Saturday, April 17, 2004

Zisk Issue # 8

And now a word from our editor’s mom regarding some of the language used in Zisk #7…

The other morning, a work morning ever so early, I was eating my usual work day breakfast—a mix of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios with soy milk. And as usual I wanted something to read with my meal. Ahaa, a good time to take a look at Zisk, a magazine put out by my oldest son. Hey, here's an article about people I know—two of my sons and their uncle (referring to “The Year in Baseball: 2003 – As Seen by the Faloon Family”). Great!!

Well, I started reading the article and then I started chocking on those little o’s trying to make their way to my stomach. I came across these words that were absolutely horrible, words I'm not sure what they meant. And to think they were used by my own fresh and blood, babes out of my womb. I was just appalled to think that my sons who I have never heard say anything naughty were using such awful, awful language. Needless to say no way could I finish my breakfast of champions. Then I thought it had to be someone else using the Faloon name. Hopefully I’m right.

Mary Faloon

Neither my brother nor my uncle could be reached for comment, but, Mom, I know Casey (my brother) warned you about the last issue and that you opted to ignore him. For the love of god do not read the last article in this issue. —Mike

Numbers Freak by Len Vlahos

The Hack Man by Ken Derr

Rants From the Upper Deck by Steve Reynolds

The Last Days at Fulton County Stadium by Sean Carswell

Richard Nixon, Reggie Jackson and My List of Enemies by Mike Faloon

The Pete Rose Case: One Fan's Opinion by Jeff Herz

I Call Him Skywalker by Kip Yates

What An Asstro (Fan): Why I Think My Friend Kip Is a Wiener by Lisa Alcock

You Gotta Bereave by John Weber

The Most Exciting Event in All of Sports by Johnnie Whoa Oh

The King of the Bay Area by Sara Dierck

Bo Belinsky: Ladies Man Supreme by Tim Hinely

The Oddball Events of 2003 by John Shiffert

Hot Stove, Cool Music, Great Cause by Steve Reynolds

Apes and Angels: Contemporary Baseball Fiction and MY Century of Misery by Michael Baker

The Real Red Sox A to Z by Frank D'Urso

The Curse of Donnie Baseball by Len Vlahos

What Shall I Do Now That My Cookie Has Crumbled? A Zisk Guide to Rooting for Some Other Team by Mark Hughson

Time to Eliminate the DH by Jeff Herz

A Valentine's Day Massacre by Kip Yates

Dad and Baseball by Sara Dierck

My Relationship With Baseball by Lisa Alcock

The End of the American Pastime by Johnnie Whoa Oh

Some Bitter, Bitter Winter 2003 Baseball Thoughts by Jeff Herz

The Comedy of Baseball by Steve Reynolds

Numbers Freak by Len Vlahos

“My name is Len Vlahos, and I have an addiction to numbers.”

It’s true, I am a numbers freak. Who else can tell you how many loads of laundry he’s likely to do if he lives out his statistical life expectancy (2,140); which letter of the alphabet most often begins the last name of U.S. Presidents (H, five times); and of course, how many days, hours, and minutes to opening day (26 hours, 14 days, and 8 minutes as I write this)?

Obsessive compulsive? Yes. Cursed? A bit. But there’s a lot fun in this world for a numbers freak. In my case, Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, handicapping horse races, and the granddaddy of all number-driven pursuits, fantasy baseball.

The league I play in (and also run as commissioner) is not your standard 5x5 league. In fact, we’re a 14x13 league. For real. Here are the stats we use:

Batting—R, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, SB, CS, BB, K, E, AVG, OBP, SLG
Pitching—GS, W, L, CG, SHO, SV, ER, HR, BB, K, HLD, ERA, WHIP

Using this many categories is not without its problems: Should Caught Stealing be weighted the same as Home Runs? Is it too easy for a manager to sit his pitchers late in the season in order to keep negative categories (Losses, Earned Runs, Walks) artificially low? (This happened in our league last year, which is why, this year, we’re tracking Games Started.)

But even with its imperfections, it’s the perfect league for a numbers freak. After my disappointing fifth place finish (out of 12) last year, I resolved to play smarter, play better, and win. And as any fantasy baseballer knows, it all begins with the draft.

I started working on my draft plan the (glorious) day after the (wonderful) Florida Marlins beat the (hated) New York Yankees in the World Series. The first question I needed to answer was, “What does it take to win?” We use a rotisserie scoring system, ranking each team in each of the 29 categories (we had two extra categories last year) from best to worst, with 12 points going to the best and 1 to the worst. So, last year, a perfect score would have been 348 (12 points in each of the 29 categories). The actual winner, a rascal named Eric (who won for the second straight year), had a final score of 233.5.

A little massaging of the numbers, and you quickly learn that averaging eight points (or 5th place) in each of the 29 categories is just about good enough to win. (That actually totals 232 points, but let’s not split hairs. And by the way, the average human head of a 30-year-old has about 300 follicles per square centimeter. You starting to get the numbers freak thing?)

So all I need to do is construct a balanced team that will average eight points per category. Ha! Easier said than done. But fear not, I have the numbers on my side.

Four months and 153 Excel worksheets later—yes, 153 Excel worksheets!—I’m starting to finally get my head around this. And if nothing else, I’ve learned a few valuable tidbits along the way:
  • Soriano is a sucker bet in the first round.
  • A-Rod is a bad pick in the top 3. (If you’re in a league with a lot of categories, it’s Pujols, Helton, Beltran.)
  • The Dodgers would be well served to get Wilson Alvarez into the back-end of their rotation.
  • Look for breakout years from Melvin Mora, Trot Nixon, and Placido Polanco.
  • Steroid rumors and a new ballpark notwithstanding, Gary Sheffield is a freaking stud.
But my data only applies to our crazy 14x13 league. In a 5x5 league, it’s completely different. One manager’s tonic is another’s poison. And that’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned—something Bill James learned and preached long ago—it’s really all about the data, and how that data applies to the situation at hand.

Don’t go into your fantasy draft unprepared. If you do your homework, you can build a good team, even one without a lot of stars. If you go in with little or no preparation, you’ll get what you deserve.

I fully expect my fellow managers to snicker at many of my picks on draft day, but that’s okay. The numbers will be on my side.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading all 776 words in this article.

Rants From the Upper Deck by Steve Reynolds

Whew, what an offseason. That snapping sound you heard was the Ranter’s neck twisting with every new and intriguing development since Josh Beckett’s wonderful masterpiece to close out the World Series. There was so much going on that it seems like R.E.M. could have re-recorded “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and replaced some lyrics with baseball items. Sing it with me now: “Schllling/A-Rod/Nomar/Manny/All Going Nowhere/Vlad’s an Angel/Pettitte’s Gone/Clemens Unretires/Brown’s In/And Now Vazquez/Pete Rose/BALCO Steroids/A-Rod Again/Maddux Goes Home Again.”

After a stunning post-season that kept me glued to the edge of the recliner like no other, I wasn’t that surprised at the intensity level baseball maintained over the winter. While other parts of the U.S. moved on to other sports for a while, New Yorkers still focused on the Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry (due in no small part because both football teams stunk up the stadium across the Hudson River and the Knicks and Rangers kept up their not-so-loveable losing ways). The Post and Daily News sports pages devoted so much ink and paper to A-Rod (between the failed and successfully completed trades) that he should donate part of his salary to plant trees somewhere.

Many folks (including some of my fellows Zisk staffers) have argued that the Yankees fantasy league-inspired spending needs to be reigned in with a salary cap of some sort. While I’d love to see the Yankees somehow stopped (and they will be again this year, which I will explain later), forcing them to curb spending isn’t the answer. George Steinbrenner has laid out the biggest amounts of cash in the majors the past three seasons, but that hasn’t bought him another championship. The Yankees of 1996 to 2000 won not because they had the biggest payroll, but because they had a good core of homegrown players and smartly chosen free agents. (Well, that, and that five-year pact with the devil Joe Torre signed.) Yes, the baseball economic system is still out of whack, but a salary cap isn’t the answer. A salary minimum and a specific amount of shared revenue that must go towards payroll? Now that’s something I can get behind.

The BALCO case is bound to take up headlines throughout the season, and deservedly so. Yes, players obviously were able to juice their numbers over the years. And yes, they were stupid to risk their health for so many years. And yes, they look idiotic for not coming up with a stronger testing plan ages ago. But if steroids make everyone play better, why aren’t Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco still playing in their late ’30s like another alleged user, Barry Bonds? If Bonds is found to have used steroids, people will say his single season home run record is tainted. Well, last time I checked, steroids don’t make your eyes as good as Bonds’s. And it’s not like Bonds wasn’t one of the most talented players ever before the alleged steroid scam started. (And trust me, I would never want to defend the pricks of all pricks Bonds, but somebody has to cut through the crap with this case.)

And while we’re on the drug front, does steroid use by major league ballplayers need to be mentioned in President Bush’s State of the Union address? Does Attorney General John Ashcroft need to hold a press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce the findings of a grand jury all the way across the country? Might there be some more pressing issues at the moment? Perhaps trying to find out where Osama Bin Laden is? Or figuring out where the intelligence breakdown happened over weapons of mass-destruction? Or why job growth has been at its slowest in decades? Politics has pushed the steroid issue further into the spotlight, and if it wasn’t an election year, Bud Selig and Don Fehr would be nowhere near a Congressional committee. That being said, let’s hope the owners and players sit down and hash out a real testing plan at some point so fans and sanctimonious sportswriters will be happy.

So now that the dust has settled on the off-season, what will 2004 bring? Well, for the AL East—perhaps more properly called the AL Beast—it’s a season in which the division is far and away the best in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays could most likely win the AL Central or NL West with the young pitching and hitting they have, while the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays could be .500 teams in the Central. I’ve heard of the East Coast bias about West Coast sports teams, but who in their right mind could not think that the battles in this division will be like no other this year. And in the end, the Ranter will go for Yankees winning the division with the Red Sox again claiming the wild card.

The AL Central is stocked with three teams (Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians) that have put a successful small market plan into action. By growing their own players and picking up a quality free agent here and there, these three teams have set foundations to compete for the next few years. But the Indians aren’t quite there yet, and the Twins lost too much bullpen in the off-season. So the Royals will become division winners for the first time since George Brett roamed the infield.

The AL West is the second best division in baseball, with the Oakland Athletics, the Seattle Mariners and California Angels all making the postseason with the past three seasons. Alas for Mariners fans, they look like a team that’s about to go on a down cycle as key parts get older (Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer) and a front office that made only one decent move in the off-season (signing “Everyday Eddie Guadardo). The A’s lost another former MVP (Miguel Tejada), but still have great pitching. However, both teams will be trumped by the Angels, who were busy spending their new owner Art Moreno’s money. And he’ll be happy, as Vlad Guerrero and Bartolo Colon will be just the pieces that manager Mike Scioscia needs to get back to the playoffs.

In the NL, the East and Central divisions will both come down to the last days of the season. The Braves lost a third of their offense with the defections of Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Vinnie Castilla, so the possibility of them not winning the division looms large for the first time. The Phillies will finally be able to close some games with Billy Wagner in the pen. But what most folks seem to overlook are the World Champion Marlins. Derek Lee is gone, Pudge Rodriguez is in exile in the Motor City and both closers (Brandon Looper, Ugeth Urbina) are gone, replaced by Mr. Choke himself, Armando Benitez. But the young core of this team is still together and has been battle-tested by last year’s playoff run. I think the Marlins will take the division led by Josh Beckett blossoming into a premier pitcher, with the Phillies as the wild card to save Larry Bowa from the ax.

The NL Central will once again by a three team race. The St. Louis Cardinals have a great lineup, but they still don’t have the pitching. The Houston Astros now have pitching with the additions of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, but Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are certainly on the downside of their careers. This leaves the Cubs, who not only have the pitching but also have solidified their hitting the trade for the Marlins’ Derek Lee. The Cubs will repeat as division winners for the first time ever.

The NL West is up for grabs—I’ve even seen someone taut the San Diego Padres as potential division winners. The guess here is that the Giants will make the playoffs for a third year in a row, unless the steroid scandal truly blows up and Bonds is suspended.

As for the playoffs (here comes that Yankee theory I promised), the ALCS will come down once again to the Yanks and Red Sox, with the Sox taking it in seven games because the bullpen will hold a lead this year. The Yankees will once again go without a title, which can be blamed upon one man—George W. Bush. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. The Yanks drought can be blamed on the Republican party. The New York Yankees have won 19 of their championships while Democrats have been in the White House and only seven with Republicans in the Oval Office. The last time the Yankees won a title with a Republican president was 1958. The Eisenhower curse will live another year. Steinbrenner better vote for John Kerry.

In the NL, the Cubs and Marlins are destined for a rematch, and this time Moises Alou will catch the winning out. Which means—yes, I am crazy—a “world is coming to an end World Series” with the Cubs versus the Red Sox. And the winner? Does it really matter? Baseball, indeed, all of America will be the big winner this October. (But I’ll definitely be rooting for the Sox).

Richard Nixon, Reggie Jackson and My List of Enemies

Why do Americans of so many political stripes continue to despise former president Richard Nixon?  There are many theories. Here's mine: even from the grave, Dick reminds us of our uglier selves. Who among us doesn’t yield to paranoia once in awhile? Who doesn’t cover up the occasional mistake at work? And who doesn’t keep a list of enemies? I know I do, a list of my baseball enemies.

I was nine when I began my list. It was Game 4 of the 1978 World Series. The Dodgers were up two games to one and clearly en route to avenging their defeat in the ‘77 Series, my first fall classic. I was in Mr. “I use the girls’ bathroom because it’s a jungle in the boys’ room” Hogan’s third grade class, and the only kid in the class rooting for the Dodgers. I knew nothing about the Dodgers prior to the series, but I knew that everyone in my class was pulling for the Yankees and my contrarian instincts led me to siding with Lasorda and company. Thus, my first World Series experience was one of social isolation and, when the Dodgers lost in six games, disappointment.

But ’78 was going to be different. The Dodgers were going to win, and I had an ally in Darin Watkins. He was not in my class, but he was in the class next door. And this being the ’70s and the era of open classrooms (In the school’s new wing, the classrooms were not separated by walls. Instead, a combination of cabinets, closets, and other storage units—all on wheels, none going from floor to ceiling, and at least one of which was a mere three to four feet high—divided one room from the next), Darin and I were able to touch base during the day. I remember leaning over the short counter in the short time between reading and math and discussing the series with Darin. We had a lot to talk about because the Dodgers had taken Game One in an 11-5 romp, and then won Game 2 in classic Davey and Goliath style. Dodger rookie reliever Bob Welch entered the ninth inning protecting a fragile 4-3 lead. Reggie Jackson came to the plate with two on and two out. The count went full and Jackson fouled off a trio of 3-2 offerings before Welch struck out Mr. October on the following pitch.

We were the only kids not rooting for the Yankees and we were certain that the Dodgers were going to win it all in ’78. Revenge for ’77 was in the air, bragging rights were imminent. Then Reggie Jackson stuck his ass in the way of our destiny. Or rather his hip.

Jackson had slugged the Yankees past the Dodgers in ’77, and though I disliked the guy, there was no denying his talent. Three home runs in a World Series game is the stuff of legend. In ’77 Jackson had earned the Yankees a World Series title; in ’78 he stole it for them.

Game 4, bottom of the sixth. Jackson was on first when Lou Pinella sent a low, soft liner to Dodger shortstop Bill Russell. Jackson assumed that Russell would catch the liner, so he, Jackson, stayed close to first. But Russell did not catch the liner. Instead he fielded it on a hop, flipped it to second baseman Davey Lopes who then relayed the ball to first baseman Steve Garvey. Only the ball never made it to Garvey. Jackson stuck out his hip and sent the ball into right field. Pinella reached base safely and ignited a Yankee rally. The pinstripes never looked back, going on to win the next three games and take the series in six.

At least that is the way I remember it. The record books will tell you different. They will minimize the impact of Jackson’s egregious actions. They will say that the Yankees scored but one run in the fateful sixth inning and did not tie the game until the eighth. They will tell further tales of the Yankees not winning the game until the bottom of the tenth. Do not trust the record books. I know what I saw. Jackson looked right at me and said, “Do you want to know what heartache feels like, kid? This is what you get for letting hope seep into your soul” just before he deliberately deflected Lopes’ throw. And he knew, like I knew, that he had just snuffed out the Dodgers’ momentum, that the Dodger collapse was underway, that he had stolen a World Series championship while millions watched.

And what better way to deal with bitter resentment than to start an enemies list?

Next issue: Enemy #2 - The Atlanta Braves

Mike Faloon is the publisher of Zisk. He denies allegations that he is currently in negotiations with G. Gordon Liddy and other former members of CREEP.

The Pete Rose Case: One Fan's Opinion by Jeff Herz

It is two days before Pete Rose’s book comes out and he is the talk of the sports world. I was at the gym last night watching (reading the captions of, actually) some talking heads on CNN Headline News discuss this matter. One proclaimed ethics expert spoke of America’s ability to forgive and forget. He was essentially saying that Pete Rose has spent the last 14 years in purgatory and therefore has paid his punishment, deserves to be forgiven by the master asshole himself Bud Selig, and should be reinstated back into baseball.

This schmuck clearly knows nothing about baseball and even less about Pete Rose. First off, there is one cardinal rule in baseball that is made 100% clear in any locker room (or so I am told since I have never been in a major league locker room)—gambling is not allowed. Even today’s whipping boy, illegal drugs doesn’t have the same effect as gambling does. Just ask any of these former players: Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Willie Aikens, Ferguson Jenkins, Otis Nixon, Leon Durham, Vida Blue and Pascual Perez. They were all suspended for drug use and returned to the game after their suspensions.

Not since the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, has a person associated with MLB returned to the game after being associated with gambling or gamblers. Even Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were asked to disassociate themselves from the Yankees and Giants in the 1980s by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, when they were employed as greeters at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Whether you agree with the precedent or not, gambling is the death penalty in baseball! (Anyone heard from the SMU football team since they received this judgment from NCAA in 1987?) Pete Rose now admits he gambled on baseball while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds. He claims not to have done it from the field, though the Dowd report has wiretaps from the manager’s office to his bookie, he claims not to have used insider information to his advantage, which is impossible considering he is an insider and would know if his closer is tired or his cleanup hitter tweaked a hamstring (Jayson Stark,, January 6, 2004),
and he admits he only bet on the Reds to win, which in my mind contradicts the not acting on insider information statement. By not betting on your team on days you know you are benching certain players is just as bad as betting on your team when all your players are on fire.

After 14 years of lying, he has finally admitted he was gambling. Big fucking deal. To think Rose was not betting on baseball you have to have been living on Mars since 1989 when A. Bart Giamatti, the last real commissioner of MLB (who subsequently dropped dead of heart attack a few days later) suspended Rose for life, with the opportunity to apply for reinstatement after one year. If he has been lying for so long, why should I believe him now?

What I have not seen or heard from him is an apology to the fans, and this gives me no reason to welcome him back to the game. Mike Francesa pointed out on WFAN in NY that Rose is broke and is desperate to get back into the game. Rose has lied for 14 years and he is carefully crafting the book, the interviews, and every other piece of PR for two reasons. The first is to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he deserves—in spite of being a slimy creature who should crawl back under the rock beneath which he came. The second is to return to a role in organized baseball. But what role should putz master Buddy S. allow Peter to play?

The ownership of the Cincinnati Reds would hire Rose again in a minute assuming the used car salesman from Milwaukee gives #14 a full reprieve and unlimited entry back into the game. Others have suggested that Rose should be allowed to be a spring training instructor but not allowed to be a fulltime employee of an MLB organization, essentially keeping him away from real games and subsequently keeping him away from temptation. What will the man who decided, “I am going to call the All-Star game a tie,” do? I don’t know, but here is my suggestion.

A (real) commissioner of MLB would lift the banishment for the sole purpose of allowing the BBWA to induct Rose into the Hall of Fame prior to 2006, when his eligibility expires. Let’s face it; there are a lot of nasty folks in that building who did some bad shit. It is a place for the best baseball players of all-time, not a personality contest. And let’s face it, though I have issues with hangers-on (Dave Winfield, Don Sutton), Rose personified baseball in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s with his “Charlie Hustle” style of play. We would be able to celebrate Rose the player, not Rose the manager, not Rose the gambler. He would be in Cooperstown, and then he would go away, off the baseball radar.

If Rose is allowed into Cooperstown, he should not be granted anything else. He should not be allowed to be a spring training instructor, he should not be allowed to be general manager, he should not be allowed to a field manager, he should not be allowed to participate in an old-timers’ game, he should not be allowed to be involved in publicity nights, he should have no contact with the game without expressed written consent of the commissioner of MLB. There has to be some punishment for gambling, and keeping him off the field away from the game is the best way to accomplish that. But that is just me.

Assuming Selig does reinstate Rose in some manner, isn’t it time that Shoeless Joe Jackson also be reinstated? Unfortunately, Joe did less than Rose and has been banned much longer than him. Jackson was a poor Southerner who played in a different age and there is no one left to take up his cause. He received a lifetime ban in 1920, and his lifetime ended in 1951. His still has the third highest all-time average, which to me is a much more substantial record then total number of hits.

It boils down to this—Pete Rose: in Cooperstown, but off the field.

I Call Him Skywalker by Kip Yates

It was close to midnight, October 22nd 2003, game four of the World Series, the New York Yankees up two games to one, the Florida Marlins clinging to a tenuous two run lead, top of the ninth, two runners on and Ruben Sierra one strike away from ending the Yankee threat. A Marlins win would even the series at two games a piece. Sierra lines a shot down the right field line; two run triple, tie ball game. I remember it so well because that was when my wife, Jamie, announced, “Kip, it’s time!” At that moment, that particular game ceased to exist, for me anyway. I could hardly care less about what happened now. So what! The Yankees would somehow pull this one out and win either game five or six and yet another World Series Championship. I wouldn’t know until much later that the Marlins somehow hung on for the next three innings and won the game on a 12th inning Alex Gonzalez home run. Tied Series! I didn’t know until later that afternoon. I had more pressing concerns. My son River was born a few hours earlier and because of some minor complications, was staying in the hospital special care ward. The next few days were a blur and the World Series was an after thought. I witnessed the last two gut-wrenching innings of game five and then slept off my very busy day. River was getting better by the hour but had to stay in special care for five days. By the time, I had the inclination to care, The Marlins had defeated the Yankees 4 games to 2 and I missed it. I missed Josh Beckett’s near immortal game and series clincher. The Yankees, as in 2001 and 2002 were defeated. Then I started to think: the Yanks are 0 for River, meaning that since my son was born, the Yankees had not won a game. My lord, how long into April 2004 would this streak go? Thus I dubbed him Skywalker. For at his birth began the crumbling of the Evil Empire.

You could argue with me if you want to, but facts are facts. The Yankees we have known for the past decade are falling apart. They are older and have traded away younger talent for uber-expensive flavors of the month. George Steinbrenner is up to his old tricks. Joe Torre is on the hot seat as the season begins more than he ever has been. Don Zimmer was practically driven away to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The team’s biggest free agent acquisitions are over 35 years of age. They lacked a legitimate third baseman thanks to Aaron Boone’s off season basketball misadventures and obtained shortstop Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers with the intention of switching him to third. He is a mighty expensive band-aid. Their former MVP first baseman has shaky health. To top it all off, 60% of their 2003 staring rotation is gone and best of all, 40% of last year’s rotation will now call Houston home. My Houston Astros signed Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. The formerly hated Roger Clemens now revered Roger Clemens! (See my article in issue #7 and check out Red’s [Ed: Zisk contributor Lisa Alcock] current article, a defamation of my very character, in this issue.) Does it get any better than one of the greatest pitchers of our generation and another of the most consistent pitchers of the past decade suiting up for my team? Well, River smiled at me the other day so maybe it does get better. The Houston Astros don’t make off season moves like this all of the time. I thought signing Jeff Kent last year was an aberration but this winter has been off the charts abnormal.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks. I am aware of what I wrote last year about Roger Clemens and maybe Jerry Seinfeld is right when he says that we don’t cheer for players, but rather we cheer for laundry. Roger Clemens is wearing the right laundry and that is all that has to be said. He is Anakin Skywalker. He fought for the good guys (Texas Longhorns and Boston Red Sox) and was swayed over to the dark side (the Yankees). He is now that battle-hardened veteran we see at the end of the last Star Wars episode, though not dead and glowing lime green while Ewoks dance around. Remember the end of the movie when Luke pulls off the helmet Darth Vader wore and for the first time we saw the man he used to be before he became a machine? That is Roger! He was lulled out of retirement and will figure prominently among an already good staff with the Astros. He just makes them better. He makes them more formidable. He and Pettitte bring a winning attitude to their hometown team. They have joined the rebel alliance and we all know that the good guys win in the end.

What An Asstro (Fan): Why I Think My Friend Kip Is a Wiener by Lisa Alcock

Monday, 1.12.04

I am at work and I just received an e-mail from my friend Evan informing me that Roger Clemens has signed with the Astros, press conference at 3:00 pm. I immediately e-mail my good friend, Kip (with whom I work and who you might remember wrote a scathing, anti-Clemens article in the previous issue of Zisk, titled: “Why I Think Roger Clemens is a Wiener”) whose immediate response is: “SWEET!!! You made my day!” My response is: “Huh?? What??? Who abducted my friend? Kip? Kip???” I feel like Michael Corleone when he’s betrayed by his brother, Fredo. You broke my heart, Kip. Sigh.

God is dead.
There is no Santa Claus.
I’ve lost faith.
I feel lost and alone.

Oh, Kip. What happened to your vitriol? How misguided you’ve become. I don’t even know who you are anymore. Remember when we both agreed on Clemens? We both thought he was a jackass. Remember when we rejoiced every time Clemens and the Yankees lost the World Series? Allow me, kind sir, to quote your article that appeared in the last issue of Zisk:

“I love to root against Roger Clemens. I can't stand to see him win…”

“No, my vitriol was saved for Roger Clemens.”

“Since his trade to the Yankees, Roger Clemens has done incredibly stupid act after annoying act.…”

“Well do us all a favor Roger, and puh-lease, make an ass out of yourself one more time.”

Did you forget that it was I who gave you the title for your aforementioned article? What’s happened?? Did becoming a dad make you more tolerant? Kip, how can I believe anything you now say? You’ve gone over to the dark side. You can say nothing to convince me otherwise. (Kip has just come over to my desk and while dancing sings: “I heart Roger Clemens!” about five times, and it took all my might to restrain myself and not punch him).

I don’t like Roger. Never have. Especially not since he beaned Piazza in the head…and threw bat fragments at him. He’s a wiener, period. Please, Roger, stay retired and go play golf or whatever it is retired ballplayers do.

Well, I guess this is the reality now—Clemens is an Astro. I can’t help but now wonder: will Roger bat when the Astros come to Shea Stadium this year? Hrmmm…well, wait, maybe there is a bright side to this story. Nah, he’ll probably have a clause in his contract that states he only pitches home games. Though, he did face Shawn Estes in 2002. (That was a great game. I was there. Roger’s first time at Shea after the “incidents,” the entire stadium erupting in chants of “Roooooger, Roooger.” Estes struck him out…and then Estes got a grand slam off of the wiener. The Mets shut out the Yankees too.) Fans don’t forget. I don’t forget. Step up to the plate, Roger Dodger. You’ve made several enemies in your career.

So, today I learned a valuable lesson: my friends are not infallible. Kip is still my good friend, even if he is misguided. I will say that I’m now prepared for (almost) anything.

Next thing you know Kip is going to tell me that he’s a Yankees fan.

Author’s note: Can Lisa and Kip put aside their off-the-field differences and play as one mean double play unit on their company softball team? Well, only if Kip can offer Lisa a contract for, say…$5 million. Bwahahahaaa!

Author’s second note: Truth be told…Kip and Lisa have been good friends for many years…nothing could really dissolve their friendship, except, well, if Kip did become a Yankee’s fan….which is where the author draws the line.

The Most Exciting Event in All of Sports by Jonnie Whoa Oh

Excitement shouldn’t be measured in just a moment, but rather in the collective amount of time spent thinking, wishing and hoping surrounding any sporting event.  The most dramatic event all of sports has to be the Giants/ Bills Super Bowl of 1991.  I’ve never see so many people hold their breath as when the fateful kick went up; yet the other 59 minutes and 56 seconds of the game wasn’t anywhere nearly as exciting.  Similarly, Aaron Boone’s walk off homer was dramatic, but nowhere nearly as exciting for me as the prospect of what Red Sox vs. the Yankees will mean this season.

When October is all said and done, I’m constantly thinking, wishing, hoping, agonizing, postulating and commiserating over every deal, proposed deal, and rejected deal that takes place during the MLB off-season.  The MLB off-season is probably more exciting than the first two months of the actual regular season (outside of opening day, it’s nice to see the Tigers in first) in the sense that you are projecting lineups, sizing up rivals, proposing trades, being laughed at and then proven right and making outlandish predictions that are irrefutable (go on and wax poetic on how the Mets aren’t going to lose a single game all year, I mean as of March 1st they haven’t lost one yet!).  At the heart of all this excitement lies uncertainty, because nothing is certain in the off-season.

This off-season showed us that nothing should be unexpected. Who among us can honestly say they weren’t riveted by each and every 5:00 PM deadline set by either Boston or Texas?  I know I visited and their stupid expanding/shrinking advertising box every hour on the hour in hopes of any miniscule crumb of information.  Then when it seemed that the game’s best player was going nowhere, he ended up on a team that already has an All Star/Gold Glove shortstop.  There were some other deals that changed the landscape of the game like Schilling packing his bags for Boston, Pettitte, the Yankee for life, in Houston and bringing his best friend and retired head hunter with him (an aside—Dear all Mets pitchers, if and when Mr. Clemens bats at Shea Stadium, walk him on four pitches, four very inside pitches, each and every time he is up. Thank you in advance).  The beauty of the off-season is even if your team doesn’t have the mega bucks to sign anyone they desire, they can be involved through trades like the Phillies did with Billy Wagner or through having the Yankees take aging super stars off their hands at a premium—ahem, Kevin Brown, ahem.  So every team is constantly in the mix and you never know what could happen. Think about it—the fate of your team and the sport is forged and tempered every waking second and sometimes when you aren’t even awake thanks to the Japanese teams!  The Hot Stove needs to be monitored even more diligently than a real stove! 

If all this wasn’t enough with the active players, you see the Hall of Fame voting which stirs up even more debate and excitement.  Is Rose in, is he out?  Will Keith Hernandez ever get the recognition he deserves?  Or how about Rich Gossage, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Ryne Sandburg or Dale Murphy?  These debates will go on indefinitely until each of those players are actually inducted.  Mix in some controversy about steroids and now every stat is up for debate! 

Granted this off-season was more exciting than most, but even it when it’s not, it’s still better than those boring blow out Super Bowls of years passed.  And the ho-hum NBA Finals that the West easily walks away with.  At the most fundamental level there are only two teams competing in these situations, while from November until the end of March all 30 MLB teams are active!  That’s 15 times the excitement!  In a Super Bowl there are roughly five or 10 star players involved, in the off season every star player is involved!

So, keep your Olympics, your NCAA tournaments, your Super Bowls, even your World Serieses (assuming it’s Yankees/Braves and I’m in a lose lose situation) and give me the most exciting event in all of sports, MLB’s off-season.

Jonnie Whoa Oh runs Whoa Oh Records, a pop punk label and plays bass in The Steinways, a pop punk band.  He vividly remembers Gary Carter's home run over the Green Monster in Game Four of the 1986 World Series and thinking that Carter was a God amongst men.

The King of the Bay Area by Sara Dierck

In my kitchen in San Francisco I had a little red radio that I would listen to when I was cooking. It always had Pet Sounds in the CD tray and was tuned to KFRC, AM 610. KFRC was not only the best oldies station I’d ever listened to, it was also home to Oakland A’s baseball, and the voice of Bill King. Now that I live in New York City, one of the things I miss most about the Bay Area (and I can go on and on about the weather, cheap burritos, and left-minded politics) is hearing the A's games called by King.

The radio announcer for the Athletics since 1981, King’s voice must bring back memories of their youth for many Bay Area sports fans. For me, it was a relief from the awful announcers for the Seattle Mariners (I’m originally from Tacoma and grew up a Mariners fan). My family and I would shake our heads and sometimes turn off the volume of the TV while watching the game. Thus far, my experience in New York with those who call games (especially the Yankees) has been equally frustrating.

The Bay Area is blessed with great announcers. Anyone who has heard Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper (known as Kruk and Kuip) call a Giants game has laughed about “elephant ears,” the phrase “meat” referring to fans and players alike and the free usage of the telestrator. And everyone would have preferred Giants broadcaster Jon Miller to call the World Series games instead of the dull voices of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. But my team is the Oakland A’s, and the gravelly-voiced King, the creator of “Holy Toledo,” my preferred delivery man of baseball.

When I wasn’t in my kitchen, in front of a television (where Ray Fosse and the now dismissed Greg Papa aren’t too shabby themselves), or actually at the Coliseum, I always had my walkman to catch the game. Luckily enough, I worked in a photo lab darkroom where I didn’t have to talk to anyone, unless they wanted to know the score. I was walking up Pierce toward Oak Street when one of my favorite King stories happened. It was April, and the A’s were playing the Angels. King had been commenting on the immense size of the Molina brothers, in particular the size of their uniforms, when the equally enormous Angel Shawn Wooten strolled to the plate. “Do you think Wooten could get into Molina's pants?” King asked. Followed by some chuckles, and a “Wait...that didn’t come out right.”

King is never shy to express his opinions, especially about inter-league play, which is when he takes a vacation every year. It’s fitting that someone who has such a classic voice would cringe at a new baseball format. And, after an A’s defeat, King seems just as disappointed as you do during the post-game wrap-up.

There’s also something to like about a guy who has the seniority to do television but prefers to do radio. I heard King once say that he didn’t like to go on television because he’d have to worry about how he looked, and that when he was the Golden State Warriors play-by-play guy, they had someone else introduce the game on screen so that King didn't have to. Not to mention the fact that King had and has a moustache and beard, uncommon for the day (he described himself as looking like a “Bolshevik” to some people). But baseball is one of those sports that while nice to see, is just as great to hear. And King's voice has become part of A’s baseball for me.

I wish that I had one of those Bill King bobblehead dolls that were made after the A’s 20 game winning streak. It’s a talking bobblehead with some of King's calls, including the one after Scott Hatteburg’s game winner. Then, when I’m forced to listen to Yankees’ announcers when they match up with the A’s, I can imagine more easily the voice that I’m missing. They may have knishes at games in New York, but they don’t have veggie dogs (section 123), The Big Three or Bill King.

Bo Belinsky: Ladies Man Supreme by Tim Hinely

I guess the closest thing we have to a ladies man these days is New York Yankees party boy Derek Jeter, which is pretty sad when you think about it (Jeter’s a dick) but no one, and I mean no one, talked the talk and walked the walk like Robert “Bo” Belinsky.

Bo was born in New York City on December 7th, 1936 but raised in Trenton, New Jersey. He made his major league debut on April 18th, 1962, but other than pitching a no-hitter in his rookie year of 1962, Belinsky had a rather unimpressive major league career. He played for five teams in his eight-year career and his career record was 28-51. His best year was that first year when he went 10-11, hardly the numbers of a Hall of Famer, but this guy was a legend for a different reason. Ol’ Bo could have any woman he wanted—and usually did. Did this make his teammates envious? Hell yes, but Bo didn’t care. In fact, there wasn’t much he did care about save for getting some tail at the end of the night.

In the early 1960’s baseball moved out to California and one of the upstart teams was the Los Angeles Angels, which started up in 1961. Bo’s career began the following year and, as legend has it, he held out for more money in his rookie year (Imagine that! The balls on this kid!) and got $8500 instead of the $6000 they initially offered him. This got the folks in la-la land talking about Bo Belinsky.

By today’s standards, a guy like Bo Belinsky would have women protesting his every game. But back then he could get away with comments like, “I think whores got a lot more class than some straight broads. You know where you stand with them” and “I have one rule about broads, they gotta come highly recommended.” Other pitchers, like Sandy Koufax to name one, had oodles more talent but didn’t get the kinds of headlines that Bo did merely because they didn’t drive a flashy candy-apple red Cadillac Eldorado or party all night at such L.A. hotspots like the Whiskey a Go-Go. Bo had the good looks and the attitude, that, “ I don’t give a shit” attitude that, for some odd reason, acts as a magnet for some women.

And the women—there were lots of them: Gilligan’s Island cutie Ginger, otherwise known as Tina Louise (Bo said, “Great body, great legs…hell of a broad”), Ann-Margaret (“She wasn’t quite as good looking or as sexy in person as she was on screen”), Connie Stevens (“Great girl but I wound up dating her 19-year-old cousin”), and many others like Juliet Prowse, Doris Duke and Paulette Goddard. But his best known romance was with Hollywood cheesecake pin-up/post Marilyn Monroe bottle-blond Mamie Van Doren. Hollywood gossip columnist Walter Winchell set them up and they actually hit it off. Legend has it that a sportswriter was interviewing Bo in his hotel room one day while Mamie sat next to them, naked, on the bed (“Greatest interview I ever had” remarked the scribe). They ended up getting engaged and Bo even got her a ring but when reality set in he got cold feet and called it all off. After more headlines and public fighting Bo got his $2000 ring back. And while they did get engaged on and off several more times, but they never did get married. In the end Bo made the comment, “I needed her like Custer needed Indians.” (Mamie later dated two other baseball players: Tony Conigliaro and Lee Meyers.)

Bo did eventually get married to Jo Collins, the former Playboy Playmate of the Year (1965) but the marriage was rocky at best. Bo cheated on Jo every chance he got and then got arrested for threatening her with a gun. He then very nearly killed both of them by crashing his car into a telephone pole and they ended up getting divorced a few years later.

Eventually Bo was sent to the minors in Hawaii. He loved it so much he moved there following his retirement in 1970, and then he faded away. One thing that kept him in the public’s mind was sportswriter Maury Allen’s book, Bo: Pitching and Wooing. In one chapter Allen asked Bo to reveal his secret to pitching that no hitter in his fourth major league game and Bo said, “The night before my no-hitter I bumped into this secretary out on the Strip. She was tall and thin and black haired so we wound up having a couple of drinks and I ended up making it with her at her pad...and I didn’t get home until 4:00 am. After having the no-hitter I tried finding her again and never did. She was my good luck charm so when I lost her I lost all of my pitching luck.”

In the end Hawaii ended up being a good and bad thing for Bo, as he got off booze and drugs (good) and ended up becoming a born again Christian (not good). Still, the thing that always sticks with me about Bo Belinsky is the comment he made once to former teammate Albie Pearson when Albie asked him what he wanted from life and Bo replied, “To live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.”

Tim Hinely loves the Pittsburgh Pirates and lives in Portland, Oregon. He has been publishing his own zine, Dagger, for several years now. Send him $3.50 to see a copy to: PO Box 820102 Portland, OR 97282-1102 or write at:

The Oddball Events of 2003 by John Shiffert

Strange events in baseball come in many shapes and sizes. Some take place on the field. Others, off the field. Some evoke a feeling of déjà vu. Others leave you wondering, “How in the world did that happen,” or saying “That’ll never happen again in a million years.” (Want to bet? Oops, can’t say that...there’s no betting in baseball.) In that regard, the 2003 season was no different than the 150 or so odd campaigns that proceeded it. So, let’s take a look at the Oddball Events of 2003, and see if they’re any odder than some of baseball’s past strange occurrences.

The fun this past season actually started in Spring Training, when Padres pitcher Jay Witasick got hurt taking out the garbage. Although that escapade earned Witasick the Injury of the Year Award, it’s unlikely he’ll be seen singing “I Love Trash” anytime soon. Now, while there haven’t been many other trash-related injuries in baseball (unless they were the end result of trash talking), Witasick certainly isn't the first person to get hurt in an unusual manner—remember when Wade Boggs broke a rib falling on to a couch while trying to put on a pair of cowboy boots? Or, the day George Metkovich got his nickname, by getting speared in the foot by a catfish he had just landed on a fishing expedition? So, at least Witasick has company in the odd injury category.

However, there is simply no matching what has to stand as THE Oddball Event of 2003: On the Field Division. It took place on July 9, in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, proving, at least for one day, that the Brew Crew made headlines for something other than ineptitude on the field. Randall Simon of the Pirates became, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the first major leaguer to attack a seven-foot Italian Sausage with a baseball bat between innings. (Actually, it was during a smoked meat footrace...the daily highlight of Brewers’ home games, and a tribute to Miller Park’s fine knockwurst.) And, to get suspended for three games for same.

There has since been much speculation as to the possible reason for the Simon Sausage Slashing...some of which you may not have heard previously... 
  • He thought the offending link was mocking the Pittsburgh team’s former nickname. In 1887, when they first jumped from the American Association to the National League, the Pittsburgh team wore gaudy blue and black striped uniforms, leading some sportswriters to call them the “Smoked Italians.” (No, I’m not making this up.)
  • Simon thought that John Rocker had taken up a new career, dressing as a sausage and running through ballparks (he might as well, he certainly can't pitch anymore). In case you’ve forgotten, Rocker was thought to have been referring to Simon in his “fat monkey” comment in his infamous Off-the-Rocker Sports Illustrated interview.
  • Since he was dressed all in bright yellow (the Pirates’ hideous late ’70s retro unis), Simon was just trying to put some mustard on the hot dog in the race, and missed.
  • He knew the person in the Sausage outfit was a young woman, and, caveman-style, he was trying to get a date.
  • Since Simon is 6-0 and about 250 pounds, and the game was running long, he wanted to spear a snack with his bat.
  • Finally, since Simon’s career Strikeout/Walk ratio is 2:1, he’ll clearly swing at anything.
Now, that’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of other equally odd happenings in baseball over the years, even within in the Mascot Category. For instance, there was the time in 1978 when the San Diego Chicken almost caused a riot in Veterans Stadium by practically molesting the Phillies’ pin-up ballgirl, Mary Sue Styles, on the field before a game.

And while we’re speaking about assaults, the most famous event took place on May 15, 1912, when Ty Cobb went into the stands in Hilltop Park in New York and attacked Claude Lueker, a crippled Tammany Hall flunky (“He has no hands,” someone in the stands called out. “I don’t care if he has no feet,” answered Cobb) with a vile tongue. What’s not commonly known about this event, according to Ron Cobb—no, I don’t know if he’s a relative—is that the two protagonists knew each other, and there was already bad blood between them from earlier contretemps down South.

Here’s what Cobb (Ron, that is) had to say about the fracas: “Lueker and Cobb had a long running feud from down south, and Cobb selected Lueker to pounce on because he recognized him when he jumped into the stands.” Cobb (Ron again) even provides a quote from the February 27, 1913, Cincinnati Times-Star on the subject...

“Tyrus Cobb may have a rocky session or two when he visits New York this summer. The man he walloped that fateful day on the bleachers has not forgotten or forgiven—I know, because I know him and have talked with him. By the way... little attention...was paid to the fact that his famous fracas was only part of an old Southern feud, entirely disconnected with base ball. Long ago Cobb and Claude Lueker, who received the wallops, were Georgia boys, and never harmonized, having many fights and contracting a strong personal enmity.”

Actually, no direct quote of what Lueker said has survived, so we’ll speculate that maybe he was singing (to the tune of “Dixie”)...

“Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton.
I smell you, and you smell rotten.
Get away, get away, get away...
you stink!”

Maybe... hey, this is a family magazine!

And then there’s June 30, 1959, a day that will go down in history for unintentional low comedy on the diamond. The Cardinals are playing the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Bob Anderson is on the mound, pitching to Stan Musial in the top of the fourth. A 3-1 pitch gets by catcher Sammy Taylor, who, instead of pursuing the ball (while Musial is heading to first, and subsequently second) stops to argue with umpire Vic Delmore, claiming the ball hit Musial’s bat. Meanwhile, despite the fact that no one has called “time,” the Cubs’ batboy gives the ball to famed PA announcer Pat Pieper (who sat right next to the field) just before Cubs’ third baseman Alvin Dark arrives on the scene to retrieve same in an attempt to prevent Musial from getting three bases on a walk (was Stan the Man great... going for a triple on a walk). He guns the ball down to Ernie Banks in the neighborhood of second base. With “time” still not having been called or granted, the harried Delmore, still at home plate, does the unthinkable... he pulls out ANOTHER ball, and plops it in Anderson’s glove, at just about the same time Dark makes his throw from way behind the plate. Anderson, seeing The Man on the basepaths, guns the new ball towards second base, only to have it go into center field. Stanley Frank, seeing this ball sail by him, lights out for third, only to run into future fellow Hall of Famer Banks, who is holding the original ball.

After a 10-minute argument featuring extended legal briefs from all parties involved (can you imagine what would have happened if this was 10 years later, and Leo Durocher was the Cubs’ manager?), Musial is called out. Well, Banks DID tag him with the original ball. Cards’ manager Solly Hemus (a notorious crybaby, anyway) protests the game, which turns out to be meaningless when the Cards win 4-1.

And you wonder why one of the Cards’ broadcasters of that game, Joe Garagiola, wrote a book called, Baseball is a Funny Game

There were, of course, other funny (or strange or oddball) events in 2003.

How can you explain the continuing complete loss of control by the Cardinals’ one-time top pitching prospect? Yes, Rick Ankiel still has Steve Blass Disease. In 54 innings of Double A ball in 2003 he walked 49, hit six batters and threw 10 wild pitches and ran up a 6.29 ERA.

Also in the Strange Pitching Feats category, were the happenings in the second week in April. Three of the best pitchers in baseball—Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez—all suffered historic shellings within three days of each other.

Pedro - 4 1/3 IP, 9 H, 10 R/ER, 4 BB, 5 SO
The Big Unit - 4 2/3 IP, 10 H, 10 R/ER, 2 BB, 4 SO
Mad Dog - 5 2/3 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO

At least Maddux had the excuse of pitching against a team that had Jim Thome in the lineup (the Phillies.) Pedro got blitzed by the Orioles and the Big Unit by the Brewers. One thing none of the three of them had was an injury excuse. However, that’s not to say 2003 didn’t have other interesting injury angles. For some reason, there was an epidemic of oblique muscle injuries early in the year—10 players sent to the DL in less than two months...
March 19 - Dan Wilson, C, Mariners
March 21 - Kevin Mench, OF, Rangers
March 21 - Carlos Beltran, OF, Royals
March 26 - Ben Broussard, 1B, Indians
April 1 - Jason Michaels, OF, Phillies

After the season started, there was a two-week hiatus before the oblique bug bit again (it’s worth noting that only nine players were disabled with oblique injuries during all of 2002)...
April 17 - Jeff Cirillo, 3B, Mariners
April 20 - Josh Fogg, P, Pirates
April 29 - Chad Fox, P, Red Sox
May 2 - Rodrigo Lopez, P, Orioles
May 5 - Stephen Randolph, P, Diamondbacks

Now, maybe you consider the Sammy Sosa corked bat incident a minor affair, or a major faux pas. In either case, it was hardly unique. For instance, in August 1923, Babe Ruth was caught using a bat that was actually four different pieces of wood glued together. And not only that, but when Dave Henderson had a chance to examine another Ruthian bat in 1983, he noticed that the round end of the bat didn't match the wood of the barrel of the bat. “That’s a plug,” said Hendu. “This bat is corked.” Actually, altering bats is an old and (dis?)honored baseball tradition. Here’s a very brief list of some of the other players who have been identified with souped-up bats: Albert Belle, Billy Hatcher (superballs), Ken Williams (maybe the first to cork a bat), George Sisler (he drove nails in his bat, and filed off the ends), Norm Cash (“I owe my 1961 batting title to my hollow bats,” he is supposed to have said), Graig Nettles (he also used superballs), Amos Otis and Wilton Guerrero.

And then came the post season... and we were treated to a seemingly unending parade of strange happenings. Now, I don’t believe in curses, whether at the behest of the greatest baseball player of all time or an aggrieved goat owner. And could almost see it coming on the evening of October 14, 2003. Almost 74 years to the day from the biggest disaster in World Series history, the 2003 Cubs saw history repeat itself...blowing a shutout, and a seemingly safe lead, late in a key postseason game. In 1929, in the bottom of the seventh, Charlie Root had the A’s just as much under control as Mark Prior had the Marlins, only then it was an 8-0 lead and just nine outs to go before the Cubbies would even the Series at two games apiece. As you probably know, the Athletics dropped a 10-spot on the Cubs. Even worse, both Cubs teams, in addition to giving up the two biggest innings in post season history, were absolutely squashed by a steamroller that was rolling mainly through improbable circumstances. (Of course, it doesn’t help to have Dusty Baker deciding when and when not to change pitchers.) In 1929, it was Hack Wilson misplaying two catchable balls into a single and a home run. In 2003, it was Steve Bartman getting his grubby paws on a foul ball, and Alex Gonzalez failing to get his paws on a fair ball.

And then, two nights later, things got really weird, when the Red Sox saw 1949 repeat itself. The Yankees had led the Sox all that year, holding a 12 game lead in July. However, Yankee injuries and the Sox’ two pitching aces, Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder, closed the gap and Boston actually had a one game lead going into the final two games of the year which, as fate would have it, were at Yankee Stadium. Game one, on October 1, put Allie Reynolds against Parnell. The Sox chased a wild Indian early in the game and took a 4-0 lead in the third inning. (When’s the last time the Sox had a 4-0 lead early in a key game? Gee, seems like just last October.) However, the Sox’ 25-game winner faltered a little in the middle innings, and manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same Joe McCarthy who kept shuffling pitchers in and out for the Cubs on October 12, 1929... I told you this was going to be weird...) pulled him in the fifth for Joe Dobson (whose ERA was more than a run higher than Parnell’s) to get the platoon advantage... the Yankees promptly tied it at 4. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees’ fifth outfielder, Johnny Lindell, who would hit all of six dingers on the year, pulled a Dobson fastball down the left field line (where else?) for what would prove to be the game winner. At least it wasn’t a knuckleball. (In case you’re interested, Aaron Boone hit six home runs for the Yankees during the regular season.)

It gets better. Or worse, if you’re a Red Sox fan. The last game of 1949, on October 2, with the two teams tied, pitted the Yankees’ Vic Raschi (a pure power pitcher who liked to throw close to hitters... clearly, Roger Clemens was his stand-in) against the Sox’ Ellis Kinder (who, although he could throw hard, was an excellent and deceptive slider/change-up pitcher as well... and who liked to throw at hitters... hmmm, Pedro). Just two of the best pitchers in the AL going head-to-head with the season on the line, that's all. Kinder, trailing 1-0 in the top of the eighth, was lifted for a pinch hitter (by Joe McCarthy, of course), and the Yankees scored four times in the bottom half of the inning off of Parnell and Tex Hughson. The key blow? A bases-loaded pop fly double by Jerry Coleman that drove in three runs to make the score 5-0. (He had an extra RBI on Jorge Posada in the deal.) The Sox came back to score three times in the top of the ninth, but it was too late and the Yankees won 5-3.

As hard as it may be to believe, those weren’t the biggest flukes of the postseason...the biggest fluke was the Marlins (Marlins, fish, flukes... get it?) winning the World Series despite the Yankees leading them in every offensive and pitching category. And, of course, THAT had already happened to the Yankees once before as well, in 1960, when they absolutely slaughtered the Pirates, outscoring them 55-27, and still lost in seven games:

1960 Pirates 234 27 60 11 0 4 26 12 26 .256 .293 .355 .648
1960 Yankees 269 55 91 13 4 10 54 18 40 .338 .380 .528 .908

The Yankees managed to top the Pirates in every offensive category (except that they struck out more than the Pirates)...just like what happened in the just-past World Series:

2003 Marlins 203 17 47 8 0 2 17 14 48 .232 .281 .300 .581
2003 Yankees 207 21 54 10 1 6 21 22 49 .261 .332 .406 .738

Finally, a couple of statistical oddities. It was a bad year to be a pitcher named Franklin. Ryan of the Mariners led the American League in home runs allowed, with 34, and Wayne of the Brewers topped that, leading the National League in home runs allowed with 36. And then, there was Joe Kennedy, an otherwise innocuous 3-12 pitcher for Tampa Bay. Kennedy went out on May 2, 2003 and threw a one-hit, one-walk, six-strikeout shutout at the sorry Detroit Tigers. A fine game, running up a Game Score (Bill James’ method of ranking the quality of a pitcher’s start) of 90, a mark good enough to tie for the AL lead for the best Game Score of 2003.
However, that’s not what makes Kennedy so remarkable. His claim to fame is that, in his very next start, on May 7, he was pounded by the Minnesota Twins for 13 hits and 10 runs—all earned—in just four innings. Thus, in consecutive starts, we learn that Mr. Kennedy posted the best Game Score of the 2003 AL season (90) and then the WORST Game Score of the 2003 AL season (-5). Way to go, Joe.

John Shiffert is a member of the Society for Baseball Research (SABR), the former publisher of the Philadelphia Baseball File (1989-1991), the former Sports Information Director for Earlham College (1973-1974) and Drexel University (1975-1979) and a sportswriter of some 35 years experience, starting in high school in Philadelphia. Every week Shiffert (a baseball historian and Phillies fan living in exile outside of Atlanta) looks at a timely event from baseball's history and ties it into a event or news story from today's headlines in his free e-zine, 19 to 21 (

Hot Stove, Cool Music, Great Cause by Steve Reynolds

One side of Major League Baseball usually gets overlooked in the all the chatter about high salaries, performance-enhancing drug use and where the Expos may end up—many organizations head up great charitable efforts. Major League Baseball itself has provided funding for Boys and Girls Clubs around the country for almost a decade and runs Baseball Tomorrow, which provides equipment and uniforms to youth baseball leagues. The Mets, lead by players like Al Leiter and John Franco, are involved with 22 community-outreach programs throughout the metropolitan area. And both the Mets and the Yankees were tremendous supporters of post-9/11 needs.

But the longest-running and best-known baseball charity is Boston’s Jimmy Fund. Anyone that grew up in (or in my case, near) New England will remember ushers in their local movie theater collecting for the fund each summer. The Jimmy Fund was started in 1948 by the Variety Club of New England. The club organized a radio broadcast from the bedside of a young cancer patient dubbed Jimmy as he was visited by members of the Boston Braves baseball team. Contributions poured in to buy Jimmy a television set so he could watch the Braves play. The fund truly got off the ground the next year with the theater collection program.

When the Braves moved to Milwaukee, the owners of the Red Sox took on the major support of the fund by naming it the team’s official charity. Ever since then the team has raised money for the fund, which has helped numerous young people battle cancer for more than 50 years. And the Red Sox players throughout the years have always been big supporters—the 1967 Boston Red Sox “Impossible Dream” team voted to give the Jimmy Fund a share of its winnings from making it to the World Series. (And back then post-season money actually meant something).

In 2000 a new Jimmy Fund benefit came on the scene in Boston—Hot Stove Cool Music. The project was hatched by Boston Herald sportswriter Jeff Horrigan and ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons. The duo had long talked about putting together a benefit. (Gammons—well known for musical references in his columns—says, “I always joke that some people do golf tournaments while I do rock concerts.”) Horrigan was inspired one night after seeing a show where one opening act was named for the late Yankee catcher Thurman Munson. Horrigan knew another band called Carlton Fisk, and thought a benefit with both bands and other baseball-themed acts would be a great idea. Horrigan called Gammons the next day, and he suggested an auction of baseball memorabilia to fill out the evening.

The first Hot Stove Cool Music concert took place in December 2000 at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. The night was headlined by ex-Letters to Cleo singer (and big baseball fan) Kay Hanley. Gammons served as the evening’s MC, and Hanley’s bassist Ed Valausakas (also from the Boston band The Gentlemen) recalls that, “People came out in droves just to hear [Gammons] talk baseball between the bands.” The night was a great success. Valauskas adds, “The end of the evening culminated with an ‘all-star jam’ (in other words, a train wreck) on ‘Surrender’ by Cheap Trick featuring Kay and Nina Gordon (ex-Veruca Salt) on vocals, with neither of them remembering the words to the first verse. It was kinda funny.”

Three more Hot Stove Cool Music benefits have happened since 2000, with the last one this past January selling out in no time. “Each year its just grown a little bit more,” Gammons says. “And this year it’s sort of taken on a bit more of a life.” That life Gammons is referring to is Hot Stove Cool Music: Volume One, an album filled with a diverse roster of acts with baseball connections. Pearl Jam contributes a live version of “Bu$hleaguer,” which takes on the former Texas Rangers owner-turned politician. Gammons says singer Eddie Vedder has always has a baseball and music connection. “He wrote some of his first songs in a little donut shop right across from Wrigley Field.” Hot Stove stalwart Hanley contributes “Your Summer Baby,” which is a perfect theme for the boys of summer, while Valauskas and The Gentlemen contribute the appropriately titled “Hit That.”

The disc also features baseball players and employees. Trauser, led by Red Sox general manger Theo Epstein on guitar, tackles Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Sandfrog, the band led by former Angel and current Mariner Scott Speizio, and Stickfigure, led by ex-pitcher Jack McDowell, each contribute original material. Gammons is especially impressed with McDowell’s development after his career ended a few years ago. “I think he’s evolved into an outstanding musician, and he’s evolved into himself. Which is true of a lot of musicians. You start out sort of copying the people that you idolize, and then you eventually grow into your own personality.”

The disc also features the Hot Stove All Stars (Valauskas, Gentlemen drummer Pete Caldes and ex-Letters to Cleo guitarist, and Hanley’s husband, Mike Eistenstein) backing up Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, ex-J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf, Mighty Mighty Bosstones frontman Dickey Barrett and several Red Sox players singing on a cover of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part One.” “Part Two,” which has no lyrics except for the “hey” chant, is the one that gets played at parks around the country. Valauskas says, “I thought it would be interesting to do the version with lyrics mostly because it is just weird and that not very many people know it.”

Gammons, who played in a band in college, turned from MC to performer at the 2003 benefit. He jokes that his first concert appearance in almost 40 years was made easier by the “great safety net” onstage of The Gentlemen with Janovitz and Eisenstein. That led to Gammons and the Hot Stove All Stars covering Chuck Berry’s “Carol” for the album. “Peter was great in the studio,” comments Valauskas. “I was a little surprised only on that he hadn’t recorded since 1964. His singing on that track is really good and it didn’t take him very long to nail it. Initially it was a little strange backing him up because of the famous person aspect, but that went away pretty quickly. It is a pretty natural fit with the Gentlemen because of the old school rock n’ roll thing. Gammons is such a music fan and rock n’ roll historian—it is not only a good time playing with the guy but you actually get a music history lesson (as well as some baseball insider info) playing with him.” As for his studio experience, Gammons adds, “I was amazed at how it turned out. I said to Ed at one point, ‘That isn’t exactly what I thought I sounded like.’”

For Gammons and company, the goal now is to keep raising money for the Jimmy Fund. A DVD of the 2003 show is in the works for later this year. And a second album is also in the planning stages, with even more baseball and rock connections. “In addition to the Gammons track and the Gary Glitter cover,” Valauskas reveals, “We cut a version of ‘Simple Man’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd that we were hoping to get Tim Wakefield to come down and sing on but unfortunately, scheduling never allowed it to happen. Maybe we’ll get him for the next one.”

Gammons adds that Boston is the perfect place to keep doing this benefit series. “One of the reasons this works so well in Boston is that Boston is America’s biggest college town. And it’s essentially two things—baseball and rock n’ roll. Those are the two biggest things in town. Maybe that’s why I love it here so much.”
(To order the album, go to

Postscript: I couldn’t let a chance to speak with Peter Gammons go by without asking a couple of regular baseball related questions.

Zisk: Who do you think improved the most in the off-season?

Gammons: The Phillies. Getting Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell and Eric Milton—they had pretty good starting pitching. Now they have great starting pitching and a great bullpen. They could be really, really good.

Zisk: If Larry Bowa has slow start with this team, does that put him in jeopardy after the end of last year.

Gammons: Yes, I think they’ll be a great deal of pressure because everybody expects him to win.

Zisk: What do you think of how the Mets approached the off-season?

Gammons: I think that Jim Duquette has instituted a philosophy, a philosophy I thought they should have had a long time ago. And that is, “We’re not going to go around and get slugging name stars that will please the back pages of the papers. We’re going to go out and get players that can adapt to Shea Stadium.” Shea Stadium is one of the worse places to play and hit in baseball. So his idea is to go out and get good defensive players, get pitching and make life miserable for people when they come there. And I think that’s the way to be successful, and I think that he’s got a plan that has a chance to be really successful. In my mind, you can have Andruw Jones and Tori Hunter and all the rest of them. In my mind, Mike Cameron’s the best centerfielder in the game. They got a great defensive shortstop in Matsui, and Reyes will be a great second basemen. They started out by really improving the defense in the middle. They’re not going to go to first place in one year, but for once they have a plan, which is something they haven’t really had in the past, you may have noticed.

Zisk: Yes, yes I have. (Laughs)

Apes And Angels: Contemporary Baseball Fiction and My Century of Misery by Michael Baker

“Did Cartwright say that his
endeavor was to balance the arithmetic
of the game against its geometry?
All of sport, from bushkazi to
baseball, is man’s endeavor to balance
his animal instinct against his civilizing
intellect. On the sporting field, to borrow
Mister Disraeli’s phrase, we are both ape and angel.”
Eric Rolfe Greenberg,
The Celebrant

“Go fuck yourself.”
Albert Belle, to NBC’s Hannah Storm

The Seventh Babe, Jerome Charyn, 1979
Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella, 1981
The Celebrant, Eric Rolfe Greenberg, 1983
The Greatest Slump of All Time, David Carkeet, 1984
Blue Ruin, Brendan Boyd, 1991

On April 22nd, 1901, the first game of the American League was played; the Chicago White Sox barely bested my later-to-be-loved Cleveland Indians, 8-2. And if you excuse the unlikely aberrations of the periodic anomaly—Bagby, Boudreau, or a Baerga—it has been downhill for the Tribe ever since, a ceaseless sadistic and masochistic contortion of cosmic athletic ineptitude, mind-bogglingly bad trades, selfish and preening players, shortsighted and greedy owners, and genius foes: Cobb, Ruth, Foxx, Greenberg, Williams, Mantle, and Killebrew. The Tribe that year finished 54-82; their clean-up hitter amassed 55 RBI’s; their leadoff hitter was Candy LaChance; their sterling reserves included Zaza, Truck, Shorty, and Paddy. Reading, however, baseball books, staring at muted TV’s in decaying bars in downtown Akron, listening to Herb Score on the radio, studying statistics, attending games for years in a near-empty stadium, and following, begging with, laughing over and sobbing because of my Cleveland Indians, have made me who I am, or am not: a complete shithead addled loser. And I wouldn’t change one called strike three, one late-August delusional hope, one dropped pop fly in the eighth. That absence of glory has become my cursed presence, the scarlet badge of a grinning drunk Indian.

There has been gleaned for me, however, some solace from baseball books. The ever present sense of spring renewal, the recognition of the latent potential in all human endeavor, the timelessness of a seven-run uprising, and the pouring over of stable statistics have called forth many a person, young and old, to whisper their secret fascination with this beautiful charade. And I am drawn to many of them: the dreamy and nostalgic non-fictions of Angell, Khan, Tygiel and Creamer; the saber-rattling of the hyper-zealous scientists, James and Palmer and their army of pencil pushers, who compare fielding statistics of Federal League third basemen; and, of course, the myriad fictionists. I prefer the odder ones: the game needs permanent debunkings, especially in opposition to the clichéd media heads or the seasonal comical angst of permanent losers—the Cubs, the Red Sox, and me. Some of the hallowed ones leave me cold, like forced eating of spinach or reading Tom Wolfe: they contain the same number of players and dirty jockstraps, but they call attention to their seriousness at every possible 7th inning stretch. Mark Harris’s “Henry Wiggins” novels are too homey, too winking at me because of their moral superiority. I prefer Thurber to Lardner. Period. Malamud—a great novelist—in his first, The Natural, uses many intelligent adjectives and way too many intellectual plot patterns, making me lament the dirt of my neighborhood ball field. Roth’s The Great American Novel blows up because of the comic tantrums, the great fabulist’s lack of details and perspiration. Better if one takes the game less mythically, with more immediacy, highlighting failed efforts, heroes in search of empty stadiums.

I prefer the protest and spirit of survival found in the non-Platonic pages of Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., in the first third of DeLillo’s Underworld, and in the tiny men who inhabit their precarious tiny worlds of the five novels listed above. These celebrations and ceremonies, these mysterious powers of lost narrators, the prosleytizing characters who know not themselves, seek meaning, structure, and grace from the game. Marcus Aurelius, an opponent of the wild card and designated hitter, wrote that men need “sacrifice…the most primitive, the most natural and enduringly significant of old pagan sacrifices…and veritable consecration.” The characters in these books seek also to confirm beliefs: they have instinctive attachments to the order of 27 outs and 60 feet, 6 inches. While self interest, family, community, and the past may be crumbling, the game itself posits a radical morality, a set of codes handed down since Doubleday in hushed, secret conundrums exchanged in bars, dugouts, and hotel rooms. The characters here are anti-capitalists, anti-fascists. Although deeply washed in superstition, racism, provincialism, and hoary abstractions, these men, nonetheless, have predilections for the common, the same, the ordinary, free from the ache of longing. They are not liberated, or patriotic, or concerned with equality: they are ballplayers—adults in child-like games, attracted to patterns, and haters of dazzling interpretations.

These five novels share, besides the obvious, many things: enervated protagonists scarred from past falls, and fearful of future pink slips. They hate the owners; they are not even on firm ground regarding their fearless allies, the spectators. Each of the five novels share a love for the more ancient variety of the sport, when fans could walk up a buy a draught for their heroes; when the same couple thousand fans came to every game; when the salaries, gloves, and home runs were miniscule; when gamblers outnumbered the temperate. Except for Kinsella, whose famous novel became the more famous, and moribundly sanitized, Field of Dreams, the novelists here are wary of veteran players enjoying the sunsets from their southern porches, warm gins in their hands, daydreaming of Stonewall Jackson or Walter Johnson. These novels, and Kinsella’s, achieve what most great fiction achieves: prickings into our collective consciences; diagrams of failed dreams; a miniaturized and entropic present, harshly counter pointed with the bright promise of spring. The leaders of these fictions are jumpy, sad, seeking the balance between individual glory and collective action. Teamwork is often extolled, and as also with corporate America, iconoclasm is deprecated, caged, but these characters have secret weapons: they play brilliantly with beautiful bodies this game of chance and skill.

Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella’s superb novel, restrained and tender, is about fathers and sons. Voices tell the narrator, Ray Kinsella, a struggling Iowa farmer, to build a baseball field. Once done, it is inhabited by members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, architects of that year’s World Series scandal and their own dooms. The novel, like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided into three parts: the voices and the dream and the field; the bonding with another silenced artist, J.D. Salinger, who like Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Sox, wonders why he was chosen; and the long coda, where a former player who only got into one game with the Giants and another lost soul who for a half a century has claimed spurious professional experience add colorings of hope and integrity. They all seek reclamation, and they all get to rectify mistakes, or at least live second chances. Much sports fiction suffers from excessive idolatry, which partially mars this sad and thoughtful book. Bad baseball books, like French operetta or Lake Erie wineries, do not have a life outside their simplistic souls. Here, farming, fresh starts, and fathers take precedent, as the game, although sacred, is played for joy, more pitch and catch, less standing ovations. And the heroes, Jackson, Salinger, and the elder Kinsella are demystified, miniaturized. The strokes of portraiture are swift; the balance between cornball and baseball is taut. This is America: falling apart, isolated, seeking redress for long ago grievances. Although the character of the wife is transparent, and although the morality of gambling is never discussed, the book renders well the dignity of athleticism, the art of narrative making, and the fragile holds to positive delusions. The wicked bankers are beat back, the pristine players welcome all competition, and the narrator fights through his fear and trembling, putting on a glove and re-imagining the not-so-towering image of his father.

Because Kinsella’s book actually reaches concordance, and because it actually centers around decent people—delusional and felonious, but indefatigably decent—it is quite unlike the other four novels under consideration here. The tone and execution of Shoeless Joe is timorous, restrained, plangent in it its need for connections. The other four books celebrate chaos and cursing, doldrums and defeats—these multiple tongues can’t be shut down, so don’t bother inviting the Vicar for tea. Three of the four—excepting Carkeet’s novel of team and individual pathological depression—take place near the 1919, baseball’s watershed year. The shock of that scandal, the declining moments of glory of true heroes like Mathewson and Wagner, the war, the baseball fiscal disasters made pregnant by the Federal League War, uncertain boundaries extolled by Einstein and Freud, and the advent of Babe Ruth’s celebrated entrance to immortality in Yankee pinstripes cause these baseball worlds to collide with each other. Like the scales of measurement in Lilliput or Brobdignang everything becomes helter-skelter. Before 1919 there was a technical need for fantasy, but now with gambling and the Babe, the verisimilitude itself has become freakish and distorted. And obstacles are now the given: the curse of a banal democracy is that split between the shared principles of a unified shared purpose versus the fragmented individual’s search for identity. These novels depict America’s frightening embrace with onrushing darkness. The world was once safe and flat, and Cher was once a virgin, but now Babe Ruth out homers entire rosters.

David Carkeet’s The Greatest Slump of All Time is tender, mournful, and hilarious. The great painter Max Beckman promoted “a raw, average vulgar art which doesn’t live between sleepy fairy-tale moods and poetry but rather concedes a direct entrance to the fearful, commonplace, splendid, and the average grotesque banality in life.” This novel, about an entire starting roster on a National League team profoundly depressed, is as funny and as raw as any sporting book written. The ineffectual manager narrates a seemingly endless pornographic joke, constantly interrupted; the players devise or dream up improbable strategies that leave opponents open mouthed, bitter, and defeated. As the winning continues, the individuals fall apart, scared of success, resistant to the marital obligations, paranoid of teammates’ hitting streaks. There are bitterness, superstition, and roving day-to-day theories of life rejected and accepted; sad about the game, but terrified of life, these somehow sympathetic players endure each other, like Sisyphus. They batter the media’s clichés, fight for fathers’ and fans’ affections, and make it into the World Series. They, like Richard III, hate the idle pleasures of the day, and seek solace in guns, hotels, bars, and fantasies, all the while playing baseball expertly and gracefully. To one “the action on the field is like an orgasm taking twenty-three years to happen.” The skipper seeks patterns. Routine plays become baroque, confusing all except the individual engineer. Mothers sit silent. Many players “withdraw into silent, ardent resentment.” The novel, as with its depicted final game, never reaches satisfactory resolution. The players stalk off, and allow the reserves the glory, or the bitterness. One suicide and a mini rebellion and the players are soon prepping not for batting practice but post-career sadness, lives of deprivation, serious pain, and persistent disappointment. As with the running joke, and the fireballer pitcher’s virginity, and the season itself, there are no endings here, no voluntary mirth: just racism, grey depression, solitude, and no patterns; except the Yankees are in the World Series so the players go on a fishin’ trip, a few days earlier than they should have. Let their child conspire, and let the fans be ignorant of the players’ constant on-field panic. Fish neither talk back, nor carry weapons. There are no scores kept.

As rich as Carkeet’s book is about the fear of playing, similarly textured is the gambling fabric of Brendan Boyd’s Blue Ruin: A Novel of The 1919 World Series. As good as Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out is, Boyd’s fictionalization of the same topic rings truer: the conflation of post-War euphoria, the greed of gamblers and players, the profane slang, the depiction in to the minutiae of sadness of lost men, all sing here, through the eyes and voice of Joseph “Sport” Sullivan. Sullivan, a real actor in the drama of the Chicago team throwing, engineers a big payoff for himself, and once accomplished, the novel traces his fall; once Hamlet-like, contemplative, rueful, restrained, he was a pretty big fish in a dirty pond who owned a gambler’s code; after the bets were paid off, everything changed. Girlfriends were actually hookers; Hollywood was more real than the East Coast; money slipped through hands like water through a shot-up corpse. Ironically, the purposeful direction, conventions, and quotidian honor of Sullivan’s life were most in evidence in the planning and execution of the crime. Once it was discovered that a few people could manufacture such a catastrophic illusion-busting of this magnitude, the mosaic of life changed. There was no longer a bottom. Society failed in that it felt, as in slavery, mere codification, as in baseball player’s contracts, was mutual, or produced serenity. Just because a system works does not make it fair, moral, or desirable. The rebellious players and their sad lives; the gamblers who add, but don’t subtract; the owners and their pontifical avarice: no one at the advent of the Roaring Twenties was a winner. Sleep was forgotten. Money had no value. And every athletic competition could be fixed. In Mexico at the end, exiled, but safe from prosecution, Sport Sullivan is no longer a person: cut off from his language, his family, his way of life, he is rewarded with nothingness, no action, no wagering. All bets are off. He can dream of his foreign America, but that too is gone.

Another lost world, more tender, more simple, more moving, is conjured in Eric Rolfe Greenberg’s beautiful The Celebrant, a story about baseball at the turn of the century, the assimilation of Jews into society, and hero worship, here the larger than life pitcher for the New York Giants, Christy Mathewson, an immense figure, physically, athletically, and morally. Blue Ruin was slang for bad liquor, or disgraceful ruin, but here the sadness comes from within. Jackie, a pitcher of promise, a conflicted son of immigrants, and a master jeweler, traces Mathewson’s rise, and the Giants’, through a series of games realistically and accurately rendered: Matheweson’s perfect game; New York’s World Series win in 1905; Merkle’s boner; Snodgrass’s muff. Jackie’s brother, an inveterate gambler—friend to Hal Chase and John McGraw—provides the parallelism; at a time when the game itself provided the spectacle (as an execution) the viewer could only watch: the activity itself had a time-table, a rigid set of established rhythms and regulated repetitions. Fans were fans, that’s all. The physical elaboration of the event was all. But with the intercession of gambling, hero worshiping, stakes were raised, breaking the spirit of the contests and Jackie’s confidence in the American system, things as the dawn of the century had just promised. The game, and life, became reductionist parodies, thwarted by merely conventional ball playing or logical methods. There was too much pressure to bear; as the stakes rose, the play became a play. The naïve narrator maintained a nostalgic view of the game and as the ballplayers and owners exposed themselves as the brutal barbarians that they were, perception clouded. In the search for values, Jackie couldn’t maintain the balanced tension between vicarious fervor and the inherent naturalism of an action that ended either winning or losing. As a religious Jew, as an idealist, as a fan, he demanded transmogrification, not betting slips, mockery, or failed intentions. He lost his faith.

These immigrants’ sons—on and off the field—were drunken and disaffection scions of a hopeless heritage. The dialogue in all of these books resembles not so much a synthesis, or compromise, or communication, but jagged peaks of illogic. The characters can’t write about themselves because when they look into the mirrors they say “who the hell’s that?” Each of the novels loses momentum, writes about women badly, zigzags their tonal keys, and struggles for authenticity. But no sports book I know—not even Exley’s The Fan’s Notes—is as abrupt, vile, comic, horrific, or degenerative, with inane small talk, failed sexuality, questionable honor, as Jerome Charyn’s The Seventh Babe, a great American novel by a great American writer. Charyn practically re-invented, not merely re-invigorated, the American detective novel in his series about Marilyn and Isaac Sidel, and Blue Eyes and the Guzmans, and here his aim is equally rambunctious and high. The character, the seventh Babe in Baseball in the year 1923, Babe Raglan has a name that simultaneously echoes the motif of a Bildungsroman (a babe, around adult men for the first time), and Lord Ragland, creator of a literary chart of mythological patterns. Here, Charyn debunks these myths and re-applies them, for these baseball players, either in the big leagues or the outlaw Negro Leagues where Babe spends playing and managing the majority of his career, or for the hangers-on: truth and redemption come to the faux-foundling as he asserts his rugged individualism, frontier democracy, communion with and conquest of the natural world, and America’s sense of exceptionalism.

This books hums with life: it is wicked, scared and profane—almost a raw expose of the failure of sports, society, race, and the market during the 20’s and 30’s. Wounds, gaping physical ones and inner, figure preeminently, harkening to Sophocles’ last tragedy, Philoctetes, which is referred to several times near the end. As with all these books the past of baseball serves as a grand design that somehow becomes pale, and each of our heroes needs to grip with absent or unloving fathers, often hilariously symbolized by the wayward managers and their obtuse coaching staffs. No one knows the score at these contests. And if the story here is Adamic, searching for a prior Eden, the story is Oedipal as well, a tragedy that fathers get slain, before their time. Babe Raglan’s need for clarity is simply a need for the box scores of his daily life to measure concretely against the haziness of the dark hotel rooms. All five of these novels are picaresque and ribald, if also hollow inside: there are no benchmarks of greatness: Babe is no Babe Ruth no savior; Mathewson was gassed in France and died too young; Shoeless Joe, an illiterate hick with a magic bat, chased flies in South Carolina’s sandlots during his early fifties, fat, sweaty, and guilty; gamblers are exiled, outfielders commit suicide. The pockets of affirmation come from the relentless authorial zeal to depict the minor, but daily, struggle for domination in a game for children. Charyn does not curse democracy. He eviscerates it.

These fictions keep us warm during the long dark nights of our wintry discontent. They connect us to the past, create heroes from static box scores, and posit conflated vernacular, profane slang, and sporting lexicon to foment our limited vocabularies and imaginations. Virginia Woolf, noted switch hitter, said novelists were to “record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected….Any method is right, every method is right…no perception comes amiss.” These methods found in these five books are fundamentally the psychic disturbances of ambivalences. We love and hate. We pass, fail. Win. Lose. We yearn—or we should—for the underdogs, but loathe the congress of failures, the confederation of misery. And these fictions here are agent provocateurs stressing the potential sorry state of hero worship: we would probably be better off collectively mowing our lawns, painting our falling-apart porches, holding our children tighter, longer. Me? I have no porch. But I do have Albert Belle’s rookie card in my wallet, firm against my backside.

Michael Baker teaches composition at New Jersey colleges, where his students write about their fierce hatred of the New York Yankees.