Tag Archives: baseball

Ken Phelps is ready to rock your world

OK, Boomer.

“How do you trade Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps!?”–Frank Costanza, Seinfeld

Ken Phelps has the look of the quintessential “80’s dad,” and reminds me a bit of my cousin’s father, my uncle through marriage who was known to wear a beat-up, snap-backed San Francisco Giants baseball cap, and on special occasions a cowboy hat with a feather band not unlike a member of Charlie Daniel’s raucous honkey tonk band. Now every time I see this archaic piece of Americana I can almost imagine the beer bottles breaking against the protective fence set before the band in some small, backwoods shithole in Texas not unlike the scene in the brilliant Patrick Swayze flick, Roadhouse.

I had been to his dad’s home on a few occasions and we would play Nintendo or try to quench our biological imperative and devilish curiosity by looking for his porn stash in the grease-caked garage. When bored of that, we would play baseball among the cow patties in the fields. (His father lived on a farm in a very rural area) My cousin would get a kick out of this idiot touching the electrical fence, giving me a sudden jolt, although I would balk at “pissing on it” to his dismay. I was always a bit saddened to disappoint his infectious and sophomoric sense of humor, but an electrified dong just didn’t sound appetizing.

When you take a look at the last 2 N.L. MVP’s (Bellinger and Yelich) you see a couple of baby-faced guys who you might partake in a doobie with at a keg party; they look nothing like Phelps, who looks like he should be either dishing out benevolent fatherly words of wisdom while gutting a fish or arresting fratboys outside the kegger for possessing said mar-eee-wanna. He doesn’t look like he survived in the league on any sort of pure talent, just the ability to use “grown man strength” on the occasional fastball.

Phelps had only had 12 hits for the Oakland ballclub as he was an aging DH who was nearing the end of his career (until being sold to the Cleveland Indians for a bag of nickels) and had lost the only valuable asset he had–occasional power. Phelp’s baseball life was coming to an end as my pre-teen years were just beginning, and until now was relegated to a baseball card that was never really examined or loved and tossed into a box. Forgotten until unearthed.

RIP Tommy Lasorda

Lasorda pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1956, a lifetime before the SlimFast commercials.

Like most non-Dodgers fans, I was hard wired to detest Tommy Lasorda growing up–specifically because his Dodgers defeated the ’88 Oakland ball-club for the World Series title, a team that was the (still) adored childhood entry point for my current baseball obsession. Tommy and his Dodgers introduced me to the heartbreak that only baseball could bring and in turn dulls your hardball spirit each year with consecutive disappointment– a vital learning lesson on this mortal coil that you must shake off the dark moments, realize pain is a part of life and proceed with an open mind and an open heart while you deal with it and get on with it.

Of course, as I got older I had learned to appreciate the larger than life paisan as a great ambassador with a wicked tongue and a great baseball mind. Often interesting was how he crafted the masterful friction between his foul-mouthed, devil-may-care, volatile attitude and the tenderness (although Dave Kingman and Kurt Bevacqua may disagree) he offered his players and adoring fans. We came to love this Italian boy weaned from a hard-scrabbled existence and a distant and foreign era in hardball history, a time when sports figures weren’t concerned with the avatar of virtuousness so much as when they could sneak in a beer or three.

In the Summer of 2014 I was attending Dodgers games quite often as I lived fairly close to Dodger Stadium. One day my girlfriend’s brother–who had on a lark brought binoculars–pointed out that Lasorda was in his typical seat behind home plate dozing off. We checked on him every inning or so out of humorous curiosity and, sure enough, Tommy was still in slumber with nary a stir even with a rise in excitement from the crowd. From then on when we attended a game we would bet a hotdog or a beer on what inning Lasorda would decide to visit slumber land with the smart bet being most often than not the 5th.

RIP, Skip.

It’s time to give 2020 a good, swift kick in the ass

An appropriate metaphor.

The specter of 2020 is almost over, and this baseball writing interloper must take pause and perhaps a deep breath in order to reflect. I’m going to refrain from giving you a redundant frame by frame analysis–as I’m assuming you haven’t reawakened from a coma–but I don’t think I’m reaching when I say that damn near half the population of the U.S. doesn’t care about logic, science, or even high-minded economic interests. (unless you’re raking in over 400,000 dollars a year) No, my friends, the major motivation was simply contempt. An eye opening and disturbing influx of psychotic persecution seemed to rule the day as high minded intellectuals scramble to try to figure out how to baby-sit/pacify the brains of the gullible as they are keenly aware that the singular vote of an idiot counts just as much as the singular well-informed in a demented and ironic twist of a democratic process that the former seems to disdain.

I have no light suggestions of benevolence as I am largely apolitical, and this is, alas, a simple baseball publication, and I’ve largely tried to keep it just that. The World Series was a light-hearted escape from the madness and then Justin Turner pranced around the field in celebratory mode with a case of ‘Rona and kicked everyone in the nuts with a dose of reality. No Bueno. But if anyone understands how misguided any sense of certainty is, it would be a baseball fan. History will largely scoff and turn a blind eye to the suffering and trials of the pathetic humans and when all is said and done, it will still be there in black and white on the written page (paper?) Dodgers 2020 World Series Champions.

I’ll probably have a few stiff drinks tonight in full celebratory mode as my friends and I watch pop stars prance around in confetti and the newest rendition of Dick Clark feigns having a good time in Times Square with his cajones in full refrigeration. There will be Bloody Marys, Chateau Pink Gins, and of course, the lethal Velvet Hammer ready to sweet talk you into staying in bed on the first day of the year as you watch episodes of Three’s Company with ironic detachment and weep into your pillow at the inhumanity of it all. I will be properly blitzed and locked into my fucking groove as the crescendo happens, and 2020 will still be there to scoff, “too bad you’re not double-jointed so you could bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.”

The Asterisks may have the can, but the A’s prove to be the garbage

“Baseball is visceral, tragic, and absurd with only fleeting moments of happiness; it may be the best representation of life.” –Adrian Cardenas

Sorry, baseball world. It was up to this ball-club to exact some sort of small revenge for the inadequacies against the universe and they failed. This was a demoralizing series, as the swingin’ dick Asterisks, in a perpetual climate of contradiction, proved that cheating without repercussion or self-reproach is the new American way of life. This approach is celebrated in the White House (and politics in general) and has trickled down into the muck of the baseball world as the catalysts bounce back and forth from “powerful” to “victim” at the drop of a hat or whenever it is convenient to benefit from said situation. When did we become a bunch of cowards? Even as a child I knew that when I did something terrible I felt remorse without trying to rub it in the victim’s face. That basic and humanistic concept is way over the heads of these “men.”

Am I being dramatic here? In the end, despite the unmitigated disaster, my friend (who doesn’t give a toss about baseball) and I toddled down to the local art museum after the game, (don’t judge, we wore masks and the tickets were very limited) and afterward, in the suburban slob tradition, we scarfed a bunch of fast food, coddled in blankets while embracing auteur status of gory B-grade camp/crap horror movies. (Only because there were no more Cobra Kai episodes after binge-watching the shit out of the first 2 seasons) Very sophisticated stuff. This led me to forget about millionaires prancing around in pajamas and playing with balls. Embracing the important things in life. And we all need that in these trying times of pandemics, assholes, liars, cheaters, and pricks that surround us every day lacking any sort of compassion, justice, or truth that ultimately corrupts their blackened hearts.

The Asterisks won this series fair and square and undoubtedly have a powerful lineup, but in the playoffs pitching is always the Prom Queen and they have a noticeable lack of it. (So did the A’s but that is another story) How good is this team? Perhaps they stumbled upon a “playoff hot streak” à la the 2019 Nationals. Ahh, except that team had– you guessed it–pitching. Their shit-smudge dream will inevitably end, although, regrettably not by our hands, and their classless fans will crawl back under the rocks from whence they came. Go Rays! or Yankees? (I can’t believe I actually said that) 2020 can you please burn in hell? Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to go put my head in a cheese grater while searching for early signs of senility.

Bring on the lying, sniveling cheaters known as The Asterisks

What a series. I aged about 10 years and definitely acquired a few gray hairs. At times I was sweating like a whore in church, and at other moments I didn’t know what to do besides pace and stare at my fingernails. It wasn’t lost on me that this series started exactly one day after the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox scandal. Did the baseball gods still care? This club hadn’t won an elimination game since game 7 of the 1973 World Series-that is-never in my lifetime. The Sox had a vivid fashion sense, were known for “Cadillac-ing it,” had the best pure hitter in the league, and the probable MVP. That being said– let’s dive right in, shall we? (To be frank: I absolutely despise series recaps on blogs. They are humdrum and as dull as dishwater. I know…what a hypocrite.)

Game 1: The gods certainly must have stifled a chuckle when the front office (or Melvin?) decided to start LH pitcher Jesus “Jesus Lizard” Luzardo in game 1, garnering a snarky response from Tim Anderson whose Sox were 14-0 against such freaks of nature.  And rightly so, as after the (predictable) loss it was almost a universal feeling from the fan base, with torch and pitchforks, that it was time for Bob Melvin and Billy Beane to make their exodus. The power of frustration compels me! Sox 4 A’s 1

Game2: Chris Bassitt my be the best pitcher in the A.L., and he proved it by shutting down the powerful Sox lineup, saving the season, and maybe Melvin’s managerial career in the green and gold. Mark Canha made an incredible catch in LF giving all the old coots LSD flashbacks of Joe Rudi in the1972 WS and essentially saving the game. Dallas Keuchel couldn’t get out of the 4th, the South-Siders tried to make a late-inning comeback, even loading the bases in the 9th before being shut down by Jake Diekman. A’s 5 Sox 3

Game 3: A HUGE 4 run 4th inning erased a 3-0 deficit and an absolute feeling of deflation and the “here we go again” sentiment that the fans were universally experiencing. This game could be forgotten as the playoffs mature, but for now it is one of the biggest wins I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It really could have gone either way as both teams left a lot of ducks on the pond in big situation after big situation before a 5.5 hole stinger by Chad “Swiss Army Knife” Pinder scored two runs and cemented the eventual final. Sox manager and hot head Rick Renteria made some baffling pitching decisions, playing “3-D chess” and pulling his starter in the 1st after 2/3 of an inning and using SIX pitchers to get the first 12 outs. A classic case of over-thinking, and now the fan base wants him strung up. What a strange managerial flip-flop. In the end, it wasn’t our problem as it was the Elephant’s first series win since 2006 and gives us an invite to Dodger Stadium to exact sweet revenge on the Asterisks. A’s 6 Sox 4

“I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “But what are they going to say now?” I know what I would say: you won a “Wild Card” 3 game series and haven’t accomplished jack shit. Your pitching is weak. Quit playing the victim. My inner Joe Biden wanted to say, “Will you shut up, man?” If this team was a living annex of your personality, you would cheat on your wife and then return home to blame it on some other shmuck with an unapologetic smirk. Classic blame-shifting. It’s the Oakland A’s and every other fan in the baseball world vs. The Asterisks, and they need to be humbled in the worst kind of way. “Bang a Gong,” as Marc Bolan famously sang, and not a trash can. A’s in 4. 

Bring on the Sox

R.I.P Eazy

When I think of the White Sox I immediately think of N.W.A., Bo Jackson, Bill Veeck, Charles Comiskey, goofy softball uniforms. Carlton Fisk, Disco Demolition Night, Frank Thomas, Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Black” Jack McDowell, Tony LaRussa (this one is confusing), and last but not least….a completely wasted, living and breathing trailer-park-cliche father and son materializing from the stands to beat the shit out of an umpire

There’s a largely uncelebrated and rich history on the South-Side of Chicago, but much like the Oakland A’s, they hone their craft on the more working-class (black) side of town with “derelict” followers, so they get very little national screen time or respect from anyone in the baseball world but the rabid fan base that supports them. They are considered the plucky little brother from a city that can hardly pull their eyes away from the bourgeois North-Side Cubs that are synonymous with a large fan base of drunken college kids lurking in the bleachers, throwing up on themselves (and others) and not even bothering to at least go to the restroom to urinate when they’re not harassing and hurling death-threats at an innocent, headphone and turtleneck-wearing nerd.

Alas, there is a wealth of young talent on this exciting Sox team that would surely be household names if they played for the Yankees, with the likes of Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, and Jose Abreau swinging the sticks, and Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease taking the hill for the Medias Blancas de Chicago. And in an abrupt topic change, I would also like to take this time to thank the Sox for letting us defraud and embarrass them in the Jeff Samardzija for Marcus Semien and Chris Bassitt trade. We didn’t care much for Jeff in the East Bay anyway. Ribbing aside, I have much respect for this team and their history and I am looking forward to an exciting, highly competitive series that should be a treat for all baseball fans.

Hot Dogs, Mustard, and Mr. October

The Dalai Lama walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything.” Heyoooo!

“There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover Reggie Jackson.”Darold Knowles, Oakland A’s, 1973

Once a year on the 4th of July weekend, the world focuses its curious attention to the freak-show known as Coney Island for the formerly Japanese-dominated, highly anticipated athletic event known as Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Half drunken crowds watch with glee and mouth-foaming fervor as contestants literally stuff voluminous amounts of the mystery food down their throats like a starving 2-year-old child to the tune of a 10,000 dollar prize and accolades that only a B-movie actor or 3rd rate hip hop artist could receive.

On a whimsy, I attended this event with my then bikini-clad girlfriend in the summer of 2006. She had short blond hair akin to cliche-80’s-movieruskie Brigitte Nielsen of Rocky 3 fame, and turned her nose up to the event. And I, like much of the crowd, was pleasantly buzzed and was absolutely tranquilized by the spectacle. This prototypical American shit-show was a much more desirable choice than loitering on a dusty and windy East Coast beach while old, perverted chess players eyeballed the thin, blonde California Girl. Ever the narcissist, she had been turning heads and inheriting carnal thoughts since she was a pre-teen princess growing up in a small town in the north side of the Golden State.

And in my hazy state on that sunny New York day, I started to wonder how eating hot dogs was a gluttonous spectacle, and “being” one in the baseball world was to be the same: an all-encompassing, excessive consuming force who craves attention, and Reggie Jackson certainly was emblematic of this. The parallels were astounding–like the hot dog eating affair, New Yorkers voraciously consumed gossip newspapers, and amassed some sort of love/hate affair with controversial NY Yankee Jackson in a similar manner–the “grotesque” that lovingly had a sprinkle of S&M around the edges. Pure, unadulterated spectacle display for a boorish native culture that prides itself on vulgar personality and shoving mass quantities of filthy odds and ends down its own throat for the sake of a story and cheap titillation. 

Pass the mustard.

A baseball player no longer

In 2012 Adrian Cardenas was a 24-year-old Chicago Cubbie, had 11 career hits, and publicly decided to quit baseball to drape himself in more intellectual pursuits. He wrote about his decision eloquently in a piece for The New Yorker garnering admiration from some and dismay from others. “With every semester that passed, I loved school more than I loved baseball, and eventually I knew I had to choose one over the other,” Cardenas wrote. Never wavering, Adrian went on to major in philosophy and creative writing at NYU and eventually obtained a master of fine arts degree.

Although Cardenas never played in an Oakland uniform, he was a top 10 prospect at one time, and I remember watching him quite often in the summer of 2011 with the AAA Sacramento RiverCats. I stumbled across his film, El Artesano (The Artisan) a few days ago, and found it to be quite touching with dazzling cinematography and an artistic touch without pretension. In a world of disposable media, I found myself reflecting on the short film even a few days after watching it. If you have 12 minutes of time I would like to petition you to click on the link below:

https://www.shortoftheweek.com/2020/08/25/el-artesano-the-artisan/

A simple, yet inquisitive letter to former baseball player Brian Kingman

History was unearthed for a few bucks.

Hey, dude…I bought this little pin at a garage sale, and it just happened to be attached to a ticket stub. After some research on the Baseball Almanac, you actually pitched that day! You tossed 7 innings giving up 2 earned, but unfortunately lost to Dave Steib who pitched a CG giving up only 1 in a game the A’s eventually lost 3-1. Do you have any additional information? I had apprehensions that you would remember a Monday game from the Coliseum in 1982, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

I do remember the game, but as you mentioned there was really nothing notable about the game itself, that I can recall. What I do remember about the game is that it was a scenario I was too familiar with. Dave Steib was sharp that day, and although I was pitching well enough to win most games, this wasn’t going to be one of them.

The game was played at a time when the players already knew Billy would not be returning to the A’s, but it was not public knowledge. These were the waning days of the Billy Ball Era, which was a bit of a phenomenon, but that time had now clearly passed. The game was played about a week after Billy had demolished his office. Rumors had been circulating for a few weeks that Billy wanted out of his contract with the A’s and apparently the A’s did not want to let Billy go. So Billy tore up his office, made some insulting remarks about the owners, and got what he wanted, which was a chance to manage the Yankees again. Steinbrenner had seen his success with the A’s and Billy could see from the way the 1982 season had gone that he had pretty much run his pitching staff into the ground. The future looked dim for Oakland and the grass looked much greener in New York.

I think Billy had been considering his departure from the A’s for a few months prior to the office incident. By mid-season he seemed less focused and intense than the previous years. I believe one of the symptoms of this can be seen in a game of June 23rd of the 1982 season. Billy picked a lineup out of a hat in a game we were playing against a division rival (KCR) Turns out he has done this before, but it seemed way out of character for the Billy Martin we knew. (ed note: Kingman lost that game as well, giving up 1 in 8 innings, but the terrible Oakland club managed only 4 hits and lost 1-0.) 

Don Baylor, Johnnie Taylor, and the 13th Floor Elevators

1979 A.L. MVP and some schmuck.

Austin, Texas has a city-wide mask mandate, as the Orange Menace Virus has attacked the state of Texas unlike few other states. When I visit a new town I feel an innate, almost compulsive desire to explore the area on foot. I roamed through the humid downtown on an asinine and futile mission, trying to find a specific rock and roll bar-The Thirteenth Floor-named after one of my favorite 60’s psychedelic bands, The 13th Floor Elevators.

The bar was closed, per regulation, so I stood in front of the joint for a moment trying to cool off in the shade and listened to Johnnie Taylor’s “Running Out of Lies” that was slowly pouring out of a ghetto blaster hoisted by a black dude who looked a lot like Bo Diddley. I knew it couldn’t be Bo Diddley, as he been dead for well over a decade, so I took a swig of water, enjoyed the song and the beauty of the offbeat and the inexplicable for a moment, and was on my way. I realized that I should be referring to GoogleMaps for information, but I like my quests to be visceral and in the tradition of the flâneur, which means “stroller,” “lounger,” “saunterer,” or “loafer.” A defining characteristic of the flâneur is that he doesn’t have any practical goals in mind: he isn’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere specifically, and neither was I.

I enjoyed being a “slow observer” and soaking in the local murals, eccentricities, food and flavor; and this random synchronicity led me to a large cemetery where I stumbled upon the grave of Don Baylor. I paused for a moment and lamented this man who was not only a great hitter, but was also seen as one of the gentlemen of the game. Here are some random facts about Baylor:

— one of four ML players to be named MVP and Manager of the Year. (Kirk Gibson, Frank Robinson, Joe Torre are the others)
— was the major component in the infamous 1976 Charlie Finley garage sale/Reggie Jackson trade with the Orioles.
— was on the star-studded 1988 Oakland A’s team that lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. (Baylor had 1 AB in that series.)
— Don was hit by a ML record 267 pitches (since broken) and his credo was “never rub” which he only broke once when drilled by a Nolan Ryan fastball.
— he hit a HUGE home run in game 6 of the 1987 World Series leading a comeback against the Cardinals ace John Tudor which helped lead the Twins to the crown.

I sat and visited with Don for a moment, soaking in the awesome greatness and somber mortality of the situation before continuing with my amble. So long, Don. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.