Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stay on Target

It's hard to find things to agree about but one thing, I think, we can all agree on is that celebrating early when you are playing a sport makes you look like a jerk.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

You've never been so cold, you've never been so hungry

I stole that headline from David Benioff's book, "City of Thieves." I love that Tom took his army guys out in the snow.

Russian Front

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Game Seven of the 1960 World Series

The MLB Network showed game 7 of the 1960 World Series last week. Game 7 is the famous game in which Bill Mazeroski hit his famous bottom of the 9th walk off home run that gave Pittsburgh its first World Series victory since 1925. The game hadn’t been broadcast in its entirety since it was originally broadcast. The story about how the film of the game was discovered hidden among Bing Crosby’s possessions is worth reading. I’ve been dying to watch this since I first heard about the rediscovering of the film and I finally got to see it.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the complete lack of graphics other than the occasional name of the batter. No position, just name. Also, as Bob Costas pointed out before the game started, there are no instant replays. This fact created an interesting scapegoat who gets exonerated after viewing this game.

As with any baseball game from the 1950s and 1960s you will notice a considerable increase in the pace of the game play. The pitchers barely pause long enough to take signs between pitches and the batters do not step out of the batters box after every pitch. In fact, batters step out so infrequently that Mel Allen actually commented on one batter’s action when he stepped out of the box in order to slow down one Pittsburgh pitcher who was damn near throwing the ball back to the catcher as soon as he got it in his pitching hand. This was a 9 inning 10-9 game with seven total pitching changes and it only last 2 hours and 36 minutes. A similar Major League Baseball game 7 today would take four hours.

There was also very little of the attention getting antics you see from today’s athletes. No one was making the sign of the cross before each heroic at bat (although I swear I did see one player make a quick sign of the cross before an at bat but it was very subtle and definitely not done so the world could see he was a man of faith) and no one pointed to the sky when he got a hit. The players were very serious and businesslike. The only flash I saw out of any player was from Roberto Clemente. He had a very unique sidearm toss to the infield on routine fly balls and once when his catch ended an inning he flipped the ball to an umpire in a cool backhanded motion where the ball seemed to jump from his hip.

This was also an opportunity for me to watch for the first time a baseball game at the famous Forbes Field. It’s a classic old ballpark where the Pittsburgh Pirates player for a little over sixty years. What I like about old parks ike this is that they evolved and that is what made them all unique. I even got to see the legendary light tower shadow between first and second base. Each time a foul ball or a high fly ball was hit I got to see a bit more of the park. As the game went on I got better picture of it. I noticed how down the right field line the seats curled around into beyond right field into a traditional bleacher but down the left field the seating ended abruptly and all there was beyond left field was a brick wall covered in ivy with trees beyond. It provided a nice contrast.

I noticed a couple of trivial things about a couple of players that stood out to me. Yogi Berra, who I had forgotten batted left handed, took two bats with him to the batters box. He would take a few swings while the bat boy stood on the other side of home plate. Once he was ready to begin his at bat he would hand the bat off to the bat boy. I don’t recall seeing anyone else ever do that or get away with doing that. He also hit the shit out of a baseball when he hit his home run in the sixth inning. Lots of people can hit the ball hard bur his swing was vicious and that home run was a Kong shot.

It was odd to see someone with Yogi Berra’s body out there playing baseball. When you see Yogi on the screen there is no doubt as to who you are viewing. He looks like a Lego block but when you see him take a nasty cut at a pitch or watch him gracefully move under a fly ball you can tell he’s a talented athlete. He must have been all muscle.

Tony Kubek, the Yankees shortstop, batted with his baseball cap in his back pocket and when he got on base he would ditch his batting helmet and put his cap on. Mickey Mantle, on the other hand, wore his cap under his helmet. In case you are wondering, according to Wikipedia batting helmets weren’t mandatory until 1971*. I remember having to wear my cap under my batting helmet a couple of times during my sophomore year of high school because there was only one helmet that actually fit me, the rest were too big.

*Interesting tidbit about the batting helmet: “In 1952, the Pittsburgh Pirates became the first major league team to permanently adopt batting helmets. And Rickey was serious about it. The Pirates were ordered to wear the helmets both at bat and in the field, though thankfully that idea only lasted a couple of seasons before the fielders could leave them in the dugout.

At first, the Bucs weren't too crazy about them, and the fans got a hoot out of them too, bouncing marbles off the players' helmeted heads. But one play that year turned many players' attitudes around.

A helmeted Paul Pettit, pinch-running for the Pirates against the Cubs, was speeding toward second base to break up a DP when the shortstop's bullet relay hit him squarely in the head. "All it did was dent the helmet, and he stayed in the game," recalled Joe Garagiola, talking to SI. "Made believers out of everybody."

I was surprised by that the Pittsburg crowd booed Casey Stengel when he visited the mound to talk to his pitcher. How do you boo Stengel? He played 128 games for Pittsburgh in 1918-19. His numbers were OK, he had a pretty respectable on base percentage. Were they booing him just because he was the opposing manager? Was it because he said something to the press earlier in the series? It was game 7 of the World Series so it could have been for a lot of reasons. But, dang, boo Casey Stengel? What do you have to say for yourselves, Pitssburgh?

In the 8th inning Stengel made a strange decision. Late in the inning the Yankees have runners on second and third and they have just scored two runs to go up 7-4. A hit at this point in the game could really have sealed the victory for them. Stengel chooses to let his pitcher Bobby Shantz bat. Shantz ended with a career batting average of .195 and in 1960 he batted .100 Shantz flies out to end the inning and pitched to all of two batters in the Pittsburgh half of the 8th inning. I was sitting there and watching this and just really perplexed by what I was watching. Shantz had been pitching really well. He had lasted 5 innings already. Maybe Stengel had no confidence in who he had left in the bullpen but the bullpen was fresh except for Bob Stafford, the man he relieved. No one else other than Whitey Ford and game 7 starter, Bob Hurley, had pitched since game 5 which had taken place three days before. While going over this in my head I was grateful I didn’t have to listen to Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver tell me what a strange decision this was.

In the top of the 9th Mickey Mantle made one of the most athletic plays I have ever seen. He is on first base and Gil McDougald is on third and Yogi Berra is batting. The Yankees are down by one run. Yogi scorches a ground ball to the Pirates first baseman, Rocky Nelson. Nelson is right next to the bag so he steps on it forcing out Yogi Berra. Mickey Mantle is stuck about six feet off first base and there are now two outs. He faces Nelson and when Nelson makes a move toward mantle to tag him Mantle dives toward the home plate side of first base. As he dives he twists the bottom half of his body toward home plate. Nelson dives to where Mantle was a split second before and ends up tagging the infield dirt. While Mantle is floating six inches above the ground like Michael Vick diving in for a score against the Panthers, McDougald scores from third and the game is tied. Mantle, through athelticism and an unwillingness to lose has extended the Yankees’ season. Watching that you can see why, as David Halberstam put it, many athletes are heroes to their fans but Mickey Mantle was that rare athlete that was a hero to his teammates.

That Mantle play is one of three plays I watched over and over with my handy dandy DVR. The other two were the ball Tony Kubek took to the throat and the play that has caused Jim Coates to become a minor goat in Yankee lore. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th the Pirates have runners on second and third. They are down by two runs and Robert Clemente is at the plate. He hits dribbler down toward first base. The pitcher Coates appears to get to first base late and Clemente hustles down for an infield single. The next batter hits a three run homer and the Pirates go up 9-7 and Mantle has to play Superman a few minutes later to keep the Yankees in the game. I played this play back a few times in slow motion on the DVR and Coats did not neglect to cover first. He initially went for the ball and then went toward first base when he realized he couldn’t get to the ball. Even if he had gone straight to the bag Clemente still may have beaten any throw that could have been made. I had heard that it was a bonehead move. This wasn’t some spoiled pitcher forgetting to cover first. He was hustling the whole time. Maybe making a play for ball was not the best choice but this was hardly a bonehead play. The Yankee second baseman Bobby Ricardson who was at a special screening of this game in Pittsburgh said as much. Seeing what Coates did on this play was something Richardson was waiting to see and he exonerated Coates with his comments.

I was curious to observe the behavior of the Pittsburgh crowd during the game. One thing that I noticed right away was it was hard to gauge the feel of the crowd due to the lack of crowd shots. Not once during the game did the camera focus on a few individuals in the grandstands. That’s a standard shot for modern sports broadcasts. Now people dress up and carry signs in order to garner the attention of the television cameras. This crowd remained anonymous. One big difference I did notice was an overall subdued atmosphere. The crowd did go crazy when a big play occurred and the place exploded when Mazeroski hit his famous series-ending home run but during the lulls you didn’t get the sense of the forced and artificial constant enthusiasm that the professional sports leagues try to create today.

The post game interview with the victorious Pirates in their locker room was an unexpected joy. What you saw was a bunch of athletes so filled with joy that they can barely form sentences. It’s very revealing to see athletes this unguarded. It’s almost like watching an interview with a softball team that just won a local tournament they’ve been trying to win for twenty years. To see professional athletes speak before professional marketers and ego inflating agents moved into the game shows you what we are missing now. Pirates outfielder Gino Cimoli summed it up perfectly when he said, "They broke all the records but we won the game."

The MLB Network will probably show this game a few more times. You can visit their website to view the schedule. If you get a chance take a look at the game. It really is a good baseball game, not just a piece of history for the baseball nerds. The teams exchange the lead three times in the last two innings. It’s very exciting and you’ll forget you are watching a baseball game that is fifty years old and will find yourself just watching a great baseball game.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Initial reports out of the tire testing going on at the recently repaved Daytona International Speedway are not encouraging. According to Jeff Burton it's Talladega style, for sure. One reason that racing at Daytona has been better than at Talladega is due to the older pavement. Cars couldn't bunch up there because they didn't have the grip to do so. Now, with new pavement, Daytona is going to be one big boring pack of cars rubbing and bumping at around 190 MPH until the big wreck happens sometime after the halfway point of the race. How can NASCAR possibly think this is a good idea? I was very disappointed when it seemed like they didn't even consider whether or not to redesign the track in order to bring speeds down without having to continue resorting to the ineffective band-aid of restrictor plates. As Burton just said accoring to Terry Blount "They didn't change the banking or the angles." We have been guaranteed years and years of more big ones. Burton just was quoted by his team's Twitter feed as saying, "There is going to be a constant pack, I don't know how you will get separated. Its going to be a big pack all the time. That is exactly what I am talking about. That's not racing, that's gambling at 190 MPH.

Every few months when I really think about restrictor plate racing I just get really depressed. I think of all the great racing we are missing at Daytona (Talladega is another story). For NASCAR to not even consider seriously finding some way to race at Daytona without plates tells me they like the restrictor plate and the "racing" and giant wrecks it creates. Plate racing is the NASCAR equivalent of a football or basketball game. In football and basketball all the action is focused on the ball and that translates perfectly to television, unlike baseball and most NASCAR races. In a race the "ball" is the first place car. With a plate race all of the 42 other cars can be in the picture with the "ball." Sure, it makes for exciting television. Especially when 10 to 20 cars start spinning, smashing, rolling and flying into the air when tempers run short late in the event. Which, of course, is another reason plate racing translates so well to television. By the time the network finishes showing you the forty-eleven angle of the crash they have recorded the debris is cleaned up and we are back to racing. It doesn't matter if 10 to 20 cars are no longer in the race because a 20 car pack isn't any less exciting that a 43 car pack.

And don't go telling me that you can't redesign Daytona because of 50 plus years of tradition. Tradition didn't help Rockingham. Tradition didn't help North Wilkesboro. Like the fiasco of the BCS in college football, it all comes down to money. Honestly, when did anything in this sport not come down to money? It's not coincidence that the Talladega race on October 31st this year had the highest cable rating of any race on cable in the last two months of the season. In fact, was on a couple hundred thousand viewers behind the October Charlotte race that was seen on ABC. We do love our flying race cars, don't we?

What is most frustrating is that NASCAR could fix Daytona if they really wanted to. You can't tell me that they couldn't hire a group of engineers and tell them, "We want you to find a track configuration similar to what we have now that will naturally create speeds of around 205 mph at the end of each straightaway." It could and should be done but it'll never happen because restrictor plate racing is now the norm and it's not going away. And, by the way, if you love restrictor plate racing, you are not watching your television for the competition. You are waiting for the big one. That's fine, because wrecks are part of the sport. Wrecks aren't everything and we are missing out some fine racing that an redesigned and unrestricted Daytona International Speedway could give. Shouldn't the biggest race of the year at least be a good race?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"You don't go around grieving all the time, but the grief is still there and always will be." Nigella Lawson

Recently a friend of a friend, someone I have met all of two times but have interacted with over the years through email, joined a sad club. A club whose members are those who have had a parent die too soon. There are two levels to this club, those that lost their parents as a child and those that lost them as adults. If you’re lucky you lose you parents when you are an adult and they are old. There are those that lose them before they should when we’re adults. When your parents are past 75 you’re ready. You’re still all tore up but at that point it’s not a tragedy. You don’t mourn too long. At some point you’re ready to celebrate a life. That happened a couple of years ago at my Grandfather’s funeral. He was 90 when he died. He passed away pretty peacefully surrounded by his family. At the funeral we all cried, some sobbed. Afterwards, at the wake, we all got drunk and had a good laugh and warmed ourselves with shared memories.

Back in 1992 my step Dad died on St. Patrick’s Day. I experienced one of those nightmare scenarios. I got home from an evening spent with some friends and there was a firetruck in our driveway. They were packing up their equipment. That evening is a blur. The firetruck idling. Our neighbor from across the street, a former warrant officer in the Marine Corps, coming out of our house and telling me, “Eddie, your Dad had a heart attack and I don’t think he’s going to make it.” A drive to the hospital and my Mother insisting on seeing his body. We walk to the door of the room his body is laying, I stop at the entrance, I remember his face dark and discolored and a breathing tube still in his mouth. Going back home and thanking our neighbor for watching the two younger siblings and then waking them and telling them their Dad was dead. Then days of immobilizing sorrow. I don’t ever want to have to be present ever again when an 8 year old and a 12 year old are told their Dad has just died.

When I was eight my paternal Grandfather died. When I was 12 my maternal Grandmother died. Those were landmark events of my childhood but, since you’re a kid, you bounce back pretty quick from the death of a grandparent. After all, they are old and you’re young and going to live forever. I also remember attending the funerals of two great grandparents during my childhood. The funerals of the great grandparents were interesting because it’s hard to imagine your grandparents have parents. As far as your world is concerned time started with your grandparents.

But, my step Dad’s death was sudden and unexpected. He was the rock on which we built our home here in Charlotte and when that heart attack killed him I went through a real grieving process for the first time. I could not have been more unprepared for it. I was truly immobilized. I called in to work at the shitty convenience store I worked at for $5 an hour and told them I’d be out for a few days. I barely made it to Central Piedmont Community College for my classes and probably would have failed all of them if it wasn’t for the instructors giving me time to catch up. If his cousin hadn’t flown in immediately and taken over the funeral arrangements I don’t know what my Mother and I would have done.

The first few days were surreal. I’d hear his voice. I’d enter a room and expect him to be there. Once a coworker of his with a similar physique and wearing the official Rick Hendrick Lexus black pullover windbreaker that my Dad wore a lot walked into our living room and for a split second my Dad was there and then, of course, he wasn’t. Grieving is full of these tiny stabs that over a couple of weeks completely break you down. Today at the library I overheard two World War II veterans talking and one was just recently widowed. The other had lost his wife years before and when he heard the other lost his wife just days ago he said, “Oh, you’re still crying. I cried for weeks.”

You do get over it. After a while I could think about his death without losing it and then eventually I could talk about it. Which is necessary if you want to function in this world. If every wound was always fresh we’d either be living in Elantris or no one would ever go to football practice or eat three McDonald’s cheeseburgers in one sitting. It’s unfortunate because my memories of my step Dad get dimmer each year. All have are snippets: his waddling walk, his strong voice, his smile. First your loved ones are taken out of reach and then they slowly fade away.

I guess one good thing did come from his death. I got out of that dead end job at the convenience store. It was a Quik Shoppe owned by Spivey Enterprises and the way they handled the situation was disrespectful. They called me a couple of days after Dad’s death asking when I would be back. I remember saying something along the line, “I’ll be back when I get back” and hanging up. When I did finally decided I could handle a shift they scheduled me for a double shift. The day I was scheduled for the double was the same day my buddy Jeff decided he’d rather owe the Marine Corps a bunch of money for college rather than spend four years as an enlisted cook (he had failed to finish Officer’s Candidate School). I didn’t bother to report for my shift and we went to a baseball card show. It felt good.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Mick

I am nearing the end of Jane Leavy's fantastic biography of Mickey Mantle. It's called "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood." Rather than write a traditional biography she has chosen to tell his story by focusing on 20 days in his life and how those individual days exemplify Mantle's life. I highly recommend it. Mantle's story is fascinating, tragic and heroic. I didn't realize this but back when Willie Mays was banned from baseball for working for a casino, Mantle was also banned for the same reason. In 1985 Peter Ueberroth reinstated both players and all three were then pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Drudge is Still a Jerk

What does the president's busted lip have to do with anything? Partisan hack.
Drudge still a jerk

Friday, December 03, 2010

Golfing at Renaissance Park

The day after Thanksgiving I played my first round of golf at Renaissance Park. I played eighteen with Jon, Melanie’s brother in law. Rain was in the forecast for that day and we were afraid we could get rained out but, as Jon said, I’d rather play golf in the rain than go shopping. Friday was chilly and breezy but it didn’t rain and as long as it’s above 40 and not raining golf can be played. It may get hotter than hell here in the Carolinas during the summer but you can play golf year round.

A big reason I haven’t played at Renaissance until this past week is the price. Of the county-owned public courses it is easily the most expensive. It costs $9 more to play 18 holes here than at Sunset Hills and $8 more than Charles T. Meyers. The course is overall in better shape than Sunset Hills (I haven’t played Charles T. Meyers in a while) so I can see where the extra cost is going but the clubhouse is pretty dingy. One thing I will never understand about public buildings is how they are gorgeous when built, like the new clubhouse at the Revolution Park Golf Course, but allowed to get rundown until it’s obvious they need to be replaced like at Renaissance right now. Preventative maintenance, anyone?

What I liked initially about Renaissance was how wide open the front nine holes are. Overall they’re pretty forgiving. You can put yourself in some awkward shot positions but the course doesn’t have a great hunger for your ball if you hit an errant tee shot. The back nine will close up on you some but not too bad.

What I didn’t like was having a first hole that is a par 5. Ug, not what I need to face when I haven’t had a chance to hit a ball or two. A par five drive on your first swing is more pressure than I need. The second hole is a wide open par 4 which gives you a shot at the green unless you pop your drive behind you and back into the stands so I can forgive them that long ass first hole.

The third hole was a pleasant surprise and a nice sign of par threes to come. It’s a very short par three from an elevated tee. There are 4 pretty short par threes with big wide open greens. I’m not a fan of long par threes. I’d rather not worry about reaching the hole. I enjoy par threes more when I’m more worried about location than distance. After the third hole I knew I was going to have a fun day. I took a nice easy swing with my pitching wedge and just missed bouncing the ball up next to the flag. I ended up sitting on the fringe and was an easy chip and putt away from a par.

A friend of mine doesn’t like Renaissance because he claims he doesn’t like the blind tee shots. I didn’t find them to be a problem at all. Each fairway with a blind tee shot is pretty straight forward. There is nothing tricky about these holes. You can see where the fairway is going and a decent tee shot towards the middle of the fairway will leave you in a good position. Besides, the reason #10 has a blind tee shot is because the fairway damn near falls off a cliff 150 yards from the green. If you can get the ball to that point it will roll and roll and roll. If you ever want to say you drove the ball 300 yards a strong straight shot here will give that to you. That green is 480 yards from the white tees and my ball was sitting around 75 yards from the hole when I found it. I felt like King Kong. I think I had a bit of a tail wind also when I teed off but 300 yards is 300 yards.

A couple of holes, hello #16, are like giant putt putt holes. 16 is an almost U-shaped par five with an open fairway and a second shot that you have to lay up on a cow-teat shaped protrusion surrounded by a creek and dense woods. Screw that hole. I don’t even want to guess what I shot on 16. All I know is I lost two balls and stopped counting at 8.

This golf course, unlike the rest of the public courses in Mecklenburg, is intricate and tricky. You can have a good day at the rest of them without having a detailed knowledge of the course. Not so at Renaissance. It’s a course that will reward experience. For example, the next time I play when I get to 16 I am going to tee off and then pick up my ball and go play 17.

I actually had a pretty good day. I think I shot 101 which is shite but the best I’ve ever had so far. I would have done much better but a couple of lousy holes messed up my scorecard. All the time I spent at the range this summer has really paid off in the last couple of weeks. Practice! What a novel idea.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Poll

Just checking to see how this works. I used Google Docs. If you need help with this answer you should check out Jack's career statistics.