Friday, September 10, 2010

Issue #19 is up...and Santana is out

If you look to your right you'll see the link to get issue # 19.

And if you look to your left you'll see me laughing at the state of the Mets. A shoulder surgery for Johan Santana? When will the fun stop with this team?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The Mets team visit to Walter Reed Hospital Tuesday obviously had a large impact on the players (and the broadcasters, if the reaction by Gary, Keith, Ron and Kevin last night was any barometer).

Wait, let me change that to the players that went. Starting pitcher Dillon Gee was told not to go. The toxic contract twins, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, and Carlos Beltran did not. If there was ever a sign that not just the front office needs some housecleaning, the controversy stirred up by their absence made it clear to anyone that has watched the team.

Adam Rubin at ESPNNewYork has a great article on it. My favorite paragraph is this:

"Beltran responded after Wednesday's 3-2 rubber-game win against the Nationals that he had a conflict with planning for a high school in Puerto Rico he has pushed to build. Castillo suggested he was too squeamish. Perez declined to discuss the matter at all.

"You see people with no legs and with no arms, being in a hospital like that, I don't like to see that," Castillo said.

Said Perez: "I don't answer anything about outside the stadium.""


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Oh, Hi There.

Yeah, I totally slacked off on the blog. For like the entire season. Sorry about that.

I found it hard to muster up enthusiasm for baseball because 1) my fantasy team was about as mediocre as it could be and 2) the Mets, well, jeebus, what do you say. I retweeted something Twitter about this Mets team being the closest to .500 for the longest time of any Mets team and my friend Brian responded with, "Of course here in Pittsburgh... we dream to someday have an average baseball team." And he's right, I should be happy the Mets are not the Pirates. But I think I would take a team playing .400 for an entire season with a thought that there was a plan for a future as opposed to knowing the organization wasn't run by a total bunch of fucking morons from the top on down. The only good thing I can say is that Gary, Keith and Ron are still entertaining. (And listening to the radio call has gotten tougher because Wayne Hagin has become insufferable. Fire Wayne Hagin, indeed.)

So let me say now, in the blogosphere, that if there isn't some serious change in the way the organization is run (as in, clean house in the front office and the coaching staff and actually admit mistakes and not to put a positive spin on everything) AND Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo aren't gone from the 2011 opening day roster, I won't be rooting for the Mets next year. I'll just get the MLB extra innings package and watch the Red Sox instead of listening to the occasional game through my iPhone. No games at Citifield either. They won't be getting my money until they stop acting like jackasses.

Oh, hey, Zisk #19 is done, and it's got a whole lot on Ichiro. You should have your print copy soon. The online version will go up at some point this month.

Finally, a couple of random thoughts:

--This Keith Hernandez site is, well, odd.

--Even though the story was later shot down, heckling Omar Minaya on a plane is awesome. I would have done it for sure.

--Frank Deford just missed our deadline.

--This piece by Joe Sheehan makes me enjoy statheads even more.

--Lastly, SNY is doing a great service with their new online show, Kiner's Korner Revisited. Ralph Kiner has sounded great this year, which is amazing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zisk # 19

It's Begining to Look a Lot Like...Strasmas? by Dr. Nancy Golden

(Editor’s note: Dr. Golden wrote this story before Strasburg’s 2010 season was ended by an arm injury, requiring the dreaded Tommy John surgery. While we’re Mets fans and would normally cheer the news of an NL East opponent falling upon hard times, we feel baseball is much better off with Strasburg pitching every five days. We wish him nothing but the best and hope he returns to form in 2012.)
Us Nationals fans have so little to hope for. If it’s going to be over 90 degrees and stifling the entire month of July, let a cool breeze penetrate the sticky heat every couple of innings. If Teddy Roosevelt is going to win a mid-inning race, let it be a legitimate win against one of the other presidents, and not the Baltimore Oriole or the Geico Gecko. And if we’re going to suck, let us suck so exquisitely that we earn a first round draft pick who’s as good as we are bad. And let him actually sign with us.

And so hope has led us here. To the top of the 7th inning, with the entire sold-out stadium on its feet and chanting. “Ste-phen Stras-burg.” Clap, clap, clapclapclap. “Ste-phen Stras-burg” Clap, clap, clapclapclap. It was almost too much. Strike one! I wanted them to stop, to just be happy with what he had done so far. Strike two! To take some of the pressure off this kid and just let him—Strike three! And just like that, Stephen Strasburg had struck out the side. The last seven batters in fact. Fourteen in total. The stadium exploded into an ovation the whole city could hear. And as he walked back to the dugout, unlikely to return for the 8th inning with his pitch count at 94, we knew that Stephen Strasburg, last year’s stunning reward for our remarkable failure, had fulfilled our hopes. For tonight at least. And much more than a cool breeze ever could.

The major league debut of Stephen Strasburg was nothing less than a spectacle for Washington DC. The hype surrounding him since his first-round draft pick and eleventh hour signing could not have been more wonderfully over-the-top. Purported to be one of the sport’s best prospects ever (ever!), Strasburg was to be our very own superstar and the savior for whom we had been waiting to lead our team to greatness. As an All-American from San Diego State, his deeds were renowned. He accumulated a 0.63 conference ERA, struck out 23 batters in one game, and earned a bronze medal with two starts as the only collegiate player on the 2008 Olympic team.

And he once reversed the rotation of the earth to bring his girlfriend back from the dead.
When it finally came time for Strasburg’s major league debut, it was Christmas in June. It was Strasmas. The game sold out. Several times in fact. Every time the team released more seats, each with higher price tags and more strings attached. But the days-long dance of trying to catch the right announcement at the right time was completely worth it. Even the weather was in on it, dropping from a Code Red weekend of mid-90’s and high humidity to a crisp 75 and sunny by game time. Outside the stadium the streets swelled like no other Tuesday night. And inside the stadium, we lined up anxiously to get to our seats, and waited nervously as the National Anthem temporarily stopped the flow of traffic. A misdirected couple at the front of the line met the wrath of the masses when their hesitation slowed down our migration. Everyone wanted to be in position for the first pitch. We were here to witness the birth of an ace.

Though tonight he would finally make his major league debut, this was not the first time many of us had seen Stephen Strasburg pitch professional baseball. In an effort to prolong control of his rights, the Nats sent Strasburg on an early summer minor league tour. In a two-month span, he racked up a 7-2 record with a 1.30 ERA in 11 appearances. I saw him pitch for the Double A Harrisburg Senators in Pennsylvania after snatching up two of the last seats following the announcement of his start. Even before he threw a pitch, the one-hour rain delay (and subsequent 20-minute power outage) probably allowed Strasburg to generate enough revenue for that team to last the whole season—not a soul departed the stadium but instead drank beer, ate food, and bought t-shirts that we hoped would commemorate an historic wait. And when the grounds crew rolled the tarp back out after less than three innings of Stras-tainment, 95% of the crowd cleared out, knowing the object of their affection was unlikely to return to the mound.

But with his major league debut approaching, those bush league outings began to seem little more than diversions to distract us from the wait. So one month later back in DC, we held our collective breath, cameras poised, as Stephen Strasburg threw out his first big league pitch. For a ball. And then another ball. And then a line drive out by the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen. The crowd cheered in approval. Neil Walker stepped to the plate next. Ball one. OK, he’s just got the jitters. Ball two. The ump must need glasses! Ball three. Boooooo! Boo? BOO? Did we really boo? Thinking back now, it seems preposterous. Him being just negative 14 strikeouts from history at the time. And then, after a grounder to first for the second out, it came on the third batter, Lastings Milledge. Strike one - strike two - strike three swinging! We exhaled, so easily won over. We so wanted things to work out with this guy. We wanted him to go to prom with us, to take him home to meet our parents. We wanted him to be the real thing.

From that first strikeout, the rest of the evening flowed. Strasburg settled into a groove and the crowd reacted to his every pitch. The 100 mile per hour fast ball followed by the third strike curve clocked in at 83. After just three innings, I was already in love, if not quite ready to admit it. I leaned over to my friends, “This is really working out, huh?” As big of an understatement as has ever flowed from my lips. Strasburg even came close to a hit at his first at-bat, making his way to the plate to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” (Swoon, even his batting music rocked!) But when Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno made a great play to rob him of a single, we found that we really didn’t mind. For we were already thinking that when not actively pitching, perhaps Stephen Strasburg should be packed in bubble wrap and placed behind protective glass. And transported to his starts in the Popemobile. Like the Presidential motorcade, we’d bristle with annoyance when the Strasmobile held up traffic, but strain with reverence to get a good look.

Despite the evening’s obsession with fastballs and sliders, what you won’t glean from the pitching line—and what made it truly a fan’s game—is that it was more than just a great performance by an individual, but an actual contest. It was a game of dueling homeruns that wasn’t decided until the end. Ryan Zimmerman, unwilling to be shown up by the new kid on the block, homered in his first at-bat to give the Nats a second inning advantage and assure the crowed that he would not so readily relinquish the title of hometown hero. Stras allowed the first two batters to reach base in the 4th, and ultimately lost the lead on a two-run homerun later in the inning. And we waited nervously until our team scored again in the 6th—and allowed our hero to have a shot at earning a W for his gem—on a two-run go-ahead shot by Adam Dunn. Josh Willingham rounded out the inning with yet another homerun in a rare showcase of Nats power, played out of a rare stage.

But Strasburg had the last word, maintaining the sluggers’ lead with no further signs of life from the opposition. Wrapped up in the emotion of the game, I found that by that 14th strikeout, I was no longer afraid to express my feelings. A bandwagon had arrived, and I needed to get on it. Finally willing to leave our seats with the certainty of a pitching change on the horizon, we made our way to a very long line at the team store, where the supply of Strasburg t-shirts had already been picked over and depleted. In fact, so many #37 shirts were sold that night that I was asked during the return trip home on the Metro if it had been free t-shirt night at the ballpark. The game ended in an efficient two hours and 19 minutes, with our man securing a new Nats single game strikeout record and gaining his first win on four hits, no walks, and two runs. But when the final out was recorded, nobody left. We stayed for the fireworks, for the interview, and for the pie in the face. We stayed for that tradition unique to DC, the donning of the silver Elvis wig. Outside the stadium, drivers honked their horns and friends randomly slapped each other on the back, “How great was that?” Rarely do things live up to the hype and expectation, and almost never do they exceed it.

It wouldn’t be until tomorrow that we would realize the rest of the world had been watching. Tomorrow there would be David Letterman and Sports Illustrated and personal reflection by every sports writer in the nation. There would be Strasburgers on the local menus and early debates about the All-Star game. But tonight it was still parking lot celebrations and lingering in the stands and extra-long walks to the metro and planning how we would retell it at the office in the morning. How would I retell it? I’d gather my coworkers, sit them down in a semi-circle, and retell it like this if I thought they’d listen. But in the interest of time, I’d tell people that it was better than Opening Day and the playoffs combined. And Obama throwing out the first pitch. It was anxiety replaced with joy, hope replaced with satisfaction. But that didn’t really capture it. For it was like nothing I’d experienced before. So much so that it required a whole new adjective to describe it. It was Strastastic. Wholly and uniquely Strastastic.

Dr. Nancy Golden spent part of her summer rescuing animals impacted by the BP oil spill. The editors of Zisk applaud her efforts—and are pretty sure than no one else on the staff has done something that noble this year.

Save You, Save Me: Our Relievers Doubleheader by Steve Reynolds

As the role of the reliever has become more specialized (I remember when LOOGY stood for something I hacked up after a night of being in smoky bars until 7a.m.), their place in the game has become more scrutinized and discussed. Of course, this had to lead to books about the position. I had the opportunity to talk to two former relievers about their book projects this year. Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams wrote a book about his career and his thoughts on how the game has evolved in Straight Talk From Wild Thing (Triumph). Former all-time saves leader Lee Smith wrote the forward to (and was a primary source for) Fireman: The Evolution of the Closer in Baseball by Fran Zimniuch. In speaking with them both, I couldn’t help but think how their personalities came across in the media during their career were almost exactly how they seemed over the phone. Williams came off as a no-nonsense, get right to the point kind of guy, while Smith was more reserved and a bit more thoughtful about the game.

Nicknames Can Hurt: The Mitch Williams Interview
(I spoke with Williams the day after opening day, which he had covered as an analyst for the MLB Network.—SR)

Zisk: Do you still get excited on opening day, even though you’re a part of the media now?

Williams: Absolutely. I get just as wound up every year on opening day now as I did when I was a player. It’s just something— when you played the game, you don’t ever lose that. I was absolutely excited yesterday when it all kicked off.

Zisk: Does the adrenaline kick in when you know it’s here, even though you won’t be taking the field? Do you wake up earlier on that day?

Williams: Well I get up early pretty much every day, so it’s not like when you were a player you don’t get the adrenaline rush. But you get that excited feeling obviously because it’s a sport we love.

Zisk: In the book you talk how you got your nickname “Wild Thing.” Do you think that having a nickname based upon what someone thought of your pitching style hurt you when you tried to get major league coaching jobs after you retired? I know you did work as a coach for an independent league team for a while. Did the image that nickname portrayed become a negative in the eyes of major league organizations?

Williams: Absolutely. You have the nickname “Wild Thing” they’re not going to be beating your door down to teach their young pitchers the mechanics of the position. And the one thing I know—and I know for sure—is the mechanics of the position. I know how to throw a baseball. I know how to throw a baseball correctly. I know how to teach how to throw a baseball correctly to keep kids from hurting their arms. But with that nickname, there’s not going to be a lot of people wanting you to teach their kids. And until you have the opportunity to sit down and talk with somebody to explain the mechanics of the position and that you do know them, they won’t know what you can do. I spent 11 years in the big leagues and never got stiff or sore. I know how to throw the ball correctly. But the nickname absolutely hurt me in that aspect.

Zisk: If you were offered a job as a pitching coach for a major league team, would you do that now? Would you give up the media career you’ve built up right now?

Williams: You know…I don’t know. I honestly couldn’t answer that question. It would all depend on the job and where it would be, because I love what I’m doing now and it would have to be somewhere pretty special for me to leave what I’m doing.

Zisk: In Straight Talk you dive into how pitch counts have had a dramatic impact on today’s game. When did it really start? Did they become a factor when you were playing?

Williams: When I first got to the minor leagues it wasn’t so low. They didn’t want you going out there and throwing forever. I remember getting taken out of a no hitter in the 5th inning with 155 pitches in the minors.

Zisk: Holy crap.

Williams: I just never believed in the pitch count. If you throw mechanically right you can throw all day. And it just teaches kids now—it’s a mental thing. It’s a mental block for them. A manger will go to the mound and say, ‘How do you feel?’ And they don’t say, ‘Fine. I feel good. How many pitches have I thrown?’ It doesn’t matter how many pitches you have thrown. It’s how do you feel. I’ve always believed that the other team will let you know when you’re tired because they’ll start beating your brains in. It’s that simple.

Zisk: What was it like making the transition to the other side of the microphone? When you first started on air in Philadelphia and now on the MLB Network, did you ever feel like you had to restrain what you said? When I watch you on MLB Tonight, it seems like you don’t hold back and shoot from the hip much of the time. It doesn’t seem like you’re holding anything back.

Williams: No, definitely not. The only thing I concerned myself with is that I don’t ever want to forget that I played the game. And it’s a difficult game. I will never attack a player personally. I’ll never question his integrity, what he tried to get done or anything like that. I’m going to analyze what is in front of me. And I’m gonna tell the truth. If I see something that happened that shouldn’t have happened, I will say it should not have happened. I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘Oh, he tried to do it this way on purpose and it wrong and his whole thought process was wrong.’ You can’t do that. All you can do is analyze is what’s in front of you and give an honest analysis of the game.

Zisk: One final question—we’re doing a special issue marking a decade of Ichiro and Albert Pujols playing in the major leagues. How you would pitch to each of them if you were playing today?

Williams: Well Ichiro I would go at him like I would any other lefthander. Albert Pujols, he’s either going to swing at balls or he’s going to walk, period. I’m not going to give him anything that he could possibly hit a home run. That’s how I would approach him. I would try to get ahead of him in the count and then expand the strike zone. And then he either swings at balls or he walks.

Zisk: Do you ever shake your head watching some pitchers approach Pujols? Like you think yourself, “What are they doing?”

Williams: (Laughs) Oh yeah, absolutely. There really is no one way to go at him. So you have to continually change up how you’re going to go at him. And if you do have to pitch to him, you better know where his nitro zone is—and where he can do the least amount of damage.

Biding My Time: The Lee Smith Interview

Zisk: One of the things I didn’t know about your career before I read the book is that you didn’t want to become a reliever, and that you actually quit baseball because of it.

Smith: Yeah, I did and was going to play college basketball. But Billy Williams visited me and talked me into coming back. The Cubbies wanted me to be relief pitcher and they wanted me to throw sidearm. And the one thing that bothered me was that I didn’t know if my arm would snap back day in and day out. Luckily it did, and the rest is history.

Zisk: The transition from being a starter to a reliever, is it more on the mental side of things? Or is it the physical toll, like you talked about worrying about your arm day after day.

Smith: It’s definitely more on the mental side of things. You have to go out there day in and day out and think about getting major league hitters out. As a starter you’ve got three or four days to prepare for a full lineup. And after a while, I finally got to a point where I knew how much to throw to be ready each day. Because as a reliever, as you well know, you can throw three or four days in a row and not even pitch in a game. Some mangers might think, ‘Man, you had three days off.” And I’m like, ‘No, I’ve been warming up in the bullpen every time you call down there.’ So you’ve got to learn how much warming up you need to do before you go into the game.

Zisk: Was there a certain point in your career where you thought, ‘Okay, I am a reliever and I’ve got the right mental approach down.’

Smith: I think in 1987 at the All-Star Game in Oakland that happened. I struck out Mark McGwire, and I guess that’s where the recognition started that I was one of their premiere closers in the game. And it was around that time that I really embraced being a closer. I thought, ‘Man, I like this job.’ That’s because up until that point, I was always thinking about trying to get back into the rotation. But thank God I never did. I had always dreamed of following in the footsteps of great pitchers like Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins. I always wanted to be that because in that era, the only way to get recognition was to be a starting pitcher.

Zisk: You mention Fergie Jenkins in your forward and in you interview in the book. What kind of impact did he have on you as a baseball player?

Smith: He was my mentor on and off the field. I loved the way he pitched. As a matter of fact, Fergie Jenkins taught me a curveball because I was going to be a starting pitcher. And once I started closing our manager Jim Frey said, ‘Hey, you don’t need a curveball. You don’t need two breaking balls, you just need one.’ So I ended up throwing a slider, a two seam fastball and a four seam fastball, and then I ended up throwing a forkball towards the end of my career. But back to Fergie, wow, he taught me so much. He even talked me into wearing cowboy boots. Now what does a Canadian dude know about wearing cowboy boots? (Laughs) I really liked rooming with him because he would talk to me about looking at hitters in key situations and how to pitch to them in a game. But it was so different for him, being a starter. He could throw some of his secondary pitches in the fourth inning and it wouldn’t hurt him. But if I tried to go out their and throw a get-me-over slider I with the first pitch of 9th inning, it might not be a good idea. I took what he told me and applied it to my role. I used it for on the job training. I prided myself on my control, and that’s what Fergie was great in helping me with against hitters.

Zisk: When Jim Frey told you to ditch the curveball, were you pretty confident in it at that point?

Smith: Oh yeah. Heck, Fergie even told me he thought I had a better curveball than a slider. But it was the right move. If you’re at Wrigley Field early in the season and its 30 degrees and the wind’s whipping, you want to go with what you can control best. The slider was that pitch that I could control the best at that time. If I missed with a one curveball on a day like that because I couldn’t grip the ball, you knew that the game was over. But Fergie always thought I had a better curveball than a slider.

Zisk: Do you remember your first official save?

Smith: Yes I do. I got one save in 1981 against the Dodgers. And you know what, I didn’t keep the ball. I probably had at least 150 saves that I never kept the balls for. I used to always throw them in the stands to the kids after the game. Kids are going to remember that more than adults would. There was this one kid I threw a ball to that now works at a restaurant outside Danbury, Connecticut. We crossed paths again recently and he brought the ball for me to sign—and he’s 45 years old now! And the ball was all yellow!

Zisk: Your career kind of bridges the gap between when closers would go for multiple innings to the way it is today where its one inning and they’re done. Did you like that transition? Did it extend your career?

Smith: When I first started I always wanted to pitch more than an inning. I wanted to pitch those last three innings with the game on the line. The closer back then got more of an opportunity than the closer of today get because we would go in with the scored tied and if we held them, we could get a win. I went in in probably about 100 games for the Cubs where we were down by a couple of runs in the 7th or 8th inning. But when you’re playing at Wrigley Field, a couple of runs mean nothing. (Laughs.) That was what I liked when I first started, getting the chance to win the game for your team when it was close, even if you were losing.

Zisk: The cover of the book features a picture of Mariano Rivera, who has been the dominant closer for the past 13 years or so. Is there anyone else that you would pick out as a reliever that stands above the rest during that time period?

Smith: Well, Rivera is the perfect guy to be on the cover. He’s unbelievable. But I can’t go without giving my buddy Trevor Hoffman a lot of credit. His changeup has been devastating for so long and he’s such a class act. If I had to pick someone that could last as long as the two of them, I’d say Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox has a chance to do that if he stays healthy.

Zisk: You’re currently working as a roving pitcher instructor for the Giants, and I’ve always wondered, what exactly does that job entail? Do they say, ‘We have these pitchers we’d like you to work with,” or do you just pick a different minor league affiliate to go to for a while? Explain to me how your job works.

Smith: Basically my job is that I go out through the entire organization, look at all the young pitchers and examine their mechanics and try to determine if they’re better suited as a starter or as a reliever. There’s so many guys now drafted as a closer out of college, but you can’t have a closer throwing 84 miles per hour. He might have been a closer for Southwest Missouri State, but he’s not going to close for San Francisco. So my job is to identify the strengths, teach them how to pitch out of certain situations and put them in them in a position—and the right league—to succeed.

Zisk: There’s been a lot of talk over the past five years about what it will take to get closers into the Hall of Fame. Your votes have gone up every year since you were first eligible. Are you in the mindset of, ‘What’s taking so long,’ or do you think it will happen eventually? It seems like the writers haven’t respected the impact closers have had on the game the past three decades.

Smith: I think you’ve summed it up right there. (Laughs) I don’t know how the writers think when they vote each year. It seems to me they only want one or two guys in each year. I mean, the NFL has seven per year. But to be honest, I’m okay biding my time. I mean, just to have your name on the ballot with all these great players is a great honor. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it. When you go there and look at all the greats, many of whom I never got to see play, and just look at their accomplishments. And to even be considered for that place, wow man. I mean, I came from a hometown that had a high school graduating class of 26 at one point. It was small. And to now be thought of as having a chance to go into the Hall of Fame, it’s a good feeling, you know? I do have to say that I don’t understand how the voting works. I mean, look at Bert Blyleven. I think he must have done something so bad that it’s kept both of us out. (Laughs)

The Night Boog Bodyslammed Hondo by Tim Hinely

It was nearing the end of the 1969 season when the two titans of the American League, John Wesley “Boog” Powell (at 6’ 4” and 230 lbs.) and Frank “Hondo” Howard (at 6’ 7”, 260 lbs) couldn’t agree. Over beers in a Washington, DC pub, The Hungry Lion, on a hot August night, they were ready to come to blows. The Baltimore Orioles were just up the road playing their rivals the Washington Senators. The Senators won 7-6. Both Howard and Powell slugged two home runs each and when all was said and done, the two friends retired to their favorite watering hole to share a good time.

As the story goes, they pounded 13 beers each, could barely stand and were ready to come to fisticuffs when a mutual friend, John Sprague, stepped in and broke the two pickled behemoths up. Sprague suggested the two step into the squared circle to settle their differences with a wrestling match. They agreed but Sprague thought it was all drunken chatter and would be forgotten the next day. That was not the case.

The following day, a day off for both players, they each called Sprague and asked to set up the match. He would build the hype and both Howard and Powell thought that maybe they could each earn a little money. Smith had some connections and before you knew it the two physically biggest players in major league baseball were all set to wrestle in our nation’s capitol at the old 9:30 Club (a rock venue!) on a Saturday in October following the baseball season (since neither team was in playoff contention).

They scoffed when asked what their training regimen would be. Training regimen?! “I’ll see if I can drink more beer each night!” snorted Howard while Powell concurred, “This gut will be no smaller by fight time.” Finally the night came. In the front row at the club ready to watch these two heavies rip each other’s heads off was their biggest fan, Yogi Berra, as well as plenty of hard-working, blue collar Washingtonians ready for a night of hard drinking and pure entertainment. Most thought that Howard, by his sheer size alone, would get the job done. The match was one fall and set to be 60 minutes. Someone was going to come out a winner and someone a loser.

The bell rang. The two came out and shook hands and the grappling began. Both were wearing the sleeveless wrestling suit (you know the kind), Hondo’s was black while Boog’s was a shade of red brighter than his hair with white stripes. With Powell facing the crowd and raising his hands and accepting the cheers, Howard sucker punched him, knocking him to the mat. The boos began to rain down on Howard but he didn’t seem to care. He threw out some vulgar hand gestures to the fans which made them boo even louder. Powell, meanwhile, was slow to get up and a cut had opened on the back of his head where Hondo had clocked him.

Hondo shouted in his ear, “Hey Boog, I nailed your old lady last night!” and then put a few well-meaning kicks into Powell’s left ribs. Powell got to his feet and with the crowd chanting “Boog! Boog! Boog!” Powell raised his hands as a show of force and was recharged. He went after Howard shouting, “You always were a crude sumbitch, Hondo!” before first getting him into a headlock and then tossing him off the ropes and giving him a clothesline maneuver which laid Howard flat on his back. Powell then whispered “Nighty night” in his ear and dropped a few atomic skull crushers onto Howard’s head while he was still down on the mat.

At that point Howard’s manager, Ted Williams came into the ring with a chair, attempting to blast Boog with it but Powell caught the chair in mid-swing, turned the tables and nailed Williams on the head while the crowd, led by Boog’s manager, the feisty Earl Weaver, roared with approval. Blood streamed down Howard’s forehead. He pleaded with Powell not to hit him anymore and in a moment of pity Howard kicked Boog right in the groin, sending Powell to his knees. Howard went to work on Powell with a series of punches, chops and kicks. Powell, down and nearly out, gathered up all of the strength he had and came back, thwapping Howard with a series of punches and kicks. With Howard down, Boog pounded Howard with a powerful knee right to Howard’s neck. Boog then did the seemingly unthinkable, he climbed up to the top rope and, while the crowd was going bananas, leaped off the rope with a knee to Howard’s skull. The crowd was loving it, seeing the suddenly unfair and dirty Howard get his just desserts. Then, pulling off a finishing move as if he invented it, Powell scooped up Howard attempting to body slam him.

Powell struggled at first, but the crowd chanted and he slowly lifted his opponent. Finally, he had Howard up over his head, blurted out, “I’m buyin’ the beers tonight, Frank,” and then tossed him down with a ferocious body slam. Powell climbed on top of a stunned, dazed and defeated Howard while the ref did the three-count. Powell was victorious!

The match was over, Boog was victorious and the crowd continued chanting “Boog! Boog! Boog!” Howard and Williams sat in the corner of the ring, dazed and astonished. The classier Powell walked past them on his way out of the ring and extended his hand. Howard refused and the two baseball titans never spoke again.

Tim Hinely wishes he was the referee for the Boog/Hondo fight. And he still lives in Portland, Oregon. And still publishes DAGGER zine.

The Hidden Superstar: A Zisk Special on Ichiro

In August of 2009 I found myself watching some West Coast baseball, as the Yankees were playing the Mariners at Safeco Field. And, as I found myself doing rather frequently after I joined the iPhone cult, I was scrolling through Twitter and making an occasional post. New York Times Yankee beat writer (now their national baseball writer) Tyler Kepner tweeted a comment about Ichiro Suzuki being the only player that could have hit a certain pitch. I responded to him by asking, “Ichiro has to be a first ballot hall of famer, even if he doesn't make 3000 hits, right?” Kepner responded by saying the outfielder definitely was in his mind. I tweeted back to him, “Good to know. I hope there's no ‘East Coast’ bias when he is up for election.”

That exchange got me thinking about the Hall of Fame and how Ichiro and Albert Pujols would both qualify for entry once they started their tenth seasons this year. So I hatched a crazy idea to compile thoughts from our writers about these two players who have been considered by many to be among the best of the past decade. My suggestion yielded very little on the Pujols front (our long-time contributor Jeff Herz goes into some detail about Pujols in his piece below), but people seem to be passionate (either positively or negatively) about Japan’s greatest export to our favorite game. So what follows are five takes on Ichiro, his place on the game, his Hall of Fame of potential and his seemingly endless amount of quirks.

(Note: The articles by John Shiffert and Jeff Herz from this issue are not online because the graphic tables they used ended up looking like crap when I tried to post them here. Hopefully I'll be able to rectify that at some point. And when I do, they'll be up here.)

Is Ichiro The New J.D. Salinger? by Arne Christensen

Toward the end of the 2009 season, as Ichiro neared new milestones in his career, Arne Christensen and David Shields talked about Ichiro's style, his personality, and his abilities as a ballplayer. In summer 2001, Shields compiled a book of Ichiro quotations, Baseball is Just Baseball, and also wrote a profile of Ichiro for the New York Times Magazine. Their exchange, which continued into this year, describes Shields' changed perspective on Ichiro eight years later, with his status as American superstar and future Hall of Famer firmly established. With Ichiro in his tenth season in Seattle, here's Shields and Christensen on Ichiro as pop icon, intensely focused performer, and deeply layered persona.

Arne: A little while ago, I did a keyword search for Ichiro and J.D. Salinger, and I found a quote from Ichiro in 2007: “I hate being touched by other people, so rather than being touched, I’d rather run away from them.”

Salinger, the recluse, was the guy you’d expect to have said this, not Ichiro the ballplayer. But it occurred to me that with both men, much of their appeal is their inaccessibility: each utters gnomic statements, either through the press or in his books, and has a hidden private life. But he’s not completely closed off: Ichiro waves to the bleacher fans at the start of each game; Salinger very occasionally met one of his fans. They both also seem extremely dedicated to their crafts.

David: I would never have thought of equating Ichiro and Salinger, but I think that’s a great connection, Arne. Look at how Ichiro ran away from his teammates when they wanted to mob him after his walk-off single against Chicago on September 17th, 2009. Ichiro literally ran away from them. Salinger, at age 90 or so, was more figuratively running away from fans. But for whatever reason both are constructed this way, and it seems obvious to me that their art and craft, their entire personality, depend upon this isolation.

Arne: At a game last August, I sat behind Ichiro, in the right field bleachers at Safeco, for the first time. I noticed how casual his glove wave to the crowd at the start of a game is: very unassuming, more like saying “hi” than an acknowledgement of adulation. It made me want to wave “hi” back, not start cheering, ranting, bowing, or booing him. Ichiro has a lot of devoted fans, but he’s a very quiet superstar.

David: Right, but I wouldn’t want to mistake his posture for humility. He’s unbelievably proud, somewhat vain, self-obsessed, selfish, etc. It’s more a cultural style than anything else. My friend David Xiao explained to me that in the East one expresses oneself by the degree to which one erases one’s personality, whereas in the West one expresses oneself by brandishing one’s personality. Ichiro’s cultural style is to express himself by a kind of self-erasure. He complicates this, though, in all sorts of ways, which I’ll talk about later.

Arne: Another thing you notice from the bleachers is that Ichiro’s continually stretching in right field: bending from the waist, flexing his arms, swiveling his body, adjusting his stirrup socks, etc. He doesn’t really fidget, though: his movements have a purpose.

David: To me, he’s very much a person who doesn’t want to waste his life or any moments in his life. Think of the hours other outfielders waste by just standing there. Ichiro is doing all sorts of stretches, in preparation for his next at-bat, next catch, throw, run, etc. I don’t know if this is still true, but he used to not watch TV, in order to preserve his eyesight. He’s very “American” in that way—very Ben Franklin, very utilitarian, hyper-practical, “useful.”

Arne: Also, he doesn’t ever seem to sweat: maybe I haven’t watched Ichiro closely enough, because he must sweat on muggy days in Texas or Kansas City, but he literally always looks cool. When he’s running, he reaches high speed very quickly, but he’s not pressing or straining, just cutting at the ground smoothly and cleanly, with no wasted effort.

David: This gives me a chance to tell my Kansas-City-in-summer story. Bob Costas asked him what his favorite American expression is, and he said, “Kansas City in August—hotter than two rats in a fucking wool sock.” Costas and the crew broke up, of course, and Ichiro delighted in shocking them. But then he took away the shock and returned to Polite Japanese Zen Artist by saying, “I have a very bad teammate,” e.g., Griffey or whoever told him the story. He seems to relish traipsing back and forth across the boundaries by which people attempt to know him and define him. I also like that he blew the joke. It should be “hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock.” Did he know the joke and clean it up for Costas, or did he get it slightly wrong?

Arne: There’ve been rumblings from time to time about Ichiro as a selfish player, who doesn’t go all out for balls, doesn’t try to fit in with his teammates, doesn’t really provide leadership. What’s your take on that issue?

David: I actually think it’s a fair criticism, don’t you? He’s a very rational person, highly calculating. And I think he figures what is the point of catching a single ball and breaking my leg and being out for six months? Whereas the American model is more Griffey: watch me go crashing into the wall and be out for half the year, but show you what a man I am. It’s very complicated and very interesting. I respect Ichiro’s approach, but I can see how it’s a complex fit between Ichiro and American athletes. Also, he’s hugely anti rah-rah, so he’s not going to get up there and shout, “Go, team.”

Arne: One of the things that comes across in your 2001 book on Ichiro is his ability to block out the white noise and concentrate on the ball. He very rarely looks or turns away from the field. And at one point in the game, with Ichiro in the on-deck circle, a foul ball came screaming maybe five feet over his head. Ichiro didn’t flinch.

David: That’s Ichiro, isn’t it? Somewhere in my forthcoming book Reality Hunger: a Manifesto, I talk about how Ichiro doesn’t just look the ball into his glove. He really, really, really looks the ball into his glove. It’s one of the most important things I’ve learned from him and tried to incorporate into my life and my work: this sense of being not just present but really, really, really present. Once, sitting in the right field bleachers, I saw a contingent of eight or so screaming Japanese girls, clearly dying for Ichiro to acknowledge them somehow, and he just never turned his body toward the stands. I love your story about the ball coming so near him but Ichiro not flinching. Laser vision.


Arne: Ichiro’s statistics have been very consistent for an entire decade: power, average, walks, fielding—they’ve all remained within a pretty narrow range. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down or playing differently than he was in 2001, or probably even 1994, his first full year in Japan. I suppose that comes from his dedication.

David: Sure, of course; that seems a huge part of his success: his stretching, his diet, his eye exercises, his batting practice, etc, etc. Ichiro’s so thin, you don’t expect him to be durable. But he trains so much, he disciplines his body so much, that there’s no spare fat, everything’s taut and supple, he doesn’t get muscle pulls, strains, etc. And have you ever watched him in batting practice? If he wants, he can hit ten balls in a row out.

Arne: I was looking at some of the old stories from 2001. When Ichiro had the coins thrown at him in Oakland, he said, “Something came out of the sky and hit me” and “I couldn’t tell if it was rain or money coming down” and he also said that once in Japan, “The gods threw an aluminum can at me.” Jay Buhner, the guy he was replacing, talked about counting up the change the fans threw at him, complained about having to dodge coins, and said, “Some fans just resent the idea some players make a lot of money."

David: I think that line may have been the one that convinced me I had to put together a book of quotations by and about Ichiro. It is just completely brilliant; it shows why Ichiro charms so many people who are turned off by other major leaguers. Ichiro was disarming, irreverent, whimsical, whereas Buhner was literal, obvious.

My daughter is now 16 and can take care of herself just fine, thank you, but when she was little, especially perhaps since she’s an “only child,” she wasn’t great at dealing with teasing of any kind at school. Now she’s a great teaser-back, and I frequently used this line of Ichiro’s to explain how you have to change the conversation. You can’t stay on topic. You have to empty out the anger and return it as comedy. Ten years ago, I wrote a book partly about Gary Payton, and I see some odd parallels between the two of them. As different as they are, both are beautifully incapable of staying within sportswriter cliché.

Arne: Speaking of clichés, the “overcoming adversity” trope knows no limits in athletics. Last September vs. the Yankees, Ichiro looked probably bad as he’s ever looked at Safeco, getting picked off twice in a row by a right-hander. Then he came up at game’s end and hit one out on Mariano Rivera to turn a 2-1 loss into a 3-2 win.

David: To me, it comes back again to his extraordinary craftsmanship. He is extremely rational, analytical. It’s never about adversity, etc. It’s all about making adjustments. He’s never not thinking about adjustments. When his swing’s off, Ichiro looks miserable, like all he can do is hit two-hop groundouts. But it only lasts for a game or two, then he’s right back to gathering his two hits a night. His attitude doesn’t change in response to his statistics. And, he never talks about “adversity”; he doesn’t respond to the ups and downs with those clichés about pressing, staying focused, “one day at a time,” etc. It reminds me somehow of what Hemingway did after World War I: all those big words were meaningless and his writing was about emptying out “honor,” “glory,” “country,” “patriotism,” “sacrifice,” etc., and returning himself and the reader to the vivid present. Ichiro is not post-war, but he is post-modern, post-ideology, and he is hugely about the exact moment.

Arne: When Ken Griffey Jr. came back to Seattle, there was a lot of talk about how he broke the ice for Ichiro, loosening him up, taking away the attention, making it easier for Ichiro to just be in the clubhouse. Griffey had regular tickling sessions with him; they apparently did a lot of roughhousing, clubhouse humor, etc. Ichiro seemed to like it, but he didn’t initiate it himself. He said, “In Japan, all relationships are respectful, so no one would ever do that to me. If someone else did it here, I’d probably punch them in the face.”

David: That is an interesting line by Ichiro, and it suggests the depth of his feeling on the subject. It makes me feel that Ichiro may not adore the tickling—remember again how he ran out to center field when teammates came to congratulate him after walk-off single—but he has this abiding respect of Griffey. It’s an interesting question, isn’t it, re: Griffey? Did Ichiro truly like it, or did he have to put up with it because it’s Griffey? There’s a great video of Griffey throwing his glove at Ichiro, and Ichiro genuinely seems delighted—great acting?

Arne: It seems like Ichiro wanted that sort of loose atmosphere Griffey provided, but he’s not comfortable trying to create it. Sure, he’s a huge Griffey fan, that’s why he let the tickling happen. But there’s also his self-regard, and he comes from Japan: he doesn’t pick up on the culture and behavior cues that are second nature for Griffey, who’s been around major leaguers since infancy.

David: I think obviously this has much to do with cultural styles: American slap-happy jocular jocks v. a more understated Japanese style. What’s fascinating to me is the way Ichiro plays with these styles—sometimes crossing the boundaries, sometimes not, really insisting that he is not knowable. It reminds me somehow of Todd Haynes’s film about Bob Dylan, I’m Not There; in a sense, Ichiro, too, is not there, or if he is there, he is there fleetingly before he’s off to another “there.”

Arne: Ichiro’s the guy you pay attention to at Safeco Field: no one else really commands your interest. How do you compare him to Griffey in the ‘90s?

David: It was amazing to watch Griffey in the early to mid-‘90s, wasn’t it—when he was at his peak? Your entire evening would be structured around his at-bats. The two players feel so different. I seem to want to compare them to different food groups. Griffey moved me in certain ways that Ichiro might not. When Griffey scored in game 5 vs. NY in ‘95 (I was there—really!), I hollered and cried for what felt like hours.

Arne: To what extent do you think Ichiro is playing with the media, and his fans, by presenting all his gnomic statements? At this point it’s so established you’d be much more surprised if he gave the standard flat, clichéd answer than by another weird statement from him.

David: He is definitely playing with people’s perceptions (as I tried to imply above). It’s central to who he is and it’s closely related to his game: in the same way, he gets into our heads, the heads of fans, he gets into the heads of pitchers. It’s the same M.O. You can’t predict what he’s going to do with each pitch. I must say I’m curious whether he ever perused Baseball is Just Baseball and it pushed him toward more consistently gnomic statements. I’d like to think maybe so, but who knows? In any case, he’s definitely aware that these one-off quotes are what’s expected from him.

Arne: Ichiro’s clearly a big hip-hop and rap fan. At that August game I went to, the one time he really looked away from the field was in the 8th inning, when he looked up at the video board, where fans were dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”; during the same game, the video board told us his favorite song is “Ain’t Nuthin But a G Thang.” He uses tracks from Flo Rida for his introductory songs at bat. From what I’ve heard, in Japan he’s not seen as a Zen prototype, just as an extraordinary player and pop culture icon.

David: I think that’s a better way to see him. What interests me a great deal is the way in which layer after layer of other prototypes intermix, the way in which he’s infinitely unknowable, and how important it is for him to remain so. He’s obsessed with resisting your definition of him.

Arne: What’s your essential summary of Ichiro? What would say is the core of what he does and who he is? He strikes me as finally just a ballplayer, someone who virtually every day is either practicing or playing.

David: I think of him mainly as an unusually devoted and perfectionistic craftsman. He often says, “I’m batting .360. Why am I not batting .380?”

Arne: What are your thoughts on Ichiro’s historical position? It’s apparently very important to him that he rank among the very best players. My guess is he came to the U.S. in 2001 to prove himself at a higher level than the Japanese leagues, and he’s done that, but the fear of declining and failing still keeps him dedicated to his game.

David: Last year it suddenly became a given that he is a lock to be in the Hall of Fame. Something switched over. It was no longer a question. I always think about something Mike Cameron told me: the second baseman would move over six feet to bird-dog the runner back to the base, and Ichiro would hit the ball exactly to the spot that the second baseman had just vacated. How could a human being possibly do that? That’s the question I want to keep thinking about from now until the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Arne: The Mariners are going through another woeful year, and Ichiro is once again registering a .300+ batting average for a sub-.500 team. Don’t you think he gets the urge to call out his teammates and the Mariners management, in public or in private, for their failure to commit and perform up to his standards? Especially since he’s been criticized repeatedly for not being a team player, but seems to never criticize his teammates to the media.

David: I think it’s one of the most interesting things about Ichiro. One could say that he is loyal to the Japanese owner of the team, and that is certainly part of it, but I think there is a large part of him—it was true of him when he was in Japan—who likes to play for a small-market team, prefers to play for a team that is low-key, perhaps unsuccessful, and therefore he can concentrate on his solo craft. Ichiro is very individualistic in both a good (idiosyncratic) and “bad” (“selfish”) way. He is the consummate craftsman, and I think he likes focusing on that to the exclusion of everything else. It is odd that he’s never volunteered to bat third and let Chone Figgins bat first, where Figgins is more comfortable. I think in some essential way Ichiro is not willing to sacrifice at bats or stats for the sake of the team. At least so he seems to a Western perspective. He has numerous ways in which he argues against this, and in some ways he’s right (e.g., it makes no sense to dive against the wall for a ball if you’re down 6-1 and injury will take you out of lineup for next month), but it’s hard finally not to see a certain irreducible self-immersion on Ichiro’s part (again, in both “good” and less attractive ways).

Arne: How long do you see Ichiro performing at or near his current level? He’ll be 37 this fall, but in a way he’s like Jamie Moyer or Pete Rose: he doesn’t rely on raw muscle power, and he conditions himself so well, is so focused on staying in the game, that it's hard to see signs of breakdown, and you wonder if he’ll be out there in 2020.

David: Hmm. 2020; that seems stretching the point. But certainly 2015, I would think, is a good possibility. To me, it is/was painful to see the contrast between Griffey, with his huge gut, and Ichiro, who keeps himself in top shape. This is all hyper-rational on my part, but if you’re an athlete, it seems hard to see how or why you wouldn’t stay in great physical condition, eat right, exercise in off season. Ichiro even does that thing whereby he does stretching exercises between virtually every pitch when he is in the outfield. It makes a lot of sense. He is über-utilitarian, isn’t he? He’s all about maximizing efficiency. I wonder sometimes if other players resent his no-frills attitude. He is, in a way, all business.

Arne Christensen lives in Seattle and runs, a site about that year's Mariners team, as well as a baseball history blog at

Rice Balls, Ass Tattoos, and Elvis: Ichiro a Go-Go by Steve Mandich

Steve Mandrich hails from Seattle and found Zisk through our blog. He also just happens to be a slightly obsessive Ichiro fan. This is his first piece for Zisk. —SR

Ichiro Suzuki is my all-time favorite baseball player. Here’s why:

--The 36-year-old is currently in his tenth major-league season, all with my hometown Seattle Mariners.

--He’s the only player in baseball history to amass 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons. As of this writing, he’s on pace to reach 200 hits again in 2010, tying Pete Rose’s record of career 200-hit seasons. However, it took Rose 17 seasons to reach the mark, while Ichiro should do it in ten.

--Rob Dibble has Ichiro’s name tattooed on his ass. During Ichiro’s 2001 rookie campaign, a skeptical Dibble vowed on ESPN radio that if Ichiro won the batting title, he would get the butt tat and run naked through Times Square. Ichiro led the majors with a .350 average, so Nasty Boy Dibble ate crow on a cold, wet night that December. The cops wouldn’t let him run in the altogether, so he wore a Frederick’s of Hollywood thong.

--Ichiro is the first-ever Japanese position player to sign with a major league club. Besides his ’01 batting title, he also led the majors that year with 242 hits, 56 stolen bases, and 3,373,035 All-Star ballot votes, becoming the first rookie ever to lead all players in All-Star balloting. He won both the AL’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, joining Fred Lynn as the only player to do so in the same season.

--On Cleveland: “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face.”

--Before coming to America, Ichiro played seven full seasons for Japan’s Orix Blue Wave. He won seven consecutive batting titles and seven consecutive Gold Gloves (or whatever they’re called there), and played in seven consecutive all-star games. He became the first player to reach 200 hits in Japan’s 130-game season, and his 210 hits in 1994 remain Japan’s single-season record. Ichiro amassed 1,278 hits and a .353 batting average in his Japanese career, and was nicknamed Elvis as the most-recognized person in the country.

--At Meiden High School, Ichiro was primarily used as a pitcher—he had a 93 mph fastball—though his career high school batting average was .505.

--Ichiro’s dad maintains a Nagoya museum dedicated to his son, containing nearly 3,000 artifacts. Besides Ichiro’s childhood baseball memorabilia are his dental retainer, Nintendo game cartridges, Transformer toys, a Go game, and a mannequin of a 12-year-old Ichiro sitting at his childhood desk.

--Ichiro’s 262 hits in 2004 is the all-time single-season record. George Sisler’s 257 hits in 1920 was the previous record, though it was set during a 154-game season. (It took Ichiro 160 game to surpass Sisler.)

--Before every game, Ichiro eats a rice ball.

--He led Team Japan to gold medals in both World Baseball Classic tournaments thus far, in 2006 and 2009. The stress of defending Japan’s WBC title in ’09 landed him on the DL for the first time in his career, due to a bleeding ulcer.

--Ichiro has played in ten All-Star Games in as many seasons, baseball’s longest current streak. He has started in nine of them, leading off a record nine times. (He’s also won a Gold Glove and hit at least .300 during each of those seasons.) He was named MVP of the 2007 game, hitting the only inside-the-park homer in All-Star history.

--On American hygiene: “Although it is a tradition to shake hands in America, people don’t wash their hands when they go to the bathroom.”

--Ikkyu is the name of Ichiro’s pet Shiba Inu, a Japanese breed of dog. Ichiro’s wife Yumiko and Ikkyu high-five each other whenever they see Ichiro get a hit on TV.

--Ichiro keeps his custom Mizuno bats in a humidor.

--Like Vida Blue and Chili Davis before him, only Ichiro’s first name appears on his uniform. In 1994, he was one of four Orix players named Suzuki, so his manager had him use just his first name, as a publicity stunt to promote the rising star. While "Ichiro" means "first son," he actually has an older brother.

--Like Randy Johnson, Bill Wilkinson, Steve Fireovid and Rey Quinones before him, Ichiro wears number 51 for the Mariners, as he did in Japan. Upon being issued the digits in Seattle, he promised to “work hard not to damage the reputation of the number." Presumably he was just referring to the Big Unit.

--There are a handful of songs about Ichiro, including tunes by surf-rock kings The Ventures, Terry “Talkin’ Baseball” Cashman, Japanese garage girls Supersnazz, and the mighty Baseball Project.

--"I very much like hip-hop and rap,” Ichiro says. His favorite song is “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” his favorite musical artist is Snoop Dogg, and one of his two favorite TV channels is BET. (The other is Animal Planet.)

--Ichiro’s favorite movies include Mr. 3000, Love Actually, Miss Congeniality, The Full Monty, and Cool Runnings. His favorite TV shows are Lost, Prison Break, and Dragon Ball Z.

--In 2006, Ichiro began hosting the TV show Ichiro-Mondow: Two Chairs, in which he interviewed Japanese athletes, actors, models, scientists, lawyers, and “Peter,” a popular Japanese drag queen, all on a barren set (save for the chairs).
--He played himself on the January 4, 2006 episode of Furuhata Ninzaburo, a police detective drama series, in which he kills a guy who blackmailed his brother.

--Assuming Ichiro remains healthy and averages at least 200 hits a year through 2014—not too far-fetched—the 40-year-old will have amassed 3,000 hits in his major league career. Combined with his Japanese totals, he would have over 4,300 international career hits, surpassing Julio Franco's record of 4,229. Rose’s 4,255 hits are probably out of reach, but becoming the Hall of Fame’s first Asian member should be a cinch.

Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki.

Steve Mandich runs the Super Ichiro Crazy! fan page.

Keep Your Head Up Ichiro by Scott McCaughey

Po' po' Ichiro... Deceived by the Mariners' early success in 2007, he signed a five-year extension, only to see them wobble in and out of mediocrity (or worse) year by year since. Picked by many pundits to win the AL West in 2010, the season has been a disaster. And yet Ichiro, perhaps the most disciplined player of all time, continues to hit, and will probably tie Pete Rose's record of most seasons with 200+ hits this year. But I do feel the Mariners dismal offensive showing is wearing on him—what’s the joy of getting on base when no one will drive you in? Ichiro can be proud of what he's done this year in the face of overwhelming disappointment, turbulence, the whimpering end to Ken Griffey Jr.'s career, and the occasionally embarrassing conduct of some Mariner teammates.

“Ichiro Goes To The Moon,” which will appear on the next Baseball Project album (February 2011 release, folks), is my tribute to both the self-assurance and the humor that makes Ichiro so damn cool. The guy can pretty much do whatever he wants. I feel like if he wanted to build a rocket ship in his basement, he could do it. I wouldn’t bet against him. The song is also a tribute to his prowess at eating. Despite his slim build, the guy can really put it away. I respect that. I super-respect that!

But my song is not the first Ichiro song. There may be hundreds in Japan, who knows? I know the tremendous Japanese garage-punk group Supersnazz recorded one called “Go Go Ichiro.” And when talking to Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard earlier this year (in mutual anticipation of a big M's year spearheaded by King Felix and Cliff Lee), we discovered we'd both penned tunes about the great one (apologies to Jackie Gleason). Ben's song is probably better than mine, though he disagrees. Anyway, maybe it's better that neither of us have released our songs yet, as this just doesn't seem to be the most glorious time for the big salute. Maybe next year, eh, Ben?

Giants and Mariners fan Scott McCaughey has been making music out of the Pacific Northwest for three decades with such bands as Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, The Baseball Project and R.E.M. The latest group to join this list, Tired Pony, includes his pal Peter Buck and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody. Their excellent debut album, The Place We Ran From, is due out September 28th.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Long time, no writing!

We apologize for the long radio silence about Zisk. We’ve had a lot of other projects taking up our time. For example:

--Steve spent all of his free time in the fall working on the 20th anniversary of his music ’zine, The Reynolds Top 20 as well as recording and posting 30 podcasts to mark the occasion (you can sample them here.)

--Meanwhile, Mike was putting the finishing touches on his first book, The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock, which will be published on May 22nd by Gorsky Press. You can get more info about the book through the site for Mike’s ’zine Go Metric.

--Mike’s band Egghead. recorded their second album over the winter. It’s their first disc in 12 years and will be coming out this summer on Knock Knock Records.

--We also pitched our Zisk book proposal around and had a couple of bites, but no deal as of yet. We plan on hitting up some more publishers this spring and summer. If that doesn’t work, we just may go the self-publishing route. We’ve done that for over 11 years already, why stop now?

So with all of these things in the works over the past few months (as well as trying to have time with our loved ones), we’ve decided to only publish one issue this year. Our deadline for submissions is Friday, July 30th. Issue # 19 will be published the week of August 16th.

We also have a special focus for this issue. This year marks the 10th season for both Albert Pujols and a longtime Zisk favorite, Ichiro Suzuki, making them qualified for the Hall of Fame. To mark that milestone, we’re looking to have a few articles or essays about both players. So if you have any anecdotes about either player, or you think you can write an entire article, lets either Mike or myself know. And if you have ideas for other articles, we’ll look at them too.

Send your story ideas to either Steve or Mike.

And one final note on the blog front from Steve:

One of my favorite baseball books of the past decade is Fantasyland by Sam Baker. His tale of joining the Tout Wars fantasy league is so entertaining that I went back and re-read it this winter to get myself ready for my own fantasy league. That was the total amount of preparation I did for this year. I went into our draft with no plan and no idea what players were injured (except Joe Nathan). So I’ve decided to chronicle my risky fantasy season on the Zisk blog. Look for the Dental Hygenesimmons (my team’s name) Chronicles to start this Friday and to appear a few times a week through the rest of the season.

Whew. That was a lot to catch up on. We hope the spring is treating y’all well,

Steve Reynolds & Mike Faloon

Monday, April 05, 2010


We've been quiet since October 8th, 2009? Jeebus.

That's about to change. Stay tuned for a full Zisk update, including the deadline for our next print issue, and details on a new blogging focus for this season.* Details coming Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.

*And no, it won't be the Krazy Keith Khronicles again.