Thursday, December 11, 2008

Goodbye Endy (and Aaron)

Dear Endy Chavez,

You made the greatest play I've ever seen in person at a baseball game. But things haven't gone so well for the Mets since that moment, so we need to say goodbye. You will always be one of my favorite Mets for your glove work and I hope you get the chance to show off your skills to the Mariners fans.

Oh, and when you see Aaron Heilman tell him he should enjoy the fresh start with a whole new set of fans that might not eat him alive.

Steve
Zisk Magazine

P.S. Any chance you could take Luis Castillo with you?

P.P.S. Oh, why not one more look:


P.P.P.S. I guess you'd have to be the world's biggest pessimist to say that the Mets bullpen has not been improved with the trade for J.J. Putz and singing K Rod. Still, I'll believe it when I see it in game 162.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Editor's Note

Editor’s note: This issue we focus on our last visits to various ball parks. Hence the following...
Shea Stadium isn’t the best baseball stadium in New York City. It’s not even second best, trailing the more aesthetically pleasing parks in the Bronx and Coney Island. But Shea is my favorite.

Shea’s shortcomings are numerous and obvious. The stadium is located in Flushing. It’s removed from any sense of neighborhood. For those taking the subway there’s nothing to do in the area before or after games.

Hopefully the last game I saw at Shea will fade from memory but I’m still going to miss the place, even more than I’m going to miss Yankee Stadium.

Despite a rather pronounced disliking for the Bronx Bombers I never turned down a trip to Yankee Stadium. The narrow hallways. The low ceilings. Monument park. I’m far too much of a baseball sentimentalist to resist. The last time I went to Yankee Stadium my wife and I lucked into box seats. We also saw Guliani while waiting for the elevator and passed King George along the way. But despite that legendary aura and those brushes with fame I always preferred Shea.

The last game I saw at Shea was a forgettable late-August blowout against the Astros. My brother and I made a day trip out of it. On our way to Flushing we had lunch at Virgil’s Barbeque. We stopped for a beer at Jimmy’s. After the game we hit a midnight movie in Times Square. There wasn’t a moment all day when we forgot that we were in New York City. That’s why I always loved a day at Shea. No matter how good or bad the game I was watching—even that 1993 game lost when a ground ball squirted past an out-of-position Joe Orsalak—I was always getting a thoroughly warts-and-all NYC experience.

When you looked past the outfield fence and you got an eyeful of the Queens skyline—expressways, parking garages, car repair shops. And when you closed your eyes and the sounds of the game were periodically drown out by air traffic from nearby LaGuardia Airport. All of those things will be there to greet the completed Citi Field, which is going to look great, no doubt. But when I look at Citi Field I get a sense that its designers, consciously or otherwise, don’t care if I’m aware of New York when I’m there. It’s newer and shinier and it’s the model that will get better mileage, but it’ll always lack Shea’s scratch and dent charm.

Mike

The Zisk Classic Book Corner by Mark Hughson

Summer of ’49 by David HalberstamWhen you are writing a book solely about two teams (Yanks and Sox) during a single season of baseball, you can certainly afford to go in depth about the teams and go on at length about the players. But would you really want to? The book itself follows a fairly linear path, but isn’t all that captivating a story, since we already know the outcome. While Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams get the most pages and the most hero worship, Halberstam goes deep into the lineup, giving us the entire roster for both teams, and the forgotten (or just overshadowed) players like Bobby Doerr, Chuck Stobbs, Ellis Kinder, and Birdie Tebbetts get highlighted as solid teammates, exceptional athletes, or at least interesting characters. Ted and Joe were amazing men, but they didn’t make or maintain the old dynasties single-handedly. Overall there’s a lot to learn but Halberstam doesn’t give us a lot to ponder—he’s just relaying the facts (the book is indeed well researched) right off the timeline. Thankfully his style is warm and nostalgic, so the book definitely falls into the pleasure-read category. If you’re into Williams and DiMaggio this book is up your alley; personally my favorite parts were about the stingy bastard George Weiss, local restaurant owner and confidant, Toots Shor, and of course the voice of baseball, Mel Allen. Apparently it was Allen’s idea to put a camera in the outfield giving us the now standard perspective that’s seen in all ball games on TV.

Halberstam is a respected author and this book sold well when first published in 1989, but while the book “celebrates a simpler America” it’s also a relatively simple book. If you’re looking for a book with dirt in its cleats then move on.

White Rat by Whitey Herzog with Kevin Horrigan
Whoever thought using Herzog’s nickname for a book title should have been fired on the spot. Herzog casts a pretty favorable light on himself (the book was published in 1987, during his moment in the sun) in this autobiography, and while one may chuckle at his claims of being baseball’s best talent scout, manager, coach, or whatever position he once held during his tenure in baseball, the book does have some good qualities. The first comes right at the beginning, where Herzog breaks down a “day in the life” of a manager, the early start, the meetings with players and press, handing in the lineup card—everything. It’s a pretty neat look at all the work that’s done in a day, since all we see on TV is an old dude sitting in the dugout with his arms folded. The next best part of the book happens at the very end. Herzog decides to pull no punches and talks pretty frankly about cocaine use, inflated salaries, and the politics of baseball. He names some names, but it’s nothing that’s not common knowledge these days. Still, it’s cool to see someone rant about these things rather than try to sweep it under the America’s Pastime rug. Otherwise, White Rat goes through the motions of your typical baseball book (the bad years, the rebuild years, that one great year), and is neither impressive nor offensive to the typical baseball lit fan. That one great year the Cardinals had (1982) was cool though: with guys like Lonnie Smith, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Keith Hernandez, and Tom Herr becoming World Series champions, Herzog makes a pretty strong case for having one of, if not the best, small ball teams in baseball history. He tried to repeat the formula a few years later with some of the same guys as well as Vince Coleman and Andy Van Slyke, but alas fate had other plans. Final tally—pretty good read, horrible title!

Mark Hughson lives in Syracuse, NY and enjoys baseball. His knowledge of the game is comprised entirely from 1980s paperback books he purchases at the local library for 50 cents.

The Some Star Game by John Shiffert

In the words of Lee Sinins, the Mid-Summer Classic has become the “Some Star Game.” Not a bad moniker for a contest that, in 2008, featured a National League roster with (for some obscure reason) Carlos Marmol and his 2-3, 4.13 ERA record, but was not graced by the presence of Derek Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Mike Lowell, Ryan Howard (who only led the majors in home runs), Carlos Lee or Pat Burrell (among others). While there were a lot of stars who could have appeared at Yankee Stadium, the addition of Marmol was clearly the strangest inclusion, brought about only because he received the highest vote total among relief pitchers on the players’ ballot—just proving that the players aren’t any better than the fans in picking All-Stars.

The current Byzantine voting set-up, involving ballot box (or e-mail in box) stuffing from 30 locations, an on-line fan vote for the 32nd man, the players voting, allowing Clint Hurdle to choose extras, and requirements for all teams to have a representative, even if that representative has been reprehensible (remember Mike Williams appearing for the NL a few years back with an ERA over 6), regularly produces atrocities such as this. There are better (and a lot more fun) ways to choose All-Star teams, such as Theme Teams, a concept originally created and master-minded by that master of trivial pursuits, Bruce Brown. Like the Star Trek All-Star Team…

C – Dick Rand1B – George Scott2B – Benny McCoy
SS – Mark Koenig
3B – Jay KirkeOF – Bones Ely
OF – Rodney Scott
OF – Reid Nichols
PH – Tom KirkP – Ricky Bones
P – Mike ScottP – Jack ScottP – Kid NicholsP – Chet NicholsMGR – Kid Nichols
In case any of you aren’t Star Trek fans (can there exist such benighted souls), it can be pointed out that the real names, character names and nicknames of the stars of the starship Enterprise form the basis for the team and, of course, this is only for the true stars, the original cast. (Sadly, no one named Spock, Nimoy, Sulu or Takei has ever played MLB.) Most of these worthies are pretty familiar, with the exception of Tom Kirk, who appeared in a single game as a pinch-hitter for his hometown Philadelphia Athletics on June 24, 1947, and catcher Rand. Probably no relation to yeoman Janice, he caught 69 games in the National League in the 50s. Manager/pitcher Kid Nichols is a genuine gold-plated Hall of Famer.

Then there are those who write and vote for Hall of Famers. It seems only fitting that some of the top current baseball writers/authors should have their own Writers All-Star team.

C – Matt Stark (Jayson)
1B – Dusty Baker (Jim)
2B – Daff Gammons (Peter)
SS – Dolly Stark
3B – Home Run Baker
OF – David Newhan (Ross)
OF – Larry Rosenthal (Ken)
OF – Si Rosenthal
P – Dennis Stark
P – Big Bill James (Duh… Bill)
P – Seattle Bill James
P – Ken Holtzman (Jerome)
P – Kevin Hagen (Paul)
MGR – Dusty Baker
Yes, there really was a player named Daff Gammons, look him up on baseball-reference.com. Utilityman David Newhan has an inside advantage here, he’s the son of long-time LA sportswriter Ross Newhan. Sadly, no one named Neyer has ever played MLB.

Some of the most interesting All-Star teams are those that shuffle players around into unaccustomed positions. Like the All-Closer Team. This bunch is made up of players who, at one time or another, were used to finish (or close) a game from the mound.

C – Brent Mayne/Jamie Burke (platoon)
1B – Jack Bentley2B – Dick HallSS – Doc Crandall3B – Charles BenderOF – Ron GuidryOF – Hal JeffcoatOF – Gene Garber
PH – Terry ForsterSP – Dennis Eckersley
SP – John SmoltzMGR – Clark Griffith
Burke just made his way into a platoon with Mayne by taking the mound in July as an emergency reliever for the Mariners. Although he was tagged with the loss (the first time an erstwhile catcher picked up an “L” as a pitcher since Roger Breshnahan more than 100 years ago), Burke still received an ovation as he came off the mound. You may recall back in 2000 that Mayne highlighted an unexceptional career by getting the win in an extra-inning game for the Rockies.

As for the other team members, Bentley was a combination pitcher/first baseman, mostly for the New York Giants. Hall came up to the major leagues from Swarthmore College as an infielder/outfielder before becoming a very effective side-arming reliever. Crandall, another New York Giant, was one of the first relief pitchers, and an excellent hitter as well for John McGraw in the first decade of the 20th Century. He was a good enough athlete to play several positions, as was Bender, who Connie Mack used in the outfield and at third base more than once. Although Bender is better known as a Hall of Fame starter, he at one time shared the major league record for saves in a season, with 13. Guidry and Garber were both pitchers who had adventures in center field and, in case you’ve forgotten, Guidry came up as a reliever. Jeffcoat was an outfielder who couldn’t hit and who later became a pretty decent relief pitcher. Forster was a relief pitcher who could hit (a .397 career average). Eckersley and Smoltz are the two most notable starter/relievers, while Griffith had the most success among pitcher/managers.

Finally, in noting that baseball has become an international sport over the past 50 years, here’s the All-Foreign Team. As Bruce Brown (who also contributed to this team, as did Brian Englehardt) points out, this team shamelessly mixes nouns and adjectives, but, then again, as my father and daughter will tell you, I’ve never been an All-Star grammarian.

C – Dane Sardinha
1B – Frank Brazill
2B – Neal “Mickey” FinnSS – Swede Risberg
3B – Woody EnglishOF – Frenchy BordagaryOF – Irish MeuselOF – Brian JordanPH – Israel AlcantaraPH – Greek George
PH – Tim IrelandPR – Germany SchaferP – Larry French
P – Egyptian HealyP – Franklyn GermanP – Mike ScottP – Chris Welsh
Bench/Bullpen
Mark Portugal
Ossie France
Dick Pole
Joe Malay
Blas Monaco
Jim French
Chile Gomez
Dane Iorg
Dane Johnson
German Barranca
Esteban German
George Scott
(along with about 50 other Scotts)
Charlie English
Gil English
Israel Sanchez
Jimmy Welsh
Chad Curtis
Dutch Leonard
(both of them)
Dutch Ruether
Turkey Stearns


Now, as to how the 2008 game went…five hours? Fifteen innings? Twenty three pitchers? Three errors and three strikeouts by the same player? The prospect of outfielders or third basemen going to the mound to pitch? The possibility of calling the game due to a lack of players? Sounds more like the slow pitch softball game at the office picnic. Maybe that’s because the All-Star Game, the last professional contest of its type that actually was worth paying attention to, has hit rock bottom. Thanks to an overabundance of tacky promos, tacky players, tacky votes and voters, tacky administrators and tacky rules, the All-Star Game has gone in the tack. Well, give some credit to interleague play as well, but you get the picture. Even the artifice of playing for home field advantage in the World Series is really pretty meaningless, since the home field advantage in baseball is nowhere near as significant as it is in say, basketball.

Home Run Derby? A moderately interesting TV show set in Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field around 1960. So what does that have to do with the All-Star Game? Ditto Corey Hart, Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson (when did he leave The Beach Boys?), Mark Redman and Mike Williams (among others)—what do they have to do with the All-Star Game? Think the fans won’t tune in to watch if they don’t have a hand in the vote? How many were still watching at 1:30 a.m., whether they voted or not? Bud.com? Enough said. Requiring a player from each team and not putting a ceiling on the number of players from a team? Welcome to a Spring Training game between the Cubs and the Red Sox (about the same level of relevance as the July 15 abomination). Fans, writers, sportscasters, executives, etc—you can buy into the hype that this was one of the great All-Star games (true only if you equate “long” with “great” and have no interest in Dan Uggla), or you can realize that the Commissioner has no clothes, and look for ways to fix this broken institution.

It didn’t used to be this way. All-Star games in baseball have been around since “Picked Nines” (the term used in the 1850s and 1860s) from New York and Brooklyn squared off in a three-game set at the Fashion Race Course in 1858. Various other all-star type contests were held sporadically over the ensuing 75 years, including two in one year—a fund-raiser during the 1911 season for Addie Joss’ widow and a series of post-season games to keep the Philadelphia Athletics sharp while waiting to begin the 1911 World Series against the New York Giants. So, when sportswriter Arch Ward suggested a mid-season exhibition game (for that is, in reality, what the All-Star Game is) in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, it was hardly a new idea. Maybe you recall that Connie Mack and the then-recently-retired John McGraw managed the teams for their respective leagues. Maybe you remember that Babe Ruth fittingly enough hit the first All-Starr home run. But what you probably don’t know is that there were just 18 players on each squad, and a half dozen of them didn’t even get into the game. Jimmie Foxx didn’t play. Bill Dickey didn’t play. Tony Lazzeri didn’t play. (And all three of them would eventually be voted into the Hall of Fame.) Why not? Maybe because Mack and McGraw, old World Series adversaries from way back, were actually trying to win the game. Mack only used 13 players—his eight starting position players, three pitchers, a pinch-hitter and pair of fresh legs (Sam West) as a defensive replacement for the aging Ruth. McGraw substituted more freely, as only pitcher Hal Schumacher, one of only four pitchers on the NL squad (the AL had just five), didn’t get into the game. Of course, putting Paul Waner, Pie Traynor and Gabby Hartnett (also three future Hall of Famers) into the game as subs was hardly conceding the contest to Mack.

The AL jumped on top 3-0 early off of a wild Wild Bill Hallahan, as Lefty Gomez, of all people, singled in Jimmy Dykes in the bottom of the second, and Ruth hit his home run in the bottom of the third. A sixth inning NL home run by Frank Frisch off General Crowder wasn’t enough, since Mack then brought in his ace, Lefty Grove, to pitch the last three (shutout) innings. It was, by all accounts, a good game and everyone had a good time. Not everyone in the game was destined to go to Cooperstown. Among the less-noteworthy players were Tony Cuccinello, Woody English, Jimmie Wilson and Oral Hildebrand. But there were a lot of great players. Future Hall of Famers not already mentioned included Earl Averill, Joe Cronin, Lou Gehrig (the reason Foxx didn’t play), Rick Ferrell, Charlie Gehringer, Al Simmons (all from the AL, Mack had 12 future Hall of Famers among his 18 players), Chick Hafey and Chuck Klein. While the Hall qualifications of some of these players can be (and have been) questioned, you better believe this was a game of stars.

The question is, how do we get back to making the All-Star Game a Midsummer Classic, instead of a Midsummer’s Nightmare? Doing away with interleague play would be a good start, but for now let’s stick to just the rules of the All-Star Game in terms of a fix. Here are six suggestions…

First – Take the vote away from the fans. Trust me on this, they’ll still come to the game and they’ll still watch on TV, especially if they’re guaranteed to see two true all-star teams in action. Give the vote to a panel of experts, including the BBWAA and the many and varied baseball writers who don’t belong to the BBWAA, but who in many cases know far more about baseball and player value than many of the establishment type—the Bill James, Rob Neyers, Jim Bakers, Bill Chucks, John Thorns, Pete Palmers, Dayn Perrys, Lee Sinins, Bruce Browns, SABR board of directors, Baseball Prospectus guys, some of the top internet moguls, etc., etc., etc., of the baseball-writing world. Maybe add in another panel of baseball execs—managers and GMs—who will vote by sealed ballot with the codicil that they are not allowed to vote for their own players.

Second – Establish new guidelines for voting. The voters are to take into consideration not just the first three months of the current season (which is the basic problem that produces a Some-Star Game), but the body of each players’ work over his entire career, and especially his play in the second half of the just-concluded season. This last rule is designed to end the all-too-common practice of someone who has a great second half not getting all-star recognition. All three factors – the first half of the current year, the second half of the previous year, and the career, are to be balanced equally in consideration in voting. Three separate ballots are to be cast for position players (16), starting pitchers (three) and relief pitchers (five). That’s two players per position. The pitchers are designated the All-Star Game starter, an emergency starter in case someone comes down with flu-like symptoms or the erstwhile starter starts a regular game on Sunday, and a long man. Five relievers, even in this age of specialization, is plenty. That’s a squad of 24, and that, too, is plenty. How many regular season games have you seen wherein a manager used more than 20 players?

Third – Throw out the rule that every team has to have an all-star, and put a limit on the number of players that can be selected from each team. Although every team was represented in the 1933 game, there were only eight teams in each league at that time. With either 14 or 16 teams in a league, you get Grant Jackson, Mark Redman and Mike Williams on the roster too often. On the other hand, the Yankees had six of the 18 AL players in the 1933 game, and the New York Giants had four of the NL’s 18, and that’s not right, either. Limit each team to a maximum of four All-Stars. It’s absurd to have eight players from one team as All-Stars, although that in part is a function of ballot box stuffing, which would go away with a more rational system of voting.

Fourth – Eliminate the restrictions on the number of innings a pitcher can pitch. Similarly, ditch the unwritten rule that everyone should, if at all possible, get into the game. Not pulling your starting position players after three innings will help ensure that you won’t run out of position players. Being able to throw your starter for five or six or seven innings, or being able to use your long man for four innings, will also cut way down on the likelihood that you’ll run out of pitchers in an extra inning game. As part of this change, and although the DH is an abomination in the sight of all true baseball fans, let’s indeed use it for all All-Star games, to keep pitchers in the game longer.

Fifth – Ditch the sideshows, especially the Home Run Derby, which reeks of the stupid skills contests they used to have before games in the first half of the 20th Century. (It was in such an event that Rube Waddell broke both the hind legs of an enormous pig…but that’s another story.) The game should be enough of a draw to stand on its own, and it will, if changes like these are instituted.

Sixth – It’s an exhibition game, for goodness sake. Forget about the stupid World Series home field advantage rule and allow the game to end in a tie if need be. Regular season major league games used to end in ties all the time in the days of curfews, and before lights. And this is an exhibition game. It doesn’t count in the standings.

But it should be closer to a real game, played by the real stars. And these are six ways to do just that. Under the present system, Arch Ward is rolling in his grave.

John Shiffert is the author of Baseball: 1862-2003, Baseball… Then and Now, and Base Ball in Philadelphia. He also publishes a weekly baseball zine called Baseball...19 to 21. You can read it at http://tedsilary.com/johnshiffert.htm.

The Comedy of Baseball by Steve Reynolds

September 19th, 2008 will be a day that lives in baseball infamy. No, not because the Mets bullpen held a lead, it’s because of a three minute piece of video that popped up on You Tube. This video from 2003 shows Royals Hall of Fame third basemen George Brett at spring training talking to a player about how he shit his pants the night before. It’s quite possibly the funniest video I’ve ever seen (besides that monkey washing the cat). I knew that that some media company would have it taken down quickly because it was obviously a pro shot video. So I took matters into my own hands by recording the audio portion. So here, in all its glory, is the genius of George Brett.

(WARNING: If you are offended by shitloads of foul language, you might want to stop reading right here)
GB: I farted. I shit my pants last night

Unidentified player: (Laughs) You did?

GB: I did. Went out and had a great meal, just a great fucking meal, and I had to go to the bathroom so bad in the car I’m going “Trammel, hurry up man I gotta shit.” Got home and I had fucking shit in my pants. I’m good twice a year for that. When is the last time you shit your pants?

UP: Me?

GB: Yeah. Been a while?

UP: Um, yeah, it’s been a long time.

GB: I was in Vegas a couple years ago—this is an honest to God true story. Staying at the Bellagio, I went over to the Mirage for dinner and met some friends of mine over there. Went to Kokomo’s, a great little steakhouse. The guy brings out some fresh crab legs. He says, “These things just came in, I gotta give them to you guys.” So I’m eating them, then we go gamble a little bit. I had a tee time early in the morning, so I said, “Look, I’m gonna get going.” I’m walking back to the hotel, I get three quarters of the way out of the lobby and all of a sudden I go, “Oh, fuck!” And standing there like this—I got my butt pinched so fucking tight. I’m fucked. I can’t move. All of a sudden I felt all right, and then I went just like this—(makes explosion sound) water.

UP: No way.

GB: Yeah, I had food poisoning from the crabs. Take off my leather jacket, tied it around my waist, and I’m standing there and it’s just running down my leg.

UP: (Laughs)

GB: I got jeans on, black bucks, no socks. And I just start fucking walking. Every time I’m walking, something’s coming out. It’s water. Straight fucking water. And then, to tell you how sick I was, I’m standing outside and I get my cell phone and this guy (scratchy noise cuts in). I say “Larry, you won’t believe this. I’m standing outside the fucking Bellagio—I can’t move. I got shit everywhere. I shit all over myself.” And Larry’s about a 48 waist. So he brings me over a pair of pants and some towels. And so he comes over and meets me—I tell him where I’m standing. He finds the closest bathroom when you go up the escalator—I can’t get in the elevator.

UP: (Laughs)

GB: So he goes in, finds the closest bathroom in the lobby of the hotel. And then I get on the escalator, and he kind of pretends like he dropped something so no one gets behind me. Tells me where it is. I go in there. He goes and gets the towel all wet for me, throws it over the fucking stall. I take off all my fucking clothes. [I] just wipe off—leave my shoes, left my shoes, my pants, everything, right there. The towels, right there in the stall. And I’m walking barefoot with my shirt and his pants that are 48 waist through the lobby like this at midnight. Got up in the morning, took the most perfect double-tapered shit I’ve ever had in my life. True story. Who’s the pitchers in this game?

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Important Issue # 17 Update

Greetings from the Manhattan offices of Zisk. Many of you have probably gotten issue # 17 in your mailboxes by now (the rest will be all out in the mail by Tuesday). I wanted to give you all an update on the Stadium Memories story that starts on page 3. My friend Jonah, who I write about in my memories of Shea piece, has unfortunately had a recurrence of his cancer in a another lymph node. You can get a full update at his own blog, Groinstrong. If you've ever enjoyed Zisk at all over the past nine years, I'd like to ask a favor--please go to the Groinstrong site and buy yourself a wrist band or simply donate money. The donated funds go to help Jonah's medical expenses, The NYU Melanoma Research Program and The Melanoma Research Foundation.

My hope for my first memory of CitiField? Jonah and I and a bunch of other people are there, celebrating the fact that he's beaten cancer for good.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seriously

Why are people stunned by tonight's (last night's) loss? This is just another one in at least a dozen crappy losses this season. People need to get a fucking grip and realize this is STILL the 2008 Mets and this is what you get.

Jeebus.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How Does this Happen In Just a Month?

Que pasa, los Mets?

Back to back complete games from Mike Pelfrey? (Helping my fantasy team in the last two weeks of the regular season.)

Carlos Delgado has 90 RBI?

Ryan Church just keeps hitting, no matter what happens to him?

I don't know what to make of this. I almost like this team again. Even when they lose now, at least it seems like's there is effort.

Of course, that could change with this upcoming killer road trip to Philly, Florida and Milwaukee. But at least I've been able to enjoy my favorite sport again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ha ha ha ha!

Here's when you know you still hate a team--I started laughing maniacally as soon as Duaner Sanchez gave up back-to-back hits last night. One more hit and I turned off the TV and went into my bedroom to do some work, knowing that my hated 2008 Mets were alive and well.

I have one more game to go to, this Saturday versus the Cards. Then this team won't get any more money from me for at least a couple of years.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Baseball Project Is Out Today

It's not often we talk music on the Zisk blog, but today is one of those days as the debut album from The Baseball Project hits stores. Full disclosure: yours truly wrote the bio for this album, and if I didn't I would still say it is one of my favorite albums of the year. Check out the band's blog (and Myspace) and listen to the entire album here. A fan of baseball or good catchy rock music needs a copy of it in their collection.

And since I wrote the bio (and it says everything I could say about such a fantastic album) I'm going to reprint it here:

What happens when two great songwriters decide to focus their talents upon their favorite sport? You get the highly entertaining debut disc from The Baseball Project, Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails. The album is the brainchild of Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3) and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, and R.E.M). The two musicians were longtime fans of each other's work throughout the 80s but never met until the early 90s. Wynn recalls, "I honestly think the first time we met was side-by-side at the urinals at the Offramp in Seattle when I played there in 1992." He adds, "Scott didn't try to shake my hand."

After that fortuitous (and sanitary) meeting, the pair quickly discovered that they were both huge baseball fans. The two casually talked about an album of baseball material for a few years, but the idea for The Baseball Project crystallized at a chance meeting in 2007.

"It finally took flight at the R.E.M. pre-Hall of Fame induction party in New York," Wynn remembers. "Everyone was happy. The wine was flowing, the food was incredible and spring training had just started. Scott and I talked baseball until most of the party guests had cleared out. And we actually remembered it the next day."

Soon the pair started working on songs extolling the feats and defeats of players like Curt Flood, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, and Black Jack McDowell, and convened last December at McCaughey's home in Portland. After a none-too-strenuous week of writing, refining, and rehearsing with Wynn's Miracle 3 drummer Linda Pitmon, they headed into Jackpot! Studios with producer/engineer Adam Selzer (M. Ward, Norfolk & Western), and were soon joined by longtime partner-in-crime Peter Buck.

The end result is an album that impresses not only with its depth of both widely known and obscure baseball lore, but with its melodic sensibility, walls of guitars, and catchy choruses. No, Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails does not require a PhD in pitching mechanics or membership in three fantasy leagues to enjoy on a purely musical level. The joyous chorus of "Ted Fucking Williams" would probably compel Babe Ruth to sing along. "Broken Man" is about slugger Mark McGwire, yet anyone can identify with the semi-tragic tale of being built up and then being humiliated in public in such a brief span of time. And in "Jackie's Lament", Mr. Robinson's trials while breaking baseball's color barrier become an anthemic call to anyone who overcomes life's obstacles.

McCaughey and Wynn admit that the inherent task of including so many names, dates and places required a different mindset than the standard three minute pop gem. McCaughey credits drummer (and Minnesota Twins fan) Linda Pitmon's "keen ear for editing" as a big help in keeping the songs from getting too encyclopedic or list-oriented. He adds, "It wasn't hard to find the inspiration for the songs, but it was hard to fit in the all the lyrics necessary to tell the stories. It really helped to keep the music fairly simple."

Wynn cites "Harvey Haddix" as perhaps the most difficult song to finish. The track makes the case for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher to be credited with a perfect game (no hits, no base runners over nine innings) after he lost one in the 13th inning. The chorus names all 17 pitchers in history that are officially recognized with the rare feat--alas, the names of Randy Johnson, Addie Joss and Dennis Martinez aren't really found in rhyming dictionaries. Wynn explains, "It was like lyrical Sudoku. We had to somehow fit in all 17 pitchers. The last piece of the puzzle was a visit to Wikipedia and finding that Catfish Hunter threw his for the A's--I knew that already--and that Len Barker threw his against the Blue Jays. I didn't know that, and a natural rhyme was born!"

Wynn and McCaughey also take time to pay tribute to their favorite baseball players of all time. McCaughey's "Sometimes I Dream of Willie Mays" blends personal memories of his hero into a psychedelic time-warp. For Wynn, "Long Before My Time" marks the amazing career of Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, who quit at his peak in 1966. Wynn says, "He had such an incredible five year run and then he just walked away. He was in the Hall of Fame at an age where most players are renegotiating their contract."

Both Wynn and McCaughey's love of baseball and its legendary players made its way sporadically into songs during their distinguished careers. The Young Fresh Fellows named-checked Seattle Mariners slugger Gorman Thomas on "Aurora Bridge" from 1986's Refreshments, while Wynn tipped his cap to Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial in his 1990 solo hit "Kerosene Man."

Wynn also penned the closing song for the 2005 baseball romantic comedy Fever Pitch. "I wrote 'Second Best' when Fever Pitch was meant to be about the futility of being a Red Sox fan," he explains. "The hook line was 'Why do I settle for second best, why is everything a test, just this once can't nice guys finish first and break this curse of always second best.' Then they won the World Series. Maybe I should take credit."

With Volume One in the album title, the question begs to be asked, is there more to come? "It seems inevitable," McCaughey says. "After all, we haven't written songs about (Seattle Mariners star) Ichiro or (innovative owner) Bill Veeck yet." Wynn adds, "Or (the one time midget pitch hitter) Eddie Gaedel!"

BONUS: Here's Scott, Steve, Linda and Peter on Letterman June 20th.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Miss Two Things

1) Crazy Keith
He was out tonight in the inning I watched. (Watching an inning is a rarity these days for yours truly when it comes to my least favorite Mets team in history.) Number 17 compared the police escort between Friday's upcoming split stadium doubleheader to the days of the Soviet politburo. It was stunning to hear. Gotta get Tivo next season so I can fully transcribe these moments.

2) Funny George
George Carlin is the first person whose obit I have written pre-mortem that we've published at my day job. The existence of those 5 paragraphs make me feel as if I killed him. What a funny man who just happened to love our Mets. Check out these 9 minutes of rain delay genius with our own funny man in the booth Ralph Kiner before The Man pulls it down:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sleazy

That's the only way I can describe the Wilpon family in the wake of Willie Randolph mercifully being fired at 3:00 a.m. this morning. It was long past time for Randolph to go, but this was just a shitty way to do it. This organization will never be anything until the Wilpons (I liked one comparison of Jeff Wilpon = Fredo) get out of the baseball side for good and let someone fully take over with full authority. If a person like this ever takes over (Omar Minaya might have been that for his first year in the job, but that's it), hopefully he'll clean house and eliminate all the back-stabbing and stupid leaks that reek from the offices at Shea.

Sigh. It's amazing that 2004 came around again in 2008. I hope that doesn't happen around Election Day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Best Post Ever

Today Greg at Faith and Fear has written the best post I've seen about this collective of crap that are the Mets in name only. I encourage everyone to read it. He states my case for not blogging better than I ever could.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

#16 is Online (I Can't Believe I Got It Done That Quickly!)

Look to your right to access all the articles from our latest print issue. Or click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mike, Keith and Willie

Apparently I missed quite a doozy of a night from Keith according to my friend Jason. Honestly, when the game was delayed, I decided I'd be better off watching a DVD of a friend's gig (which I guested at) and the Family Guy marathon on TBS. That's how much I don't like this team of old, overpaid, overachievers--even the promise of the trio after a rain delay was not enough to make we turn away from Stewie and Brian.

Speaking of old, Mike Piazza finally hung it up. The last part of his statement makes me think he'll go into the hall as a Met:

“I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career, and for that, I will always be grateful.”

No Mike, we're grateful we had you. And the Wilpons don't retire your number, someone's gonna have some explaining to do.

Lastly, Willie Randolph is acting like a man soon to be fired, which could happen even though he's supposed to coach at the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium. Even if he's replaced, I can't imagine devoting time to this team. I haven't felt that way since I moved to Brooklyn 13 years ago. And I have a feeling I'm not alone.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Tide Has Turned

Who knew that it would take a game where a no hitter went into the 7th inning and then imploded to bring most of the media and tons of blogs around to the cause of replacing Willie Randolph? If the Yanks win two out of three this weekend, the ax might fall and the season might be saved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Zisk # 16 is in the Mail!

The first copies went out yesterday, with all of them sent to subscribers by the end of this week. Wait until you see the cover pic.

Friday, May 02, 2008

I've Been Quiet, Thinking, and I'd Like to Third That

Not much of the usual Mets season blogging going on in these parts. Not because I haven't watch or listened to games (I have missed a few here and there) or due to my medical issues (I am doing great and feel the best I have in three years, thanks for asking) or working on the next print issue (which will be sent out starting May 12th).

Nope, I've been thinking about what I've seen on the field and in the papers, and today I said it out loud for the first time to my co-worker Doug.

Then five minutes later I read Jason at Faith in Fear in Flushing's post from this morning.

Then one minute later I read Tim Marchman's column, and I felt good that other sane Mets fans were thinking the same way.

I hate to say it, but I'd like to third that notion.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Zisk # 16



I Think We Need Some Pepto in Queens by Steve Reynolds

In The Pink by Dr. Nancy Golden

Leap Year and Baseball: Lena Blackburne, Your Name is Mud by John Shiffert

Clemens Laments by Jake Austen

The Zisk Interview: Bill Monbouquette by Mike Faloon

Sutton, The Garv and Me...The Reggie Smith Story by Tim Hinely

The Zisk Book Corner by Steve Reynolds

Peace in the NL East by Mike Faloon

Curse of the Great Giambi by Mark Hughson

I Think We Need Some Pepto in Queens by Steve Reynolds

“Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” —Bruce Springsteen

The above line from the classic rock staple “Rosalita” caught my ear the other day. I’d been listening to Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle at my desk as a small tribute to keyboardist Danny Federici, who had died the day before after a long battle with melanoma. And I almost wanted to stop my iTunes because what I was thinking was not a way to remember the man and his organ riffs. I was thinking something much, much worse. And I was thinking it about the New York Mets of the past 18 months, the ones that choked away an NLCS and a division title in that brief time period. My thought?

What if we look back on this and it will all seem NOT funny—only incredibly painful?

It’s a cruel idea to put into one’s own head about your favorite sports team. But as I write this paragraph, the last two days the print media and WFAN have been hashing and rehashing whether or not struggling first baseman Carlos Delgado—a man who has taken only two curtain calls in his entire career, and both were for actual historic events—dissed all of Shea Stadium by not coming out for a one on Sunday April 27th. And the whole hubbub is so idiotic it makes me wonder, what the heck happened? Why do I have this nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I turned on 660 on my A.M. dial? And why is my head hurting whenever I watch highlights on SNY at night?

I sit back and realize I’ve had similar feelings before—but they’ve usually preceded by some sort of booze in large quantities.

Then it struck me: I had a Mets hangover.

It made total sense! The gamut of feelings I’ve run through on various Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes Friday) mornings have been replicated by the past 180 or so games on the Amazin’s schedule. Regret? Check. Anger? Yup. Remorse? For sure. Irrational outbursts where I wanted to punch my bedroom wall? Ouch, but yes. A pain that will only go away by laying down for six hours straight while watching a Family Guy marathon? Yes sir.

Now if it was just me that had this hangover, it would be no problem. I’ve already let most of the 2008 season go by without blogging it on the Zisk website. Sure, I’ve had health problems to deal with as the season began. But as I’ve started my exercise program, I have not once taken my little A.M. receiver so I could check in on the Mets. And that would be the perfect chance to catch up with Howie Rose. I’ve even not turned on games on Sunday afternoons when I’ve been home—and tried avoid watching day games at work, where I’d basically be getting paid for rooting for John Maine!

But all my transgressions seem minor compared to the rest of the Flushing faithful. Simple put, Mets fans are pissed. They’re venting on the airwaves, to members of the media and lord, lordy, lordy, they’re writing vicious things on Met fans sites everywhere. Basically the fanbase needs about 100 doses of stadium sized Advil to make this feeling go away. And even then, I fear it might not. Perhaps the one amazing season of 2006 (and the trade for Johan Santana) has set fans expectations so high that nothing less than a championship will do. (I’d call this the Yankee-ization of the Mets fanbase.) And that saddens me. Baseball is supposed to be fun and, at times, healing. And right now it is most certainly not for tens of thousand of people, and that’s is wearing off on me. Heck, I even booed when Scott Schoeneweis was brought into the first game I saw this season. This isn’t like me. And it’s making me worry.

My friend Jason Fry at Faith and Fear in Flushing and I not only share a love of The Figgs, beer, and the Hoodoo Gurus, but we also shared very similar feelings about the Mets last summer long before they collapsed. He wrote a great paragraph about this year’s team that I feel compelled to share with you here:

“By too many indications this is the same badly constructed, poorly led, sadly complacent team I came to thoroughly dislike last year. Last summer I found out something I pretty much knew anyway, and would happily have gone to my grave never having confirmed: It's no fun disliking your favorite team.”

I hate to say it, but this hangover has me thinking the same thing. I think I would feel better if it seemed as though someone else besides David Wright cared. From all appearances, no one else does. To wit here’s some choice clippings from the National League’s highest payroll:

“We as a team play hard and want to win more than [the fans] do. [Umm, usually it doesn’t look like it.] That’s why I don’t understand the mentality. I guess they have a right to express themselves.” —Willie Randolph

“If you’re just booing for ridiculous reasons, you just let them look like idiots and go about your business.” —Billy Wagner

“I don’t really want to care about the fans anymore. If they want to boo, let them boo. I’m not going to take them out to dinner.” —Scott Schoeneweis

That’s right, the feeling has become mutual—and Scott’s not going to treat us to Frostys at Wendys! How did it come to pass that within just a season plus this love affair between the Mets and their fans has turned into a sideshow deserving of its own episode of Jerry Springer?

Oh, wait, I know why. Because this team still seems to be very full of themselves:

“The collapse didn't come because the Phillies beat us, the collapse came because we played bad. The Phillies didn't—I don't know how to say this—it wasn't like they beat us. A lot of times we beat ourselves, defense or just not doing things [we'd] done all year.” —Billy Wagner, the opening weekend of the season

Cripes, the 1986 team was totally full of themselves, but at least they had some gusto to back it up. This bunch, I don’t think they would know what gusto means even if I pointed it out in a dictionary.

I didn’t sit down to write a piece that had any big solutions to the Mets problems. For all I know there are none until next season when some more contracts will be off the books. All I know is that during the darkest days of the Art Howe or Joe Torre eras, it never felt this bad.

As Springsteen once sang, “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by.” I hope this time it isn’t true.

Leap Year And Baseball: Lena Blackburne, Your Name Is Mud by John Shiffert

While it’s true that Christmas comes but once a year, February 29 comes a lot less often, like once every four years, thanks largely to Pope Gregory XIII. No relation to 1950s American League outfielder Dave Pope, Gregory was the guy who created the Gregorian calendar, putting February 29 forever in place to soak up that extra .2425 of a day that builds up every year because the Earth’s trip around the sun refuses to settle in at exactly 365 days. So, while February 29 may not be unique, it is unusual and thus it seems appropriate to recall some of the more unusual happenings in baseball history associated with Leap Year Day.

Lena Blackburne was one. He not only died on Feb. 29, 1968 in Riverside, New Jersey, he lived by the riverside. The Delaware River, that is. Near where Rancocas Creek (pronounced “CRIK” for those of you not from the area) runs into the Delaware. You see, outside of the fact that his real name was Russell Aubrey Blackburne, and not Lena (why would a baseball player want to use a nickname like “Lena?”), Blackburne was a pretty ordinary utility infielder, primarily for the White Sox in the years around World War 1. Anyone with a career .214/.284/.268 batting line for 550 games is pretty ordinary. It was Blackburne’s post-playing career that made him interesting. Yes, the pride of Clifton Heights, Pa., managed the White Sox for a year-and-half in the late 20s, served as a coach for the Browns and Athletics in the 30s, and scouted for the latter team in the 40s and 50s, but a lot of old players have been baseball lifers. What made old Lena special is what he found down by the Delaware River after his playing days. Mud. Lots of mud. While this may not come as a surprise to anyone who has wandered along the shores of the Delaware (or any other river), this was no ordinary mud. It was “Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.” Mud that would take the slippery sheen off of new baseballs, but leave them still a pristine white. Mud that has been rubbed onto every single major league baseball for some 50 years, an enduring legacy way past Feb. 29, 1968. Lena Blackburne, your name is mud.

A few years before Blackburne’s death, say 132 years before, a boy was born on February 29, 1836 in Brooklyn. And there’s a small tale associated with him. He must have been a small baby, because he grew up to stand just 5’ 3”, making him just about the smallest major leaguer this side of Eddie Gaedel and Cub Stricker. But, make no mistake about it, Richard J. “Dickey” Pearce was a major leaguer, and a major influence on the development of the game. He is, in fact, one of the game’s earliest players who has been sadly overlooked by the Hall of Fame. If you look at his statistics for his play in the National Association and the National League, he doesn’t stand out very much, a .252/.270/.276 batting line. But, do the math, he was 40 years old (though he’d only celebrated 10 birthdays) when the National League started in 1876. Way past his prime. Dickey Pearce’s prime started in the 1850s. In 1857, Peace was part of the first year of the National Association of Base Ball Players. Playing shortstop for the fabled Brooklyn Atlantics, he was one of the best hitters in the NABBP that first season of organized baseball play, tallying the third-most runs (28 in nine games – the Atlantics went 7-1-1) in the NABBP. But, that wasn’t why Dickey Pearce should be in the Hall of Fame. You see, Dickey Pearce wasn’t just a shortstop, he invented the modern shortstop position. Prior to Mr. Pearce, the shortstop was just that – an extra man that played halfway into the outfield (sort of like a softball shortfielder) who acted as a relay man between the outfield and the infield. The base balls of the 1850s were so light that you couldn’t throw them very far, hence, a relay man was needed to get the ball back to the infield with dispatch. Pearce apparently got the bright idea that he could play in that hole between second and third base, scooping up any ground balls that came his way, and still be able to scoot into the outfield as needed to be a relay man. If indeed fame can be defined as causing or making a paradigm shift in a sport (hello, Babe), then Dickey Pearce should rightfully be famous.

Of course, Dickey Pearce is far from the only 19th Century ballplayer neglected by the Hall of Fame. One of the more egregious oversights in this area was finally rectified on Feb. 29, 2000, when Bid McPhee was voted into the Hall, just 57 years too late for the finest second baseman of the 19th Century to enjoy the honor. A slightly-better-than-average hitter (career OPS+ of 106, led his league in triples and home runs once each), McPhee was sort of the Bill Mazeroski of his era. (Actually, he was a much better hitter than Maz, whose career OPS+ was just 84.) His forte was fielding, and he did it without a glove for most of his career. A very rare 19th Century player in that he played his entire career with one team (Cincinnati), McPhee’s 18-year major league career was marked by an incredible set of fielding numbers, in an era when good fielding was far more important (because it was so difficult to be a really good fielder) than it is today. Of his 2131 games, only five were spent at a position other than second base (an incredibly rare feat for any player), where he posted a .944 fielding percentage, a remarkable 25 points above the league average. And, when he finally decided to use a glove, in 1896, his fielding percentage at second jumped from .955 to .978 at the age of 36, setting a single season record for his position that lasted for 29 years. (Some sources claim he was the last player to take the field without wearing a glove, but this is untrue.) His range factor wasn’t bad, either, a 6.33 as compared to the league’s 5.72. So why wasn’t he elected to the Hall until 57 years after he died? He still holds the records for career and single season putouts by a second baseman. Seems McPhee made the bad career move of playing the first half of his career in the American Association… an organization almost completely ignored by the various Veterans Committees over the years. In fact, McPhee was arguably the first AA star to ever be elected to the Hall as a player.

A much better career move was made by first baseman Howie “Steeple” Schultz. A move that was recognized on February 29, 1944, when he was turned down by the military at a time when World WarII was requiring almost anyone who could walk to join up. Howie Schultz was just over six-and-a-half feet tall, which made him a good target at first base, but too tall for the military’s height restrictions at the time. As a result Schultz, an exceeding marginal major league talent (he was a better pro basketball player), ended up having a six-year major league career, largely with the Dodgers, actually lasting in the majors until 1948, when, at the age of just 26, the Phillies and Reds figured out that, just because the was a good target, the fact that he couldn’t hit sort of spoiled the effect. Schultz’ career marks of .241/.281/.349 led to an awful OPS+ of 75. Schultz didn’t even have the distinction of being the tallest draft-ineligible player to hang around the majors during the war. Pirates’ and Giants’ pitcher Johnny “Whiz” Gee was 6’ 9”.

Of course, there have been a few other notable players in addition to Dickey Pearce who were born on February 29. The Wild Hoss of the Osage, Pepper Martin, was one. So were reliever Steve Mingori (1944) and outfielder Terrence Long (1976). Still, only a dozen men born on February 29 have made the majors, and the best by far was Al Rosen. Although he only played seven full seasons (and a few games in three others) with the Indians, not becoming a regular until a couple of years after his sixth birthday and playing his last year just having passed his eighth birthday, Al Rosen could hit. His career OPS+ was 137 (96th all time) and he authored a .285/.384/.495 batting line, making him a relatively high average hitter with power (a season high of 43 home runs when he was MVP in 1953) who also got a lot of walks (587 in 3725 at bats). You extend that over a full 15 year career, and you have a sure Hall of Famer, with possibly a little extra credit for being the third best Jewish player behind Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.

Finally, although there’s typically not much going on in baseball on February 29 outside of Spring Training games, February 29 does mark the anniversary of a record-breaking event that took place on February 29, 1972. It was 36 years ago that Henry Aaron, just two years short of setting the all-time home run mark, signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves for $200,000 a year for three years, or some $15.3 million less than Barry Bonds got last year. And if that isn’t enough to make you leap, nothing is.

John Shiffert is the author of Baseball: 1862-2003, Baseball… Then and Now, and Base Ball in Philadelphia.

Clemens Laments by Jake Austen

Being blogless and bereft of anyone around me who would care, I never had a chance to vent my Roger Clemens diatribes leading up to or during his bullshit hearings. (The bullshit being Congressional baseball hearings held during wartime, not Clemens’ performance at said hearing.)

So anywhere, here are my thoroughly out of date thoughts:

I never liked Clemens. I’d venture that my low point as a baseball fan, and perhaps as a human being, was watching The Rocket beat the White Sox in late September, 2001. Doing so he became the first pitcher to start a season 20-1, amidst a post-World Trade Center attack atmosphere in which it was considered unpatriotic to root against the Yankees. My lowliness was demonstrated in the late innings when drunk-on-Giuliani Sox fans actually cheered Clemens on, to which my response, I am not proud to say, was to quietly, but (pathetically) earnestly declare, "Fuck September 11th!"

I was always happy to see the Sox beat Clemens. In 2003 they scored nine earned runs off him, one of his worst ever starts, and in 2007 the Sox scored eight runs off him in one and a third innings. (The Sox then remarkably gave up eight runs in the bottom of the second, before winning 13-9). Clemens was booed off the field in that one, and one of these games was with his mother in the stands (maybe that's why she suggested he start B-12 injections). And, of course, there was the less than satisfying, but nonetheless sweet, 2005 White Sox World Series Game One victory that featured an aged Clemens hobbling off the field and not returning after giving up three runs in two innings.

I suppose Clemens is lying and guilty, but I don’t know for sure, and if one’s main argument for his guilt is, “Why would Pettite lie?” I think a reasonable response might be that maybe he just hates Clemens and wants to screw him over. I guess Pettite isn't supposed to be like that, but c'mon, nobody's that Christian.

I am far less offended by the idea that Roger Clemens would take performance enhancing drugs than I am that he got to start the baseball season whenever he damn well felt like it, or that he didn't travel with the team, and was not required to attend games he was not pitching.

If he took steroids, I don't really care, mainly because I simply don’t believe that they made him better. Roger “Fucking” Clemens would have found a way to win 300 and strike out 4,000 through sheer will and spite and evil whether he was juiced or not.

I emphatically do not believe that steroids were responsible for Clemens' dickish personality. Nor, I imagine, do his wife, kids, teammates, bosses, or “doctors.”

I am genuinely disappointed that he won't play this season. The Clemenses and Ricky Hendersons and Julio Francos of this world should play Major League Baseball until they keel over on the field. I didn't like him, but I definitely will miss him.

Jake Austen publishes Roctober magazine and helps produce the public access children's dance show Chic-A-Go-Go.

The Zisk Interview: Bill Monbouquette by Mike Faloon

Former pitcher and coach Bill Monbouquette accomplished a lot during his decades in the big leagues—chief among his credentials: a no-hitter, a 20-win season and two trips to the All-Star game—but they pale compared to his ability to tell a story. When my brother and I attended the Syracuse Chiefs’ Hot Stove Dinner this past winter Monbouquette, who played with the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees, and Giants over the course of an 11-year career (1958-1968), stole the show. His stories were funny and warm and, truth be told, they felt like they’d been told hundreds of times. It reminded me of watching comedian Don Rickles in the documentary Mr. Warmth. Rickles probably hasn’t changed his act in years and why should he? There’s nothing but the sense of enjoyment, no fatigue, no cynicism, no need for new material. Likewise for Monbouquette. Talking to fans was a pleasure not an obligation. Zisk caught up with Bill Monbouquette in February. (Interview by Mike Faloon)
I really enjoyed your stories from the Hot Stove League dinner in Syracuse and one player who seemed to have a big impact on you, a former teammate, was Ted Williams. You went fishing with Ted Williams.
Yeah, I was up in New Brunswick. I stayed two or three days at his camp. We had breakfast every morning and he’d get up at the crack of dawn and he would be yelling “toot ta toot toot toot” like he had a trumpet. He was a very early riser. I don’t know how many guys have ever fished with him. That’s Atlantic salmon, where his place is. When I was playing with him in the clubhouse he had a fly rod and a rumble lure and he’d say, Open that back pocket of yours, and about 20-30 feet away flip it right in there like it was nothing. This guy was not only a great player, the best hitter I ever saw, this guy was a great fisherman, fly fisherman, especially. I’m not the only guy that’s ever said that. It was a pleasure to play with him. He was a boyhood idol and still today he is my idol. I was fortunate to play with him for ’58, ’59, and ’60. I was there the last day he hit his home run. During the course of the game he’d hit three other balls that the wind held back and you get to thinking, If only Ted could do this. There I was right in the bullpen and we knew he wasn’t going to New York to finish the season, the weekend, and he ends up hitting this screamer into the bullpen—nothing was going to hold this ball back. I had a chance to catch it and I was in such awe. When it hit the back of that bullpen it made one hell of a loud noise and that was it. That was the end of his career. We all wish we could go out like that. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen. Only to the great ones, and he sure as hell was.

And it was through Ted that you met John Glenn.
Yes, I did. We met him, I’m trying to think if it was 1959 or ’60, I’m not sure. It was in Washington and when he said, I want you to meet the next man going to the moon we all looked at each other and said, What the hell is he smoking? What was going on? Going to the moon? It just didn’t sound right back in those days. It was quite a thrill because John Glenn, some kind of wonderful person, from my conversations with him anyway. When we had the memorial services at Fenway (for Ted) I got to talking to John and I asked him what kind of pilot Ted was and he said he was the best pilot he’s ever known. And (Ted’s) a guy that never went to college. My oldest son is a pilot for American Airlines and all the calculus and all that math they had to take in college. But here he did it and I don’t think they had calculus in high school back in those days. Wonderful eyesight. Naturally great instincts and I guess it’s hard to teach instincts. We started talking about him, how he handled the plane, and then when he crash landed his jet where he had been shot when he was in Korea and (John) said to me, Boy he can run. I said, I don’t think so. I mean, for three years I’ve never known him to have any speed. Anyway, he says when Ted landed that plane and he got the hell out of there you should have seen how quick he was. There are a million stories about Ted Williams.

Another great story is your no-hitter against the White Sox.

Oh yeah, of course Ted wasn’t there on that one. This was 1962 and I hadn’t won a game in a long time and we were flying over that day. We did a lot of that. You flew into the city and you played that day, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night. I was sitting on the plane doing the crossword puzzle, struggling like hell with that and one of the stewardesses sat down and said, How are you doing?, and I said, I’m struggling with this puzzle. She goes, What position do you play, how you doing there? And I say, Pitcher and I’m struggling like hell with that one too. She got up and said, You’ll pitch a no-hitter tonight. The umpire that game was a guy named Bill McKinley and we go into the ninth inning and I’m winning 1-0 and I get the first two guys. I struck out Sherm Lollar and Nellie Fox was on deck. He was pinch hitting and he’s got this big smile and I don’t want to look at him because I don’t want to lose my concentration, that’s what he was trying to do. And (Fox) hit this weak ground ball to (Frank) Malzone who threw him out. Apparcio, I got two quick strikes and then I threw him a slider maybe a foot and a half off the plate and I thought he swung and the umpire, McKinley called it, No, he didn’t swing and as the ball was coming back to me from the catcher I heard somebody yell from the stands, They shot the wrong McKinley! Oh my god, I had to walk around off the mound. The next pitch I threw him another slider and he swung and missed and let me tell you something don’t let anybody tell you that white people can’t jump because I was way up off the ground. That was probably my greatest thrill. Winning 20 games was wonderful but nothing can beat that. I had a shot at two, three more. I had a one-hitter in Boston and a one-hitter in Minnesota, which I lost. You win some and you lose some.

That was a good stretch for you. You went to the All-Star game three times in four years.
Yeah, well, I didn’t pitch very well in the game in Kansas City in ’60. I gave up three home runs. Mays led off the game. I sidearmed him and he bailed out and hit the ball down the right field line and it went for a triple. Banks hit a homerun off of me and Crandall hit a home run. That’s why I tell kids I’m an authority on homeruns. I gave up 221 of them. I think that allows me to be an authority. One of the nicest things that ever happened to me, in the ’60 All-Star game, we played two (games) back then, we would try to raise more money for the pension and we played in Kansas City in that game that I pitched in. I was the loser. Then right after the game we flew back to New York and had a day off and played the next day. We were sitting on the runway. It was hot. It was 120 at game time at the park and it was down in the hold which made it much hotter. We were sitting there. I can’t recall what was wrong—a strike?—but there was a long delay, a couple of hours, and Mantle comes up to me—I was with the Red Sox—he says, I can’t hit you. I know what you’re going to throw me. I know where you’re going to throw it and I can’t hit it and I can’t lay off of it. You know, sometimes when they try to con you? Like Rocky Calavito used to say, Hey, how’s your family? Anyway, we get to New York and I was sitting in the lobby and it was around five o’clock and wondering what I was going to do. Stan Musial and four or five other guys come walking through the lobby and he says, What are you doing? I said, Just hanging around. He said, Have you eaten yet? I said, No. C’mon, you’re going with us. You can’t ask for a nicer thing to happen to you, to have Stan Musial ask you to go to dinner. Couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. I got to know him through Mickey Mantle’s Make a Wish Golf Tournament. What a wonderful guy. Always had time for the people. I like that in a player. You always have to give back. That seems to be a thing of the past. There are certain people that do it. I like the way David Ortiz is with the fans.

You’d mentioned Willie Mays. You later played with the Giants. Did you get to know guys like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry and Mays?
Oh yeah. One time I was coaching for the Blue Jays in St. Caterine’s, Ontario in the New York-Penn League and some of our kids were running around and we had to bail them out of jail, so I took my pitching staff over to the bullpen and I started saying Ted Williams. Carl Yastremski. Al Kaline. Whitey Ford. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. I said, Do you know who those guys are? A couple of the guys said, Who are they? I said, They’re all Hall of Famers and they didn’t act like you idiots. That put their heads down real quick. I got to know Gaylord pretty well. I knew Willie when I was in charge of minor league pitching for the Mets. Willie was working for the Mets. I loved Willie, really a great guy. The greatest all-around player for me was Willie Mays. One time he hit a homerun against me in spring training in Scottsdale. I had just knocked him down real good and I hung him a curveball and Yaz was in leftfield and he hit the ball so far and so hard and Yaz never made an attempt to go for it. It was 360 down the line in Scottsdale. Yaz just put his head down. In a kidding way, when the inning was over, I said, Hey, don’t show me up, make an attempt for the ball. He said, That’s over the swimming pool. There was a parking lot and then there was a swimming pool. Oh, it was a 500-foot shot. Then he hit one off of me over in Phoenix. It was a line drive. It was almost up on to the road and it hit the embankment out there and bounced all the way back to second base. What the hell’s the difference if it’s 500 feet or 320 feet, you know?

You were with the Yankees in ’67 and ‘68 and I noticed that a lot of future managers and coaches—you, Bobby Cox, Dick Howser, Mel Stottlemyre—on those teams, which Ralph Houk managed. Is there any connection between the way he treated players and the fact that so many of them went on to be managers and coaches?

I’m sure everybody learned from him. He was a player’s manager. He stuck up for the players. If there was a brawl on the field he was the first guy there. We all know his service background. He was a major. He was easy to talk to. I was Billy Martin’s coach; he wasn’t very easy to talk to. If you’re a guy’s coach and you can’t talk to the manager, it makes it tough. I loved him.

You also worked for the Mets when Doc Gooden came up.

When he was in the minor leagues I was there. In the instructional league all I ever said to Doc was don’t let anybody fool with your delivery. There are pitching coaches that are happy to change deliveries. It’s hard to change someone who’s been throwing a certain way all his life. You can make a couple of adjustments here and there. I know guys who have said, It’s time to change the delivery. What the hell? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One thing you don’t hear pitching coaches say, like the old timers you used to say: Get after him. The hitter knows when you’re not challenging him or getting after him. I remember Ted used to say, Well he’s going to do this and on this count he’s going to do that, he’s going to pussyfoot and not give me anything to hit. That was his memory. I can remember as an 18-year-old kid sitting on the bench hearing Ted say, C’mon, we’ve got to get this club. It was at Fenway, you know. I had just signed. You got to get these guys here because we’re going to Cleveland and we’re going in to face the Nasty Boys: Feller. Wynn. Lemon. Garcia. Narleski. Mossi. It might have been the greatest pitching staff of all time. And everybody would say, Yeah, sure, you really have trouble with those guys. He’d be talking about hitting and everything else. As an 18-year-old kid what the hell do you know about hitting? I said to myself, Did I make a mistake here in signing or what? That was a great experience to be around him, to listen to him talk. He’d talk about meeting Babe Ruth, and he did introduce me to Ty Cobb in Scottsdale, Arizona. That was probably ’60 or ’61 or so and he was wheeling Ty around in a wheelchair and I had just pitched nine innings against the Dodgers and got beat 1-0 or 2-1. John Roseboro hit a home run off me in the ninth inning and (Ty) said, I like the way you pitch, son, get right after ‘em. How can you not remember that? Of course, I said, Thank you, sir.

One last thing: I see that when you were with the Tigers in ’66 you stole a base.
Did I have one or two?

According to what I found you had one.

That was against Kansas City.

You have a pretty good memory of your pitching side, do you remember your stolen base?
I guess I was with the Tigers when I stole that. That was in Kansas City. I remember the throw was high and Bert Campaneris tried to hit me on the top of the head. And I gave him a little shove. The game has been great to me.

Mike Faloon might just do the Angel Pagan wing flap dance before too long. In the meantime, he and his wife are expecting their second child in early June.

Sutton, The Garv and Me...The Reggie Smith Story by Tim Hinely

Back in my younger days there was only one Reggie as far as I was concerned. Forget Reggie Jackson. Yeah, he was “Mr. October,” I’ll give him that, but my money was always on Reggie Smith. Pure switch hitter, one of the strongest arms in history and most importantly, a quiet superstar who let his bat do the talking for him. Not sure what it was but if I can pinpoint it I think it was that baseball card with him wearing that cool red St. Louis Cardinals uniform. I am a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan but there was something about that Cardinals uniform that I always dug and Reggie wore it better than anyone.

Thing is Reggie only wore that red uniform for two and a half years (1974 to the middle of the 1976 season) but it was that 1975 Topps card that got me going. He debuted in 1966 with the Boston Red Sox (and came in second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1967) and spent the first eight seasons of his career with that team and while good, they were not his most productive years. His time in St. Louis was well spent. In 1974, his first year with the Cards, he hit 23 homers, had 100 runs batted in and batted .309. That was good enough to earn him 11th place in MVP voting. His first few years with his next team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are when Reggie drove the point home (pun intended). In 1977 and 1978, he came in fourth in the MVP voting with a career-high 32 roundtrippers in ’77. Can you say underrated?

My favorite Reggie story doesn’t even directly involve Reggie. During the 1978 season the Dodgers were being the Dodgers (i.e. winning) but there was trouble in paradise. Their star pitcher, Don Sutton, had a serious distaste for their star slugger, Steve Garvey. One day Mr. Sutton made some public comments about how Reggie was the real MVP of that team, not the clean cut (yeah, right), All American star Garvey. One thing led to another and Garvey approached Sutton and asked if the comments were true. Sutton replied that yes, they were true. After a few more choice words Sutton then jumped on Garvey and threw him into a row of lockers and the two went down. Each was trying to land punches but both ended up getting more scratch marks than bruises and Garvey received the worst of it. The Garv got his ass handed to him (the only good thing about that guy was his wife, Cindy, who left him for ……umm….musician Marvin Hamlisch). Sutton’s quote said it all, “All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy. Well, the best player on this team for the last two years—and we all know it—is Reggie Smith. Reggie doesn’t go out and publicize himself he tells the truth, even if it sometimes alienates people. He doesn’t smile at the right people or say the right things. Reggie’s not a fa├žade or Madison Avenue image. He’s a real person.”

With 314 lifetime home runs, 2020 hits, 1092 rbi and a .287 lifetime batting average Reggie probably will not make the Hall of Fame (my pal Keith would say he belongs in the “Hall of Good”) but let’s take a moment out to remember a guy who was a terrific ballplayer, played hard, and was respected by his peers. Plus he was indirectly responsible for Steve Garvey getting his butt whooped. You can’t ask for more than that.

Tim Hinely lives in Portland, Oregon where he publishes his own zine, Dagger. For a copy please write to daggerboy@prodigy.net.

The Zisk Book Corner by Steve Reynolds

Let me get this confession out of the way immediately— I’m a sucker for lists. I’ve done a couple of articles based on lists in these pages over the years, as well as doing my own Top 20 list-based music fanzine for 18 years. I used to transcribe what Casey Kasem counted down each week on American Top 40 and only stopped once I learned he didn’t want to do a dead dog dedication.

In any case, my fondness of lists doesn’t make me the best person to review two new books about the Mets—100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Matthew Silverman and Mets by the Numbers by Jon Springer and the same Matthew Silverman. Yet I think that even folks who write off lists as nothing but a cheap way to fill space would dig these fascinating books.

100 Things lines up the well known moments, people, places, events, games and records that hard core Mets fans probably have ingrained in their brains and adds a healthy dose of the obscure. Everybody knows the Bill Bucker ball (which is first on the list) and the Miracle Mets, but who knew that there was another Murphy besides Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob at the team’s inception? (Um, not me.) And #70 on the list (dubbed “Lost in Translation”) is a must read as it lists the 44 players who have played for the Mets and have also — like the fake moustache-wearing Bobby Valentine — spent time hitting or pitching in Japan.

Silverman excels at bringing these same quirky items from the team’s history to light in a very easy to read, conversational style of writing that sounds like one smart fan who happens to sit next to you at a ballgame, and not like some drunk wiseass who claims he knows why Aaron Heilman pitches like hell every other game. (Oh, wait, that’s every person at Shea this season.)

Speaking of Shea, Silverman spends his final 10 points talking about the ballpark the Amazin’s have inhabited for the past 44 years—and somehow makes it sound a whole lot better than my ass and my back have been experiencing since 1985. The stadium has seen its share of criticism over the years but Silverman puts a nice face on the dump, um, I mean ballpark with an insightful guide to the best seats, the best tailgating and the other greats who have called Shea home. (The Beatles anyone?) 100 Things isn’t essential for the over-the-top Mets fan, but it’s a perfect introduction for someone just learning the joy and agony that being a Mets fan entails.

Silverman teamed up with Jon Springer, the head honcho of the great Mets site called Mets By the Numbers, for the book that carries the same name. While Silverman’s other book of this year can be enjoyed by the casual Mets fan, Mets by the Numbers is a must read for anyone who’s lost sleep over a Willie Randolph move, a Doug Sisk pitch or an appearance by the immortal # 51, Mel Rojas. This book breaks down the team’s history by uniform number and brings up name after name that I thought years of abusing my body had made me forget. Kane Davis? (#48) Esix Sneed? (#23) Roberto Petagine? (#20) From the biggest stars down to the one day minor league call-ups, all the players are in here along with who produced the best stats while wearing each number. It’s a fascinating way to dissect a team’s history and give it a fresh spin.

Simply put, Mets by the Numbers is the best book I have ever read about my favorite sports team of all time. After you finish Zisk, head to your favorite local, independent book store and track down a copy. And you too will know the greatest # 40 in Mets history. (Trust me, that’s not really high praise for that number.)

Steve Reynolds is the co-editor of Zisk, and his favorite number is 24, like, um, that ballplayer named Mays.

Curse of the Great Giambi by Mark Hughson

It goes without saying that anyone who reads or writes for Zisk enjoys the game of baseball. And while I feel disappointed when my team loses, and get a thrill out of the big games in October, baseball is something I don’t take personally. You don’t like the A’s? I’m ok with that. Or take Barry Bonds, he might be a jerk but he never personally disrespected me so I got no real beef with him. Overall I’d say my relationship with baseball is positive and healthy except for this one guy Jason Giambi—he’s a douchebag.

The year was 2001 and the season had just finished. Giambi was named MVP in 2000, and in the ’01 season he continued his All-Star/Silver Slugger performance. The guy was in his prime and a hot commodity. After the 2001 season he was a free agent. Oakland’s paltry budget couldn’t hang on to him (a running theme we’ve seen persist with Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito). So his contract was up, and he was moving to a new team. I was ok with that, being a realist after all. He signed with the Yankees, and I was fine with that too. When asked by the press why he chose to sign with the Yankees, Giambi said, “I want to play for a contender, I want to play for a competitive team.” What a fucking prick! The A’s had been duking it out in the toughest division in all of baseball for most of the late ’90s. They were gaining momentum, finally constructing both a solid lineup and that Hudson-Mulder-Zito starting rotation, and in the last two years before Giambi left, won the division or the wild card spot and played against other playoff teams with twice (or in the case of the Yankees, thrice) their team salary. Although I was a couple thousand miles away just sitting in front of the TV, I felt emotionally confused, disrespected, and deeply insulted on behalf on myself, the Athletics organization, and the rest of their fans. I didn’t know it at the time, perhaps it was a subconscious act, but I had just cursed the Yankees. I never before had taken the game to heart but when I heard Giambi spew that crap I just shook my head and said, “Fuck that guy.” For as long as Giambi wears pinstripes, the Yanks will never win a World Series. You may think this is just a gag, but in baseball, stats hold weight, and I’ll let the numbers do the talking from now on.

The Oakland Athletics
1999 – finished 2nd in division
2000 – West Division title
2001 – Wild Card winner

Giambi leaves Oakland A’s
2002 – West Division title
2003 – West Division title
2004 – finished 2nd in division
2005 – finished 2nd in division
2006 – West Division title
2007 – finished 10 games below .500

The New York Yankees

1999 – World Series winner
2000 – World Series winner
2001 – AL Pennant winner

Giambi signs with Yankees
2002 – Lost ALDS to Angels
2003 – Lost WS to Marlins
2004 – Lost ALCS to Red Sox
2005 – Lost ALDS to Angels
2006 – Lost ALDS to Tigers
2007 – Lost ALDS to Indians

Upstate NY native Mark Hughson has been writing about baseball and music for almost a dozen years. His worthless baseball card collection consisting of Topps cards from 1987-1994 is up for sale - contact markhughson@hotmail.com

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Terrific Trio: Kiner's One Liner Korner

Only watched two innings-plus of today's game. That was long enough to get this gem from our legend in the booth, Ralph Kiner:

Gary: "So Ralph, what will be your favorite memory you'll take away from Shea?"
Ralph: "Leaving."

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Terrific Trio: History, English and Commercials

I wish I had taken more notes during Thursday night's game, as I'd like to have given you full rundowns on The Trio discussing Ron's ubiquitous Sovereign bank ads (which Ron admitted he had never seen until Thursday morning), Keith correcting his use of English History the night before (which lead to Gary saying, "We're all Flatheads here") or Kevin Burkhardt's sitting near the Tommy Agee home run marker in the upper deck and two attractive girls taking his picture when he was off mic (Ron: "He's a rock star!" Keith: "Kevin, you better tell them you're married."). But I was cooking using one of my many cookbooks for the first time, so I needed to give my kitchen my full attention. (And yes, the chicken and pasta both came out great, thanks for asking.) However, I did get this excellent exchange:

Keith: (Commenting on a batter not swinging at a pitch out of the strike zone) "The fish ain't biting...excuse me, the fish aren't biting. You should never say ain't."
Gary: "You can say ain't. It is baseball."

Murph's Booth: And He Kept on Walking

I listened to WFAN for all of Wednesday night's slopfest and for the extra innings of Thursday night's nail-biter, and it's apparent that Howie Rose and Wayne Hagin are slowly finding where they fit together. As as play-by-play guy Hagin still seems half a step slow and has a tendency to say things with a pause, like "it's hit to the shortstop...Reyes." But he did set up Rose for some excellent insights by asking him average fan questions about Shea and Mets team history that drew out some good responses.

It was during the later innings of Wednesday night's that the new duo really clicked. Rose was asking Hagin about his time in Colorado as the voice of the Rockies, and then told a story about Bob Murphy getting upset after a game at Coors Field.

Howie: "So we're in the elevator and Murph says to me, 'I don't know what that was, but it wasn't baseball.' Then he walked out of the elevator into the night."

Wayne: "And the next day he was found in Colorado Springs still muttering about it! (They both laugh, then Hagin sighs) I wish he had taken me with him." (They both laugh loudly)