The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “1986 World Series”

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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Eight Reasons Why the Red Sox Stink in 2012

Personally, I have nothing against the Red Sox.  It is true that, as a Mets fan, I did get my biggest baseball thrill from watching the Mets beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.  Yet I’ve never felt any animosity towards the proud Red Sox franchise.  In fact, I always root for the Red Sox to defeat the Yankees.

Still, a fact is a fact, and there is no denying that the 2012 version of the Red Sox are the least enjoyable, not to mention the least successful, Red Sox team I have witnessed in many years.

Not being a regular viewer of Red Sox games (though when I lived up in Maine for 20+ years, I often listened to WEEI, Red Sox radio), I haven’t paid close attention to the BoSox relative failure this year, aside from occasionally looking at the A.L. standings.

So I decided to examine a bit more closely why the Red Sox, despite their prodigious payroll, fanatical fan-base, and the bewildering wizardry of stat guru, Bill James, this team stinks.

Here are eight items I came up with:

1)  Red Sox pitchers are giving up too many bases on balls.  As of this writing, Red Sox pitchers have surrendered 370 walks this year.  Only four A.L. pitching staffs have walked more batters.  The Yankees pitching staff, by way of contrast, have walked the fewest.  They can’t score if you don’t put them on.

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH...

Josh Beckett 01:38, 23 July 2008 . . PhreddieH3 . . 1,943×2,936 (2.01 MB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  The Red Sox pitching staff is starting to show its age.  They are now the third oldest group of pitchers in the A.L.  Obviously, some pitchers age faster than others.  The Yankees staff is actually a bit older.  But Red Sox pitchers appear to be exhibiting a bit more wear and tear thus far than their New York counterparts.

Josh Beckett, for example, is 32 going on 36.  And Clay Buccholz, whom some Red Sox fans still maintain is a rising star, recently turned 28-years old.

In fact, the Red Sox currently have just one pitcher on their staff, the combustible Felix Doubront (4.70 ERA) under the age of 25.

3)  The Curse of the Piano.  What, you thought that just because the Red Sox won two World Series in the past eight years, that they’d no longer be cursed?  Well, no one told the Babe, a moulderin’ in his grave.  Perhaps you’ve never hear of the curse of the piano?  Well, unless someone drags the Babe’s old piano out of the pond up in Sudbury, this “other” curse might just linger for another century.

4)  Bobby Valentine is entirely miscast as a Major League manager.  In fact, he would be miscast as a manager at any level.  A manager, like a teacher, is a father figure (assuming the male gender, of course.)  Bobby V. is not a father figure.  He is the odd uncle who comes over on Christmas afternoon with his latest exotic girlfriend, this one from Saigon, the last one from the Philippines.

Always too quick to put little brother up on his shoulders (narrowly missing the overhead fan by mere inches), he always has an odd anecdote to tell about a business deal that narrowly went sour.  When he finally leaves around 7:45 p.m., he’s had one too many, and his hugs are awkward, and strangely tearful.  His girlfriend will do the driving, and you know as you wave to them as they back out of your dad’s icy driveway, you won’t see or hear from him again until next Christmas.

Wally the Green Monster

Wally the Green Monster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Wally the Green Monster, the Red Sox’ mascot, has been having some problems of his own.  After a torrid, three-year affair with Bernie Brewer, followed by a brief, drunken fling with the Milwaukee Sausages, Wally the Green Monster had just about settled down with the Swinging Friar (San Diego.)

But it turns out that the Swinging Friar had a few secrets of his own.  Apparently, he’s been seen leaving some local San Diego hot spots with the always unpredictable Stomper (Oakland), himself recently recovering from an addiction to powdered, fried dough.

Word is that Wally has been so depressed lately that he’s usually hung over and asleep inside the Green Monster until the 8th inning, when misty-eyed and reckless, he starts to undress for the fans in the center field bleachers during the bizarre routine of the disembodied voice of Neil Diamond singing “Sweet Caroline.”

Socks

Socks (Photo credit: scalkins)

6)  Their socks.  They’ve been the Red Sox now for over a hundred years.  Perhaps it’s time to change those socks?

When either of my sons goes a couple of days without changing theirs, the stench is unbearable.  Why should it be any different for Major League baseball players who sweat in theirs all day long?

So, in keeping with the Sox recent advances into the 21st century (a Facebook page!), here’s a look (see pic) at what the BoSox are considering for their players next season.  David Ortiz is already on record endorsing the new look saying, “My toes get cold in April and in October.  Those little toes on the socks look toasty and warm.  I hate New England weather.”

7)  Their Offense:  Despite the fact that the Red Sox are among the league-leaders in runs scored, there are some problems here as well.  For starters, Carl Crawford, a huge disappointment since he joined the Sox (his on-base percentage in his last 160 games played is .293), is about to undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday.  Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury, who enjoyed an MVP-caliber season last year, currently sports a .309 on-base percentage to go along with his one home run and six stolen bases.  Last year, he had over 30 steals and 30 homers.

The injury bug, then, has seriously affected the Red Sox ability to add to their already very respectable run totals.

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck i...

Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox on deck in Fenway Park in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Their Enthusiasm:  It hasn’t been this boring to watch the Red Sox play (and I don’t very often) since the heady days of Phil Plantier, Bob Zupcic, Jody Reed, and Luis Rivera.  The Red Sox have finished below .500 just three times since 1992.  This year could be their fourth finish below .500 in 20 years.

Worse, it is hard to say that any of the players on the field look like they’re enjoying themselves.  Sure, losing sucks, but you’re not likely to play any better if your approach is the same as the man who gets to go to work in the West Virginia coal mines, earning a tiny fraction of what the players make.  Gone are team leaders like Varitek, Wakefield, Millar and Damon, guys that could both lighten up the clubhouse and/or lead by example.

For the sake of the Red Sox and their fans, some of the veterans on this team (and it can’t be just Dustin Pedroia) have to step up and lead by example, while demonstrating to the kids that playing baseball can still be fun, even if you are expected to take home obscene amounts of cash.

Gary Carter, and a Season of Hope

As a Mets fan, the first time Gary Carter came across my radar screen was in December 1984, when the Mets traded third baseman Hubie Brooks and three other “prospects” for the 30-year old catcher from Montreal.

Sure, I generally knew who Carter was; I collected baseball fans and had seen “The Kid” play against my Mets a few times.  But it was out of the realm of what I thought possible at the time that this All-Star catcher would ever play for my lowly Mets.  After all, as a Mets fan since 1975, I’d only experienced two winning seasons out of nine, through 1983.

Gary Carter

Gary Carter (Photo credit: AxsDeny)

Yes, the arrival of Keith Hernandez in mid-season, 1983, gave me some hope (and Keith, not Gary, became my favorite Met of the ’80’s), but after seven consecutive terrible seasons (1977-83) I knew that they would need a lot more than one excellent player to turn this franchise around.

Yes, the young kids Gooden and Strawberry had each just arrived, but there was one missing piece to the puzzle.

Enter Gary Carter.

Carter quickly announced, not with his mouth, but with his bat, that things were going to be different at Shea Stadium when, on Opening Day, 1985, in the 10th inning, he hit a walk-off home run.  It was now clear to all Mets fans that HOPE had truly arrived.

The enthusiasm of the player they called “The Kid” was infectious.  The Mets hadn’t really had a player who contained these personal and professional qualities since Tom Seaver had been unceremoniously dumped (for “prospects”, there’s that word again) in mid-’77.

In his first season as a Met, Carter hit a career high 32 home runs, drove in 100, hit .281, made the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger, and finished 6th in N.L. MVP voting.

The ’85 Mets enjoyed their finest season in many years, finishing with a record of 98-74, but they just couldn’t quite catch Tommy Herr’s Cardinals.  Gooden and Strawberry each had fantastic seasons, as did Keith Hernandez.

Most importantly to me was that the Mets were simply fun to watch again.  Every day, you knew they had an excellent chance to win, and the players assembled on that team (which also included Mookie, Dykstra, Darling, and El Sid) had a rare chemistry.  I hadn’t enjoyed a Mets team this much since the days of Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Staub, Harrelson, Grote, and Cleon Jones.

And even though Keith Hernandez was my favorite player, I was aware that my friend James was right.  Carter was the player that made all of this success possible.  He was the glue that held this disparate, passionate, often profane group of guys together.

But what success?  The Mets still hadn’t won anything yet.

Enter the 1986 season.  Not only did Mets fans like myself expect the Mets to win lots of games that year, we knew this would be OUR YEAR, the year a Championship would finally come back to Queens.  Unlike our rivals over in a certain ballpark in the Bronx (whose box-seats were always full of rich, yuppie suburbanites from Manhattan or Connecticut), the denizens of Queens were primarily working class, and understood that it took a lot of losing to truly appreciate winning.

The ’86 Mets did not disappoint.  They won 108 games against just 54 losses, led the N.L. in both pitching and hitting, and went on to defeat the Astros of Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott in the greatest league-championship series ever played.  (Game Six of that series was the greatest game I’ve still ever seen in my life.)

Carter hit just .148 in that series, and it was clear that at age 32, he was finally slowing down just a bit.  True, he had driven in 100 runs again in ’86, but the wear and tear of, at that point, a dozen seasons as a catcher had begun to take their toll.  It was unclear how effective he would be, in the Mets first World Series since 1973, against Rocket Roger Clemens’ Red Sox.

Led me begin by saying that I did not hate the Red Sox.  After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and it was the Yankees that I truly couldn’t stand (although I always respected certain players like Randolph, Munson, and later Mattingly.)  My brother was a Red Sox fan, so we had a fun, natural rivalry as well.

Through the first five games of the Series, the Mets looked alternately flat and dominating.  Their had been some heroics and some botched opportunities.  And the Mets suddenly found themselves down 3 games to 2 going into Game Six.  Although it was clear that the Mets Could come back and win, it was far from certain that they Would.

The Mets had lost the first two games of the World Series at Shea Stadium, then had taken two of three at Fenway Park (Carter hit two home runs in Game Four.)  So home-field “advantage” had not been an advantage so far in this Series.

Dwight Gooden had already been beaten twice, and Ron Darling once, so it fell to the Mets underrated third ace, Bobby Ojeda (ironically obtained in an off-season trade from the Red Sox) to even the Series three games apiece.

Paid attendance at Shea on this October night topped 55,000, and all of New York (and Boston, of course) was glued to their T.V. sets.  The Red Sox took an early 2-0 lead off of Ojeda.  The Mets got two back to tie the game in the fifth inning.  The Sox chipped another run in the seventh.  The Mets responded with a run of their own in the eight inning.

Neither team scored in the ninth, and we had extra innings.

I can’t imagine how exhausted Gary Carter must have been.  He had caught every game of the Series, and now here he was entering the tenth inning still behind the plate for the Mets.  I was tense, nervous and exhausted just watching the damned game.

In fact, writing this post is the first time I’ve allowed myself to virtually relive this game, more or less in its entirety, in a quarter of a century.

After the top of the tenth inning, it looked all over for the Mets.  The Sox had scored two in the top of the tenth, and how much Mets Magic could be left in the tank?  There are some miracles you just don’t dare ask for.

The Mets were quickly down two outs in the bottom of the tenth.  I looked over at my brother and said, “Congratulations, Mark, it looks like your boys are finally going to win a World Series.”  He responded, “Nope.  It’s not over yet.  They’ll probably find a way to blow it.”

But the Mets were down two runs, and were down to their last out.

Then Gary Carter strode to the plate.  It had to be Carter.  This moment could be reserved for no one else.

Quickly, though, he was down two strikes.  The Mets were down to their last out.  Their last strike.  Just one more pitch.  I couldn’t watch.

In my mind’s eye, I seem to remember Carter fighting off a pitch or two, but I could be wrong.

Then, it happened.  Gary Carter lined a clean single, and the floodgates were opened.  I looked over at my brother.  He had a look of pure doom on his face.

There is no reason to go any further with the play-by-play.  There can’t be a baseball fan over 30-years old anywhere that doesn’t know how the rest of that game, and that Series, turned out.

But I can’t help wondering how different it would have turned out if Carter had not come to the plate in that tenth inning at bat.  How did he do it?  He must have been running on pure adrenaline.  And, of course, he came back the next day and caught Game Seven.  He finished the Series with a pair of home runs, a .276 batting average, and a team-leading nine RBI.

No Met player had come to the plate more often than Carter’s 29 official at bats in this Series, and no player on either team had come up with a bigger hit when it mattered most.

Carter played a total of just five seasons with the Mets, but he solidified not only his Hall of Fame credentials, but his permanent place in the hearts of all Mets fans during his short stay.

Now, at age 57, Gary Carter has passed away, a short stay in a world he made better with his generosity, enthusiasm and dignity, taking a piece of my youth with him.

But what he has left in its place is a profoundly grateful fan’s memories of how Hope is always just around the corner, if you dare to believe in it.

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