Sometimes life is the Pitts

Card courtesy of whentoppshadballs.blogspot.com

Is hitting zero home runs in the big leagues like being a writer who was never published? Or is it about the experience? The tactile thrill of putting pen to paper and seeing jumbled thoughts form on the page in a cohesive unit without fan-fair, without a record of speech.

Done with love unrequited.

There is a collective, who? from the crowd and a lot of head-scratching. The pitcher sneers, why are you here? this refugee from the bush leagues. The player goes through automated motions before digging in, slicing dirt and skipping pebbles; stepping into the box without adulation. No one scurries from the beer line to watch your at-bat. Persona Non-Grata. No one writes about and examines your life and travels, quoting you endlessly. You are no Joe DiMaggio or Ernest Hemingway or any other black and white face on a postcard. 11 career base-hits. I’ve had more lovers than that. Every one categorized and resonated in my mind’s eye with a dying quail, a check-swing squib, a flare here and there, or a hotshot that juuuuust went foul. Our struggles happen concurrently with everyone else’s — and sometimes done with love unrequited.

A’s defeat Asterisks under surreal, Dali-esque sky

“People talk about escapism as if it’s a bad thing…Once you’ve escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn’t have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.”–Neil Gaiman

By now everyone has heard about the tragic fires in California, which have been said to be the worst in recorded history of the state. These fires have given the sky a surrealistic orange hue, giving anyone who already had anxiety about the trials of modern-day an almost apocalyptic view on the vile calamities we now face as Americans in 2020. Our souls are in purgatory crying out for mercy…from ignorance, racism, destruction, greed, loneliness, economic uncertainties, pandemics, and a certain orange creature who leads the influx of oblivious humanity.

I thought it to be in the tradition of the Surrealist, and conjured in my mind the following Salvador Dali quote: “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” These shackles were indeed broken and destroyed above the Coliseum on a tepid Wednesday night as solid objects transmogrified and clocks melted.

I needed a moment of escapism….even for three hours and change, with a few gin and tonics as my only company. One of the sponsors, strangely enough, was called Planet Orange, a Bay Area eco-friendly pest control. What in the world is happening? Announcers Glen Keiper and Dallas Braden made a comment that this would be the first MLB game played on Mars. (Or Tatooine?) In the end, the good guys defeat the Asterisks in a highly contested fistfight, 3-2 as the bats awaken from their slumber in the later innings and the ‘Stros closer brings a bucket of gasoline with him to the mound. All seems normal and exciting for the moment. All is well in the world and there is consolation, if only for a very short moment.

Trades, psychobabble, etc.

Through a shroud of cloudy-fogged smoke I had a constellation of ideas, but the major thought proposed in this imaginary world was a Franklin Barretto for Taijuan Walker trade, because….pitching. I am a proponent of pitching and more pitching. And when you think you have enough, you need more. It worked out that way….somewhat. Never in my wildest dreams of weed-induced narcosis did I think GM David Forst and I had some sort of non-verbal state of consciousness, and that we could just vibe together through time and space, but baseball appeals to the fanatical personality, so why not?

As of this writing, Barretto has exactly ONE at-bat for the Halos, so there is no reason to think “Mad Genius” Joe Maddon has any faith in baseball’s most hyped pinch-runner since Herb Washington aka Josh Donaldson’s little brother aka Mr. Nashville. Alas, baseball seasons (and careers) represent an indefinite cloud of future potentialities, so perhaps this kid from Venezuela can learn to lay off the two-strike slider in the dirt and become the superstar Brad Pitt had imagined when he made perhaps the worst move of his exemplar model of decision making. (Let’s leave Milton Bradley for Andre Ethier out of this)

I read somewhere that coffee has the same neurological effects as cocaine, and I have my doubts as I sit here this beautiful morning, typing this, with absolutely no desire to dance all night to 80’s New Wave or have crude sex with a stranger in a public restroom. Although the psychobabble, apparently, still applies, because here I am: howling into the abyss of the Internet. The narrative here is that the A’s made “A’s trades” when they acquired Tommy LaStella and Mike Minor. LaStella is synonymous with OBP, and there is nothing that gets the Oakland brass hotter than a truck stop hooker than being a regular on the base paths. Mike Minor was acquired for a couple bush leaguers because (good) starting pitching is at a premium. Give us 5 frames a game and call it a day.

Billy Beane famously said that the baseball playoffs were a crapshoot, so lock and load, boys. The dog and pony show is over. The A’s have entered the casino, fresh-cut, wearing suits, and they are ready to roll.

A simple, yet inquisitive letter to former baseball player Brian Kingman

History was unearthed for a few bucks.

Hey man…I bought this little pin at a garage sale, and it happened to be attached to a ticket stub. After some research on the Baseball Almanac, you actually pitched that day! You tossed 7 innings giving up 2 earned, but unfortunately lost to Dave Steib who pitched a CG giving up only 1 in a game the A’s eventually lost 3-1. Do you have any additional information? I had reservations that you would remember a Monday game from the Coliseum in 1982, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

I do remember the game, but as you mentioned there was really nothing notable about the game itself, that I can recall. What I do remember about the game is that it was a scenario I was too familiar with. Dave Steib was sharp that day, and although I was pitching well enough to win most games, this wasn’t going to be one of them.

The game was played at a time when the players already knew Billy would not be returning to the A’s, but it was not public knowledge. These were the waning days of the Billy Ball Era, which was a bit of a phenomenon, but that time had now clearly passed. The game was played about a week after Billy had demolished his office. Rumors had been circulating for a few weeks that Billy wanted out of his contract with the A’s and apparently the A’s did not want to let Billy go. So Billy tore up his office, made some insulting remarks about the owners, and got what he wanted, which was a chance to manage the Yankees again. Steinbrenner had seen his success with the A’s and Billy could see from the way the 1982 season had gone that he had pretty much run his pitching staff into the ground. The future looked dim for Oakland and the grass looked much greener in New York.

I think Billy had been considering his departure from the A’s for a few months prior to the office incident. By mid-season he seemed less focused and intense than the previous years. I believe one of the symptoms of this can be seen in a game of June 23rd of the 1982 season. Billy picked a lineup out of a hat in a game we were playing against a division rival (KCR) Turns out he has done this before, but it seemed way out of character for the Billy Martin we knew. (ed note: Kingman lost that game as well, giving up 1 in 8 innings, but the terrible Oakland club managed only 4 hits and lost 1-0.) 

 

How did Bob Welch invade my stream of conciousness?

The most ubiquitous Welch baseball card of my childhood. I must have owned dozens of them.

If you do an impromptu internet search on Bob Welch Death, the information wave catches your surfboard and guides you to the former guitarist for Fleetwood Mac and his shocking suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot in 2012. Remember that song, Ebony Eyes? Neither do I, but apparently Bob scored a top 20 hit with it in 1978. The song is painfully repetitive, is derivative of Fleetwood Mac’s worst songs, (and that’s being generous) and could possibly cause one to scratch their eyes out…I hope I never have to hear it again. In the zeitgeist of “good” late 70’s music, this turd should stay safely sound on a piece of old vinyl relegated to grandma’s attic or the local town dump. Believe me, I’m sighing on the inside as I write this.

The death of Bob Welch, the baseball player was just as tragic, and even more so, as poor Bobby slipped on what I’m assuming to be a tile layered with condensation in his bathroom and broke his neck. The University of York Department of Physics recently hosted a presentation titled, “5 Ways the Universe Is Trying to Kill You,” and I felt that this applied to the unfortunate and freakish situation. There are typhoons, hurricanes, asteroids, cancers, plagues, nuclear meltdowns, the sun and its inevitable enveloping of the earth, and, of course…a slippery tile. They all want your existence as nil. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of proposed cataclysmic events, although I suppose everything isn’t all that terrible on this planet considering 99 percent of the places in the universe would snuff out any life instantly if it had a chance to exist at all.

I’m not even sure why Bob Welch invaded my cranium this morning as I sipped my coffee and flipped through an old Playboy from 1969 with an extended pause at the Brigitte Bardot layout. Sometimes feelings are hard to pin down, with so many subclauses and digressions. Maybe it was because I was thinking about an ex-girlfriend and how she had dropped me off at Dodger Stadium on a a perfectly lazy, brilliantly blue Los Angeles summer afternoon. Larry King pulled to the side of her car in his Mercedes and asked her if he could cut in line. (I learned later that he was in a hurry because he was throwing out the first pitch, which was just as horrible as you would expect.)

There was an “Old Timers Game” before the real contest, with the Dodgers facing the Yankees, and Bob Welch was on the mound for perhaps his final outing on a big league field with his marvelously exaggerated wind-up and leg-kick. All these memories coalesce and swirl and there is little attention to any small fragment of detail as I pull them from the blanket of obscurity: except for my questioning and confusion of Billy Crystal playing Short Stop for the Yankees that day which now seems as if it happened a lifetime ago.

A’s kick the crap out of the Asterisks and send them packing with tails between their legs

Elephants never forget.

What a perfect Sunday. I woke up early, had some coffee and went for a short walk to the little patisserie a few blocks away for some pastries. A friend and I then went to have some breakfast before checking out a legal graffiti park that had some amazing artwork. We found a can of yellow spray paint and added our own legacies to the mass of hodgepodge. “It’s getting a little hot today. Are you ready to go and watch the game?” she said. Why, yes. I was.

The retribution: It all started a few days before the Astros skulked into town on their “Revenge Tour” and former Oakland pitcher Dave Stewart said he couldn’t believe the Astros had traded Ramon Laureano to the A’s. “Thanks, cheaters,” he mocked. The Astros complained about the cardboard cutout of their mascot hanging out in a garbage can à la Oscar the Grouch which was promptly carted away by league officials. Some rascal in a plane flew above the Coliseum before the first game with a trailing banner that read: Houston Asterisks. Announcer Ray Fosse made buzzing sounds during a Jose Altuve AB which was a subtle nod to him wearing a buzzer during Game 6 of the ALCS.

Still, I wasn’t satisfied.

For his sacrifice/inevitable Manfred scapegoat suspension, Ramon Laureano will go down as a legend in the Green and Gold, and every baseball fan should thank him for some momentary, albeit small, semblance of making the baseball gods smile. Did the average fan win? Probably not, but sometimes your pride and integrity is all you have, and when a team of smug assholes try to take that away…you fight back. After the game the formerly unapologetic fake tough-guy Josh “We have nothing to apologize for” Reddick was trying to garner sympathy, saying he hoped there is not a carry-over of anger when the Asterisks play the A’s again. ‘We don’t want targets on our back as big as we already do now.” Too bad and too late. Not too smug are we now, eh, Mr. Reddick?

Am I satisfied? For the moment. And that moment ended just…about….now.

It’s almost time for grown men to play with balls and grip some hard wood

“Sports are like the reward for a functioning society.” –Sean Doolittle, Nationals

My choice for 2020 Covid A.L. MVP

Is there any reason why we, as a barely functioning society descending into chaos, deserve this “reward?” My feelings heading into the 2020 baseball season are an equal mixture of pure wonder, curiosity and the fetishization of a shit show. 60 games during a pandemic doesn’t really prove anything and is akin to a beer league or a wiffle ball tournament, and I believe that’s where the “wonder and curiosity” stems from. The “shit show” on the other hand should be fairly explanatory to any purist with a semi-open mind, as the winner of the World Series of Corona will be seen in hindsight as *Asterisk Champions (although slightly more legitimate than the Astros nefarious and refutable crown, but this time Manfred will supply a keg for the after party)

There will be cardboard cutouts in the stands and guys wearing masks sans spitting and licking with piped in crowd noise to simulate a good time; and why not throw a few drunk guys in the bleachers for maximum “realness?” How wonderfully psychedelic! How absolutely kitsch! Do we get pizza and snow cones after the game too? And I think we should all take a moment to thank whatever god we worship that at least one tradition–cup readjustment–isn’t going anywhere. Although ass slapping might still be up in the air because there still isn’t any proof the virus does or doesn’t spread through swamp-ass. Perhaps the players can celebrate with a slight nod and half-smile, akin to seeing your ex-girlfriend in a public setting as your current lover stands there, oblivious to the fact.

There is trepidation because of the naked truth that a few players (namely pitchers) that aren’t physically or emotionally ready will be absolutely GOD AWFUL and will single-handedly take away their team’s chances depending on how many times they trudge to the hill. One dreadful closer or set up man (think Jim Johnson in 2014) and your season is kaput, over, doneski, ancient history, yesterday’s news, finito. As you may or may not know, hitting is traditionally ahead of pitching for the first few months of any season. This means there will be many games that will be high scoring, good ol’ fashion “western shootouts” with pitchers in the interview room being quoted through gritted teeth, “I just couldn’t get my breaking shit over.” Remember that debacle in London last year? Get used to it, because there are going to be quite a few fireworks shooting off with the spark drizzle ready to inflame any random dumpster in the general area.

Hot button issues aside, athletes are not deities that are fundamentally different from us, but human beings that live in time and space. It will be interesting to see how they handle the psychological pressure of competition blended with mortality. Both will grip the continual psyche of all of the players in one way or another as the pelota flies out of the yard and the cash registers sing “God Bless America” while grandma quietly gives up the ghost in the next room.

Don Baylor, Johnnie Taylor, and the 13th Floor Elevators

1979 A.L. MVP and some schmuck.

Austin, Texas has a city-wide mask mandate, as the Orange Menace Virus has attacked the state of Texas unlike few other states. When I visit a new town I feel an innate, almost compulsive desire to explore the area on foot. I roamed through the humid downtown on an asinine and futile mission, trying to find a specific rock and roll bar-The Thirteenth Floor-named after one of my favorite 60’s psychedelic bands, The 13th Floor Elevators. The bar was closed, per regulation, so I stood in front of the joint for a moment trying to cool off in the shade and listened to Johnnie Taylor’s “Running Out of Lies” that was slowly pouring out of a ghetto blaster hoisted by a black dude who looked a lot like Bo Diddley. I knew it couldn’t be Bo Diddley, as he been dead for well over a decade, so I took a swig of water, enjoyed the song and the beauty of the offbeat and the inexplicable for a moment, and was on my way. I realized that I should be referring to GoogleMaps for information, but I like my quests to be visceral and in the tradition of the flâneur, which means “stroller,” “lounger,” “saunterer,” or “loafer.” A defining characteristic of the flâneur is that he doesn’t have any practical goals in mind: he isn’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere specifically, and neither was I.

I enjoyed being a “slow observer” and soaking in the local murals, eccentricities, food and flavor; and this random synchronicity led me to a local cemetery where I stumbled upon the grave of Don Baylor. I paused for a moment and lamented this man who was not only a great hitter, but was also seen as one of the gentlemen of the game. Here are some random facts about Baylor:

— one of four ML players to be named MVP and Manager of the Year. (Kirk Gibson, Frank Robinson, Joe Torre are the others)
— was the major component in the infamous 1976 Charlie Finley garage sale/Reggie Jackson trade with the Orioles.
— was on the star-studded 1988 Oakland A’s team that lost to the Dodgers in the World Series. Baylor had 1 AB in that series.
— Don was hit by a ML record 267 pitches (since broken) and his credo was “never rub” which he only broke once when drilled by a Nolan Ryan fastball.
— he hit a HUGE home run in game 6 of the 1987 World Series leading a comeback against the Cardinals ace John Tudor which helped lead the Twins to the crown.

I sat and visited with Don for a moment, soaking in the awesome greatness and somber mortality of the situation before continuing with my amble. So long, Don. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.

The ‘Fro takes a roadtrip

The signing of this washed up turd was another desperate attempt at relevancy for the D’Bags

My travel buddy and I decided to take a break from the incessant driving to pause for a moment and take a look at the ominously beautiful and deadly Joshua Tree National Park. The sign at the entrance gave you the true indication of what the desert landscape had in store when it read, “No gas for 42 miles.” The lack of water and an eerie feeling of peacefulness seemed to envelope me, but in the back of my mind there was also the thought that human life in all its totality is not needed and scarcely wanted in this section of the world. It’s almost as if humans take some sort of sadistic pleasure in their environment slowly trying to sap the life out of them. We soaked in the atmosphere while hiking a small trail and enjoyed the lovely desert flora for awhile before heading to Phoenix.

Phoenix was 105 degrees in the shade, and the downtown streets were a veritable ghost town as we searched for Chase Field, home of the Arizona D’Bags. There was obviously no baseball due to the Rampant ‘Rona, but we decided to check out the stadium at any rate so I could cross it off my bucket list since I had never been to Arizona and scarcely had any desire to go to Chase Field before this trip. The park had a very nice early 20th century brick facade but was a little boring besides that and had a noticeable lack of any sort of player statue. (Luis Gonzalez?) I took the opportunity to take a photo with the over-payed, fake tough guy and infamous red-ass, Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner, unarguably had some great and damn near epic World Series moments, but will always be known by this writer as a guy who screamed at another player, Max Muncy, who apparently didn’t run the bases fast enough after crushing a ball into McCovey Cove. Muncy’s response? “Go get it out of the ocean.” Muncy was apparently so intimidated by Madison “Fake Tough Guy With a Girl’s Name” Bumgarner that he had t-shirts printed of the above response and wore it to the ballpark the very next day.

Bravo.

Steve Sax and the high school reject

“Sweet is the memory of past troubles.” –Cicero

Sax had 1,949 career knocks, 6 of which came in an Athletics jersey.

My high school career was less than stellar, quite different from Kevin Arnold’s 1970’s middle-class neurosis in The Wonder Years; and it was often a confusing and awkward time for me as it is for any young person who doesn’t follow the rules of engagement. My school was located in one of the poorer neighborhoods so the styles and sophistication of the students echoed that. This was the life equivalent of tasteless, waxy American cheese.

There were minimal cliques in this school–the wannabe gang bangers, (and the real ones) the jocks, the hair-metal kids, the cholas and the cheerleaders. I managed to scrounge up 2 friends, one was a metal head who I had known since elementary school, and the other a punk rock reject that would wear a Dead Kennedys shirt everyday, carry a skateboard everywhere and never let anyone inside his house. In retrospect, there was nothing special about my teenage apathy. Everyone was dealing with the same emotions and questions, but with different parents, cultures, agendas and economic status. There was also a beautiful naivete concerning school shootings: we simply could never conceive of it happening–there was a better chance of aliens populating the earth or Elvis rising from the dead. I was also suffering from a strangulating boredom which I thought was to be my position in life…I was 16 and waiting for it to begin.

Baseball player Steve Sax was sort of a local legend in our little burg as he had attended the only and very same high school that I was attending. During P.E. (my favorite subject, besides lunch) I would stare at Sax’s school records on an amateurish hand-painted board above dented, graffitied, rusted lockers while fights broke out, coaches screamed and evacuations from the putrid sulfur smell of stink bombs were coalescing around me. He owned every single record. I couldn’t fathom that a titan on a baseball card had actually walked these same sweat sock-scented hallways from hell and dominated the very same pock-marked, weed infested ball field that I had played on as a Freshman just one year earlier. He probably thought he was hot shit and had all kinds of bell-bottom clad, Farrah Fawcett- haircut-fashioned girls throwing themselves at him; no doubt changing one letter in his last name as to give him a more studly and epically legendary nickname as his other conquests snickered knowingly with a hint of underlying jealousy.

Sax had a pretty solid career and even won a World Series with the Dodgers until he caught a case of the “yips,” which is a psychological malfunction of the routine play. In this case it was the across the body lob to the first baseman from the second base position. A fairly easy play unless pondered to the point of oblivion. This local hero and World Series winner was fallible and I could relate. I had acquired a case of the life yips at the age of 15 and couldn’t even have a routine conversation without stumbling through it. Girls were impossible as I took navel-gazing to the point of nonexistence. I would contemplate every single nonsensical conversation or see sideways glances as a character assassination. This sort of thought was an unhealthy E-4, something that was scratched on Sax’s scorecard more times than he would’ve liked.

We were worlds apart in every conceivable valuable attribute–with him having all the admirable ones, an enviable cross to bear; but we shared the same thoughts, fears and insecurities that all humans struggle with at one time or another, and with that, the inability to be shielded from the cruel elements that possesses us all.