for the team (i.e. the country - as an actual country or just for a community of citizens and all that is holy and right with the world), make it count.
As John Wooden said, "when opportunity presents itself, it's too late to prepare."
We can all wonder what we would have done on the plane, but these 2 men and those other men and women who fought back against evil and tyranny while it was happening made it happen.
They saved the day.
I tip my hat to all that they are and all that they represent.
Some people look at sports only when they want to see thugs, greedy types, and cheaters.
These men are sportsmanship to me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fernando Tatis

Prior to Tatis' arrival with St. Louis, he played with the Rangers. I remember seeing him on highlight reels and thinking, "WOW!" when we got him. He was an up and coming third basemen, and he represented potential for the Cardinals at the time. In those years of the late 1990s, it was nice to see Walt Jocketty building a team that could go to the playoffs for McGwire and all of the other youngsters. There were so many good team players before they threw it all away with Juan Encarnacion and Preston Wilson. For those that don't remember, that was the year that they couldn't clinch the division and almost threw away their entire division lead at the end before they were finally handed the NL Central. At that point, they managed to win the Division Series and the NL Championship. Finally, they faced a hot Detroit team and beat them in 5 games due to being handed the 2006 World Series with crappy defense and some kind of crap on Kenny Rogers hand.
Anyway, in the early re-establishing of my love of baseball, we had guys like JD Drew when we still believed he was worth something. That's long since come to pass and Philadelphia Phillies fans everywhere are glad he didn't sign with them for other reasons than they get to chuck D cell batteries at him or boo him like he was Santa Claus.
We also had Fernando Vina, Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, and Little Mac - Joe McEwing. When Big Mac went down in 2001, we went and got Jack Clark and almost resurrected his career, but there was no resigning him.
Yeah... those were some pretty good times despite Ray Lankford striking out like he was a prototype for Ryan Howard, but that's neither here nor there. In the end, he retired from baseball as most of the once hopeful types do.
It happens.
But Tatis... the man was just a career waiting to happen, and despite it not truly materializing, he did have a memorable April 1999. His first 3 games featured home runs. This was Big Mac-esque. At the time, only Mark McGwire and Willie Mays did that and as one ESPN announcer at the time said, Tatis isn't anywhere close to them.
Then, on April 23rd, he came up twice in the 3rd inning. He did nothing in his first at bat, but in the 2nd at bat, he took Chan "the" Ho Park deep for a grand slam. What happened in his next at bat that inning makes no sense. He came up with the bases loaded again. Park was still in the game. How he wasn't sent to be hosed down by that point, nobody will ever now, but he was in the game, and he served up another juicy pitch that got into Tatis' wheelhouse and that one went bon voyage as well.
Two at bats. One game. Eight RBIs. Two Grandslams.
For the year, Tatis had 29 other homeruns than the 5 I mentioned above. He was a machine.
Then he fell by the wayside and came up on the Mitchell Report radar. In the meantime, he was out of baseball at 28. He came back and got lost again. In 2008, he was the comeback player of the year.
Yet for one night in 1999, he will always be a stat. He's one of 13 people to do it in a game. He's 1 of 1 to do it in the same inning.
For baseball history... that will always be something special.
Whether he'll continue to make it with the Mets in 2010... we can only wonder and hope.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nelson Cruz

So I’m thinking about my baseball jerseys and how ridiculously old they are. I’ve got a Mark McGwire jersey that I never wear (2 T-shirts that are destroyed as well, but I’ll wear them on vacation and sacrifice them to the baseball gods in a campfire), a Pedro Martinez Red Sox jersey (from 2000 – complete with permanent pizza stains – damn you drippy juices!), a Curt Schilling Red Sox jersey, a Big Papi jersey, and I also have Papelbon and Matsuzaka for the Sox (a Beckett T-shirt as well). I have a Cardinals no name jersey that I wear upon occasion to support Phat Albert and an Ichiro jersey as well, but in thinking about that, I realize I don’t have any truly new school baseball players, so I decided to start thinking about who my top 10 young players are. For the purpose of discussion, we’ll say 2004 or later so that I can include Joe Mauer and his .346 batting average.
So in listing 10, that would leave Tim Lincecum and Jason Heyward as an obvious second and third choice. After that, I’m going with Nelson Cruz. This guy is just sick. He’s got an OPS over 1.200. He’s also got 7 homeruns and 17 RBIs plus a .327 batting average. In addition, he’s already getting intentional walk respect. How can you argue with that? Of course, he plays in Texas – where everything is bigger. Apparently, anyone can hit in Texas, the key is doing so when you leave there.
On that note, former Texas Ranger and catching great Ivan Rodriguez is leading the national league in batting at nearly .450. Can you say, “what the hell?” Surely, he’ll come back down to Earth, won’t he? Or is this Ted Williams hitting .388 in 1957 with 1 good year, 1 all right year, and 1 terrible year left to play? God, wouldn’t that be a story if a guy who was pretty much left for dead could resuscitate himself – if not for the dogging rumors that would swirl about Rodriguez digging back into his ‘roids box that Canseco alleges him to have owned.
Past Cruz though, I would look at Dallas Braden as a potential up and comer on the list of great young pitchers. I can’t put him up with Lincecum and Jair Jurrjens YET, but if he throws a fastball at Alex Rodriguez after he trampled on his mound yesterday, then he will quickly move to Bob Gibson / Walter Johnson territory for me. That’s truly legendary and the stuff of myths by the way. That said, I don’t know if I want to put him on the list just yet. Guys like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Dan Uggla, Ryan Braun, and Hanley Ramirez are still more solid in the pecking order.
But all the same, with so many young Marlins, Devil Rays, and even a Red Sox 2nd chance replacement out there, I could be persuaded to go a lot of ways towards liking baseball as much in 2010 as I did in 2007 (1998, that’s a different story).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Peter Bruntnell

The thing about life is that we get too busy to do the things that we want to do, and sooner or later, everything just ends up getting sacrificed for the greater good. My spring semester is winding down to about 2 weeks of grad classes to take and about 3 weeks of classes to teach. That’s a good thing. Fortunately, there are no classes to take this summer, and I can focus on what I’m teaching (2 classes) and the grad assistantship program where I tutor people who need help. Other than that, it will be baseball, hiking, and time with my wife in little travels here and there. That’s a good thing.
To travel, as I said before, it’s all about the music, so I finally got around to finishing up the 2010 summer music CD. For the first time, it’s a 3CD set (instead of 1), and it features songs for myself and my wife. She’s more pop and dance and eighties. I’m more indie and classic rock. Somewhere in the middle, we meet. Thus, to construct this CD set, I had her in mind. The early tracks of the collection seemed a little “off” at first, but after some switching out and more positive vibes, I decided on the collection.

In the Desert Together
Disc 1
1. Tables and Chairs by Andrew Bird
2. Summerteeth by Wilco
3. Epistemology by M Ward
4. M79 by Vampire Weekend
5. Some Dreams by Steve Earle
6. Blue Moon Nights by John Fogerty
7. Pastime by The Baseball Project
8. I Don’t Know by Ryan Bingham
9. In a Big Country by Moe
10. Handle with Care by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
11. I Can Hear Music by She and Him
12. If Not for You by George Harrison
13. The Boy With the Arab Strap
14. How You Like Me Now by The Heavy
15. God Knows It’s True by Teenage Fanclub
16. The Heartbreak Rides by AC Newman
17. California Zephyr by Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard
18. May This Be Love by Jimi Hendrix
19. Who Loves the Sun by The Velvet Underground
20. When the Fool Becomes a King by Polyphonic Spree
Disc 2
1. Four Guys by The Beatles Chemistry
2. Encore by Danger Mouse
3. Empire State of Mind by Jay Z
4. California Love by Tupac
5. How Low by Ludacris
6. I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas
7. Poison (remix) by Bell Biv Devoe
8. Raspberry Beret by Prince
9. Opportunities by Pet Shop Boys
10. Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads
11. Pretty in Pink by Psychedelic Furs
12. Cradle of Love by Billy Idol
13. Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel
14. No Myth by Michael Penn
15. Come on Eileen by Badly Drawn Boy
16. Hey Soul Sister by Train
17. Soak up the Sun by Sheryl Crow
18. There She Goes by The La’s
19. Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae
Disc 3
1. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes by Paul Simon
2. Lie in Our Graves by Dave Matthews Band
3. Haven’t Met You Yet by Michael Buble
4. Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra
5. Until I Die by Ben Kweller
6. It’s the Weekend by Jason Lytle
7. Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon
8. Sure Shot by The Beastie Boys
9. Strange Apparation by Beck
10. By the Time My Head Gets to Phoenix by Peter Bruntnell
11. Do It All Over Again by Spiritualized
12. Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes
13. Sally Maclennane by The Pogues
14. Loch Lomond (live) by Runrig
15. Hoppipolla by Sigur Ros
16. Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
17. Tim McGraw by Taylor Swift
18. The Climb by Miley Cyrus
19. Brass in Pocket by The Pretenders
20. I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry + Andy Xiong

In keeping with the baseball theme, there is a trilogy of songs on the first disc, which comes through as previously stated with the 2 tracks from the Rookie (Steve Earle and John Fogerty) and the Baseball Project song, but on the final disc, there is an obscure gem that was discovered on some magazine CD collection long ago. In that song, “By the Time My Head Gets to Phoenix” by Peter Bruntnell, I can’t help but feeling for poor Ted Williams. Despite his not being mentioned in the song, the cryogenics company in Arizona, Alcor, is where the Kid’s head was battered and abused by staff long after it was deep frozen by his spaz of a son.
This was the final chapter of the Ted Williams book that I just finished by Leigh Montville. It’s a shame to see how the “American Hero” comes to be used for his autograph signing arm and to end up a prisoner in his own home after everything he did at Fenway and in Korea. For that, there’s a different connection to this song than just the send up on Jimmy Webb’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix, which leaves it somehow connected to the baseball diamond. One can only wonder what a British man would think about his song being connected to an American game that he never played, but regardless, it’s on here with all of the other tracks.
Other than that, it remains to be seen if these are the songs that will make the summer special, especially with new albums coming out by The Hold Steady, The New Pornograhers, and Band of Horses, but spring needs an anthem to show new life to all that participate in it. One can wonder where these songs will be when we’re driving above Lake Powell to try to get into the Wave for our late spring trip, or when we’re continuing the trip by driving to Zion National Park to take our chances on a permit to get into the Subway, but no matter whether we end up at these places or just take our luck with some different locations from Michael Kelsey’s Canyon Hiking Guide, a pornographic collection of travel material if there ever was one, I can assure you that the summer of 2010 will be one to remember.
There will be Philadelphia in less than 10 days, but will there be Boston for Salem, Concord, and the other surrounding haunts? There will be Ohio, but could there be a day trip to Washington D.C. in the mix as well? There are so many options that the world is truly my oyster, but even if the Red Sox can’t get it together, will great times.
How can there not be? I’ve got a promise of dueling tyrannosaurus rexes at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. Life is good.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Joe Mauer

It’s nice to think that with baseball, there’s never a feeling of having thugs rule the game. Oh, they’re there, but they aren’t our best players. Milton Bradley and Elijah Dukes don’t end up on all star teams. Sure, Albert Belle might have been a $65million Neanderthal in his day, but injuries quickly ended his career before it could do too much damage. As a result, it’s safe to say that short of Chase Utley’s propensity to drop F bombs during World Series celebrations, we’ve just got your run of the mill anti-social self important overpaid player jackasses dominating the game.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. These people exist in all aspects of life.
The NFL has class acts like Ben Roethlisberger, football’s version of Kobe Bryant, an accused rapist who seems to get away with it because it’s hard to prove if it’s violent sex or rape. One has to wonder how the medical staff examines a woman’s bits and says, “Yes, there is blood and damage down here, but maybe it was just heated ‘love-making’ session after a night of drinking in the club’s private room.”
And while the player’s union will probably try to fight it, at least Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, has decided that a 6-game suspension of the NFL’s player conduct code for whatever did or didn’t happen is a fair punishment. There’s always someone there to defend the thugs from their just desserts. I’m not saying that we should crucify Big Ben from the goalpost of Heinz Field, but I am saying that a message needs to be sent that drunken violent sex incidents in nightclubs won’t be tolerated from someone who should be a role model.
Nevertheless, in the end, we’ll never know what did or didn’t happen since the accuser decided to step back in the same way that things ended in Eagle, Colorado, a half decade ago. And for that, we might not be made aware of what position said woman put herself into in order to be with a star in much the same way that a hotel clerk did when she went up to hang out in Kobe’s room. It’s not like they were going to be talking about stamp collecting or how 24 is going to play out in this its final season. This is not to say that she was asking for it. Nobody asks for that, but at the same point, if I ever have a daughter, I’m going to be sure to tell her not to go to some drunken thug’s private room for coffee and conversation.
In this, I’m glad that baseball has fine ambassadors like Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer who represent everything right with the public image of the game. I don’t have to sit around and wait for a story to come out about them force breeding pit bulls when I’m not setting them on each for the purpose of a fight to the death. They’re just great people that give back to the community, to the hometown, and to the game. I like to think that someday, they’ll both be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as the greatest players at their position. If their current game is an indication, they probably will.
It definitely beats wondering if they’re trying to outdo Shawn Kemp with how many kids they’ve fathered in all of their travels around the country.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dexter Fowler

Did you see that catch that Fowler made last night to preserve Ubaldo Jimenez’s no hitter? Damn. There’s something about a sweet defensive play that preserves the integrity of a no hitter, no matter how many walks have been let up before that moment, that really says, “this is what it’s all about.”
Fowler was on my fantasy teams last year, and I originally had him on the team this year, but chose to move in a new direction rather early. I’m not saying he’s not a great hitter, but I had to start out quickly or risk getting caught in a nowhere bog quickly. Sadly, as I’m in 7th place with the Fightin’ Amish, it seems like I can give up a 162 game season early. However, with the Amish Paradise Green Dragons, I’m back in first again. I’m feeling the potential to dominate.
This shift happened today, but it could have happened yesterday if I left Jimenez on the active roster, but as I carry extra pitchers, I forgot to move him up for his game, and wham… a sub 1.00 WHIP, a 0.00 ERA, and more than a handful of whiffs didn’t come my way (nor did the win). Last year, I got lucky with Mark Buehrle’s perfection game, but this year… not so much.
Such is the life of a fantasy gamer.
Some days are good for baseball, and some days… not so much. Jair Jurrjens pitched another solid performance, but he didn’t get his first win of the season yet. However, thanks to Jason Heyward, the Braves won. That said, I don’t really feel for the Braves. I just like those 2 guys as far as players.
The Red Sox blew it again. It doesn’t seem to be news. Not drifting into 4th place will be a great accomplishment this season. Having a great defense has proven to be a craptastic strategy when the team has NO offense. Fortunately, it seems that Francona and Epstein (well, Theo at least) has given up on Big Papi. Someone had to pull the plug on the 2004 season, which is long since over. Sadly, it would be like keeping Ted Williams’ head on the team because he was once great. Let’s retire the number and start looking to trade the farmclub for Adrian Gonzalez.
It’s never too early to do anything drastic.
After all, it’s only a game, and in that, it’s time to play to win.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson
Ok, so let’s be honest… most of us have forgotten the contributions of Frank. He did win the Rookie of the Year Award in 1956. He also won the MVP in both leagues, the first player to do so, and won the second one after the Reds thought he was washed up with 33 homeruns and a .296 batting average in 1965. The next year, he “rebounded” by hitting 49 home runs, 122 RBIs, and .316 for a batting average. If that wasn’t enough, he scored 122 times as well. For a career of accomplishments, he went over 1.000 4 times when it came to OPS. Definitely, he was doing more than just hitting those 586 home runs.
Now that Alex Rodriguez has passed Mark McGwire on the all time home run list, Robinson is next to fall. By the end of May / early June, he will be over 600 home runs and looking to put Sammy Sosa in his rearview mirror. Someday in 2011 or early 2012 if age and more bad girlfriends or the memory of Madonna comes into play, he will pass Willie Mays on the all time list. Barring injuries, there’s really no stopping him from passing Barry Bonds either.
I’ve never liked Alex Rodriguez. It’s not his “good” looks. Frankly, I’m not impressed by his blue lips, but I guess I’m not a Hollywood starlet that has to worry about being impressed. It’s not his bitch slap of Bronson Arroyo in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. I hated the man long before then. I also don’t feel jilted that he didn’t sign with Boston. There was a point where I wanted it to happen to get over the speculation and just do it, but alas, the early shipping out of Nomar wasn’t to be (or the shipping in of Magglio Ordonez). Hell, that wouldn’t have had to happen since he stepped to third to allow Jeter to continue to play. All of the problems ever would have been solved by letting Texas eat most of his salary (as they did) and coming across to a big market to do poorly in the playoffs until he had to go up against wishy washy types like Joe Nathan in the 2009 ALDS. Let’s be honest. If my mom wore a Yankees jersey against Joe Nathan, she could fence a ball, too (and she’s 60).
It’s not really any of that.
Simply, it’s the air of pretentiousness that seems to exude from every pore of his body ever since the days in Seattle.
And maybe that’s the same reason that I never liked or cared to know the greatness of Frank Robinson. He has simply become a man with an enormous chip on his shoulder in all of the appearances that he’s been brought out for. I understand the struggling against racism. I understand the accomplishment of being the first African American manager (in both leagues). I know what he’s done for the game, and I appreciate that.
But that doesn’t mean that I have to like the man.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Terry Cashman

Music is truly the defining force in my life. It permeates into all of the things that I am and that I do. It would be safe to say that without it, I would be completely lost. I can remember that I would contemplate the songs that I wanted to hear during long nights of dorm guard duty in basic training. If I couldn’t have them now, I definitely wanted to catch up with them later.
Now, I find myself making mix CDs of the songs that I like and crafting them into moods, seasons, or various other aspects of my life. Currently, I find myself drafting the rough nature of a pair of CDs that will play for my time in the desert. So far, I find songs like Moe’s version of “In a Big Country,” Andrew Birds’ “Tables and Chairs,” and Dave Matthews’ “Lie in our Graves” joining to transition through many other songs by a variety of artists. Of course, I’ve found that some songs just don’t play well in the mood despite the artists needed to be represented in some capacity. John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” and M. Ward’s “Right in the Head” come to mind there.
No matter what ends up there, it will truly represent all things great and happy with spring. Baseball will find its way on there as well. Steve Earle’s “Some Things” and John Fogerty’s “Blue Moon Nights,” which were from the Rookie, and The Baseball Project’s “Past Time” are already guaranteed spots, but other than that, there aren’t really any songs that spring to life and represent the great game in a way that isn’t cliché (“Centerfield”) or just hokey.
The latter describes Terry Cashman’s elevator expression “Talkin’ Baseball,” which spoke nostalgically for the great game, but really didn’t carry over into the 21st century in the way that anyone would have hoped. It was a simpler tune for an era when card collecting became popular and people dug through the attics to find out if Mom threw away the shoeboxes or if the kids were going to get the college paid for. Now, it’s better known for the other version from the Simpsons (“Talkin’ Softball). Apparently, Cashman has various versions of the song for other teams and has even written a song about Manny Ramirez, but frankly, I can’t see how that would sell anything.
Thus, it’s about time that we have another milestone effort for baseball. If the Baseball Project is as close as we come, then I’ll take their take on baseball history and “super group” nature that brings R.E.M. and Young Fresh Fellows and that 80s jangly pop sound and run with it. As is, their songs for Curt Flood, Ted Williams, Harvey Haddix, and Jack McDowell are all great little pop nuggets that would work even without the baseball references.
Lou Reed really said it best about life being saved by rock and roll. It would just be nice if baseball was saved by the true spirit of rock and roll instead of perfectly timed advertisements that told people when to cheer on the home team (woo hoo!).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jackie Robinson

Today is the 63rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. Some people might wonder how something that never existed was ever so fiercely defended, but to do that, we must dig up the bones of Kennesaw Mountain Landis and ask them why he kept the game so lily white for so long. We must ask Charles Commiskey why he fought so hard to keep “Chief Tokohama” (Charlie Grant) out of baseball. We must go back to Ty Cobb and all of the other racists and agitators of the time to see why they feared an integrated baseball game. We need to go all the way back to handshake deals and Cap Anson refusing to play teams with black players on them. And still further back, we must look to the Walker brothers for their contributions to baseball as the only African American professional baseball players before Jackie Robinson ran from the Montreal fans that had love and not lynching on their minds after that beautiful finale to the 1946 season that saw them win 100 games and the International League Championship.
Jackie was a man among men. A person who became larger than life when he refused to fight back for three years, but still hit .297, .296, and then a staggering .342 in his 3rd year to lead the league in hitting. Over 10 years, he would hit .311 and while his homerun and stolen base totals look rather pedestrian against other Hall of Famers, we have to look beyond the numbers to the images of a man stealing home. We must see the spikes held up as they go into the second basemen’s leg, not to break up the double play, but to break up the spirit of a man. We must see the black cat walking on the field. We must hear the hateful taunts and chants. We must envision the petition to keep him off the team. We must feel the fate of a people on the back of a man who was crucified for daring to integrate a team.
Here was a man who wasn’t a T-shirt slogan. He wasn’t defended and airbrushed in the mainstream press. Here was a man who stood up to racism in the army, refusing to give up a seat to a white man. In that, he was expressing everything Rosa Parks did years before Claudette Colvin was to pregnant and single to do it. And while he couldn’t publicly stand as gigantic above the hateful prejudice of the white world as that 100-pound giant once did, he was laying down the foundation for Martin Luther King, who once so eloquently said that if it weren’t for Jackie, he couldn’t have ever did what he did in standing up to oppression in the cities of the American south during those years of the Civil Rights Movement.
Here was a man who died at 53. Here is a man who found the right wife, a woman whose tiny back deflected so many hateful words thrown at him. Here is a man who quit baseball after 10 years to change the world in other ways only to watch his son tragically die of drugs at age 24. Here is a man who faced the grilling of Branch Rickey to say the right things to get the chance when he finally got the chance to be great (no thanks to a bullshit tryout in Boston that was never going to be successful).
Here is the life of my hero, Jackie Robinson, a man that I respect beyond the simple words of just being a hero. Here is what it means to be an American, a man, a human being who will defend and inspire all of those people that come after him. So what if he gets labelled a hothead when he finally gets to be his own man in 1950. So what if his stats aren’t as enormous as some of the other players that have come along since him.
If not for him, there is no Bob Gibson, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Willie Mccovey, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Ferguson Jenkins, Joe Morgan, and Billy Williams in the Hall of Fame.
If not for him, we would never have known of Cool Papa Bell, Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Andy Cooper, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Mart Dihigo, Bill Foster, Rube Forster, Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Monte Irvin, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Effa Manley, Pop Lloyd, Biz Mackey, Bullet Rogan, Louis Santop, Hilton Smith, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Ben Taylor, Willie Wells, Smoky Joe Williams, and Joe Wilson to the veterans committee. Buck O’ Neil wouldn’t have been able to get their records memorialized and analyzed, and these men would be segregated from Cooperstown.
If not for him, would there be a Latino revolution in baseball? Would Hideo Nomo have been able to throw a no-hitter and would Ichiro have been able to accumulate so many hits? Would anyone care that the Houston Astros had no African Americans on their roster for the 2005 World Series? Would baseball be trying to find a way to bring baseball back to the inner city? Would baseball be the same?
So on this day that we celebrate the legacy of what it means to play with class, we should look to how Jackie Robinson stood up proud for the empowerment of his race and hope that it finds its way to the players of today, black and white and Latino and Asian, and hope that they get to be 1/100 of the person that Jackie was on that 1947 day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mariano Rivera

Entrance themes have become a part of baseball, and with that, some are definitely better than others. While many players opt for the masculine aggression or at least the masculine sense of woman I’m going to make you mine, it seems that in 2007, the Phillies soundbooth people changed his White Zombie and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Bootie.” Meyers sealed the deal on the save, but he was none too happy.
Had he been something more than a wife-beating also ran in the City of Brotherly Boos for Santa Claus, things might have been different. Had he been cool beyond belief, he could have gotten Voodoo Child like Hulk Hogan did when he came out to the ring in the late 90s (I once met a guy who had never heard the Hendrix original and thought it was simply Hulk Hogan’s entrance theme.) He had he been me, he would have argued for Modest Mouse’s Cowboy Dan, but since he was striving to be “the most dominant closer in the history of the game” (registered trademark), he could have got great entrance music like Enter Sandman had Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner not already taken it.
No disrespect to a younger Billy Wagner who was throwing 100mph heat consistently, but Joel Zumaya had more heat than him. Well, he did prior to the surgery. That said, they’re both becoming footnotes to a history of this game while Mariano Rivera continues to keep the Red Sox from getting too full of themselves and becoming dominant, which is a good thing if you’re a Boston fan because you’ve become conditioned to not being able to seal the deal.
Sometimes, it seems like forever ago that Boston had no chance of winning it all, and it seemed like that even in 2004 when they were down 3-0 with their backs against the wall and up in the 9th inning in that fateful game 4 against Mariano Rivera in the American League Championship Series. Everyone remembers the 9th inning because it was against Rivera, but it was also in the final stretch of the next game that they took out Rivera as well. Two blown saves in two nights, and the Red Sox were cruising to their first World Series victory since 1918.
And it was five years ago that the Red Sox got their rings with Rivera getting a standing ovation for his contributions to that magic moment.
All the same, the man who had been made invincible since he took over for John Wettland in 1997 despite one bad pitch to Sandy Alomar Jr. was stopped by a combination of gritty Red Sox who wanted it. All the same, it doesn’t seem like anything short of Bill Muellar and a pool accident can slow down Rivera. For what it’s worth, the over-rated sense of being a reliever hasn’t come into Rivera’s mind or dented his ability to throw a cut fastball, which if it’s truly that effective and scary, why isn’t every pitcher perfecting it?
It must be something about that inside feeling that takes away the ability to crowd the plate from even the most solid of batters. The way the bat explodes right above the part that the hitter grips and shatters its smallest part when it’s thrown well. Only the Red Sox and a couple of hitters have ever seemed to do well against him. Perhaps it’s fear. Perhaps it’s legend. Perhaps it’s that they players are showing way too much respect to a reliever.
All the same, I started drafting Yankees in fantasy with Rivera. I’ll take those saves, those strikeouts, and that ERA. I’ll take Jeter, too. It’s hard to root for them since I hate the Yankees in the way that I do, which I will admit has softened in marriage. It’s not the same feeling wearing the “Certified Yankee Hater” T-shirt, but it’s hard to root for them to win. I’d just like a couple hits and mopping up a meaningless win in Kansas City or Baltimore.
That said, it would be nice if my fantasy team would start coming together. We’re floating about half way, and once again, my batting average sucks. My pitchers are ok, but the batters… not so good. Fortunately, I didn’t draft David Ortiz like I did the first year I played four years ago. Albert Pujols and Tim Lincecum are great for number ones, but why does it feel like I’ll never stop being on suicide watch even in the first two weeks of the season?
It’s like my teams don’t have a chance to win when in fact they’re built to dominate. What is it about a meaningless fantasy game that can make a man do drastic things (like look forward to picking Yankees and former Yankees)? I just need to get over this and play for the long haul with Joe Mauer, Ichiro, Jason Heyward, Jon Pappelbon, Brian McCann, Chipper Jones, Miguel Tejada, Jair Jurrjens, Josh Beckett, Jon Lackey, and Mark Buehrle being left to their fully capable selves to resurrect this season from mediocrity and blandness.
Besides, nobody wins pennants in April and May (isn’t that right, Mr. Winfield).
That said, I must grudgingly offer respect to Rivera despite what happened at his pool, despite the over-rated nature of closers, and despite the fact that he is definitely not a handsome man. However, I just can’t get past the fact that he wears number 42. Only one man should wear that, and he is a legend, and for that, the number should be TRULY AND PERMANENTLY retired from baseball.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pete Rose

While Rose was born on April 14th, he had his first and 4,000th hit on April 13th. Between 1963 and 1984, a lot of great history occurred in the life of Charlie Hustle. Despite the fact that I never was a fan of the Phillies or the Big Red Machine, I must say that there is something about Rose, like other ostracized players, that stands out for me.
It’s not the fact that he lied about betting on his own team. It’s not the wild party years. It’s not the Wrestlemania years. It’s not the times at Cooperstown begging to be noticed. It’s not the fact that he claimed Attention Deficit Disorder and Oppositional Defiant behavior as being the roots of his problem, and it might be said that they were, but it really doesn’t matter if they were. What really means something is that here was a man who gave it all up on the diamond and showed how great he was. Now, he stands outside the gate due to his having potentially thrown games for his career.
In short, gambling on baseball and throwing games were nothing new. Ty Cobb, the man who he overtook as the greatest and most proficient hitter of all time on September 11, 1985, was a rabid scumbag of the highest order. Cobb’s only defense in throwing baseball games was that he didn’t go against his team. Cobb was also the most foul-mannered of people inciting racist venom, on and off-field attacks on hecklers and opposents, and one time, he may or may not have killed a mugger.
In comparison, all Rose did was hang out in disreputable places where steroids were sold and lost a lot of money on games.
This is not to say that the isn’t guilty. It’s more to say that his onfield legacy is a history of the sport and shouldn’t be washed clean from the history of the sport. Especially in a time where many of the greatest accomplishing athletes aren’t in the Hall of Fame and won’t be voted in (Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds), is it not time to recognize Rose and Shoeless Joe for the baseball that they’ve played? After all, we’re a nation of second chances. In baseball alone, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays both were banned from baseball due to doing publicity for a casino. They both were reinstituted in the game, and it must also be said that Willie Mays (and Willie Stargell) was supposedly providing amphetamines to players (the steroids of the day). Gaylord Perry was famous for using a spitball. And in one of those moments in baseball that we’re still having to deal with the effects of, Adrian Cap Anson instituted the gentleman’s agreement that kept African Americans out of baseball for 60 years.
All of them sit in the Hall of Fame now.
I’m not saying that Rose is a good guy, but he was a hell of a ball player for Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Montreal. We’re not asking if he is worthy of marrying your daughter or running your Fortune 500 Company. We’re talking about catching the ball, hitting the ball, throwing the ball, and running to first base. That’s it.
Surely, that has to mean something.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jack Morris

Back then, the Twins were a dynasty. A guy named Smoltz wanted to prove otherwise. He took the final game of the 1991 World Series into the 10th inning, but didn’t come back for the bottom of the inning when Jack Morris, a warhorse if ever there was an unsung hero, closed the gates on the Atlanta offense and again shut them out. Over the year, Morris won 18 games, but for all that greatness, he left the next year to win 21 games for a revamped Blue Jay team that wasn’t going to settle for being an also ran anymore. Prior to retiring with 254 wins, 2,478 strikeouts, and a 3.90 ERA, he had some heroics to perform on the game’s biggest stage.
In the end, Dan Gladden and Alejandro Pena provided all the offense that was needed and Minnesota was victorious. The Twins cities were getting a trophy and life was good.
But then, they fell by the wayside in the mid 1990s minus Kirby Puckett, and Bud Selig tried to contract them. The Yankees of course swooped in to take their superstar, Chuck Knoblauch, a second basemen with all the tools to be great. Somehow, he lost his ability to throw correctly, found steroids, and came up without a career.
It wasn’t a good period of time.
In the 2000s, the Twins rebuilt with some solidity in offense and a starting pitcher named Johann. Unfortunately, they had a reliever named Nathan and weren’t able to ever close the deal on anything. Even with a guy named Joe who the town just loved and another pair of guys named Justin and Michael who were also the bee’s knees, it just couldn’t completely click even if they seemed to be in the running every year.
But perhaps it was the dome stadium.
So this year, they got rid of it. Now, they’re playing in the fresh air and beating up on Boston. It doesn’t seem like it was much of a contest. Frickin’ Carl Pavano, the biggest (to the tune of $12million a year in those Yankees’ years) malingerer in professional sports shut down the offense, and Jon Lester let up enough runs that Boston couldn’t come back from behind. Now, they’re 6-2 while Boston slumps to 3-4. David Ortiz continues to stink up the room with his .136 batting average, 2 RBIs and no homeruns. Mike Lowell continues to ride the bench.
So in the great north of America, it’s a good day for sports. A lot to the east and a little bit to the south, Boston seems to have to wonder if they can overtake Tampa Bay for 2nd place this year.
Nevertheless, Joe Mauer seems worth every penny going for 3 for 5 and hitting .423 this year. There is definitely a new order in sports these days. This guy is a class act. If only he can stay healthy, he might end up making guys like Piazza and Bench seem rather pedestrian.
Only time will tell, but other than the New England side of the year, this could be a great year for baseball. After all, Albert Pujols is batting .407 with 5 homeruns and 14 RBIs.
Focus on the good things… focus on the good things (more Ryan Howard strikeouts, please).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Patricia Maris

Today is my wife Heather’s 35th birthday. We’ve known each other for just about 27 months, and we’ve been married for just about 8 months. I can’t imagine what she sees in me, and I often kid her that she must have lost a bet to end up with me. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier for whatever cosmic thing brought us together.
Mark Twain once wrote in Adam’s Diary: “After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. Blessed be the chestnut that brought us near together and taught me to know the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit!”
I think about how we began as two relatively shy people trying to get to know each other, and somehow, it just started to click and proceed into something really amazing in all of our time together. Now, I couldn’t imagine life without her and I look forward to all the things that we will be doing together in the immediate future (from dinner tonight to the Arizona / Utah border in about a month).
To say that we’ve done a lot of great stuff in our time together would be an understatement. We’ve been to Florida a couple of times, and at her suggestion, we spent our honeymoon amidst the mountains and waterfalls of West Virginia. Of course, we did dine in style and see a haunted insane asylum for her, but all in all, the years spent wandering around Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia, and New York to see the beauty of this area have been incredible.
Originally, she was from Ohio, but through a series of coincidences, she came to Pennsylvania to be involved in a relationship. Who was to know that it would be some guy that she would meet a year and half later on Match Dot Com? I’ve always been from this area of Pennsylvania although I was in the Air Force for a while and ended up stationed in England for the final 5 years of that time of my life. After it was over, I stayed for a little while, and came back to this country looking for meaning. At the time, baseball and literature provided a lot of it. Now, I look and see that baseball, history, education, and MY LIFE WITH MY WIFE summarize all that is good about this country.
In those things comes a lot of opportunity and beauty. Even in times of struggle, I like to think that it will all work out in the end. I like that I can be a better person and learn from my mistakes. I can learn from what other great people have and can offer to me. I like to give back and be awesome in what I do, and due in large part to Heather’s patience, generosity, beauty, intelligence, and commitment to excellence, I feel more grounded and focused for the long run. After all, we’ve got a house now! We’re thinking about kids. I can’t be screwing around all of the time.
I like to kid her that she’s Annie from Bull Durham, but it’s not that Susan Sarandon is the most charming of people. Some would even think that Annie had her issues; after all, she did end up devoted to Tim Robbins for the beginning of the season, but still, when Crash Davis needed someone, she was there. As the movie goes off into the sunset, they get to just be because Annie can do that, too.
The reality is she’s more of the Patricia Maris type. I can see her balancing out the unfiltered side of me in the same way Roger’s wife did for him during that 1961 season. I remember reading a story about how when he was ready to quit the pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record at the end of the season, she talked him back into the game during a brief time away from the ball field. In 1998, she ended up in the hospital for an irregular heartbeat after Mark McGwire closed in on her husband’s record, which was the only lasting fame that he had left in baseball after Ford Frick gave him an asterisk for not breaking the record in 154 games. After the Yankees’ fans determined that Maris was no Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle, Roger gradually averaged out in his career and was sent to St. Louis for the 1967 and 1968 seasons. He then retired with no Hall of Fame induction despite his homerun record and 2 MVP seasons (1960 being the other one).
In preserving her love and respect for her husband, she’s a truly American figure in all aspects of the literary phrasing. Behind every great man is an even better woman.
Nevertheless, behind this schlub is a really great woman who is making our house into a beautiful home this afternoon while I sit here blogging in the dead time of my job.
I only hope that I’ve done my best to deserve the great things that have come my way and I strive to continue to do my best for all of the amazing times to come because in the words of Dan Bern, “the best is yet to come.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Dennis Quaid

In life, I’m an English teacher at a community college in eastern Pennsylvania. I’ve been doing this for 6 years, and I love it. Don’t get me wrong; there are times that things in the profession drive me nuts, but it’s a dream that I’ve realized, and it has made me who I truly am. As this story plays out over the year, I’ll explain how much baseball has to do with that, but for now, let me just say that I don’t harbor any illusions that I would have made a good baseball player. When I was about 7 and I rooted for Dave Kingman, I might have, but frankly, I was never meant to be a Feelin’ 7-Up poster.
If I was to be anything else, I’d be a travel video producer, but that’s a Powerball win away, so for now, I’ll stick to my semicolons, noun clauses, thesis statements, and the intermingling of the Karate Kid into everything that I do.
In life, we all wish we were doing something else, but frankly, life is pretty good right here and right now. However, if the opportunity to work for the Travel Channel or National Geographic came to be, I would be out of here. In this, I like to think I’m a lot like Jim Morris was when he was teaching high school science in Big Lake, Texas. After an unlikely bet where he agreed to try out for a Major League team if his baseball team won a district championship, they came through and he went back to the baseball career that he had thought he gave up so long ago. As Morris would say years later, "I consider myself very lucky. God has a funny way of bringing some things around and knocking you in the head with the ultimate destination. Something I should have achieved quite easily took me a long time to get around to. It came in His time, not mine."
It wasn’t an easy road to get to the majors, but he made it and lasted two seasons before he retired. However, at 35, he came to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at a time when nobody would have ever seen them having a winning season let alone making it to the World Series. After 3 months in the minors, his 98-mile per hour fastball took him to Arlington where he faced Royce Clayton in his first appearance. Within 4 pitches, Clayton was down on strikes.
You may know the story. It’s from a Disney movie, which is a lot of what I seem to watch anymore. Mostly, I’m all about the Pixar movies. I just can’t focus on the negative stuff after a long day of work. I want for the good things in life, and I love watching stories about people who do well and do the right thing. For that, I love the Rookie.
Dennis Quaid does a damn good job portraying Morris for all of the truths and the watered down realities of the Disney movie, but it wouldn’t matter if it was Quaid, Kevin Costner, or Freddie Prinze Jr; it’s just a great story. Watching that movie over and over made me start buying specific baseball cards again. In my locked box of special cards, I have quite a few Morris cards, and they mean as much to me as a lot of the cards that are up in the attic from ages and ages hence. In most cases, they mean more.
Today, Quaid turned 56. I can’t say that he’s done a lot of good movies, although the Right Stuff was great, but he has done a lot of movies. He’s a survivor despite a stupid decision to not be faithful to Meg Ryan. I mean c’mon! Who the hell wouldn’t be faithful to America’s former sweetheart?
But yeah… life is full of weird roads and paths, and sometimes, we get chances to make up for the past and live life again in new roles that truly work. Sometimes, we’re Wyatt Earp. Sometimes, we’re trying to save our kid from the weather. Other times, we’re battling a shark in 3-D. And there are times when we’re playing second fiddle to a redheaded future train wreck who seemed to have the world at her feet before she discovered that cocaine is a hell of a drug.
In the end, life just is and we roll with it. That’s when Steve Earle plays and just makes life feel good.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtney

It’s hard to imagine that Hank Aaron could have imagined being the all-time homerun king in his days with the Indianapolis Clowns. However, when he became the last Negro Leagues player to hit the major leagues in 1954, his durability and intensity combined for a solid career that amounted to excellence beyond his 21 All Star Game appearances. Here was a man who has amassed 755 homeruns without using Winstrol, without popping greenies, and without the support of an American population that actively rooted against him with statements such as "Dear Nigger Henry, You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. ... Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. . My gun is watching your every black move."
It’s hard to imagine a world so divided in racial hatred in the year 2010. In a country where a mixed race man has become president, where hip hop rules the airwaves and affects the entire cultural and business mediums, and where people interact and marry whoever they want without a second thought from large majorities of the population, we have moved beyond color as a consideration for how we live our lives. This is not to say that stereotypes of all races don’t still exist. The ignorant cracker is still as commonplace as the ghetto thug, but gone are the days of racist culture as being accepted by the mainstream media (despite the popularity and increased value of lynching postcards, Little Black Sambo, and Song of the South on E-bay).
Even with the utter hatred for Barry Bonds that existed when he broke Aaron’s record on August 7, 2007, the people of San Francisco partied at the accomplishment of their “gruff” hero. And while there was a general festivity in the air at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on that night 36 years ago, there was no Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Unlike Bud Selig who distanced himself from Bonds’ “cheater” self, Kuhn had no reason to stay away other than a lack of appreciation for the celebration that comes from Major League milestones. Of course, the Orioles and Major League Baseball would rectify this September 6, 1995, and do their best to start bringing baseball back from the morass that it had placed itself in the previous year, but at that time, it seemed foreign.
Instead, the greatest part of that moment was when Hank casually trotted the bases with his hatred still seething at the pains that he had endured and suddenly, just like that, Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtney, two college students, ran out on the field and patted him on the back as they joined in part of his celebration run. Some people have referred to this as trespassing, but to a man, there was something about the solidarity of what they were doing that always made that homerun special. It wasn’t the call, the fireworks, the commercials that were made in homage to the instant, or even the magnificence of a long fly ball vanishing into some city’s night. It was the pure pleasure of America being able to be a part of a game that made it stand aside for me.
It almost didn’t turn out that way. Aaron was traveling with a bodyguard due to death threats like the one above, and nobody was taking any chances on anything. The bodyguard did draw a gun on the soon to be college students, but fortunately, Atlanta’s finest got the kids first and threw them in jail with a $100 fine and a charge of “Disorderly Conduct and Interfering with the Lawful Occupation of Another.” In the end, nobody was hurt, and years later, the boys got to meet Aaron in a way that wasn’t “get the hell away from me.”
Now, it’s all different, but back then, it was a different story. The steroids era hitters have largely come and gone, and with exception to what becomes of Alex Rodriguez in his quest for 763, we still wonder how it will look on that night in 2017 when the prima donna comes to bat against the current version of Al Downing and attempts to take down the record. Of course, Albert Pujols is at 368 moonshots into his career in 7 fewer years, so we can only hope that he will press forward quicker than A-Fraud. I’m sure the entire baseball community that doesn’t live and breathe “da Bronx” hopes the same thing. It’s safe to say that Hank Aaron won’t be watching, but I’m sure I will, and while I’m there, I’ll be saving up more spit and venom for my little blue-lipped friend and waiting for the day that baseball retains its sense of accomplishment that it experienced on that April night in 1974.
Until that time, I’ll keep pondering how the Red Sox are already phoning in their season and Albert Pujols has twice as many whiffs as Ryan Howard in 2010 (oh yeah, that’s right; it’s only 2 games into the season).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bob Uecker

In 1948, the Cleveland Indians won it all by defeating the Boston Braves 4 games to 2. It was a good year to be from the land under Lake Erie. However, since that time, it wasn’t that good for baseball. Sure, the 1990s saw a lot of good teams from northern Ohio, but the reality is that they weren’t good enough in 1995 and 1997, and for that, they dismantled their team, shipped out aging veterans, and gradually pinned hope and lost patience with rookies that either didn’t materialize or became too expensive to keep. As a result, there were good years for baseball; in that, 2007 stood out for being the year of the midges (gotta love those bugs, eh Joba?). Nevertheless, they just weren’t enough to seal the deal after mounting a 3 games to 1 lead over the Red Sox who eventually bulldozed over them to get to a World Series with a hot Colorado Rockies team that folded after a prolonged dormancy.
Nevertheless, it was in 1989 that the Indians retooled and became great. They hadn’t won a division series since 1954 and were suffering out the Curse of Rocky Colavito, a concept known only to people west of the Alleghenies and east of Toledo, and needed to get better quickly. It took the dastardly actions of a stripper trying to move the team to Miami to bring together Willie Mays Hayes, Ricky Vaughn, Roger Dorn, Jake Taylor, Eddie Harris, and Pedro Cerrano in an effort to beat up on a Yankees team that was led by Clue Heyward in bashing all opponents that stood in their way.
And once again, it seems like we live in an era of Yankees baseball that finds ways to make all things improbable come to life. Marco Scutaro screwed up a routine throw to first and proved that his defense will “truly” win games by putting another runner on base so that Hideki Okajima could blow his first decision in over 2 years when he walked home a runner in the 8th inning. No post sleep miracles and the Red Sox season is back to .500 as Andy Pettite and John Lackey take the mound for Game 3 while a now PG-13 rated David Ortiz lashes out to reporters that, "You guys wait 'til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What's up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That's a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me." However, tonight, he takes the bat to try to come out of the 2 game slump that has reporters wondering if his bat will wake up, if someone will find his real birth certificate, or if he will be exposed as a steroids mirage. This is baseball. All heroes (except Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, and Cal Ripken) are subject to being suspect to PED usage.
So if “Harry Doyle” could call this game, we might have a chance. Sure, it would take some convincing to make Mr. Baseball believe, but in the end Bob Uecker would cheer us on and inspire us with his mighty voice to be as great as he was. In 7 seasons, he did hit 14 homeruns in over 700 at bats and despite a batting average of .146 in his final year, a number that would be WELL BELOW the Mendoza Line, he did hit .200 for his career.
Nevertheless, not everyone is meant to be a baseball player forever. Take Marvelous Marv Throneberry who was so bad in 1962 and 1963 that he couldn’t even keep a place with the Mets. After getting 2 hits in his first 14 at bats of 1963, the Mets even ejected him into the cold streets of Flushing, New York, to find a new way of life. At least Uecker found the radio, and with that, he found the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. He also made it to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010 for his performance at Wrestlemania III, but those honors are just small potatoes when we compare them to what it means to be the “star” of the Major League movies. While not the greatest baseball films of all time, they still sum up what the game means in ways that are actually funny, which is not the same thing as Matt Leblanc playing 2nd fiddle to a monkey in Ed or whatever Angels in the Outfield is supposed to be.
No, here was a baseball movie that has truly stood the test of time even if Wesley Snipes served time. Here was a movie where President Palmer cut his teeth acting by playing a baseball player that believed in voodoo until Jobu couldn’t help him hit a curveball. Here was a movie where we stretched our imaginations to believe that Charlie Sheen was a convict, a womanizer, and a four-eyed relief pitcher extraordinaire. Here was the power of love for middle-aged couples lured into a date night flick with the promise that seeing Renee Russo and Tom Berenger rekindle their lost love would spurn bedroom antics for people that were too old to be contemplating breeding. Here was Corbin Bernsen as a star, which for those of us who were tuned out of American pop culture from 1989-1996, it still seems hard to believe despite what the Seinfeld reruns tell us.
But somehow, it came together and it worked. It really did, and it was a great movie – even after I’ve seen it 50 plus times (and I don’t even own it on DVD!). And for that, it is baseball history with players sporting haircuts that should have stayed in the eighties (and so their names will remain). And it should be preserved despite its stupidity, cheesiness, and mass dumb-downed audience appeal. In that, it works, and for all of these reasons, it will always mean more than Field of Dreams and the Natural put together.
Now, Randy Quaid and the rest of the pile of sludge that was Major League 2… that’s a completely different story.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jason Heyward

Enjoy it while it's here.

I admit it. I want in on the ground floor on this guy. I’m not there to the point where I’m paying $275 for a Bowman Chrome 2007 rookie card that is gem mint, but I want to say that I saw the laser shot he put out of the park yesterday and I felt the rush. Of course, he “only” went 2-5 in his debut, but the 3-run jack to open the game on his first at bat… “oh hell yeah!”
What better way to open a new season than to have new blood do something meaningful? Sure, he could end up being Super Joe Charboneau and end up selling for $1 on E-bay nearly 30 years after his only good season, but isn’t one memorable season something? Isn’t it worth it as Steve Stone said to destroy one’s arm with a lot of curveballs to go 25-7 in a season where he won the Cy Young award and to pitch for only part of 1 more sea son than to never have tasted greatness at all? All the same, "When you can throw the ball left-handed and get it over the plate with regularity, you're a very valuable commodity," former Cy Young winner Steve Stone said. That’s why I’m going to have a son and raise him to be a southpaw: left-handed situational relief pitcher. One season will always be in the record books – even if his 1972 rookie card is only asking $1-$2 on E-bay.
One has to wonder about the other 13 players selected before the big guy. As Matt Wieters already went pro last year and so did David Price, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt LaPorta, one can only wonder what the teams who didn’t draft him were thinking. Of course, these guys are all of about 20, so it’s not like we’re rushing to get them in baseball, but how many are floundering or having Tommy John Surgery? The reality is more than you would imagine. That said, how do we find and develop the rookies of today into the stars of tomorrow?
Hearing the tales of Heyward being “brought up right” seem sort of unsettling, but at the same time, it sure beats hearing stories of Elijah Dukes, another rookie with a potential upside and a Milton Bradley downside. Somewhere in his gifts, we heard more about his domestic abuse and threats to his school teacher wife – while she was teaching than we did his homeruns and baseball talent. In the end, he was released by the Nationals, a team so bad that we’d have to wonder if they would let almost anyone make the roster. After all, John Lannan is their opening day starter and it’s not like he shows a lifetime of promise – despite a sub 4.00 ERA last season. But there was no room at the inn for Dukes, a man whose verbal eloquence once stated, "Hey, dawg. It's on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain't even bulls-------. Your kids too, dawg. It don't even matter to me who is in the car with you. N-----, all I know is, n-----, when I see your m-----f------- a-- riding, dawg, it's on. As a matter of fact, I'm coming to your m-----f------ house” to his wife’s answering machine.
Love is a many splendored thing.
So despite the creepiness of telling me that another African American is eloquent and well-behaved, which is something we never hear about white athletes, I’m just taking this at face value to say that this guy is going to be another class act like Albert Pujols or Joe Mauer. He’s going to represent a sport with a dwindling fan base, especially in the inner city, in a way that carries it solidly into its next form, whatever that may be, and to become a great talent for many years to come. Maybe he’ll be the next Ken Griffy, minus the injuries. Maybe he’ll fizzle fast, but I hope not.
Quite simply, if the sky is the limit, I’m hoping that he could beat Alex Rodriguez’s all time homerun record, which I’m not ready to see come to be and to exist any longer than it has to, when that time does come. And yes… I’m accepting it, even if I don’t want to.