brewers baseball and things


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flick your bic for one more song

It’s 1954, Christmas Eve, in Boise, Idaho and all young Petie Squibbles can think of is the organ he hopes to find under the Christmas Tree come morning. The idea of an organ sort of came as a surprise. It happened in Boston a few months earlier.

Petie and his pops were on a trip out east, to Fenway Park, to see Jimmy Piersall and the Red Sox play and much to Petie’s surprise came the soothing sound of an organ blaring in from the overhead stadium speakers. From that moment on, he dreamed of having one to play in their Idaho basement.

Is this realistic? Did kids really long for organs the same way they did a few years later with guitars, after seeing Elvis or The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show?

Organs are an old instrument, dating back to Ancient Greece. Apparently they were water organs back then, whatever that is, but what gets me pumped is that they were predominately played during races and games as opposed to strictly religious ceremonies. That seems to set the later stage for sporting events.

The first baseball team to have an organ was the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 26, 1941 when Ray Nelson played the pipe organ. The following year, the Dodgers made Gladys Gooding at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn the first ever full-time organist.

Other teams soon joined in the organ fun. The sound added to the ambiance of the stadium and even enhanced the experience of watching the actual game. At some point the organists began to mirror the actions on the field, almost like DJ’s spinning appropriate records and in some cases sarcastic ones. They provided musical commentary. One of the more well-known was Nancy Faust of the White Sox. She would play the Paul Leka song ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ after the opposing pitcher gave up a home run or was in jeopardy of being taken out of the game.

More than anything else, I find the organ to be a very relaxing sound. I have fond memories of hearing ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ during the 7th inning stretch of Milwaukee Brewers home games. That was back when they played at County Stadium.

The baseball organs disappeared with the arrival of new stadiums in the early 1990’s or maybe it was because of all the commercial music and other pre-recorded noises piped in. Thankfully, interest has revived and slowly, teams have brought back the organ including the Brewers at Miller Park.

I don’t know if kids really dream of owning an organ, but former pitcher Denny McLain once had one and he recorded an album ‘Denny McLain at the Organ.’ I like the tune ‘Extra Innings.’ Every time I play the song’s last notes and think the song is over, I am always surprised when those same notes repeat, a reminder of the beauty of Extra Innings, that once hooked and reeled in by a game, I never want it to end.

The song reminds me of a game I watched on TV. It was the longest game in major league history, a game between the Brewers and White Sox at Comiskey Park. It was suspended on May 8, 1984 and finished the following night. The Sox won 7-6 when Harold Baines hit a home run off Chuck “my bags please” Porter.

25 innings in all.
43 hits.
Tom Seaver got the win.
I love extra innings.
I love the organ.


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the 27 club

It’s just a number, but more than a bit strange that so many musicians, artists, and actors have died at the age of 27. The most well-known are probably Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. I took a look at the list the other day and hadn’t heard of most of them, but was shocked by the number of names including the more recent additions of Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

So i got to thinking about baseball, about players who died at 27, in the prime of their career. I counted 18 players, the first one being Charlie Hodes, way back in 1875. I had never heard of him and scanning the list, the only player I recognized was the most recent – Lyman Bostock in 1978, shot and killed by a jealous husband.

Two things that stuck out about Bostock were that his father played in the Negro Leagues for a good chunk of time and as is often the case, there are little, if any stats on his career. That always amazes me considering the development and obsession over stats  in the other league that still exists today, the one we call the major leagues. The other thing that stuck out was that after Bostock signed with the California Angels in 1978, he struggled out of the gate and insisted on returning his April salary to the Angels. When they refused, he donated it to charity.

Bostock is part of my gravatar image. I created it one day when I was bored.  He’s to the left of the watch and baseball, at about 8 o’clock, right between I think that’s a 1972 Topps Ron Swoboda? and definitely a 1976 Topps Dock Ellis.


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no name

He could have been like the others and joined some wilderness retreat and learned a new pitch, become a converted reliever and revived or rather, started his career. Others had done it, most recently, Edgar Warrbins. The Boise teenager could barely hit 75 on a radar gun, but when he dropped his arm down to the side, he won a few onlookers. Then Edgar dropped it even further, to the submarine zone and the Indy leagues came calling. It made his pitch swerve and some say rise and then quickly fall,  a bit like a drunk struggling to a squat kerplunk to the hard earth. Batters would swing and miss. It was all very unorthodox and highly contagious, but he looked down and then around, at the railroad tracks stretching horizon to horizon. He liked where he was and so he kept to the amateur league course, as a mop up man, throwing ho-hum overhand strikes, inducing fly balls, and eating up innings. He said it was better for his well-being, reminded him of the thankless toil of it all.


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the impossible possible anatomy of perfection

every once in a while Dennis Martinez’s perfect game pops up in conversation. Gets me wondering how many perfectos there have been. off the top of my head hmmmmm, I start with Len Barker in 1981 and then of course Don Larson in the World Series 1950 something, Sandy Koufax a few years later and Mike Witt on the last day of the 1984 season….Tom Browning, David Cone and David Wells. More recently, Matt Cain did it and so did Felix Hernandez and oh yeh, Dallas Braden and Philip Humber and i’m missing a bunch but the point is Braden and Humber everything suddenly seems possible.


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just another winter day

the elder john and grandpa joe discussed death related matters,
wills and who should inherit that Gorman Thomas broken bat with barrel still intact
and what about all those Topps doubles from 1977 and 1978?
all those books and pennants, posters and Cecil Cooper’s wrist bands?
and should they be cremated or buried in street clothes six feet under?
when all of a sudden Grandma molasses had an idea – to be buried under Busch Stadium in a secret catacomb, to haunt all future Cardinal teams. Everyone laughed including the two kids in the room. They couldn’t a been more than 12 years young. That’s when Grandma molasses announced that she wasn’t cooking lunch that day – a cue to Elder John to lead the parade out the door to the Esmeralda Pharmacy that did double duty as a diner. That’s where they continued to discuss death related matters, scribbling makeshift wills on napkins. Everyone tossed in ideas and came to life, including the two young boys who shared a steak and eggs breakfast.


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more kosher hot dogs

I used to wonder how baseball might alter the political climate of the Middle East. The props were all in place – Great Wall, sunny skies, plenty of sand to be used as dirt for base paths, a pitcher’s mound, warning tracks. Suicide bombers could be converted to suicide squeezes, etc etc. Lion lays down with lamb. Easy as ABC. I figured if they can play in sun dry Arizona, they can play in Tel Aviv with water from the Mediterranean Sea keeping the grass green or maybe it’s too salty? Is it salty?

Anyway, the Civil War in America was apparently the bloodiest of all wars America has been involved in. I like to think that baseball was an effective opium elixir to calm everybody the fudge down. The civil war finished in 1865. The World Series began in 1901. There were no teams in the south at that point, but people knew about the game and played in peach patches and farm fields and what not. I like the odds of baseball doing some similar wonder work in the Middle East.

I forget how I tracked down Peter Kurz – Secretary General of the Israeli Association of Baseball (IAB), but his response included a phone number and a thumbs up for an interview. This was way back in 2009. The experience sort of spoiled my idealism of the Algerian Grounds and King Tut Stadium and what not, but opened my mind to a grassroots baseball scene that has been happening in Israel for almost 30 years.

Israel failed to get into the 2013 World Baseball Classic. They lost to Italy in ten innings in a qualifying game. But they beat Great Britain this past September to qualify for the 2017 WBC which begins in early March. If you’re bored and have 10 minutes, here’s my interview with Peter Kurz.


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face lifts and Kimchi

The Brewers have been emptying the cupboard of everything except Ryan Braun. He’s the only player that remains from the 2011 team that reached the National League Championship. This is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s what teams do when they decide to rebuild. Trade players before they become free agents. Trade them when their value is high and get some prospects in return who very few fans have ever heard of.

Khris Davis, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Fiers, Martin Maldonado Jean Segura, Jeremy Jeffress, and Wil Smith are all gone, so is Chris Carter. The Brewers signed him last year and he did everything they expected and more. He hit 41 home runs, tied for the National League lead. He also led the team in RBI’s with 94, but he struck out a whopping 206 times and hit .222, but then again the year before in Houston, he hit .199. People say he is a friendly, good clubhouse kind of guy and on TV he looks like one,  but friendly doesn’t win pennants. Eric Thames does. Eric Thames? Shortly before or after the Brewers handed Carter a pink slip, they signed Eric Thames.

Thames spent the last three years playing in Korea where he hit a ton of home runs. He said in the press conference that he would need a little time to adjust to major league pitching because it’s so much faster than the Korean League. The numbers Thames put up as a member of the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization are whiffle ball high. He hit .348 over the three-year span with a .450 OB% and a .720 slugging %. In addition, apparently the stadiums in Korea are very hitter friendly.

It’s a crazy move, not quite Sidd Finch, but compelling enough to make opening day 2017 seem even more interesting.