Halfway Home, Haven't Solved a Thing: Baseball History With Buffalo Pete

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Monday July 18 2016

Quattuordecennial

Today is my 35th birthday. It's also been a year and a half since I've posted to this blog. A lot has changed. This will not be a "Sorry I haven't posted" post. Those are the funeral dirge of any blog. Once you've gotten there, it's already over. And this might be over too, although I hope it isn't. It will, however, be that most annoying of tropes, the meta post. I want to talk through some of the things in my life that have changed, and how that's affected my writing, and think about possible directions I'd like to take with all of that, moving forward into my quattuordecennial year on planet Earth.

The first thing that happened is that I got a goddamn job, which was goddamn good. When I started this blog, it was in large part a creativity and energy outlet toward the tail end of a six month period of unemployment. I needed something to do at the bar, you see. For the last year and a half I've worked as a commercial printer, which is a much more creative and mentally and physically active profession than you may think. I've stayed busy, and that's sucked a lot of time and energy away from my writing, here and elsewhere. And these days, although I'm still sometimes to be found at the bar towards midnight (now, for instance), the beer or two I allow myself just doesn't afford the time for the research and writing process that goes into one of these essays. Sorry everyone, I got a job and I'm drinking less. Necessity's a bitch.

The second thing that happened is that I met a girl. I think she's the one. I've been in a lot of relationships in my life, but never anything like this. We're talking about moving in together in the spring, which is something I've never done before (really), but I'm very excited about. Things are good. I'm really happy. Fact: happy people don't write. So I'm in love, working, and drinking less. Sue me.

I moved. Here. It's beautiful.

I've been going to a lot of games. Here. It's really beautiful.

Really beautiful. You oughta see it. And the baseball's been fucking good. The Saints played .740 baseball last year before getting bounced out of the first round of the playoffs. This year they look better. It's been an unbelievable ride. I've been to a fucking lot of games. It's been good, man. And independent baseball, the Saints in particular, are everything you're told as a child that baseball is about, but you never got to see because you were born too late. It's baseball heaven. I'd give my left nut to work there. I want to write more about the Saints in the future, and the American Association and independent baseball.

I haven't divorced the Twins. I still have season tickets across the river, and I've been bleeding out my goddamn eyes with this team all year. It's been an atrocity. But they're still the Twins, and I'm still Pete. I'll go. And I haven't divorced Major League Baseball, although I look at it with a much more jaundiced eye than I used to (and I already did). Of course everyone wants to see the highest level of competition. But the Saints have shown me that there can be more to baseball than just that.

That's what I've been up to. Precious little writing, none of it here, obviously. I do want to change that. I want to keep writing about the history of the game I love, and I want to start writing about our strange little corner of the great drama of baseball that we get to watch play out here in St. Paul. My heart's still in it, now more than ever, really.

Stay tuned. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday April 15 2015

New post at Sportazine

Twins notes: A safety bet and a long shot

...Every year I like to pick one or two players on my hometown Minnesota Twins roster, just to be “my guys.” It’s almost never a star, and often it’s not even someone I’d actually bet money on (see below), it’s just the guy I want to succeed, the guy I’m sticking with, at least this year. My record has been mixed: In 2006, to much derision, I picked Justin Morneau, who barely hit .220 in April but went on to win the American League MVP for the AL Central champion Twins. In 2011, I picked Tsuyoshi Nishioka. We all remember how that went.

Now that your opinion of my prognosticative powers has been suitably tempered, here are my two picks for the 2015 Twins, tentatively subtitled “The Hater-Proof Edition...”

Unassailable

When you talk about the "untouchable" records of baseball, what comes to mind? Pete Rose and his 4256 career hits? Rickey Henderson's 130 stolen bases in 1982? For years, it was Roger Maris's 61 home runs in 1961, but of course, that's been broken no fewer than six times in my lifetime, by three different players (Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and current record holder Barry Bonds, who hit an unbelievable 73 in 2001). And the touchstone of baseball's untouchable records is of course The Streak: Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak in 1941.

But I bet you didn't even know that in 1949, Ted Williams reached base in 84 consecutive games. I didn't either, until just half an hour ago, a fact which I believe is a damning indictment on our public education system. When I am king, rest assured these deficiencies will be rectified. But I digress. Let me repeat that:

In 1949, Ted Williams reached base in 84 consecutive games.

Eighty four. That's half the year. From July 1 to September 27. Williams got on base at least once a day, every damn day. Maybe more impressive, if that's possible, in the 154 game season, Ted would only fail to get on base in four of them. He also walked twice in the July 12 All Star Game. He'd finish the year with a .343/.490/.650 slash and 43 home runs, and run away with the MVP award.

Damn.

Monday March 9 2015

Comments disabled for the foreseeable future

I can't keep up with the spam. This is why we can't have nice things. Sorry, folks.

-p.

Sunday March 8 2015

Tony Horton: The story of an ordinary guy

It's often easy for baseball fans to dehumanize baseball players, to reduce them to characters on television, numbers in a boxscore. To forget that they are, as George Will famously said, men at work - men with families, hopes, fears, dreams for their children, problems and demons of their own. When a hanging curveball is hacked at and missed, we take offense. When a catch is blown or an easy throw air-mailed, we erupt in righteous drunk indignation, we call into talk shows to call them names. We give not a thought to these men beyond what we feel they owe us.

If we could see their faces as they read the morning paper, if we could hear their voice as they told their wives what we said about them yesterday, could we be so callous? What would we say to them? What would we say to Tony Horton?



I want to talk about Tony Horton today. A mostly ordinary guy who happened to be an extraordinarily gifted baseball player. A man at work, who in the end lost the fight against the extraordinary pressures of his peculiar line of work, and almost paid with his life.

Tony Horton was born in Los Angeles in 1944, and from all accounts was the one of the most gifted atheletes to hail from the City of Angels in his generation. He was signed out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 1962, and rose slowly but steadily through the minor league ranks. A big man at 6'3" and 210 pounds, Horton possessed an unsteady glove but a massively powerful swing. A shortstop in high school, he was moved around the diamond in the minors, getting time in the corner outfield spots before finally settling in at first base.

Horton made his major league debut on July 31, 1964 at Dodger Stadium, where he hit a double and scored a run in a 4-3 Red Sox victory over his hometown Dodgers. He would bounce between the minor leagues and the Red Sox bench for another three years before being traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1967, where he was given the starting first base job.

For a while everything looked perfect. Twenty three years old, starting first baseman for the Cleveland Indians, driving a shiny new car. Top of the world, ma. Tony caught on immediately in Cleveland, hitting for power and average, getting on base, driving in runs. A gifted, intelligent young man with southern California good looks and all the talent in the world, Horton's future in baseball should have been bright and long.

It didn't turn out that way, and the story of why is beyond my capacity to tell or even understand. None of us can ever truly know another's heart, and what comes next is so tragic that to try to ascribe secondhand meaning to it seems dishonest, somehow.

So here's what we know. In 1968 and '69, Horton came into his own as a hitter, leading the Indians in nearly every offensive category in the latter year. But even then, the young Tony was often described by teammates and coaches as a man driven - sometimes the word used was "obsessed" - with perfection. In a 1968 interview with the Sporting News - when he was still just 25 - Horton spoke of his years with the Red Sox, saying “If you're afraid – actually afraid - of missing a ball or having a bad night … all you can do is get worse.”

It got worse.

In 1970, after a very public contract dispute with the Indians front office, the Cleveland fan base began to turn on him, booing his at bats and heckling him at public appearances. And he started to flake apart. Indians manager Alvin Dark later said, “He gave everything he had and just couldn't understand why they were booing him … [T]here was nothing more painful for me in baseball as my experience with Tony Horton where a life was almost ruined.”

On May 24 against the Yankees, Tony hit three home runs in four at bats. He popped out to short in his final at bat; the Indians lost 8-7. Later, in the clubhouse, teammates and sportswriters would witness Tony at his locker, ranting furiously about his last at bat. Three home runs on the day, and he was yelling at himself after the game that it wasn't four.

Going into the summer, he seemed to find his swing again and then some, hitting a ton in July and seemingly picking up steam going into August, hitting for the cycle on July 2 and batting.341 with 8 home runs from July 1 to August 28.

Behind the numbers and after the games, Tony was falling apart in front of his teammates' eyes. He didn't eat or drink. He didn't sleep. Indians third baseman Graig Nettles said “[O]ne day he walked into the clubhouse and looked like a zombie with his eyes set back in his head … He was gone.” Dark recalled an August game where he had to go out and retrieve Horton from his spot at first base after the game was over Infielder Larry Brown tapped Dark on the shoulder and pointed toward Horton, standing at first, staring at nothing. “He didn't know the game was over,” Dark said. “We had to call him in.”

On August 28, Cleveland played a doubleheader against the Angels at home. Despite going 1 for 4 in the first game, a dazed Horton was pulled out the field in the second. Tribe pitcher Sam McDowell spent the afternoon with Horton; he later said “[Tony] kept asking what was wrong with him.”

Then Tony Horton drove his shiny new car back to the motel he lived in on the outskirts of Cleveland and slit his wrists in the front seat.

No one found him for hours. It was five in the morning when an arriving employee spotted him, unconcious and bleeding in the back of the parking lot. He was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

There's no Hollywood ending to this story, but at least there is an ending. Tony Horton never returned to baseball, but he lived. He went home to California and got a job in the stock market. His attempted suicide was never reported at the time, and wouldn't become public for more than twenty years; the Indians released a few vague statements that offseason about his “ongoing recovery” from his “nervous disorder." Then the statements stopped and that was it.

Indians fans never heard of Tony Horton again. Reportedly, his doctor ordered him to cut off all contact with baseball, and in the fifty years since, Horton has refused all interview requests.

That's the story. If it's terse and feels like it lacks depth, it's because we just don't know what happened, and we never will, and I'm not trashy or disrespectful enough to speculate on why another human being felt it necessary to try and take his own life. Tony and his family have asked for privacy and to be left alone, and the sporting press has, in one of its few moments of nobility, for the most part complied.

Tony Horton was 25 when he tried to take his own life. He has since lived two more lifetimes. That's the moral of the story. A man lived who could have died, and that's enough. Tony Horton is 70 years old. He lives in Santa Monica. He lived. That's enough. Now we'll leave Tony alone.

Monday September 1 2014

For Vonnie - Torii Hunter's last day at work

Tonight's my bartender's last night at my corner bar, an altogether lovely and incomparably talented young lady who will brighten our dimly lit late night happy hours no more. It's bittersweet, but I'm really happy for her; she's off in search of greener pastures and new opportunities, and I have no doubt she'll find them. So this one's for Vonnie, who will be greatly missed.

A personal story today, on the topic of goodbyes; Torii Hunter's last home game as a Twin, September 23, 2007. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Although we'd finish third that year, the 2000s as a whole were a hell of a time to be a Twins fan. Hunter, Joe Nathan, and Johan Santana in their primes, the rise of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the miraclulous run to the pennant in 2006; damn good times. But even then, the small-market blues were never far; the shadow of free agency and the certainty that we wouldn't be able to afford these guys forever. If you're a Yankees fan or a Dodgers fan, you don't know what it's like.

I was there that Sunday afternoon, the last home game of the year under the Teflon sky. It was a hard game at the end of a hard year, but I went and got my Dome Dog with extra saurkraut for breakfast and sat in 236 under that gray roof on a beautiful fall day when I should have been outside, like I always did, like I'll go get a Pabst and sit at the end of the bar for Vonnie tonight, because that's what you do on someone's last day. You show up because you give a shit. Because that person, the work they've done and the person they are, have meant something to you, touched your life in some way. You do these things, not despite the fact that they make you sad, but because they make you sad, and it's good to feel that, to cement that memory. You never know what you've got til it's gone. So it was, with somewhat of a sense of resigned duty, that I went to say goodbye to Torii Hunter that day.

Of course, no one yet knew where he'd be going, but we all knew that come spring he'd be gone. That's part of the deal when you're a flyover country baseball fan. Hunter, who had the heart and the soul and the balls of the Twins since I was in high school, was coming to the end of his contract with Minnesota, and the lack of any progress in negotiating his return had been on the front page of the sports section and in the back of every Twins fan's mind since the end of the 2006 season. Throughout the year we hoped against hope, but with the leaves beginning to turn in the City of Lakes and the last disappointing days of the 2007 season sputtering themselves out, we'd all become resigned to the inevitability that when spring came, Torii Hunter wouldn't be here anymore. The last and greatest of the Soul Patrol (the trio of Hunter, Matt Lawton, and Jacque Jones that comprised the Twins outfield in those crazy, cocky years in the early 2000s), who at 31 had spent his entire 20s in center field for the Minnesota Twins, as I'd spent my 20s watching him, was going away.

The Twins spanked the White Sox 7-1 that day, but I barely remember it. Kevin Slowey pitched a gem, giving up one run on four hits over seven innings, but without looking at Baseball Reference, I couldn't have told you that. Torii went 1 for 3 with a walk. I remember the walk, and what came later.

It was the bottom of the 7th, with the Twins up 5-1 with a man on second and one out and the White Sox trying to keep it respectable, and Torii Hunter due up in what would almost certainly be his last plate appearance in front of the hometown crowd, and the White Sox walked him. It was smart baseball and looking back I can't fault the Sox for doing it; by giving Hunter the free ride and with the slower Justin Morneau coming to bat, the White Sox hoped to set up the double play to get out of the inning. It didn't work, and the Twins ended up scoring two more runs (Hunter being one of them), but it was smart baseball. Nothing personal.

Needless to say, the 29,382 souls in attendence, myself very much included, weren't feeling inclined to charity and understanding at that moment, and the storm of vitriol that rained down on Sox pitcher Mike “No Relation” Myers when the catcher stood up to signal the intentional walk was one of the most vicious shitstorms of abuse I've ever seen a normally mild mannered, Minnesota nice Twins crowd hit an opposing team with, and may well have played a role in the subsequent unintentional walk to Morneau and Michael Cuddyer's two run single. It didn't even matter that we ended up scoring three runs, everyone in the crowd felt like that moment had been stolen from us. In that moment, you're damn right I took it personally. Our last moment with Torii Hunter, and you couldn't have scripted it better, late in the game and just about to break it open against Chicago, and they stole that from us. From me.

Not quite. The Twins cruised after that, with no further damage done by either team in the eighth. So ahead 7-1, the Twins took the field in the bottom of the ninth, but before Joe Nathan could throw the first pitch against White Sox pinch hitter Luis Terrero, something strange happened: Twins manager Ron Gardenhire signaled for a defensive substitution. That might not sound immediately strange if you're not a baseball fan, but if you're going to sub for a guy in the field, it's almost always done between innings, before the players take the field. For the team to take their positions and then have a player be subbed for before anyone's even come to the plate is just never done. And for a moment, the players on the field were still, and the crowd was quiet. And then we all got our moment.


In an image I'll remember forever, Torii Hunter doffed his cap to the fans, turned all the way around, and took it all in. Even from the upper deck, I could see that Torii was doing what I was doing, what we all were doing; saying goodbye. And that crowd roared.And after a moment that seemed to hang in the air forever, like something we could hardly bear to let go of, he put his hat back on and ran all the way into the home dugout and very carefully did not look up, let no one see his tears. And then the moment was gone, and so was he.

And you can bet that defensive sub Jason Tyner didn't set one foot on the dugout steps until we'd all finished saying goodbye.

Friday July 11 2014

This Week In All Star History

Living in the City of Lakes as I do, it's been all All Star Game, all the time, all year. It's right around the corner, as every media outlet in town never fails to remind me. I have mixed feelings about it. Part of it's that I'm rather curmudgeonish about big national media circus events invading my town, but mostly it's the silliness of it all. Even with all the "it matters now" hype, it doesn't matter, not really. It's a baseball show, not a baseball game.

But it's a great show, isn't it? And of course I'll watch it, and if I can con my way into Futures Game tickets (I set my sights realistically low) of course I'll be there.

And of course I get behind my guys, and the two Twins picked for the American League squad this year have had world-class years, and both, in different ways, are tremendous comeback stories (my favorite kind of story); Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki got picked this year for the first time, at age 30, after posting a .303/.358/.394 slash so far in what has been a renaissance year for him. Glen Perkins, who just a few years ago was fighting for his job with the Twins and has come of age as one of the league's dominant closers, gets his second straight All Star selection.

And of course, you can't talk about comeback years without mentioning former Twin Justin Morneau, who returns to Minneapolis as a member of the National League home run derby team. For a few incredible years, he was a giant at first base for the Twins. After the road he's had to travel, the concussion, all the wasted years, for Morneau to come back and have the year he's had in Colorado and get to come back to the Twin Cities and put on one more show for the town it all began in...that's really something special. Stories like these are why I love this game. If it's not too late for Justin Morneau, maybe there's hope for us all.

I wildly digress. One more thing you've got to love about the All Star Game, especially if you're a student of the game and it's history, is the matchups, the stories, the headlines. You only get headlines like this once a year.

July 6, 1933: The first ever All Star Game, a promotional event put on by the Chicago Tribune, is played at Comiskey Park in Chicago. John McGraw comes out of retirement at age 60 to manage the National League. Babe Ruth, 38 and slowing down but still the Babe, takes Lefty Gomez deep in the 4th inning in the decisive blow of the game as the American League wins the first Midsummer Classic, 4-2.


July 7, 1942: In the shadow of the Second World War, the American League All Stars, victors the previous day in the 10th Midsummer Classic, plays a squad of Service All Stars, comprised of pro stars who had been called up to serve in the military and assembled and managed by one Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane. Although the Service Stars had Indians ace Bob Feller on the hill, the American League got to Feller early and won 5-0. The benefit game raised $70,000 for serviceman's relief.

July 8, 1941: Ted Williams (who will go on to hit .406 that season in a feat that has yet to be duplicated) takes Cubs' Claude Passeau deep with two on and two out in the top of the ninth, breaking open a tie game and leading the AL to a 7-5 victory.


July 9, 1953: After a roller coaster ride that saw both teams score 3 in the ninth, Minnie Minoso robs Gil Hodges of a walkoff, making a shoetop catch with two on and two out in the ninth inning to save it for the AL, who wins 6-5.

July 10, 1934: In the second annual All Star Game, Carl Hubbell strikes out an unprecidented five future Hall of Famers...in a row. After allowing two runners in the first, Hubbell sits down Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx to retire the AL, then Al Simmons and Joe Cronin to start the second. The American League won 9-7 anyway, but damn.

July 11, 1989: Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs start the 60th annual All Star Game off with some fireworks, rocking Giants hurler Rick Reuchel for back to back jacks to start the game. Jackson goes 2 for 4 with the home run and steals a base to land the All Star Game MVP award.


July 12, 1955: After 12 innings at County Stadium, Stan Musial drills a Frank Sullivan pitch deep into the Milwaukee night and puts the NL over the top in walkoff fashion; 6-5 was the final score.

July 13, 1971: This is why I wish we had TV archives of these old games; Reggie Jackson absolutely smokes a Dock Ellis pitch, hitting the generator on the right field roof in Detroit, in what may have been the longest home run ever hit in old Tiger Stadium. The game will see home runs by Jackson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, and Harmon Killebrew.



Monday June 23 2014

Today in Baseball History: The Babe punches an umpire, and a perfect game ensues(?)

June 23, 1917

Babe Ruth, pitching for the Red Sox, walks Senators second baseman Ray Morgan, the first batter of the day, on four straight balls. Then shit gets weird.

The Babe, visibly upset at umpire Brick Owens, charges off the mound to home plate, screaming at Owens. According to one source, the utterance that really set it off was something to the tune of: "If you'd go to sleep at night, you fuck, you could keep your eyes open long enough in the daytime to see when a ball goes over the plate!"

At this point Owens has had enough, and tells Ruth if he doesn't return to the mound he's getting tossed. The Babe, in high dudgeon, replies that if Owen ejects him he's going to punch the umpire in the face. Owens, not lacking in either conviction or balls, invites the Bambino to take a poke if he feels that strongly about it. Which Ruth does, landing a glancing blow to Brick's face, knocking the umpire down and getting immediately and summarily tossed, being escorted off the field by two members of Boston's finest. Ruth will be slapped on the hand with a hundred dollar fine and ten game suspension, this being a simpler era when men were largely permitted to settle their grudges by way of fisticuffs with minimal consequences.

That is not the interesting part of the story.

In comes Ernie Shore to pitch for Boston, unaware that his fifteen minutes of fame have arrived.

On instructions from manager Jack Barry to "just get us through this inning," Shore comes in without any warmup and silences the Senators in the first. Ray Morgan is still on first base when the game resumes; he is immediately gunned down trying to steal second. The next two batters are quickly disposed of, and Shore returns to the dugout. Telling the manager that he felt fine and ready to pitch the rest of the game, Shore took a few warmup throws in the bullpen between innings, and returned to the mound in the second. One-two-three.

And the third. One-two-three. And the fourth, and the fifth...

And by the time it was all said and done, Ernie Shore had retired all 26 men he'd faced without allowing another baserunner, and the Red Sox beat the Senators 4-1. Shore, who was, mind you, also the pitcher of record when Ray Morgan was thrown out in the first, had achieved something that no one else ever had or ever will: He pitched a perfect game in relief.

Maybe. Debate continued for years about whether to list the game as a perfect game or a no-hitter. In 1991 an MLB panel settled the issue, removing Shore's game from the official list of perfect games and instead crediting him and Ruth with a combined no-hitter. But as far as I'm concerned, 27 up and 27 down is the best anyone can do. As Ernie himself said later in his life, “I realize you can make a good case for the game not being perfect, since I didn’t pitch a complete game. But how complete is complete? You have to get 27 men out. I got 26 of them out and the other was retired when I was pitching. No other pitcher retired a single batter.”

Ernie Shore would only pitch for seven years in the bigs, his career, like many others', being interrupted by America's entry into the first world war. He would go on to be the sheriff of Forsythe County, North Caronlina, for more than 30 years. He passed away in 1975 at age 89, mercifully shuffling off this mortal coil before his achievements could be so callously disparaged by the committee that stripped him of his day of perfection.

Wednesday June 11 2014

This Week in Baseball History: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

June 5, 1985

This is unbelieveable. I wish I'd have thought of this. Larry Granillo over at Baseball Prospectus, after no doubt exhuasting research, writes to inform us that the Cubs-Braves game depicted in Ferris Bueller's Day Off did in fact take place, on June 5, 1985. (SPOILER ALERT: The Cubs lost.) My favorite passage from the article:

The eleven-inning game took 3:09 to complete, which means that the foul ball Ferris catches had to have been sometime after 4:00pm. That leaves, at the most, one hour and forty-five minutes for their trips to the museum, Sears Tower, the lake, and Sloane's house, while squeezing in two musical numbers during the parade before racing home at 5:55pm. Seems a bit tough to squeeze all of that in for most normal people. But, seeing as Ferris has the magical ability to sound exactly like both a young Wayne Newton and a young John Lennon, I'm willing to believe he could make the schedule work.

Go read the whole thing, it's great.


Monday June 9 2014

Today in Baseball History: Bobby Valentine's brilliant disguise

June 9, 1999

This is one of my all-time favorite baseball stories. It sounds like something that should have happened in 1899, rather than a century later on live television. But on this day in 1999, Mets' manager Bobby Valentine pulled what may be the fastest of fast ones in the long and storied history of sticking it to the man in blue.

It was already pretty late, the to of the 12th inning at old Shea Stadium. And as sometimes happens in Queens after hours (or so I'm told from reliable sources), things were about to get weird in a hurry. The Mets were tied at 3 with the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, after a 3 run outburst in the bottom of the 9th by the middle of the Mets lineup.

(Let me digress a moment. Remember that lineup? Easily my favorite Mets team from my lifetime. An old and mostly washed up Rickey Henderson leading off, then Edgardo Alfonso, John Olerud, Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura. What a murderer's row that was, what a great lineup.)

Where was I? Ah, Queens. The top of the 12th. One out, man on first. It all begins when home plate umpire Randy Marsh awards Blue Jays' second baseman Craig Grebeck (who I will probably never mention again if this blog runs a hundred years) a free pass to first base on a catcher's interference call against Mike Piazza. Bobby Valentine came out of the Mets dugout in protest, exchanged a few choice words with Marsh, and got ejected, as you do when a questionable judgment call by the umpire might end up giving away the game in the 12th inning (and looking at the video, I'm with Valentine, Piazza never came close to Grebeck). This is not the weird part of this story.

Mets reliever Pat Mahomes puts out the fire in the 12th, striking out Jays slugger Carlos Delgado to finish the side. Meanwhile in the Mets clubhouse, Bobby Valentine's got just a peach of an idea.

Wearing a Mets t-shirt, a pair of sunglasses, and an honest-to-goodness fake mustache made of eye black, Valentine returns to the Mets dugout in the bottom of the inning looking like this:

Let me reiterate that this is 1999, and this is being broadcast on live television. And Bobby Valentine's kind of been around, oh, forever at this point. This isn't some random guy, this is obviously Bobby Valentine in a fake mustache.

And he gets away with it for two more innings and the Mets win the game, in large part because of a sacrifice bunt ordered by Bobby Valentine and his Cheech Marin mustache. The umpires, at this point, are the only people in the world who don't know what's happening.

He did wind up with a two game suspension and a $5000 fine for his troubles after the fact; come on, you can't expect to just walk away from that. But Valentine, and Mets fans, will tell you it was absolutely worth every penny. That night started a 18-5 run for the Mets, catapulting them back into the playoff hunt. They wound up taking the wild card and making the playoffs that year for the first time since 1988.

Thursday June 5 2014

First Post

I got turned down for a job I really wanted last week, for reasons unrelated to my merit. It made me think of a quote I'd read by another man who couldn't get the job he wanted: Country Jake Stephens.

Stephens, a shortstop by trade, played professional baseball for 17 years between 1921 and 1937. He was a defensive wizard, a four time All Star and played alongside some of the legends of the game. But Country Jake never played in the major leagues, because he was black and born too soon.

This isn't really an article about Jake Stephens, it's just an excuse to use one of my all time favorite quotes, which is coming along presently. Many years after baseball's racial integration, Stephens, then a retired deputy sherriff in York, PA, was interviewed by a local newspaper about his life in black baseball. At the close of the interview, the journalist asked Jake if, in his opinion, the level of competition in the black leagues of the 1920s and '30s was the equal of the white majors.

Stephens, as matter-of-fact as if he were reading yesterday's box score, said: "We were better. We knew we were better."


Sometimes things don't go your way for reasons that are beyond your control and don't have anything to do with how good you are. When that happens, and God knows it will, remember Jake Stephens, and keep being better. Maybe things will work out, maybe they won't, but you'll know. You'll know what Jake Stephens knew, and you can't buy that.