brewers baseball and things


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. 



Arnold, i hate you i love you

Arnold McRease refused to tie his shoes inside; only on the sidewalk or the street, the grass, beside a porta-potty….wherever the odds were higher of someone bumping into him. There were no accidents. Arnold always threw the first punch.

bostockThe locals called him a demon, but Arnold didn’t call himself anything except pissed off. He pulledclemente the trigger sending a love jealous bullet into Lymon Bystock’s right temple.He nosedived the planes carrying Roberto Clemente and Thurman Munson to their death. He moved the pen banning the Black Sox, banning Pete Rose. He stopped the heart beat of then commissioner A. Bart Giamatti, just 8 days after Rose was banned.

Arnold McRease remembers it all, remembers it like saline solution shooting through his veins. He’s haunted and tormented, but the feeling won’t stop.

He cut the lines of cocaine sniffed by Keith Hernandez and Paul Molitor. He waved the machete of Uguethe Urbina attacking five Venezuelan farm workers. He was the doubt in Dan Thomas’s prison cell on June 12, 1980 when the former Milwaukee Brewer hung himself.

haddixArnold McRease was the run that didn’t score for Harvey Haddix at County Stadium on May 26, 1959. Arnie was the 45 consecutive hitless at bats for Craig Counsell in 2011. He was the tarp that swallowed Vince Coleman during the 1985 NLCS.

Arnie didn’t mean to do any of it. He had no idea he was a demon. The real ones don’t. Same thing for the saints. But Arnie was there during every god damn gash in the milk and honey of baseball innocence. He was there pouring black tea on the fire. He couldn’t help himself. No one could help him.

But of all the despicable acts Arnold McRease committed, he was proudest of the Montreal Expos. It wasn’t their best record in baseball during the season ending strike of 1994. It wasn’t the fire sale of players that followed. It was in 2002 when baseball’s owners voted unanimously to sell the Montreal Expos to major league baseball.

Arnie was there the following winter to remind the artificial brain trust led by Omar Minaya that Puerto Rico loved baseball and so the MLB sent the Expos on the road to play 22 of its home games in Hiram Bithorn Stadium-Puerto Rico. Oh, but of course. The well dressed men promised Montreal might break even with additional revenue. In reality, Montreal was the perfect guinea pig for the MLB to test its product in the Caribbean.logo


Hiram Bithorn

No one in their worst nightmare expected the Expos to be in serious contention for the Wild Card as late as August 28, 2003. But there they were in a five way tie for the last playoff spot.The same team that won in 1981 during baseball’s first strike and again in 1994 during its second was winning again while playing on the road, 1,926 miles away from home. Can you say exhausted?

But what perfect timing. It was almost September 1st. In baseball that’s an important day. Rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40 players. But not the Expos. Bud Selig and the MLB handed down a decree saying “Sorry, our team-Montreal can not afford the $50,000 to call up players and so they didn’t. The Expos went 12 -15 the rest of the way. The following year was there last in Montreal.

I remember Arnie in 2003. I bought tickets before the season to see the San Francisco Giants, second row down the left field line, Barry Bond heckler seats. Major league baseball rescheduled the series and sent it back to San Francisco; three more home games on the road.


2001 Bonds Attack

The fake owners promised we could trade the tickets in for any regular season game. But it wouldn’t be the same. I had a plan and Barry Bonds was a big part of it. He was gonna sign his 2002 Strat-o-matic baseball card-the greatest card in the history of strat-o-matic after the greatest season of any player all time.

Barry was already under the hecklers curse at that point so I would have had to do something outrageous, but pleasant and calm to convince him I wasn’t another self-righteous prick throwing stones from my glass house. I never got that chance, but what the hell, it probably takes just as much temptation and trespass to tango this crazy world round and round as it does discipline and love, this crazy baseball world.
Happy New Year Arnold.