Monday, July 26, 2010

Hawk, The White Rat & God

Sunday's inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame are a varied group, with nicknames running the spectrum in terms of flattery. With Andre Dawson (aka "Hawk") being the only player elected on the writers' ballot, the Veterans Committee saved the day by voting in "The White Rat," Whitey Herzog, and the umpire otherwise known as "God," Doug Harvey.

This year's ceremony was quite the production, stretched out over three hours, considerably longer than last year's event, which was reorganized and rushed due to the threat of rain. There were welcome additions to the lineup, as well as a couple of questionable calls, namely the between-speech interviews with current Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Ozzie Smith. But, a special treat on this particular day was John Fogerty's live performance of his baseball classic "Centerfield," in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of his popular anthem.

Fogerty didn't bring a band with him, but he definitely performed his vocals live, and entertained the crowd with a song that has become almost as much a part of the game as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Allowing Fogerty to speak following the song was a bit questionable, but it didn't detract from the moment.

Before the Hall of Famers took the podium, Ford C. Frick Award winner Jon Miller kicked things off with an embarrassing story about his daughter interrupting a radio broadcast by asking him to take her to the little girls' room. J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Bill Madden then recounted the pivotal moments in his career as a baseball journalist in New York. Together, Miller and Madden represent quite possibly the most well known (to me) pair of Frick and Spink award winners in the 23 years I've attended.

31-year National League umpire Doug Harvey was unable to deliver his speech in person due to throat cancer, but he had recorded his speech shortly after being elected back in December. When he spoke to my umpire school class back in 1994, he mentioned that his mother's wish was to live long enough to see him get into the Hall. So, I expected a heartfelt acknowledgment of the fact that didn't happen, but instead Harvey's primary message was that umpires "...are necessary, but not evil."

Doug Harvey greeted at the podium by Bud Selig

After the conclusion of the pre-recorded speech, during which the skies opened and there was a brief downpour followed immediately by the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, Harvey had a few words to say to the live crowd. He drew quite a laugh from virtually all in attendance as he said, "I want you to notice that I stopped the rain."

Whitey Herzog's managerial career ended after the 1990 season, so he had to wait quite a while to get the call notifying him that he was going into the Hall. As he referenced former Cardinal Enos Slaughter's "It's about time!" declaration upon learning of his own Hall of Fame selection, Herzog's humble speech began with the statement, "Any time is a good time when you're receiving an award like this." He then proceeded to honor his fellow inductees, saving Harvey for last, and humorously pleading with the former arbiter not to throw him out of Cooperstown.

Andre Dawson was the headliner of the day, and he was certainly up to the task. Just as humbly as Herzog started off, Hawk began by saying, "Thank you, gentlemen, for welcoming this rookie to your team." He then briefly turned his speech into a roast of a few fellow Hall of Famers, including marveling over how much beer Goose Gossage could drink and thanking Tommy Lasorda for teaching him how to get a free meal.

Dawson was mostly serious, though, and his primary message was about respecting the game. "If you love the game, the game will love you back" seems to have become his mantra, as he made that statement three times during his speech, in which he also defended baseball by reminding us that it's people who have made mistakes, not the game. 

It wouldn't be a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, though, without a few plugs for players whose careers are yet to be deemed worthy of Cooperstown, and without a speech that brought a few tears to the eyes of the crowd. Dawson delivered in both respects, getting in a subtle plug for Pete Rose, and making an obvious plea on behalf of the under-rated Tim Raines.

Dawson closed out the afternoon's event by spending several minutes paying tribute to his mother. Unfortunately, she passed away four years prior to his special day, but she certainly made her mark on this Hall of Famer's career. The tear-jerker moment was when he said his mom promised that he'd have his moment one day, and his mom never broke a promise. It's just too bad she wasn't able to witness the final fruits of her labor, as her son displayed the quiet dignity in accepting baseball's greatest honor that he was known for throughout his career.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hall of Fame Weekend

This weekend, I head to Cooperstown for my 10th consecutive Hall of Fame Weekend, highlighted by the 2010 Induction Ceremony, at which Andre Dawson, Doug Harvey and Whitey Herzog will be honored. The streak of 10 straight years is only my second longest, as I attended every year from 1987 to 1999 before my run was interrupted by the Kamloops, British Columbia wedding of my oldest and dearest friend. KJ returns for her second straight year, which itself is a major milestone of a different kind.

Harvey, the long-time National League umpire, may have to serve as arbiter between the Cubs fans there to see Dawson and Cardinals fans looking to celebrate the career of Herzog. On the other hand, the same probably could have been said about the last two years, with former Yankees—Rickey Henderson (2009), Joe Gordon (2009) and Goose Gossage (2008)—and former Red Sox—Jim Rice (2009) and Dick Williams (2008)—being inducted together. Still, I can't help but feel that our Midwestern brethren may behave a little differently. I know I plan to proudly wear my St. Louis Browns cap all weekend, just to confuse people.

Harvey will be the second person I've witnessed get inducted into the Hall of Fame whom I've also previously met, the first being Dave Winfield. Mariano Rivera will eventually become the third, six years after he retires, but let's not rush that. I met "God," as Harvey's often been referred to by players and fellow umpires, when I attended Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School in 1994. He visited one day and spoke to our class, and I'm also lucky to have an official National League baseball autographed in person by him.

So, I'm off to camp for three nights in rural Central New York and to spend time in a quaint village that loses a bit of its charm due to the throngs of baseball fans who descend upon it for this particular weekend. Expect a post early next week detailing my observations and impressions of the weekend in general, and the induction ceremony in particular.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Frequent Spins (2010.5)

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
I really thought that BSS was one of those bands I would never completely get what all the rage was about, until they released this album. At just over an hour in length, it definitely has its weaker moments, but I'd say it can safely be filed under "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," as this record falls just short of anthemic indie/art rock masterpiece. Highlights for me include album opener "World Sick," as well as "Meet Me in the Basement," and "Sweetest Kill."

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - I Learned the Hard Way
This one was recommended by a friend who I believe was trying to introduce me to something that didn't quite fit the mold of the music I usually listen to. Although she didn't come right out and say it, in a way she was calling my taste predictable, just as a high school friend did about 20 years ago when, for my birthday, he gave me a Best of Van Morrison tape as the antidote to the Neil Young, Steely Dan, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer lineup that was so prominently featured in my '77 Chevy Impala back then. Although it alternates between very catchy and kind of boring, I Learned the Hard Way certainly has more soul than just about anything else on my current playlist.

Tift Merritt - See You on the Moon
While listening to this one on streaming audio at my desk, the strong points really stood out, fooling me into thinking I loved it. After I bought it, and started listening on my iPod, its flaws were revealed, but they don't detract all that much from an effort that is currently the front-runner for best female alt-country album of the year.

Nada Surf - If I Had a Hi-Fi
The title of this covers album is a palindrome, and since the band probably does own high fidelity equipment, I can only assume it was very intentional. But, I like a good palindrome and I love good covers, although they're not always easy to come by, a fact that this record attests to. It's kind of similar to Tift Merritt's latest, not stylistically but in the fact that it has some great moments but also some real misses. The main difference is that the weaker songs on this album have to be skipped over. Well, one of them does, at least. It doesn't get any more painful than this band's rendition of "Bye Bye BeautĂ©," a song originally done—only slightly less excrutiatingly—by French artist Coralie ClĂ©ment. Their version of The Moody Blues' "Question" is quite unremarkable as well, but there are also some definite highlights, including Bill Fox's "Electrocution," The Go-Betweens' "Love Goes On" and Kate Bush's "Love and Anger."

Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy
I read one reviewer call this a better, funner version of Neil Young's Harvest. I beg to differ. I was thinking it's more along the lines of Palace Music's Viva Last Blues, although neither funner nor better than that one. Still, those are a couple of pretty nice comparison points, so this is worth checking out if your a fan of either of those artists. Or, if you've ever been a little curious about this band, because it's their best effort to date.

Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
Normally, singers who sound way too much like Bob Dylan are just plain annoying, because...well, there's only one Dylan for a reason. But, where the debut album by Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson was intriguing but eventually wore out its welcome, this one ups the ante to legitimately frequent spin-worthy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Major League Baseball has expanded its All-Star rosters considerably over the years, to the point where they now stand at 34 players representing each league in the Midsummer Classic. Additionally, injury replacements and a rule regarding the ineligibility of starting pitchers who throw on the Sunday prior to the game expand the number of honorees even further. This year, a total of 80 players can call themselves All-Stars.

Yet, there still are a number of significant oversights, players who are considerably more deserving than those who are going in their places. To me, this short list represents the six most glaring omissions, the players who were astoundingly overlooked by everyone—the fans, the players and the All-Star managers.

Miguel Olivo has been the best catcher in all of baseball so far this season.

Yes, you read that right. He's outperformed Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, John Buck and, more importantly, Yadier Molina and Brian McCann. Olivo leads all major league catchers in RBI and all National League catchers in hits and home runs (tied with Rod Barajas). Despite the hit total, he's still about 25 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, but he happens to be hitting .325—the same as league leader Martin Prado—and can boast a .548 slugging percentage, 100 points higher than McCann and pretty darn close to twice as high as Molina's mark.

Of course, I'm not forgetting that Molina's real strength is his defense, so I'll point out that Yadier has thrown out 48.8% of would-be base stealers to lead the National League, while Olivo is second in that category at 46.5%. Molina shares a similarly slight advantage in most other statistics used to measure a catcher's defense.

However, Molina won the fan voting, and McCann was selected by the players, so there's nothing NL manager Charlie Manuel could do about that. But, with All-Star squads consisting of 34 players, 36% more than the standard 25, wouldn't it make sense to carry a third catcher, especially in a situation where the odd-man out is far more deserving than the two already on the squad?

Brennan Boesch just recently reached the minimum number of at bats to qualify for the American League batting title. How is a player who's 4th in the AL in batting average (.342), slugging percentage (.593) and OPS (.990), and 5th in OBP (.397) not in the All-Star game?

There's way too much emphasis on save totals when it comes to evaluating closers. At the end of June, Billy Wagner had just 16, but he's already produced four more in July, still leaving him four behind NL leaders Heath Bell and Francisco Cordero. Regardless, there are only two relief pitchers more All-Star worthy than Wagner this year, and both of them are American Leaguers. Also, one of them happens to be named Mariano Rivera.

Besides Rivera and Jose Valverde, Wagner is the only closer in baseball with a sub-1.50 ERA and a WHIP below 1.00. This, of course, is not to mention the fact that he's 5-0—meaning he's actually pitched well enough to keep his team in games that were non-save situations—and 20 of 23 in save opportunities. Well, actually one of his wins was a blown save, but that's not enough to keep him off the All-Star team, in my opinion.

The position most disrespected by the entire All-Star process is center field. Historically considered one of the critical "up the middle" defensive positions, why center fielders are lumped in with corner outfielders for the purposes of All-Star selection is beyond me. While the position is fairly represented on the two squads, there is not a single everyday center fielder among the starting three for either league.

The National League has three center fielders as All-Star reserves, but they're the completely wrong guys. Unfortunately, all three of them—Michael Bourn, Marlon Byrd and Chris Young—are their teams' sole representatives, but this is hardly justification for leaving the two top performing NL center fielders—Colby Rasmus (.914 OPS, 16 HR, 42 RBI, 51 R, 9 SB) and Carlos Gonzalez (.878 OPS, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 56 R, 12 SB)—out of the mix.

In the American League, Alex Rios (.305 BA, .878 OPS, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 55 R, 23 SB) being left off the team in favor of Jose Bautista and his pathetic .237 batting average is simply a joke. I'm not a big fan of batting average, but there should be some kind of "Mendoza Line" for All-Star qualification, and it would definitely be higher than .237. Or, maybe I should call it the "Bautista Line." I might be onto something here.

Friday, July 09, 2010

PONY League

Last week, KJ and I went on an unintended mini-tour of New York-Penn League stadiums, visiting Lowell on Thursday night and Hudson Valley on Friday. The Lowell game was planned, as the tickets were courtesy of KJ's employer, but we ended up at the Hudson Valley game as a result of making excellent time on our Boston-to-Poughkeepsie trip for the three-day 4th of July weekend.

The Short-Season A-level New York-Penn League actually consists of seven teams from New York and only two from Pennsylvania, plus one each from Maryland, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. For as long as I've been familiar with the league, Pennsylvania has been just as under-represented. In fact, after the Erie Sailors left town following the 1993 season, and moved to Hudson Valley to become the Renegades, the Williamsport team was the only representative of the Keystone State until the New Jersey Cardinals became the State College Spikes in 2006.

Incidentally, I was once offered a job by the Williamsport Cubs—now the Crosscutters—back in 1996. But, it was a seven-month position, and one which paid very little. Despite being a job in baseball, I wasn't all that excited about the responsibilities, and even back then I wasn't young enough to be willing to make the sacrifice, so I turned it down.

When the league was founded, in 1939, it was originally the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, or PONY League. But, even then, with their name receiving first billing, the Bradford Bees were the only team from Pennsylvania, while four from New York and one from Ontario rounded out the league. In fact, in its 70-plus year history, Pennsylvania teams have won only four championships, in addition to one "co-championship." Five teams from outside the two states that are the current league's namesakes have won, with the remaining 60 or so championships belonging to New York teams.

I was originally going to compare the two minor league venues, but you probably know how I feel about all the between-innings nonsense that goes on at these games. I have to admit, though, that I'm softening my stance a little, and accepting that it's all part of the show. Besides, these two games finished in an average time of just under 2 1/2 hours, a half hour shorter than the norm at the major league level, so the extras don't really drag these games out all that much.

Instead, I find myself focusing on just a couple of factors that favor Hudson Valley. Free Wi-Fi at Dutchess Stadium allowed me to jinx the opposing team's seven-inning no-hitter by tweeting about it, as well as to provide Red Sox-Orioles game updates to a couple Sox fans—KJ and my Dad's friend, a native of Maine—sitting with me.

More importantly, Hudson Valley can boast of one legitimate craft beer offering—Pleasantville, New York's Captain Lawrence Pale Ale—while the best Lowell has to offer is Sam Adams. Now, don't get me wrong here. I think Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a solid offering, but I'd much rather try something new than opt for "solid."

Captain Lawrence Pale Ale reminded me of how Sierra Nevada Pale Ale used to make me feel when I first discovered it in the mid-'90s, and why the latter became my regular beer of choice at my favorite Lark Street watering hole in Albany. It's just a really nicely balanced California-style pale ale: malty sweet and slightly citrusy up-front with a mildly bitter kick to back it up. In fact, I liked it enough to drink a couple more at my sister's restaurant two nights later, and to begin thinking about how I can get my hands on some Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA.

Monday, July 05, 2010

21st Century Schizoid Ale 2010

On May 23, AfroDan brewed the third batch, in just under two years, of what's become our signature beer: 21st Century Schizoid Ale. Because the first two batches were slightly disappointing in one respect—they didn't ferment out completely and finished with an alcohol level in the 8.5-8.7% range—we compensated this time by utilizing super high gravity yeast. The result: a brew that fully reached its alcohol potential at 10.9% ABV.

bottle of 21st Century Schizoid Ale
My recent love affair with citrusy hops influenced us to go all out with Citra hops, a relatively new style that is high in alpha acid content—meaning highly bitter—and, as the name implies, oh so citrusy. Also, in keeping with the experimental tradition that began with our first two versions of this brew, we added a small amount of mystery hops from an unlabeled bag that had been in my refrigerator for at least a few months.

Last weekend, after sharing our first 22-oz. bomber and starting in on a second, we decided to design our labels. In case you needed any proof that, as home brewers with a fair amount of experience, we know what we're talking about when we say its alcohol content weighs in at approximately 11%, I offer you the description that we added to the vertical type on the sides of the label (with apologies to King Crimson):

Cat's foot iron claw, neurosurgeons scream for malt, at paranoia's poison door, 21st Century Schizoid Ale.

Blood racked barbed wire, politicians' funeral pyre, innocents raped with Citra and Cascade hops, 21st Century Schizoid Ale.

Death's seed blind man's greed, poets starving children bleed, fermented with super high gravity yeast, 21st Century Schizoid Ale.

Finally, here's the recipe for a four-gallon batch:

1 lb. crystal malt - 60 L (steeped 20 mins.)
1 lb. crystal malt - 20 L (steeped 20 mins.)
13.2 lbs. golden light malt extract (boiled 75 mins.)
3 oz. Citra hops - 11.1% alpha (boiled 75 mins.)
1 oz. "Mystery" hops - alpha unknown (boiled 75 mins.)
1.5 oz. Cascade hops - 7.5% alpha (boiled 30 mins.)
1.5 oz. Cascade hops - 7.5% alpha (boiled 15 mins.)
0.5 tsp. Irish moss (boiled 15 mins.)
1.5 oz. Super High Gravity Ale yeast

Original Specific Gravity: 1.092
Final Specific Gravity: 1.009
Alcohol by volume: 10.9%

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Miracle on Ice (1980)

This is part 9 in the From Hank to Hideki series, chronicling the 40 most memorable sports moments of my lifetime.

Previous: Good Night, Captain (1979)

I had zero interest in hockey prior to the 1980 Winter Olympics. In fact, I really don't remember exactly what about that version of Team USA drew me in, or exactly when it happened. But, I do know that it was prior to the game that is the namesake of the title of this post.

Team USA lost 10-3 in an exhibition game to the Soviet Union just prior to the games. They were seeded 7th heading into the tournament, and their first two matchups were against the teams given the best chance to upend the Soviets, 3rd-seeded Sweden and 2nd-seeded Czechoslovakia.

I think it was that first game, a 2-2 tie versus Sweden—a contest that I didn't watch—that piqued my interest, but it was game two—an impressive 7-3 victory over Czechoslovakia—that reeled me in. From that point on, there seemed something magical about that team, as they reeled off three straight wins—over Norway, Romania, and West Germany—to finish pool play 4-0-1.

Team USA's reward for their strong showing in the opening round was a medal-round matchup with the feared Soviet squad. As well as they played versus their cold war rivals, it still always felt like they were in over their heads, and it was only a matter of time until the U.S.S.R. put them away. It felt that way until they took their first lead of the game, 4-3 with ten minutes remaining. If you don't know what happened next, I don't know what to say, but I'll bet Al Michaels does:

"The Miracle on Ice" moniker is commonly used to refer to this tremendous upset victory over the Soviet Union, the game which gave them the opportunity to secure the gold with one more victory. But, to me it represents the team's performance during that entire Olympic tournament, which was capped off by a three-goal final period in a 4-2 victory over Finland.

I'm not an intensely patriotic person, although I probably was much more so when I witnessed these 1980 Winter Olympics at the age of 12. But, to me, these games also represent the birth of the goose-bump-inducing "USA! USA! USA!" chant.

While Al Michaels' famous "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" call lives on forever, just as memorable to me is his call during the final seconds of the Americans' gold medal victory over Finland:

Five seconds to the gold medal, four to the gold medal...This impossible dream...comes true!

Next: The Louie and Bouie Show (1980)