Archive for the 'Kooks' Category

A True Nightmare by Ross Allen

Ross Allen is a Cubs fan and former second-rate Division I tennis player.

I awoke several weeks ago from the most searing nightmare. It brought me back to my teenage years when I would awake from horrible dreams involving Craig Biggio, Shane Reynolds, and an antiquated dump known as the Houston Astrodome.

However, this dream was more horrifying than any before because it involved my favorite player, Chicago Cubs slugger Carlos Zambrano, instead of my most hated. Zambrano has been my favorite ballplayer for a decade. I saw his first major league start, the second game of a double header in August, 2001, and have been transfixed by his passion and energy ever since. A man who could develop tendinitis in his elbow from furious online communication with his family is a man I must believe in.

The nightmare began in a half-empty Marlins stadium. At first I thought this was any other regular season game, due tothe general apathy and limited number of spectators. It was the bottom of the 8th inning and the Cubs were leading by three runs. This game, I quickly realized, had much greater significance. The normal post-season banners were out and the chalkboard voice of Tim McCarver* came on. It was just like I was listening to a portable radio at the park. As I continued to curse McCarver and everything he stood for to the random guy sitting next to me, the jumpotron showed infuriating replays of the 2003 National League Championship Series. Eventually the play-by-play man informed me that this was game 7 of the National League Championship Series and the Cubs were nearing their first pennant since 1945.**

The bottom of the 8th rolled by without any incidents. The first out was an easy ground ball to short and the second was a routine foul pop to left field. After the third hitter walked, Cubs skipper Dale Sveum came out to settle Kerry Wood down, and he struck out the final batter on a great curveball away. The top of the ninth went by similarly without incident, my confusion and stress only increasing. As the TV cameras kept moving to Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who had the weirdest and cruelest grin on his face, I figured something horrible had to go wrong.

The bottom of the ninth started like any other Carlos Marmol save opportunity. He hit the first batter and walked the second. Every count went to 3-2. Marmol’s slider was unhittable, but it also couldn’t hit the plate. A strikeout, a walk, and a strikeout later I was shaking in my seat. The Chicago Cubs were now one out away from heading to the World Series.

What strode to the plate next was something so disgusting and repulsive that I can barely stand to describe it. It was Carlos Zambrano. My Carlos Zambrano walking to the plate in a garrish Miami Marlins uniform. He was the starting pitcher. It was his turn in the batting order. I was conflicted. I had never before been in a situation where I was rooting for him to do anything but hit it straight out of the ballpark. This is the man with most home runs by a pitcher in the DH era. This is the man who could break Wes Ferrel’s all-time mark someday. What is more exciting in baseball than seeing a pitcher help his own cause? What is more exciting than seeing a pitcher win a game with both his arm and his bat?

The at-bat was like any other Carlos Zambrano at-bat ever. It was not long or climactic. There is a reason his slugging percentage is a career .395 and his on-base percentage is .251. The run was never going to be walked in and it wasn’t. The 1-0 fastball, right in the middle of the plate, left his bat so much faster than it left Marmol’s arm. As the ball traveled through the blue Miami air, my dream popped, punctured by the ball I never saw land.

*Imagine for a second how horrifying it is to hear Tim McCarver’s voice in a dream. I haven’t recovered.

**The play-by-play man must have been someone other than Joe Buck, because Joe Buck would not have provided me with such useful information without a million clichés that forced me to rip off my headphones and throw them at the redneck Marlins fan in front of me, who still was asking his friend to explain to him who those six individuals in black were on the field.

Charlie Sheen is Mr. Baseball

For all of the madness that Charlie Sheen has injected into the pop culture conversation of late, there’s a side note, a low harmonic hum just beneath the blaring orchestra of drugs and sex, that bears noting here: the man loves baseball.

Evidence:

  • Sheen invited current and retired ballplayers (some speculate that he’s imitating Brian Wilson this whole time, which, if it were sanctioned would prove to be near-Franco level pop culture foiling) to his house to watch the movie that he made about baseball. That movie, Major League, is one of the best baseball movies ever, due, in no small part, to Sheen’s performance. He referred to himself and his buddies Wilson and Lenny Dykstra as “gnarly gnarlsons.” Of the visit, Wilson said, “When Rick Vaughn calls the bullpen I’m going to answer — on a professional level, of course.”
  • He’s ready to make the next Major League movie.
  • A story came out from Houston’s Richard Justice that Sheen had a go-to guy to set up a full-on baseball game every time he came to town. A full game! This not like rounding up the usual suspects for a pick-up game of basketball; this is occupying a college baseball field with full sets of nine or more.
  • He wears what he purports to be a Babe Ruth World Series ring.
  • Of the few people he follows on Twitter, two of them are baseball stars (Nick Swisher and Brian Wilson). In the pictures he links to via Twitter, he wears an Indians cap.
  • He gave a pep talk to the UCLA baseball team, in which he inspired the team with the following message: “Don’t do crack, drink chocolate milk, and enjoy every moment. That’s all I got.” He wore a Cincinnati Reds hat for the raspy appearance.
  • Of course, Eric let us know about Sheen’s trips to the ballpark to take batting practice and oh, by the way, mash. Must be the tiger blood pulsing through his veins. Or the chocolate milk.

Is Sheen the ambassador that baseball is looking for? Probably not, but his love of the game seems to be some kind of a space anchor for him as he hurtles through the Milky Way.

Charlie Sheen Hits Homeruns

Ted likes to make fun of me for constantly retelling the story of when Jack Nicholson said “I’m not a fucking magician, take the cap off the pen,” after 12-year old Eric asked him for his autograph. He likes to call me name-dropper. I’m not a name-dropper, though. I just grew up in Los Angeles — Culver City at that. The New York Times recently said Culver City was a “nowhere” becoming a “somewhere.” But for as long as it’s been anywhere, movies have been made in Culver City. Sony Studios (once MGM) is there.

The point being that there were movie stars around sometimes. One of them was Charlie Sheen, who you may have read about lately. As his meltdown became increasingly legendary, I told Ted that Charlie Sheen could really hit the hell out of a baseball. He was like “huh?” And I said “seriously.”

When I was in high school in the early 2000s, Charlie Sheen would occasionally drop by our field after we were done with practice and take BP. He never spoke to any of us. But he did launch home run after home run. It was one of those slightly surreal things you think little of at the time, but realize afterward are interesting. And now there is video evidence, courtesy of the new and awesome “Let’s Go Dodgers!” Tumblr:

Maybe he’s as awesome as he says he is.

I, Human

A crazy article from the New York Times

StatSheet, a Durham, N.C., company that serves up sports statistics in monster-size portions, thinks otherwise. The company, with nine employees, is working to endow software with the ability to turn game statistics into articles about college basketball games.

This strikes me as a novelty. The text produced by the software is terrible to read and the analysis itself is hardly worth reading it for. “Over the last four seasons, Washington is 1-0 against Long Beach State,” goes  the final sentence of this especially compelling game preview. But it does make for a worthy discussion point.

If computers and the internet brought the democratization of sports news and analysis, then why not also the mechanization? Is this a logical progression? Are robots capable of providing not just information but analysis that people actually want to read? The CEO of StatSheet obviously thinks so.

Gerard Cosloy of  Can’t Stop the Bleeding jokes that one day soon we’ll be longing nostalgically for Bleacher Report, with its tremendous brand sporting insight. My thought is that integrity-wise, the robot sites aren’t too far removed from Bleacher Report –a site that, by all appearances, levers cheap and free labor into page views, often at the expense of decent content. But overall, I tend to agree with Cosloy’s facetiousness.

Robots can’t win — at least not yet. The reason is complexity. As the linguistics expert in the Times story notes, robots can’t write nuanced sentences. Bleacher Report writers (in theory) can. And for sports analysis to be even decent, it has to do more than spit statistics and canned catchphrases out in seemingly random order (although this strategy works very well in radio). Decent sports analysis is about ideas and perspectives — this is true whether the analysis is wonky like the work on FanGraphs or Ken Pomeroy’s site, or news and gossipy like much of, say Bleacher Report’s content, or generalist and frequently long-winded like the writing this website.

Rooting Interests

Texas Rangers fan antlers

via Flickr user keko1984

We spend a good amount of time parsing out which team we’re rooting for in the playoffs. Eric and I go back and forth about these concerns, mostly because it’s a fun way to talk about the players and personalities of the teams and the players. You root for a team because of the vibe that it throws off, then you break down that vibe and, voila!, a baseball conversation.

Which brings us to the impending World Series match-up. I can’t decide which team to root for between the Rangers and the Giants.

Both teams are riding the momentum train, the hard-work train, and the eccentric Jesus Christ Superstar train. They each have their running jokes, their pleasing mix of old veterans and young burners. They both feature some fantastic hairdos, and they both have players who play the game with aggressive joy. Neither has spent much time in the spotlight or the postseason in the last few years. Each is a kind of transplant from traditional East Coast bastions of culture.

Michael Moore is trying, it seems, to make this into some kind of culture war in his tweet: “The wk b4 election, the World Series matchup couldn’t be a better symbol of the war at home: San Francisco v Texas, w/ W. in the front row.”

That’s bullcrap. This series is not a war between, but a celebration of cultures. Of the cultural reps for each team, Brian Wilson is a New Englander who went to LSU playing in San Francisco who touts S&M paraphernalia in interviews, and Josh Hamilton is a tatted addict from North Carolina playing in Texas who instigated the use of an antlers gesture to commemorate running fast, which his Latin teammates have wildly embraced. Each of these players is their team rep because they appear to have the support and admiration of their teammates.

Both of these teams are filled with the reclamation projects and the kids and the kooks that make the playoffs great for the distillation of participants that draw the individuals closer. Making it tough to choose which to root for, though in the end these matters of affinity work themselves out on the reptile brain level, and tend towards the involuntary.

For example, I like the Giants and their band of starting pitchers right this moment, but when I see Elvis Andrus throwing a claw the dugout, I involuntarily grin.

Here’s a pretty good explanation of The Claw & Antlers, which is a fine name for a men’s fraternal organization or a pub.

Modern Day Milton

A few days ago, a reader named Greg left an epic comment on one of our most popular posts: The Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline. We liked the comment so much that we decided (with his gracious permission) to republish it here:

As you say, the timeline requires periodic updating.  Here’s my suggestion for the moment you left off in 2009 to date:

2009 C:  December 18, more than a few days later, the Cubs trade Bradley to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Silva and cash.

2010:   May 4, 2010:  With the team on a losing streak, and Bradley  one of the only bats recently making any noise, he is moved into the cleanup spot, where he starts off by going 0-3.  After being pulled from the game in the 7th inning after consecutive strikeouts looking, the latter with the bases loaded, and the team trailing 3-1, he reportedly complains that manager Don Wakamatsu isn’t defending him sufficiently with the umpire and says, “I’m packing my stuff. I’m out of here.”  The team loses 5-2, its fourth in what would become an eight game losing streak.

May 5, 2010:  Bradley makes a scheduled appearance at a local elementary school, gives an impassioned talk about what motivated him growing up to become a ball player, then meets with his manager and the GM and says he needs help for ongoing personal problems.  Art Thiel’s Seattle PI column describes the prior night’s loss as the “worst game of the season” and notes that Carlos Silva will continue to be the “gift that keeps on giving, right into his start for the National League in the All-Star Game.”  Art’s “worst game of the season”would be topped (bottomed?) by others before the month of May is over.

May 6, 2010:  The Mariners announce that they have placed Bradley on the restricted list.  Thus begin his 15 days  off to seek counseling.

May 19, 2010:   Bradley is reactivated, the Mariners having gone 3-10 in his absence.  Other candidates for “worst game of the season” in the  intervening stretch include back to back 8-0 losses to the Rays and the Angels May 6 and 7, and a 6-5 loss to the Orioles in which Felix Hernandez pitches 7 innings, and exits with a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the 8th.

May 24, 2010:   Bradley gives interviews about why he asked for help.  He says he thought about getting help in 2009, while still with the Chicago Cubs:  “I wanted to take some time out, get my thoughts together, and just speak to someone and get an understanding from somebody unbiased,” he says. “But you can’t really do that in Chicago. There’s just too much going on.”  Meanwhile, in Arlington, Texas, the Cubs spot Carlos Silva a 4 run lead in top of the first, and he scatters 6 hits and 3 runs over 5 1/3 innings to improve his record to 6-0.

May 25, 2010:   Bradley, hitting cleanup for the first time since his May 4 meltdown, goes 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and three RBI as the M’s defeat the Tigers 5-3.  After his RBI single in the 8th scores Chone Figgins for the go-ahead run, he leaves first base as a pitching change is made and celebrates with teammates in the dugout.  He comments later, “I was full of joy,” he said. “The whole day, I just felt right. I had the right attitude and the right approach. My mind was clear, and I didn’t have a worry at all up there. I was able to come through.”

…and they all lived happily ever after.

Ellis, D. Watch This Right Now.

I don’t normally just post random stuff here, but this is more than worth it. It’s a rendering of the famed Dock Ellis LSD-no hitter, with narration by Dock himself.  The killer animation is by James Blagden. Thanks to RBI artist Mark Penxa for passing this along:

Milton Bradley Timeline Update

As history unfolds, so must our recordings of it change. Here is the recently added update to the world famous Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline.

2009 B: Hitting .257 in September, Milton Bradley is suspended from the Cubs for the duration of the season after blaming Cubs fans for the team’s failure to win a World Series (you would suspect a GM would be thankful for that sort of comment). The suspension leaves Bradley and the Cubs in a sort of purgatory, as it is clear the team does not want him back and he does not want to be back in Chicago. How will this glorious soap opera end? Fear not. Evidently a graduate of the Nothing is Fucked school, or completely unaware that the goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain, Hendry reassures Cubs fans: We don’t anticipate any problems. We’ll have it all worked out in the next few days.

CLICK HERE FOR THE  TIMELINE IN ITS ENTIRETY

(also a good excuse to employ theour used the Kooks category).

The Sheff Abides

Last night I got the chance to sit front row behind the home dugout at Citi Field. Needless to say the game between the Mets and Cardinals was stunning. I saw Johan being Johan, Albert being Albert, and K-Rod being Joe Borowski.

But mostly I saw Gary Sheffield.

I’ve been fascinated by Gary Sheffield since his tumultuous stint with my Dodgers. He was awful off the field in LA. He bitched about his teammates in the media, he fought with management, and he whined and whined and whined. But goodness gracious did he hit.

No matter where he’s gone Gary Sheffield has always been that guy. He’s never been your favorite player, but he’s often been your favorite team’s best player. He’s never been enough of a problem off the field, or enough of a superstar on the field to elicit romantic baseball love or fanatic baseball hatred from fans. Gary Sheffield is meant to confuse, meant to muddle, and meant to be pondered. In my mind he is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Rodin Thinker

The thing about Gary Sheffield is that he’s very serious. I saw it yesterday. He emerged from the dugout for the National Anthem with a distant look on his face. As other players sang, blew bubbles, and grinned their way through the song, Sheffield stood focused. He was solemn and somber. I wondered for a moment if I had discounted him. Perhaps the brooding Sheffield was more complex than I had ever given him credit for. Perhaps he was a humble patriot doing his American thing for these few quiet moments before the game.

But his expression stayed that way. Over the nine innings, Sheffield’s face remained distant, sullen. It was as if he carried some burden, understood some troubling reality that we in the stands could never appreciate. Indeed, it was not the Anthem, it was just Gary. It was just Gary playing baseball. And when Gary plays baseball he is more than just immune to his surroundings – he appears oblivious to them. It’s as if he doesn’t even see his own teammates on the bench.

The game, it seems, happens around Gary. He simply is. The Sheff abides. He doesn’t put on a uniform, but rather the uniforms seem to put themselves on him.  He doesn’t come to the stadium either. The stadiums he plays in grow organically from the ground beneath where he happens to be standing, so as to leave him at ease in left field, the batters’ box, or the on-deck circle. These things happen by sheer momentum. They are just the way of the universe.

The-Big-Lebowski

In a sense, there’s a Ricky Henderson-ness to Sheffield. Ricky played baseball like gravity. He was everywhere, and he was the same everywhere. Sheffield is like that too. He is serious and wise and silent and ubiquitous and eerily consistent. He’s only played for eight teams in his career, but it seems like so many more. He hasn’t hit 30 home runs in a season since 2005, but his violent pendulum of a batting stance still induces the fear of nature into opponents.

Sheffield went 2-4 yesterday, with a double and a pair of runs batted in. He jogged and took a couple awful, lazy angles in left field. On an exciting evening, a back and forth, high scoring, star-driven evening, Gary Sheffield was muddled, inhibited, himself.

The Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline

Update:  As history unfolds, so must our recordings of it change. Here is the world famous Milton Bradley Timeline with an update for recent events:

I meant to say something intelligent and original about the recent Milton Bradley/Lou Pineilla fracas.  But the more I tried to write, the more I found myself thinking back on just how this ridiculous and completely unsurprising situation came to be.  What began a cursory glance at the wikipedia page of one of baseball’s most fascinating outfielders unraveled into the following:

1860: A restless printer/lithographer in Massachusetts invents a board game called The Checkered Game of Life and forms a company in his own name to release it. He accumulates vast wealth, and his name, Milton Bradley, comes to personify joy in the form of wholesome family fun. He will die an old and happy man, blissfully oblivious to the suffering his own name will one day cause a young man from Southern California.

1978: A healthy baby boy is born in Harbor City, CA just outside of Long Beach. The boy’s father goes behind his mother’s back to fill out the birth certificate, covertly passing his own name down. Thus is born Milton Obelle Bradley Junior. Said Junior’s duped mother of her husband’s deception: “He wanted a Junior, and made damn sure he got one.”

Milton Bradley has 11 career sac bunts.

Milton Bradley has 11 career sac bunts.

1996: Milton Bradley is drafted by the Montreal Expos out of Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Bradley graduated from Long Beach Poly with a 3.7 GPA, and was kicked off the baseball team only once (briefly, his sophomore season for “combativeness”).

2004: A busy year for our hero begins in February when he is sentenced to 3 days in jail for allegedly driving away from the police after being stopped for speeding. Mere weeks later, in March, he is pulled out of a Spring Training game by Cleveland manager Eric Wedge for failing to speed…down the base paths that is! The two exchange words after Bradley allegedly doesn’t run out a pop fly. He is promptly traded to Los Angeles.

2004 B: Bradley’s tenure with the hometown Dodgers  finally gets interesting. On a cool June night, Bradley is ejected at home plate after words with the umpire. He screams a lot, is sort of restrained by gangly manager Jim Tracy, and finally lays his helmet, bat, and gloves in the batter’s box calmly and exits the field. All seems right in Chavez Ravine until a moment later, when our hero emerges from the dugout with a bag of baseballs, emptying balls onto the grass and haphazardly launching dozens into the outfield. Five tool player indeed.

2004 C: A fan in Dodger stadium throws a bottle at Milton in the outfield. So he picks it up, strolls over to the stands, and slams the bottle down in the front row, treating fans to a colorful lecture on the fourth amendment and his rights to privacy and not getting beer thrown at him.

2005: Our slightly less angry hero calls teammate Jeff Kent a racist. Nobody really doubts him, but the Dodgers opt to stick with the healthier, more productive Kent. Milton Obelle is dealt to Oakland over the winter for food blogger Andre Ethier. “We got along as best as we could,” said Bradley of his imperfect relationship with Kent, “It didn’t work for me.”

Or maybe hes the only sane one left.

Or maybe he's the only sane one left.

2007: Milton Bradley is now a Padre. In a fervent late-season argument with an umpire, Bradley is restrained by his manager Bud Black. Somehow their legs tangle, and Bradley spins awkwardly to the ground, tearing his ACL. But wait, there’s more! In a Zinedine Zidanian twist, Padres’ First Base coach Bobby Meacham claims that Bradley was baited by the umpire, who uttered ”the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player.” Either way, the Padres’ playoff chances spiraled to the ground with their center fielder.

2008: Bradley has his best and healthiest year as a big leaguer. As a DH, he leads the American League in batting average and OPS, and makes his first All Star team. He even writes a poignant guest entry about family, faith, and baseball on the New York Times Bats blog. Oh yeah, he also chases down a Royals’ TV commentator after a game over some comments made about his behavior issues. Thankfully, our hero is intercepted before reaching his target, allowing him to redirect the beating toward AL pitchers.

2009: Milton signs a 3-year deal to play outfield for the Cubs. Immediately the Chicago media calls him names. One columnist goes so far as to suggest that the Bradley signing is a mistake, because a player who once accused a teammate of racism might not get along with too well the charmingly racist fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers. (No, don’t examine the racist fan base; question the Milton Bradley for the speculated possibility that he might be sensitive to racism.) He bats terribly and has a rocky relationship with equally charismatically destructive manager Lou Pineilla. Somewhat more surprisingly, Bradley is responsible for a Phil Jackson-esque moment of charming high road Zen. The exchange, courtesy of Saturday’s Chicago Sun Times:

According to sources, Piniella then shouted at Bradley, ”You’re not a player! You’re a piece of sh–!”
Bradley then said, ”I have too much respect for you to respond to that,” a source said.

2009 B: Hitting .257 in September, Milton Bradley is suspended from the Cubs for the duration of the season after blaming Cubs fans for the team’s failure to win a World Series (you would suspect a GM would be thankful for that sort of comment). The suspension leaves Bradley and the Cubs in a sort of purgatory, as it is clear the team does not want him back and he does not want to be back in Chicago. How will this glorious soap opera end? Fear not. Evidently a graduate of the Nothing is Fucked school, or completely unaware that the goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain, Hendry reassures Cubs fans: We don’t anticipate any problems. We’ll have it all worked out in the next few days.

*Editor’s Note: I made a slight edit to the title of the post.  The old one was kind of pointlessly mean.