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, March 31, 2011

Curse of the Billy Goat

In 1958 and 1959, he was the MVP for the National League, but he still couldn’t keep the Cubs’ hopes for ending the Curse of the Billy Goat alive. During those 2 years, he averaged 46 home runs as a shortstop in a time before guys like Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Miguel Tejada, and Nomar Garciaparra were redefining a position that guys like Mario Mendoza had held down “effectively” in defensive capacities while hitting .215 and 4 home runs over a career that lasted from 1974-1982.
For that matter, from 1978-1996, the great Ozzie Smith who did hit a defining playoff home run where fans were allowed to go crazy afterward, had 7 seasons where he didn’t hit one home run, and other than his "slugging" year of 1983 when he hit 6 home runs, there was never another year like that as he never got more than half of this total. In aside, Smith should be glad that he didn't do that in 2001 when he would have been investigated for steroids. Of course, the Wizard could do summersaults and stop sharply hit grounders up the middle while channeling programming messages to future ESPN Baseball Tonight programmers that stated the importance of the “web gem,” but Ernie Banks was a guy who could do it all. He had personality, he had life, he had a hot bat that could drive in serious runs and hit for a more than respectable average, but he had no World Series rings.
Despite Banks having a total lack of October experience, he did have one thing other than the fact he made the All Star team for 10 of his seasons and hit 512 home runs over his career. That thing that made him stand apart in the history of baseball was a catch phrase: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”
And here we are at the start of the season and my two ballgames are the two fantasy teams that I will take to the finish line: the Ephrata Fighting Amish and the Amish Paradise Green Dragons.
All the same, neither is as memorable as the real game that will be taking place at Fenway Park for the first time since the Cubs lost the 1918 World Series to the Red Sox. In a game that someone had to win, much like the Rangers and the Giants in last year's World Series, the Red Sox, the dominate team of the 1910s, took the series from the Cubs and added another year to their championship drought, which had just moved to a decade since Merkle's Boner.
So will this be a sign that the Cubs are going to move past evicting some stinky farm animal and his uncouth owner who would have even dared to bring him into the park? Will this be the year that Steve Bartman's soul can rest in peace and he finally is forgiven for interfering with Moises Alou's catch in foul territory? Can he come back from his purgatory? Can the Cubs gather round all of their great players from the past and let them cry as the drought ends? Will the real live Ryne Sandberg get his opportunity to guide the team to the crown or will he be passed over yet again? Will fans make peace with Sammy Sosa's corked bat and steroids use enough to let him come back to a late 1990s love fest all over again? Can Rick Sutcliffe's pitching arm slap the new look Cubs on the back? Would Ron Santo walk back onto the field like he did before diabetes claimed his legs, and if he did, would he walk in with the ghosts of Mordecai "3 Fingers" Brown, Ed Reulbach, Tinker, Evers, Chance? Would they recognize Starlin Castro, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Geovany Soto, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukodome, and Alfonso Soriano?
Is this the year that Billy Williams gets to come back with Leon Durham, Greg Maddux, and Fergie Jenkins, the Cubs greats of the past, and speak about what could have been and be applauded for being there for the 102 years of sadness?
Can Harry Caray finally rest in peace?
When all is said and done, will Charlie Root bring his fastball and throw it at the effigy of Babe Ruth set to go on the bonfire at the center of all that is more than a century of sadness in Wrigleyville?
Not if the new look Red Sox have anything to do with it... but here's hoping from the heart of a baseball fan.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Joe Morgan and Jon Miller

I have to say - I hate Joe Morgan and his sidekick Jon Miller. Then again, each one is really the little Grover Dill sidekick to the other one, and if you're like me, you hope that Ralphie comes in and kicks both of their asses across Indiana's small town set and makes my Christmas Story wish complete.

That said, neither one is particularly bright, and yet, until this year, both were seasoned ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcers. For 21 years, we've had to hear Joe Morgan pretend to be intelligent (while actually just playing the voice of race) and Jon Miller feign being reasonably competent (while wearing some of the worst suits in history), but alas, they both just suck, and for what a website couldn't do... ESPN finally did.

Orel Hershiser is at least an articulate and fair voice of the game. Bobby Valentine played the game with passion and fire, and if nothing else, for one night in 1999, he made getting ejected into a comedic artwork as he came back to the dugout with a pair of sunglasses and a fake mustache. Baseball players have gotta do something when their fans are having to endure the drudgery of the Mets and the Blue Jays labor through the grueling schedule of interleague play.

But yes... for years, there wasn't much opportunity to watch baseball - until MLBTV came along and made that different. Sure, Fox has the game of the week - if your team is one of the first place teams or the perennial favorites. And sure, there are local team games, but I'm not a Phillies fan, so I can only handle baseball so long with them LET ALONE the Pirates. And while TBS used to be good for Braves games... uh, enough said.

The good news is we're free of them ONCE AND FOR ALL, which is a good thing unless we're going to Cooperstown and we have to see that Jon Miller is in the same place as guys like Harry Caray, Harry Kalas, Ernie Harwell, Bob Uecker, Vin Scully, Red Barber, and Mell Allen. He even gets to be in the Veterans Committee to decide future HOF inductees... talk about travesties.

But nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and all is better because he is going to vanish into obscurity - save that vote for or against the steroids guys that he cheered for so long - and isn't that the biggest kicker of them all? How long until Joe gets in that auxillary feature of the Hall of Fame (the Ford C Frick Award for writers and broadcasters) with him?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner is either Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. For me, it's Bull Durham. As I've said, I get the concept of Field of Dreams, but it's just not the same. For my birthday (August 26th), I'll review the movie that is me, but yeah... nobody feels that it's For Love of the Game, which isn't necessarily a bad movie. Instead, it's just formulaic saccharine that tastes good at the time, but we'll never pay for it on DVD (even at $6) to have it in our collection.
Is the issue John Travolta's wife as recurring love interest that is and isn't there, sometimes more, sometimes less important than baseball?
Is the issue a youthful Jena Malone, who just makes this whole thing too Gilmore Girls-esque?
Is it John C. Reilly in a role that isn't Walk Hard: Dewey Cox (now, that was a great movie)?
Is it the fact that we're going back to the same cow to milk it so many times in hopes that this one works too?
Is it the fact that we're in the midst of a perfect game and we know that it's going to happen (should have had Jim Joyce to come in for the final out... now that would have been a plot twist that nobody saw coming)?
Is it the fact that it's against the Yankees (and we get it... we hate them, too, but couldn't it be against the cellar dwellers of the division so we wonder if it's as legitimate as a perfect game by rain delay after 5 innings or against a team of schlubs where the pitcher decides to throw heat instead of calling the outfield in)?
Is the issue Costner himself (a once great actor deciding what to do with his career as he gets hired for name recognition instead of lead man status)?
Between westerns and sports movies, that's Costner's bag of tricks. At least he's not restorting to doing a movie on a Montana ranch where he teaches the workers to play baseball until the aliens come and he unites with some mysterious stranger with a laser shooting bracelet on his wrist in order to save the day (no, wait. other than the baseball, that's Harrison Ford).
But there is 2 hours of passable entertainment in the DVD, and if you haven't seen it before, and even if you have, it's not like you're going to ask for 2 hours of your life back. That said, it's not like you're going to feel like you've struck cinematic gold either.
You're just getting what you're getting. Baseball on the big screen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jesus Monterro

Like Bill O' Reilly, we're always looking out for you, and like his parent company, Fox News, we try to be fair and balanced, so if we say how A-Rod did something good one day (inviting a hero gal to a Yankees game), it's only fair that we mention that he owns a property company called Newport Property Ventures, and because of his inability to fix up the property has some property owners referring to him as a slumlord. So in the spirit of all things Yankees, let's take a look at the Evil Empire and see where they stack up for the year - other than A-Rod who may end up playing with Ricky Vaughn in the California Penal League. First things first, we should see their catcher who is literally older than the dinosaurs. Yes, Jorge Posada will still be catching because Jesus Monterro just wasn't ready to play in the majors - yet - is 39 years old. Looking at some of his other teammates from the Golden Age of Yankees on Fox as slobbered over by Jack Buck, they're not faring much better. Rivera is 41. Jeter is 36. Bernie, Tino, O' Neil, Pettite, Wells, Cone, Stanton, Knoblauch, Justice, Brosius, Spencer, and Nelson are retired. Jason Grimsley is a felon. Jose Canseco and his minimal time in pinstripes isn't far behind him. And that's it... really. There aren't many guys still playing, and there definitely aren't many guys who made up that team. Let's shore up who still is there... Bartolo Colon, who is conservatively weighing in at 185 (they must have given some of his extra girth in years past to CC, who is listed at 290), is there, but this isn't 2002), represents the Yankees' inability to tell time. Hence, Freddy Garcia, Mark Prior, Eric Chavez, and Andruw Jones are all hanging out on the team for opening day. Hell, other than Robinson Cano, there is NO new lifeblood on this team. For that, I'm thankful because I'd like to see the Yankees fall far out of contention quickly this year. An 11-19 start that is never recovered from would be nice. It's time to see some fair weather fans of da Bronx Bombers suffer endlessly that year. But that might just be me. That said, if Joba the Hutt (he of the midge attraction) can't find whatever made him special enough to get his own set of rules, there might only be Phil Hughes and his non-post season upside to spark a youth movement in New York. Imagine that... they'd have to go out and invest in all free agents to have a chance of winning. A second generation Steinbrenner do that? Whoda thunk it?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Alex Rodriguez

How 'bout them Butler Bulldogs?!!
But alas, since this isn't an NCAA basketball blog, we'll stick with the world of baseball and get right back to that.
There's pretty much not anything nice that we can say about Alex Rodriguez here, so if we have to say that we avoided him in YET ANOTHER fantasy draft, that's really not news, but to actually see him doing something nice - invite a 12-year old girl named Julianne Ramirez to a Yankee game because she rescued a 3-year old family friend by using CPR chest compressions - we have to look at the good things that a baseball player can do. Of course, there are other things a baseball player can do - get pissy when he and his movie star girlfriend are on camera in their Super Bowl sky booth or to come up positive for steroids and try to deny it and pass the blame - but alas, Rodriguez and his team killing salary (at least in the Rangers years) did something right this time, and since it's the only time we'll say it all year....
We'll say it.
And we'll take a look at who I did draft in the second of my fantasy drafts. I did draft Yankees, which as I said before is about the nature of this game - not my support for the Evil Empire. I ended up with Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner. Then again, I also got Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee again. They'll play alongside Nelson Cruz, Ichiro, and Buster Posey as well as Ryan Zimmerman, Jose Bautista, Dan Haren, and Andrew McCutchen (I've got him on both teams as I figure that he'll try to play his way out of Pittsburgh this July). Josh Johnson and Joakim Soria are also on the team, so we're primed and ready for action.
As is Colby Rasmus, who I had another trade request from the same guy who must either worship Rasmus as a god, or he must really know something.
All the same... I'm ready for Thursday and the start of the season.
Let the games begin!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Colby Rasmus

I'm really going to do it this year - not like last year when I quit in futility. This will be my fifth year taking part in fantasy leagues, which is as much of a commitment as this website is. It requires patience and dedication to a 162-game schedule. Attention issues aside, a good draft and no injuries will keep the fires stoked until September 28th. It requires serious "research" to do determine who is coming up in the world of rookies, and it requires getting rid of injured players so that statistics aren’t jeopardized. Many people will start, but few will finish. I'm living proof. Having a quick blast of energy at the beginning is essential to having a chance, but it’s not everything.
All in all, it’s as much a part of the game as the game itself, but it involves divorcing oneself from loyalties on the field. Where once I wouldn’t draft Yankees due to my hatred of the team, I have had four of them over the years (Rivera, Matsui, Gardner, and Jeter), which means that while I won’t be rooting for them, I’ll take their statistics in the same way that I will take other player’s great games.
This year, I started off with an option to get Robinson Cano, probably the best second baseman in the game, if I got pick 6 as the 6th picker; however, someone else grabbed him first, so I ended up with Roy Halladay and took the 7th pick (a league of 6 people - I didn't want to play with also rans more than I had to this year) of Joey Votto. All in all, I also got Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee, Joe Mauer, Dan Uggla, Michael Young, and Mike Stanton for a rather solid looking team.
Already, my competition wants Colby Rasmus - for Raul Ibanez of all people. Let's be honest... I may have a couple of Phillies on my team and be from PA, but a rapidly aging mid power outfielder in decline already... nah. Perhaps, he should have offered Jason Heyward, but that's most likely asking way too much.
Granted, Rasmus has an upside... 23 homers and .276 batting average with 12 steals, and 148 whiffs, BUT he hates Tony Larussa, and that says a lot to me. Sure, he wanted off the team last year and Phat Albert thought he should have been jettisoned, but considered that Ryan Ludwick had already left for San Diego (dumb, dumb, dumb), Colby wasn't moving. And if he moves this year, he may have a bounce year in a non-Larussa burg. And if he doesn't, he could get even better than he already is. After all, he's only 2 years in the bigs...
So in the words of Hayden Panettiere, “bring it on. It’s all or nothing.”
Let the fantasy season begin!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reggie Jackson

At 6 foot 2, Babe Ruth's 250 pound "official" final weight made him the original Big Sluggi (in contrast, David Ortiz is listed at 6 foot 4 and 230 - an estimate that seems rather kind - all things considered). When "The Sultan of Swat" launched his final 3 home runs, he was too sluggish to chug around the bases, but he still gave the crowd 3 more moonshots to remember him by. They weren't his most famous home runs - the one that he called (or didn't, depending on who is asked, and history supposedly vindicates) stands as that, and while I tend to side with a pitcher who was willing to admit to having a hankering for drilling any player who would do such a thing (Charlie Root), baseball legend is gold - just ask Abner Doubleday.
And Yankee lore is all about famous home runs. Reggie Jackson swung at 3 pitches on the night of October 18, 1977 when he made Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough wish that they never dared to come to the Bronx. Three at bats. Three swings. Three long fly balls into the stands. Gotham was in pandemonium and all was celebration. The straw that stirred the drink had done it and proved to the world that it was he and not Thurmon Munson, then Yankee Captain, who was running the show with a little help from all of the clout that a 5 year $3 million contract (when that meant something - not this inflated era of just above league minimum pay).
But Jackson was what it meant to be in New York, leaving Oakland to come to the Bronx, he made his name over a half of a decade before moving on to California and back to Oakland to finish up his show with 563 jacks and 2597 strikeouts (in this, I'm sure he's hoping that Jim Thome gets 2 more full seasons). That said, strikeouts must be OK in the Big Apple. After all, Alex Rodriguez quietly has 1836 at age 34.
But all things considered, there is only one home run that has ever been hit in the house that Ruth Built (by a Yankee) that really moves me (the Pine Tar incident not withstanding):
Chris Chambliss - The Game 5 1976 walk off home run that ends with Yankee Stadium emptying onto the field so that Chambliss has to shove the fans out of his way.
Granted, I'm a Yankee hater, and I was a Brett fan. Had it not been for that home run, the Royals would have taken the game to extra innings on the strength of Brett's homer. However, the Yankees went to the World Series for the first time since the Maris era, and Steinbrenner had arrived as the owner he was to become.
In this, part of the game is loving the game and seeing its finest moments. Since this happened when I was 5, it wasn't like watching Aaron Boone. Hell, I feel nothing with Bucky Dent - I was 7 at the time and didn't follow baseball, but to lose the game now - to Jeter, A-Rod, or Cano... I'd feel that blast.
Chambliss was a thing of beauty - a more riotous version of Hank Aaron's finest blast without the feeling of "get the hell away from me you sons of bitches."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bob Gibson

There's something about watching a pitcher dominate a game that really says what a baseball game can be. I can still remember Pedro Martinez coming in to Baltimore in May of 2000 and annihilating the Orioles in a 15 strikeout 2 hit masterpiece complete game shutout (this became Bill Simmon's "Pedro and the Pantheon" in the book Now I can Die in Peace). The Orioles fans were gone, and Pedro was on mop up duty for that one. However, Pedro's best game was his perfect game that wasn't - June 3, 1995. He was still an Expo (and there still were Expos in baseball at the time). He made it 9 innings and 1 batter into the 10th, he let up a hit. Like Harvey Haddix, he was betrayed by an equally great opponent (Joey Hamilton, who let up 3 hits). However, his Expos won. Haddix's Pirates... not so much. Lew Burdette went 13 innings of shutout ball (and 12 hits, no walks) to win a shutout while Haddix let up 1 hit and 1 walk - enough to lose the greatest game ever pitched (registered trademark).
Larry Walker, an Expo at the time, said it best about Pedro...
"You just don't expect a guy weighing ninety-seven pounds to throw ninety-nine miles an hour. He's just very aggressive. I never really watched Bob Gibson pitch, but I get the feeling he's like a Gibson. If he has to throw one under your chin, he'll do it."
And Pedro was a man who owned the plate in the same way as Gibson did. My favorite Pedro moments involve him riling up his opponents. I still contend Don Zimmer got what he asked for. However, the fight with Jorge Posada... classic Pedro. But the best Pedro was starting a game off on August 29, 2000, by smashing a ball into Gerald Williams' hand. Williams got PO'ed and came after Pedro and wailed on him, but for all the anger that he had, the Devil Rays imploded for 8 full innings until God intervened and brought the no hitter (save the hit on Williams' hand) to an end after Pedro's cross necklace broke and he let up a double.
Gibson was much the same way. He owned those 17 inches. Roger Angell said that he was the most formidable and scary pitcher of all time when he spoke about Gibson for Ken Burns' Baseball. He once hit his former room mate high on the chest to show him that they weren't on the same team anymore. In 1968, he had a 1.12 ERA, but somehow went 22 and 9. How a man can do both of those things boggles the mind (save the Cardinals offense). In 1967, he won the World Series on the strength of a home run that he hit - finishing the World Series 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA. The man was a machine and a class act all around.
Summarizing what baseball meant, a pitcher has to get batters off his plate. Be it Pedro, the Big Unit, Bob Gibson, or Sal "The Barber" Maglie. As the Baseball Project sings... "high and inside."
In a game where Barry Bonds could wear tank armor on his arms in getting all of the advantage for home runs, we need something to take the edge away from hitters...
A little chin music will do nicely.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ichiro Suzuki

In honor of the Baseball Project's Volume 2, the rest of this week is dedicated to the subjects of their songs, and for today, that subject is Ichiro Suzuki, who has been referred to as a $17million singles hitter, but that's not really all that he is. While he isn't the only Ichiro in the world of ESPN (Ichiro Chiba also pops up), but he is a 1-word name and a 10 year dominant force in the MLB.
From 1993 to 2000, he had 1,278 hits and batted well over .300 every year except his first year, which was limited to only 64 at bats. His high water mark was .387 in his walk year, and he even hit 25 home runs in one of his Japanese seasons. Like Ty Cobb who preferred the game of "small ball," Ichiro proved that he could hit home runs if he wanted to by hitting 15 in 2005, but for the most part, his game is about getting on base via the baseball bat (he's only walked 457 times in 10 American seasons, and only once did he have the patience to get 60+ walks). However, Pete Rose summed it up by saying that Ichiro is "the luckiest man ever to get that many infield hits." Rose then relegated Japanese ball to saying that "it's basically Triple-A ball."
Not hitting a country when it's down, but Japanese players have long known that to truly make their name, they have to be imports, and so they come to this country to be great. And when they do, their fans don't discard them, but they only love them more, which was shown in the battles between Ichiro and Godzilla (Hideki Matsui).
And for his country's love and his prolific rate of hits (5 more than George Sisler's former record from 1920 - 262 in 2004). In fact, 5 of his 10 US seasons are in the top 100 on Baseball Almanac. However, he's never hit .400 and unless he gets more patient, he won't either (the season that he smashed Sisler's record, he hit .372, which is still well beneath where he needed to be - mostly because he only had 49 walks. Sisler hit .407 in 70 less at bats with roughly the same amount of walks). That said, he's not even much of a doubles hitter, and while he can hit triples, those have declined as well. What he is is a solid get on base guy. When he's there, his rate of steals is 383 to 88 on successful versus caught stealing (roughly 4 to 1).
He's a hell of a glove man, too, but what he really is would be the level of success that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers. In short, Ichiro is 10,000 hours of practice, which is the level of practice that it takes to be great (not just good) at something. We hear about this in Ken Burns' The 10th Inning, and we've heard about it in many stories about Ichiro. Despite being the second son, he was named "The First Son" and he went on to follow in his father's dreams of baseball with a tiny bat at age 3. By his early days that would be equivalent to little league, he was hitting for 4 hours a day. A natural right hander, he learned to hit left handed to get an extra step out of the batter's box to move down to first base. Call it lucky or just call it another outlier. Like height for a basketball player and like birth day for getting into school and league, Ichiro was able to do something that many of us only dream 0f - standing in the batter's box and making it count.
And while he's never been to the World Series and he probably won't with Seattle's current team, he is an all star fixture. The last time that Seattle had a team, he was their MVP (2001). Oh yeah... he was the Rookie of the Year that season, too.
And if he's "just" a single's hitter, it should be noted that he twice led the league in INTENTIONAL base on balls.
So if Ichiro goes to the moon as the Baseball Project sing, don't you want to be there to see it happen? I know that I do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christy Mathewson

In 1986, America got sick of Khadaffy and his antics, which stapled him in blame to the German disco bombing that wounded over 200 people while killing 2 Americans and a Turkish woman. Ronald Reagan ended weeks of debate with the decision to level Libya for their actions and came within minutes of ending the Colonel once and for all in an action that came to be called El Dorado Canyon. Unfortunately, Air Force troops Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci and Paul F. Lorence were killed when their plane was shot down in the attack.
Two years later, Libya was back in action when Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi began his actions that got him convicted for killing over 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing that took a jumbo jet right out of the sky. Two years ago, the British people gave him up. What Obama did or did not know aside, al-Megrahi went on to live his life free and suddenly not as terminal in the state of his cancer, but as the bombings of Libya began, we came to understand that he was apparently fingering Khadaffy for green lighting the terrorist attack.
Today, another American plane has crashed in Libya, and it's hard to think about baseball when the world is so confused and torn, so instead, I dedicate this post to the memories of Americans who have served and done what they had to do. And since this is baseball, I choose to focus on some of the baseball players who gave their lives and careers to the military.
Obviously, there was Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, and Joe Dimaggio, but there was Stan Musial and Monte Irvin. These were guys who went because they felt compelled to. They were men who were forced by circumstances to go. They were men who felt solidarity with fighting the Anti-Semitism of the time, at home and abroad.
But in World War 1, the most famous American baseball player to die was Eddie Grant of the Reds. Most American players worked in essential services when the league shut down, but some trained for future combat. These were men like Ty Cobb, Branch Rickey, and Christy Mathewson. In a training session for preparation for the chemical warfare attacks that were all too commonplace in the European theater, Christy inhaled poisonous mustard gas and he was never the same. The feeling of sputtering and coughing as his lungs inhaled the brutal mixture ended the career of one of the greatest pitchers that the game EVER saw.
And for that loss... just like Bob Feller and Ted Williams' stats that never happened... what are they really? They're the same sacrifices that many men have made and never heard about in the same way because they couldn't throw a fast ball or hit a home run.
To this, Bob Feller said it best:
"Baseball is only a game, a game of inches and a lot of luck. During a time of all-out war, sports are very insignificant. Life comes down to honesty and doing what's right. That's what's most important. Our Constitution is more important than baseball."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kirby Puckett

Spring has sprung. Life is good.
The Hold Steady have always been an incredible band. Sometimes, you'll hear them referred to as the best bar band in America. Last year's Heaven is Wherever was a fantastic CD that was even better than the previous effort Stay Positive, which was on constant rotation as were their previous album Almost Killed Me. Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America were really good, too. "Hurricane J" "Barely Breathing," and "The Weekenders" stood out on one of the best discs of the year or any year in ways that would make "Killer Parties," "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," and "Stuck Between Stations" proud.
This month, their lead singer Craig Finn is back with the Baseball Project, a combination of artists from a lot of 1980s alternative bands like Steve Wynn, Scott McGaughy, Peter Buck, and Linda Pittmon. Six songs into the disc (Volume 2: High and Inside) and his song "Don't Call Them Twinkies" not only stands out as the best song on the album, but it stands as one of the best tunes of the year.
Like most songs that he sings, he gets all home state proud for teams he never knew personally (the Harmon Killebrew era) to the modern team with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau via the Kirby Puckett era and that great Jack Morris game 7 (we'll be saving that for another day).
In 12 years, Puckett did a lot to earn his reputation that took him to Cooperstown. He batted .318 and led his team to World Series victories in 1987 (against St. Louis) and 1991 (against Atlanta). He was a home run hitter when he needed to be and solid at the bat at all times. He was beloved to the point where he was mourned for both contracting glaucoma (a disease he went on to fight in charitable ways) and in early death as an enlarged version of his once athletic frame. Somewhere in between, he was charged with sexual assault and it was hard for Twins Nation to see him in that way and to see him as the great baseball player that he was.
So we never remember him for the other history - even if Sports Illustrated covered it thoroughly.
And that's probably for the best. Who wants to think of our heroes as womanizing and abusive scum on the outside? It's better to see them for the fact that they can hit game and World Series saving home runs in game 6 of 1991. And he did it in extra innings to prevent the complete 180 degree turn around that was the 1991 Braves dynasty ignition.
And for the fact that Finn can sing memories that bring us back to the good ol' days of a team that was almost removed from the league altogether in the 1990s (but not before New York could extract Chuck Knoblauch and his soon to be unreliable arm from them), we have something really good.
Sitting 4 songs into a CD that features several songs about the Red Sox, the Giants, Ichiro, Pete Rose, and Reggie Jackson, you'll find "Don't Call Them Twinkies." Pick it up, download it, and enjoy it as the final days before the baseball season begins.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bob Stanley


Watching Butler kick Pitt's ass... OK... maybe that's a little bit extreme, but watching the defending NCAA men's runner up beat the heavily favored Pitt team (an 8 seed beating on a 1 seed) was beautiful, and roughly 10 times in the last 2 minutes, I realized that basketball isn't football when it comes to winding down the clock.
Sure, there's all of those stupid fouls that put the team that is ahead on the line to EARN their shots (whatever that means), but there's a sense that a team has to do something and can't just play handball until their shot clock ends in the same way that a football team can loaf around for a minute or so when they want to spike a ball on the field and walk off in an uncontested win (provided there are no time outs by the losing team to stop the clock). In this, football may be to some people the greatest sport in America, but to me, it's nothing.
Look at the last seconds of the Pitt / Butler game (and mind you, I'm in no way a basketball fan - I watched NO GAMES this year until watching them all day on Saturday with my in laws).
Shelvin Mack was the hero all game, but he made a foul with 1.4 seconds left. He put Gilbert Brown on the line for 2 shots. Brown made his first, but he blew the second after Mack's post foul display of intimidation got all up in his grill. Still, Pitt had a chance to win in over time, but Brown couldn't collect himself and make it count when he had to, but all the same, he did enough to send the game to over time with the first shot. But in the aftermath of the missed second shot, all hell broke loose, and Nasir Robinson fouled Butler on a rebound and put Matt Howard, Butler's other star, on the line for 2, and he nailed both of them with .8 seconds left in the game. It was all over but the crying.
But the point was that it was a game and it was a nail biter down to the last at play after the game was tied 6 times in the last 14 minutes - this after Butler was up by 8 at the half.
And that's what's great about competitive sports... it's not over until it's over.
Flash back to 1986... Calvin Schiraldi gets 2 fly outs from Backman and Hernandez in the bottom of the 9th. Up steps Gary Carter... single. Up steps Kevin Mitchell... single. Up steps Ray Knight... single. Three hits... The Mets are down by 1 now. In comes Bob Stanley with a wild pitch. The game is tied, and Mookie Wilson hits the ball that goes through Buckner's legs and the Mets win and survive and thrive to go on to game 7 for the series victory and 18 more years of the Curse of Babe Ruth.
That's a game... even if it sends a man to Idaho in shame.
That's what's great about sports that let teams fight it out until the end.
That was Butler and Pitt in a duel to the death.
Oh, hell yeah.
I know I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again.
WOW.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ford Frick

In Saving Private Ryan, he was the sniper casually shooting Nazis at will until he got rushed and got blown up - taking out more than one could count. In 3, he plays Dale Earnhardt Sr., the badass legend of racing, in all of his glory. He's in a lot of other  movies... sometimes in more prominent roles, but mostly as the guy who rounds out the group of guys that he's with... i.e. Will Smith's confidante in Seven Pounds (a rather horrible movie if ever there was one - that guy just needs to redo the Fresh Prince or Independence Day).
But there was a moment of shining glory... an underappreciated gem from Billy Crystal of all people (well, actually not since Crystal is a Yankee drooler and it was right after the time that Mark McGwire was captivating the world and ESPECIALLY ME with his home run race to beat Sammy Sosa to 61 and make it to 70) that changed the possibility of what baseball movies could be.
That movie was 61*, and it's still one of my favorites. Sure, it was sentimental, and sure, it painted Ford Frick as a villain with the ghost of Babe Ruth as some unmovable slug (and in a way, that's about what he is - other than his larger than life big kid persona that hit a lot of home runs, was a great pitcher in his day, and all that yadda yadda yadda pap) in the way of a man's record setting greatness.
And perhaps, I can't say it as well as Bill Veeck in Veeck as in Wreck to talk down on Frick's destruction of the greatest story in baseball in ages (the tale of 2 men for the record with Mantle chasing as well for most of the season), but what this whole story really boils down to isn't an asterisk - it is just that: the fact that only 23,154 people saw the home run live because Frick doesn't understand baseball promotion. Baseball could have embraced the story, remembered its past, as it did with Maris throughout the entire 1998 season (he's still at the top of my all time favorite list of players with McGwire, Pedro, and Gibson). How many books have and will be released on Mr. Maris?
The point is that we don't need our heroes to be one dimensional. Some of them can suffer from having their hair fall out due to stress (I can relate to that - and I can relate to premature white hairs in my chin patch). We can relate to staring down the system that doesn't appreciate us. We can relate to a wife who supports us through thick and thin. We can feel the urge to walk away - but not doing so. We can feel the urge to bunt if it helps us win a game rather than to swing for the fences. Most of us are Maris.
The myth of Babe Ruth is an inflated pile of hooey. Mickey Mantle may have been the boyhood hero of his time, but a certain other center fielder had to leave the game first. There will always be room on the wall for the heroes. They come from a time and place, and they should be revered and respected at something more than old folks / timers days and as a great newspaper story 37 years later (as opposed to being portraryed as an uncooperative jerk to the media at the time).
These are the things that Crystal captured... well, that and the Ball Four side of Mickey Mantle, but that's neither here nor there. Tracey Stallard's price on the banquet circuit went through the roof, and he was a Red Sox pitcher, and yeah... it was a time and place that the rivalry wasn't, and the record wasn't worth watching, and Roger was hitting 2 extra shots that didn't matter since they were after 154 games.
That's the thing about the movie. It makes you want to understand why the media of that day went out of their way to kill the potential idol of the day. It makes you want to go to Fargo and pay respects to the man. It reminds you of why we play the game and live our lives strong. It tells the life of Roger Maris in a way that showcases the season of change for all of us.
Thanks Billy! Great movie

Friday, March 18, 2011

Victor Conte

Once an obscure 1970s musician, Victor Conte's life didn't amount to much of anything other than being a note on the music scene of the time when he was a part of Tower of Power. He didn't last long with the group, but it was his ability to figure out how to do pharmaceutical work on his own that made him, well... "great."
Starting the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative and hooking baseball players like Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds to substances like the Clear and the Cream made him a household name. Game of Shadows documented all of it without revealing names and took Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams to jail for 18 months for not divulging sources. They sat in the same spot as Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds's trainer who wouldn't reveal any names either. Marion Jones was in prison for her use of steroids as well. Tim Montgomery, another track and field champ, suffered for his name's mention and so did Bill Romanowski. All in all, 27 athletes were destroyed for their association with the company.
And like his chemist Patrick Arnold who got 3 months in the pokey, Victor Conte was given 4 months in his own private cell only to come out claiming he never gave Bonds steroids, which seemed to be a 180 degree reversal of where he used to be, but alas... prison does strange things to people.
Now driving a $250,000 car and crusading against doping while selling sleep enhancers, Victor Conte's reform is apparently complete while Bonds (and Roger Clemens in a whole other ball of wax legal hearing) faces perjury charges. Fortunately, for him, he will do so without loud angry phone messages that he left on his ex-girlfriend Kimberly Bell's phone answering machine, which once again teaches all young people in relationships one of the two most important messages - don't allow your angry emotions to be recorded on modern technological devices that could be used against you (the other being, don't let your dirty bits be recorded on video - something that has absolutely nothing to do with Will I Am, by the way).
Thus, a judge who doesn't want to make the jury prejudicial of Barry Bonds (kind of hard to do after Barry went so far out of his way to be hated - Jeff Pearlman wrote all about it in his book Love Me Hate Me Barry Bonds), at least he saved Bonds from being sent up the river for steroids rage in the digital age, but nevertheless, it will be a long weekend for the home run king as his trial is set to start on Monday.
Let the games begin.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Joe Dimaggio

I once stated accurately that I prefer my baseball players dead. Sure, I love that movement that Tim Lincecum puts on his pitches. To go from a hanging arm to whipping a nasty pitch over the plate in a way that deceives the batter into a state of utter stupidity is a fantastic thing to watch. Now, I'm not a fan of the ponytail, and I'm definiteliy not a fan of his bong, but the man is one of the better players in the modern game.

Nevertheless, I prefer the mystique of the eras that I never truly got to see except on documentaries and the images that I see in my head while I daydream about what it must have been like back in the day. That said, I don't imagine life before baseball gloves and catcher's masks, but yeah... tobacco card era baseball and beyond (up until the players that began their careers in the late 70s / early 80s); those were the days.

A prime example of what they don't have any more in baseball is a Joe Dimaggio. We could ask where he's gone, but like Paul Simon (who Dimaggio initially wasn't impressed by due to an incorrect perception that "Mrs. Robinson" was an insult), we have no clue. In 1999, he shuffled off this mortal coil and left many fans sad and lost with only their memories to share. Fortunately, there's HBO's Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio to help us remember the Yankee Clipper / #5 / Mr. Coffee as something more than a couple of pages in a best players ever baseball book.

I don't know if it's safe to say that he's that much better than what an Albert Pujols type player is, but there was something about him... a war era player that lost the best years of his career (43-45, 2 years after the 56-game hitting streak - 1 more would have got him some Heinz 57 money) to World War 2.

He lost Marilyn Monroe to the American people and a drug overdose (not to mention the Kennedys), but he kept a vigil to her for the rest of his life with the red rose he placed by her gravesite.

In 13 seasons, he batted .325 with 369 strikeouts TOTAL! In comparison, that's about 2 years of Mark Reynolds' career (not even). To top it off, he hit 361 home runs for his career.

He was so popular in New York, he could make Mickey Mantle feel like a schlub for daring to replace him.

When it came time to go, he didn't seem to know despite the fact that Casey Stengel was trying to make it easy on him. In the end, Life Magainze, Andy High, and Gene Woodling combined to show just how pedestrian that the "Greatest Living Player" had become. Like Lou Gehrig before him, a superstar being shown as being mortal knew that something was wrong. Where Lou Gehrig's finale came with being congratulated for doing the routine, Dimaggio was taken down to size for not being able to run, field, or hit in the way that he did when he electrified the 1941 spring and early summer.

For even with a bat stolen, he didn't complain. Sure, he wanted to bang heads to get it back, but he went right on hitting until it came back.

He tried his hand at TV, but he quit when he wasn't successful. As Ric Flair said, "to be the best, you have to beat the best," and to Joltin' Joe, if he couldn't be the best, he didn't want to play, so he did what he was good at - running restaurants, making appearances, signing bats, and adding his name to a children's hospital.

Sadly, the band who became a Les Brown record will never be seen at a Dinky Donuts again, but he will always be an example of what's right with baseball and the world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Curt Flood

Everything I need to know about labor and management, I learned from baseball. In my younger days of college, I read Krakauer and Marx and Thoreau and Zinn and a wide variety of books that talked about what a person should be living and working for, and it didn't matter if it was Into the Wild or Wage and Capital, the answer was always so much clearer by reading about how bad baseball screwed the pooch when it came to the strike that killed the World Series in 1994 (far worse than Shoeless Joe Jackson and crew taking money to blow the series). The NHL and the NBA also screwed their pooches in trying to lockout players for extended periods of time.
Inevitably, it's always about more money, and I begrudge nobody the opportunity to get more money, but I will say that if you're asking, you need good persuasive leverage. Albert Pujols has more chance to get $300 million if he doesn't care where he works because not every company (team) can afford to mortgage the future for him (that's why Washington will pony up big and pay him to bring his perfect citizenship score to the nation's capital and that's why teams in the Texas Rangers' league won't be doing another A-Rod signing).
But the history of baseball and the reserve clause and free agency came a long way since the beginning. It came a long way since Curt Flood told Howard Cosell that he was a "well paid slave" while making $90,000 a year. And perhaps he truly felt that he was owned and marginalized by the Cardinals, but in reality, even in the tumultuous late sixties, America didn't want to hear slavery. We were 100 years removed from Appomatox, and frankly, nobody alive was still putting people to work in the fields. Sure, there was the civil rights movement that had just taken place and we as a country had realized that we weren't quite so kind to African Americans with Jim Crow, but many opinions (though not all then or ever) were changing and we were learning our lessons and growing. We didn't want to be reminded of those days, and for good reasons - it wasn't like we were the slave owners or the framers who let the Constitution be written with slavery as a system that was accepted by the institution that was to be America.
And even if Curt Flood never succeeded and basically destroyed himself in alienation, prostitutes, and alcohol, at home and abroad, he was trying to do what was right and to eliminate the reserve clause with a little help from his friends (Marvin Miller). He led the way to others who had more clout. In that, there was Catfish Hunter and Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally who made it all happen, and now there are 9 players who have or will have made $20million in a year (if they play this season). There are 8 players who have signed contracts for more than $150million for their duration (one twice - A-Rod). And perhaps, that's what it means to be a talented sports star risking health to perform for the crowds.
But that doesn't mean that it resonates with the masses.
So when the NFL decides to lock out its players in the wake of labor issues, we have to take note. When the NFL Player's Association tells young players who are about to be drafted to stay home and give up the night of fame at the start of their show, we raise our ears to hear what is about to be said.
And what do we hear:
It's modern-day slavery, you know? People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money … the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money. I understand that; these are business-minded people. Of course this is what they are going to want to do. I understand that; it's how they got to where they are now. But as players, we have to stand our ground and say, 'Hey -- without us, there's no football.' There are so many different perspectives from different players, and obviously we're not all on the same page -- I don't know. I don't really see this going to where we'll be without football for a long time; there's too much money lost for the owners. Eventually, I feel that we'll get something done.
And once again... nobody wants to hear the S word. Nobody wants to hear a sports star bitch and moan - no matter what point he makes.
And both sides lose because they aren't close to playing ball with one another to play ball. We don't want the labor arguments - not when we're giving up cash for every government initiative down the pike. Not when we're losing salary due to budget cuts. Not when Japanese people are scared to death that the radiation will give them cancer or kill them outright.
So really, shut the hell up Adrian.
Come take my writing class, and I'll teach you how to truly persuade people.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

John Roseboro

Baseball learned from its violence and stupidity. Sure, we still have guys who want to start fights - class acts like Jose Offerman who have since been banned for life for attacking opponents with a bat, but yeah... we've learned.
We don't play our game to kick the tar out of our opponents. Sure, we have to be more like Bob Gibson and own those 17 inches of plate, but besides being afraid to pitch inside to brush back a batter that is crowding the plate (whether or not he has Barry Bonds' armor on or not), but that doesn't mean that we need to go beyond retaliatory pitching if our players get hit by a frustrated jerk of a pitcher.
The NHL on the other hand hasn't even learned from the NFL about what it takes to stop cheap hits. In the wake of their quest to be tough manly men that are pretty much only broadcast on hunting / fishing networks, they have decided to not eliminate head shots, which are all too often cheap shots to take out an opponent. They have said that out of 55,000 hits, only a small percentage result in concussions, so it doesn't matter what league leader and mega star is out with one now (Sidney Crosby). It doesn't matter than the Canadians want to go after the guy who took out Max Pacioretty (Zdeno Chara). But alas... be it legal because it's part of the game (like the WWE) or because it keeps things fast paced and physical, we never learn.
We don't let our players go all Pete Rose on Ray Fosse in the All Star games, but we want fast paced action - even with millions invested in play and development of stars. We want our cake and we want to be able to eat it too. We want to call it the integrity of the game, and we want to make sure that the nanny state doesn't take over, but sometimes, we just don't think.
Cheap attacks aren't cool. Even in the WWE, we're supposed to hate the heels that purport them on the babyfaces.
And if we look back to baseball's darkest moments and remember Juan Marichal at the plate getting so angry that he picked up his bat and used John Roseboro's head for a target after he threw too closely to Marichal's head on a couple of return pitches, we see dark and ugly. But such is a baseball feud between 2 teams (Los Angeles and San Francisco OR Boston and New York). Sure, there are other teams that hate one another, but for the most part, it's agression and the game. Coming up behind a player a slamming him into the boards and glass to the point where he is laying on the ice unable to contemplate what century he is in is a completely different story and for that, we don't need to pretend and call things manlier than they are.
Sometimes, we just need to step up and do what's right.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hideki Matsui

In a meaningless spring training game on Saturday, Chipper Jones, a sort of star, hit his first home run of what will probably be his last year.
This morning, a second quake rocked Japan. This one wasn't as strong as the 8.9 magnitude first one that struck on Friday and sent tsunami waves to the West Coast of America, literally ruining one entire California harbor. In the turmoil of the 4th worst earthquake in the last 150 years, a second Hydrogen explosion at a nuclear reactor leaves the world north of Tokyo in a state that could be hellaciously dangerous in a very short time - if that time isn't now.
At times like this, sports don't matter. What matters is what people do to rise up for their fellow men and women.
In this, former Japanese baseball great Hideki Matsui, who now plays for the Oakland A's (after a stint with the Angels and a stint with the Yankees) is stepping up with his team as they offer to do a fund raiser for the victims of the earthquake when they face the Seattle Mariners who feature the greatest Japanese player in history this side of Sadahura Oh. Yes, Ichiro vs. Godzilla will be a game that means something for the world instead of American League West also rans, and isn't that what baseball is supposed to be about?
We are bringing good things to people and entertaining society to make us forget about our woes in times of trouble. Whether that's Albert cracking home runs for Down's syndrome or pink bats for breast cancer or George Bush taking Derek Jeter's advice to throw a strike as the players all wear FDNY and NYPD hats after 911. We've always been there when society calls to us, and that's the way it should be.
So we'll get the perfection of singles and speed with Ichiro, a player that had it drilled into him from a very young age that to be the best, one had to give all. We see this with rescue workers who use chainsaws and pick axes to reach bodies of survivors and the dead.
We'll get a class act who apologized to his boss for getting injured after playing in 1,000 games straight. And the life philosophy of Matsui is what the Japanese will do as they rebuild their country all over again. Just like in the devastation of World War 2, their world will come back together and will be stronger and a force for the world as a whole.
And through it all, we will come together and we'll get back to baseball being the good things in life - not the bad things in life bringing us together to look after our fellow man, which when you think about it really is the best thing in life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Howard Cosell

In life, there are 3 legitimate arguments to the Jackie Robinson story (and by legitimate, we mean that there were issues regarding what it meant in the historical context to all those who surrounded him), and they are:
1) Branch Rickey was all about making money. Sure, there was altruism, but he knew there was money to be made with blacks in baseball in the same way he knew that minor leagues would bring money (and a winning team). That said, when every owner and player of his day went out of their way to keep things segregated, Rickey fought for integration.
2) Jackie Robinson wasn't the best African American player in his day. Had he not died of alcholism and drug addiction related issues, Josh Gibson could have been first (or Satch or Monte or Judy or Cool Papa or Rube or Buck (Leonard or O' Neil) or Martin or (this list could go on and on)...), but none of these men had Jackie's ability to be cool under pressure and take one for the team (with beautiful wife sitting there with her back to the wall of abuse to make sure that all the things that she could keep from getting to her husband stopped short of his ears).
That being said, if U2's "Pride in the Name of Love" was the anthem for King, then this song by Woodrow Buddy Johnson and Count Basie is the anthem for Jackie.
3) The arrival of Jackie meant unemployment and devastation to African Americans employed in the Negro Leagues. To this, the integration and movement towards civil rights was seen as more important than baseball teams, and perhaps it was - except when it puts money in pockets to put food on the table.

If you look closely, you see there is no mention of Malcolm X's feelings about Jackie not being angry enough. Frankly, Mr. Little can stay toasty in Hell with his divisive feelings that filled his life for years and years while campaigning with the Nation of Islam.

What is important is the meaning and celebration of my hero numero uno - Jackie Roosevelt Robinson.
The anthem and pride for Mr. Robinson is surely not Arts and Entertainment's Biography on Jackie. The anthem could very easily be Ken Burns original 9 innings of Baseball and what is said throughout the course of Branch Rickey's beginnings to Jackie's death. The beauty and the evil are both there. The tears and the cheers are there. On A+E, it's "whited" out. For instance, throwing stones at the racist kids who threw them first is seen as Jackie being a trouble maker. Images and descriptions of racism are watered down with scenes from the movie of Jackie's life where he plays himself. Sadly, the second rate acting and the weak script kill much feeling for all of the great things Jackie did. While there is footage of the man in his day and the things he accomplished (stealing home in the World Series, winning the trophy for Brooklyn), it's too little, too late.
Perhaps the only redeeming part was Howard Cosell getting teared up thinking about Jackie Jr. having died in a car crash after drugs rattled his life until he got clean. There was a mention made to Cosell not wanting to say anything from Jackie and Rachel's conversation at the funeral regarding the need for privacy, but in eluding to the pressure of being a junior... and the pressure of being Jackie Jr... we can only imagine the scars of Vietnam, Civil Rights, and what baseball did to his father that took their toll on the son. To this, I never knew Cosell, but in watching, I wonder just what I would think of the man who campaigned with so many great African American sports stars in an effort to bring them closer to the lives of white America (and I wonder what I would have thought after he made his "monkey run" comment)?
And so we learn many things, but if we watch this video - especially before seeing Mr. Burns' masterpiece, we'll never know the true Jackie.
And for that, A&E would have blood on its hands.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mark McGwire

While sitting with my teacher friend Dale, the subject of great baseball players is always bound to come. He’s in his early forties and I’m in my late thirties, so it wouldn’t be wrong to think that we would tend to reflect on the 1970s and 1980s as the glory days of baseball, but for the most part, you would be wrong since the greatest games for us were the ones that we weren’t even alive to see. In no small part, we owe a mega burst of gratitude to Ken Burns for his contributions to the history of baseball because it’s clear to see that Major League Baseball has no respect for the history of its game unless it’s for its fan to buy the latest current slab of what happened this year as a DVD at the end of the season.
If they had any foresight at all, they would instead be focusing on the ability to post lots of historic video of the past online for all generations to see. The fact that any time anything really cool happens, let’s say Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home off of Andy Pettite two years ago, it’s up for a day or so on Youtube and then the backwards thinking bastards that be choose to have it pulled down out of copy right protection concerns. Now, I’m not saying that it has to stay on Youtube, but couldn’t MLB start a pay per view library service so that any time I want to watch something great happen, say watching Albert Pujols jack a Brad Lidge pitch into the wall of Minute Maid Park to keep the Cardinals alive for one more game, I can salivate over the memories of the past?
However, this is impossible, and other than the history of baseball up until 1990, I can’t watch any of the real great players of history focused upon. Thus, to dream about Brooks Robinson throwing deep to first from deep in the corner, I have to go to the third greatest gift that my wife ever gave me, and watch the celluloid footage of that World Series game to see what the heroes of the past were truly like. What will the kids of today have to do in order to watch Dustin Pedroia and Matt Holliday star for the Red Sox and Cardinals? How will these youngsters know why Adrian Gonzalez is or isn’t worth mortgaging the future for in an offseason trade that is supposed to tip the balance of all things?
Simply, they won’t - at least until ESPN or MLBTV say it's so OVER and OVER and OVER again.
And for the same reason that MLB has no concern for its history, we won’t know how “great” the steroids era players were because it’s easy to say that the media was duped into reporting how great they were to make up for the fact that baseball went on strike and killed the World Series in 1994, and their apologies are word enough for the rest of the impressionable youngsters of today to throw away their parents’ baseball card collections, but to still retain hopes in the present - especially that somehow Whiff King Ryan Howard isn’t tainted, and even though Alex Rodriguez is slightly dented, his “apology” and “great play” in the 2009 World Series makes up for everything – unlike Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire who will forever wear their scarlet letters for eternity and then some.
However, for those people willing to look back on baseball history, they would see that Major League Baseball did memorialize Race for the Record on VHS, which is still available for $1.99 on E-bay. Nevertheless, I have my copy and have cherished it since the fall of 1998 when it first came out. I don’t make apologies for owning it. Mark McGwire was and still is my favorite player of all time. Steroids or not, the summer of 1998 was a magical moment that made me who I am. For that, it’s as important to a baseball story in 2011 as it was to a baseball story in that magical summer of a dozen years ago.
And while I liked other players from that time period when I was younger and more concerned about this sport than anything around me, I find the moments of that season to be almost (but not quite) as special as the moments of my marriage and courtship, which took place over the last few years. In that, there was a day that I would have went into a winter of depression having seen the Yankees win, but frankly, I didn’t feel more than a slight sting for what had transpired against Philadelphia’s weak pitching staff (sorry Cliff Lee and game 2 Pedro, you tried) and sorry ass strikeout king (sorry Chase Utley, at least you tried unlike your counterpart) because of the perspective that I have for where my life is with my beautiful wife besides me.
And it's great to have Tim Lincecum take down Cliff Lee, but it's not the same as spending vacations and time in general with my wife. Five years ago, that would have been something, but now there is adult and the memories of the great games of youth that still drive me back to the game for a well-placed second place in my life.
So before this gets all soppy, I should get back to baseball, and say that like Dale, I find it hard to find interest in players the same way that I did when I was younger. Maybe it’s being married and redoing a house and contemplating children and the Arizona / Utah border vacation that I want to get back to for some summer week that keeps me from thinking of some of these players in the way that I did when I was younger, but in part, I don’t find them as magical. Their interviews are generic. The plays were done better by other players in the past, and I’m not ready to believe in anyone new, other than Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in the way that I once believed in Ryne Sandberg, Paul Molitor, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz. The play of the past few years and the less than believability that is associated with Dominican birth certificates has come to take its toll on me. For that, this blog is an exercise to getting back to the great players of the past and comparing their deeds to those of the current crop of players that seems to be changing incredibly from what it was even five years ago. Will Tim Lincecum and Jon Lester become the next Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, or Bob Feller? One can only hope.
As the Ramones sang about their own existential void, probably not the one that wonders if Joe Mauer will ever be the next Josh Gibson and which anonymous rookie could be the next Roger Maris, Honus Wagner, Satchell Paige, or Ted Williams, but the wonder about another time where it feels as good as the magical moments of the past, “Nothing makes any sense, but I still try my hardest. Take my hand. Please help me man. 'Cause I'm looking for something to believe in.”
And for that, I leave you with the words from Eureka, Nevada, my unfinished first novel:

"I woke up and walked to the newspaper, looking at the Sunday sports headlines that said that Mark Mcgwire had been thrown out for disputing a called third strike the day before. The fans were irate and with good cause. The call was rotten and just like the media who were doing there best to put a damper on Big Mac’s quest for 62, the umpires weren’t cutting him any slack either.
Mcgwire’s angst was justifiable. He had been forced to endure the what he did, what he didn’t do and the will he break the record as he stood out as the sole highlight on a horrible St. Louis team. All the while, Sammy Sosa was hitting his homeruns, deferring the questions to Mcgwire and watching his Cubs fight for the division title.
I was tired of the drive. I was tired of the wait. I wanted to be in St. Louis, and that was where I was heading at the moment. I packed up and was off, though I found out that it was an evening game rather than a day game, so I would be driving in slower than I thought that I would be.

If only I was a little farther down the road, then life now would make more sense. At that moment it was all just a highway that took me to St. Louis, a game that would change my life, a perfect moment filled with more positive emotional content than an entire yearlong relationship would leave me. I was destined to be in St. Louis that evening, but first I was off to Mark Twain Lake and museum, which was somewhere in the empty middle of Missouri’s rolling forest land. I walked around, admired the sights, and thought of baseball. I was killing time.
A few hours later, I was at the game. I parked the car and ran up towards Busch Stadium and a sea of red shirts and signs.
“Go Mark Go.”
“Make it a great 1998.”
Even before I got to the game, there were signs such as the Billboard above Highway 70 that listed Mcgwire’s homerun total at the moment. St. Louis was alive with Mcgwire at the moment. The Braves, despite their perennial power in the East Divison of the National League were in town, but their fans were non-existent. This was St. Louis, home of the Cardinals and a special place that was filled with something that couldn’t be described, but rather could be felt in some special way, through some special sense. We were all a part of it and as I walked inside of the Mecca that was Busch Stadium, I knew I was in the presence of something.
Realizing the game was on ESPN that evening, I called my dad, begged him to tape it, and we talked about the trip, the Cardinals and what I was going to do after the game was over. It was a whirlwind of explanations, but only one mattered – get the game on video. I hung up, read my program and waited to watch the game.

From the stadium, you could see the St. Louis skyline. Several hotels and the great Arch line the Mississippi river, which lies off in the distance from Left Field. I took several photos, watched batting practice, and then the Star Spangled Banner played as 44,000 fans took to their feet in a mix of patriotism and a feeling that everything was right again with the national pastime after a horrible strike took out the 1994 season and World Series.
Today, the Cardinals were taking on Kevin Millwood, a hot young pitcher who was bolstered by a strong Atlanta offense that saw 2 homeruns by Andres Galarraga bring their team out to an early lead. I was dejected and angry, but still I watched, un-swayed by the lead that had arisen, and crossed my fingers and prayed to the Baseball God that everything would be made right in the universe.
On Mcgwire’s first at bat, he walked. The second at bat was a single, keeping his day perfect, and then came a double in the third plate appearance. Big Mac was 2 for 2.
When Mark Mcgwire stepped to the plate in the 7th inning, the sky was dark and the flashbulbs exploded as the crowd got to their feet to signal that now was the time. There were 2 men on and the cards were down 7-5. Millwood had been removed, and Dennis Martinez, one of the most dominant Latino pitchers of the time stepped to the mound knowing that he had never let up a hit to the man. His fate was sealed with that announcement on the Busch scoreboard.
After this, the at bat is a haze. I don’t remember what happened prior to it, but Martinez threw, Mcgwire swung and took the ball deep. I was on my feet as was everyone else and we were willing it to go. I didn’t want to believe it would go because it was hit long, since I wasn’t one of those people who ooh at every single long fly ball to centerfield. I was silent in that all of my energy was in my stomach, bottled down, unable to come up, I was breathless and I was focused on that moment, when the ball cleared the fence and I was still silent as I stopped to gather in the fact that my boy had launched a 501-foot blast off of Dennis Martinez to straight away centerfield. This 3 run shot, number 55 on his quest to 70 for the year, a mark that would shatter Roger Maris’ 37 year old record, left ever single one of the 44,051 fans on their feet.
Everything came out and I was screaming in complete jubilation at the moment. For lack of a better word though my mom would understand, it felt orgasmic. It felt like an eternity that the fans cheered and screamed, jumped up and down, gave high fives to each other and hugged. And there I was, hugging and cheering and high fiving strangers as I stood in the magic of a moment that was meant to last for an eternity, but vanished beneath a cloud of sorrow as even this mighty record was forced to give way to another. Yet at that moment, Barry Bonds didn’t matter, since every time I think of that laser beam, I think of my goose bumps and how I wasn’t sure if it was gone, but it was. It was a culmination of a summer spent rooting for heroes, questing for gold and finding it just as Mark did. The tragedies of Roger Maris and my later years wouldn’t and didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except being there in the middle of section 240 and the post-game fireworks as all of the fans scuttled down to the parking lot and drove out, knowing full well that we would be unable to sleep. This was one of those moments in time, and for me, it was so much more.
It was and is the greatest moment of my life, a culmination of a summer, a trip across America in search of all that was and could be, and it was America to me on that late August night."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Manny Ramirez

If the whole Lady Gaga thing wasn't already on overload and annoying as hell (because let's be honest, short of one song - "Speechless" - that she actually plays on, she's a much less talented rip off of Madonna)... we now get Baby Gaga, which is actually breast milk ice cream.
Lady Gaga has threatened to sue the British manufacturers over the flavor of ice cream.
Whether she will be successful or not, the Brits seized the ice cream and tested it to make sure that it was OK for human consumption and found that it is.
In addition, the store owner Matt O' Connor has fired back: "She claims we have 'ridden the coattails' of her reputation. As someone who has plagiarised and recycled on an industrial scale, the entire back catalogue of pop-culture to create her look, music and videos, she might want to re-consider this allegation."
We can only hope that something sane comes of this, but until then, we'll let anyone who wants to pay $22 for this "delicacy" to keep on keeping on. We'll go back to our own lives and contemplate weirdness on terms that we can relate to...
Manny Ramirez being Manny Ramirez.
In this, Manny has already been definitively studied (Bill Simmons did that), but let us say that since he has a new home - Tampa Bay - we have to wish him the best.
Since his days of getting ostracized by my wife for not paying his child support (back at the Jake in Cleveland when he was a member of the Indians), he went on to massive success unparalleled in Boston. He was a grand slam machine (tied with A-Rod for 2nd to Lou Gehrig all time). He was instrumental in winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007. He was David "Big Sluggi" Ortiz's lovable and idiotic sidekick with those really bad dreadlocks. He would blow easy plays in the outfield while making difficult plays. He would urinate inside the Fenway Park scoreboard during a game. He would demand trades, and then, he finally got traded to the Dodgers, who he managed to convince that he could be great... until he got injured and got nailed for steroids and then he basically quit on them, too, after getting $40million for 2 years (and they were basically bidding against themselves for his services), so off he went to the White Sox where he really and truly sucked, but he was still Manny being Manny without the offense - just being offensive.
So now, he's back with the other idiot - Johnny Damon - in Tampa Bay as they both look to resuscitate their careers that pretty much dried up after the glory days of the first decade of the 21st century.
And while there is hope... it's really going to be a case of too little too late unless he breaks the grand slam record or hits .350, and at this point in his career... without sexual enhancers or whatever it it was that he used when and Big Sluggi both seemed to get fingered on the Mitchell Report, there is not going to be a career resuscitation and while Tampa Bay can hope for the best in the year that Carl Crawford walked and they had to bring up rookies and a few older names at league minimum value to keep the few fans that they do have attending, but the reality is...
The weirdness just isn't lovable without production.
I can't wait until the world wakes up to that realization about Lady Gaga as well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Choo Choo Coleman

The Mets really sucked when they first started out.
This isn't being mean. This is a fact.
If Marvelous Marv Throneberry was the symbol of futility, then Choo Choo Coleman was the symbol or purely terrible.
In 1963, he batted 178 in 277 at bats. He did hit 3 home runs, but he did little else. This was pretty much his track record with the Phillies before the the Mets picked him up, and then despite a spike in limited at bats in 1962, he went back to "nicht so gut," and well, that was it.
Throneberry wasn't much better. He hit .244 in his first Mets season and in the space of 2 hits and 1 RBI in 14 at bats, the Mets and the major leagues had seen enough of Marv, and he went on his way.
Ken Burns summed up Marv by saying that nothing he did was marvelous.
That said, we can't all be Pete Rose and Ted Williams at the plate, but we should be able to touch first and second when we actually hit a triple.
In the beginning, there was Casey Stengel to lead the team, and while that might have been for familiarity for New Yorkers who loved him as a Yankee, he really was "too old" and it just didn't play out well.
Nevertheless, there was the Miracle Mets with Seaver and Ryan and Koosman. There was the 86 Mets that benefited more from Roger Clemens, cocaine, and Dan Shaughnessey, and there was a few other good teams along the way, but the Mets of today... "nicht so gut."
It's not the fact that they're also rans since the days of 2006 and Endy Chavez saving the day only to pull defeat out in a game that they seemed fated to win. And that was it.
High priced free agents named Carlos (Beltran and Delgado) who don't do anything well (including staying healthy).
David Wright can't save the day with all those strikeouts.
Pitchers who can't stay healthy.
Jose Reyes who is REALLY over-rated.
Yeah... that's the Mets.
Lastings Milledge who didn't know his place.
And then there's this year...
Charlie Samuels being watched like a hawk eyes a mouse because he just might have profited too much on memorabilia sales.
Francisco Rodriguez and his desire and actions to smack the tar out of his main squeeze's dad.
Oliver Perez no longer a consideration for the starting rotation.
CITI Field not bringing cash in that was hoped for (guess, they should have stayed at Shea).
Bernie Madoff's victims and their lawsuit to get their $1BILLION worth of money back (can't fault them for that).
Fans that don't want to see games even with cut ticket prices (down 20% from $500 in some cases).
A $25 MILLION loan from MLB to keep the team up and running (time to cut out some unprofitable teams, eh?!!).
And perhaps New York needs 2 teams.
Perhaps there is hope in Manhattan yet.
Maybe we can return to the glory days when men on the moon coincided with great teams with dominant pitching.
Just not this year.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Aaron Boone

You think we'd learn. You think Aaron Boone would have taught us all what it means to get into a pick up basketball game and get injured and lose his contract because he was playing for the Yankees and he wasn't making much, and frankly, with that, he was quite expendable. And let's not even think about the idea of doing something so wreckless and stupid that it just jeopardizes EVERYTHING that he and the team could be without an instant of showing that he had ACTUALLY THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT HE WAS DOING. I'm sure just reminiscing about the incident would make Derek Jeter and guys like him who waited their whole life to wear pinstripes and go to the playoffs cringe in horror. Fortunately,
But alas...
You think we'd learn. You think Ben Roethlisberger would have taught us that we can't ride our motorcycles helmetless if our team is counting on us, but alas, he never learned either.
And so it shouldn't be a shock that the Great White Nope of Milwaukee (registered trademark, but because we just don't believe) has gone and shot himself and an entire state full of Cheeseheaded beer drinkers who still remember the good ol' days of Harvey's Wallbangers and Laverne and Shirley in the foot or should I say feet because he's making $13.5million per season for the next 2 seasons and his success will keep Prince Fielder in town (hopefully) or the lack thereof will drive him to Anaheim or some other city in need of a big bopping designated hitter or first basemen (at Prince's weight, he'll be a DH like his daddy before too long).
But with a broken rib from his dalliance at trying to be like Lebron James, he'll be on the DH at the start of the season. Will he come back healthy and ready? Will his social anxiety disorder and depression be affected?
Let's just say that if I was Mark Attanasio today and I was thinking about how much money and faith and hope I just installed into my ace and how he paid me back, I'd be thinking of getting 70cents on the dollar and shipping him to some other team in the hope that I could build up for the future because even if I had to keep him, I surely wouldn't keep him around to extend the contract ad infinitum.
And the injuries and the hopes and dreams keep right on rolling in the land of cactuses and the world of grapefruits as we get closer and closer to day 1.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Domonic Brown

When your team has a pitching staff that is considered by some to be the best ever - at least on paper and if you think really, really hard about Cole Hamels upside - you definitely want your offense to be able to produce.
The Phillies don't have much and those people who can swing definitely aren't the most solid and reliable types in the world. Jayson Werth left, so that means that Jimmy Rollins has to step up and produce. Since his MVP in 2007, he's definitely gone downhill. Last year, he ended up injured and didn't even step to the plate 400 times. His batting average has fallen from .296 to .277 to .250 to .244. In 2005, when he had 36 of his 38 games in a row that he hit in during that momentous hit streak (we'll add the first 2 from 2006 for good measure, but not to this), his batting average went up from a rather pedestrian .262 to .290, which is nice, but it's not a mark of consistency. Rather, it's a late season surge. If we think about 20 triples and 30 home runs in 2007, these are potentials for a player to emulate, but the reality is that it's more of a career year masked in the midst of an above average player that was and is counted on WAY TOO MUCH.
Chase Utley is also a solid player - if he's healthy, but let's look at his numbers. This is a guy who the Phillies can't count on for 700 plate appearances. Last year, he only had 511 and since 2007's break out .332 batting average, he's spent the last 2 years at sub .300, which isn't exactly a place for optimism seeing as the Phillies are counting on him to produce. And while he's capable of 30 home runs (just over), he's going to whiff 100 times if he gets this mark. In that, he's not Ryan Howard, but alas... who would want to be when we talk about aging players and overhype and lack of production?
So who's left? Raul Ibanez had 1 last year in 2009, and now we can stick a fork in him. There's hope for Shane Victorino who is still young enough to make us believe, but Placido Polanco isn't a bopper, and while Carlos Ruiz is loved, he's not getting 400 at bats a year either.
So when Dominic Brown goes out for 4-6 weeks of spring training with a wrist injury, the prognosis just isn't good for the Phillies.
That said, we're Red Sox fans, so it doesn't matter who we beat in the World Series - just that we win!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tim Lincecum

To quote Wilco's "I'm Always in Love:"
Why I wonder is my heart full of holes.
And the feeling goes and my hair keeps growing
I guess I must be turning into Tim Lincecum because my hair feels positively - well, thick and there. I won't say I need a rubber band for my pony tail. I just have a thick mane of hair, but if I did have long hair - well, if I could handle it growing long - who am I kidding?
It's been a long time since I wanted longer hair, and at 39...
But, oh! to be young and cool again. Oh, to have a whole city falling in love with my youthful pitching that in 3 full seasons has dominiated hitters like they were WWF jobbers fighting against the name wrestlers on 1980s Saturday morning TV.
There are the 2 Cy Young awards. He's got 3 straight seasons of 15 or more wins for a team that doesn't really win that much (despite the World Series championship last year). He has 3 straight seasons of 200 strikeouts. Despite going downhill last year from July 19th on, he was still better than average for the whole year and super dominant prior to that.
And while it could be a lot of things that see the Freak coming back down to earth (age, a salary argument with his team that saw him make $9million instead of the inflated amount that his agent thought he was worth, the drug bust after the season, his opponents figuring him out, a hitch in his delivery), there is still the feeling of coming out strong and dominant for another season. He took down Cliff Lee in the game that mattered last year. He wasn't great in the first game of the World Series, but he was there and he kept his team in the game until they could kick Lee off the field and into the showers.
The Rangers were never the same, and frankly, that's what it's about when you're the team's number one pitcher. Seeing as there is another big game pitcher on the team (Matt Cain) and an up and coming pitcher (Madison Bumgarner) and another pitcher that has potential if he gets his emotions together (Jonathan Sanchez), there's a need to step up.
And that's important if you're the $100million+ number 5 pitcher who needs to get his act together so that he can finish up his overpaid contract in the city by the bay.
But Lincecum... there is so much potential and so much upside. What will 2011 hold? Will it be 2008 or 2010 when it comes to stats or are we looking at another year of the pitcher with a certain skinny guy making his name in the no runners on first base category?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Justine Siegal

If most people know anything about women in baseball, they've either watched a movie where there is no crying in baseball, which features Madonna and Rosie O' Donnell (2 reasons that I've never watched the movie), OR they're convinced that you mean softball, and with that, you obviously have no idea what you are talking about.
Nevertheless, Phillip K. Wrigley imagined the unimaginable in 1942 when men were drafted for war and the country still needed baseball players. And the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League lasted until 1954, which showed that it had some degree of power, but the reality was that most of that drawing power was gone when the men came back to play again in 1946.
And if we were talking about softball, we'd have stars like Jenny Finch who can fireball underhanded with the best of them and challenge major leaguers with the 43 feet of distance that a softball moves at 71MPH to challenge a hitter - a hitter mind you that is not as buffed up as her male counterparts in professional baseball.
But baseball has never let a woman play in its game. We now have a female coach, Justine Siegal, but the reality is that the majors just haven't found a way for a woman to make it to the pros.
In Japan, they have. Eri Yoshida and her knuckleball are now signed and moving through the Japanese minor leagues. Whether she could be Tim Wakefield remains to be seen, but alas... there is always the dream of being Hoyt Willhelm and ending up in Cooperstown.
And for all of the dreams of whatever little girl that is out there hoping that she can be the first, there is more and more female interest in baseball, which is great because baseball represents in the words of Ken Burns all that is good about our country, and I would completely agree.
I just wish that something didn't include pink versions of team jerseys and hats.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jim Bouton

See the thing about spring training is that it's spring training. The games might be played, but they don't count. The only thing that counts is the injuries and the players that feel jilted into writing a tell all confessional about all of his fellow players (and a sequel to it) that begins with a demotion from spring training.
We can have a game where Albert Pujols can jack a fly ball over the fence in Florida. The teams can win all the split squad games that they play. The rookies can excel. The veterans can get their swing together. The fans can collect autograph after autograph. Everyone can go to the beach or Disney when the day is done. We can drink in the sun and the fun and the alcohol of an extended spring break as the national pastime comes back and life is good, but none of it means anything except the fun of the moment because it sure as hell doesn't count in the standings.
And for that, I just can't sit and watch a game. It's like Domincian winter league games. I can't watch them either - even if it's you pitch the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball, and you throw the ball. It's all the same. It's like college baseball. You hear the crack of a fastball on aluminum, and there's just something that isn't the same about it.
It's not quite minor league baseball, which is just a carnival that is disguised as a game, but when the circus is done well, then that's a thing of beauty and at least it trains your kids to watch the game for 9 innings. That's a good thing.
In the end, very little comes out of spring training. Sure, there are first games that are for the record book (Jason Heyward). Then again, there are extended slumps into May (David Ortiz). There are story lines to sell and memories to think about over and over, and as long as we're still in early March, everyone still has a chance. It's like Lou Boudreau said (all future and no past). We can go to the store and start our card collections and think about who we're happy to have and who we'd like to trade... who we should and shouldn't have signed (Jayson Werth)... the players that will be sitting this campaign out (Stephen Strasburg). We can look through our shelves for anyone of a million historical books to read and pine for a past that we never lived through (Curt Flood).
All in all, it adds up to everything that baseball will be on day 1.
Nevertheless, I may be happy it's here today, but I won't be watching it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kurt Bevacqua

Every once in a while, I get a hankering to buy baseball cards again. I'll look for them on e-Bay in hopes that there will be something cool and cheap. The two don't often go together. I do have a Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson jersey card that I got for under $10 with shipping. I don't care about the real value. I just like that two of my favorite pitchers of all time are memorialized on one card with their jerseys fashioned into the card itself.
Cards like this are what makes collecting nowadays special. I never pulled a card like that from a real pack, but I did get some cards that were above and beyond the sets themselves. That said, other than ones of Mark McGwire's numbered home runs (especially #55), I really don't think much of any of them.
Baseball card companies today had to go back to the concept of something special to set them apart. For example, there's a 2007 Topps Derek Jeter card that also features George W. Bush and Mickey Mantle. That's a cool card. Really.
However, it's not the 1976 card that features Kurt Bevacqua of the Milwaukee Brewers blowing a huge ass bubble to win the Joe Garagiola / Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Championship. Things like that don't happen nowadays.
That said, it took a whole different era to respect Garagiola since he was the guy who spiked Jackie Robinson back in the day. A large part of his life was spent explaining away how he wasn't a racist until he eventually turned into a voice of the good things in baseball.
But that's not why this card is so cool. Kurt played from 1971-1985 for 7 teams. He finished with a .236 average and 27 homeruns. He stayed around as a bench player for that time. He did have a 3 hit game in the 82 World Series that saw him hit a homerun, but he wasn't anything great.
That said, he was a bubblegum blowing champion, and frankly, that goes a long way towards something great.
Baseball cards today are still nice. My wife bought me a pack of 2011 Topps, which didn't really feature anyone special, but the anticipation that I'll get someone life altering in that 5 cards for $1 pack is still like playing the lottery and seeing if I can get more than 2 numbers.
However, going to shows is more about seeing the names and the faces than being able to plunk down big bucks for the Golden Era of collecting (1950s and 1960s). There's the Platinum Era, too, but I can't afford tobacco cards. Nevertheless, I'm always amazed by what cards go for - even in 1 and sub 1 condition.
All the same, it's still fun to wander around the Convention Center in Valley Forge and think about what I could get.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Terence Mann

It's a recognized fact that Kevin Costner became a baseball star at some point in his movie career. There was the great Bull Durham. There was the ok For Love of the Game. And there was Field of Dreams. People tend to gravitate more to Bull Durham or Field of Dreams depending on who they are. For me, I'm more about the love story of Bull Durham than I am about the science fiction of Field of Dreams, but I still like it. It's just not the greatest movie of all time in the way that Bull Durham is, but that said, it does have its moments.
For instance, there is no annoying wife in Bull Durham. Sure, there's Millie, and she needs to be fed to the sharks, but she can catch Nuke and let the religious guy do whatever he wants to her, but other than her daddy donating the scoreboard, she's probably replaceable. But getting back to the annoying wife and her incredibly annoying take on no censorship, perhaps Amy Madigan is the one character that really keeps me from truly enjoying Field of Dreams. She wasn't good for John Candy's Uncle Buck, and frankly, she's no poetic muse adjunct English teacher at a junior college for Kevin Costner's Ray Kinsella either. For in comparison to all of Madigan's annoyingness, Annie was still lovable (despite her sleeping with a different ball player every season)... even if she did end up hooking up with Tim Robbins' Nuke Laloosh for half of the season (and over 15 years of real seasons).
But it's more than just the leading woman, for there is also no James Earl Jones and his Darth Vadar voice in Bull Durham. There's no trip across country to follow the directions of the voice that is coming from afar to rescue him from a life of being angry at the world. There is no inner and outer journey for Costner's Ray Kinsella to go and ease their (the Black Sox) pain. There is no need to eventually create a field for Archibald Moonlight Graham to play out his only at bat (before he messes with Marcellus Wallace's suitcase and gets himself killed). There is no hokey injury to the daughter that can only be saved by Graham.
And moving back to James Earl Jones, in Bull Durham, there is no angry 60s radical that needs to find meaning in baseball again (in that, there is no speech: Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.
And I get that the speech is the key to the movie. My one friend is very nostalgic to the memories of his father and wanting to have the game of catch again. I understand what that means... but to me, the real speech is at the end of Bull Durham: I got a lotta time to hear your theories and I wanta hear every damn one of 'em...but right now I'm tired and I don't wanta think about baseball and I don't wanta think about Quantum Physics... I don't wanta think about nothing... Right now, I just wanta be.
And Annie can do that, too, and that's the answer because there are all the things that we believe in and the greatness of the game and there are the beautiful moments in life. Perhaps catch is a beautiful moment... if that's your memory, but sitting on the porch after the rain and just smelling the summer air and looking forward to the good life that will come when you're with the one that you love...
That's a good thing.
And for the way it makes me feel... to think about being with my wife in the Siesta Zone and enjoying life as it comes... it's all good.