I had no misguided delusions of this team winning the division at the beginning of the 2021 season. The past few days I have read various comments comparing Sergio Romo to a white flag, but you’ll see that I wrote on this very blog some months ago that I saw the Romo and Elvis Andrus acquisitions as a white flag with no implications of competing before a single ball was hurled or a single bat was swung.
It was simply lipstick on a pig.
It’s not practical for a team that is tip-toeing the paper-thin line between “good” and “average” to lose two All-Star caliber players (Marcus Semien, Liam Hendricks) and supplant them with two decrepit, below average players who are barely ML caliber. Who was relegated to pick up the slack? Because no one on this roster did–or was even capable–and the numbers to be replaced were insurmountable. The fact that either player stepped on the field wearing pajamas with Oakland stitched on the front was a middle-finger to the fans. A ruse. The same tired and time-honored baseball front office hoax of getting the fans interested by virtue of a recognized player who “did it in the past” rather than the ability to put up numbers for your team today–and the uneducated, fringe fans fall for it…every…single….time.
We as fans are supposed to “trust the process,” but where does a team go with a 29th ranked minor league system and zero ability to sign high profile free agents? Are we as Oakland fans to forever wish upon a star with the likes of Skye Bolt or a myriad of AAAA players? To dig through the trash to find somewhat capable players with obvious flaws and then leave it to management to disguise said flaws? Make no mistake about it, the contention window has closed with this current team, and with the threat of a move to Las Vegas imminent these are times of high anxiety for fans of the green and gold. We are staring into the void of the baseball universe and having an existential crisis while the front office is trying to prove their craftiness by playing a glamorized version of Strat-O-Matic. Dare I say the Devil Rays have surpassed the A’s at their own game in this respect? A World Series appearance, the best record in the AL, and a stacked minor league system tells me…. hell yes.
Humbled and surpassed at our own Moneyball game as a billionaire con-man (John Fisher and his tasseled loafers can burn in hell) hiding behind the scenes uses the team, the city of Oakland and MLB in order to extort and develop hundreds of acres of publicly owned land posing as a “stadium project.” In the end, this team we root for is just an asset for real estate development–the franchise itself is entirely immaterial to the bottom line.
These are disparaging times with no foreseeable reprieve.
I remember that day well. I had almost drown while surfing in the hidden cove. The waves took me under and I was thrashing around at the bottom and had no idea which way was up and which way was down. It didn’t matter, as I was being pummeled mercilessly and told myself not to panic or I’d start sucking in water. I suppose there are worse ways to die, but while it’s happening you are never really ready to concede no matter the aesthetic. It’s like a surprise birthday party in all the wrong ways.
There is nothing like the sensory pleasure of falling off a surfboard into the cold Southern California ocean as you tumble under the surface for what seems like an eternity and surface gasping for air. I was reborn as I violently broke the surface–blind luck and another bullet dodged. I dragged myself across the sand, chest heaving heavily and astonished to still be in one piece as the sky was making that brief transformation that comes every evening at twilight.
“Whats new, pussycat?” I asked, still gasping for air.
My girlfriend had brought the New York Times, a large umbrella and a few adult beverages. She looked amazing in her bikini, and I was jealous of the sun glistening off her light-brown cocoa skin like a forbidden sanctum while my own pasty coating was sucking up skin cancer like a flophouse on future consignment. My lust was transparent. We were hanging out mere feet away from where Charlton Heston filmed the iconic scene with the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes. It was well known to locals, but you had to climb a small stack of sharp, craggy boulders to enter the VIP room.
“Did you know that most “friendships” are only reciprocal 53 percent of the time?” said the scantily clad girl.
I sat for a minute quietly thinking about my own life and the relationships that had come and gone. I supposed that I had never seen any sort of friendship as “forever” because of my own abandonment by my father. Because of this thought, and the anxiety of the inevitable, perhaps I never put the time or the effort into friendships that I should have. I simply exhausted all avenues and then quietly moved on with little care. Funny how that happens–one minute you’re dying, and the next…disastrous self-scrutiny.
“Looks like your favorite player was traded,” she said.
“Those damn dirty apes,” I thought. They went and did the inevitable –so how could I be shocked or angry? “They’ll love him in New York for about, oh, 15 minutes.” (Gray was 15-16 over the lower part of 2 seasons before being exiled to Cincinnati for a package of hot dog buns)
Echoes of the past rumble through my head as I gazed upon the murderous waves crashing in deadly syncopation. I loved to tempt the laws of probability as a reaffirmation of existence. I dragged the surfboard slowly to the water and the previous thoughts disappeared as suddenly as they came. I didn’t like revisiting the past– and the way the waves were looking today, perhaps I didn’t have a future either.
note: if you want to watch free baseball, simply click on Alfred E. Neuman’s face in the upper right hand corner.
Although much of what I do here is the literary equivalent of digital fish wrap, I recently decided to go a different direction and did a cool and very interesting interview with Matt from Oakland A’s UK. I despise long intros, so I’ll let the interview do the talking…also, do yourself a favor and check out the link above if you get a chance! Enjoy.
1. Let’s start with the genesis of this love affair. How did you discover baseball in a football-obsessed country, and why did you choose the Oakland A’s as your favorite club?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s two MLB games per week were shown live on British TV in the early hours of the morning. As a big sports fan, I thought I would give baseball a shot and so I recorded a game and was hooked straight away, despite not having much of a clue what was going on at first. My first game was in mid-1998 so I lucked into the whole drama of the ‘Run for ‘61’ (slightly tarnished in retrospect!) that season and also quickly gained a healthy dislike of the Yankees due to them being annoyingly good in that period!
I thought it would be more fun to have a team to root for, but had no geographic or family reasons that might pick a team for me, other than not wanting to jump onto the bandwagon of the usual big-name teams. In the end, it came down to the colors. I come from a small city called Norwich and our soccer team plays in yellow and green, so when I saw the A’s green and gold caps that was as good a reason as any.
I’d say I’ve properly been following the A’s since 2005, as that was the first year when MLB.TV was really starting up and I was able to watch or listen to lots of games rather than just reading up about them online. 2005 really isn’t all that long ago, but the way MLB.TV has developed over the years since, and streaming in general, is pretty remarkable. Add on social media and wherever you are in the world you can now feel like part of the fan base. We’ve been incredibly lucky that so many A’s fans have been so welcoming towards us, both online and on visits to the Coliseum, and I think that speaks to the unique spirit that A’s fans have.
2. Considering the time change, you and your crew have to rise at ungodly hours to watch these games. How do you suffer through it?
We are 8 hours ahead of Pacific Time so day-games are our friend! A typical 12.37pm or 1.07pm start in Oakland is 8.37pm/9.07pm here in the UK, and that means most weeks there are at least 2 if not 3 games we can watch live at a convenient time.
The night-games are usually a 2.40am or 3.07am start for us. With the best will in the world, watching those live every day, combined with a full-time job and other commitments, often isn’t feasible. So we don’t tend to watch ‘working week’ night-games live and instead either just settle for watching the highlights or watch the game back ‘as live’ the following day. That’s been made easier over the past 18 months due to Covid lockdowns and the increase home-working where we can have it on in the background!
The other silver lining of the Covid period has been the wide adoption of Zoom calls as a way for us to watch games together despite living apart, in different parts of the UK and also friends out there in the States joining too. That helps to get us through late nights when the game is dragging on a bit.
3. Are you invested in the decision regarding the Oakland City Council and the A’s potentially leaving Oakland?
Definitely. We don’t come from a sporting culture of franchises and the very idea of picking up a team and moving it somewhere else is completely abhorrent to us whoever the team is, let alone the one we love. I know the A’s moved from Philadelphia and KC to get here, but the team has been in Oakland since 1968 so by now I think everyone has the right to consider the A’s as being Oakland’s team. I guess Fisher and Kaval see the Vegas flirting as standard business practice for US franchises, but it’s just the latest kick in the teeth for a fanbase that has been treated terribly for years and deserves so much better.
Clearly the Howard Terminal plan is complicated, but it feels like it has got further along the line than any other plan for a new ballpark in Oakland, so I view it all with cautious optimism. All of us in the AUK group would struggle to follow the team to a new location, especially one out of the Bay Area, so we all desperately hope that everything works out and Fisher and Kaval actually come good on their ‘Rooted In Oakland’ talk.
4. Who are your favorite players and most hated? (Any Jim Johnson hate would be appreciated)
Jim Johnson certainly is on the bad list, with Billy Butler being the other name that comes up most in our discussions of recent flops.
In terms of favorites, I think I loved everything about Coco Crisp, from his name to his batting stance, and he was a rare player who stuck around for quite a while. Cespedes was like a comet who shone with us briefly, but he felt like a star player when he was here, and one who genuinely seemed to enjoy being in Oakland.
Most recently, Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks were players you had to love because we saw their struggles and how hard they worked to become excellent players, and again both had a lot of respect for the A’s fan base. That made the past off-season really hard, but there are always new players to emerge or existing ones to step up. Right now, my vote would be for ‘the starting rotation’! I love the way that they clearly enjoy being in each other’s company and drive each other on. Here’s hoping they can keep performing as well as they have up to this point.
To everyone’s shock and surprise, yours truly was apparently persuasive enough to wrangle a few media credentials recently for a AAA game on a hot, sticky Saturday night in Round Rock, Texas. My baseball buddy (the female version, not the one that looks like Cheech) had a good laugh at this and was comparing me to the baseball writing equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson.
“They’re going to be wondering, who the hell is this guy affiliated with?” she said with a snicker, glaring at my cut-off jean shorts and general casual appearance that bordered on “depraved homeless guy” entangled with a little “divorced dad who stopped giving a shit” vibe–the only thing missing was the cigarette holder and flask of vodka in the breast pocket.
I assured her that this wasn’t the old-school baseball writing world of cigar-chomping old guys wearing Hawaiian shirts with an Olivetti typewriter tucked beneath their arm. No, my friend, these weren’t newspaper and media hacks who didn’t use nuance or subtext and who hadn’t read anything remotely literary since the ink on a copy of The Old Man and the Sea was fresh. These were modern, good ‘ol All American tech-savvy baseball promoters with hipster haircuts, toothy smiles and finely trimmed beards looking to climb the ladder in a billion-dollar industry by foisting fake opinions for clicks and sponsors.
“Wow, now you look even worse.”
All the internal hype was for naught. (This was, alas, the minor leagues) I was asked, indeed, what outfit I was with, but the overall Press Box atmosphere seemed sort of relaxed and lethargic. A nice man, Leonard, answered a few questions, told us we couldn’t go into the TV room and gave us some tickets for free tacos. There was a snack spread and we took a few bags of chips and soda and decided to go down and find a few empty seats on the first-base-line with the rest of the fans: we needed that feeling of symbiosis that had been missing since our weakened empire unequivocally turned divisive politically, went mentally unhinged and rehearsed a zombie apocalypse drill. I was also told that under no circumstances could someone media affiliated receive the Nolan Ryan bobblehead giveaway that night. Well, shit.
Overall, it was a humid, syrupy, sweat-inducing pleasant time. The atmosphere was lively (the crowd sang “Deep In The Heart Of Texas” during the 7th inning stretch) and my new favorite player, Curtis Terry aka “Scary Terry” hit 2 massive dingers while my baseball buddy made a sugary mess eating a funnel cake. A major highlight was the hilarious stampede for dollar hot dogs when the “Hot Dog Batter” struck out in the bottom half of the 7th–a kindly older gentleman felt the need to wildly instruct everyone in our section of this fact while other fans returned triumphantly with ghastly amounts of their pink, mustard-laden prize…I love minor league baseball.
Steve was one of the very first (if not the first) individuals to post a comment on this blog, and we’ve been “internet friends” ever since. 10 long years later, we are both published and still banging away on our keyboards–what a strange, wild, wacky world. I recently contacted him to chat about his book, Dreaming .400: Tales of Baseball Redemption.
Let’s start at your formative years. Talk a bit about where you grew up, how you gravitated to the game of baseball, and who were your favorite players?
I grew up in Milwaukee, but to say that would be kind of a lie since I was raised in a suburb of Milwaukee – Whitefish Bay… people around town called it “white folks bay” for obvious reasons. There were no bars there either, but there was a city bus line…the number 15 took us down to Milwaukee’s east side and elsewhere, to eat at diners, slip flasks into laundry mats and drink at bars which was always a scary self-conscious venture, for me anyway. I don’t know what initially triggered my interest in baseball but my dad took a bunch of friends and me to a doubleheader at County Stadium against the Red Sox. I don’t remember who won. I think it was in 1977? I woulda been seven at the time. I also remember my dad bringing home a pack of cards in 1975, all those colored Crayola explosion borders. I remember one of the cards – Jim Brewer, probably because I knew the Brewers played in Milwaukee, and yet, here was this pitcher with Brewer for the last name and he played for the Dodgers? It was confusing. I was no Einstein.
My favorite player was and will always be Harold Baines. I first saw him on WFLD channel 32 Chicago in the early ’80s. I don’t know what it was about him…maybe because he was an outfielder and so was I…maybe because he batted left-handed and so did I or maybe because he just seemed so mellow and humble or maybe it was the way he lifted up his front foot when batting? I later got to meet him in Sarasota, Florida where the sox trained and where my grandpa lived. He was standing with an Amish family. I waited my turn. He didn’t talk too much to me, but he sort of smiled and signed the ball I handed him. I later learned that Baines was from St. Michaels, Maryland and that there are a lot of Amish there. That explained that. Anyway, the contrast of Baines in his uni and the Amish family in their unis stuck with me in a whole lot of democracy happening on the urban street corner sort of way.
I have a nice baseball card collection, nice as in large. When I was a kid, I was a sucker for the rookie cards, thinking I would make a money-killing future. I bought tons of Dwight Gooden rookies in 84 and then a few years later, John Kruk and Kal Daniels and Barry Bonds and Barry Larkin, McGwire, all from that wood border 87 Topps set. I did score a 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie at a card show for 10 bucks which I’ve since sold for 500. I wish I wouldn’t have. it’s the only card I’ve ever sold. I did it to send money to my kid’s mom. I should have talked my way into postponing alimony.
I also got a Johnny Bench rookie, the same year, 1968. I still have that one. I still collect too. I’d like to one day have every Brewers card ever made or at least every Topps Brewers card. Seems doable since the Brewers are not that old…51 years. So am I. I like knowing that I was born the same year the Brewers were. I haven’t been too loyal. I spent many years away from “The Crew,” but they always welcomed me back…a forgiving family.
I played Strat-o Matic baseball as a teenager and into my adult life. The awesome thing about our strat-o group (there were five of us) is that one of the players was Craig Counsell, former MLB player and current manager of the Brewers and another guy was Galen Polivka, bass player for The Hold Steady. It’s awesome because their dreams came true!!!….Craig became a big leaguer and Galen became a member of a rock and roll band. The Hold Steady just came out with a new album too so they’ve been together for a good stretch. Anyway, I’m happy for them both and a little jealous too, mostly because I hate my job. I work in a hospital, in the warehouse, delivering supplies all over the place. too heavy. bad for my back. I’m freaking 160 pounds and not strong, but there is that team dimension that’s kind of interesting like a dugout with all the ages and personalities, plus I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck so it does award me time to jot down notes for my blog posts and stories. I’m currently working on a second collection of short stories which is supposed to be out in September or October 2021 but these dates always change which is cool because deadlines suck. I like the extra time and freedom to further develop characters, clarify themes, and whatever else to make a story more compelling.
You have an interesting and unique writing style. Who were some writers that influenced you, and who are you reading at the moment?
I didn’t do much reading as a kid, only baseball books and one book about pro quarterbacks in the NFL. I knew all the quarterbacks in the early ’80s and weird, I still remember them…Jim Plunkett, Steve Grogan, brian sipe, and on and on I guess the shit from our early teen years stays stuck in our mind somewhere. I took a beat generation class at UW-Milwaukee in the early 1990s and that rocked my world, from narrow stretches to the wide open. The teacher – James Liddy was from Ireland and a poet, the kind of guy who looked under your hood and provoked, brought us closer to ourselves. He encouraged us to hang out at bars and really demonstrated how to live a happy, single life, a life of drink and friends. Kerouac is definitely an influence, maybe Huxley and Hesse too. I read a bunch of their books. I also liked Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. that’s probably an influence too since I write short stories with baseball references sprinkled about. And then there’s my fellow bloggers like you, Gary…I love your rants and creativity and excellent writing so somehow I’m sure you’ve influenced me too. I’m currently rereading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl…a book about a psychiatrist stuck in Auschwitz and other concentration camps and how he put to use psychology he had developed prior to the war. It’s called it logotherapy — and in summary, seems to say that if there is a meaning to our lives, we can endure any circumstances. The psychological terms are a bit boring and hard to grasp, but the narrative from his time in the camps is fascinating. I love the metaphor of prison life…I often feel like I’m a prisoner at work, even worse, since, at work, I have to deal with so many people and in prison, you get some time alone or maybe most of the time is alone or with the bunkmate or whatever. I tend to be a hermit which is kind of good since writing fiction is one of the main reasons I wake up in the morning and to do that requires time alone, lots of it….and getting down? depressed? writer’s block? those things happen but talking to my psychiatrist or an afternoon whisky helps. It’s a good thing I live in Canada. my doctor doesn’t cost me a penny. not to go on a tangent, but I think socialized medicine helps individuals from feeling estranged, knowing that a government cares a bit about them. the other book I’m reading is Journey To The End of the Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine. I’m only a few pages in but he strikes me as a badass, a hardcore cynic, a massive critic, and a great writer. I learned about him from an interview with Kerouac way back when. At work, on my lunch break, I read Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. I like the way it flows and the low-life beautiful characters he creates or chronicles. I’m never sure if it’s autobiographical or fictional or maybe both? And the book I just finished was Adventures of Wim by Luke Rinehart. It took me a while to know what the freaking thing was about but when i did (it was a long book) I dug it. the concept reminded me of that Kafka book – The Castle…if I remember right…something about knocking on a door and hoping to get “in” when in fact, there is no ‘” in” with the trick being to keep knocking? That longing is the secret to some sort of happiness or a reason to wake up in the morning or afternoon…or ride around in a hearse…whatever you like.
I’ve read your excellent book Dreaming .400: Tales of Baseball Redemption, and I was wondering what your writing process is like, and when did you realize that you wanted to partake in the life of the scribe?
I wrote my first poem in that beat class I took back at UW-Milwaukee so I guess that’s when I thought about writing when I started to take it seriously or not seriously but having that ambition, that vain desire to be published. The poem went something like — “didn’t catch the train but beats blow fresh air my way… the Ferris wheel begins.” I remember Liddy, the teacher liking it and that made my day or my year or my life since I still remember him liking it. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters, back and forth with three friends, in particular, Liddy too, so they probably influenced me as well. I’m not sure what my process is other than the story idea comes in a specific moment like a flash of light with a lead sentence, a good sentence, a provocative one…and that sentence is like a miner’s light that shines through the whole story. I don’t really have to try to stay on subject because that first sentence guides me subconsciously or if it doesn’t, I make changes where necessary. I very rarely sit down and write a story in one sitting. I work and rework sentences and like my theme to be somewhat invisible so the reader has to do some connecting dots and thinking on their own, but not too much… I don’t want the reader to be confused. I think my writing is simple and straight-forward, probably because I’ve become simple and straight-forward. I think I used to be more confusing because I felt confused. Now, more than anything, I’m pissed off. One other thing about my writing process…I often take long breaks from stories, to let characters and plots marinate awhile in my mind. But there’s a danger in that because if i neglect a character, he or she won’t speak to me, not literally. I don’t have hallucinations, but speak to me in the sense of giving me ideas of things for them to do, things so the reader can get a better understanding of who they are…same with plots…I have to focus on it, give it attention. then the miracle can happen, that breakthrough that links the first paragraph to the last one. And as far as length goes, I find that a 4-page story is sometimes too long and a 14-page story is too short. Reading helps my writing.
Do you have any Brewers predictions for 2021?
I didn’t watch many games last year, but the word was that second baseman Keston Hiura stunk up the place so what do the brewers do this off-season? they signed Kolten Wong and moved Hiura to first base… a brilliant move, not that 1b is so easy to play…in fact, all that footwork strikes me as very challenging, not quite “spinning nine plates at the same time,” but easier than picking grasses in left field. Having a middle infield of Wong and Arcia….gonna be fun to watch. i’ll say 90 wins and another trip to the playoffs or maybe I’m too optimistic, unlike my dad who is from Boston. He knows better, being a Red Sox fan all those years before BIG PAPI and Manny and Pedro strolled into Bean-Town. Kind of a laugh in the face of Yawkey Boston tradition, if my history is right since Boston was so late to integrate. Thanks for having me on the FRO!!
“I went to three Royals games this year, but when I go there I come home and I dream about it for two weeks. And my dream is crazy. It’s that I am going to pitch, but I can’t find my hat or my glove and that I lost one of my shoes. I never throw a ball in a dream. I went to see a shrink about it, and that dream was defined to mean that I left the game before I was mentally prepared. I left because of an injury, rather than for a lack of ability. It’s a dream of frustration.” –Lew Krausse
I was saddened to hear of Lew Krausse dying last week, and it gave me the initiative to look into the ol’ cigar box to retrieve a creased and beat-up autographed 1969 baseball card of the legendary twirler. Lew had played and retired long before I was born, but I had read about and enjoyed his exploits in the various books published about Charlie Finley’s Kansas City/Oakland A’s. In another random and very odd twist, I was invited by an unnamed source in the Athletics organization (send me more free stuff!) to watch his Livestream funeral service (Feb. 24) on Vimeo. I’m not sure if I’ll partake in that quite yet, but it would be nice to honor the man in his final send-off.
Here are some facts about the pitcher:
–Lew was one of the first “bonus babies” in pro sports, signing at that time for a record $125,000 bonus by A’s owner, Charley Finley.
— pitched a 3 hit shutout against the LA Angels in his ML debut at the age of 18. (!!!)
— A legendary drinker who would give Wade Boggs and Mickey Mantle a run for their money, Lew shot off a handgun from the window of his hotel room in KC and kicked down a hotel room door in Anaheim.
— Starting pitcher for the Oakland A’s in their inaugural game in 1969, and also did the same for the first Milwaukee Brewers game in history.
For anyone interested, you can watch Lew pitch 3 innings of relief against the Red Sox in 1969 on Youtube. (relieving Jim Nash and earning the save. Reggie Jackson also hits a homer in this game.)
And In an added bonus, Lew also singles off the Green Monster with Yaz taking the carom and holding the runner. Link: A’s/Red Sox 6/15/1969.
Is there any more pitching in there? We need bullpen help.
I’m sitting on the toilet regretting last nights consuming of toxic sludge and listening to the Minutemen “Shit You Hear at Parties,” and it is 1 minute and 11 seconds of pure L.A. South Bay punk rock gold. Immediately after, I had an ex-girlfriend randomly text me to talk about this, that, or the other and I sort of had to stifle a chuckle. There was a time, long ago, that my sister had bought Tears for Fears tickets for just the two of us, and I couldn’t magically conjure a third ticket from the already sold-out show from thin air or my asshole so an argument and an unsubstantiated break-up ensued. (So much for “Sowing the Seeds of Love”) Pleasant reminiscing quickly turned to anger and I scatter-brained a quick click on the “block” button and let out a sigh. Disaster averted and personal level of Zen attainment unchallenged. Let’s check the news…shall we?
Nothing can gloss my eyes over quicker than billionaires arguing over revenue sharing and salary caps, yet I see that the Brokeland Pathetics continue to “piss in the ocean” and threw the fans into a fervor by acquiring pitcher Cole Irvin from the Phillies on layaway, (cash considerations) essentially doing their yearly dumpster diving and claiming to be cash poor, virtually homeless and small market. According to Forbes, owner John Fisher is currently worth $2.9 BILLION and thus is one of the richest owners in all of baseball. (Where’s Walter Haas when you need him?) As of this writing, the team currently sits $121 million under the luxury tax and has yet to sign a single free agent. This team is essentially banking on “Moneyball” rhetoric to pacify nitwit, short-sighted sports fans as close-fisted owners continue to profit off unprecedented increases in MLB revenues. In the end, sadly, my main concern and desperate priority concerning the A’s for the next decade isn’t winning, but their commitment to staying in Oakland.
As the world turns…
This Cole Irvin kid has had a terrible pro career but he absolutely tore up AAA for some team called the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. This leads to more confusion. Why would the Phillies give up on a guy that had an iota of talent for cash? And what exactly is an Iron Pig? In the end, we have become what Cubs fans used to be (without the idyllic ballpark): happily skipping to the yard to have a hotdog, beer, some sunshine, and a good time with the kids or grandpa, but ultimately having no delusions about a chance to win the “worthless piece of metal.” (Hello Rob Manfred!) It’s certainly disheartening when you see a young, fun, and razzle-dazzle “small market” team like the Padres signing big-time free agents, but that’s been the life of an A’s fan for the past 30 years or so. We are simply and inexorably the Ramen Noodles of pro sports, and Irvin settles nicely into that “cheap” and “organizational depth” category that the Oakland front office will happily pluck off the swap meet scrap heap. In the end, what do I know?… I’m just an ill-informed gasbag who is now stepping off his soapbox to happily one day put more money in the pockets of the grifters known as MLB. It’s a disgusting and hypocritical cycle and proves that the opinions of sports fans are often silly and redundant.
Wanna hear a cool song? Check out “Vida Blue” by Jimmy Bee
I know I have a predilection for visual art to be easy on the eye, but if it isn’t easy on the eye then at least it should be meaningful and thought-provoking. I tend to look at modern art the same way I look at a pop star: with tantalizing wonder, mild bemusement, and with a sense of ironic detachment. Despite my supposed bone of contention and love/hate relationship, the visual arts are a nice refresher for my mental highways and quite inspirational in my life on a daily basis. I adhere to that annoying cliche that makes art critics want to gouge their eyes out: I see art in everything.
The Orange Menace Plague has demonstrated the value of the visual arts, while also threatening it–education, entertainment, and escapism are just some of the benefits the arts have provided during these bleak and confusing times and we should do everything we can to give value to something infinitely more important than simple monetary worth. (all this was typed as “Do the Hustle” wafted serenely in the background. Can you ever mistake the first 3 seconds of that song for anything else? What a lovely, crappy song.)
One morning I was mindlessly scanning the internet (Help! I need a salve from doom surfing!) on a typical day of rampant cognitive dissonance when I stumbled upon this 1975 Topps Vida Blue oil painting manufactured by the artist John Kilduff. Kilduff is (well?) known for painting while doing acrobatics, like running on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike, during a public access show in Los Angeles. He is sort of seen as the punk rock version of Bob Ross and some critics have deemed the show “ironic performance art.” In my opinion, the best part about the show is that it lacks caller screening and a lot of bored stoners take advantage of this by making surly comments, cursing, accosting members of the show, and making derogatory comments about rival gangs.
Of course, this type of off-kilter, aberrant content was a calling card for the late-night drunken denizens of a city that took pride in its ability to mesh psychedelia and reality. It is the type of show that perfectly defines the human condition and would be one of the first things I’d choose if there was a mutual exchange of cultural artifacts with an alien species: you know…the ones that constructed the space laser/death star that created the forest fires in California.
You can buy the painting above for 340 dollars if that sort of thing floats your boat.
“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.
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.