GOOD ENOUGH?, or,
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP BEING A NICE GUY AND WANT RON GARDENHIRE'S HEAD
it seems a bit strange to hype the Twins beyond a certain point. Squashing the dwarfish aspirations of their rivals with the division is not a good enough standard for success." 2005 BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Here we go again. I don't know about the rest of you, but as the baseball season approached, I became a net surfer, reading and reading and reading just about every silly thing penned about the Twins. Such as they lost too many good players. That the Indians are right up there with them. Actually, they'll breeze to another Central Division Title. You know, they're the best team out there, really. Or how about the one where the Yankees and the Red Sox both claim that last year they were quaking in their stirrups over who met the Twins in the first round. Then there's a couple of fellows over at that ESPN who says the Twins'll win this years World Championship crown.
Personally, I think that the Twins are better team. Or at least they should be a better team. It's not just the hope that certain players will get healthy, but that this talented group of players finally matures into a dominant team. They have as great a pitching staff as any of the American League contenders, their offense should be improving to the point where it can generate more runs than their hurlers prevent, and their defense is still sharp. Yes, the season's young, there's some concern after six games (at this writing), but I'm telling you it doesn't matterafter three years of division titles, this is the team that needs to get to the World Series in 2005.
Ergo: if the Minnesota Twins fail to go to the Fall Classic, Ron Gardenhire should be fired.
I have no statistical reason to show that poor Ron's deserving of this, and many of my arguments are emotional and even, maybe, knee-jerk. But I still believe them.
If you're like mean anxious, irritable, seasonal-affective-disorder type of guythen you saw Opening Day not only as a holiday but a necessary tonic to the physical and psychological ills of the winter. Unlike the rest of the state of Minnesota, I don't even care that much about the fact that we play in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. They don't have ball in Montreal this year, so I'm thankful, not just for the presence of a team, but a good one. This first month, I'm hungry to sit in those damn plastic seats, my back aching, gullet burning from Dome Dogs, not caring how good or how bad the team fares (and April is the cruelest month for many a ballclub, anyway). I'll be filling out a scorecard. Singing "Twins" when everyone else bleats "Home Team" during "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". And when I'm not at the Dome, I'll be gnashing my teeth at home to the sound of John G. Gutowsky and Dan Gladden mangling the game, as I did last night, when Johan the Santana K'd eleven. What else are you going to do in April? Rake the dead grass?
By September, however, my mood will have drastically changed: the grass will have thrived and died again, and I'll have grown sick of hot dogs, tired of ESPN, my hand will have cramps from all the scribbling, and Lee Greenwood had better not get within ten feet of me. By September the only tonic for my ennui is success (with the Tigers, it's merely improvement). And therein lies the problem: my definition of successand I'm guessing many a Twins fanhas changed. I'm beginning to wonder if the Minnesota Twins feel the same way.
Let's be honest: there is no team in all of baseball who appears to have the easiest path to the postseason. Look around the circuits: the Yankees are a question mark (that aging pitching staff has got to blow a gasket sometime, even if Randy Johnson's already firing on all pistons), the Red Sox could have the Yanks in the way, the AL West is a free-for-all (except for the Rangers, who will fail miserably), and in the National League no one, including the Braves, are a lock to take their divisions. Only Minnesota has the key ingredients for a cake-walk: a talented club and a weak division. The White Sox, despite their first week surge, have become worse and the Indians are at least a year away from contention. The other teams shall remain unmentioned. Although we lost Corey Koskie, there's a good chance that much of our talent this year will ripenand I'm not even including the question-mark Luis Rivas. Consider Johan Santana: already there's much talk about how he cannot possibly repeat his performance of last year. Except that last year's Cy Young performance wasn't really a year's worth: remember that his first third of the season was mush. Spread him out over a whole year, and I could see another shot at the Cy Young. Add to this mix a healthy Joe Mauer (and maybe even Joe Mays!), a psychologically sound Kyle Lohse, along with the budding of their young hitters (including the cursed Morneau), and the Twins are a lock for the cardboard crown that is the AL Central Champ.
At least they had better be. Local pundits seem not so sure, as if they could jinx the club by stating the obvious. Forget thatthe time has come to expect that this is the team to beat in the American League. I wish that the Twins were beginning to act as if that's the case. Any club that is this good, that has won three straight division titles, had better start to act in that way. It is no longer enough for to see, next April, the Twins unfurl another vinyl banner stating BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK DIVISION CHAMPIONS. I get the feeling I'm not alone: the Twins attendance has been dwindling the last three years, due in part to a concerted effort by the Twins to keep the Dome as ugly and mistreated as possible. On top of that, we also get a lukewarm buffet of the Royals, Tigers, Indians and White Sox, while the other teams (the Yanks and Red Sox especially) come through for a tapas-sized portion of three games each. True, this Opening Day was packed, and I'm sure that attendance will grow this spring, thanks in part to Johan Santana's Cy Young, the lack of competition from Hockey, and the feelingtrue or notthat this is a better team than ever before. All the more reason to hand Ron Gardenhire his pink slip if the team falters.
For isn't this how it works in this ruthless world of baseball? Once you have expectations, they need to be met, or heads roll. The Twins, unlike the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and many more, do not, supposedly, have the resources to purchase a big arm or a big bat. They grow their talent slowly and cheaply in the minors. Despite their mediocre competition, the Twins are a very talented team, who will only get older, who will only lose players, and who will only see their competition strengthen in the coming seasons. I won't go so far as to predict that they'll win this year, but I will say that they need to win.
Ron Gardenhire was given a talented club at a time when their division foes were weak, and he's made much of it, but not the most of it. In fact, I would argue that he's made a number of monumental errors that have hurt the team, both in the regular season and the postseason. They include:
1. The near-disaster of sticking with Eddie Guardado in Game Five of the first round of the 2002 playoffs. Had the Twins lost that game, and the mistakes that were made thereafter, we might have a new manager now.
2. Keeping an ailing Shannon Stewart in the field (instead of the DH) while a healthy Lew Ford sat on the bench in the defensive half of the inning much of last year. And, from the looks of it, this year as well.
3. Keeping Luis Rivas in the number two spot for much of last year. Thankfully, that's changed. But I'm curious to see whether he freezes the lineup as he did last year when a player's struggling.
4. Taking Johan Santana out of Game Four in the fifth inning of last year's playoff, which probably cost them the game and the series.
5. Two words: Four catchers. Four damn catchers. While this may be the fault of the higher powers in the Twins organization, if Gardenhire disagrees then he should be saying so publicly (or fighting to manage his own roster).
6. The Twins just can't seem to hit. While a change of management and a change of coaching staff definitely don't guarantee success (far from it), they do have a tendency to shake things up. This club needs to be shaken up, especially if it is not solidly in first place by the All-Star break.
Along with many of the Twins blunderings in Game Three of last year's series (with two Twins trying to stretch singles into doubles leading to two outs instead of two runs), I have to wonder where the guy's head is during these high-pressure games. Gardenhire's team does not seem to be able to pull these tough games out, and his loyalty to his players is turning out to be more of a weakness than a strength. In fact, it was a similar problem that handed Grady Little his hat in 2003.
I admit that you can't sum anything up by what you see over Opening Day, or even the first week. That first home game, "El Ducky" Hernandez looked like an ace in keeping the Twins bats cool. One run, eight hits, hardly a rally to be had. Again, I remind myself that this is but one game, a team can struggle out of the gate, no big deal, they're 3-3 against two decent teams. The weekend saw Lohse and Radke struggle, saw a masterful Santana. It also saw injuries to Carlos Silva and Justin Morneau (or rather, the continuing curse of Doug Mientkiewicz). But once again, Shannon Stewart took the field, as opposed to Lew Ford. Twice, there were plays that I felt Lew would have handled easilythe first, Stewart's 'heroic' effort to nail a Carl Everett liner, which bounced away for a run-scoring double. In the seventh, he made a leaping catch of Juan Uribe's drive, which might have cleared the fence. But would a speedier Lew Ford have made the first play and casually caught the second?
Frankly, I'm at a loss as to what arguments you could make for Ron Gardenhire as a great manager. I don't think he's awful, in fact I think he's probably not bad. But I do think it might be time to move on should he fail to see success. I'm looking at a larger picture: if the Twins are in first all year, sail into the playoffs and don't make it to the World Series, then is this a successful year? If your answer's 'yes', then why? Because he led the team to a first place finish? Some of the arguments in favor of Gardenhire include the fact that he's juggled lineups with injuries and lost players over the years, but you could say that for half the managers who have seen their teams to the playoffs (the A's, Yankees, Red Sox and Braves all come to mind). Is Carl Pohlad trying to be the next Walter O'Malley in his loyalty to his managers? Is that a good thing?
I like Ron Gardenhire. I like a lot of the Twins. But I also think that if they fail to perform, well, this is Major League Baseball. If Luis Rivas is not playing well, he should go. Doug Mientkiewicz couldn't hit his weight, so it was time to make room for Justin Morneau, whether you like Dougie or not. If Gardenhire goes and the Twins win it all, will there be tears in Minnesota? Something tells me they will shed as many as they are for Doug this year. Which is to say none at all.
This club has the potential to win this year, to really beat up on their playoff competition, and charge into the World Seriesthey could have done better last year. So I'm starting to believe that the leadership is hurting this club more than we might think. If anyone has any arguments to the contrary, I'd be glad to hear them.
Peter Schilling Jr.
HOW TO BEAT THE FEBRUARY BLUES
Februaries are hell on baseball fans, but this past February was worse than most. On another afternoon, a warm, sunny afternoon in late June, when I could tune in to a televised game and get an instant reminder of the things that are still good about the sport I'm sure I'd have been thrilled to find that the Negro League Baseball Museum called Kansas City its home. My soon-to-be wife and I were staying overnight in the Kansas City area so she could attend a job interview the next morning. There are no games in February, of course, and besides that, I'd always thought of the stars of the Negro Leagues, the Judy Johnstones and the Josh Gibsons, the Satchel Paiges and Cool PapaBell, as tragic historical figures, my sense of them defined not by the fact that they had been wonderful ballplayers, but by the fact that they had been excluded from the major leagues.
A high percentage of baseball fans, and for that matter, of Americans in general, share this perception of the Negro Leaguers. Mainstream sources are usually compelled only to cover what makes for the best human-interest story, and in regards to black baseball, the best human-interest story has always been that of desegregation. Gibson, we learn, if we learn about him at all, was the tragic hero in a tale that ends with Pee Wee Reese's arm draped over Jackie Robinson's shoulder, a perfect twist of the bittersweetthe cause prevails, but too late for the tragic hero, who died never having lived out his dream. I don't mean to imply that this story is a false or unimportant one, but neither is it comprehensive, for the simple reason that it can't afford to be comprehensive. It has to hold the attention of a broad audience. And, as Shakespeare, among others, has taught us: No stories appeal to the masses more than those of tragic historical figures.
I wouldn't have enjoyed Shakespeare that afternoon in Kansas City. After an impossibly long and baseball-less winter, there were still several days to endure before the beginning of the exhibition season. The Hot Stove had long since cooled to room
temperature. The baseball-related baseball coverage extended only to a few newspapers confirmations that pitchers and catchers were indeed playing catch. Add to that Jose Canseco's book and Jason Giambi's admission that he had in fact been a juicer, and there was no need to go digging up the sad past; there was plenty enough for this baseball fan to mope about in present-day.
I went to the museum anyway, due in no small part to my fiancée's insistence that she would toss me out the window if I didn't find something better to do with my time than pace the hotel room like a caged rat. Yes, I went, but I went without a great deal of enthusiasm. A trip to the Negro League Baseball Museum, to my way of thinking, would simply mean trading in the tragedies of one era for the tragedies of another eraan unlikely cure, I thought, for a massive, steroid-enhanced case of the February blues.
The Negro League Baseball Museum shares a building with the National Jazz Museum on 18th and Vine near downtown Kansas City. The self-guided tour, for the most part, involves following a timeline that winds around, mazelike, to the center of the building. Along the timeline are place cards that tell, in interesting snippets, the real and true story of black
baseball's many incarnations throughout the years. That might sound terribly ordinary to some, but to a baseball enthusiast, the presentation is anything but dry. There are plenty of artifactsfrom wooden shin guards to real uniforms to Negro League contracts to authentic letters written about Henry Aaron by the scout who signed himto help the stories become more
tangible. And, if you still have trouble bringing them to life, you need only to wait; at the end of the timeline you come to a clearing that contains a scaled-down version of a baseball field, complete with a scoreboard and life-size statues of some of the greatest Negro Leaguers of all time, one at each position.
I expected that the focal points of the museum would be the racism and segregation faced by the ballplayersafter all, a major reason we preserve history in the first place is to ensure we don't repeat our mistakes (there was plenty to educate a visitor on how these issues related to the Negro League experience). There were stories of teams who were forced at times to pitch tents out behind the ballpark on the nights before games, as there were no hotels willing to do business with them. And the clippings of the newspaper cartoons that depicted Negro Leaguers as monkeys with baseball gloves were enough on their own to indicate the sad racial climate of those times. But I hadn't expected the amount of space dedicated simply to the celebration of what happened on the field, the part of the Negro Leagues that so often is lost on mainstream sources.
From what I'd learned of the Negro Leagues in the past, I had the idea that its ballplayers were tortured day and night by the fact that they couldn't play in the major leagues. I didn't find evidence of that at the museum, however. I liked best the photos of ballplayers goofing around before games, grinning, playing pepper, wrestling, or simply lounging around on the grass by the team bus. They brought me closer to the Negro League experience minus the usual tragic overtones. Looking at the photos, I could set historical context aside for a few minutes and decide what the ballplayers were thinking in the moment. Here's what I decided: That these men, whether they might sleep in a tent or a car or on the team bus later that night, took genuine pleasure in their involvement with the game.
Part of what holds race relations back in our country, I think, is the fact that we continue to define people, whether we accept them or not, by the color of their skin. Josh Gibson is not Josh Gibson, but the "The Black Babe Ruth". It isn't that we mean to diminish his accomplishmentsin fact, we mean to pay a complimentbut in the way we state our opinions we invariably end up diminishing his accomplishments anyway. I've heard more than one person say that "Josh Gibson was the greatest homerun hitter of all time, and it's a terrible tragedy that he never got to prove it". A trip to the Negro League Baseball museum and you begin to see what's wrong in the subtext of that statement, despite the good intentions, and further, what's wrong with continuing to portray Negro Leaguers as tragic figures who weren't able, due to historical circumstances, to live out their dreams. What, exactly, you begin to wonder, if not proving his status and living out his dreams, was Gibson doing during the thousands of games he played throughout his baseball career? The photographs help strip away the racial element, if you let them. It isn't hard to imagine that photographs of white big-leaguers from the same time period would contain the very same images and emotions as the photos of the Negro Leagues.
There was something important to be gleaned from those photos, but before I could be sure I grasped it fully, I needed an expert's opinion. So, when I reached the scaled-down ballpark at the end of the tour, I went out and sat near the pitcher's mound and waited for conformation from the statue of the young Satchel Paige. Satchel's look, whether copied from a photograph or imagined out of the mind of the sculptor, taught me something. The expression on his face, the intense focus, said that, at the moment, he wasn't feeling troubled, that everything else, the hotel clerks who wouldn't give him a room, the big-league owners who wouldn't yet give him the chance he so obviously deserved, could wait. Right then, his expression said, he had a game to pitch.
That, I think, is where the tragic-hero stories of the Negro Leagues fail us. They give us characters and a compelling story, but in doing so, they cover the casual observer's idea of the Negro Leagues in a blanket of sadness.
I spent three and a half hours in the museum, but I could have spent an entire day there if I'd arrived a little earlier. I'd have liked to have watched the half-hour long video or thumbed my way through a few of the books in the gift shop, just to get an idea of how they portray the experience, just to see if it comes any closer to my newly acquired sense of the Negro Leagues. The rain hadn't let up and the sky hadn't cleared when I stepped back out into the street. But my mood had certainly improved. I had thought that a trip to the Negro League Baseball Museum, a trip through a sad time in our country's history, would do nothing but make a gloomy Midwestern afternoon in February, two long weeks before the first spring training game, and just one short day before the release of the book that would cause the steroid scandal to explode, gloomier yet.
I was wrong, of course, and here's why: There's nothing tragic to be found in the image of Josh Gibson belting a long homerun, or Satchel Paige winding up to deliver a fastball. There's certainly something tragic to be found in their having to endure racism
and segregation and poor traveling conditions and lower payand the museum reflects that. But in the images there is only a ballplayer doing what he loves to do bestplaying ball, and playing it welland that is anything but an unhappy thing.
The Wrong and Right Reasons To Appreciate Ichiro
According to Mellow Monk's Green Tea Blog (devoted to Japanese-grown green tea), Ichiro Suzuki's given name means "first boy" or eldest son. That might disappoint those who watch him play baseball and think that his almost beatific ability should wear a name defined more deeply. It must seem awfully pedestrian that his name ties at best to his being the first Japanese-born position player ever to govern a baseball game in the United States at all, never mind four years and counting.
First Boy should have only such miniscule disappointments for the rest of his career.
Right now, Ichiro has rewritten another record book, setting the Seattle Mariners' new record for a spring training hitting streak. The old recordholder: Ken Griffey, Jr. Ichiro did it while going two-for-five amidst a 15-9 exhibition thumping of the Chicago White Sox in late March, fattening his spring resume at the time to a .518 batting average. As in, 28 hits in 54 at-bats.
Spring training games mean so little, right? Just wait until the season gets underway, right? But there are those in the afterbirth of the new season who feel no shyness in predicting a run at .400 for him. And who is to say it is beyond even him to become baseball's first-ever .500 hitter? Assuming rival managers allow their pitchers to pitch to him?
Don't laugh. There were those who put him on down the stretch in 2004 no matter how badly the Mariners were doing, and no matter what the in-game situation happened to be. "That's the kind of stuff they do with Barry Bonds," said the Mariners' then-manager, Bob Melvin, after the Toronto Blue Jays walked Ichiro in the seventh inning 1 September 2004. "You don't usually do it with a singles hitter, and you're putting speed on the bases, too."
Except that not every singles hitter is en route to smashing the ancient single-season hits record when you're about to put him on. This may explain why, to the Blue Jays that night, it mattered nothing that putting Ichiro on meant the bases loaded, even with two out. Good thing for them that starting pitcher David Bush then got Randy Winn to pop out to get out of the inning.
"It would almost be foolish at that point to let one of the best hitters in the game beat us in a clutch situation," Bush said, after that game. "I think anybody would be with the way Ichiro is swinging the bat. He's got 214 hits. I threw some pretty good pitches to him earlier in the game and he got base hits on them."
And Ichiro? He merely trotted back to his dugout, hung up his helmet, grabbed his glove, and made way to his usual place of business in right field. "Of course you want to hit," he said almost stoically after the game, "but it's not like you're going to tell them to throw to me."
Safeco Field fans have not invested heavily in orange rubber chickens to swing over their heads at the first hint of an intentional Ichiro passyet. On the other hand, this leadoff pest, who turns baseball games into track and field competitions, at the plate, on the bases, or in the outfield, has been known to uncork the occasional lightning strike.
We take you back to 31 July 2004, in Angel Stadium, where an already wild little game has reached the top of the ninth, the Angels have brought in their then-closer, Troy Percival, and the ten year old boy under my jurisdictionstill feeling the wondrousness of being a boy prophet (in the fourth inning, from his upper deck seat, he screamed down, "Hit a home run, Vladimir Guerrero!"; three pitches later, Guerrero did precisely that, drilling one right past the lower left field foul pole)is hollering for some serious action.
Neither he nor perhaps anyone else in the park expected what they got. Ichiro swung on the first Percival pitch and fired it over the right field scoreboard, five rows up the high bleachers. Not until the bottom of the eleventh, when Jose Guillen went walkoff for the home team, with a majestic drive into the left field bullpen area, did people within my reach quit talking about Ichiro's blast.
"Pitch him wide, pitch him inside, pitch him up, pitch him down, don't even give him anything to hit hard out of the infield," White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle has said, "and (he) can still go five for five on you." That is exactly what Ichiro did 4 September 2004, notwithstanding the surprise of Buehrle starting him in the top of the seventh with an eephus pitch.
"In Japan, I saw that a lot," Ichiro said. "But here, it's probably the first time." He also saw a standing O in Comiskey Park when he got the fifth of his hits in the top of the ninth. "I think they really love the game," he said of the O. "It really made me feel good to see that."
Ichiro will probably make a lot of people feel good in the season to come. Whatever you do or don't think of That Controversy, involving That Stuff, and whether or not it actually did overquantify or put a little extra oomph into Those Home Runs, you can probably bet your mortgage safely enough on the proposition that enough of the idiot brigadeswho think (erroneously) that home runs qua home runs have nothing to do with "pure" baseballmight gaze upon Ichiro's distinctive mug, half beatific, half mischievous, and see him restoring the "purity" of the game.
That is the wrong reason to appreciate him, if such be the case. A better reason to appreciate him might be that he's Pete Rose without the ostentatious recklessness, Tim Raines without the hitter-disadvantageous home park, an early-in-the-order man who hits lots (his per-162 games average after 2004: 236 hits), scores lots of runs, has a little power, and spends almost half his plate appearances reaching base. Defense? Ichiro leaves the pair of them (and almost anyone else) in the junkyard looking for new gloves. He may be the best defensive outfielder in the American League right now, at any of the three positions.
Late arrival in the majors though he is, slight advantage though he probably had playing in Japan as long as he did before arriving (if you consider the Japanese game as the equivalent of Triple A level in the United States), Ichiro is on the Hall of Fame's express track, assuming he has even six more major league seasons of play at or close enough to his incumbent level. A World Series ring would not exactly impair him, either, notwithstanding that the Mariners don't have him to blame for their lack thereof.
First Boy was 27 when he began playing in the U.S. There is another fellow who began at or slightly later than that age. As this other fellow could not begin sooner because of his race, Ichiro could not or did not because, well, nobody from his homeland managed previously to crack the questions as to whether Japanese position players could crack the American game and stay. (With Hideo Nomo to lead the way, the pitchers had already proven otherwise.)
But would you believe how Ichiro's performance papers for his first four major league seasons look astride those of the other fellow's first four?
ICHIRO 924 hits, 450 runs, 114 doubles, 157 stolen bases, 1,207 total bases, 177 runs produced per 162 games, 180 extra base hits, .339 batting average, .384 on-base percentage, .443 slugging percentage.
THE OTHER GUY 723 hits, 454 runs, 146 doubles, 100 stolen bases, 1,084 total bases, 198 runs produced per 162 games, 229 extra base hits, .315 batting average, .401 on base percentage, .477 slugging percentage.
Ponder if you will what Ichiro's run production per 162 games would be, if he played on the Other Guy's teams or similar. Teams on which you ignite a considerably more run-productive lineup, get a few more opportunities to swing the bat (Ichiro's 162 game average intentional walks: 16; the Other Guy: best guesstimate, since records weren't kept formally for all but two of his ten seasons: six or seven), maybe even get a few more opportunities to drive home a few more runs, in those at-bats where you are not the leadoff man and might have an extra man or three on base.
The Other Guy is Jackie Robinson.
Of course, no two men could be more opposite in their game attitude, beyond leaving everything they have on the field when the game goes into the books. Ichiro will never inspire anyone to say of him what Leo Durocher said, famously, about Robinson, to whom baseball was (from necessity, in understandable part) total war: "He don't just come to play, he comes to beat youhe comes to shove the bat right up your ass." Ichiro comes to let you impale your own self on his bat.
"I tried to get him to come out in the sixth," said Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, after Sunday's romper, "but he wanted to stay in as he is taking a day off tomorrow."
Come Opening Day, First Boy picked up right where he left off in 2004. After receiving his Gold Glove award before game time in Safeco, Ichiro led off the bottom of the first with a single, then held second on new Mariner glitteratus Adrian Beltre's bounceback to Minnesota Twins' starter Brad Radke, whose errant throw into center field trying to force him left all hands safe. Then, resurrected glitteratus Richie Sexson flogged the next pitch over the left field scoreboard, and the Mariners were en route a 5-1 Opening Day win. Ichiro batted himself another hit on the afternoon but didn't figure in the Mariners' next and final scoring, Sexson sneaking one over the center field fence with Beltre on board ahead of him.
But now that he has bumped George Sisler to one side, ask not whether Ichiro has any ideas about handing Joe DiMaggio his exit papers. "Fifty-six games is so far," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer during March. "It's impossible to see. You can't say nobody will ever do it. But I think it's tougher to get than any other record." And don't even think about looking at his spring and thinking he could hit in 162 straight. He has a plan in the event he does just that: "If that happens, I'd quit baseball."
He laughed when he said it. Maybe that means he knows, in his quiet but hardly aloof way, that baseball is a lot less fun on days when he is not in the lineup and on the field, playing a game somewhere, inspiring extraterrestrial speculation with every swing, every catch, every jump toward the next laxly guarded base with his name on it.
CONVERSATIONS REAL AND IMAGINED (OPENING DAY EDITION)
(After inquiring about handmade shirt): "Why does A. J. suck? I'll tell you why, because that f----er left the Twins for the White Sox. I hate the White Sox. Well, yeah, I know he didn't LEAVE, he was TRADED, and
well, f--k, I mean, he didn't have to play for the White Sox. F---ing White Sox! Oh, sorry, yeah, I'll watch my language. Anyway, he could've gone to the Diamondbacks, he could've
you know, he could've gone to the f---ing Japanese, that's where. Trade for some Ichiro guy! That would've been
OK, I'll go back to my seat, sorry, sorry
"Johan Santana. Johan Santana. I don't get why he pronounces it that way. Johan. Yo-Yo. Yo-Yo Santana. Why not spell it with a 'Y' if that's how it sounds?"
"With his fastball, he can go by whatever he wants. Koo-Koo or Yo-Yo or George W. Santana. You can't argue with that Cy."
"I hate that Spam package. That single-slice thing. You can't get that anywhere. Trust me, I've looked. No, I mean in here, though I haven't seen it at Cub neither. I mean, it'd be like advertising Coke and all you can get is Pepsi. A Spam pouch, perfect for the game. Nope. Just another reason to LOVE the Dome."
"I'm no 'Boy'. 'Beer Man', 'Hey You', even 'God' is acceptable. Oh, really? You just got cut off, my friend."
(At the sight of a 'Kiss-Cam' couple simulating fellatio): "That never happens to me."
"I drink to you, Lew Ford. A toast to you, Mr. Lew Ford. Good tidings to you, Lewis Ford."
NEXT BATTER: "I drink to you, Michael Cuddyer. I drink to you, a double drink to you, Mr. Cuddyer. Yes, all good luck to you, Mike Cuddyer."
NEXT BATTER: "Skol to Luis Rivas! We raise our goblets to Luis Rivas! A toast to Mr. Rivas!"
"That didn't seem to work."
Shrugs. "I had to try something."
WHICH FAN ARE YOU?
In the past, we have oft heard of the conflict betwixt 'fans' of baseball, and 'purists'. And yet, dear readers, there is another group of aficionados of the great American pastimethe Mudvillian. Behold our little primer on
How to spot the three types of Baseball fans
Casual fan: Wears any type of cap, forward or backwards, without concern for loyalty, just fashion.
Purist. Like the pros, sports only pure wool caps even on the hottest of days. Team logos are of whichever team the purist has been following since childhood, or of a vintage team whose roster the purist knows by heart.
Mudvillian: Doffs black umpires caps, backwards, with protective face-gear.
Casual fan: Wears whatever gaudy shirt is in style.
Purist: Carefully attired in autographed jersey purchased online.
Mudvillian: Proudly wearing white J.C. Penney t-shirt with team logo written in permanent ink on breast.
Casual fan: Demands the most up-to-date foodstuffs available. From sushi to nachos to pizza, drowned in beverages ranging from fine wines, micro-brewed beer, to fresh juice and smoothies.
Purist: Eats only the classicspopcorn, peanuts, Cracker-Jack, and hot dogswashed down with cheap beer or pop, for the kiddies.
Mudvillian: Smuggles plates, napkins and that night's meal, usually stews, in hot water bottles that make wife look 'pregnant'. Sips water from bathroom faucets.
Casual fan: Never. Supports banning all tobacco products.
Purist: What's wrong with a good cigar?
Mudvillian: Pinches snuff or sucks on bidis regardless of laws.
Casual fan: Shouts along with Queen's "We Will Rock You".
Purist: Warbles "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
Mudvillian: Performs Sousa tunes on the tuba.
Casual fan: Shouts profanity; hurls quarters, garbage at hated players.
Purist: Chants "Hey Badda Badda, Suh-Wing!"
Mudvillian: Shrieks the piercing cry of dying rabbits; rubs balloons together.
Casual fan: Ready? It's coming! It's coming!
Purist: Harrumphs, shrinks down into seat.
Mudvillian: Vomits due to seasickness.
Casual fan: Scoring? Are you kidding?
Purist: Has detailed scorebooks dating back to the '70s.
Mudvillian: Pays close attention to game, then retreats to Stillwater caves to paint contest on damp walls.
Casual fan: Leaves in the seventh to insure a speedy exit.
Purist: Stays until the very last out, no matter how late.
Mudvillian: Unrolls sleeping bag, leaves for work first thing in the morning.
Casual fan: "Check out Miller Park!".
Purist: Fenway, Wrigley, or Yankee Stadium.
Mudvillian: Admires that cool outer-space look of the Metrodome.
TOUGH LUCK DEPT. (READINGS)
From a letter published in the most recent (May 2005) issue of Baseball Digest:
"I bunk next door to Jim Hurm II at Ashland Correctional Institution. He claims to have had "a cup of coffee" with the Cincinnati Reds in 1965.
Please let me know if his claim is true, and if so, what his lifetime statistics were.
Jeffrey D. Sayre
BD: We cannot find Hurm's name ever being listed on a Cincinnati Reds major league roster."