July 9, 2020

NOTES #218

July 30, 2000 by · Leave a Comment 




Notes 216


AROUND THE HORN


Longtime readers of Notes know that I have, over the years,
developed a habit of connecting just about everything to baseball — even my
vacations. A trip to Gettysburg last fall sparked a discussion on Baseball as
War (Ty Cobb batted leadoff there) … I even managed to work in my visit to
Scotland (and never mentioned Bobby Thomson!)


This issue’s roots are in Boston, and I wasn’t there for a Red Sox game
at the Fen. No, the tall ships were in town, the weekend after the 4th of July
(when they were televised in NYC), and there I was with my wife, boarding ships
flying Pirate flags (OK, just one) instead of walking the planks of Three
Rivers (where, next summer, a ship will be anchored, flying Pirate flags, and
welcoming kids — of all ages, I hope — as part of the new ballpark in The
‘Burgh.)


Later, I made the comment to our hosts that this might yet tie in —
after all, isn’t the language of baseball full of nautical terms? I
thought so, but then blanked out. Back in my home library, I could look it
up.


Around the horn, baseballese for the old 5-4-3 double play,
derives from the trip (tall ships took) around Africa (Cape Horn.) So that’s
one.


Ducks on the pond? No, not exactly nautical. Arch McDonald gets
credit for the term (meaning men on base), and I believe Arch also nicknamed
Joe DiMaggio “the Yankee Clipper” — after tall ships, like The Flying
Dutchman
? No. After a swift Boston-to-New York TRAIN! Again, close, but no
nautical cigar.


On Deck? Yes! Here is a genuine nautical expression — be on
deck and ready! In How to Talk Baseball by Mike Whiteford, the hitter to
follow the man on deck is “in the hole” which may come from “hold” — another
nautical term, which means the interior of a ship. Whiteford adds that the rule
requiring batters to be “on deck” (in that white circle) was adopted in 1960 to
speed up the games. Which at that time, trust me, were not that long!


Portsider. Yup, the port side is the left-hand side of the ship,
so all “southpaws” are also portsiders.


Of course, the manager is The Skipper. Now, set sail into the
218th issue of Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown!


 


MISTER SHORTSTOP


I believe there was a time when the title “Mr Shortstop” belonged to Mr
Cub, Ernie Banks. I got to see Ernie play some in his MVP prime, the late
fifties, because his team was awful, and an easy ticket at Forbes Field, and, I
suppose, around the league. Ernie was as predictable an All Star at short for
the NL in those days as Cal was for the AL in recent seasons.


When I started reading baseball, I discovered that there must have been
many “Mister Shortstops” before Ernie Banks. There was the Cardinals’ Marty
Marion, although he had two better nicknames that stuck tighter, Slats and
Octopus. Honus Wagner was “Mr Shortstop” in an old Pirate yearbook, but that
was long after he retired and settled into All-Time Cooperstown fame.


When I was researching my play (now a great hit musical waiting to be
produced), Mornings After, I learned that Bobby Wallace was “Mister
Shortstop” in the 1900s, for the AL team in St Louis … the Browns were, of
course, the ancestor of the Baltimore Orioles, and Ripken the heir to Wallace’s
title.


What all these fine shortstops have in common is that they had long,
productive careers. Banks, Wagner and Wallace are in the Hall of Fame, Cal is
en route; Marion? Borderline. None of them were dubbed “Mr Shortstop” until
they had been around some, shown their stuff, turned their leather gloves into
gold.


So it would be premature and downright foolish for me to call the Utica
Blue Sox’ model 2000 shortstop Josh Wilson, “Mr Shortstop.” But he’s off to
that kind of start — hitting .416 in mid-July.


I haven’t seen Josh (yet) make plays like last summer’s SS, Luis Ugeto,
who was just dazzling — in the field. He’s a Kane County Cougar now, and
hopefully learning to hit.


But Josh Wilson has dazzled at the dish. He’s rapped out 37 hits in the
first 22 games, mostly line-drive singles, batting mostly third. His 14 RBI
leads his team.


It’s still early, but I am starting to drop by Murnane Field just to
see if Josh can keep it up. One night, I found myself short on time, but stayed
to see him bat one more time (and he came through.) I recalled how my
parents’ generation of fans stayed to see Ralph Kiner bat one more time
— the stands emptied soon after his last ups. Will Josh create that phenomenon
in Utica?


Well into the season, I learned Josh is from Pittsburgh. So he has a
shot not only at the NY-Penn batting record (Auburn’s Jack Maloof hit .402 in
1971, a decade before Josh was born) — but the record for the best average by
a Pittsburgh shortstop, too. Native Honus Wagner’s best was .381 in 1900, a
nice even century ago; Arky Vaughan (of Arkansas) hit .385 for
Pgh in 1935.


 


MARQUEE PLAYERS


The term is not in Dickson’s Dictionary (maybe it is more a
theater thing), but we all know what it means. These are the guys that fans
want to see, that they will pay to see, even if the rest of their team
is awful (and not worth paying to see.)


There have always been marquee players — even before marquees. Early
on, it was obvious that fans turned out big for teams that were rivals, and if
those enemies featured a Goliath that was begging for a slaying by the hometown
Davids, even better. Mike “King” Kelly was a box-office draw, and he knew it,
and was paid accordingly. When Three Finger Brown and his Cubs took on Christy
Mathewson and his Giants, handbills plastered the streets heralding the coming
duel in the sun.


A page toward the back of the 1959 Pirate yearbook carries the
headline, “The PIRATES vs. the NATIONAL LEAGUE ALL STAR BASEBALL EVERY DAY!!”
(One of the 1959 All Star games was in Pittsburgh that summer — hence the
theme.) The rest of the page contains photos of the best players from each of
the Pirates’ seven NL opponents. You might not get too excited about the
Cardinals coming to town, but hey! — Stan Musial!


I’m not sure how the seven star marquee players were selected. Warren
Spahn, over Aaron and Mathews. Duke Snider’s Cooperstown years were behind him
in ’59, but who knew that? Banks and Mays, of course. The Phils’ boasted the NL
batting champ, Richie Ashburn. For the Reds, the nod went to Frank — nope, not
Robinson, but Frank Thomas, a native of Pittsburgh traded to Cincy the
previous summer. Drawing card.


Sometimes, the marquee player is eclipsed by a teammate, at least in
the stat department, but that doesn’t matter too much. Fame, reputation, past
achievement is what the marquee sells.


Sometimes, the PR people get lucky, and teams feature two or more
players that can share the marquee: Mantle and Maris (and Mays, McCovey and
Marichal) were “the M & M (& M) Boys.” When the Cubs played the
Cardinals two summers ago, “Mark and Sammy” said it all — the other guys
really did not need to show up, the fans would have been content to see the
dueling sluggers take BP all afternoon or evening.


The marquee player is such a fixture, that every team has one —
whether they have one or not. In other words, somebody will be
designated to fill the role. Sorry, it’s gotta be.


Expectations can be impossibly high for marquee players. And (as the
old Peanuts saying goes, great expectations can be heavy burdens indeed.
Ask Ken Griffey Jr, who is not leading the Reds to a runaway pennant this
summer — as expected. Just as Kevin Brown didn’t do it for the Dodgers last
summer. Marquee players need a supporting cast. Wins often go to the &
Company
.


 


A FALSE SPRING


We all know that baseball is all about failure. It is almost a cliche:
a respectable hitter makes outs at a .700 clip, a pitcher can miss with three
pitches every batter without any penalty, the best teams still lose four out of
ten games. Yet most baseball books are about success: players whose careers
ended at a shrine in Cooperstown, teams whose seasons ended with ticker-tape
parades. A False Spring by Pat Jordan is perhaps the best baseball book
I’ve found that deals with failure in a candid way, so that the reader gets a
real sense of how the careers of most players end.


A False Spring is not an easy book to find; I got my copy thru
Baseball America, who publishes it along with a few others in their
“Classic Books” series. And this is fitting, because A False Spring is
about life in the minors. Not that there aren’t plenty of major league players
in the book — there are. But Phil Niekro and Rico Carty are just as obscure as
the author Pat Jordan, they are breaking in, all potential, just on their
way
to fame.


Jordan’s book is sobering, and one I would want my son to read before
heading off to his first pro baseball camp. It’s a story not so much about
beating the odds — opening one’s eyes to the facts of baseball life: many
begin the climb, few reach the summit — as about the whole experience of
becoming a professional ballplayer.


Pat Jordan was successful enough in high school and semi-pro ball in
Fairfield, Connecticut, that the Braves offered him a $45,000 bonus. Not much
by today’s wacky standards, perhaps, but back in 1959 that was a lot of money.
According to Paul Dickson, Pat Jordan defined the term “bonus baby” in this
book: “[the term] is usually applied to any player receiving more than $10,000
upon signing a contract. Naturally, whenever a team invests such money in a
player they treat him more tenderly than they would a player in whom they
invested little money. A bonus baby had only to hint at improvement in order to
advance in the minors. But a non-bonus baby had to fashion a record of
unquestionable success before he advanced.”


I think almost every team had bonus babies back in the fifties. Just
before my time, the Pirates had invested a small fortune in a big left-handed
pitcher from L.A. named Paul Pettit; he amassed a win total in the bigs of
exactly one game. I remember better a kid named Art Swanson, who spilled cups
of coffee with the Pirates in 1955 and ’56, before finally showing his
stuff in ’57, winning three games. His last three, as it turned out. A False
Spring
helped me understand, for the first time, what it must have been
like for Pettit and Swanson, and hundreds or thousands of other prospects who
“had all the tools” but never figured out how to make them work quite
right.


Jordan’s book is no diary, he instead looks back on his life in
baseball and reflects. The book is strikingly intelligent, but not in the way
we are used to (Tim McCarver’s books come to mind.) I had expected A False
Spring
to be a minor-league version of Ball Four, and it does have a
lot of the elements — well-drawn portraits of players, managers and pitching
coaches, warts and all. But Jordan is not out to expose anyone, he just tells a
story, his, with candor rarely found in any autobiography.


Jordan’s writing might almost be retitled Pitcher in the Rye. He
is Holden Caulfield, growing up. Away from home for the first time, he copes
with loneliness as he struggles to find his control on the mound. Relationships
are as elusive as the strike zone. McCook, Nebraska, becomes his new world,
where he works things out — with his boarding house, his fans, his team.
Self-centered and smug, he drifts between starts, as his dream melts away. Day
by day, a cold reality sets in.


But Pat Jordan tasted success, too. There were days, weeks, when
everything clicked, and a locker between Spahn and Burdette in Milwaukee must
have seemed a phone call away. The most memorable character in the book is
coach Whitlow Wyatt, then in his fifties, who is part instructor, part
philosopher. Jordan clings to Wyatt in the depths of his pitching despair, and
for a while things look brighter.


A False Spring is a puzzling book in some ways. How can a talent
this obvious, not succeed? We all know pitching mechanics are delicate, and are
not too surprised when a knuckler (take Tim Wakefield, for example) can be
superb one summer and out of control the next — or up and down in the same
season, sometimes the same game. But we rarely notice the mind
connection. So when Steve Blass wins 19 one year and three the next, with his
ERA spiking from 2 to 9, we shake our heads. Pat Jordan struggles to prove
himself, then loses himself, then struggles all over again to find himself
again. And he fights hard, because there is no life after baseball, for bonus
babies like Jordan.


Readers may or may not find themselves rooting for Jordan (even though
it is plain from page one that he will not make it), but I think they will get
a glimpse of very ordinary heroism. He reflects on athletes who never start the
climb at all, who end their careers early instead of pursuing “a far riskier
but more gratifying success.” In Jordan’s view, “they lacked courage” and “Had
been so afraid of losing that they lost more than any of those athletes who had
gone away and been released and had come back home.” Blessed with talent,
Jordan is driven to try, and cannot give up his dream as long as he has
an ounce of effort left in his body.


And here is a bonus for readers: A False Spring is very
well-written. If thinking too much ruined Jordan’s delivery as a pitcher, it
contributes to his delivery as an author. The book is major league. Jordan made
it after all. Now for his next book.


 


RARE COMMERCIAL MESSAGE


Not really a commercial, not asking you to buy anything. But I do want
to direct your attention to the new location of The Diamond Angle,
edited by James Floto out of Hawaii. You can now look it up at
http://hawaiibaseball.rivals.com/


The Diamond Angle is an ecumenical (not team-oriented),
all-things-baseball publication that is now over a decade old. James was one of
the first editors to make up the mailing list of Notes, back in March
1993, and (along with David Nevard) has been one of the editors who best
understood the purpose of Notes: not just to entertain, but to submit
material to editors for their consideration.


James has reprinted many items from Notes in TDA over the
years, and it appears that he will continue to do so in his new venture with
Rivals. I wish him much success — he will be under pressure to come up
with new pages on a daily basis! — and I hope that he directs many
readers to The Baseball Archive and Notes in coming seasons. The
book review of A False Spring (in this issue) made its debut at his site
around July 23.


There are plenty of features and lots of links to explore at James’ new
location — it’s not just for Benny Agbayani fans or Pineapple Leaguers. The
Diamond Angle
address remains http://www.aloha.net/~tdaflow/ and
James will continue to publish the quarterly magazine as well. This rather
challenging effort should give a whole new meaning to “Go With the Flow!”


COMING NEXT ISSUE OF NOTES: REPORT ON NEGRO LEAGUES CONFERENCE


On August 4-5, I will take the road trip south to Harrisburg, PA, for
the 3rd annual SABR Negro League Committee Research Conference. This event ends
with a game at the Harrisburg Senators’ ballpark, which is located on an island
in the Susquahanna River. I haven’t seen any new ballparks this season yet, and
Harrisburg has been on my “Wantasee” List for some time.


I am not a member of SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee, and have not read
heavily in that area. Robert Peterson’s book, Only the Ball Was White
(reviewed in Notes #134, 6/3/96) was a great introduction, and I’ve
skimmed through several SABR publications, but I consider myself a raw rookie
in knowledge of the Negro Leagues. That’s why I’m going, to fill in some
gaps.


When I attended the 1995 SABR National Convention in Pittsburgh, I
reported this in Notes #106 (6/26/95):






Historian Rob Ruck introduced the morning panel, a tribute to black
baseball in Pittsburgh (the city was home to both the Crawfords and the Grays),
with a super video, Kings on the Hill: Baseball’s Forgotten
Men
. Forgotten? Maybe once upon a time, but no more. Willie Pope
and Hooks Tinker were joined (unexpectedly) by Jimmy Dean and Slick Surratt.
Journalist Frank Bolden was there, too, and did much of the talking — he’d
still be going, I think, if he wasn’t interrupted. These fellows played with
and watched Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa — they been around some —
and their stories were as spellbinding as Buck O’Neil’s. Yes, they were! Part
of the fun of the Negro Leagues was tall tales (“… Josh hit it over
the mountain”), one-liners and zingers that scored points with opponents and
fans, as sure as hits scored runs. Nearly three and a half hours after they sat
down, Hooks and Slick and the others were still signing autographs and chatting
away, perhaps making up for lost time, perhaps enjoying their defiance of
Satchel’s advice, Don’t look back. The sweat and dust of their memories
tastes too sweet.


The Conference will include no less than nine presentations,
several player panels, a banquet, a trivia quiz, and –an APBA
Tournament! I would smuggle in one of my all-time franchise APBA teams to
compete in this thing, but I don’t think they would fare very well. I’ve
seen those Negro Leaguer cards, and they are chock full of long home
runs and stolen bases — so much so that I decided it wouldn’t be fair to my
Hall of Famers to let these cards into my league (I do have Satchel, on the
Orioles’ roster, and Monte Irvin on the Giants, but no Josh or Buck or Turkey.
Cool Papa Bell would look great in center for my Pirates, but ….
wait’ll next year. (If I acquire a bunch of these cards — Lancaster, PA, the
home of APBA is not far away — maybe I’ll let each of my teams draft a player
for the stretch run. Let’s see, who’ll I catch today … Jason Kendall,
Smoky Burgess … nah, let’s see what this Gibson kid can do.


Robert Peterson is supposed to be at this conference, by the way, and
I’m looking forward to meeting him.


One of the sessions (Amy Essington’s) will give us a look at the
“little-known data sources” (forms) that living players are asked to fill out,
after they are elected to Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame. The program draft mention
Paige, Bell and Judy Johnson, but there are others, too. I mention this here
for the benefit of anyone researching Hall of Famers — apparently this info
can be made available to you by the Hall’s excellent library.


There will also be a dramatic reading of the two-act play A Victim
of the Line
by SABRite Sammy J. Miller. I do have a weakness for
historically-rooted baseball theater, which has only grown as my own play (now
a great musical) Mornings After continues its slow but steady march
toward the stage.


I wish I had made my decision about Harrisburg sooner, so I could have
alerted Notes‘ readers to this Conference with time for them to plan to
join me.


 


WHAT ESPN MISSED ON HALL OF FAME WEEKEND


It’s not their fault, the mainstream media, they have to cover
the hoopla. The media moguls are all about ratings, and sure, reports on the
annual Hall of Fame Induction give very deserved attention to the men (no
women, so far) inducted. But the fun part of the weekend for me is the Sunday
night meeting at Tillepaugh’s Funeral Home — the regional SABR gathering.


I recently saw the movie Trekkies — well, the first half — and
believe me, we baseball fanatics are by and large very, very conservative. Yet
many of us turn pilgrim every summer, and set out for Cooperstown, from the
four corners of the earth that surrounds this capital city of the country of
baseball. Happily, a bunch of them end up at Tillepaugh’s on Sunday night,
after the dust has settled and the traffic has slowed. (Actually, this time
around, the pedestrian traffic on Main Street was still going strong, and I did
not pass the fleet of yellow Birnie shuttle buses, headed back north, until I
was almost in town. Later I learned why, the ceremony ran long, with Carlton
Fisk getting some of the credit. I didn’t look it up, but apparently he
recalled a pitch or two from every game he ever caught. And he holds the
record. (I was curious to see if he would wear one Red and one White sock, or
if he would use his infamous body English to direct the cameras away from the
podium, perhaps to focus on dozing Commissioners.)


Bud Selig, someone at the meeting pointed out, is a member of SABR (but
was a no-show at Tillepaugh’s) … this made me reconsider my own membership
for a minute, recalling the old Groucho line, “I would never belong to an
organization that had me as a member.” That doesn’t quite fit, but it was
startling, to learn that Bud and I were card-carrying, if not T-shirt wearing
members in the same organization. It was sobering.


HOWEVER, Bud’s notable absence was more than made up for by the
excellent turnout and interesting roster of speakers, put together, I believe,
on short notice, by Bill Deane and Cliff Kachline. Bill is a resident of Fly
Creek, “a suburb of Cooperstown” (it turns out there are many such suburbs —
you had to be there to get this joke) and a frequent contributor to the daily
SABR-L internet digest; he is practically a reason to join SABR and subscribe.
Cliff has been known to Notes readers since February 1996 (NOTES

#122) as a “Biblical Author” — he once wrote for The Bible of Baseball,
The Sporting News — and I had the pleasure of interviewing him for
SABR’s Oral History Committee; the HOF Library has a copy of the tape.


I hadn’t seen Cliff since the announcement last summer (see Notes
#194
) about Hack Wilson’s 1930 record for RBI’s being changed officially to
191, and so I had to ask him how he celebrated the event. Cliff must be
credited with an assist on the project, even though he did not initiate it or
complete it himself. He did not directly answer my question, so I never got to
ask him what kind of champagne, but he did describe the phone calls he
received, quite unexpectedly, from The Powers That Be (Jerome Holtzman and
Seymour Siwoff.)


 


Jim Riley and Dick Clark (no, not that one), two of SABR’s top
names, were on hand (they were a factor in motivating me to go to Harrisburg
next month) and talked with the group of about forty. They mentioned the recent
grant by Major League Baseball, of $250,000, to the Hall of Fame’s Library, to
study baseball in the Negro Leagues — a field in which both men are experts.
Tim Wiles (Director of Research at the HOF Library) later addressed this topic,
too, explaining the process that will be used to determine how this grant will
be spent.


Greg Bond, a SABRite from Wisconsin, had expressed some concerns about
the study on the SABR-L digest, and I had forwarded his post to Tim earlier,
and brought it to the SABR meeting (July 23) in Cooperstown. I thought Tim did
a super job in addressing every question, and later wished that I had taped his
response (because I do not wish to misquote him here.) This is a first for the
Hall — it has not been in the business of doing research, but has
assisted mightily, as no other institution can, for many decades. I will
summarize things here all too briefly by stating that SABR — whose business
has been baseball research since 1971 — seems like a logical starting point
for any project attempting to synthesize the research already done and to fill
in the big gaps. To ignore the mountain of research by the Negro League
Committee members over the years would seem to be a huge mistake. On the other
hand, we are dealing here with Major League Baseball, the same organization
that did not bring you the 1994 World Series. So, we’ll see.


Scott Fiesthumel, a SABRite who lives here in the Shadows of
Cooperstown — he’s the local historian on Utica baseball — gave an
interesting show-and-tell presentation on the Ken-Wal Equipment Company.
Originally (since 1916) Kennedy Sporting Goods of Gloversville, NY (best known
as the hometown of my wife), Ken-Wal turned out bats, gloves, catcher’s gear,
and all sorts of sports equipment (for football, hockey, lacrosse, skiing,
boxing — you name it) right here in the Shadows (Utica) between 1927 and 1960.


Scott brought, and passed around, a bat, catcher’s and first baseman’s
mitts, an old pancake glove, as well as boxing gloves and a small pair of
football trousers (always laced in front, for some reason) … seems Scott has
discovered E-bay, and has started acquiring things which surely will lead one
day to his foundation of HOF-North here in the Shadows. We’ll see.


Two fellows from Chambersburg, PA, were in Cooperstown and talking
about the book they co-authored about that famous resident of their town (altho
he was born in St Thomas, PA) — Nellie Fox. They had a great collection of
Nellie stories, and looking at things through my own Black-and-Gold lens,
Nellie seemed to me to be, in real life, back home, a lot like that second
baseman perched on Cooperstown’s doorstep (he missed by one vote, one absentee
ballot, this time around) — Bill Mazeroski. Humble, candid, almost shy (does
anyone understand the word “self-effacing” anymore?) … and in my mind, I see
both Nellie and Bill with a huge wad of tobacco in their cheeks. (Hey, tell the
kids it was Big League Chew, Jim Bouton’s marvelous contribution to the health
of ballplayers.)


Then there was Gabe Schecter, who has been obsessed for twenty
years with a fellow I only met in the last decade — Charles “Victory” Faust. A
SABRite from California, Gabe has written a book about Faust — a character
about whom I’ve only managed to write a poem and a short satire. And yes, Faust
is book-worthy, despite having only pitched in two MLB games.


Most of us, if we heard at all about Victory Faust, ran into him first
in The Glory of Their Times, the classic oral history by Lawrence Ritter
(it is now on CDs and cassettes.) Ritter interviewed Fred Snodgrass, fifty
years after Faust joined the NY Giants of John McGraw, as their Good Luck Charm
and comic relief pitcher. Faust was interesting enough to make Ken Burns’ film,
but on further review (by Gabe), it appears that of the nine sentences about
Faust in Burns’ Baseball, only three are correct. Three of nine is good
in baseball, not so good in history.


But how can I come down hard on Ken Burns and his fact-checkers? I
accepted Snodgrass’ tale, too. Gabe Schecter did not, he took that dirty,
under-handed route to the truth … he looked it up. Thank goodness. I bought
his book on the spot.


I’ll review it here later. For now, suffice it to say that Faust was
with the Giants not three years, but just under twelve months. (He is credited
by Snodgrass with three pennants.) A number of other details in Snodgrass’
recollections do not check out, but I won’t go into that, lest Gabe’s book
sales be cramped. I enjoyed Schecter’s characterization of Charlie Faust as a
“Forrest Gump” who contributed a bit more than comic relief to the
McGraw-driven Giants. And to the fans, who didn’t have to go to vaudeville to
see Faust warm up, shag flies, pitch BP (Honus Wagner stood in against him), or
show off his variety of slides.


Even demythologized, Faust was a good luck charm. Charlie apparently
also could jinx, and when the Giants drained him of his power to bring them
wins, he put a hex on McGraw’s men. Did it work? Ask Rube Marquard, who lost
three straight games after Faust left the team, after nineteen straight W’s (in
1912.) When Faust was admitted to an asylum a few years later (and died there
in 1915), he listed his occupation as “professional baseball player.”


There were a couple of other short presentations at Tillepaugh’s, then
lots of time to talk baseball among friends.


 


MISTERS


When I started out this issue with “Mister Shortstop,” I thought for a
few minutes about trying out a theme. I didn’t get any farther than that, but a
visit to Dickson’s Dictionary gave me a few ideas.


For example, who is “Mr Baseball”? “For decades,” Dickson reports,
“this is what they called Connie Mack.” He also notes that more recently, Bob
Uecker has claimed the title, but not seriously. I suspect that when Cal Ripken
enters Cooperstown in bronze, we’ll hear him dubbed that more than a few times,
no?


I’ve done a few player poems on Misters — “Mr Cub” (Ernie Banks) and
“Mr Tiger” (Al Kaline) — and I wonder if every team has their own “Mister”?
(Mr Marlin? Sounds like a Madison Ave. relative of Charlie the Tuna. “Mr Rocky”
brings to mind an image of Sylvester Stallone in a tux. Teams really need to
think ahead better when they pick nicknames.) “Mr October” is the title of my
Reggie Jackson poem … I could have called Rudy York “Mr August,” I suppose
(for that month he sizzled in 50 RBIs.) I have heard players called “Mr April”
as a kind of put-down — “always starts out great, then fizzles.”


Dickson explains “Mr Guess” with a single word: Umpire.


“Mr Kodak” is a nickname for any player who fakes — not takes,
fakes — his time getting into the batter’s box. I have read that agents
recommend this to their clients — more time on TV, more recognizable. (See
Marquee Player, above.)


“Mr Mustard” is not a nickname for the vendor, but for the player also
known as a hot dog. I read somewhere that Hispanic players (going back to Vic
Powers’ day) complained about being called hot dogs, when a white player who
fielded or ran with similar flair would not be so labeled. Good point, I
think.


So what “Misters” are left for us? How about “Mister Tim” (after
professor McCarver) for the broadcasters who spend a bit too much time
analyzing things?


Or “Mr Cliche” for the managers, players, and others who reply to
questions from reporters with a dazzling lack of originality or thought.
(Reporters are eligible for this nickname, too, when they ask only the
predictable, “How did you feel when ….”)


Then there is the mysterious “Mr Later” — you know, the Player to be
Named Later?


I better stop there, but if you come up with your own “Misters” send
them my way. Best contribution will earn the right to put a sign in their
driveway, “Parking Reserved for Suggester of the Month,” authorized by Mister
Two Finger Carney.


 


THE BIG STORIES


That was the title of a kind of sidebar in the July 24-August 6 issue
of Baseball America. I like BA, but mostly for its columnists
(including SABR’s own Jayson Stark); I rarely read all the team reports, and
their stats lag too much.


But when I see a column with the title “The Big Stories,” I start
wishing that NOTES was a weekly again — that forced me to pay closer
attention to current events in the country of baseball. And to columnists or,
in this case staffs, who decide on exactly what “the big stories” are. Because
sometimes they need perspective, like that from the Shadows of Cooperstown.

1. Fresh Faces in High Places. BA is happy that the Yanks
are not running away from all of the other teams, again. So am I, and I look
forward to a post-season without the usual suspects. “Anyone but the Yankees
and Braves” is the cheer outside New York and Atlanta. I bet that would sell on
a T-shirt.


2. More Balls Go Bye-Bye. This is hardly news, it’s a trend of
over five years — at least. And it will continue, methinx.


3. Superstars on the Block. Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, even
Junior Griffey. This is a ho-hum issue for most fans, whose teams cannot afford
these guys. Save this hype for the superstations.


4. Can’t We Just All Get Along? John Rocker is now called
meathead and bonehead in BA, which actually makes him sympathetic,
instead of just pathetic. See Gray vs Rose.


5. Alive on the South Side. Ah, the glorious exception, the team
with the 25th highest payroll, the ChiSox, have the best record. How do I know
this? Don Fehr said so, in the next issue of BA. Uh, oh. It is not good
to see his name in the news.


6. They Can Still Pitch. Pedro and Randy have been super, and my
regret of the summer thus far is missing the duel between Pedro and Rocket.
Maybe if an October game is rained out, this will be replayed in its entirety.
I have a blank tape waiting.


7. Junior Goes Home. BA rightly points out that the big
story here is not, as we all guessed, Junior leading the Reds to a title — but
the Mariners doing so well without Junior!


8. More New Ballparks. I think I’ve seen them all on TV by now,
the new playgrounds in S.F., Detroit and Houston. Again, this is a trend, and
sure enough, it will continue.


9. Bottom Falls Out in Houston. The Astros may be the first team
to christen a new park with a last-place finish. Good grief.


10. Baseball’s New Top Cop. Frank Robinson, unarmed, is Mr
Discipline, and good hatchet men are needed to keep kids in line.


Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!