Hello everyone! I thought I’d take you on a virtual time travel…to 1953! The Athletics were residing in their original home, Philadelphia at the time and finished in 7th place in the American League with an embarrassing 59 wins and 95 losses. This was to be their second to last season in that city before moving to Kansas City in 1955. Outfielder Gus Zernial had an amazing 42 home runs with 108 R.B.I.s that season, but unfortunately the Athletics drew only 362,000 paying customers, all but assuring their move two years later.
Some of the popular novels at the time were Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451″ and J.D. Salinger’s “4 Stories,” other notables were C.S. Lewis, William Burroughs, James Baldwin, Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie.
Peter Pan was the top grossing movie.
“The song from Moulin Rouge” by Percy Faith was the number one single.
Jackie Gleason had the top album.
The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series for the 2nd year in a row…this was their 6th straight World Series title.
Bob Hope and the first televised Academy Awards.
At present, I am particularly excited by “bad taste.” I have the deep feeling that there exists in the very essence of bad taste a power capable of creating those things situated far beyond what is traditionally termed “The Work of Art.” I wish to play with human feeling, with its “morbidity” in a cold and ferocious manner.
The 1981 Topps baseball card isn’t a particularly exciting visual affair. The most prominent feature of the card front is the ball cap that’s at the bottom of the card. Player photos have a color outline that gives way to a thin white border with the Topps logo placed in a small baseball in the right corner. Of course, it’s just a baseball card. Most people see them as worthless pieces of cardboard for children. I always get a kick out of people who say, “well, where’s the art in that?” Despite the term “art” being static and self-appointed to each individual, I believe if you have an iota of intelligence and an active imagination, you can find art and emotion in ANYTHING.
Jeff Jones had a rather unremarkable career with the Oakland Athletics, playing 5 seasons and ending with a 9-9 record. There is nothing remarkable about this card from a baseball standpoint, (beside the fact that it’s an Athletic) but what really struck me was the marvelous blue background; reminding me of Yves Klines’ painting “IKB 191.” (right) This color makes me feel a myriad of emotions: the lapis lazuli reminding me of my Catholic school upbringing (Mary’s robes were almost always painted this color because of the brilliance of it; the stone also was semi-precious making it a “must have” for artists of the Renaissance and Baroque period.) and the time in fourth grade David K. told me not to swallow the “Body of Christ,” but to keep it still in my mouth so we could satisfy our boyhood curiosity and inspect it. (In retrospect, I have no idea why this would be interesting.) I eventually brought the specimen back to the pew only to drop the now mushy wafer on the ground because of haste and overall blood rushing to the brain nervousness. Some busy-body ratted me out, and the congregation was stopped as I was dragged to the front of the altar and berated by the priest in a back room. (At least that’s ALL he did. wakka wakka!) There was a closet full of priest robes and between thoughts of the robes looking like Batman’s closet and me getting my ass kicked by my parents, I was just simply embarrassed. Nothing was said to my parents in the end, and I came out of the situation relatively unscathed….. ah, the life of a day dreamer…and the thoughts keep crashing into the shore as one wave leads to another.
P.S. thank you Jeff Jones 1981 Topps.
I attended my first game at the age of 8 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Dodger Stadium was not in existence yet. The Dodgers were playing the much hated Giants, and Don Drysdale was pitching. Attending that game made a tremendous impression on me. It wasn’t just the game itself, it was being in the middle of
30-40,000 cheering people, mostly adults, who were invested in the outcome of the game. It was at that point I began to see baseball as more than just ‘a game’.
My parents made me attend church every Sunday, but by the age of 9 or 10 I decided that baseball was my religion. Koufax and Drysdale might as well have been gods, and Vin Scully, the Dodgers radio voice the High Priest. Each game was like a sermon. You learned about baseball, the players, and the history of the game.
One day in the 5th grade, my best friend found out that Sandy Koufax was going to be speaking at
a $100 a plate luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was about a four mile bike ride from where we
lived, and it was in the middle of the week, so we would have to figure out how to miss school.
When we arrived at the Hilton, we searched until we found the banquet room where Sandy was the guest of honor. We asked the doorman if we could just look in and actually see Koufax. When he opened the door we saw Sandy sitting at a podium at the front of a large banquet room with at least 300 people having lunch and listening to various speakers. We both waved at Sandy, much to our surprise, he waved back.
It made our day!
We thanked the doorman and asked if Koufax would be coming out through these doors because we wanted to get his autograph. He told us that he would and we walked off looking for a good place to wait. As we were walking away, the doorman said, “Hey boys come back here”. He told us that Sandy wanted us to come in and join the luncheon. We couldn’t believe it, and we knew no one back at school was going to believe us either.
The waiters actually set up another table for us in the very front of the room, right near the podium. We were surrounded by wealthy businessmen wearing suits, and there we were in our jeans and T-shirts. It’s not everyday you get to meet God, but on that day 50 years ago, we thought we had. Needless to say, Sandy autographed our baseballs for us but it was so
much more than just an autograph he had given us. It was a priceless memory and an act of kindness which showed that Koufax was more than just a great pitcher
Becoming a professional baseball player was a life long goal. Signing a contract to play in the Oakland A’s minor league system was emotionally satisfying, validating years of hard work. However as satisfying as it was there was also a downside to professional baseball. Everyone who has ever played professional baseball learns very quickly, that although the competition is better and the game itself hadn’t changed, we weren’t just playing baseball anymore. We were in the business of playing baseball.
Every minor league player has the same dream and shares a common goal: playing in the big leagues. But for 95% of them, the dream comes to an end in the minor leagues. To see one of your teammates released, and realizing it was the end of a life-long dream was painful. It was almost as if someone had died, in a very real way part of them had. The joyful innocence of a neighborhood pick-up game was a distant memory, replaced by the harsh realities of professional baseball.
Most of the players I have known will tell you that their time in the minor leagues was more enjoyable than the time spent in the major leagues, if for no other reason than minor league players spend more time together. Major league players live with their families at home and have a room to themselves on the road. Minor league players are roommates at home and on the road. They endure 10 hour bus rides, worry about playing time, slumps, injuries, and the possibility of being released. Most of all they share the dream of playing in the big leagues.
I got off to a great start in my second year playing for the 1976 Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double A affiliate for the Oakland A’s.
I was 8-3 half way through the season, had a moving fastball in the mid 90′s, and good command of a sharp breaking slider. If it
wasn’t for the fact that the A’s were a team with several established veteran pitchers, I would likely have been called up to the
In 1976, baseball was in the early years of free agency. By mid-season, A’s owner Charles Finley decided to trade and sell off his star players rather than lose them to free agency. Catfish Hunter had been traded to the Yankees and Reggie Jackson to the Orioles. When Finley attempted to sell Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, and Sal Bando, Bowie Kuhn who was the Commissioner of baseball prohibited the sale, saying that, “It wasn’t in the best interests of baseball”. Well it would have been in my best interests!
There is a very good chance that if those transactions had been allowed, I would have been pitching for the A’s that summer. Unfortunately I tore a tendon in my elbow later that season, eventually underwent elbow surgery, and spent the next two years
rehabbing, trying to get back on the path to the big leagues. I became a different pitcher by necessity. The velocity and movement on my fastball were diminished, and a curveball replaced my slider. The narrow and treacherous path to the big
leagues became even more precarious.
In June of 1979, I finally made it to the promised land, and won my first game in Yankee Stadium in July. I felt privileged to
have competed on the same field as Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio, but even better having beaten the defending World Champions. I ended up with a with a 8-7 record on a team that lost 108 games.
Prior to the 1980 season the A’s hired Billy Martin to manage the team. He turned a horrible (54-108) team into a winning
team (83-79) by maximizing the teams strengths which were starting pitching and speed. Rickey Henderson stole 100 bases.
We led the league in ERA and set a modern-day record with 94 complete games.
1980 was also the year I lost 20 games. Despite pitching well, I suffered from a lack of offensive support. 20 game losers
are almost always found on 90-100 loss teams. However, I managed to lose 20 games on a winning team, something that
hadn’t been done since 1922, and very likely will never happen again. The hardest part of losing 20 games for me was the
fact that I was the only one losing. The twenty game losers on those 100 loss teams had company. They say misery loves
company, well I was all alone!
Billy Martin was a great manager. Few could match his knowledge of the game and none could match his willingness
to take risks. He was a master of the element of surprise. Billy was a very intense individual. His intensity was both his
greatest strength and his greatest weakness. The famous Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”,
is the perfect description of what Billy was like. For Billy, losing was like a small piece of death.
As a player Billy was combative and frequently involved in fights. As a manager Billy could go from a great motivator to a bullying tyrant very quickly. He occasionally became involved in fights on and off the field, several of them with his own pitchers. One night at the hotel bar in Kansas City after a loss Billy decided he wanted to fight me. I didn’t see it as a wise decision for
either of us. Obviously it wouldn’t be a good career move for me, and Billy was sure to get at least a short beating before thecoaches could intervene. We walked outside, me alone, and Billy with his entourage, his coaches as bodyguards, to get it on. When Rickey Henderson noticed everyone headed outside he asked what was going on. He was told to not get involved. To his
credit he thought I looked outnumbered and disobeyed the coaches. Rickey was there for me if I needed help.
Billy began by poking me in the chest with his finger. I grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let him retract it. He tried to swing his other hand at me and I grabbed it too. The coaches rushed in to break it up, no punches landed by either side. Needless to say, 1980 was a very long year for me. Losing 20 games in a season is hard on any pitcher but doing it for Billy Martin made it twice as hard.
Billy could play the nice guy too. One time on a flight after I had pitched well but lost, he told Art Fowler to bring me up to the front
of the plane where Billy and the coaches sat. He told me I had thrown a great game that day and he was proud of me. He said,
“Next year will better. You’re going to win 20 games next year”. I returned to the back of the plane and about 10 minutes later I see Art coming down the aisle again looking straight at me. “Billy wants to see you again” Art said. This time Billy was on his second bottle of wine. He said, “With you’re stuff your going to win 23 games for us next season”. The guys in the back of the plane wanted to know what Billy had told me. I said “The first time he said I was going to be a 20 game winner next year, and
this time I had made it up to 23 wins. If this flight lasts long enough, who knows, I might have had a shot at winning 30!”
The next two years saw us go from a playoff team in 1981 to a 4th place finish in 1982. Our pitching staff that had completed
154 out of 271 games during the 1980 & 1981 seasons began to show symptoms of overuse. Billy’s relationship with the owners deteriorated quickly, and he was fired after the season. I was sold to Boston and ended my career with the Giants.
Baseball comes to an end for everyone who has played the game. The end may come in high school, college, or perhaps
in professional baseball. Very few leave the game on their own terms. The longer you play the game the more it becomes
a part of your life and the harder it is to say goodbye.
Satchel Paige was right when he said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”. For a very longtime, that “something” was my baseball career. It was several years before I could enjoy talking about it and revisiting the memories.
The end of a career can be like a divorce when someone you still love has decided to move on without you.
Despite not throwing a baseball for 25 years, teammates from college and high school convinced me to play baseball again in the MSBL World Series. What I discovered playing MSBL was beyond my greatest expectations. I rediscovered the joyful innocence
of playing baseball we all experienced as kids, playing the game because we love it. It was almost a shock to see guys hustling and playing hard because they wanted to and having a great time.
Baseball has always been more than just a game. Playing baseball for me is like going home again. New friends are made, and old friends are reunited. Vin Scully once said “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game” For some of us it has been five of six decades since our first game as a kid, yet it too seems like a mere moment.
Our time together is magical, but unfortunately comes to an end all too soon.
They say that professional athletes die twice in this life, and the first time is when you stop playing. Thanks to the Mens Senior Baseball League, I am still trying to decide if I have been reincarnated or born again. Either way I consider myself lucky, not everyone gets to die three times. No worries though, old ballplayers never die, they just fade away.
Poised between going on and back, pulled Both ways taut like a tight-rope walker, Fingertips pointing the opposites, Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball, Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on! Running a scattering of steps sidewise, How he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases, Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird, He’s only flirting, crowd him, crowd him, Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate – Now! -
People wax nostalgic about Ty Cobb and the other dead beat- dead ball honkies….but make no mistake, if my man Rickey was around, and even ALLOWED to play with those bigots, he would have stolen 2000 more bases. Now before anyone gets crazy about an era they’ve only READ about, let me explain. In the dead ball era, it was damn near prerequisite for someone to steal. If you had less than 50 in a season, you just weren’t that good. (apparently they didn’t give a shit about sabermetrics, as in 2010 in the American League there were 1505 stolen bases and only 540 caught stealing. A success rate of 73.6% which is almost 22% higher than in 1927. And 1927 was a high year as the success rate for a SB in that era was usually well under 60%…. Ty Cobb’s stolen base percentage for his career was probably around 67 percent.) Of course, there is always the argument that the era that I speak of had a lackadaisical attitude towards balk calls and other mound chicanery… and that is true, yet I find it hard to believe that an inferior athlete such as Babe Ruth, whos home run trot is famous for its daintiness…
can actually have 123 career swipes…a mere 77 behind Jose “robo-athlete” Canseco. What the fuck is going on here? This sport makes as much sense as a 40-year-old divorcee in Ibiza….entertaining, wealthy, fun to look at, yet ultimately a head shaking affair.
Ahhhh…but isn’t life itself a head shaking affair? How can you make sense of the serial killer, religion, black holes, or the time I vomited on the subway.
….and by you I mean YOU…the reader. You don’t know shit. Admit it. You will want to fulfill your need to be “the correct party” and regale me with NUMBERS. I don’t need numbers….I’ve seen the greatest base stealer of ALL TIME in my life time, and until they put robots on the goddamn field….that will never change.
Last night my girlfriend and I were doing some shopping when I decided to buy my first pack of 2014 Topps. After opening the pack I was impressed by the photo quality and design of the product, even scoring a Tom Milone. I instantly threw it in an envelope and sent it out with the rest of my spring training autograph requests. (hint:players are MUCH more willing to sign during spring training.) The card to my left came to my attention after reading the blog “Jim’s baseball cards.” They thought I should pay homage…so here is my chance, and also a chance to give a shout out to a fellow blogger whose work I enjoy.
By Brian Kingman
Billy Martin was well known for drinking to excess and for rowdy behavior when drinking. A group of Yankees met at the famous Copacabana nightclub to celebrate Martin’s 29th birthday; the party ultimately erupted into a much publicized brawl, which resulted in Billy being traded to the Kansas City A’s. This would run his ‘fight record” to 4-1, as well as separate him from his beloved Yankees and his best friend Mickey Mantle.
Then 25 years after the Copa, and 13 years after his fight with Dave Boswell, Billy entered uncharted waters. In June of 1982 while the Oakland A’s were on a road trip in Kansas City Billy got into a heated conversation with me that he felt he wanted to finish outside.
Whereas Boswell was a 20 game winner in 1969 (also the year of his fight with Billy) I was a 20 game loser. Never, I repeat NEVER! underestimate the underlying rage and frustrations that losing 20 games can produce. Especially with a 20 game loser who had been seething over being called a dummy for pitch selection by his manager, who had called the pitches! That was our topic of conversation that wonderful night in Kansas City.
Once outside on that humid night in Kansas City I was ready for Billy’s renowned cheap shot antics. I also knew there was little to no danger. If Billy even landed a punch it was unlikely to have much of an impact. He enjoyed his reputation as a fighter, and wearing his black cowboy hat. I respected all of that and the fact that he was a great manager (on the field) but no, I’m sorry, ain’t no one gonna be kicking my ass…..with just a big mouth a cowboy hat and a reputation. They’re gonna have to bring it on!
So there we were face to face with Billy’s coaches nearby for his protection. He was yelling at me and I yelled back at him. Then he started to jab his finger in my chest. After the second or third time poking me in the chest, sure enough, here came the sucker punch. But I was waiting for it and grabbed his arm gave it a twist and had him in a head lock. I handed him to a coach for safe keeping, just as the rest of the coaches were jumping in to separate us. Art Fowler the pitching coach punched me in the face but I believe it was for Billy to see and hear about as evidence of Art coming to his defense, because there was nothing behind the punch.
Rickey was there but I think he was just trying to keep from laughing at this point. But I was glad he was there for two reasons. One was that you never know what can happen and two, you never know what the “official version” of what happened will be unless you have at least one credible witness. Rickey was willing to get involved even though he had nothing to gain and that should tell you all you need to know about Rickey as a teammate.
The next day I gave Art a thank you card and offering a rematch signed “Muhammad Ali Kingman” and we all laughed about it. Well at least Art and I did. Yes I am calling it a KO because that was the ultimate outcome if the fight hadn’t been stopped….by ME!
Later that year Billy took on the wall in his office, but we decided the wall won from the look of Billy’s hands and his defeated look that night.
I did hear that Billy got the better of a porcelain urinal the next season. Can’t imagine what the urinal did to piss him off, but I am sure they had an interesting conversation before it came to blows. In 1985 Ed Whitson administered Billy’s final ass kicking, helping to avenge the losses incurred by Tommy Lasorda, Jim Brewer and Dave Boswell who I am sure were all smiling when they heard the news. I know I was.
“What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human [...] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.”
David Foster Wallace
I’m listening to the birds outside and enjoying the Southern California sun, (it’s 81 degrees at I type this) and doing my typical routine of laughing at people who are freezing their collective asses off in cities where it’s snowing — and life is just generally miserable. (Hello New Jersey!) The vodka tonics have been swallowed, and in heroic fashion, I’m scheming and contemplating how I could possibly live in a disposable culture without having to be a miserable wage slave, when it hits me: whats up with that Mark McGwire guy? I mean, I knew what was UP, but it just seemed to me that the larger than life baseball player was kind of a futz when it came to his interests or personal life. (C’mon, don’t judge. I mean, entertainment is just the opiate of the masses…or something like that.) After a quick bathroom break and zoning out session, I found out that this guy went to high school in La Verne, Ca. called Damien high. (I am a child of the 80′s, so the first thing that charges through my cerebrum is the television show Laverne and Shirley, and the brilliant 1976 flick, “The Omen,” where the catalyst is a child of the anti-christ. This McGwire fellow is looking ALOT more interesting now…and wasn’t the culture of those times a bit more tactile than today?)
Movies and sports are ardently disposable, yet they create the most passionate disciples. Science has trumped GOD over and over again, but you don’t see people wearing t-shirts with some random fucking scientist on it, you see people thinking and talking about McGwire because he could do something arbitrary, yet entertaining. I don’t give a shit about the guy doing steroids: my main concern is what music he was listening to in 1981 while a senior in high school. Since he was a suburban jock living in a cultural void, he was probably listening to this:
All in all I was just trying to pull the veneer aside. (while tossing back a few) I was having an imaginary conversation with myself: you want a cigarette? (quaff) Yes, I prefer menthol these days. (quaff) Jesus fucking Christ, I hate bad tippers. (quaff) Ever notice how people don’t pay attention to a goddamn thing? (quaff) Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.(quaff) People who tip bad do this because it isn’t to their immediate and unequivocal satisfaction. (quaff) ZZZZZZZZZZ
I woke up this morning and found a Vietnamese style chicken wrap in the refrigerator. I highly recommend ANYTHING Vietnamese food oriented, but this wrap was killing it. The ginger lime dipping sauce was excellent, and gave my taste buds something to believe in again. My brain: “Holy shit! You are actually giving your body the nutrients it needs after drinking about 10 bloody mary’s last night!? You soul-less bastard.” I know, I know, you come to this site for BASEBALL, I get it, so I have done some research on Coco Crisp’s season last year, and it comes down to this:
Chili Davis: “Teams don’t want to walk him, so when he gets ahead in the count, he likes to get in front of those fastballs.”
I’m sure I could give you a breakdown, charts, or his left handed hitting percentage against a right hander at night, while pinch hitting, while the weather is 50 degrees or lower,while his wife is bitching him out, while he’s in Jacobs Field…but I honestly don’t give a shit. More power to those people, but baseball loses all aesthetic meaning to me when it becomes a bunch of charts and other assorted rigamarole. Looking at a bunch of charts is NEVER as fun as being one with the universe and connecting on a pitch PERFECTLY and sending that fucker soaring deep, deep, deep. I’ve heard every term to explain this beautiful game from “universal truths” and “just too fucked up to analyze.”
I accept both.
Isn’t it strange that there is a blog named after a baseball player that doesn’t have a SINGLE post about said player? That’s what I thought, so I thought I’d share with you the lyrical stylings of Covelli “Coco” Crisp.
Alex George was signed by the Athletics during their first season in Kansas City out of a local Jesuit high school. All of his Major League appearances took place before his 17th birthday — making him the second youngest non-pitcher to debut in MLB since 1944, and also the youngest player to ever play for the Athletics. He struck out in his first Major League plate appearance against relief pitcher Al Papai of the Chicago White Sox, but four days later, on September 20, playing as the A’s starting shortstop, he collected his only big league hit, a bunt single off Duke Maas of the Detroit Tigers. George had bunted his way to his only major league hit and would end his “career” with one hit in ten at bats for a measly .100 average.
Although Mr. George will go down in history as a minor foot-note, his achievement, the act of an obviously desperate ball club, got me thinking about my own life at the age of 16. My dereliction had started a few years earlier in junior high, and by the time high school came around I was barely attending classes. I would stop by my friend Manuel’s house in the morning, and after smoking some grass and watching a few videos, we would usually decide that skateboarding all day sounded infinitely better than going to school and getting your ass kicked for wearing punk rock garb. As Steve Martin would say about his sister’s son in the movie Parenthood, ” that’s one messed up kid.”
I’ve found that most archetypical “rejects” usually fall into one of two paths: there are the ones that are naturally artistic, read outstandingly bad literature (me) and eventually learn through a series of vicissitudes that change is inevitable and sometimes vital. I eventually went to art school, achieved an M.F.A., traveled the world and now live a quiet, normal life (Well, normal if you consider someone who is childless in their late 30′s “normal.”) The other end of the spectrum is jail, drugs and even death. I have seen some friends go down these paths and even lost a few because of their choices. Sometimes I’ll be sitting around, watching a movie or doing some other domesticated time -killer when it suddenly hits me: it’s a miracle that I’m even alive. I imagine some of the same things were going through Mr. George’s mind as he was running to first on that bunt base hit. The under-dog just fighting for survival…..and as soon as these thoughts enter my head, they leave swiftly. Another thought enters– What the hell am I going to have for lunch? I take another sip of beer and decide to take a nap.
Charlie-O the Mule was the mascot used by the Kansas City Athletics and Oakland A’s from 1963 to 1976. The mule was named after Charles O. Finley, the team’s flamboyant owner at the time.When the A’s moved to then heavily Democratic Missouri, where the official state animal is the mule, Governor Warren Hearnes gave a mule to Finley for his barnyard menagerie at Municipal Stadium which also included sheep and goats that scampered up the hill behind right field. The Municipal Stadium menagerie also included Warpaint, the horse mascot of the Kansas City Chiefs. As questions swirled about whether Finley would be loyal to Missouri, he embraced the mule and removed the elephant from the A’s logo and changed the A’s colors from blue, red and white to green, gold, and white.When the Athletics left Kansas City after the 1967 season, there was debate about whether Charlie O should stay behind in Missouri, but Finley decided that the mule had been a gift and took him with him to Oakland in 1968. The mule died in 1976 at age 20. He was cremated, and the location of the remains is secret. (Wikipedia)