Archive for the ‘Philadelphia Phillies’ Category

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Pete Rose in . . . The Nagging Question

January 7, 2008
 

 

There’s a lot of voting going on lately, what with the New Hampshire primary and the announcement of the results of the Hall of Fame vote both happening tomorrow. I was going to spend the morning writing about the existential implications of a particularly light-hitting utility infielder from the 1970s named Luis Gomez, but I feel like getting into the voting frenzy instead, especially since the most likely candidates for this year’s official seal of baseball immortality come from the ranks of the Cardboard Gods. Some of the more deserving candidates, including Alan Trammel, Dale Murphy, and Tim Raines, started to become prominent just as my childhood was ending, but the other names expected to make the strongest showing in this year’s vote were in or at least entering their prime during my baseball card years: Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson, and Bert Blyleven. I have no inside knowledge about this, and haven’t researched the reports of those who do, but if I had to guess I’d predict that Rice and Gossage get in tomorrow, with Blyleven a narrow miss.

Whatever the result, it is sure to stir up controversy about the arbitrary nature of Hall of Fame voting. If Rice gets in, many will wonder why he’s in and, say, Dick Allen isn’t. If Blyleven doesn’t get in, many will wonder why he’s not in and, say, Don Sutton is. Why Lou Brock but not Tim Raines? Why Pee Wee Reese but not Alan Trammel? Why 1930s basher Chuck Klein but not 1990s basher Mark McGwire? (OK, that last question was kind of loaded, or perhaps even juiced, but the point is every player is a product of their times, more or less, and so why ignore the inflated numbers of the 1930s—a segregated era, no less—while completely discounting the inflated numbers of the 1990s?)

You know, I don’t know the answer to any those questions. So instead of trying to answer them, I propose to pass the time today in the pursuit of determining which of the Cardboard Gods is most deserving of an even more arbitrary and ridiculous designation: Best Everyday Player of the 1970s.

I got the idea for this designation a few days ago, during a discussion about Reggie Jackson on Bronx Banter. A participant in the discussion, williamnyy23, provided a list, via baseball-reference.com, of the top twelve OPS+ averages in the decade among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances (for more on OPS+ see baseball-reference.com’s glossary; basically, it is the best single statistic for reflecting a player’s worth as a hitter):

1 Willie Stargell 156 OPS+, 5083 plate appearances
2 Reggie Jackson 148, 5912
3 Rod Carew 142, 5916
4 Reggie Smith 142, 5352
5 Joe Morgan 140, 6320
6 Ken Singleton 139, 5778
7 Johnny Bench 132, 6001
8 Bobby Bonds 132, 6561
9 Bob Watson 132, 5625
10 Tony Perez 129, 6155
11 Cesar Cedeno 128, 5482
12 Pete Rose 128, 7399

So I present that list to you, the voters, as the ballot for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s. But first, a few things:

  1. I am well aware that this is all very ludicrous. For example, Mike Schmidt’s career started too late to be on the above list, but does that make him worse than all the players mentioned? Of course not.
  2. But then again, who cares if it is ludicrous? I grew up in the 1970s, and really in many ways I still live in the 1970s, and so by god I want to know who was the Best Everyday Player of the 1970s.
  3. Please note the word Everyday. My feeling is that if pitchers were included in the discussion, there would be less debate. Tom Seaver tops everyone on the above list in terms of being the Best of the Decade.
  4. Please feel free to write in a vote. I myself have struggled all morning over the question of whether to lodge a middle-finger vote for the immortal Luis Gomez. The system doesn’t work! We’re all doomed anyway! Luis Gomez for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s!
  5. Why, you may ask, am I featuring the 12th player on the ballot, below such fringe candidates as Bobby Bonds and Cesar Cedeno, as the card illustrating today’s ramblings? Pete Rose? You must be joking! Indeed, Pete Rose was at any given time not the best player on his team. He was not even the second best player. He may not, if the above list and its inclusion of Tony Perez is any indication, have even been the third best player on his team. For comparison’s sake, consider (as I often do) this year’s Boston Red Sox. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are the top two players, and this season Mike Lowell joined them to make a Big Three. So was Pete Rose no better than the 1970s version of the Red Sox’ fourth best player, Kevin Youkilis? And if so, please tell me, Wilker, that you aren’t casting your vote for Pete Rose for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s.
  6. I’m casting my vote for Pete Rose for Best Everyday Player of the 1970s. Mind you, I’m not that confident in the vote. I realize that at their peaks Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan were superior, and may even have been during those peaks the best to ever man their respective positions. I realize the sheer power of Stargell and Reggie would give your team an explosive element that Rose could never provide. I realize that the kind of offensive firepower Rose could provide (think knife-jabs and slashes rather than cannon shots) may have actually been provided more effectively by Rod Carew. But even given all that Rose still contributed significantly to his team’s offensive attack, and, more than that, he did it every single day every single year of the decade in question. Bench was a catcher and could not play every day and wore down by the end of the decade. Morgan also slowed down and played fewer and fewer games as the decade wore on. Stargell’s relatively low number of plate appearances speaks to his problems with injuries, and one of the bigger knocks against Reggie was that he occasionally took games off even when he was in the lineup. I know I’m verging on the much-lampooned idea of “clutchitudiness” when I start talking about things like this, but I think it’s fair to say that Pete Rose was never accused of mailing in his efforts. He played every day and he played hard and he played effectively every position he was asked to play (the former second baseman entered the 1970s as a sure-handed outfielder, became a sure-handed third baseman, and ended the 1970s as a sure-handed first baseman) and he hit. He helped his team win every day, from the beginning of the decade until the end. He gets my vote.

Who gets your vote?

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Warren Brusstar

November 12, 2007
 

 

“Uh, Warren, that chick from last night,” a teammate said a few moments prior to the snapping of this photograph. The teammate was standing just behind the photographer. The photographer was fiddling with the settings on his camera.

“Which one?” Warren Brusstar said.

He was already in a somewhat brusque, irritable mood. Here he was, the member of a championship team, the 1980 Phillies, maybe the greatest championship team of all time, considering the Phillies’ 97-year title-virginity preceding 1980, and he still had to have his baseball card picture taken in such a remote, inglorious location that the photo would stand as quite likely the only baseball card in history to include so much as a single automobile. In all the many years of baseball cards even the most mundane images had been kept at something of a remove from the everyday existence that most of us slog through. Was not baseball a world away from the world, a bucolic paradise, a sanctuary of growing green? And yet here was Warren Brusstar, World Series champion, standing within sight of not one but two rattling rustbuckets. Where was his verdant baseball card eden? It was unprecedented. It was bullshit. 

“You know, heh,” the teammate finally stammered. “The t-tall blonde you, uh, that you took out to the parking lot for a . . . for a few.”

“Oh, yeah,” Warren Brusstar said. His expression began to soften. “I told her I wanted to show her my fine Corinthian leather.”

He started to smile at the memory of what had happened in the backseat of his Chrysler. Unfortunately, the photographer wasn’t quite ready to snap the picture.

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this,” the teammate said.

“Tell me what?” Warren Brusstar said.

The teammate coughed into his fist. He muttered something inaudible. 

“What the hell did you just say?” Warren Brusstar said.

The teammate looked past Warren Brusstar to the station wagon in the distance. He took a deep breath.

“Say cheese,” the photographer said.

“Warren,” the teammate said. “She’s a dude.”

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Garry Maddox

September 7, 2007
 

 
My gods are mass-produced, disinterested, mostly ignored. Note the left-hand fringe of this 1976 Garry Maddox card: it is a cutoff border of another card, possibly for a member of the Texas Rangers. I was generally able to embrace the illusion that each card I got in a pack had come into existence in some sort of singular burst of creation, something meant to end with the deliverance of the card to my hands, but cards like this suggested huge sheets of cards spitting out of machines to be sliced into many rectangles by other machines. I didn’t like the idea of huge sheets of cards. It seemed to suggest I didn’t matter. But gods will not give you what you like.

And note the look on Garry Maddox’s face. Does he seem to care that he is to serve as one of the figures in my ever-expanding pantheon of gods? No, he clearly has his mind on other things. Gods will not be thinking of you.

And note the empty seats. There are just a few figures in the stands behind Garry Maddox, but even they seem more likely to have their minds on anything but the random moment unfolding in the foreground. This is a realm where nobody cares. A mass-produced image of a disinterested man taking a phantom swing in his warmup jacket in front of empty seats and apathetic soltaries. The back of his card should include the koan about a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear, but instead it shows years stretching backward (years always stretching backward with my gods) to his time with the Giants, when he was on the same team with the confusingly similar Gary Matthews, as if the Giants in the days before I was really paying attention were a primordial ooze where one god merged into the next. Note that as the years went on I learned the difference between Garry Maddox and Gary Mathews, so much so that I forgot I’d ever confused them, and in doing so lost some of the connection to the mystery of the gods.

But also note, above all, Garry Maddox’s muttonchops. Thanks and praises for Garry Maddox’s muttonchops. If a man swings in a ballpark and nobody cares, does it matter? That’s the koan for the day. My answer: muttonchops.

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Greg Luzinski in…The Thursday Haiku (Historic First–and Possibly Last–Installment!!)

May 17, 2007
  

Zen Teachings of the Iron-Gloved Slugger

Lazy fly to left.
Luzinski squints, haltingly
plods. Nothing routine.

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Ron Reed

March 19, 2007

Yesterday I watched basketball and wrote some more about The Basketball Kid. I don’t know if I really got anywhere with the writing, but at least I decided on a name of the town where The Basketball Kid lives his eternal teenage moment: Hartland. I named the town after the tiny block-long street I live on at the moment, Hartland Court.

The imaginary Hartland differs considerably from the real Hartland. The real Hartland is a malodorous diorama of modern urban life, an abandoned 20th century warehouse at one end, a rotting 19th century house at the other, and in between those two buildings a discordant mixture of the following: a couple lopsided, dilapidated two-story houses, some flimsy brand-new condos with brick fronts and aluminum-siding sides and backs, one low, ugly brick and cinder-block apartment building, and one vacant lot overgrown with spiny, trash-clogged, rat-friendly brush.

White people live in the condos, black people live in the apartment building, one large Hispanic family occupies one of the dilapidated, lopsided houses, cheerful Korean girls studying to be doctors and lawyers live in the first floor apartment in the other dilapidated house, and my wife and I live above them in the second floor apartment. The roof leaks in several places, and the walls are crumbling, and the floor is so slanted I feel like we’re in a bad guy’s hideout in the old Batman television show, and there’s an everpresent possibility that the whole place might just keel over at any second.

We will be leaving the place soon; it’s being converted into another flimsy yuppie-trap of a condo. This last detail, that we’re moving away from Hartland just a year after we moved to Hartland, is the one I’d highlight if I was asked to name the single defining aspect of the real Hartland as opposed to the imaginary Hartland of The Basketball Kid.

Transience.

People come and go all the time on the real Hartland. In the short time we’ve been here, our first downstairs neighbor moved out (amid screaming matches with the landlord, which seem often to be part of the soundtrack of transience), replaced by the Korean girls, the building we live in has been sold, a “for sale” sign has appeared outside the Hispanic family’s house across the street, the vacant building next to their house has been demolished, and the vacant lot next to the site of the demolishing has been transformed by Ukrainian construction workers into another generic condo that looks as if it could collapse in a stiff wind, meaning it’s perfect for the real Hartland, where nothing lasts.

But in the imaginary Hartland, home of The Basketball Kid, everything and everyone stays the same. Houses belong to families of people who were born in Hartland, who grew up in Hartland, and (though this seems not to be something the eternal Basketball Kid has to worry about) who, when the time comes, die peacefully and surrounded by all their loved ones in Hartland.

Clearly there are similarities between my imaginary Hartland and other imaginary towns. Jack Berrill’s Milford comes to mind, as does Rod Serling’s Willoughby, as well as Riverdale (the hometown of “America’s typical teenager”), and John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” which is used to greatest effect on this rousing YouTube clip as the backdrop for the heroics of a man who appears to be a mulleted emissary dispatched from the very center of white America’s deepest Hartland dreams.

Of course the hero of the YouTube clip is not from imaginary Hartland, but from French Lick, Indiana, a town often presented in hagiographic sportspage offerings as being a real-life version of the popular myth of the Hartlandesque small town. This painting of actual towns as “Hartlands” is common. Many of us seem to be looking for Hartland. Sometimes this search results in fictional versions, and sometimes this search results in the willful softening of reality. Indiana, home state of Larry Bird, John Cougar Mellancamp, and the man pictured in the 1980 baseball card at the top of the page, Ron Reed, seems to be something of a nexus for this popular style of American dreaming.

Ron Reed was born in LaPorte, Indiana, a town recently featured in a book of found photographs that seems to speaks directly to the American quest for Hartland. The book, LaPorte, Indiana, presents a series of black and white portraits taken by long-time LaPorte studio photographer Frank Pease, displaying not only (as John Mellencamp blurbs on the book’s website) “real people . . . [whose] grace and dignity . . . should be a source of hope for us all” but also a kind of nostalgic, idealized American dreamland: The subjects of the pictures seemingly inhabit a town where The Basketball Kid himself might feel very much at home.

This makes sense in terms of the man pictured here, Ron Reed, who may just be the Cardboard God who comes closest to being, or at least having once been, the sunny, mythic figure that is The Basketball Kid. Reed was an athletic superstar in high school in LaPorte, earning a basketball scholarship to nearby Notre Dame, where he was good enough to be selected, in 2004, to the university’s All-Century Men’s Basketball Team. He played professional basketball for two years, averaging 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Detroit Pistons, then switched to baseball, where he had a productive 19-year career that included selection to an all-star team, a World Series championship, and the tying of the modern-day record for fewest home runs allowed in a season (250 innings or more).

According to Ron Reed’s enshrinement page on the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, this last accomplishment is the one that gives Reed the most pride. It is mentioned on the back of this card, in a marginal cartoon that features a smiling, generic baseball player reading about the mark in a newspaper. Oddly, the partially obscured newspaper headline seems to read “DOWNING ALLOWS FEWEST HOMERS.”

Downing?

Wanting to find the reason for this mistake, I checked to see if the pitcher Reed tied was Al Downing, but Al Downing never allowed that few a number of home runs in that amount of innings. Al Downing did allow the most famous home run of all time, Hank Aaron’s 715th, in a game, ironically enough, won by Ron Reed. Perhaps that thin connective tangle of Reed and Downing and home runs and records led to the mistake on the part of the artist.

I have an alternate theory, however, one that probably comes from my being someone who pays rent by working in the field of mistakes (as a proofreader). It goes like this: The overworked and distracted artist was churning out a ton of cartoons to meet a deadline, and to save time he recycled some previously used cartoons. In this case, it must have been a cartoon for an old Al Downing card in which the caption read something like “Al surrendered Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run,” and the newspaper headline mirrored the caption with something like “DOWNING SURRENDERS AARON’S HOMER.” The artist inserted the new caption for Reed, changed the frown on the cartoon character’s face to a smile, changed “AARON’S” to “FEWEST” in the headline, then rushed off to keep himself conscious with some more terrible-tasting Topps coffee, forgetting to change “DOWNING” to “REED.”

Mistakes like this happen all the time here outside the town limits of Hartland. In the photo on this card, Ron Reed seems to have come to understand this. He is certainly not someone who gives in easily to mistakes, as both his stern, unwavering gaze and his pride in his record for fewest home runs (which really is a record for fewest mistakes) attest. But life in the big leagues, life in a world of mistakes and transience, has wiped from Ron Reed’s countenance what I imagine to have once been something very much like the bright, friendly smile of Hartland’s favorite son, The Basketball Kid.

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Bud Harrelson

January 2, 2007

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite all-time personally witnessed instances of baseball fan behavior:

Yankee Stadium opening day brawls
I attended this early 1990s opening day game between the Yankees and the Red Sox with my brother (a fellow Red Sox fan) and our friends, the Yankee-loving Dolan brothers. I wore my brother’s grimy, decade-old Yaz painter’s cap into the stadium but by the second or third inning had quietly wadded it up and slipped it into my pocket after witnessing huge roiling brawls all around us in the vertiginous Yankee Stadium upper deck.

The biggest brawl, which seemed to last for several innings and which featured bodies periodically tumbling down the steep concrete aisle steps, climaxed, I swear to Yaz, in the draping of a gigantic blood-stained United States flag across the entire expanse of the brawl-infested section. OK, it’s possible that it wasn’t blood-stained, but I believe my brother and the Dolans, who were, along with me, stunned into silence for all but the first few moments of the game, would concur that the flag was in almost all respects not a hallucination.

The only other memories I have from the game are that the Yankees won, that Randy Velarde somehow contributed significantly to the win, and that just before the eighth or ninth inning I ventured from my cringing position in my seat to the bathroom. I was badly in need of a urinal, but when I got to a urinal I found that something in the surrounding drunken violent simian throng in the bathroom made me unable to release even the tiniest sprinkle from my bladder. I ended up mimicking “the shake” and returning to my seat, irreparable urethral damage undoubtedly ensuing.

Fathers and Sons and Baseball
In one of my mid-80s trips to the Fenway Park bleachers, I ended up sitting next to a friendly guy who’d driven up from Baltimore with his young son to see the Red Sox home field for the first time. Before the game began, the guy went on at some length about how much he was enjoying the classic old ballyard. Meanwhile, right behind him, a fat sunburned teenager in matching bruise-purple Hawaiian shirt and shorts drunkenly screamed Jim Rice’s name over and over. This teenager grew ominously silent just moments before the first pitch. He swayed back and forth a little, as if he was silently praying, and his sunburned face grew at first even redder before abruptly draining of all color but a pasty newspaper-gray. Then he of course spewed bruise-purple Fenway puke all over the Baltimore dad and son and was escorted from the grounds before seeing a single pitch.

The Sacred Green Cathedral
At another Yankee-Red Sox tilt at Yankee Stadium in the ’90s, my brother and I went down close to the field to watch batting practice and were within earshot of a guy in a Red Sox hat, round glasses, and a long, ex-hippieish, philosophy-teacherish gray-flecked beard going on at length to his luckless companion about the eternal verities of the sacred green cathedral of the baseball diamond and, worse, about the classic Aristotelian arc of the glorious tragedy that was the Red Sox continuous failure to capture the golden chalice of baseball immortality. I can’t remember if my brother and I were able to remark on the fact that assholes like this gave Red Sox fans a bad name or if we just stared on in mute shock at the appearance of such a pure example of a pretentious baseball blowhard. I do however remember that Mo Vaughn was taking his rips in the batting cage and, as if he were equipped with bionic hearing and a bionic bullshit-detector, pulled a screaming line drive into the stands that struck the bearded philosopher right in the head. Still talking and gesticulating, albeit with some added slowness of speech and limb and albeit confined to a stretcher, the bearded man was escorted from the grounds before seeing a single pitch.

Mike Flanagan, UMASS!
When I was a little kid, eight or nine, a group of beer-lathered louts stood on the walkway at the back of the stands a few rows behind us in Fenway Park and shouted “Mike Flanagan, UMASS!” over and over again, all game long. Mike Flanagan was the opposing pitcher for the visiting Baltimore Orioles and he had attended the University of Massachusetts. The missing piece in the preceding explanatory sentence, of course, is information illuminating why several grown men would take time out of their limited stay on the mortal plane to attend a sporting contest and yell “Mike Flanagan, UMASS!” over and over, but it’s exactly that missing piece that prompted my brother and I, and even my mom, to repeat their chant for days and weeks and even years after we’d first heard it emanate from the mysterious Flanaganites. Sometimes I still say it out loud for no apparent reason. It’s quite possible it has become embedded in my synapses, and when I finally do perish my last words may well be something about a dimly remembered Baltimore southpaw and the institution at which he metriculated.

Budddeeeeeee!!!!
Bud Harrelson only played in 53 games for the Phillies in 1979, but I happened to attend one of them. I remember this because a nearby fan at the game in Veterans Stadium screamed his name all game long, even during pregame warmups and even after the game started with Harrelson in his customary position on the bench. This went on inning after inning. Miraculously, as if Bud Harrelson’s biggest, loudest, lone remaining fan had willed it, Bud Harrelson actually came into the game, for some now obscure reason replacing Phillies star Mike Schmidt at third base. I don’t actually remember that (the info comes courtesy of Retrosheet.com, a site lauded most eloquently for its memory-aiding capabilities in a great essay by Darren Viola), but I do have a hazy recollection of the screams of his fan increasing both when Bud Harrelson entered the game and when, later, Bud Harrelson reached base and then with his wiry, hustling antics began drawing the attention of the opposing pitcher. If I were asked the specifics of what happened without virtue of access via Retrosheet to the box score of the game, I would have guessed that the scrappy former Gold Glove shortstop had used his cagy veteran smarts to swipe second, reach third on a throwing error by the catcher, and scamper home on a sacrifice fly by Greg Luzinski. It’s a little disillusioning to see the actual facts:

“PHILLIES 7TH: Harrelson walked; Harrelson was caught stealing second (pitcher to first)”

I like my version better. But maybe it’s even better to know that Bud Harrelson’s biggest fan did not let something as ignominious as being picked off of first by Stan Bahnsen get in the way of his relentless adulation. He kept on yelling forever for Buddy Harrelson.

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Terry Harmon

September 12, 2006

In 1967, the first year listed on the back of this card, Terry Harmon was the sound of one hand clapping. He had no at bats, no doubles, no triples, no home runs, no runs, no RBI, and a batting average of .000. He existed without existing. Other members of the 1967 Phillies, unable to recall Harmon ever being around, were surprised in later years to see his grim, robotic visage among familiar faces in the team picture for that season. There is no listing on the back of this card for 1968, evidence perhaps that it is possible to do even less than nothing. In 1969, Harmon commenced churning out a few generically forgettable seasons, blooping enough broken-bat singles in limited action to bat in or around the low .200s. I don’t know if this means anything, but I was born during Terry Harmon’s less-than-nothing season of 1968; furthermore, the birth occurred in Willingboro, New Jersey, and as far as I can tell the only Cardboard God ever to have had anything to do with Willingboro, New Jersey, seems to have been Terry Harmon, who resided there when this photograph was taken of him reaching for a groundball that will never arrive.