brewers baseball and things


6 Comments

thanks bazooka joe

Skylab launched in May 1973 and 6 years later NASA announced the space station was reentering earth’s orbit, but they had no idea where. 

The sky was gonna fall on us. Paranoia reigned. T-shirt were printed. I was at summer camp in Northern Wisconsin; a three hours drive from mom and dad and I missed my bedroom and baseball cards.

We all knew the odds of a human being getting struck by skylab debris was like 1 in 600 billion, but we also knew about people buying lottery tickets. The anticipation and sweat felt the same. 

I don’t think I ever stopped dwelling on the end of the world and my own disintegration. I just toned the fears down or my survival instinct shoved them into a far away file called subconscious. They escaped when I got sunburned and my skin peeled and I refused to take a bath. I was afraid of being sucked down the drain. 

Seems stupid now especially since I was willing to let some stranger stand behind me with two knives criss-crossed together and chop chop chop cut my hair. But he did give my brother and I Bazooka Joe bubble gum and there was more good news.

People were struck by lightning and didn’t die. Holy cow! Amazing. I guess it had to be the perfect amount of voltage shooting down from the sky but a right-brained person could turn into a left brained one; a baritone into a soprano, a Duane Kuiper into a Ralph Kiner?

I watched Kuiper in action the other day; thanks to the you tube/mlb agreement signed a few years ago; liberating games from MLB locked vaults; full games-original broadcasts.

It was a long overdue paradise; but an old fear emerged and slowly crystallized into an irrational certainty. A copyright glitch or government takeover or a nuclear bomb was gonna tear down this Alexandria library of baseball games. I had no choice. I went Al Capone on my separation anxiety.

I downloaded over 100 baseball games, especially regular season ones that turn out to never be regular and so there was and is and always will be Wrigley Field in early May, 1984. 

Duane Kuiper and his 1 career home run in over 3,000 at bats pinch-hitting for Giants pitcher Matt Williams in the top of the 6th. Cubs announcer Harry Caray mentions something about the wind and right on cue, the camera flashes to the Ernie Banks retired number 14 flag waving atop the left field flag pole and Harry goes silent for a second and Kuiper grounds out to shortstop.

Bill Veeck is at the game; sitting in the center field bleachers of course; with the people and Harry reminds us that he’ll be broadcasting games from there when the summer sun arrives.

Harry’s color man sidekick during the 4th-5th-6th is Milo Hamilton and he remembers. He points out that Cubs manager Jim Frey’s wad of chew is in the Danny Murtaugh class of Tobacco pouches stuffed in one human mouth. The paid attendance is 4,625 but rounded up to 4,861 with the walk ups.

Leon Bull Durham is going for his 7th homer in as many games. He doesn’t hit one but Bob Brenly does and Ron Cey hits a grand slam for the Cubs. The wind is blowing out. Jeffrey Hack Man Leonard does not play.

Dutch Rennert is the home plate umpire and that deserves its own line.

He calls balls and strikes with vaudeville enthusiasm; turning 90 degrees with hop and giddy up; takes a massive inhale while screaming Strike and during the exhale lowers to the ground; arm on knee pointing towards the dugout and screaming 1 or 2 depending on the count and if it’s the third strike,  take cover; fireworks finale; the arm comes down like a sledgehammer at a county fair high striker strongman game.

The Cubs won 11-10 and I feel incredibly refreshed; more like a time machine than nostalgia.


4 Comments

match box field

I don’t know what makes a stadium a stadium and not a park, field, yard or even an alley or a way, but in this world where the painter colorsetbrushes asks me to add words, there are no rules. I love this painting; hits me like trying to exit a hot shower; but 5 more minutes.

match box field

i walk along a street that probably has a name,baseballfieldpalmtrees 001
but this is the edge of the world and that’s all it ever is.
could be anywhere.
the trees are naked.
all my steps virgin;
the breezes too
if i say burning-palm-tree-mirage over and over again
the trees might dance and
it just might.

 


6 Comments

stormin soon park

How did I get here is a question I don’t ask too often; not anymore. Maybe I should? I used to keep a daily blog called “broken bats.” It wasn’t about baseball or maybe a little; but mostly just an idea written in a spurt explosion. It was easier or maybe not, but just as satisfying with a last word and clicking publish.

Last week, a painter asked me to add words to her paintings; “keep them from looking naked,” she said and I agreed; to add some words that is and she offered to paint imaginary baseball stadiums. Nice winter trade I thought and then wondered what she might dream up or envision or whatever it is painters do. 

She calls the painting and words a gang bang. There are trees, deserts, flowers, firey moons, mountains, and all kinds of skies; four baseball stadiums too including this one today. All of her paintings can be found at colorsetbrushes

stormin soon park

the bullpen latch creaks barn animals.beforethestormbaseballfield 001
there’s so much time here and so many clouds;
a cave painting sky.

the public address announcer sounds gravity,
explaining everything;
fiber by fiber.

something shoots from the dugout cannon;
creation’s first fireworks; 
a 9 piece ensemble feeling Roberta Flack again.


4 Comments

stairway to St. Marys

The February booger freeze Montreal suffers less than its igloo past; thanks to Quebec’s hydroelectric power. The fire dance becomes a thermostat finger tap and presto; heat duct coils burn lava red. Toes yawn and what’s that over there? Expos’ red, white and blue splattered across the backs of Montreal newspapers? 

Nothing new but it feels new because it only happens once a year; if that; so merry freaking baseball morning subway commute! Good to see you Felipe Alou; the most popular manager in Expos history. Words; wonderful words on the backs of newspapers; “Alou one of this year’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.”

The Hall’s been around since 1982 when George Selkirk became one of the first enshrined. Selkirk replaced Babe Ruth in right field at Yankee Stadium; took his number too. Born in Huntsville, Ontario; 9 years wearing that legendary number 3; hit .290, .400 OB% , 108 homeruns; maybe the best Canadian born hitter not named Larry Walker.

The Hall was originally located in Toronto, but moved to St Marys, Ontario in 1998. There’s 106 members; a mix of Canadian born players, managers, umpires, writers, and anyone from anywhere who contributed to the popularity of baseball in Canada. Players must be retired for at least 3 years and receive 75 percent of the vote. They stay on the ballot for 9 years assuming they get at least one vote every 2 years.

Bob Elliot, Corey Koskie, Matt Stairs, and Carlos Delgado join Alou to round out this year’s new members. Elliot is a baseball writer born in Kingston, Ontario. Delgado is from Puerto Rico but hit plenty of home run in a Blue Jay uniform including 4 in the same game; only been done 16 times and Delgado is the only one to do it in 4 plate appearances. He also hit 30 or more in 10 consecutive seasons; 8 of em’ in Toronto.

Koskie was born in Anola, Manitoba; career cut short by a concussion suffered as a member of the Brewers in 2006, but 9 seasons and 3400 at bats; 126 homers and a .376 OB%.  

Alou managed the best Expos team that never was; shut down by the 1994 strike with the best record in baseball. He managed the Expos for parts of 10 seasons; 1992-2002; won more than 90 games only once; in 1993, but he was loved and would be the most well-known of this year’s inductees if it weren’t for Matt Stairs and his many hats.

Stairs was born in Saint John New Brunswick and signed as an amateur free agent with the Expos in 1989. His one season in an Expos uniform was a sign of things to come. He went on to play for 11 different teams; one shy of the all time record set by Octavio Dotel and Mike Morgan; both of whom were pitchers which makes Stairs the vagabond position player King. He also played the 1993 season for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.

Stairs played left field then first base and DH mostly as a part-time player, but he did log regular gigs with the Oakland A’s; hitting 20 or more homers between 1997-2000 including 38 in 1999, but his legend kicked into high gear later on and it was the stuff of little league dreams.

I felt a bit deranged impersonating baseball heroes on an empty diamond all alone, but I did it anyway. Bottom of the ninth and “Your attention please; now pinch-hitting for the shortstop; number 27 (insert my name)” and  I would always work the count full and guess right and BAM; there she goes and there I go into one of countless different homerun trots.

On August 21, 2010, Matt Stairs stepped to the plate. It was the 8th inning; his Padres trailing the Brewers 6-3. Kameron Loe must have tossed a sinker that didn’t sink because Stairs launched a two run home run and no big deal. For his career, he hit 265 in 5204 at bats or 1 every 19.6 at bats,  but this was more than a home run.

This was the 21st pinch hit home run of his career; a new all time record; breaking the previous mark held by Cliff Johnson. When I hear the two words “all” and  “time” bunched together in a baseball sentence, my teeth feel like wood and I start to bow or tip the hat I never wear.

Stairs finished with 23 pinch hit homeruns. 


9 Comments

11-year itch

A seesaw on a foggy cliff overlooks probably more fog is wonder. Why does one kid gravitate towards the pitcher’s mound and another second base and why does one sync mind and body and let all worldly burdens fall away like a snake-skin abandoned while another is heavy from the sound of his own mind?

Maybe we only appear equal before the starting gun sounds but something happens in that split second first step and only a few really and truly carry on; up at the Ichiro dawn perfecting their own hit, bunt, and run; everyone else walking dead; only going through the motions; reluctant since the initial fall; maybe it was a hernia surgery at 18 or getting fired from a dream job; or stuck in state of wince over being dealt a bad hand.

Harvey Kuenn was born and raised in West Allis, Milwaukee, Wisconsin long before the major league Milwaukee Brewers and almost 30 years before the Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee, but the minor league Brewers played their games at Borchert Field on Milwaukee’s North side and in the 1940’s Bill Veeck wielded his magic marketing wand there and well; Kuenn was an only child and he loved baseball.

A baseball environments is no guarantee. Destiny’s obstacles are fiercer and anyway, ballplayers come from all kinds of places including Ed Porray; born at sea or Tom Browning; born in Casper, Wyoming; one of only 14 players to ever be born there and Browning pitched one of baseball’s 23 perfect games.

Or maybe there is one place where no mobile hangs above a newborn’s crib; dangling ceramic bat, ball, and glove and the chances of a father son mythic catch are slim to none and just the word baseball sends a bitter bolt across its citizens’ tongues.

There hasn’t been baseball in Montreal for 11 years; not since 2004 when Termel Sledge popped out to third base, but there were no suicides and life continued and the Montreal Canadians remain more popular than the church in French Catholic Quebec.

Raines or Dawson are sometimes  mentioned around the water cooler.  A park was recently renamed Gary Carter field. Warren Cromartie continues to canvas for baseball’s return. There’s even an annual spring training game at Olympic Stadium.

The death of baseball attacks in subtler ways; in back alleys and playgrounds where kids learn new languages and share stories and build their own mythologies. Baseball is not a part of that in Montreal anymore, but the kids don’t dwell on it. They do something else and the river dries up.

I wonder if Harvey Kuenn got a warm feeling in 1944 when he found out that Bill Nagel-the Brewers minor league third baseman was bought by the major league White Sox. Harvey was 14 years young and maybe thinking; “damn; if he can do it, so can I.”

Kuenn went on to play at the University of Wisconsin and hit .383 over a 3 year career; foregoing his senior season to sign with Detroit in 1952. There was no draft back then. He enjoyed a 15-year career; 8 of those with the Tigers. He had the dubious distinction of making the last out in two of Koufax’s no hitters, but he was feared by opposing managers as unpredictable; a bad ball hitter who didn’t walk too much, but didn’t strike out either. In fact he never k’d more than 40 times in a season.

He hit. .303 for his career with a .357 ob%, 2092 total hits and a walk may be as good as hit in some computed run scoring probability sort of way;  little league coach’s broken record mantra and patience is a virtue and carrots are good for your eyes, but I’d sacrifice a week’s salary to board a time machine and see Kuenn golf a dirt ball into orbit; off the wall for one of his league leading 42 doubles in 1959 or take a shoulder-high swing and line the ball down the right field line in 1952 when Kuenn not only led the league with 209 base hits, but he took home the rookie of the year award.  

 


16 Comments

smashing the windows

Charlie Grimm played the banjo and his nickname was Jolly Cholly. Hearing that turns the seriousness of a work day into a heap of wonder as cowboy boots press on to discover if an actual bridge links grim and jolly?

But it’s only a name and outside free will and destiny and all of that. Spike Owen was a shortstop because he had to be; not because of his name. Right field was out of the question. Spikes don’t hit home runs or maybe 46 in a career of 4,930 at bats.

Charlie Grimm was born in St. Louis, 1898, but his ashes were spread across Wrigley Field, Chicago; 1983; probably because he played his last 9 years as a Cub and managed them three times; from 1931-1938, 1944-1949 and again in 1960 when he was swapped for Cubs radio announcer Lou Boudreau who replaced Grimm as manager. 

And he did play the banjo and his nickname was Jolly Cholly and he was also hired by Bill Veeck to manage the minor league Milwaukee Brewers; from 1940-1944 and again in 1949 when they became the AAA affiliate to the Boston Braves.

Grimm managed those Big League Braves too; beginning in 1952 and when the Braves relocated to Milwaukee, Grimm remained; compiling an impressive record of 299-222, but always seemed to play second fiddle to the Brooklyn Dodgers who won 4 out of 5 NL Pennants between 1952-1956.

The Braves and their 2 million fans turned against Grimm in 1956. The Braves were above .500 again at 24-22, but Grimm and his banjo were set free; replaced by hard-nosed Fred Haney.

And maybe hard nosed is the reason. The Braves were seeking the opposite of Grimm. They wanted Lombardi dynamite; a motivator and had already hired Haney as a coach so the change was probably in the works since winter. The Braves won a lot under Haney in 1956. They spent 125 days on top, but in the words of Hank Aaron; “choked,” after surrendering first place during the final series of the season losing 2 out of 3 to the Cardinals.

But in 1957, the Braves knocked the Dodger monkeys off their backs and then beat Stengel and the Yankees in a 7-game World Series. Haney brought them back in 1958 against those same Yankees; but couldn’t repeat.

The city of Milwaukee waited 25 more years before tasting another World Series. It was 1982 and 47 games into that season, the Brewers axed manager Buck Rodgers. I remember the elders harking back to 1956 and seeing similarities; pink slipping a highly successful skipper-Charlie Grimm after only 46 games and replacing him with a coach-Fred Haney who was Grimm’s polar opposite in personality.

And now the Brewers; 47 games into their 1982 season replace their hard-nosed and highly successful Buck Rodgers with an in house coach and polar opposite in personality. Rodgers had led the Brewers to the second half AL East crown in 1981, but the Brewers were 23-24 and looking for someone less severe; someone to blend in and they already had that someone in hitting coach Harvey Kuenn who knew how to relax and let the boys have fun.

I remember Kuenn. He looked like someone who had eaten his fair share of shrapnel during a forgotten war. His leg was amputated from a blood clot. He limped and always carried a massive wad of chew in his cheek; born and raised in Milwaukee; a bartenders soul. The players loved him. The Brewers didn’t win the World Series, but they reached game 7 and lost to the Cardinals again.

And I remember Buck Rodgers too. He was always clean shaven with side burns and a gritty voice; perfect for snowmobile commercials and always ready to write himself into the lineup; maybe like The Brave’s Fred Haney?

Three World Series in Milwaukee baseball history; two under Haney and one with Kuenn, and all three run by managers originally hired after an early season firing and both the polar opposites of their predecessors in terms of personality.

That spans almost 30 years; two franchises, two leagues, and 3 different teams and I’m ridiculous to think of it as a formula because the Brewers won the wild card in 2008 after firing their manager-Ned Yost with just 12 games remaining in the season and they won the NL Central in 2011 with the same manager-Ron Roenicke from start to finish, but then again, they never reached the World Series either.

Exorcisms are out of fashion. Someone gets blamed for losing; so if the Brewers stumble out the 2015 gate, it won’t necessarily be manager Roenicke’s fault, but replace him anyway for the same reason Spike Owen didn’t bat clean up. We’re humans. We’re limited. Go for the gusto; smash the windows and replace Roenicke with his opposite; someone who spits fire; someone like Ozzy Guillen.


11 Comments

long live the flood

Movement of Jah people was written some time in Bob Marley Exodus 1977; same year Mac Scarce signed as a free agent with Minnesota and Larry Hisle with the Brewers and Hisle hit 34 home runs in 1978. Scarce lived up to his name, but the operative word here is free agent because it turned out to be way more than just a curt flood.

It started in 1974 or 73 or not really. It started 100 years before that; unions and organizing and whenever the first organized pitch was thrown; griping over reserve clause,. picking up speed in the late 1960’s and remembered as just a curt flood, but way more than brief and much bigger and still raining 45 years later a Biblical monsoon millions. 

Life is great. Free agency has altered the landscape; from the sprawl of kids toys across an Idaho lawn to nay say adults insisting crossing guards should be making as much money as Rico Petrocelli. In fairness to Rico, he never made more than 100 thousand but then again he never stepped foot in the 1980’s either.

But free agency is fun for the whole family. It is the preservation of franchise leader boards. There is no need for cheap poster board or chalk; easy to change the guard gimmicks every few years. Chisel the leaders in to granite or stone. 

Maybe not long live the king, but long live Jim Slaton in Milwaukee because Yovani Gallardo was dealt to Texas yesterday in exchange for three prospects and Yo will forever be stuck on 89 wins; two behind Moose Haas and five short of fellow Mexican Teddy Higuera at 94, but Slaton shouldn’t relax; not just yet.

He knows better. In 1977, he was traded to Detroit for Ben Oglivie and he pitched well enough as a Tiger; winning 17 games  so the Brewers signed him back as a free agent in 1978. I think that was the Brewers biggest FA in terms of money up until then and well, the rest was Slaton as in he went on to win 66 more games as Brewer to finish with 117 including one in the 1982 world series. Long live the flood!

Prince Fielder performed the same near shatter the franchise record dance. He hit 230 homers or 21 behind Robin Yount and the franchise crown before getting out of dodge; first to Detroit and then Texas and maybe somewhere else. I can’t keep track anymore but just 21 behind Yount when free agency saved the day…Long Live the flood!

And about that trade. The Brewer received two very useful players and one pick lotto prospect. The immediate impact will be Corey Knebel who apparently also lives up to that last name; Knebel as in Knievel, as in fearless edge who fights with coaches and has a huge curve ball and power arm; a possible Chris Bosio ghost.

He slips immediately into the bullpen; one issue resolved. Bad debut last year with Detroit; traded to Texas, but huge numbers at AAA and apparently Brewers have been watching him since his days as a closer with University of Texas.

Brewers also acquired a back up infielder Luis Sardinas; great name for a midnight snack with some elbow pasta and a 7 up, but more importantly he gets on base and steals and apparently plays solid defense at multiple positions and then there’s the pitching prospect Marcos Diplan from the Dominican Republic; raw and dreamy for us to play 2019 in our Brewer minds. 

All three are just names for now, but all in all I’m feeling good. Change is good, but Yo will be missed. He was a practical joker; throwing the pies and spraying water at teammates during TV interviews. Of course, the baseball world was deceived because Yo wasn’t the next Bob Gibson, but the baseball world always has over the top expectations and that’s ok too.

Icing on the cake is that Yo is going home; back to Texas where he grew up and went to high school. Maybe the weather will stretch out his pitching career. Gallardo will only be 29 in a couple of weeks and he may climb the leader board there. Rick Helling is 6th on the all time Rangers win list with 68. 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 169 other followers