Monday, June 27, 2016

The Magic Balancing Bat, and other Sights and Sounds at U.S. Cellular Field


At the Chicago White Sox/Toronto Blue Jays game at U.S. Cellular Field yesterday, I noticed something very small but charming that a television director night not have noticed, burdened as he or she is by options of angles and statistics to offer the viewers during between-pitch down time. Blue Jay right fielder Junior Lake fouled off a pitch from Chris Sale past the first base line, in the eighth inning. After swinging, he'd dropped his black bat near the plate, which White Sox catcher Alex Avila then grabbed and, with grace, balanced in the center of homeplate, awaiting Lake's return. The bat stood erect for a second or two before Lake retrieved it. Funnily, Lake didn't seem to acknowledge Avila's wizardry: does this kind of thing happen regularly? I'd never seen it before; it was there and gone, a little playfulness between two players in front of 28,000 fans on a sweltering day. You had to be there.

I'll unhappily report that Lake drove the next pitch from Sale, a 91-mph fastball, into the seats in right-center, halving the Sox lead (which the home team maintained). Maybe it was a magic bat, after all.

~~

Oh and this detail from the park: someone in the White Sox front office has great taste in rock and roll, as the Ramones' version of "Little Bit O' Soul" blared through the stadium speakers during appropriately rousing moments. Very cool.


What's next, Chicago natives Skafish's "Wild Night Tonight" booming through The Cell?? I can only hope.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Your Last At-Bat...

Here's a very cool, five-year old post by Arne Christensen at The Hardball Times about great hitters' final at-bats. With the exception of certain stars of the game—think Ripken, Jeter, et al—who know that they're in their last season, many aging sluggers keep an eye on next year's Spring Training, if not with their current team than maybe with a different one, and often face their bodies' decline, and their fate, only in the off-season, not realizing that their at-bat in, say, Tampa Bay or San Diego, was in the fact the last of their career. Unsurprisingly, mega-documented or not, a hitter's final at-bat is often much like the majority of his others: uneventful. Some players got lucky, a few famously-so. (In 2014 I wrote about Chicago White Sox player Paul Konerko's second-to-last career game: also uneventful.)

I've cherry-picked from the list that Christensen provides, and in its un-heoric tone it reminds one that disappointing plate appearances spare no one, that on the day-to-day score baseball could care less about drama: Yaz pops out to second; Gehrig flies out to center fielder; Murray, pinch hitting, grounds into a 5-4-3 double play to end the game; Ott, also pinch hitting, grounds out to an unknown infielder; Thomas strikes out swinging; Mantle pops out to shortstop; Griffey hits a grounder for the forceout at second; Ruth grounds out to first base....

Humbling stuff. Here’s Christensen's full breakdown of what 30 players did in their final at-bats:
Ground out: 10
Pop up: 3
Fly ball: 4
Strike out: 3
unknown out: 1
Single: 5
Walk: 2
Homer: 1
Sacrifice fly: 1
And now to some videotape:

Jeter, of course, did this in his final at-bat:


George Brett, appropriately enough, singled in his:


And tragically, Thurman Munson's strikeout against Ken Kravec at Comiskey Park on August 1, 1979 turned out to be the final at-bat of his great career:



Image via OpenClipArt.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where it Begins and Ends

7:30-ish and long shadows.
As I've written before, I was born and raised in suburban Washington D.C., and, thus, I was a by-default fan of the Baltimore Orioles, the old Washington Senators club having decamped for faraway Texas when I was a young boy. Untethered to an intense, loyal fandom, when I moved to Ohio and, later, Illinois, I adopted the Chicago White Sox as my favorite team. This is a careful way of saying that I am not a Cubs Hater. Had I been raised a White Sox fan, my Cubbie antipathy would likely be unwavering; though I don't closely follow the team, I love the game, and so was happy to get to another contest at the Friendly Confines last night (courtesy again of my rock & roll and baseball buddy, Mal Thursday).

Our seats were in Section 416—way up in the grandstands, first row, and our perch afforded us a tremendous view of the beautiful park and a terrific, absorbing game (Adam Wainwright and the Cards edged the Cubs, 4-3), if limited access to vendors. Oh well—we beered-up on the way up, and the ascension to our seats might've been my favorite part of the night. I'd never seen a game at Wrigley from the upper deck. Climbing the ancient, narrow walkways and steep, crowded ramps, one has the impression of going back in time, as if in a tactile dream, past ghosts of fanly heartbreaks and elation. The concrete steps, and modest, green-painted railings over which we peered at the game, feel as old as the city itself. I couldn't bring myself to sing "Root, root, root, for the Cubbies" during the seventh inning stretch, and my applause during the night was stirred by the plays, not the players, but fan allegiances aside, catching a ballgame at Wrigley on a gorgeous June night with friends is a reminder of where it begins and ends for me.
Mal and me on the ramp, with beers. Photo by Bailey Walsh.

Monday, June 20, 2016

White Sox: Throw Strikes, Ctd.

In March, I quoted Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper on his hope that starter Carlos Rodon might be more consistent throwing early strikes this season: "If we do that, we lessen walks," Cooper said. "If we lessen walks there will be more balls in play, more balls we can catch. There might be some hits involved, but the bottom line is if he can get ahead and get contact early. If they don't have contact early with the pitches he's got, he can be devastating."

"So simple, and so often, so aggravatingly, ignored by pitchers," I observed then.
I write "ignored" from the perspective of the fan who last played a competitive baseball game when he was twelve; I know that Major League pitchers can throw strikes, and that when they fail to they're usually toying with batters by wasting pitches (ie, throwing balls) to upset a batter's timing, expectations, and instincts, to widen the plate. Yet Coop's argument is unassailable; everything comes from first strikes and getting ahead in counts: fewer walks; anxious, defense batters; fielders on their toes; less wear on pitcher's arms; quicker games; etc..
Rodon has pitched adequately thus far (74 strikeouts, 27 walks in 75 innings, an unspectacular 1.493 WHIP). But Cooper's job hasn't gotten any easier. On new starter James Shields's historically awful first four starts with the team, an exasperated Cooper remarked, "I've looked at tipping, a lot of people have looked at tipping, and we're still addressing that."
But before tipping, we need strikes. The main thing as far as I'm concerned is not tipping first, it's strikes.
When you see after 30 pitches, it's 15 balls, 15 strikes, we need more strikes than that. You've got to attack, and specifically earlier in the count to get into pitcher's counts.
So simple....

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bad Sports, Great Tunes

Bad Sports: Orville Neeley and Daniel Fried (Gregory Rutherford obscured)
A good night of rock and roll at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. I came out to see Bad Sports, a Denton, Texas band whose albums Kings of the Weekend and Bras I've really liked. A trio that plays riffy, super-charged songs, earnest but wound-up, Bad Sports were all about the tunes: guitarist and vocalist Orville Neeley, bass player and vocalist Daniel Fried, and drummer Gregory Rutherford said literally nothing between songs. My buddy Dave, with whom I met up at the show, told me that at a gig at Gonerfest in Memphis, the guys had been mouthy and boastful. Not last night: the only thing Neeley uttered was a terse but genuine "Thank you" after the last song. Then he grabbed the mic and stuck it in his back pocket.

But they were welcome, and didn't need stage patter to galvanize the crowd. Mod-ish and sharp, Bad Sports sprinted through a set of tight, desperate rock and roll muscled up by Neeley's thick-sounding Gibson and snarling, Phil Lynott-styled vocals and Fried's eighth-note riffing, spiky with hooks; Rutherford seemed impatient between songs, tapping at his hi-hat, raring to get things going again. The band played a lot of tunes from a new self-titled mini-LP—"Living With Secrets" and "Anymore" were stirringly good—and a handful of older songs, all of which give the impression of well-crafted bombs lined up in a row, vibrating with intention. Like all great rock and roll, the best songs threatened to fall apart at each measure, but Neeley, in his black fitted-tee and Johnny Ramone-deck shoes, and Fried, in his polo shirt and sharp shoes, were stylishly in charge. The floor felt as if it was shifting beneath me during the best songs. It's the reason I go out to shows.

During the headlining set by Radioactivity, Rutherford stayed behind his kit while Neeley and Friend swapped instruments to back guitarist and vocalist Jeff Burke, whose tightly-wound songs were propulsive and intense, but samey. I refrained myself from yelling "More changes!" But that's me. The crowd was euphoric, with dozens singing along. My favorite moment of the night might've been during Dumpster Babies' set, when bass player John Gorman seemed startled and then pleased to see a few fans singing along to the chorus of his song, always a warming victory for the opening band playing before a scant crowd.

Neeley


Fried
Bad Sports

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Slump! Wonder, Bewilderment, Realization, Horror, Determination, Rage, Self-Pity, Relaxation, and Cure

Six months ago I wrote about novelist Andre Dubus's life-long attachment to baseball and the memory of a passage he'd come across as a kid in Joe DiMaggio's 1948 book, Baseball For Everyone. I recently chanced upon Joey D's book at Founders Library at Northern Illinois University. It's a fairly straightforward instructional read common to the era, with chapters devoted to hitting, fielding, pitching, base-running, signs, coaching, and the differences between the Minor and the Major Leagues. My favorite chapter is the one on the Slump, that bedeviling, leveling agony suffered by all players at some point. DiMaggio writes about some legendary and not-so-legendary downsides among players he knew or had heard about, and includes some remedies and a nice detail about the way his wife inadvertently cured one of his own slumps (he hadn't been standing and swinging as before; he learned this when she innocently remarked that she wasn't seeing the number 5 on his jersey after he swung through).

A terrific illustration by Lenny Hollreiser, a prominent sports cartoonist in the the mid-Twentieth century, accompanies the chapter. Goofy and winsome, Hollreiser's drawing is both funny and kind of scary. Blinder-affixing, bat-sawing, feet-lassoing gremlins: it's a head game, after all. I wonder how many impressionable twelve-year old kids, after a day scuffling at the plate in Little League and having put down DiMaggio's book, were visited by this image late at night.


The best passage is a small paragraph that all-too-accurately describes the fraught journey taken by a slugger in the blues:


~~

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hangin' at Three Grand Tavern

I love this photo from Old Comiskey Park: Essays and Memories of the Historic Home of the Chicago White Sox, 1910-1991, published in 2014 by McFarland in their Historic Ballparks Series. Oak Park, Illinois resident Lynda Prischman recalls that her father, Leo Janush, owned a bar called the Three Grand Tavern (great name!) at 3000 South Canal, about a block north of Comiskey Park, in Bridgeport. "To be born in Bridgeport is to bleed Black and White for the White Sox," Prischman says.
Parts of Old Comiskey live in my basement. We have a stadium seat and the metal barred ticket window still in its housing. It has at least a hundred layers of white lead paint on it. A friend of my son bargained that off the back of a truck for him.

This Sox and baseball connection spans three generations as my grandfather owned the Three Grand before my father. His stories included baseball players (Sox and others) who came by the tavern after hours to drink, eat my Lithuanian grandmother’s cooking, and play cards around an oak poker table that is now the dining room table in my brother’s home. Famously, one of those players was Babe Ruth.
It seems highly unlikely that the any of the men in this photo are ballplayers; scholars more knowledgeable than I can determine that. (Perhaps they're ex-ballplayers.) I only know that to gaze at this image of a local VFW Headquarters is to reaffirm all of the dearly-held, likely naive, and certainly romanticized ideas I have about a different era of baseball, when players might visit a local divey watering hole after a game, become regulars, maybe, the divide between players and fans not nearly as gaping as it has become in this century.

Disappointingly, I can't find a single photograph online of the Three Grand. Unsurprisingly, Google Street View reveals that the bar is long gone. As is the Babe.



~~

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Holiday in New York

The cover of the April, 1949 Holiday magazine, an all-Manhattan issue for which editor Roger Angell invited his stepfather E.B. White to write the preface. White gave Angell the legendary "Here is New York."


The photo was taken from the Staten Island ferry. Here's a recent Vanity Fair article on the long-gone Holiday magazine and the era it covered.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lovin' Machine

Happy Birthday to the late great Johnny Paycheck, who well before he became the "Take This Job and Shove It"-guy cut some fiercely twangin', edgy honky tonk for the Hilltop and Little Darlin' labels in the mid 1960s. Pour a stiff one and turn this stuff up.










Promo photo via Jim Loessberg's Pedal Steel Guitar Site. Ad via The Crypt of Wrestling.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Happy 40th Anniversary, Fleshtones!" from the World

The Fleshtones debuted at CBGB on May 19, 1976, 40 years ago today. “We were very wound up and blasted out our handful of songs at a ridiculously fast tempo,” Peter remembers in Sweat. “Still, people liked us and some even danced along, an unusual event at super-cool CBGB’s. We were invited back for another audition.

“Finally, we were a real band.”

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary, Parisian Super Rock fans Carole Bigaud and René Simon have compiled an International Happy Birthday video for Keith, Peter, Bill, and Ken (and by extension, Lenny, Marek, and Gordon), the cheers from fellow musicians, friends, and fans coming from all corners of the world. Sending their best are:
Died Pretty, Andy Shernoff, Southern Culture On The Skids, Bernard and Mika Laurent, Cathy Mini, Crummy Stuff, The Dustaphonics, Hoodoo Gurus, Vibeke Saugestad, Emmanuelle Jowa, Nascha Streng, Dana Saravia, Sam Novak & Isabelle, Jean-Pierre Soulignac, Jimmy Descant, The Vindicators, Laine Berman, Marc Minelli, Phast Freddie & Nancy Garder, Ludwig Dahllöf, The Jackets, Ivan Andreini, The Parisian Beat (Thomas, Nath, Pascal, Miss M from Space, Gabba, Carole, and René), T Birds Bassano, Yuri Margarine, Gail Wetton, Anita Verdun (& Family), Handsome Dick Manitoba & Palmyra Delran, Fran Fried, The Nomads, Dom Mariani, The Midnight Kings (Fabrizia Perlin, Domenico Denti, Allesandro Montrasi, Simona Badsimo, Tiziano Carozzi, and Corrado Montanaro), Linda Pitmon & Steve Wynn, Anne Tek, Tony Truant, Marc Tison, Kim & Alex Sharpe, Katia Samson, Violent Femmes, Les Grys Grys, Parker Dulany from Certain General, Gabba, Lindsay Hutton, Fuzzy Vox, Randy Johnston & Michael Shink, Emily Seah & Robert Jaz, Eduardo of Flaming Sideburns, Jimmy Gracia, "The Professor" Mighty Manfred of The Woggles, Bébert Playboys, Johnny Hentch, Saxon, Wendy Case, KellyJean Caldwell, and Birdie, Daddy Long Legs, Certain General, Pierre Ivanov, Max Lebreton, and Carole & René.
Watch all of the Super Well Wishes here:

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