The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

A Mets Anniversary, of Sorts

Sometimes,  coincidences have a way of falling into your lap.

A little while ago, I was replying to a comment on the fine baseball blog, Misc. Baseball, where a conversation about no-hitters as they relate to the Padres (and Mets) was taking place.  I happened to recall that San Francisco Giants pitcher Ed Halicki tossed a no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.  Curious about the date of that no-hitter, I decided to look it up.  Strangely enough, today is the 40th-anniversary of that game.

Here are some bits of trivia I discovered while researching Halicki’s no-hitter.

The Mets manager that day was Roy McMillan, who had replaced Yogi Berra whom the Mets fired just 18 days earlier.  The Mets had gone 56-53 up to the point Berra was fired.  Under McMillan, they went 26-27.

The Giants manager was Wes Westrum.  Westrum had managed the Mets from 1965-67.  After 1975, neither McMillan nor Westrum ever managed in the Majors again.

Entering the ’75 season, both Ed Halicki and Mets starting pitcher Craig Swan had pitched fewer than one-hundred innings apiece in the Majors.  They went on to have not entirely dissimilar careers.  Halicki posted a career record of 55-66 with a WAR of 11.6.  Craig Swan finished his career with a 59-72 record, and a 12.6 WAR.

In 1978, Halicki won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 1.060 WHIP.

In 1978, Swan won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 2.43 ERA.

Halicki’s no-hitter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco was the second game of a double-header that day.  The Mets, behind Jon Matlack, won the first game 9-5.  In the first game, the Giants didn’t even attempt to steal a base off of lefty Matlack and catcher Jerry Grote.  In the second game, they ran wild, notching five steals off of Swan and catcher John Stearns.

The most controversial play of the game occurred in the top of the 5th inning.  Mets batter Rusty Staub hit a liner off of the leg of pitcher Halicki, which then bounced over to second baseman Derrel Thomas who picked up the ball, then dropped it.  The official scorer ruled this an error on Thomas.  But Mets beat-writer Dick Young was outraged by this scoring, and complained loudly about it.  He believed this play should have been scored a hit.

Though the no-hitter stood, official scorer Joe Sargis of UPI lost his part-time job as an official scorer.

Giants first baseman Willie Montanez drove in the Giants first two runs of the game in the bottom of the first inning.  Though the Giants would go on to win 6-0, those first two runs would be the only runs Halicki would need to win.  Three years later, the well-traveled Montanez would lead the Mets with 96 RBI.

Other than Staub reaching on an error in the 5th, the only other base-runners the Mets would have that day were pinch-hitter Mike Vail’s walk in the 6th-inning, and a one-out walk in the 9th to center-fielder Del Unser.

This was the last no-hitter ever pitched by a Giants pitcher at Candlestick Park.

It would be another 37-years until Johan Santana would throw the first no-hitter by a Mets pitcher in history (June 1, 2012.)  June 1st is also the birthday of Rick Baldwin, who pitched three innings in relief of Craig Swan on that August day in 1975 at Candlestick Park.

Look closely enough, and baseball is always full of quirky stats and surprises.

Remnants of All Things Dying

The slushy streets sounded hollow as my boots clicked on the pavement, as if the subterranean world below Bridgeport was a cracked eggshell just waiting to collapse into itself.  I imagined the bones of workers clubbed to death in labor disputes by company goons a half-century before my father was born, rotting down there, shovels and picks in mummified hands awaiting a battle long ended.  Dead buildings of gray brick and grime stood sentinel along wide, deserted streets.  They called this time of year “Spring.”

I felt both sweaty and chilled in my dark blue fleece as the remnants of a sun dissolved behind black cherry clouds.  My dad once worked in one of these vacant buildings where cold metal machinery claimed fingers, hands and even the occasional arm in its vast unforgiving maw.  Guys got bandaged up and went back to work the next day.  The blood of men in their thousands greased the wheels of industrial America.  My dad called it “going to work.”

My friend James lived up on Washington Ave. about a mile or so from my house, but a frayed ribbon of Bridgeport mile was a showcase of all that had once been, and now only the scattered, battered remains were apparent.  A vast industrial cemetery graveyard that I called home.  It started to drizzle.

I had hoped James and I could play some catch.  I’d even brought along an extra glove in my denim duffle bag I’d inherited from a gnarled aunt whose favorite pastime was collecting stamped envelopes from places others had been, of which she could only imagine the worst calamities befalling her if she’d ever set foot outside her two-room apartment, triple locks on her front door.  I couldn’t say I blamed her.

James didn’t answer the door at first; he never did.  Apparently allergic to the light even in a refracted nightmare of a town like ours, asthmatic James finally cracked the door open, stretched and yawned in his undershorts and without a word, allowed me to enter his darkened sanctuary.  He coughed as he pointed to a pile of papers on a desk on the edge of a shallow kitchen.  It was a story he and I’d been working on, but it wasn’t coming together. Like our story, he and I would soon go our separate ways, connected only by the fiction that friendship lasted forever.

“So, what did you think?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.

James sighed a lot.  (Only my dad sighed more often.)  There were levels to his sighs.  Small sigh meant things were typically O.K., but never would be great.  Medium sigh, shorter in duration but more intense, meant he had actually given the subject some thought and predictably wasn’t impressed.  Long sighs followed by a trip to the refrigerator for a glass of milk indicated categorical failure on your part from which there might be no return.

What followed was a long sigh, followed by a trip to the bathroom.  That was a new one, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I knew it couldn’t be good.

Good times with James only happened more or less by accident now.  A friendship formed between a pair of fourteen-year old loners in a Catholic high school populated by medieval nuns, creepy lay-teachers and sadistic jocks was a friendship defined under duress in the trench-warfare of adolescence.  Now that we’d been freed from the petty tyranny of our education, our bond had begun to dissipate, though neither of us had the guts to completely face up to it.  Getting on each other’s nerves was about all we had left.

When he emerged from the bathroom several minutes later, dressed in blue jeans and a Pink Floyd tee-shirt, I chose not to ask for specific feedback on my portion of the story.  It would be a hopeless and depressing waste of time.  So I pulled the glove out of my duffle bag and tossed it over to James.  He briefly examined it without surprise or excitement.

“Where the hell’d you get a left-handers mitt?”  he asked, because I was right-handed.

“Babe Ruth’s fucking grave.  What the hell difference does it make?”

Babe Ruth's grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Babe Ruth’s grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without a word and to my everlasting astonishment, James led the way outdoors to the mostly empty parking lot around the back of his apartment building.  Only a lone, ’76 Nova stood in the way of the spot where we last played nearly a year ago.  Luckily, it had its parking brake off, and with the driver’s side window smashed in, it wasn’t too difficult to manipulate the abandoned vehicle out of our way, if you were careful about the broken glass.

I started off with a split-fingered fastball, the way Bruce Sutter used to do it.  That pissed James off ’cause he wasn’t expecting it, so he fired a two-seamer back at me which nearly ripped the webbing of the glove I’d had since sixth-grade (and still have today.)  I smiled, which I think was the first time either of us had smiled that day.

“Asshole!” I called out to him, the echo reverberating off the silent brick buildings.

I threw him my best change-up, which never fooled anyone I ever threw it to.

“That all you got?” he shot back, a faint hint of a smile nearly creasing his lips.  “No wonder you never got laid in high school.”

“With those Amazons?”  Christ, even the nuns looked better.

“Donna would’ve let you at least touch her.”  He was getting comfortable now, his arm angle the familiar three-quarters I remembered from the high school ball-field.

“Yeah, with your dick,” I called back.  A pretty standard, unoriginal response expected by both parties in a conversation such as this.

“Got one for you,” he warned.  But I knew what was coming.  A tight curveball, small but perceptible break to it, creased the March breeze and smacked into my tan George A. Reach Co. mitt.  It felt like home.  Not the one I actually lived in, but the place I imagined must be just around the corner from the park, where kids played in actual sunshine on real grass.  Home.

A middle-aged black man came down and sat on a stoop just watching us for several minutes, followed by a pair of young, twin sisters with pink barrettes in their hair.  James and I had nothing more to say to each other, but I like to think the sound of baseball — the final game of catch we ever played — yet reverberates off silent walls in a crumbling, forgotten part of town accessible only through faulty, imperfect memory.

The Great Game Is In Good Hands

William Miller:

Here’s an excellent write-up of the All-Star Game, and of baseball’s most recent youth movement.

Originally posted on On Sports and Life:

A NOTE TO READERS: Both of next week’s scheduled posts will be delayed by one day. Thank you as always for your continued support.

Tuesday night began with an extended tribute to the Great Game’s glorious past. The Midsummer Classic, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, always includes an element of nostalgia. At a minimum fans are treated to the sight of an aging but still beloved hero, a former star for the franchise that calls that year’s venue home, striding to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. In recent years it was George Brett in Kansas City in 2012, Rod Carew in Anaheim in 2010, and a quartet of former Yankees at the Stadium in 2008. All have taken their turn, waving and smiling as thunderous cheers rolled down from the stands and washed over them like a sea-foam of adulation.

At times the center of attention…

View original 960 more words

All-Time Home Run Leaders For Every Team (MLB)

Once in a while, I like to take a look at how each of the franchises in Major League Baseball stack up against each other in various ways.  Home runs are to baseball what fireworks are to the 4th of July, so I thought this would be a good time to explore each team’s all time home run leaders (for a career.)  I broke it down by league, and then by division.  While many of the all-time leaders were predictable, there were (for me) a couple of surprises on this list.  Let me know what you think:

Note:  In some cases, the number of home runs a player hit with a single franchise will not necessarily match their career totals.  Home run totals do not include the post-season.  An asterisk after a player’s home run total indicates they are still active.

National League East:

1)  Braves:  H. Aaron – 733

2)  Marlins:  G. Stanton – 181*

3)  Mets:  D. Strawberry – 252

4)  Nationals / Expos:  R. Zimmerman – 189 * / V. Guerrerro – 234

5)  Phillies:  M. Schmidt – 548

National League Central:

1)  Brewers:  R. Yount – 251

2)  Cardinals:  S. Musial – 475

3)  Cubs:  S. Sosa – 545

4)  Pirates:  W. Stargell – 475

5)  Reds:  J. Bench – 389

National League West

1)  Diamondbacks:  L. Gonzalez – 224

2)  Dodgers:  D. Snider – 389

3)  Giants:  W. Mays – 646

4)  Padres:  N. Colbert – 163

5)  Rockies:  T. Helton – 369

American League East

1)  Blue Jays:  C. Delgado – 336

2)  Orioles:  C. Ripkin, Jr. – 431

3)  Rays:  E. Longoria – 192*

4)  Red Sox:  T. Williams – 521

5)  Yankees:  B. Ruth – 659

American League Central

1)  Indians:  J. Thome – 337

2)  Royals:  G. Brett –  317

3)  Tigers:  A. Kaline – 399

4)  Twins:  H. Killebrew – 559

5)  White Sox:  F. Thomas – 448

American League West

1)  A’s:  M. McGwire – 363

2)  Angels:  T. Salmon – 299

3)  Astros:  J. Bagwell – 449

4)  Mariners:  K. Griffey, Jr. – 417

5)  Rangers:  J. Gonzalez – 372

Some thoughts about this list:

– Two of the three currently active players on this list — Giancarlo Stanton and Ryan Zimmerman — are each currently on their respective team’s Disabled List.

– Aaron’s total is still ridiculous and awesome.

– Have the Mets ever produced another home run hitter aside from Strawberry?

– Stanton is a monster.  Just 25-years old, and he’s already pushing 200 homers.

– It would be kind of cool if Zimmerman could someday tie Guerrerro for the franchise record for what are essentially two different teams.

– Yount was better than many of us probably remember.

– Musial and Stargell tied within their division.  That’s pretty cool.

– How weird is it that Sosa has been almost totally disregarded altogether in our collective baseball memory?  My first guess for all-time Cubs leader was Ernie Banks, though I am quite aware of Sosa’s accomplishments.

– Bench is the only catcher on this list (though Delgado started out as one with the Blue Jays.)

– Perhaps unfairly, Luis Gonzalez (probably a very likable guy) seemed to me the most random name on this list.

– Given all the great players in their history, it’s strange in a way that no Dodgers player ever reached the 400 homer plateau for that franchise.

– Good to see Mays, not Bonds, still holding the Giants career record.

– What’s up with the Padres?  As a franchise, they’re like that guy who shows up on Draft Day for your fantasy league draft, then you never see or hear from him again all season.  Except they’ve been doing this for about a half-century.

– If Todd Helton isn’t someday elected to the Hall of Fame, Rockies fans should riot.

– Interesting that Ruth and Delgado are the only two players on the A.L. East list that didn’t spend their careers with just one team.

– As for Ripkin, I wonder how many homers Manny Machado will hit before he’s done?

– If Williams was still alive today, he could probably recall what pitch he hit off of each pitcher for every one of his 521 homers.

– Jim Thome slugged 612 homers in his career.  When was the last time you heard anyone mention Jim Thome?

– We don’t normally think of Brett as a power hitter, but no Royal ever hit more home runs.

– You have to wonder if Al Kaline or Tim Salmon ever wake up in the dead of night thinking of that one more career homer that would have made for a nice, round number.

– Tim Salmon never appeared in a single All-Star game.

– In a pretty good era for pitchers, Killebrew topped 40 homers eight times.

– I’m not sure you (or I) could name five better right-handed hitters in baseball history than Frank Thomas.

– For Oakland, McGwire first led the A.L. in home runs as a rookie at age 23 (with 49) in 1987.  Nine years later, he led the A.L. in homers for the second time at age 32 (with 52) in 1996.  In between, he apparently discovered the Fountain of Youth.

– If you include defense and base-running as well as the ability to hit for both average and power, I’m not sure there’s a first baseman in baseball history I’d pick ahead of Jeff Bagwell.

– Not only were Ken Griffey, Jr. and Stan Musial both born in the company town of Donora, Pennsylvania, they were both born on November 21st (49 years apart.)

– While we’re on the subject, Bagwell and Thomas were born on the same day, May 27, 1968.

– Juan Gonzalez’s career is like that rock band you were once so impressed with, but now look back on with a tinge of embarrassment (you’re careful to never mention to your friends that you used to own one of their LP / Cassette / CD.)  Full Disclosure:  I once owned a Bay City Rollers record. Have at me, boys and girls.

Meet the Matz

Yesterday afternoon in Queens, New York, starting pitcher Steve Matz, making his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds, watched as the first batter he ever faced, Brandon Phillips, smacked a lead-off homer over the left-field wall.

The home crowd of 29,635 could never have guessed what would happen next.

Matz, apparently, had the Reds right where he wanted them.

The Long Island lefty, who grew up a Mets fan, quickly recovered his composure and shut down the Reds the rest of the way (other than a Todd Frazier solo homer in the 4th) on two runs and five hits through seven and two-thirds innings pitched.  Matz fanned six while walking three.  Of his 110 pitches, he threw 72 for strikes.

That manager Terry Collins let Matz go out and start the eighth inning after Matz had already thrown 90+ pitches through seven innings had as much to do with the Mets tired bullpen as it did Matz fine performance.

Or maybe it was Matz’s bat that Collins did not want removed from the game.

Matz became the first pitcher in the past hundred years to produce three hits and four runs batted in during his Major League debut.  His double in the second inning over the outstretched glove of Billy Hamilton plated the Mets first two runs of the game.  Matz also singled in the fifth inning, then lashed another single to center in the sixth-inning, driving in yet two more runs.

Neither Matz hitting nor his pitching performances in this game can easily be written off as flukes.  Before his call-up, Matz was batting .304 in Triple-A Las Vegas, and his earned run average through 14 starts this year was 2.19 with 94 strikeouts in 90 innings.  Said Vegas manager Wally Backman, “Matz is just bored down here.”

Just a few years ago, however, yesterday’s amazing performance was not an event that anyone would have readily predicted.  In 2010, Matz underwent what these days seems to be the inevitable Tommy John surgery.  It took him nearly two years to fully recover.  While many pitchers tend to recover and return to full health, surgery on a young arm is surgery, and no two cases will ever turn out exactly the same way.

So it was with great joy yesterday, for his family and friends in attendance as well as for Mets fan everywhere, that all of Matz’s hard work over the past few years has paid off with such unexpected dividends.

The Mets, who now enjoy one of baseball’s finest young rotations (if not the best) of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and now Steve Matz (as well as veteran lefty Jon Niese and Jabba the Bartolo Colon), along with the currently recovering from T.J. surgery, Zack Wheeler, have Mets fans everywhere giddy over what the future may hold for New York’s senior circuit franchise.

While it is obvious that the Mets need to go out and get a bat, in the meantime no one could blame manager Terry Collins if he is tempted to use Steve Matz as a pinch-hitter.

That the 40-37 Mets (who have now won four home games in a row after enduring a terrible road seven-game losing streak) are still in the playoff hunt nearly halfway through the season is a testament primarily to their fine pitching.

Historically, this has nearly always been the case with the Mets when times are good.  Steve Matz and his mates in the rotation could take this team further than anyone, including this writer, would have predicted at the beginning of this season.  This might not be ’69 or ’73 all over again, but God knows it’s not 1963, 1981 or 2014, either.

That Matz was born and raised less than fifty miles from, and shares a birthday with this writer only makes me want to root that much more for this 24-year old phenom.

The only question is, what could he possibly do for an encore?

 

The Sum of All Sins

The gray rain pelted the parlor window of the little brick house, like crutches tapping lightly on a tin roof.  A single tallow candle stood sentry in the gloom, betraying the darkness clutching the corners of the room.  All was quiet, but for the slow simmering of Katie’s casserole on the stovetop.  Supper would be at 5:30, as always, even if the power remained out all night.

The swooshing of a car sliding by in the rain made him think of those lonely nights in Chicago’s South-Side. Collecting three hits could take the edge off, just a little, but being away from Katie always left him maudlin and morose.  And even late in the summer, the wind rippling off the river left him longing for Greenville’s gentle spring breeze, the smell of crape myrtles fragrant as a chorus of spring peepers filled the night.

Not a drinker himself, but the boys — Chick, Swede and Lefty — certainly did try to put a nightcap on the nightcap nearly every night.

What’s done is done, but how the years drag by when you’re reduced to living in your own shadow.  Like watching your grave get dug one shovel-full per day, a cawing crow topped upon his perch, all noisy accusations and nowhere to hide.  “Joe, say it ain’t so!”

The money?  Got him banned for life, but who the hell knows what Katie did with it?  Still, the liquor store paid the light bill, that is, when the lights weren’t knocked out by blowing storm.  Just enough light now to read by.

Greenville News didn’t quite make it a headline, but they couldn’t exactly bury it, either.  Not everyday a Negro got lynched anymore, not even around here.  His sixty-year old, still bat-calloused hands trembled slightly as he read the news.

Willie Earle.  Never heard of the kid.  Why would he?  But he did recognize some of the other names.  Cab drivers, mostly.  Liked to stand around back up at West Court Street when they was bored, drinking, or both. Passed around a bottle, he read.  Whiskey.  Like what he sold.

Probably, they’d be by tomorrow, some of them, telling their story like they was relating a fishing expedition, the high point being that they’d caught what they was after.

“Joe,” they’d say, “You should have seen him.” Their eyes would flash and twinkle in the bottles’ refracted reflection as they faithfully recalled each detail of their trip out to Pickens County and back.

Got his start out that way, at a mill sweeping floors, the machinery so loud men put cotton in their ears, though the fibers found a way into every pore of their bodies anyway, lungs clogged by 40, if you didn’t lose a hand first.

Governor Thurmond said he’d catch the vigilantes and prosecute to the full extent of the law.  Like Judge Landis, only even more Southern, if that was possible.  But ’47 wasn’t ’19.  There was talk that Truman might integrate the colored soldiers with the whites, and now you could buy a bottle of liquor at your neighborhood store, just like his.  But guys making bad decisions they’d be remembered for long after they were gone? That would never change.

He looked out at the darkness and the rain, the casserole growing cold.  Katie long since in bed.  (She knew enough to leave him alone with his thoughts.)  Violence filled the night sky, purple lightning and cannon thunder, a cacophony of random fury as the candle’s thin flame flickered once, then twice, then died and was gone.

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/the-good-fight-zwnj-the-last-lynching/Content?oid=1108264

Ten Facts About Mets Ace Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey, who has begun his 2015 comeback campaign with a perfect record of 5-0, is certainly a candidate to win the N.L. Cy Young award this season.  Through his first 34 innings pitched, he has struck out 34 batters while walking just four.  He is currently averaging 8.5 strikeouts per walk, and (having been slated to make just 30 starts this season) is on pace to walk fewer than 30 batters this year.

So, yeah, he’s pretty good.

Here are ten other things you might not be aware regarding Matt Harvey:

1)  He has never been charged with an error in his career.

2)  He has never surrendered a grand slam homer in his career (and only one three-run homer.)

3)  He has never been charged with a balk.

4)  Only once has he ever intentionally walked a batter.

5)  He grew up as a Yankees fan (well, no one’s perfect.)

6)  He was the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft.  The first six players selected before him were, in order, Bryce Harper, Jameson Tailon, Manny Machado, Christian Colon, Drew Pomeranz, and Barret Loux.

7)  According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher whose career, through age 24, most closely resembles that of Matt Harvey is Hall of Famer “Big Ed” Walsh of the early twentieth-century White Sox.

8)  His father was a collegiate athlete, playing both baseball and football at the University of Connecticut.

9)  Harvey shares a birthday (March 27th) with Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins, and with teammate Mike Cuddyer (though Cuddyer was born a decade earlier.)

10)  The 1,067 batters who have faced Matt Harvey have hit a combined .191 against him.

Harvey’s next scheduled start is Friday, May 8th, in Philadelphia.

 

Invisible People, and the Noise They Make

Imagine if Wal-Mart opened for business today, but barred customers from entering their stores. Imagine a new radio station going on the air, but not advertising as to where to find their signal. Imagine a public election being held, where, due to distrust of (some of) the citizenry, the people were not allowed to vote.

Imagine a baseball game where the fans were not allowed to attend.

This bizarre, yet thoroughly American turn of events will occur this afternoon in Baltimore in a home game scheduled against the White Sox.  Does a team still have home-field advantage when no one’s home?

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck” in time. Pilgrim’s life plays out randomly, the normal linear progression of events mixed up and occurring haphazardly.  One event does not lead to the next, but could, in fact, circle back to a prior event. Normal cause and effect cease to have any meaning.

What we appear to be witnessing today in Baltimore is the progeny of a business-law enforcement alliance where privatized public spectacles are now shielded from the public itself.  Corporatism in America has become “unstuck” from the citizenry.  Normal cause and effect no longer have any meaning. Business decisions are unmoored from the real world concerns of local municipalities.

Banks are bailed out, but not people.  Corporations magically become citizens, while much of the citizenry lacks the basic necessities of life.  The Dignity of Work is summoned to shame those who’ve lost their jobs to overseas competition.  And people who lack the ability to buy shoes for their children are lectured to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

In many ways, this is not a new development, but is, in fact, the inevitable outcome of what happens when a political system is entirely consumed by corporatism, leveraging the power of law enforcement to corral, contain and coerce those elements of the citizenry written off as undesirable, irredeemable and politically powerless.

Many, perhaps most of the chattering class and the interests they serve will describe the current unrest in Baltimore this week as primarily a law enforcement issue.  After thirty years of a War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance Policies, and Three Strikes and Your Out legislation (the irony of which will certainly fail to find fertile ground in the imaginations of those who decided to play a baseball game today to empty stands), and over a million African-American men and women having been incarcerated at one time or another in their lives, it appears that American society remains more comfortable providing them with a ticket to prison than a ticket to a baseball game.

Last year, an elderly rancher named Cliven Bundy and his Gang-That-Couldn’t-Think-Straight were heralded by many in the media as heroes for individual liberty, property rights, and the idea that no white man, however delusional, should be denied his moment of public heroism, even as some of his supporters aimed their weapons directly at law enforcement officers.

That law enforcement officers were deemed “jack-booted thugs” when attempting to enforce the laws of the land in that situation out west, while the “thugs” are now the young men and women of Baltimore armed with bricks, and the police have been magically transformed once again into the thin blue line separating respectable society from those that would do us harm is familiar territory here in America.  Yet familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and contempt is the jet fuel of social unrest.

All of which brings us back to a baseball game later today in Baltimore.  Camden Yards and the area in which it is situated was the product of the sort of palatable corporate urban renewal that has become fashionable over the past quarter century or so, where gentrification (the removal of the undesirables) in favor of public and private investment that overwhelmingly favors the upper middle class has become the only politically expedient investment in existence.

Will it make money for a fortunate few, perhaps even at the expense of others?  If so, that’s a price that has been deemed acceptable, once you are able to hide the losers from view.

But now the “losers” are in full view on our round-the-clock cable news networks where the well-fed and well-groomed simultaneously engage in hand-wringing analysis that mimics concern while also condemning the inevitable rage that burns wherever people are marginalized.  But the system must be allowed to continue operating under any and all circumstances, because the system, after all, is its own reward.

So a professional baseball game will be played today for the first time in baseball history without a single fan to witness it.  The human element has finally been rendered obsolete.  The beast has eaten its fill.

In America, people are the raw material that feeds the system.  When the system no longer requires your contribution, or even your existence, the expectation is your silent acquiescence to a permanent state of invisibility.

Thus, in a stadium in downtown Baltimore, in a park that seats 45,971, ushers will serve no one, ticket takers will stare out at empty parking lots, and players will hit doubles that no one will cheer.  No one will stand up and stretch in the seventh inning, and the Great American Game will reflect the emptiness at the heart of a broken system where to be invisible is the price you pay for being born poor and powerless.

Article from “The Guardian”

I don’t usually post / reprint articles from newspapers or news magazines in this space, but I just finished reading this one in the British publication, “The Guardian” (U.S. Edition), written by Jonathan Bernhardt, and thought it was more than worth the use of my space.  See what you think:

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2015/apr/14/josh-hamilton-falls-victim-to-the-weird-sociopathy-of-the-business-decision

Banana Bread and George Theodore’s Sweet Tooth

My grandmother, of Slovak origin, made certain foods I could barely pronounce, let alone digest.  Among these old-world favorites (at least in eastern Slovakia, near the Ukrainian border), were bobalki, halushki and sirecz (pronounced “cidets.”)  I dare you to try to find any of these items on your friendly neighborhood menu.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Even other Slovak-Americans (whom I rarely came into contact with, but they do exist), sometimes hadn’t heard of these foods.  In fact, I’m left wondering if these particular victuals weren’t native to simply one small neighborhood in a hidden quarter of a half-forgotten farm village left over from the Hapsburg Empire.  Kind of like the Mets fan rumored to live on the northern side of Staten Island, just beyond the ferry terminal.  He’d likely also have been a fan of Mets outfielder George Theodore.

George “The Stork” Theodore was a Utah native best remembered perhaps for colliding with Mets center-fielder Don Hahn during their improbable pennant winning season of 1973.  Theodore’s best season came in 1971 when he batted .333 with 28 homer runs and 113 RBI in 507 plate appearances.  He also scored 112 runs, and stole 15 bases in 17 attempts. Unfortunately for the Mets, that performance came in the Single-A California League in Visalia when George was already 24-years old, which is sort of like an 18-year old dating a 9th-grader.

George liked marshmallow milkshakes, or so the back of his 1974 Topps baseball card informs us.  I, on the other hand, loved my grandma’s banana bread.  In fact, from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Portland, Maine and then down to Greenville, South Carolina, I’ve never had banana bread quite the equal of her moist, sweet yellow cake.

She passed away over a decade ago, leaving the world with more apps than they can download while waiting for their tires to be balanced at your local Tire Kingdom, but all the poorer regarding the existence of a nice, satisfying little snack bread. Which, as far as I’m concerned, pretty much sums up the 21st-century.

I’m sure that if George Theodore had visited our house on Bridgeport’s west side in the mid-’70’s, he, too, would surely have enjoyed her banana bread.  In fact, it is even possible that the back of his card would have read “George loves Mets Fan Bill Miller’s Grandma’s Banana Bread.”

It would have been quite the coup for Topps, and Mets fans everywhere would want to know where exactly Colorado Avenue in Bridgeport really was.  A perhaps mythic location akin to the Elysian Fields in New Jersey, or the Schaefer beer brewery  on Kent Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn (which closed down in 1976, a pretty respectable year for the Mets.)

As far as I could tell, Slovaks generally didn’t go in for baseball.  In fact, as a species, Slovaks seem primarily to have thrived on the concept of not being noticed at all, which is what happens when you’ve spent around 500 years having been conquered and pillaged by one invader or another.  My ancestors did try to warn Jonathon Harker, however, away from Dracula’s castle, but who ever listens to a Slovak?  (“The Slav natives Harker meets along the way to the castle likewise incur his disdain.”  Dracula, page 33.  Ouch.)

Ya Gotta Believe! became a popular battle cry in Mets Land in ’73 precisely because Tug McGraw wasn’t mostly Slovak.  Not even a little bit, in fact.  And I’m fairly certain he’d never had bobalki at Easter or Christmas, but that was his loss.  Still, having the American League affiliate of the Hapsburg Empire nearby in the Bronx, led by the despotic Teutonic House of Steinbrenner, we Slovak-American Mets fans knew a thing or two about playing second fiddle to the Yankees while biding our time.  The uprising at Shea Stadium in ’73 wasn’t unlike the Glorious Revolution that swept Europe in 1848, but with slightly less bloodshed, at least if you weren’t seated in the bleachers.

For me, George Theodore represented that unlikely euphoric atmosphere which engulfed much of the Tri-State area that summer.  Yes, Tom Terrific was the valiant warrior, and Bud Harrelson slugging Pete Rose after a hard slide into second base was the iconic moment, but George Theodore was the any-man who’d known mostly nothing but mediocrity or worse suddenly finding himself in a goddamned ticker-tape parade in the canyons of New York City, eating his banana bread and marshmallow milkshakes with a big ear-to-ear grin on his face as he sat in the back seat of a Lincoln Continental filled with confetti.  Or so I’d like to believe.

George is 68-years old now, around the same age that my grandma was when my parents, my brother and I left her and my grandpa behind and moved out to the suburbs.  I think Dante mentioned some sort of appropriate punishment for people like us who did that sort of thing in his “Purgatorio.”

With that move, all remaining Old World smells, tastes and fears were left behind for the stilleto-capitalism of the Reagan ’80’s, by which point Spielberg had almost single-handedly buried the blue-collar ethnic working class under the scrap-heap of American cultural history with his schmaltzy, two-dimensional paeans to paleo-Eisenhower suburbia replete with market-tested hairstyles and product placement marketing.  Even the ’86 Mets, I now have to admit, were a bit more like New Coke than The Real Thing of ’73.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and my wife and kids and I will drive on out to my parents’ house and enjoy a nice, unnecessarily gargantuan Sunday meal.  It will taste delicious, and we’ll all have a great time.  I may not remember to take a few moments tomorrow to remember the old ethnic foods my grandma made forty years ago, the foods that are probably built into my DNA, but a 1974 Topps George Theodore baseball card does sit in the glove compartment of our Toyota.

Once, my older son found it in there, and asked me why I keep such an old card just lying around with the gas station receipts and the loose change.  I told him because it helps me remember things I don’t dare forget.

 

 

 

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