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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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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keeping it on the one

I was dribbling a basketball in a dream. I was on the court. I was in the game. A lane opened up. So I made my way into the paint for a finger roll layup when all of a sudden I was four inches above the rim and getting ready to dunk the ball. That’s when the hoop and rim became a painting and i crashed into the wall.

I woke up from the dream and laughed. It was like Santa Klaus and the thrill that’s sucked from kid’s minds when they find out. It was like the two greatest baseball cards of my life – Jim Konstanty and Ty Cobb.

I don’t remember how I got the Konstanty card but I remember his face or his glasses. He looked so ordinary and nice. He looked like my friend’s father – the head janitor at our elementary school. Maybe Konstanty was a janitor? Players didn’t make much money in the 1950’s. They had jobs in the off season. Konstanty was the mvp pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. The card was from 1950. The background was blue. I loved it, mostly because of that number 1950. That was old to me. Super old. I had struck gold. I didn’t know about price guides yet.

The other card was Ty Cobb. My brother gave it to me. It was an all time greatest hits card. I didn’t know it was from the 1973 Topps set. I focused on Cobb’s face instead. It was old and mean. It was really and truly Ty Cobb. He had the most hits of anyone. It was was the greatest card in the world, even older than the Konstanty card.

I collected cards for the thrill of completing a set and finding my favorite players. All those stacks lining my bedroom floor were comforting. I also wanted to be rich. My delusion peaked with the wood border set of 1987. I bought 50 cards each of Barry Bonds, Kal Daniels, Rafael Palmero, and Barry Larkin. I figured these rookie cards would net me a fortune one day.

They didn’t. This story had a moral, but I forget what it is? I guess that things don’t always appear as they are. They’re better because now I have boxes and boxes of cards, thousands of them and each one tells a different story or carries some hidden meaning and what’s great is that the meaning or no meaning depends on my mood, my perception so the cards are always new.

_58Take this Rusty Staub 1984 Fleer card. That’s some serious focus going on. He’s probably not thinking about anything but bat on ball there. My neighbor used to call that – keeping it on the one.

 


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one foot in front of the other…..

He said the trees told him everything he ever needed to know. It was the way a fallen branch took root and grew on its own, “as sure as a bullfrog or bumblebee” he would say.

We were walking away from a Salt Lake City Hotel room when we heard him whispering,

“cola, cola, cola.”

He was on the other side of the street. There was plenty of traffic between us, but we could still hear him. Made it kind of amazing.

“cola cola cola,” he said again.

His voice never grew softer as he got closer so we kept on hearing him and he kept on saying “cola cola cola.”  He must have said it 30 times. It was a soothing contrast from our previous night – all that screaming and stage diving from the hotel room’s upper floor. We had never been in a room with two levels. We burned pages from the bible and pretended we were on a West Coast Rock and Roll tour.

“cola cola cola.”

He didn’t fold up his arms or lean against the hotel lobby wall. He didn’t shove his hands in his pockets either. He just stood there, arms at his side, steady. He had dark beautiful beads for eyes – infinity eyes. I was both terrified and put at ease. He extended his right arm and squeezed my forearm. He pulled me closer very gently. He said it was the Apache way of greeting someone and that cola meant friend in either Apache or Lakota language. I forget which.

We had spent our last dime on that hotel room. All we had left was a bus ticket to San Rafael, California. We also had jobs lined up and a place to stay. Our new friend had lost his mother and he needed to walk. He wasn’t Apache. His mom was Northern Cheyenne and Dad a descendant of a beer baron family from Hamburg, Germany. Dad escaped the baron fate as a stowaway aboard a Krumshaka ship back when the Northern Cheyenne were living in what is now Minnesota, east of the Mississippi. He made a name for himself killing buffalo, but lost his taste for pillage and hides when he met Blue Bridge of the Northern Cheyenne. He lost his head. His heart opened. He took to her way of life.

This walk our friend was on was not an around the block walk. It was a walk with no destination. He called it a Kiowa walk to honor their neighbors to the south who took to many migrations in their history.

“Not many more migrations these days, only the inner kind,” he said, “To see with hobo freshness.” He smiled after saying that and I suddenly felt guilty about what we had done to the Bible the night before. All those animal sacrifices of the Hebrews condensed into today’s ritual prayer and yet, we decided to burn pages from the bible? Oh screw it! We were on our own journey.

We walked with him. I noticed that the cars in Salt Lake city were covered with stickers that either said “praise the lord” or  “Mormons on drugs.” We walked in the direction of steeples and spires, of the Great Mormon Church or maybe they were pointy hills up ahead. It was hard to tell with the sun’s glare so strong. Either way, the horizon looked like zigzagging vital signs. We walked on and a perfect blue day turned into a perfect black night. The fringes of that horizon were still burning orange and purple when cola stumbled on a pile of clothes that could have easily been a bag of cannibalistic heads. Our minds were tricking us. Cola felt around the bag with his feet. One of those abandoned lives most likely. There were shoes beside the bag as well. Freaked me out. It was as if a spaceship had dropped in and beamed someone up.

Cola removed a few socks from the bag and tied them together like someone trapped on the fifth floor of a burning hotel room – a sock ladder of descent. He said it was a hoop and then we walked some more. He collected large fallen branches along the way and when he had enough branches, he stopped again and began to whittle away the tops and make them sharp. He used the force in his fingers and a rock he had also picked up.

He said we were gonna play the hoop and pole game.

He gave an explanation of the game’s origins, about a young virgin impregnated by a spirit named Sweet Root. The virgin abandoned the child. An old woman found him and named him Sweet Medicine because it was where medicine roots grow. The kid became a great hunter but no one cared about him because he lived with an old lady grandma in a tepee. 

Cola then counted out steps in the direction of the sun rise. Musta been 30 or 40 steps. Then he continued to talk of the game’s origins.

The kid told his grandma to make a hoop wrapped in buffalo hide and to prepare four cherry sticks. Old lady grandma did just that and so he began to throw the sticks through the hoop and people gathered round, interested in this new game. He threw the fourth stick and when it went through the hoop, it changed into a fat buffalo calf, a magical calf too because there was always meat to eat from then on. The game became a promise…playing it ensured an abundance of buffalo.

*Thanks to that great big wonderful coffee table book The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Indian Mythology for details on the Hoop-And-Pole Game.

**And thanks to baseball reference. I took a quick look at the all time leaders in fewest walks per nine innings. Candy Cummings tops the board with 0.4731. He’s followed by Tommy Bond, Al Spalding, and Cherokee Fisher and well, I can’t help wondering if they ever walked into the hoop and pole game?

 


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tale of a search engine mishap

i never really liked to read when i was young. i did receive a subscription to baseball digest. read some of those and a few books. Greatest World Series Thrillers was one of them. But i spent more time playing video games on intellevision and watching tv, mostly sitcoms and this week in baseball. Bummer because like any other kid I went to the bathroom and sometimes it took a long time in there. It was a perfect place to read. Every once in a while i planned ahead and smuggled a Digest or a stack of baseball cards into the can, just in case. But most of the time I went in there empty handed.

That’s when the hand soap came in handy because it had a story on the back or not a story, but close enough. It had ingredients of strange sounding names. Chemicals galore and the location of where the soap was manufactured. I had something to read, to kill the time and take my mind of the stomach ache i sometimes had. I must have read the same hand soap ingredients two dozens time or maybe more. it wasn’t exactly shakespeare but it did the trick. I pulled up my pants and escaped the bathroom time and time again.

i don’t remember any of the ingredients, but i do remember where that hand soap came from – Minnetonka, Minnesota. I hadn’t thought about it for many years until a few months ago when i started wondering if Tonka Toys were also made there? That’s when my search went all hay wire. It was like a weather vane leaving the barn roof or a cross soaring from a church top and going all air out of the balloon every which way.

I meant to look up Tonka on the computer, but typed Tanka instead. That resulted in a japanese poem very similar to a Haiku but with more syllables. I quickly tried to fix my mistake, but typed in wonka and that took me to the candy company made popular by the movie and somehow after that i landed on wankan tanka which in Lakota way of thinking means Great Spirit or Great Mystery. So now i was in lakota land which is near the Dakotas which is near Minnesota, but as it turns out Tonka Toys originated in Mound, Minnesota, not Minnetonka, but the company adopted the Dakota Sioux word Tonka or Great for its name and the logo back then was a red oval above waves apparently inspired by Lake Minnetonka.


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A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

with the control freak out of their hair, conversations drifted to life on other planets and the beers served there; with a lime or without? And what would those beers be made from? Dead conquered aliens, of course, intergalactic cannibalsitic delight.

talk then turned towards Tequila bottles and the worm at the bottom followed by mescaline and if a pitcher ingested copious amounts of the psychedelic alkaloid and then spit on a baseball in say a regular season game of the Diablos Rojos del Mexico; would that pitch appear to the batter in hallucinating waves?

Amanda Wurlitzer of the Bad News Bears got away with it, not ingesting mescaline, but spitting on the ball and so did Gaylord Perry. It goes by many names. MLB rule 8.02 refers to it as “shine, spit, mud or emery ball.” Vaseline and pine tar do the trick too. There’s no shortage.

It makes the stitched spheroid cut and dive a little more, gives pitchers an edge, but it’s not so easy to throw and even harder to detect. It arouses the puritan in some fans and yet the knuckle ball takes an even wilder, more unpredictable course to reach the catcher and it’s raised up to holy cult like status, guru ship of grip passed from one pitcher to the next.

Spitball is the low life greaser I guess that no parent wants watching their precious child. They ride in disguise. Most don’t get caught, but Mike Scott, Don Sutton, Rick Honeycut, Joe Niekro, Lew Burdette, and Whitey Ford did, all of ’em  ejected for doctoring baseballs. Preacher Rowe confessed in a 1955 Sports Illustrated interview entitled, “The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch.”

We’ll never know the entire family. It’s another cat and mouse in baseball. Makes it exciting. To doctor a baseball reminds us that pitchers are medicine bag minds with all kinds of potions under their caps, behind their ears….sun screen, lighter fluid, hand creams, emery board, thumb tack, paper clips, safety pin, scuff, scuff, scuff and God gave us fingernails for a reason dammit……to scuff some more.

The doctored ball, like any other innovation, was not the sole genius of one person, but the consensus is that Ed Walsh made it popular back before it was banned. That was in 1920. Seventeen pitchers were given a get out of jail free card to keep doctoring until they retired. And of course they were good little boys and didn’t perform spit lineage and pass on the spit and trick. The spitter was extinguished and everyone lived happily ever clean spit sober after. Fat chance.

Gaylord Perry was born in 1938. He became the spitball master, for either throwing one or planting an idea in the opposition’s head that he might. Perry says Bob Shaw taught him how to throw the pitch in 1964 and yet, it wasn’t until 1982, at the Kingdom in Seattle, before Perry at 43 years old was caught doctoring a ball, ejected, and suspended for the first and only time of his career, after so many years befuddling everyone.

Perry won 314 games and was elected into the HOF in 1991. Vaseline was his substance of choice, so much so that former manager Gene Mauch suggested a tube of KY Jelly should be attached to his plaque.