Louis Van Zelst was born in 1895 and was disfigured, the result of an early childhood fall. However, while Van Zelst grew to have a humpback, he was never particularly self-conscious about it, and willingly served as a mascot for a few teams at the University of Pennsylvania.
The University of Pennsylvania happened to share a city with the Philadelphia, and Van Zelst came to know some of the team’s players and its manager, Connie Mack. Van Zelst approached Mack in 1909 saying he was lucky, and after giving him a tryout, Mack was sufficiently superstitious to believe him and bring him on in an official capacity.
Van Zelst began as the Athletics’ bat boy in 1910, and while the team had been good the year before, in 1910 it won the World Series, and Van Zelst was paid a substantial bonus. The Athletics would then win the World Series again in 1911 and again in 1913, before losing in 1914. Still, Van Zelst had four Series appearances and three championships to his name as a mascot, which is about as good as it gets.
In the day-to-day, Van Zelst was on hand for pretty much every home game and many road games. Prior to each game, players would walk over and rub his humpback for good luck. Such practices were not rare in those days. They stemmed from the rather out-of-control belief in superstitions which resulted in midgets, humpbacks and other unfortunates joining the ranks of youngsters in the dugouts of major league baseball teams. In Baseball: The Golden Age, Harold Seymour explains that “Lefthanders, hunchbacks and cross-eyed people were all considered (lucky). …Touching a hunchback was popularly believed to bring good luck…. Brownie Burke, a midget to whom Gary Herrmann took a fancy was in uniform daily with the Cincinnati Reds.” There are countless other examples from Ty Cobb’s unfortunate black boy mascot Li’l Rastus to Babe Ruth’s not-so-unfortunate Little Ray Kelly. Indeed, the crosstown Phillies would soon match the A’s with a hunchback mascot of their own. Van Zelst was popular with both Athletics players and visitors, and was even invited to second baseman Eddie Collins’ wedding. At one point Mack tried to send him out to coach first base before the umpire told him to return to the dugout.
Unfortunately, Van Zelst fell ill after the 1914 season and soon died of kidney disease. After advancing to the World Series with Van Zelst in 1914, the Athletics finished in last place in 1915, the first of seven consecutive years they’d finish in the basement.
Joaquin Andujar, who famously supplied fellow teammates Lonnie Smith and Keith Hernandez with copious amounts of cocaine in the 80’s died recently on September 8th, 2015 at the age of 62. In memory of Andujar I’ve decided to pleasure you with some of the best quotes concerning the yayo that Eric Clapton famously crooned about in song.
“If I have a near-beer, I’m near beer. And if I’m near beer, I’m close to tequila. And if I’m close to tequila, I’m adjacent to cocaine.” ― Craig Ferguson
“Happiness lies within one’s self, and the way to dig it out is cocaine.” ― Aleister Crowley, Diary of a Drug Fiend
“It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine – I’m thinking that it must be love. — David Bowie
“This original version of Coca-Cola contained a small amount of coca extract and therefore a trace of cocaine. (It was eliminated early in the twentieth century, though other extracts derived from coca leaves remain part of the drink to this day.) Its creation was not the accidental concoction of an amateur experimenting in his garden, but the deliberate and painstaking culmination of months of work by an experienced maker of quack remedies.” ― Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses
“Until you’ve got your mouth full of cocaine, you don’t know what kissing is. One kiss goes on from phase to phase like one of those novels by Balzac and Zola and Romain Rolland and D. H. Lawrence and those chaps. And you never get tire. You’re on fourth speed all the time, and the engine purrs like a kitten, a big white kitten with the stars in its whiskers.” ― Aleister Crowley, Diary of a Drug Fiend
Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money. –Robin Williams
(Cocaine) is neither moral nor immoral — it’s a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole. –Frank Zappa
If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, and if this heavenly, world-transfiguring drug were of such a kind that we could wake up next morning with a clear head and an undamaged constitution — then, it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise. –Aldous Huxley
Baseball doesn’t always follow a Hollywood script and neither do baseball seasons. This past season, for me, conjures up the old baseball adage: we came, we saw, we went home. It was a quandary from the beginning that lent itself to flaccid penis. We as Oakland fans simply knew we weren’t going to be contenders a month deep, and it can be tough watching games day after day, month after month with no hope for the immediate future and a bullpen that resembles something my dog leaves on the ground after a brisk walk. The A’s pitching has been at its worst since the mid 1990s and it makes me cringe at how they would look without Sonny Gray and half a year of Scott Kazmir. This team reminds me of the crummy baseball team on the Twilight Zone episode “The Mighty Casey.” Perhaps the Oakland ball-club should sign a robot as well or maybe Kelly Leak from the Bad News Bears. Hell, the alcoholic manager of the Bears (played by the late, great Walter Matthau) could probably hit as well as Sam Fuld. The rest of the team (except for a few players) left me cold– like a disease but with a prescription that includes strychnine along with the penicillin.
This past Saturday gave Bay Area baseball fans something to talk about (besides provincial animosities) as the A’s and Giants faced off with 2 of Oakland’s “Big 3” facing off in Barry Zito’s first ML appearance since 2013 and perhaps the final appearance of his career. (obviously my local A’s radio affiliate couldn’t care less as they decided to carry a Division 2 football game instead.) The game echoed the year to date: much to do about nothing as Zito and Tim Hudson were knocked around and each left before the 3rd inning. The fans gave each a heartwarming standing ovation as they skulked off the field in perhaps the most ultimate display of nostalgia and a desperate attempt to cheer about ANYTHING in a season of despair, disappointment and the worst record in the A.L. Is there any way to smirk on paper? Fans were actually excited about a dumpster fire… but at least this one had an explosion at the end compared to the many others we’ve experienced that were just slow burning tire fires. I just refused to bring out the marshmallows.
PALM SPRINGS, March 23rd 1985 — Reggie Jackson and Brian Downing were involved in an altercation with an unidentified man following the Angels’ 8-1 exhibition victory over the Cleveland Indians at Tucson Friday.
The incident took place in the parking lot at Hi Corbett Field as Jackson and Downing were preparing to return to the Angel training base at Mesa, Ariz.
Jackson, reached by phone Friday night, said he was merely responding to the man’s belligerence by trying to restrain him. He said no punches were thrown and that the man ultimately apologized as he and Downing left in Downing’s car.
Witnesses told the Arizona Daily Star that the man had heckled Jackson throughout the game and continued to do so in the parking lot. They said that while there were no punches, the heckler suffered a cut lip, apparently in the jostling near Downing’s car.
by Brody D-Bag (name changed to protect the “innocent.”)
My buddies and I took a trip to Palm Springs in 1985 to get away from our wives, kids, jobs and the everyday hustle and bustle. I was working in real estate at the time and had the persona of a world class douche-bag. (hey, it was the 80’s!) We had been partying voraciously all week and had all downed a few “hair of the dog” bloody marys that morning before Dave looked in the newspaper and found that the Angels were in town for Spring Training.
“I want to see that .220 hitting son of a bitch play!” Dave screamed as he buttoned his Hawaiian shirt.
I knew who he was talking about– Mr. Hot Dog himself, Reggie Jackson.
We all climbed in the car, eyes bloodshot and ready for some beers, sun and some good times. Of course, we parked ourselves in the right field bleachers and proceeded to heckle Jackson mercilessly, as only 10 year olds can. FINALLY in the 8th inning, he turned around and gave us the finger. It was a triumphant moment of immaturity.
After the game I approached Reggie in a drunken stupor in the parking lot and tried to shake his hand.
“You and your friends were the assholes in the bleachers!” he said as he grabbed my wrists and shoved me to the ground.
Jackson then jumped in fellow player Brian Downing’s car and they sped off. It was later reported that I was shoving kids and offered him cocaine…in Spanish. I am not proud of my actions and have always regretted every moment, but that statement simply wasn’t true.
I don’t even speak Spanish.
I’m zipping at 80 MPH down the I-5 freeway from Sacramento to Stockton on a 2 lane asphalt road littered with tomatoes and dead possum. The smell of cow manure is thick and constant as it tends to be in California’s Central Valley. I am on my way to Banner Island Ballpark, home of the Oakland A’s single A affiliate, The Stockton Ports. I had contacted the Ports a week earlier and their representatives were kind enough to give me a free ticket directly behind home plate complete with media credentials. The mixture of early evening and broad anticipation were beautiful, and the sun was burning into my windshield as I daydreamed about life on a farm while they passed by in bunches like failed dreams and time.
Stockton is a city that has dealt with civic bankruptcy, gang-related crime and drugs; and like many other California cities during tough economic times Banner Island Ballpark is incipient of the city’s attempt at downtown revitalization and a catalyst for civic change. Built in 2005 and seating 5,200 the ballpark is a quaint and intimate gem sitting on the waterfront. I was impressed by the amount of fans waiting patiently for the gates to open an hour before the game, many wearing Athletics gear. The fans were lively and animated, a few old ladies were scoring the game and there was even an older gentleman sporting a handlebar mustache with a plastic megaphone heckling the opposing team. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed minor league baseball and was absolutely enthralled by the passion these fans were showing; I half expected Susan Sarandon to waddle by in a tight dress with a sexy Carolina accent and a copy of Walt Whitman.
The past: Dallas “Perfect Game” Braden is somewhat of a legend in Oakland because of his perfect game on Mother’s Day in 2010, but the Stockton native is an absolute God here. The man with 209 (the Stockton area code) tattooed on his stomach had his number retired by the Ports this year and is a dominate presence around the park. I think it’s a shame that his career was cut short due to a “shredded” rotator cuff as he was a solid pitcher and a gamer who once confronted A-Rod for walking on “his” mound. Today he is a talking head for ESPN and the MLB Network and I enjoy him on that platform as well.
The future: Jacob Nottingham, one of two players acquired in the recent Scott Kazmir deal with Houston looks like an absolute stud at 6’3, 227 and despite his baby face has the look of a future big leaguer. (I have read scouting reports comparing him to Mike Piazza) It’s been said that the 20-year-old needs to work on his catching fundamentals but I saw no obvious weaknesses as he seemed in control of the game and the synchronicity with his pitcher, Matt Stalcup, equaled a one hitter through six innings. Nottingham stepped into the box in the first inning and the P.A. announcer told the crowd that everyone in my section would win a free In N’ Out (a California hamburger chain) double–double burger if he, indeed, hit a double. The next pitch was ripped down the third base line for a stand up double and free dinner for me and everyone else on the way home. Thanks, Jacob. You have a new fan here…and will always be known as “Double Double” from here on out as far as The ‘Fro is concerned.
Final score: Stockton Ports 4 Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 0.
Forgive me for acting the role of a withered old man and opening this conversation by talking about the weather, but the days are getting noticeably cooler and downcast and I am embracing the respite from the sun. When the sky is cloudless with a light grey hue it tends to dismiss humans and their petty vocations because its less violent and talkative creatures need vital H20. It gives me the feeling of ennui that I embrace like a long forgotten friend who ignites and inspires my creative energies with truthful exuberance. I imagine it’s the same feeling of animated sprightliness and mischievousness that caused Phillies fans to boo Santa Claus. They claimed he was drunk, skinny and beardless and who can blame them?
There is a sushi restaurant less than a block away from my house that I like to patronize on occasion. Today I stopped in for a few .99 cent sake bombs and there was an interesting article in the newspaper (now printed with soy ink!) concerning stat guru Bill James. According to James and his own Pythagorean formula the A’s should be 7 games over .500. I’m not sure whether it was Billy Martin or Earl Weaver or every other manager in the history of baseball that said your team can only go as far as their bullpen; but whoever it was they were certainly correct as far as the 2015 Oakland A’s are concerned.
Coco Crisp returned from the D.L. on Monday accounting for 2 hits, all but doubling his season total and raising his average to .082. Although the aforementioned feat happened at the hands of a 9-2 drubbing by the Orioles, this seemed to be a special moment because of Senior Crisp’s injuries and dwindling ability to help this team. I would compare the moment he stepped into the box to a Rolling Stones concert–very expensive, way past its prime, and incipient of a moment that should be enjoyed presently because it will be over before you know it. Perhaps Mr. Jagger, he of the peacock candor, can tip his cap to that.
“Look at everything. Don’t close your eyes to the world around you. Look and become curious and interested in what you see.” –John Cage
I am sitting on a friend’s second story balcony on a humid 95 degree evening listening to the A’s play the Indians on my tiny little portable radio. She lives in a sort of “urban” environment, so I enjoy watching the hobos, tweakers, weirdos, wackos, dog walkers, college students, yuppies, drunks and working class mothers that are usually shuffling by my metal, eagle perch..day after day. An impenetrable mass of prejudices, clichés and trite remarks.
First Inning: Rookie Chris Bassitt gives up 3 runs in the first inning on an error and a Carlos Santana blast to deep center. (Has any musician lost so much credibility so fast in the history of music?) Josh Reddick gives the fans in attendance and listening across the airwaves a small semblance of respect with his RBI double effectively erasing the goose egg and making our desperate fandom seem incipient of a team that could possibly throw a monkey wrench in another team’s plans. The people continue shuffling by, sometimes even looking up and making eye contact with me. An overwhelming feeling envelops me– all of our lives are tedious and pointless and I feel justified as I’m listening to a game that consists of silly boys swinging wood and touching balls.
Bottom 4th: An old man with a cast, wife beater and a mouth that he literally and seemingly can’t close like a gaping, jagged, and putrid cave calls out to a woman who lives in the building. She is in her early 40’s and dresses quite strange– all her clothes seem to be thrifted, yet she mishmashes them together in a way that would put a young fashionista to shame; always changing her clothes multiple times daily. She also walks with her right hand in the air with a sort of aristocratic delicacy, as if holding a tiny cup of tea. Brett Lawrie (who probably wears wife beaters as well.) is doubled off of second to end the inning. The radio continues to crackle over the hum of life and observation.
Top 6th: a group of drunk, reveling young people stroll by with a girl exclaiming,
“I’ve waited 21 years for this!”
The girls are wearing giant, clunky high-heels that seem to be all the rage these days. They can barely walk in them and it seems as if every synapse in their still maturing/intoxicated brains are working overtime during every excruciating step. Chris Bassitt gets out of a jam and is pitching very well.
Top 8th: A mulatto girl with a blond mohawk is talking to the 300 pound fat man who sits in his car for hours blasting house music (a genre of electronic dance music) and staring at his cell phone. The fat man is very meticulous about parallel parking as this simple task always takes over a minute each time. The A’s make a pitching change…R.J. Alvarez, another recent AAA cannon fodder call-up who gets a pop-up on a bunt attempt. 3 drunken girls stumble by with the one in the clunky shoes in the middle being held up by the other 2.
Bottom 9th: Carlos Carrasco twirls a complete game 2 hitter as he gets Josh Reddick to ground out in a moment of anti-climax. The A’s went down quickly and orderly in a game that lasts only 2 hours and 15 minutes which proves the dog days are already here with 2 months left in the season. A girl pees in a bush as her boyfriend looks on, while the man who rides the cruiser bike with classic rock pouring out of a ghetto blaster dangling precariously from his handlebars rides by. I wonder why he is always shirtless.
Final Score: Indians 3, Athletics 1
Oh, how A’s fans are tossed violently by the storms of life; by stupidity, by cruelty, by the miserable human condition and by the one thing that most people desire over all others….money.
The celestial qualities of Billy Frijoles and his ability to predict the future seemed to show chinks last week as he sent a position player, a starter and a closer to various teams for a menagerie of minor league prospects. The gods have, seemingly, spoken and past mistakes must be rectified. These same gods, as of yet, have not spoken on his allegiance to the people of Oakland. His greed, self-preservation and time will speak of that.
The Zobrist trade was the ultimate insult to injury as he was sent to the Royals, the team that knocked the Athletics out of title contention in the one game Wild Card due to a terrible bullpen and a catcher that couldn’t throw out Ty Cobb’s corpse–all in the same year the team went “all in” and had a chance at a World Series crown.
Someone once defined the meaning of life as “the interruption of peaceful non-existence.” I will have to remember this as I watch the rest of the regular season play out. The Oakland ball-club will be all but non-existent after they are picked clean by teams like vultures devouring a fresh corpse before the trading deadline. A mere ghost whose future will only be acknowledged on the back of bubble gum cards by young boys and in the mind of statisticians.
What are the Royals receiving? Depth, a “name,” and a W.A.R. hero, (quite less admirable than the gentleman who shot Osama Bin Laden) with 2 of the 3 attributes being worthless in the reality of the everyday game. At this stage in his career Zobrist is a 34-year-old, average hitter who can play multiple positions but is also a hinderance at the 7 position. It will be interesting to see how Ned Yost, a manager not known for his intelligence or tactical ability uses a player in his twilight as the Royals try to bully their way through the rest of the regular season and, ultimately, the A.L. playoffs.
The 5 tool prospect I was looking for was a disembodied spirit who lived in the clouds of my imagination. Those fluffy clouds have taken me from the deadlands of Northern Texas to the swamps of Louisiana. 100’s and 100’s of miles driven on black asphalt turned gelatinous by the unrelenting ball of fire in the Dixie sky.
My name is Bob Hale– Southern baseball scout for the Kansas City Athletics.
Scouts like to pride themselves on the prescience of finding a “stud” or a highly touted prospect. I, on the other hand, am a realist– I believe our lives are no more than the sum of manifold contingencies, and no matter how diverse they might be in their details they all share the same essential randomness in design: this, then that, and because of that, this. I was an expert in what it was that I was searching for, but like a gold prospector, finding it was a matter of luck and timing. And as you may or may not know, most prospectors who headed to the Wild West in 1849 ended up broke or dead.
Bouncing around from mosquito infested small town to dusty shit hole becomes unnerving after a while. Scouting isn’t a typical job where you must dress nice, smell good, be charismatic, be a team leader or have excellent communication skills. This isn’t academia and no one wears tweed. Most of us can’t do anything else–this is all we know. This leads to many lonely nights in hotel rooms with nothing but an orchestra of empty bottles. Most of us can’t even afford a truck stop hooker. Eventually the alcohol hits the blood stream and you stare at the dirty sheets…reminiscing about a girl who you once loved and who loved you in return. The ghosts of youth are always hiding around the corner, and since loneliness and time are your only consistencies the ghosts visit often. It is easy to be hard- boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.
Baseball men are naturally superstitious; and I am no different. I wear a gold chain around my neck given to me by my grandfather–St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel. There was no stronger bond with my grandfather than the baseball bond. I was the first grandchild, and since I was virtually fatherless he must have felt some sort of sense of nurturing. My mother was overwhelmed by the prospect of a small child with no job prospects in her future so my grandparents molded me in their own image. Those early days were pleasant for me as I was a curious young man with a shit load of piss and vinegar. I ran hell and high water around my Chicago neighborhood with my buddies; experiencing the world with fresh eyes and a zeal only a youngster could have. My mother, on the other hand, was a bit tyrannical and not educated or patient enough to converse or understand someone ready to devour the world so I didn’t see her all that much.
Grandfather would take me to the old Cubs Park in those early days. (They didn’t name it Wrigley until 1926.) I loved outfielder Max Flack in the way that only adolescents can love an unobtainable celebrity-object even though he was considered the “goat” of the 1919 World Series. The 1920 season on the field was disappointing—the Cubs tied for fifth place with a 75-79 record but I didn’t care. Max Flack managed to hit .302 to lead the team, but the real bright spot was the reemergence of Grover Cleveland “Ole Pete” Alexander as the pitching leader. My future was all but written.
I lay here with a battered copy of Playboy spread across my chest, and I wonder where all the days, hours, minutes and seconds went to die forever. Sometimes I embellish my existence and tell myself that I bring happiness to millions of fans and dreams to hundreds of young men. “Let go or be dragged.” That’s how the Zen proverb goes. I remembered that I had read this in a small china shop in San Francisco as I drank my second cup of oily coffee with just a nip of Old Crow and slowly drifted away…
The ‘ol banged up Chrysler started with a bang and a plume of smoke. The morning air is sticky already. I heard there was a young man with one helluva fastball in Baton Rouge and I always seem to have a rousing time there. The Yankees are interested as well so I’ll have to drive like a bat out of hell through the night to get there before they do– just to watch a teenager throw a five ounce sphere of cork, rubber, yarn, and horsehide. Let the chase begin.
As much as we here at The ‘Fro enjoy Coco Crisp and his exciting style of play, it seems as if the Athletics may have found a new center fielder. Every baseball team seems to want to get younger, and it just makes sense to play a 25 year old over a 35 year old with a potential career threatening neck injury and a .044 average.
Billy Burns is superior to Crisp at EVERYTHING at this point in his career. Crisp had 19 stolen bases in 126 games last year. Burns already has 13. (and this blog thinks he need to run more!) There is nothing more to convey, baseball fans. This is a no-brainer and a (near) ending to an otherwise great career for the man who once sported a giant afro and punched “Average Game” James Shields.
There has been a bit of controversy lately about Kansas City fans voting in 8 position players for the All Star Game. Kansas City fans have taken it upon themselves be didactic about their “passion” for their team by telling other fans to vote for their own teams and even appalling others by calling it a “popularity contest.” The average baseball fan doesn’t know Lorenzo Cain or Omar Infante from Jean-Paul Sartre, so that is an almost idiotic response to the detractors. As far as “voting” is concerned, all it comes down to is glorified “click-bait” by the MLB brass to get people to go to their website. This is capitalism disguised as democracy which means only an idiot would sit around making hundreds of fake e-mails in order to sit around pushing a button 35 times (the most you can vote per e-mail) in order to see their favorite player/s in an exhibition game. It all comes down to what cities have the most unemployed/unsophisticated/bored fans.
I have no problem with the game deciding who has home field advantage because the league used to arbitrarily flip-flop it between leagues before Bud Selig decided to step in and make it just as arbitrary. My question is this–why didn’t K.C. fans vote for the players who deserved it? As a child I would sit in the ballpark during batting practice meticulously punching the paper chads, all the while still voting for the deserving players as I wanted to see an exciting All Star game which didn’t include Mike Gallego starting at second. I’m not saying your average American sports fan is a moron, but then again maybe I am. Alas, even a child had a better sense of democracy and fair play than a bunch of adults with an inferiority complex. Let’s hope commissioner Rob Manfred does what Ford Frick did before the start of the 1957 game. Another boring, Midwestern town, Cincinnati, stuffed the box and had 8 players starting. An investigation launched by Frick found that over half of the ballots cast came from the local newspaper, printing up pre-marked ballots and distributing them with the Sunday edition of the newspaper to make it easy for Reds fans to vote often for their favorite players. Frick then decided to appoint Willie Mays and Hank Aaron in the outfield positions they righteously deserved, all but deeming provincial hubris irrelevant and ultimately outing the so-called “voting democracy” as a farce that still exists today in electronic form. It may have been just as “easy” to stuff the ballot box using paper back in the old days, but having to use a pencil to punch tiny chads seems a whole lot more indicative of “fan loyalty” than spending 25% of a lunch break to exploit a ridiculously low-security voting web site.