Friday, August 14, 2009

Panda Saves the World by Ken Derr

Unemployment just hit 11.6% in California. The state is paying its bills with IOU’s. Parks are closing. Schools are setting up corner graphing calculator stands. Even the Governator cannot stem the tide of woe sweeping across this once golden stretch of promise, and most jaded observers believe no one can.

What we need is a little hope. Something to believe in. Someone larger-than-life who can give us a sliver of possibility in a place where people have quit on themselves.

What we need, clearly, is a fat, switch-hitting, ambidextrous Venezuelan panda.

Pablo Sandoval may be our only chance. The 22-year old Giant rookie third baseman is the brightest bulb on a coast gone dark. Yes, “the round mound of pound” led the resurgent Giants in hitting (.333), homers (15) and RBIs (55) at the All-Star Break , but a man charged with teasing out Giant fans’ smiles (and solving the state budget crisis, bringing peace to the Middle East, and capturing Osama bin Laden) is going to need more than numbers. He’s going to need style, which is something the Panda exudes, with effervescent ease.

Pablo was born in the fighting port city of Puerta Cabello, Venezuela, which explains a few things, when you consider that the World Values Survey consistently find Venezuelans among the happiest people on earth. This oil-rich nation has produced five Miss Worlds, five Miss Universes, and five Miss Internationals (no, I don’t know the difference either, but I’d be willing to learn), which might have something to do with it, but there is also that Caribbean, happy-go-lucky exuberance oozing from Pablo’s pores. He’s not only Mr. Excitement—he’s Mr. Happy, and his unbridled enthusiasm has won the hearts of the dying faithful in Baghdad-by-the-Bay.

But if gusto were enough to part the seas and clouds, Richard Simmons would be king. A hero needs game, and that is something Pablo brings every night. He is currently fourth in the National League in hitting and sixth in slugging percentage. He missed the All-Star game only because the National League wanted to set the record for futility. The NL’s anemic offense achieved its goal that night, but Frisco fans seethed, knowing who didn’t pinch hit late to save the game for jumpy starter, Timmy Lincecum. “I had the numbers, but not the votes,” Pablo offered humbly about his snub. Somewhere, Charlie Manuel should be sucking paste.

Let’s try another number: 246, which the program lists as Pablo’s weight. Now that doesn’t look so high, until you see 5’ 11” next to it. So his zest for living extends to the buffet table, but that has only enhanced his legend. To see him run is to fall in love like a middle-schooler. When he leaped over Dodger catcher Danny Ardoin last year to score, Barry Zito dubbed him Kung-Fu Panda. In a post-post 9/11 return to irony, he is now “Little Panda.” My eight-year old son was so moved by the third-baseman that he wrote his first song about him, rhyming “runs so fast” with “such a fat ass.” How many songs of praise have your team’s infielders inspired lately?
Early, Frisco fans were concerned that third base might be a challenge for the former minor league catcher and first baseman, but Pablo has been lithe at the hot corner, making only four errors. He has even shown some hop on liners, turning potential doubles into Sports Center outs. In the nimble big man sweepstakes, he sits at the Jackie Gleason table.

Aside from his girth, the Panda is also famous for his generous conception of the strike zone. He makes Manny Sanguillen look like Kevin Youkilis. Giant batting instructor Carney Lansford insists that he tells Sandoval before every at-bat to swing at a strike, but Pablo’s approach remains, “See ball. Swing.” One pitch he looks like a cricket player, and the next he’s a lumberjack. To watch him at the plate is to squirm, cringe and burst with glee simultaneously, and to let the ball fall where it may.

While watching Panda hit can be emotionally vexing, watching him run is pure joy, especially when he’s heading for third. The best image in baseball is Pablo rounding second, especially when he doesn’t arrive. Early in the year, Pablo was heading for a would-be triple when he fell flat on his face. Most mortals would scramble to rise, but Sandoval knew the gig was up. He just lay there, looking, according to manager Bruce Bochy, “like a turtle on his back. Except he was on his stomach.” Some Giant players were concerned that their leading hitter might be hurt as he lay face down in the dirt, but not All-Star pitcher Matt Cain, who remarked, “Kung Fu Panda doesn’t get hurt.” To prove the point, two innings later Pablo hit his first walk-off homer, a three-run shot to beat the Nationals, 9-7. “I just want to get my pitch and drive the ball,” he said later. “I don’t want to tie the game. I want to end it.” And so he did.

These are dark times indeed, and the smart guy number crunchers who got us into this mess are trying to convince us that they know how to get us out. Yea, and Billy Beane promised cheap annual playoff teams arriving on an escalator from minor league city. Pablo Sandoval is the anti-metric. He is a rotund, free-swinging switch hitter who falls down a lot, and he is the reason, Lincecum aside, that Giant fans care again. “We should treat fans like friends,” Pablo said recently through his incessant smile. He is charming and unpolished and completely new, and even if he does not create world peace or put everybody back to work, he will continue to remind fans why sometimes all the suffering is worth it—–if only to see what Panda will do after he falls on his face.

Ken Derr lives in the Bay Area and hopes the Giants have procured a big bat by the time this Zisk comes out.

Rusty Staub: The Zisk Interview

For those of us who came of age watching baseball in the 1970s, Rusty Staub was one of those guys who you’d love to have on your club. Staub was a player who approached the game tenaciously and worked hard to make himself better year in and year out. He was an excellent hitter (one who is the answer to a great trivia question, as you’ll see below), a decent fielder and late in his career he became one of the top pinch hitters in all of baseball. But most importantly, he had an awesome nickname from his time playing for the Montreal Expos—Le Grand Orange. Staub has a little less of his trademark orange hair now, but his no-nonsense approach to the game lives on in a book he did with New York sportswriter Phil Pepe titled Few and Chosen: Defining Mets Greatness Across the Eras. In it Staub picks the top five players at every position throughout the Mets 47 year history. I had the pleasure of chatting with Staub about the book, the origin of his outstanding nickname, and how to get ready for my next appearance as a pinch hitter.

SR: The idea for doing a book like this seems like it’s something that could be hatched over happy hour amongst a bunch of Mets fans. How did the idea for this book get started?

RS: Well, Phil Pepe called me and said he done this type of book with some other people on other teams. I know he did Ron Santo on Chicago and Brooks Robinson in Baltimore—there were other teams where he did stuff. I think the Brooklyn Dodgers, or the Dodgers, he used Duke Snider and Bobby Thompson did the book with him on the Giants. He came to me wanting to do the book about the Mets. And I said yes for two reasons. One, not only is he a close friend, he’s a terrific writer and two, I knew I could trust him. I thoroughly enjoyed studying all the stats and making the selections. We talked long and hard about different things. And I’m very pleased with the outcome of what we have done here. I don’t expect 100% of the people in Met land to agree with me, but it was my choice and I took it and I’m very proud of it.

SR: Coming up with the list of players for each position, what were the criteria that you went through? Was it more stats-oriented or more of what you had seen and what Phil had seen? How did you balance between the two?

RS: Well, Phil wrote the words as I spoke them. The truth is, if you just wanted a stat book, they wouldn’t need me. I put a lot of thought into what a person meant to the ballclub. I mean, I picked Buddy Harrelson as the best shortstop. Now Jose Reyes might be a Hall of Fame player, if he doesn’t let the off the field stuff get in his way and he doesn’t get injured as often as he’s been. He’s already been on the DL more times in his career than I was in 23 years. The truth is, Buddy Harrelson meant everything to that ballclub. He was the core of the defense. Any pitcher that had him at shortstop was thrilled that he was there. And he learned how to help offensively by walking and bunting and hit-and-running and all the little things that you do. He always placed himself defensively exactly where he needed to be. He anticipated, he knew what was coming. He worked hard with the pitchers. Having been around him as long as I was, he was my pick. Somebody else can pick whoever they want. Again, it’s not just about stats, it’s what you meant to that ballclub in that era. And I know there are differences of opinion all the time, and may they continue. Let people argue as long as they want. But these are my picks, and I’m very pleased with the people I picked.

SR: Well, books of sports lists are basically done to start dialogue between people so they can talk about there favorite sport.

RS: That’s what’s great. I’m sure there will be people going, “How could he pick so and so?” Well, I picked it for my reasons. Again, if you just wanted to do a stat book, we would have put all the stats down and titled it New York Mets Stats.

SR: What was the hardest position for you to pick? I would think catcher might have been close, since you have one guy that’s in the Hall of Fame (Gary Carter) and another guy that will be going into the Hall of Fame (Mike Piazza).

RS: No, that wasn’t the most difficult. Second base was probably the most difficult. Mike Piazza, his total stats with the Mets dwarf Gary’s. I mean Gary had a Hall of Fame career for the Montreal Expos, then came and played five seasons for the Mets. The first couple were brilliant seasons, they won a world championship. All of that was great. But if you look at cold hard facts, Piazza was way past Carter. He almost doubled the stats of Gary in the same amount of time for the Mets.

SR: Now why was second base so difficult?

RS: Well, after analyzing stuff I picked Jeff Kent as number-one. Other people probably feel that other players could be there on top, like Felix Milan. And there’s Gregg Jefferies, and Wally Backman and Tim Teuefel—I put them in as a sort of quinella at the end because they were so good together.

SR: Well of course—it was a great pairing.

RS: But Jeff Kent had the best stats of any second basemen in the history of the Mets, even though he was only a starter for three full seasons. And he was tough. He played hard, he played hurt. He wasn’t the most gifted second basemen but he worked very hard. And he really worked hard on making that double play. As it was, the Mets wanted to move him to third and he didn’t want to move there. And the Mets eventually traded him, which was not the best decision they ever made.

SR: Yeah, if you included the list of Top 5 worst trades in Mets history, I’m sure that would be on there.

RS: I know. And even with the trade, he still had incredible stats with the Mets. He’s got more home runs and more RBIs, and only Felix Milan has more hits than him. But of course, Felix also played longer. And you know, Gregg Jeffries had some pretty good statistics too, even as he went on to not play consistently for the ball club over a long number of years. He had a fine career, that young man. But he struggled here. Things could have been better here. I’m not sure that everything was handled the best for him the way projected him as the next coming. They put too much on him with a veteran team, and I don’t think that was a plus for him.

SR: Now this book goes through all of the positions. But one you did leave out, the position you probably would have been number-one as, was pinch hitter. You were known as an exceptional pinch hitter in your time with the team. So can you take me through your mindset as a pinch hitter and how you’d prepare yourself to go in and pinch hit?

RS: Well, number-one, I tried to get my body temp up if there was any chance for me to hit. I mean I’d jump rope, I’d hit the ball off the tee, and I’d run up and down the runways. I liked to have my body temp up. I wanted to be perspiring when I went up there, like you would be if you were playing. The anticipation, the study of the pitchers you were going to face, that all had something to do with it. As was having a game plan. I talk to young hitters now and I say, “What’s your game plan when you go up against this guy?” And they say, “Well, I’m going to try to get a good pitch to hit and I’m gonna hit it.” And I’ll say, “So you’ve never considered what he’s done to you in the past?” And they’ll say, “Well, no.” I mean, this is a profession. I studied it professionally. If the guy starts you out with a breaking ball every time, why would you look for the fastball? If a guy got two strikes on you and always threw a certain pitch, why would you not anticipate that pitch? You can’t guess. That’s the biggest problem. I think the biggest difference between a really, really good hitter and a guy who has talent is that the guy that’s a really, really good hitter doesn’t get himself out as often as the guy who just has talent.

SR: Now a couple of weeks ago you were an answer to a trivia question Keith [Hernandez] and Ron [Darling] were working. The question was who was the only player to have 500 hits with four different clubs? And Keith said something interesting when they gave the answer—he said that he was surprised that you were only with Expos for just three and a half seasons and that he thought it was more. Why do you think people still have vivid memories of you as an Expo even though you weren’t there as long as you were with the Mets?

RS: Well, it was the first time the game went out of the country. I became Le Grand Orange. I hit well, I threw well, I played well in my time there. The fact that there was now a team in Canada was of note to start out with. I meant a great deal to the franchise at that time. I worked a lot in the off season trying to promote the ballclub throughout the province of Quebec. And it worked to such an extent that we had this young Expo club and we had 75,000 children enrolled in it after the first year. And after the second year we had 150,000 children. I was also a representative of a national bank and I ended up traveling across the country. And I was really part of what the team was doing in Canada. I felt very proud to be helping baseball be spread there. And whatever came with that, the pluses and the minuses. I think studying French and trying to do some of the television shows and answer some questions in French meant a great deal to the people that were there. You can’t factor in what that kind of stuff means to the people that you’re playing in front of.

SR: How exactly did your nickname come about?

RS: It was Ted Blackman. He was an English writer up there. We had lost a lot of games in a row. And I had a great day against the Dodgers I think, I can’t remember for sure. But Ted Blackman used the—they used to call me Big Orange. And he’s the one who put le in front of grand orange. Normally in front of a vegetable or a fruit they put la in French. And he actually made the statement, “If you think I was going to put a feminine article on his name, you’re crazy.” (Laughs) So that’s what it was. That’s why there’s no e at the end of grand. Technically in French, it should be a la grande, with an e, orange. So Ted did it, and it exploded. From the first time it came out —I’ve never seen anything take off like that.

SR: Do people today still call you that?

RS: People say Le Grand Orange all the time to me.

SR: You’re also known for owning restaurants and being someone who appreciates fine cuisine, so I need to ask if you sampled any of the places to eat at Citifield?

RS: I’ve been out to Citifield many times, as I still work for the ballclub in kind of an ambassadorial role. So when I’ve been out there I have tasted food from many of the places, and it’s excellent. And I must say the comments from people on the food have been as good as I’ve ever heard about stadium food ever. I mean, they’ve got some great restaurateurs there. Danny Meyer has four places. Drew Nieporent has a wonderful restaurant there. These are some of the best restaurateurs in the city of New York, and what they have done there is terrific.

SR: Could you have ever imagined ballpark food getting to a place where it’s reviewed by the food critic for the New York Times?

RS: From the origins of baseball, no. But where life has been taking everybody, you could see that baseball was trying to do things that were going to make things better for the fans. Better food, people seemed to always want that. I mean, they always wanted their hot dog, or hamburger or popcorn, which seems to have taken over for Cracker Jack. But now they’ve got sushi! I mean, you name it and it’s there at a ballpark. It’s part of the game-going experience now.

What to Do When Not Paying Attention at the Ballpark by Mike Faloon

The line drive sailed into left field, straight and true. It had all the markings of a routine play. Gary Sheffield settled in, feet planted, glove lined up. I assumed he was paying attention right up until the moment the ball bounced out of his glove allowing the Marlins runner to ease into second with a stand up double. He never scored, though because his Florida teammates followed with a pop up and ground out.

Keep the “E7” in your scorecard if you want but his miscue didn’t cost the Mets any runs. And Sheffield didn’t get fined or lose any more respect, so there was no cost to him. Not paying attention can be all right. And this season Mets fans—and apparently Mets players—have good reason to divert their attention elsewhere. This set the tone for the games I’ve seen this summer. Here’s what I’ve been focusing on during my trips to ballparks through the northeast.

How to Play MoundiesMarlins vs. Mets
CitiField, NYC

Moundies. It’s a game my friends Alex and Sue taught me. It goes like this. At the end of each half inning follow the ball. If it rolls onto the mound, then the person holding the cup wins the money. If the ball doesn’t end up on the mound, then the cup is passed to the next person. Bring lots of singles.

It may help if I run through those steps a bit more methodically. Here we go.

One: Get a cup. Alex plays old school and just wipes out a used beer cup. You can also ask for clean cup.

Two: Have each person put a dollar in the cup. My wife and I went to a Mets/Marlins game with Alex and Sue. (It was our first trip to Citi Field. Nice park. Should be called Gil Hodges Stadium, though.) Four participants means you start with four dollars. The math gets no more complicated than that.

Three: Set your order. We played from left to right. Sue sat on the left. She held the cup first. Allie, Alex, and I sat to Sue’s right in that order. We passed the cup along in the order. That may be a bit more detailed than necessary but I’m taking no chances here. It’s not like a classroom where you can raise your hand and ask a question. Or just call out, which my students do a lot and I don’t mind, as long as what they’re saying is relevant, especially when we’re having an impromptu debate, let the good ideas surface without reservation. But let’s get back to Moundies before I get all Socratic.

Four: Watch how each half inning ends. The top of the first ended with the Marlins’ Jeremy Hermida striking out. Mets catcher Omir Santos caught the third strike and rolled the ball toward the mound. It rolled off the second base side of the mound. Sue was watching—we all were at that point—but she did not win. The ball has to stay on the mound for the cup holder to collect the funds.

Five: Put more money in the cup. Bottom of the first. Sue passed the cup to Allie and everyone ponied up another dollar. Omir Santos swatted a grand slam, the first in the history of Gil Hodges Stadium. The Mets scored six runs in the inning.

Six: Keeping watching the mound even when the game is exciting. We all forgot about Moundies after the grand slam. Allie passed the cup to Alex, who won when Fernando Tatis, playing first base for the Mets, recorded the last out of the top of the second inning. The pot was up to $12.

Seven: Start again. The cup had $4 when it came to me. We got talking about work, specifically Secretaries Day, which is not something that teachers should forget. (Sue and Alex teach at the same school I do.) Unlike a dropping a fly ball in the major leagues, there are consequences to neglecting your school’s secretary. I got to thinking about this and lost track of the game so the cup went back to Sue.

The rest of the game was pretty dull but playing Moundies livened up the evening. One more tip, a bit of etiquette really: if you seem to win more than often than the rest of your group, treat everyone to some snacks or a round of drinks. The idea is that everyone kind of comes out even in the end.

The Big Four-OhLeheigh Valley Iron Pigs vs. Syracuse Skychiefs
Alliance Stadium, Syracuse

I turned 40 in July and my wife threw me a surprise party. It was awesome. She rented a box at the Chiefs stadium and invited tons of family (who were already in town for the 4th of July). Was I surprised? Yes, for the most part. We had been hanging in my mom’s backyard—Allie, me, the kids, my mom, my brother Pat and his boyfriend—and suddenly everyone had to leave. Pat and Chris were going downtown to check out a record store. Allie and my mom wanted to take the kids out for ice cream. These are normal things. My other brother, Casey, and I were planning to go to the Chiefs game anyway. So they left and I waited for Casey to pick me up. There were two unusual things that left me curious. Allie woke up our daughter from a nap, which is Haley’s Comet-rare. Second, about five minutes after everyone left I saw Pat and Chris drive by the house in one car followed by Allie, my mom and the kids in another car. Despite these clues the surprise party caught me off guard, especially when I saw my Uncle Steve, from Maine, and a good friend from NYC, Brian Cogan, in the same room. It was like a harmonic convergence of funny Irish guys with great senses of humor and good taste in music and movies.
My cousin’s husband joked that I’d be kind of ticked off by having so many people at the game because it would be impossible to actually watch the action on the field. I did bring my scorecard, thinking I’d be watching the game with one brother and my dad, but I never picked it up.

Technically I Paid Money to See Bob Dylan Perform
Wyios, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan
Alliance Stadium, Syracuse

I can’t be blamed for not paying attention to the game on this trip to the ballpark. There wasn’t a game scheduled. There was a four-act bill, however. It was my first concert at a ballpark. The stage was set up further back than I expected, in the middle of center field. I was there with my brother and my dad. We all loved the opening band but didn’t know their name until they were done. The Wyios. They did this slow version of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe,” which reminded me of Tom Waits. The rest of the set was like western swing (they covered Bob Wills at one point) crossed with Spike Jones.

Willie Nelson was great. He walked one with no introduction, broke into “Whiskey River,” and kept the hits coming for an hour. It wasn’t the most passionate performance (“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was truncated, only hitting the chorus twice; “Good Hearted Woman” didn’t shift into double time like it used to) but he gave us our money’s worth (which is saying a lot given the cost of the tickets). His voice still has that beautiful timbre even if its force is a bit diminished. Four songs into the set he said, “Hello there” and went back to the hits. I was surprised he didn’t monologue more but the dude was there to work. (To his credit he could have had some young buck shouldering the lead guitar duties but Willie was at the wheel the whole time.) Plus, there are other ways to endear yourself to fans. He threw his bandanas into the crowd. That seemed to work for a lot of people. So did the trio of Hank Williams songs. My favorite was the cover of “Me and Bobby McGee,” barely recognizable because it seemed so much faster. I think my dad’s was “Georgia On My Mind.” He harmonized and shared the history (“This was written by Hoagy Carmichael and of course Ray Charles did it, too”).

I liked John Mellencamp more than I expected. I haven’t heard a new John Mellencamp song in 15 years and I recognized most of the set. I found myself listening to the words more than the music. They’re country lyrics set to rock songs, which may be obvious but it hadn’t dawned on before.

Dylan was awful. My expectations were low and I still couldn’t take it. Big deal, right, another Dylan hater. Let me explain. I’ve come to like some Dylan. Not just his songs when sung by other people but his versions. Highway 61 Revisited. Bringing It All Back Home. Blonde on Blonde. The classics. Nothing fancy. Couldn’t take Dylan ’09, though. We left after a couple of songs and talked about the Wyios and Willie as we walked back to the parking lot.

“Sultans of Swing”Falmouth Commodores vs. Orleans Firebirds
Orleans, MA

There is nothing quite like a Cape League game. College all-stars playing on high school fields. No aluminum bats. Fans brings their own chairs. I usually buy a scorecard so I know who’s playing but I went Sheffield this time. My wife and I forgot chairs so we lay in the grass. I came to in the bottom of the ninth. Tie game. At first I didn’t understand why “Sultans of Swing” was playing over the PA. It seemed too mellow for a “rally the home team” song. Then the title hit me. Sometimes it is worth paying attention at the ballpark.

The First Hack Man by Michael Baker

My favorite athlete of all time is the alcohol-soaked Cubs outfielder Hack Wilson who nonchalantly patrolled centerfield during the heyday of both the ungodly Prohibition and the soul splitting Great Crash. Invective-hurling Albert Belle, anti-Nazi speedster Jesse Owens, enigmatic Jim Thorpe, marathon runner Pheidippides, double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius, and ground-breaking Jackie Robinson all vie for the top spot in my pantheon, but it was only Hack Wilson who could lay claim to this: When his Hall of Famer manager Joe McCarthy lectured Hack about demon alcohol, Joe used the following analogy—If you drop a worm into a glass of whiskey it dies. Wilson pondered this biological fact cheerily, saying: "If you drink whiskey, you'll never get worms."

Lewis Robert Wilson was born at the turn of the century in the Pennsylvania hamlet of Ellwood City. He broke into the majors with the Giants and was dropped inexplicably after three years by the greatest manager in history, John McGraw. Now with the Cubs, in six mercurial seasons Hack established his Hall of Fame bona fides. Along with Saint Sandy Koufax, Hack's peak numbers were dense, short-lived, and otherworldly, but unlike Koufax, his election into the Hall came a long time (31 years) after his death. He was pugnacious, an indifferent fielder, and as slow on the base paths as George Bush was to take responsibility for the immoral malaise that hangs presently through the Western worlds. Hack Wilson was as well the oddest physical specimen ever to play at such a high level of competence: 5’ 6”, over 200 pounds, implausibly buttressed by size six shoes. Think Lindsay Lohan with an extra hundred pounds (but no lesbian lovers).

In six campaigns with the Cubbies Hack battered the ball, raking 190 HR, a .322 average, and a startling 769 RBI in only 850 games. But it was in 1930 that Hack Wilson tiptoed on tiny feet to baseball immortality. Chuck Klein, a rival National League outfielder, put together a top ten season of all time that included 158 runs, 250 hits, 445 total bases, 170 RBI, and a lofty .386 batting average. And yet, Hack outperformed him, setting, among other lethal stats, the all time record for RBI: 191 in 155 games. That record will never be broken. The next highest National League total since this high-water mark of human civilization is a paltry 160 and that was illegally generated 40 years later than Hack's mark by fellow Cub and serial steroidist Sammy Sosa. As with Hack, I prefer whiskey to cheating. 191 RBI translates to 1.22 RBI per game. That's perfection, like gin at lunch or Linda Evangelista in a bathing suit.

Before you naysayers chime in about league averages and park adjusted values, I know that in 1930 everybody but Herbert Hoover in the Senior Circuit batted above .300, or seemingly so. The league average, after all, (with pitchers batting!) was .303; 19 full timers hit above .330; the Cubs' 5th best player (after Gabby Hartnett, Woody English, Kiki Cuyler, and Hack) was Riggs Stephenson who merely batted .367. But no one then, before, or since batted in 191 runs. He also batted .356, never missed a plate appearance, slugged .723, totaled 423 bases, scored 146 runs, hit 56 home runs, and was on base over 45% of the time.

Adjusting for offensive value and based upon comparisons of park and league efficiency, Wilson's season has been diminished through the haze of time. In one sampling, his offensive win total was eclipsed by, for example, Kevin Mitchell, another portly indifferent outfielder. But Kevin Mitchell could not walk in Hack's size six shoes. And it did not help that his dipsomania cut short his talent, career, and life, only topping 100 RBI once for the rest of his sketchy 6 year career. As with Gaul, Hack Wilson's career was divided in three parts: scuttling for a few seasons with ignorant Giants, the six god-like years with the Cubs, and the fitful, disappointing last six years, bouncing from tavern to saloon to bar. We mere citizens would be thankful, however, for a few peak years like our hero Hack's peak; unlike Jimmy Brown, my brown Adonis from my addled youth who performed well at everything—lacrosse or basketball or balletically evading Sam Huff or throwing blondes off balconies—Hack was born deprived and devoid of any physical advantage. He made up for these disadvantages however by fueling his hatred for himself with channeling that hatred into an imperious stance towards all pitchers and all pitched balls. Hack could hit.

He died unreformed and unapologetic at the age of 48, in Baltimore, like another fevered genius of the bottle, Poe.

Darryl Strawberry Comes Clean About His Life by Steve Reynolds

I’d like to say I wasn’t nervous walking over to shake Darryl Strawberry’s hand before we spoke, but that would be a big old lie. The 1986 Mets were the first team I was truly passionate about. And Strawberry was a key cog to that bunch of bad guys. And when he grabbed my hand and said hello, my first thought was, “Holy shit, this is what a ballplayer should look like,” quickly followed by, “Holy crap, he’s got some huge hands” and then “Wow, he looks like he could still play today.” Strawberry and I then sat down to talk about his book Straw: Finding My Way. It’s a fascinating read about one of the most compelling New York sports figures of all-time. In it, Strawberry pulls no punches talking about how he messed his own life and the lives of his family. We spoke about taking responsibility, Derek Jeter’s star power, and one very unlikely best friend.

SR: Towards the end of the book you talk about gradually coming back into the public eye and having people propose book and movie deals, which you turned down. Why was now the right time to write down your story? What made you think you were in the right place mentally to do it?

DS: Well, I think because I’m finally committed to doing it. I think that’s the first step you have to do. You have to be able to commit to it and say you wanna do it, because when you have to go back and revisit things—I mean, there’s a lot of painful things there. It takes a person time to think through it and see that these painful things are gonna come up. And these feelings, you think about your children and the relationships that you were in and your part that you played in that that made a difference of affecting lives. It’s never easy. And when I reached that point I said this is pretty much a good time in my life. And it wasn’t all about me. My wife convinced me that it was also about helping other people. It’s a message to help other people because when people have loved and cared for you, there are people hurting to and they need to hear this message of hope. Of why you don’t quit. People say, “Why shouldn’t I quit?” And I can say that you just don’t, you should never give up.

SR: One thing that I found interesting in the book is that you really don’t put the blame on anybody else for anything in your life. You’re very direct in saying, “This was my fault.” How did you get to point in your life where you can say it’s your fault and you’re not here to blame anyone else when describing your life?

DS: Well, it’s about taking action and taking full responsibility for your life. I took action on the field and excelled there. Well it was time I took actions for my mistakes off the field too. You need take responsibility for those things. And doing that it allows people to see who you really are. Instead of what’s been created and written about you, they’re able to see from your side who you really are. And that’s what I wanted people to see more than anything. I wanted them to see the real heart that I have and the real understanding I have about life—life challenges and life mistakes and taking full responsibility for it. Because that gives people a clearer understanding that when things occur in your life and you take responsibility, you have a chance of getting on the right path. You’ll never get there if you don’t take responsibility. And you know, it took me a good while to understand that. I was taught a lot of that through my wife and I’m grateful for that. Because behind every good story there’s a good woman pushing you. If they tell you there’s not and they did it on their own, they’re lying! (Laughs)

SR: I really found it fascinating when you talk about signing with the Yankees in 1995 and you and Derek Jeter were riding the bench as the team was making their playoff run. You talk about giving Derek advice about not letting the city eat him up when you would be on the bench. Could you tell at the time that he would be someone who would thrive in New York and be able to survive the pressure cooker?

DS: Oh yes, I could tell he would be okay because I saw him play before down in Columbus. When I saw him play I said to myself, “He’s got the potential to go to New York and they’re going to love him and he’s going to be a star.” I could see it. Why? Because I’ve experienced it myself. And I wanted to share it with him. I told him, “You’re going to have a lot of opportunities in this town. You’re gonna be a star in this town.” I said, “Just take care of yourself. Don’t make mistakes like I did. Because there’s gonna be a lot of people pulling at you and there’s gonna be a lot of opportunities for you. Just be careful about what you do.”

SR: You also talk about coming back to the Mets to work on SNY and to work with some younger players. How important is it to you to be able to share your experience with these players just starting out, not offering just baseball advice but also advice on how to act when you’re in a New York organization?

DS: It’s about dealing with your life properly when you play in New York and dealing with the pressure and dealing with the media. I just try to explain to some of the younger guys that come along, don’t get caught up the hype of how good you are—or how horrible you are. Because it’s going to come at you from both ways. I tell them to try and keep balance and stay focused. All that outside pressure, it is what it is. Don’t lose yourself in it. That’s what’s important for young players. Don’t lose yourself in it and think you’re great immediately, because you could have a chance to play a long time in this city if you are successful.

SR: Was part of your healing process coming back to the Mets? Did working on SNY and coming back to Shea feel like coming full circle?

DS: That definitely was a major part of the healing process. I walked away from a place I admired and adored the fans and the winning tradition that I learned playing here in New York. I mean, it all happened in Queens for me. I may have gone over to The Bronx and played, but I knew how to win because I was a winner in Queens.

SR: You were part of two of the most beloved teams ever in New York—the 1986 Mets and the 1998 Yankees. What was it about them that make them so loved in New York? Why do fans think they were so special?

DS: Well, attitude. Swagger. Belief. We came to the ballpark with a purpose. We came to the ballpark believing we could win everyday. There was always excitement. I think fans could feel the excitement in the air when they came to the ballpark. I mean, you came to the ball park and you knew those teams were ferocious! They took a lot of pride in what they were doing. And people could see that.

SR: You also talk about your friendship with Eric Davis, who had his own battle with cancer before you did. You two didn’t have the exact same disease, but was it important to have someone you grew up with and shared your experiences as a ballplayer? Did that strengthen your bond?

DS: Oh, we had a very strong bond. We grew up together, played little league together. Along the way we realized we both had the same intentions and the same goals and same passions, to get to the majors league and be successful. And we did it. And it was very special for to stay close, to be like brothers through everything, and for both of us overcome everything, and be successful as professional athletes.

SR: Finally, I have to ask about George Steinbrenner. You write in the book about how he gave you multiple chances. Obviously a lot has been written—both good and bad—about him over the years. What kind of friend was he to you?

DS: Remarkable. I mean, he was someone I could have a personal conversation with when most people were scared to talk to me. I could just go to him and talk to him about anything. He was the kindest person to me and my family that I’ve ever known. Even with all the things that happened and things that were written about me during that time, he never turned his back on me. When everybody else told him, “don’t do it, don’t do it,” he was like, “I’m doing it. I care for him. I care for his family. I wanna see that they’re taken care of.” He took care of me and my family and I will always thank God for him.

In Omar We Trust by Michael Baker

Venezuelan shortstop Omar Vizquel is a man of grit, grace, and class, sort of like George Gershwin if George could throw deep from the hole. He is winding down a remarkable career: 2700 games, many awards and post-season appearances, and nearly 2,700 hits. Whether he makes it into baseball's Hall of Fame remains to be seen—he is with Texas now and more post seasons seem unlikely. I must also say that I am torn between bifurcated poles of thinking here: as a lifetime Tribe fan, I saw Omar elegantly spur the Cleveland Indians into the playoffs six out of seven years. I have seen up close and live and on TV Omar play so many times, and watched breathlessly so often as he turned two so effortlessly, or laughingly viewed his grabbing bare handedly distaff line drives so often, my heart certainly says yes, a Hall of Famer. But there are many negatives as well—he was never at the top of his profession in comparison with more gifted peers, and he seems to be for the last few campaigns a mere statistic compiler, not a difference maker.

A strong argument against Omar is the level of competition at his position. Near contemporaries already in the Hall dwarf his accomplishments: Cal Ripken, Jr., Robin Yount and Ozzie Smith richly deserve their bronzing; the still playing Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are locks. Tony Fernandez, Miguel Tejada, Barry Larkin, Nomar Garciaparra, Jimmy Rollins and Edgar Renteria, although none of them belong, certainly at one time in each of their careers the player maintained superior seasonal value compared to Omar’s performance. And we can't forget the two studs who project to be first round selections in 20 years or so: Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes.

Some compilers, of course, belong—Don Sutton and Rafael Palmiero (drugs aside); Rusty Staub, Craig Nettles, Darrell Evans and Steve Finley do not. More so than level of competition—it's his fault the position of shortstop changed in the mid-1980's to include bigger athletes with more power?—compilers seem a little awkward to emotionally and statistically deal with. What with medical advances, obscene pay, and the stretching point of major league franchises, it's not hard to figure why someone plays until the age of 40. And lest we be called cold hearted bastards, there are very few professions where we eliminate, Logan's Run style, the semi-mature denizens of any sect, not to mention that normally we applaud athletic fitness and steadfastness, lunch-pail obduracy, and fidelity to both corporation and mission.

Let's get back to facts, Jack. Omar Vizquel has been selected to three All-Star games. He has won 12 Gold Gloves—only three position players have more (Pudge Rodriguez, Brooks Robinson, and Ozzie Smith). Over 1250 times Omar walked or struck a sacrifice hit: persistence and patience at the plate are too often overlooked as galvanizing attributes and sacrificing yourself so that the team (or Albert Belle) can thrive is an outstanding quality of civilized humanity, almost as if Omar had a sense of agape, or spiritual selflessness. Most importantly, metaphysics aside, he was successfully doing something well over 1250 times (walks, sacrifice hits) at the workplace. I, for example, in my non-illustrious career, have done something right at work fewer than three dozen times. He is, as well, virtually guaranteed to get well over 2700 hits which would land him in the top 50 of all time. He has 530 extra base hits, 1400 runs, and nearly 400 stolen bases. In comparison, Ozzie Smith has 1257 runs, 2460 hits, 501 extra base hits, and 580 steals. To further make the argument for Hall inclusion, non-peers Joe Tinker and “The Scooter” Phil Rizzuto have stats that can barely match Omar's first ten years in the league: Scooter, the winner of the NYC media whine party, had 877 runs, 1588 hits, 149 steals, and 339 extra base hits while Tinker, the famed recipient of starring role in the worst poem (“Tinkers to Evers to Chance”) since The Fairie Queen, had 774 runs scored, 1687 hits, 408 extra base hits, and 336 steals, or, in other words, a decent six year stretch for George Sisler.

This hasn't really gotten us anywhere. I can (barely) hear a resoundingly sighed “maybe” from you, the silent majority, hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère! I would lean towards the negative because of the essential truth—on any given Thursday night in the late 90's Omar Vizquel was not even a top 5 shortstop playing that humid evening. So let me try something else. His range factors compared to league average, not surprisingly, have been consistently well above average, but so were many fielding statistics of the other half dozen all stars that were playing pepper before games (or knocking down multiple clandestine rendezvous with high class hookers—Hi A-Rod!). What if we can find a statistical anomaly that separates OV from both his peers and his potential Hall classmates?

In basketball there is an unspoken stat that suggests the point guard's efficiency: his turnover to assists ratio. It is pointless to have a point guard fostering three on two breaks with clever passes eight times a game if he or she throws the ball away six times that evening as well. A good ratio would be 3/1; a Hall of Famer ratio would be higher. John Stockton had 4244 turnovers but 15,806 assists. Magic Johnson had 3506 turnovers, but 10,141 assists. They are over 3/1 and they are in the Hall of Fame. Allen Iverson has 3198 turnovers, 5511 assists. Someone has to think deeply before voting for that malcontented, megalomaniacal, practice-shunning, anti-Semitic rapper. So what’s the point? How about stacking up a ratio that examines errors to turned double plays as a slice of fielding excellence? For instance, Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese had 388 errors and 1246 double plays. That's a ratio of 3.21 to 1. Peer Rizzuto had 1217 double plays, 267 errors (4.55 to 1). Rabbit Maranville (with 2600 hits a close offensive comparison to Omar) had 630 errors (WTF?), 1183 turned twos: 1.87 to 1—no stew for you, Rabbit! Hall of Famer shortstop Joe Sewell's stats make me weep—333 errors and only 665 double plays (1.96 to 1). Luis Aparicio and his 366 errors come out to 4.24 to 1. Tejada's is slightly over 5. Ozzie Smith logs in at 1590/281, or 5.33. The benchmark? Not really. In over 20 years of fielding excellence Omar Vizquel has turned 1713 double plays and laid an egg 183 times; that translates to an astounding 9.74, or: for every ten double plays achieved Omar made an error.

Now this is almost simply anecdotal evidence, not taking into consideration slick second basemen with terrific moxie and howitzer-accurate arms, smooth first basemen scooping semi-errant throws out from oblivion, or a pitching staff that is or is not predominately low strike throwing. Then again, in my baseball experience, turning two is good for the team, and making an error is bad. And Omar does more good things than bad. Many more. And if we could, we should turn back to the emotional side of the argument. I have loved the Tribe since Rocky Colavito came back, like MacArthur, a hero into my infantile psyche. I have witnessed the soul deadening of baseball ineptitude for the next 30 years, as if I were a Sioux and had my picture taken every five minutes of my life. Omar and Orel and Albert and Eddie and Carlos and Sandy gave me, the city, and my friends and family a sense of hope, a sense of relief, a sense that the prior years since 1960 were worth laboring over. And that cathartic relief was spearheaded by the indefatigable and ingenious leadership of Omar Vizquel. He is in my Hall of Fame.

Michael Baker once from Ohio, now New Jersey, is an award winning poet, a teacher of university composition classes, a frequent contributor to Trouser Press and Zisk, and a writer of extended Perfect Sound Forever essays on The Kinks, Cleveland in the 1970s, and Alex Chilton. His baseball blog, Knock the Rock, can be found at

Selena Roberts: The Zisk Interview

It was shaping up to just a quiet Valentine’s Day 2009 in the sports world until a post on Sports Illustrated’s website broke a stunning news story—New York Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids back in 2003. The writer who broke the news of the suppose-to-be-anonymous testing was Selena Roberts, who discovered the revelation in doing research for an in-depth profile on A-Rod for the magazine with reporter David Epstein that was to be followed up by a book due out in June. That revelation set off a stunning chain of events that have been hashed and re-hashed to death in the months since then. (However, I must admit to cackling at A-Rod when he told Peter Gammons that Roberts was a “stalker.” That was just too rich.)

After the initial buzz died down, Roberts was left with a project that most people assumed they already knew the juiciest parts. (And had its publication date moved up by two months) That wasn’t the case, as A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez saw Roberts uncover evidence of pitch-tipping and steroid use in high school. The book is an interesting read, yet it seems like if Roberts had had more time she could have fleshed out a fuller portrait of the man. (And as you’ll see in our talk, she admits to feeling the pressure of the quick deadline.) When we spoke, Roberts had gone through a pretty brutal beating by various print and online columnists as well as sports-talk radio hosts. Yet I found her to genuinely funny and very comfortable with being an easy target for sports fanatics.

Steve: First, let’s tackle the most shocking revelation in the book—A-Rod’s dad was a freedom fighter in the Dominican Republic?

Selena: Yeah, isn’t that weird? There’s a lot of surprises you run into with Alex Rodriguez. The first surprise was, I didn’t know he was on steroids when I started doing this story on him. I didn’t know about the pitch tipping. All those kind of things. But then the personal stuff was really the more interesting stuff to me. Because I didn’t know about the relationship with his father. And talking with his father, he was fascinating. When he left Alex at age 10, there was a lot of pain that went both ways. Alex certainly felt the pain of losing a father. There were times in the middle of the night were he’d go into his mom’s room and try to sleep in his dad’s spot, just to be close to him. So there was a lot of pain there. But also on the father’s behalf, he said he cried into his pillow in the middle of the night because he missed his boy so much. So there’s a lot of stuff that went on there. And then I started looking into the history of the Dominican and I started seeing these stories of Victor Rodriguez, the father of Alex Rodriguez, being a freedom fighter against the Trujillo regime. There were a lot of things that were surprising to me and I think they were fascinating and added many layers to Alex Rodriguez.

Steve: Do you think that the steroid revelations kind of overshadow those interesting stories about his life? I mean, if this was any other biography, revelations like that would make people go, “Really? No way!” Has that stuff just been totally overshadowed?

Selena: You know, that’s true. And I get it. I’ve been in the media in New York City and I understand what makes a headline and I know people go through a book quickly and they extract certain things for news value. But to me, the steroid stuff is just part of who he is. The arc of deception is more of what I’m interested in. Like how it followed his whole life and his whole career. About how he felt like he needed to exaggerate himself to please. And really that all stems from the day his dad left. It’s really an amazing father-son tale of when his dad left and how needy he was and how he never wanted anyone to leave him again. And when you feel that kind of pain, you’re willing to do anything to please people. And it started for him really early on in life, where he wanted to be adored, where he wanted to be loved. And all those kind of things we hear from a psychologist or a shrink about this type of relationship—well it’s real. And it was real for him and I think that’s how he got to be the way he is.

Steve: You broke the steroid news in February of this year for Sports Illustrated, so I assume you’d been working on this book for a while?

Selena: Well, the weird part about the way the book developed is that I signed a deal to do the book based on the profile material I had, which was the interesting stuff about the father-son relationship. His family relationship. His dynamics within the clubhouse. I had interviewed dozens and dozens of people on that. And David Epstein and I had worked on this profile for Sports Illustrated. So really the book was going to be based on that. And then as we were getting the profile ready, we started hearing that the steroid issue was there. It started as a rumor, and it turned into reality when we were able to verify it with the evidence that we had from the 2003 tests. So it was an additional element to Alex that came along in the process, but it was never the underpinning of the book in the first place.

Steve: So did you feel like, “We’ve got this explosive story that everywhere, and I have this book deal—I’m going to be sitting at the computer forever!”

Selena: (Laughs) Get me a rewrite! (Laughs)

Steve: So did you feel extra pressure in getting the book done quickly?

Selena: Yes. I’m screaming to myself “rewrite” a couple of times because I had to go back in and re-report some things and go back to people. And go back to a high school coach when I found out some more stuff about the high school years with him. And go back and really study what he had told me about how scouts did not recognize Alex as a junior because his body had changed so much. So then I started talking to some more people and found out some information about high school and his steroid use there. So a lot of things unfolded after the fact. And certainly you’re always under pressure to make a deadline. The deadline was not going to change. They wanted it quick and they wanted to get it done. As a writer, you always want more time. You’re always trying to squeeze out a last few minutes with the copy. That wasn’t going to happen and I understood that because the publisher has to make a deadline. Yes, a lot of things changed once the story was released. Because I had to go back and I had to retrace some steps and I had to go forward with new information I’d received right after that. So it was a bit of a push, but I think as a writer you know that’s going to happen and you know there’s going to be somebody sitting on you to get it done. At the end of the day it’s done and it’s out so you get some relief on that in some ways.

Steve: So when the paperback comes out, do you think you’ll be able to add in some of the things that happened in the two months since the book was finished?

Selena: Oh yeah. Let’s face it—Alex is a work in progress. He is different right now than he has been before. He came back—and I was actually pretty impressed by this—he came back a different person. He went out screaming and ranting and raving about a book I was working on and he’s come back being very quiet about what it’s become since he’s come back. And I think what he’s trying to do, and what I’ve understand he’s done, is that he’s taken a lot of the celebrity people out of his life. [Editor’s note: This interview happened before the Kate Hudson news broke.] He’s distanced himself from Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager. He’s distanced himself a little bit from that world. Which I think the Yankees are happy about. He talks about being more introspective. He talks about looking in the mirror, and this time not kissing himself in the mirror like he did for that Details photo shoot.

Steve: Oh yeah, that was a smart move.

Selena: So that’s a good moment of progress. I think he’s doing and saying a lot of things that may develop for him in a good way. If he’s just about baseball and being a baseball player, I think he has a lot of success to come.

Steve: Now I assume you’ve read all the criticisms about this book.

Selena: Oh yes.

Steve: Let me ask you this—if it was a male name on the front of this book, would the sports world and sports talk radio take it more seriously? To me, I think there is a level of sexism that exists in both.

Selena: Well, we’re a genderized society. You can’t get away from the fact that people look through things using a lens of gender. It doesn’t mean that it’s right or wrong or that we’re unequal, it just means that there’s a different lens that they use to look at different things. So certainly that goes on. But I have been the beneficiary—I’ve been in this business for 23 years, so it’s not like I just dropped in and did a book. A lot of people know me, and I have a pretty good reputation, I think, out there. Certainly people take shots. I was a columnist for five years at the New York Times, I took shots at other people too. I dissected people, I scrutinized people. So to have it come back on me, I can’t complain about it. Because I lived by that sword, I’m going to have to be happy when the sword is used against me, in some weird way. (Laughs) So I think that it’s fair play. Their opinions of me and the book are fair, because it comes from a place where they feel passion for it. And when you write about a polarizing figure like Alex, you’re going to get a polarizing response in return. I’m okay with it at the end of the day.

Steve: I was watching Baseball Tonight just before the publication date and they were talking about the allegations about A-Rod stealing signs. And it seemed like the former players on the show took that as more of a blow against the game than the steroids issue. Now when you were talking to people about that, did you get that impression from your sources that they had more problems with that than steroids?

Selena: Absolutely. Because here’s the thing—even though it was in blowout situations and it was no attempt to try and alter a game or anything else, it was like slump insurance. I got your back if you got my back, I’ll tip you if you tip me. If I’m 0 for 4 and it’s at the end of the season and nothing matters, help me out sort of thing. So it wasn’t something that was going to be this tangible deal that people were going to freak out about because it changed the game. But what it does is that it changes the dynamic in that clubhouse. It changes it for the guy who’s on the mound who’s just been called up at the end of the season. He’s a minor league prospect and he’s on the mound and a pitch-tipping thing is going on and the guy gives up a hit, it extends an inning. Something else happens and the next thing you know his ERA blows up. That’s the thing that gets guys crazy, because you are affecting your own teammates. You’re affecting the morale, you’re affecting the trust level, and you’re affecting the integrity of the game. All those kind of things are, for players, a far bigger issue than steroids. Because they feel even though steroids have altered the game in so many ways—it’s certainly altering the statistics—it’s a repercussion you’re going to have to live with later in your life for taking steroids. What will they do to your body later? Okay, you do that, you’re doing it to yourself. You tip a pitch, you’re killing everybody else. And I think that was the thing that kept coming across over and over again to me, and certainly has since the book came out.

Steve: One thing I find interesting about people’s reactions to the use of steroid by big-time players is that A-Rod sort of fessed up after your broke the news, and now people are looking for the “A-Rod makes a clean comeback angle,” yet Barry Bonds is the ultimate pariah in all of this. It’s kind of an interesting dichotomy between these two stories.

Selena: I think Barry had a different veneer than what Alex has. Barry was never accessible to people, he was a bit surly. He was a sort of “me against the world” kind of guy. And so there was a distance there with fans. Not the San Francisco fans, who loved him, there’s no doubt about that. But elsewhere there was that distance. With Alex, I think most people see him as, “Yes, he’s kind of a screwed-up guy, but he’s a vulnerable guy. He’s a guy who is not a bad person. And I think that’s very important to remember. He’s not a guy who goes into a bar and punches somebody else out. He’s a guy who’s complicated who has, yes, who has lied and who has cheated, but is very vulnerable because of it. And is someone who really wants to please. Barry never wanted to please people. Alex does. That’s the very root of his problem is so many ways—the exaggerated need to please people because he needs this exaggerated form of glory in return. So I think that people see Alex and they also see a guy and they want to be part of that comeback story. Fans have an incredible emotional connection to the wounded. And right now Alex is wounded. He’s wounded with the hip injury, he’s got an injured psyche, all those kind of things. And I think fans really love to be part of the comeback story. They want to be there roaring in the background when he hits the home run because they want to have a part in this comeback. And I think in New York they do it all the time. You may be vilified somewhere else, but you’re our guy. That’s where he is right now and I think it’s a healthy pace for him.

Steve: I wanted to ask you a question about your current job at Sports Illustrated. You were at the Times for a long time, and looking at the state of newspapers right now, did you make the jump to the magazine world at the right time?

Selena: You know, anything that probably lands on your lawn or in your mailbox like a magazine is in danger. So I might have jumped from the burning building to the sinking ship in so many ways. For me it was just a new window to look out of. I had been in the newspaper business my whole life, I had been at the Times for almost 12 years. So I just thought it was a good time to go and use some more muscles, different brain muscles, and do a different thing with writing. I don’t know if the business is going to—it’s going to survive in some way, I just don’t know which way. That goes for magazines as well. But timing wise, I guess some people might say that. But then I look around and magazines aren’t doing that great either. I think we’re all in a little bit of trouble. And I really think it is incumbent upon the leaders to come up with some sort of way to survive.

Steve: So with rushing to get this book done and all the press associated with it, do you have another book on the horizon? Or are you thinking, “You know what, I’m going to stay out of the spotlight for a bit?”

Selena: I have a margarita on the horizon. (Laughs) I think that’s what’s on the horizon for me right now, a nice little umbrella drink.

Steve Reynolds is the co-editor of Zisk, and would like to use this space to thank my co-worker John Weber in his assistance in making this and the Darryl Strawberry and Rusty Staub interviews in this issue happen. So if his Phillies repeat as World Series champs, I really can’t get that upset about it.

Jumpsteady! by Tim Hinely

Triples. We all love it when a player can get to the elusive third base on a hit. (The only thing better is an inside-the-park home run, which you can read about in my Willie Wilson article in Zisk # 12). I’m not sure who has the record for the most triples in a season and to be honest I’m too lazy to look it up [Editor’s note: we’re not that lazy, it’s Pittsburgh Pirate Chief Wilson with 36 in 1912] but Garry “Jumpsteady” Templeton had 50 in three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from the years 1977-1979 (18 in 1977, 13 in 1978 and 19 in 1979). It might not seem like a big deal now but it sure was back then. Wait a minute—it is a big deal even now. Heck, in a recent interview Garry called the triple, “The most exciting play in baseball.” Just for the record Templeton is 137th on the all-time triples list with 106. The all-time leader is Sam Crawford with 312. Most of the 158 players in the list are old timers so for more modern day players Templeton’s triples numbers are quite impressive.

Garry Lewis Templeton was born in Lockney, Texas on March 24th, 1956. He made his MLB debut on August 9th, 1976 as a shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals and from the get go this guy had some serious wheels. He was the first switch hitter to have 100 hits from each side of the plate and made the all star team in 1977 and 1979. He gained some notoriety in 1979 when, despite have better numbers than the two other N.L. shortstops, Larry Bowa and Dave Concepcion, Templeton was not selected to start the game and made his now famous quote, “If I ain’t startin’, I ain’t departin'.”

The middle finger. Things seemed to be going well for Templeton even into the 1980s though an incident on August 26th, 1981 soured the man in the minds and hearts of the Cardinals. Apparently during the game some guys had been heckling Templeton so at one point during the game he came out and flipped off the hecklers (at least one account says it was a crotch grab and not a one finger salute). Manager Whitey Herzog took him out of the game. At the end of the season Templeton was traded to the San Diego Padres for Ozzie Smith, a trade that excited players and fans for both teams. Though a knee injury slowed him down in San Diego he was one of the most popular players on the Padres and was team captain from 1984 on. He played with the Padres until 1990 and then was traded to the NY Mets for the 1991 season before calling it a day.

These days Templeton is manager for the Long Beach Armada of the Golden League. His stats probably will not get him the nod to Cooperstown but when some young buck approaches you and starts telling you about some Johnny Come Lately who hit double digits for triples in a season then say one word to them, “Jumpsteady.”

Tim Hinely has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan for as long as he can remember (he claims he once saw Honus Wagner play in person) and he has been publishing his own zine, DAGGER, for nearly as long. Check it out at

Why I Hate Fantasy Baseball or What's a Fan's Real Job by Jon Vafiadis

Root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame. It is a shame. The most exciting time in sports is when two fierce rivals are about to go head to head and the love of your team is equal to that of your hate of the opponents. Analyzing every bit of minutia, figuring out match ups, and vehemently booing their stars; the level of electricity in the air is unparalleled in any other facet of life. Unfortunately, it’s dying off. The strong willed, maniacal fanaticism of hating the opponents, regardless of rivalry is definitely waning. The culprit is none other than fantasy baseball.

All team sports are very tribal in the sense that your devotion is formed at a young age and determined by those around you. Your team is the best and rest either stink or suck depending on acceptable slang of your generation. Tribes left home and traveled to neighboring villages in an effort to pillage and return home victorious. As a member of the tribe you should be supporting and cheering on your tribe regardless of the likelihood of victory.

The beauty of being a fan is that you are a fan for life. The years of missing the playoffs become instantly worthwhile in that solitary championship moment. All the heartbreak gets washed away with an irremovable smile that lasts through the offseason. It’s the collectivism of it all that makes it so potent, and yet fans are happy to sacrifice all of that in an effort to waste time every day at the office.

Fantasy baseball takes away the potency of a home late inning loss when the opposing hitter hits a three run shot and happens to be on your fantasy team. Instead of a profanity laced rant about how the manager doesn’t know what he’s doing and that he should have pulled the closer two batters ago because he didn’t have it tonight, you respond with, “oh well, but at least that’s going to put me over the top for RBI and home runs this week.” The game isn’t the only thing lost, the sense of team and community is lost. Baseball is a team sport and by rooting for individuals over the team we lose the fundamental crux of the game. You root for the uniform, not the name on the back.

Inevitably at some point in your fantasy baseball career, due to the drafting process, you will end up with a star player from your most bitter of rivals. As a result you get emotionally invested in that player’s performance and the fervor you have against his team wanes ever so slightly. As the fantasy season progresses and he comes up bigger and bigger for you in weeks that you thought were lost, it wanes some more. The next thing you know it’s the end of the season and you are now you find yourself cheerfully ambivalent to your former rival thanks to the spectacular fantasy play of their stars.

At the end of the day I have to acknowledge that fantasy baseball has some beneficial side effects such as that it makes us better fans because we follow the games that we ordinarily wouldn’t or that we track stats with a Billy Beaneesque fervor. By becoming more knowledgeable fans, who are better informed, and more insightful with our sports talk radio calls we can spread that enthusiasm to kids and even convert casual fans to die hard fans. These are all great side effects but when it comes to competition it’s the passion or the heart that puts teams over the top. Similarly it’s what makes being a fan great, the irrationality of it all. There’s no need for complex analysis or detailed argument for who you root for, it’s simple really, root for your team and against all the rest. Fantasy baseball is slowly but surely destroying that and soon enough we’ll be forced to change the lyrics to “root, root, root for whoever is on my fantasy team, if they strike out it’s a shame.”

Jon Vafiadis has yet to fulfill either of his life long dreams of playing for the 1986 Mets or punching Tim McCarver in the face during a live broadcast.

Time May Change Me... by Mike Faloon & Steve Ryenolds

Overheard one afternoon at the Zisk office in midtown Manhattan…

Steve: So Mike, it’s the 10th anniversary of Zisk this summer. Can you believe it?

Mike: It’s amazing. If we keep this up, soon we’ll catch Go Metric in number of issues produced.

Steve: Wow. I never thought that would happen, especially after we survived that lawsuit from Barry Bonds back in 2000. I still can’t believe he sued you in an attempt to make sure you never attended one of his games ever again. He really thought you had cursed him.

Mike: Yeah, and now look—10 years later he’s the one in court. Jerk.

Steve: Indeed. It’s amazing how things have changed in baseball over the past decade.

Mike: Yeah, back in ’99 you could buy a ticket for Shea Stadium for under ten dollars. At Citi…dammit, Gil Hodges Stadium, they charge you 10 bucks just for saying “Jackie Robinson rotunda.”

Steve: You couldn’t pay me $10 to say something positive about this year’s Mets team. In ’99 the Mets had the most exciting team with the best infield in baseball—Olerud at first, Alfonzo and Ordonez up the middle and Robin Ventura at third. In ‘09 the Mets have the most exciting disabled list in baseball.

Mike: True, but it’s not all about the Mets. Remember how in 1999 people said that 36-year-old Jamie Moyer was over the hill? Now they say that 46-year-old Jamie Moyer is older than the hill.

Steve: He was just replaced in the Phillies’ rotation by Pedro Martinez.

Mike: A former Met, who led the team’s resurgence back in ’05 and ’06. Oy, the Mets. Let’s talk about another team.

Steve: How about their main rivals these days, the Phillies? Yeah, they never had to worry about Moyer using steroids to extend his career. Or how about the Cardinals? Back in 1999 St. Louis had a slugging first baseman that people figured was on steroids but just tried to ignore it. Right now St. Louis has a slugging first basemen….well, let’s just say people still want to ignore it.

Mike: Mets fans especially. Pujols kills them. What else was happening a decade ago when we started Zisk?

Steve: The Yankees were on their way to winning their second straight World Series crushing everyone in sight with a killer lineup that overshadowed their marginal pitching.

Mike: Except Mariano.

Steve: Who owned the Mets.

Mike: Still does. And Jeter. Killed the Mets back then.

Steve: Still does. Same with Chipper.

Mike: Lawrence may be the supreme Met killer. Is there anyone who doesn’t perform exceedingly well when facing the Mets?

Steve: Mo Vaughn. Roberto Alomar.

Mike: Who the Mets later acquired.

Steve: What about managers? Joe Torre’s moved on.

Mike: To the Dodgers, who are 5-1 against the Mets this year.

Steve: (slaps head) Have you ever seen Groundhog Day?