Shawn Anderson: Interview with Richard Davis, the Wade Boggs Super Fan

And the final encore for the blogathon. Thanks to everyone’s support throughout the event, I continue to be blown away by your generosity. Please donate to Doctors Without Borders and help them continue their vital work around the globe. 

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If you’re a baseball fan, it’s probably safe to assume you have an obsession of sorts.

And if your obsession involves a particular player, you’ve probably had their poster on your wall, their number on your back…you’ve probably got more than your fair share of their baseball cards. But shower shoes?

Meet Wade Boggs superfan Richard Davis.

ANDERSON: First off, I’ve gotta know…why Wade Boggs? What is your connection to the former third baseman and how and when did you get started?

DAVIS: It was Christmas, 1985. My parents had bought me a baseball card collector starter kit. Inside was an unopened 1983 Donruss wax pack. So I opened it and on top was a Wade Boggs rookie card. I knew then that the card had a $10 value, and as an 11 year-old, that was a lot of money. Ever since that card, I began following his career and collecting his cards. Every year, when the Bo Sox would come to Chicago, my father would take me to old Comiskey Park and he’d get tickets along the third base line so I could watch Boggs play. I even played third base in Little League because of him. It wasn’t until 2011 when Mr. Boggs came to Chicago for a baseball card show that I got to meet my boyhood hero for the first time. And it was exciting to say the least.

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ANDERSON: What did he think of your collection and what did you talk about?

DAVIS: I’ve met Mr. Boggs four times. He’s been very kind and approachable each time I’ve met him. I’ve never gotten the chance to sit down with him to tell him about how extensive my collection is. I’m afraid he may think I’m obsessed. (Laughs) It’d be cool to have him over for a chicken dinner and then show off my collection. I met Wade for the fourth time last summer on Ron Santo’s Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown. He was an hour late for his signing, but was very apologetic. He was out golfing with some other Hall members and he was a little inebriated, but he remembered that he had seen my father and me three weeks earlier at a show in Chicago when we had a photo op with him. He’s cool like that.

ANDERSON: Alright, you’ve got a room in your house dedicated to your Boggs collection. What does your fiancé think of it?

DAVIS: She does not get it at all! (Laughs) To her credit though, she knew who Wade Boggs was. She’s a diehard White Sox fan and she remembered he played for the Red Sox and Yankees. Needless to say, she is very familiar with him now. My collection is kept in my basement, which is half a living area and the back half is a gym. About half of my collection is on display. The other half is in boxes in a closet. I am waiting to get a bigger place so that I can turn the entire basement into my own bar and affectionately call it “Boggs Tavern”. I’ll invite him over for a few beers and watch some ball games on the big screen and talk baseball. (Laughs)

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ANDERSON: How many pieces do you estimate are in your collection and what price tag would you put on it as a whole?

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Larry Granillo: Choosing Darrell Evans over Ken Griffey Jr.

I lied about the blogathon being over as two pieces were apparently devoured by the internet when they were meant to be posted late on Sunday night. 

Consider it an encore to Blogathon 2014 and please consider donating to Doctors Without Borders

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Darrell Evans almost certainly deserved more recognition for his fine career than he was given by Hall of Fame voters in 1995. The 21-year veteran of three teams, who slugged 414 home runs in an era where that meant something, got all of 8 votes (or 1.7%) in his one time on the ballot. Evans was in good company that day, as felllow underrated ’70s/’80s star Buddy Bell also managed a measly 8 votes. Mike Schmidt, with 96.5% of the vote, was the lone inductee that year.

As sad as that day was for Evans, you can rest assured that there was at least one other fan feeling his pain. In the September 1990 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, J.K., from Virginia, wrote in to ask about his favorite player:

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It’s perplexing, J.K.! Why do collectors (and Hall of  Fame voters) like Schmidt more than Evans? And who wouldn’t want an Evans rookie card over that Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck gem?

The best thing about this letter from J.K., however, is that it was published in the September 1990 issue of Beckett. That’s only 11 months after Evans played his final career game. Who knew Darrell Evans had such determined fans?! (Though I hope J.K. did end up acquiring one of those sweet Griffey cards. It was a much better investment.)

Larry Granillo is the author of Wezen-Ball and the Tater Trot Tracker and he contributes to Baseball Nation. Follow him @wezen_ball

BLOGATHON 2014 IS NOW COMPLETE
Everybody, give yourselves a giant round of applause. Hell, give yourselves a giant bear hug and a kiss on the cheek, too, because I’d be giving you one if I was wherever you are. Thanks to your generosity and spirit, we raised over $5,000 for Doctors Without Borders, the most we have in the three years we’ve hosted this event. (And over the last three years, we have raised nearly $11,000. That’s amazing, too.)
Over the last three days, totaling nearly 60 hours of new, fresh, exciting content, there were 101 posts from 60 writers about every conceivable baseball subject under the sun. 
And thanks to all of you for making this such a success. Whether you wrote, donated, tweeted, re-tweeted, re-blogged, or simply read along and send good vibes, you made this weekend as special as it was. And if you missed anything, click here to read all 101 of those pieces. It’s really worth your time.
I’ll be leaving the donation page open throughout the week, so please, consider donating if you haven’t done so already. Every donation helps Doctors Without Borders continue their vital mission of providing impartial and independent medical aid around the globe.
And remember, every donation enters you to win a variety of great raffle prizes which you can see here.
STATUS CHECK:
MOOD: ECSTATIC. BEAMING. OVERJOYED.
BEVERAGE: Champagne for everyone!
Thanks again, everyone, and I promise I’ll stop filling your feeds and RSS readers now. At least until next year.
Mike and Will

BLOGATHON 2014 IS NOW COMPLETE

Everybody, give yourselves a giant round of applause. Hell, give yourselves a giant bear hug and a kiss on the cheek, too, because I’d be giving you one if I was wherever you are. Thanks to your generosity and spirit, we raised over $5,000 for Doctors Without Borders, the most we have in the three years we’ve hosted this event. (And over the last three years, we have raised nearly $11,000. That’s amazing, too.)

Over the last three days, totaling nearly 60 hours of new, fresh, exciting content, there were 101 posts from 60 writers about every conceivable baseball subject under the sun. 

And thanks to all of you for making this such a success. Whether you wrote, donated, tweeted, re-tweeted, re-blogged, or simply read along and send good vibes, you made this weekend as special as it was. And if you missed anything, click here to read all 101 of those pieces. It’s really worth your time.

I’ll be leaving the donation page open throughout the week, so please, consider donating if you haven’t done so already. Every donation helps Doctors Without Borders continue their vital mission of providing impartial and independent medical aid around the globe.

And remember, every donation enters you to win a variety of great raffle prizes which you can see here.

STATUS CHECK:

MOOD: ECSTATIC. BEAMING. OVERJOYED.

BEVERAGE: Champagne for everyone!

Thanks again, everyone, and I promise I’ll stop filling your feeds and RSS readers now. At least until next year.

Mike and Will

As MLB Commissioner, I Will: by Ted Walker

- move the Hall of Fame to a little walk-up in Silver Lake with nice hardwood floors and good morning light. Results are announced in the comments thread of a scanned Rob Deer Donruss card on a Tumblr.

- institute a rules change: when a runner reaches second base, he and the catcher have to put on sumo suits. Heck, let’s put one on the ump, too.

- disallow blackouts of local MLB.tv games and blackout drunks yelling at me at White Sox games.

- implement robot umpires, but we all have to pronounce robot like “robut,” the way Tim McCarver probably does.

- fast-track MLB Trade Rumors: The Magazine

- replace Intentional Talk’s Chris Rose and Kevin Millar with the girl who posted the Rob Deer card and the Twitterer that comes up first when I google “ichiro astros”.

Ted Walker writes for Pitchers & Poets, which currently lives as a column at The Classical.

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Thanks to your overwhelming generosity, we have raised over $5,000(!) for Doctors Without Borders. But there’s no reason to stop there—every dollar you donate goes to help Doctors Without Borders continue to provide independent impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival has been threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. Please help us continue to raise funds by donating here.

Bryan Murphy: In Which A Baseball Writer Pitches You His Idea for A Perfect First Date

As a writer, I am prohibited by law from knowing what it’s like to play the game, but if there’s one thing I do know about Baseball, it’s that Baseball is sexy.

Wait! Come back! Hear me out!

So you’ve just finished swiping right or okaying cupid or matching or harmonizing or finding an adult friend and you’ve had a drink or even a meal with this new person… what happens next? If that first encounter went well, presumably, you’ll want to see him or her again. But what would make a good first date? That’s when the pressure’s really on, don’t you think? Anyone can suggest getting a drink or wolfing down on some apps, but a date involves another level of thought. What’s the best way to spend 3-4 hours with a relative stranger whom you desire in hopes of going from relative strangers to interdigitaters?

Baseball.

That’s right. The best date any burgeoning couple can have is at the ol’ batting cages. No matter what your age, swinging a bat and hitting a ball will make you feel young. Hitting distracts from the anxiety associated with The First Date, too. By incorporating a task or game into the equation, the focus becomes less about “finding the one” and more about having fun.

As the sabermathticians of our day have preached: process > results. Don’t worry about “getting to first base” or “rounding third”. The first base/second base/third base/home run analogy is the trap of dating. Don’t get caught in that trap. Stay right there at the plate and get your swing on in the batting cage.

You don’t have to believe me, but I will say that every time I’ve had a first date at a batting cage (n=3), I’ve had at least a second date with that person. You ignore my 100% success rate at your peril.

But, Bryan, aren’t there downsides to your idea?

Oh, I didn’t know this was going to turn into a Q & A, but okay, I’ll roll with it.

Sure, there are some downsides to my idea, but they are minor, especially when the goal is to have a good time getting to know someone.

The biggest downside to going on a first date to the batting cages is that you could look really, really bad swinging a bat. You could hit 5 balls or less with nary a line drive in the bunch. And we all know that swinging misses aren’t sexy. Your date could get really embarrassed for the same reason and this embarrassment might distract him or her from getting to know you, too.

If you’re that worried about looking bad, go practice your swing before the date. Stick to the slow-pitch softball cage during the date. If your date wants to swing at a faster pitch, then so be it. And if your date isn’t confident in their swing, that’s when you can jump in all Tom Emansky or Dot Richardson-like with some swing instruction. Your confidence and encouragement, no matter how poorly you do in the cage, will be attractive. And if you actually can whack some line drives in the cage, then you’ll look even hotter.

Another downside is that you could look bad. As in, your hair gets matted by the helmet, you sweat through your shirt, you forget to wear batting gloves and you get blisters on your fingers. And nobody wants to kiss someone who’s got an upper lip beaded with sweat. But I submit to you that this “less than your best” physical appearance – since this would happen to your date, too – is a welcome equalizer.

For example, my hair is my only attractive physical quality, and enhelmeting this thick, dark mane is a tragedy on par with losing Manny Machado and Matt Harvey for 2014. What do I do when I don’t have my fastball? Rely on my personality? Oh hell… oh, but wait – that’s precisely what a first date’s all about.

You know where they’re from, what they do, etc. and now it’s time to get to know that person beyond the trivia. Your date, in turn, doesn’t have to suffer through a sequel to your sales pitch. The big idea here is that no matter how you look in the cage or how you look afterwards – and I suggest three 25-pitch rounds for each of you – the two of you will have had a bonding experience. If you’ve ever watched “The Bachelor” or read the research, you know that adrenaline-boosting shared experiences enhance attraction. If the focus is on the process (fun) rather than the result (hard hit balls), then the process (getting to know someone) will lead to your desired result (a relationship).

Um, maybe. But what happens next? Like, after the batting cages?

A date at the batting cages also gives you and your date tremendous flexibility. An afternoon first date is a bit of a changeup and most likely in a good way. If it doesn’t go well, then at least you’ll both have your evening free. If it does go well, then you can still transition into a “traditional” first date with dinner and a movie or dinner and dancing or some additional activity.

But what if I don’t live near any batting cages, Bryan?

In my view, you have three options: 1) move somewhere that has batting cages; 2) do not date at all forever; 3) try to capture the spirit of the outing – a shared experience that raises your heart rates – maybe by going to a video arcade to recreate this scene.

I’m right about this, folks.

Bryan Murphy writes for SB Nation at McCoveyChronicles.com. He lives in Los Angeles, where there’s only, like, two batting cages in a 40-mile radius.

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Ever wanted to win great baseball prizes like books, movies, video games, or art? All while helping an organization like Doctors Without Borders continue their mission of providing independent, impartial aid around the globe? Then donate now! Every donation of even just one dollar is entered to win a variety of great prizes that you can see here

Mike Gianella: The Hall of My Feelings

Every dollar helps, so please consider donating to Doctors Without Borders and helping them continue their mission of providing impartial medical aid all around the globe. 

And don’t forget, every donation enters you to win a variety of great prizes. Donate now

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I don’t have a BBWAA vote, but if I did I would use WAR very heavily to influence my vote. To some, this makes me a soulless and joyless technocrat who would prefer spending hours staring at a spreadsheet with embedded, concatenated formulas to sitting in front of the TV or at the ballpark watching a baseball game.

To that I say, poppycock (that’s right, poppycock). While I do derive joy in looking at baseball history and combing through baseball statistics, I love watching baseball even more. Every game is a blank slate, an opportunity to see something I’ve never seen or a masterful variation of a play I have seen a thousand times before.

I wondered what it would be like to put together an All-Star team based on players who touched me as a fan. This team would be limited to players I saw play live – either in person or on television. Players like Roberto Clemente and Bob Gibson are heroes of mine, but primarily because of what I read about them on the page, not due to the visceral excitement of witnessing something special they did on the field. My goal was to avoid simply listing all-time greats, but instead digging a little deeper for seasons or moments that aren’t quite as universally remembered.

Any errors below are mine, and the product of a faulty memory.

C: Benito Santiago

Santiago was hyped as a prospect and delivered on that hype early, winning Rookie of the Year. While his 34-game hitting streak that season was compelling; it was his ability to nail runners at will from his knees that made watching every game he caught super exciting. If he was playing against my team, I dreaded the pick-off every time a runner was on base.

1B: Keith Hernandez

I grew up a Mets fan, but I didn’t jump on the bandwagon in 1986 when they were a juggernaut. No, I started rooting for them in 1979 when the team sucked and hope seemed light years away. The first glimmer of hope came in 1983 when the Mets acquired Hernandez in a mid-season trade with the Cardinals. Even as a child, I thought this was too good to be true and that Whitey Herzog must know something about Hernandez that the Mets don’t know.

Instead, Hernandez was as good as advertised. He always seemed to come up with a big hit and find a way to pull the ball into right field when the Mets needed it most. But it was his defensive prowess that amazed. Hernandez wasn’t the fastest player on the diamond, but his instincts were incredible. He was a master at anticipating a bunt and rushing in to field the ball, cut it off, and make the force play at either second or third base. Hernandez was a field general, both at the bat and on defense.

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William Tasker: 2014 over and under leader WAR predictions

The idea for this entry for Michael Clair’s wonderful blog-a-thon is to take a look at 2013’s top ten position players by fWAR and predicting whether they will be over or under that value for 2014. Without actually getting into the numbers, my prediction is that most will be under as that seems to be the nature of the game. For example, who can imagine Chris Davis reproducing the kind of season he had in 2013 again in 2014? I used fWAR instead of rWAR because the data is easier to list. Here goes:

Mike TroutOver: Oliver and Steamer projections both project Trout to fall under the amazing 10.6 fWAR he compiled in 2013. Looking at their projections, they see him having a lower ISO and batting average and his BABIP down some from where it has been the last two seasons. With all due respect to projection systems, the most talented player in baseball is only getting better. An injury (God forbid) could change that of course, but if Trout plays another full season at center and if Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols return to some of their former glory, look out world. Trout is just getting started.

Andrew McCutchenOver: McCutchen put together is most valuable season of his career while having the lowest ISO of his past three seasons and a wOBA that was ten points lower than his 2012 season. If all other things are close to being equal, and if his power gets back to his career path, then he should be even better this coming season. Oliver and Steamer projections list him much lower in the 6.5 to 6.8 range. I don’t agree.

Josh DonaldsonUnder: Donaldson came out of the blue to have an amazing season in 2013. Everything about his game was so much better than what he showed as a rookie in 2012. For example, his 4.8% walk rate jumped to 11.4%. Amazing. Two parts of his game should not suffer at all. His base running and fielding have been terrific since he joined the Athletics. So that part of the equation should be the same. Then it comes down to the offensive part of his game. Looking at his minor league numbers, the walk percentage was not a fluke. But the power numbers seem out of line with what he did in the minors. I think his ISO will be lower in 2013. The projection systems really don’t believe in what he did in 2013 and project him to be as three wins less a player in 2013. That seems overly pessimistic to me.

Carlos GomezOver: Gomez really came into his own in 2013 and his 7.6 fWAR were almost equal parts defense, offense and base running. The defense and base running should be consistent as he is terrific in both categories. Like Donaldson, a lot will depend on if his offense continues to explode. Gomez’s rise actually started in the second half of 2012, so he has put up these kind of numbers for a year and a half now. The only thing troubling me is the power. He never displayed the kind of power he has shown in the last eighteen months in his younger days or in the minors. For how long Gomez has been showing this kind of offense, I have to believe it is not a fluke and that he will continue to grow offensively. His patience at the plate is not great, but it did show improvement. Braun coming back should help too. The projection systems are skeptical, but I am not.

Miguel Cabrera Over: Think about the season Cabrera just had and then consider that he compiled those numbers without any benefit from September when he was hurt most of the month. Holy schmoley, the guy was a beast. Even so, his defense at third really kicked him down to finish well off of Trout’s pace as the value leader in the league. But consider this: He is moving back to first base, where he is much better, his health will be better and he should have more runners on base in front of him than last year. My theory is that a guy with a wOBA over .400 for seven of the last eight years is not going anywhere and he will score better defensive numbers at first base. Be duly warned that projection systems have him about a win less though.

Matt Carpenter Under: Carpenter had a magical season in 2013 and compiled 7 fWAR for the season. Did anyone expect that? I don’t think so. Will anyone expect him to repeat that magic? I don’t think so either. The projection systems certainly do not. I will say that the guy is a line drive machine and has good plate discipline. Those kinds of things will keep you producing. A permanent move to his familiar position at third should help too. So I may be wrong here. Line drive hitters do not have big slumps and if he improves his power numbers even a little bit with more experience, he will make my prediction look stupid.

Evan LongoriaOver: Longoria played 160 games in 2013, so we can put away that injury concern. Despite having a very great season with 6.8 fWAR, that total was below what he did in 2009 and 2010. Here are the factors where I think he will be back to the seven and a half range in 2014: His ISO and strikeout percentage were higher than his career averages in 2013. His walk rate was a little less. If those things bounce back to his normal range, he will have a much better year. His walk rate was a little less and that should bounce back too. Longoria did much better at his home ballpark than he has in the past and perhaps has put that issue behind him. Look for more from one of the best fielding third basemen in baseball in 2014.

Chris Davis Under: Think of the players that have hit over 50 homers in the recent past. Guys like Jose Bautista, Ryan Howard and A-Rod all failed to match that number in subsequent years. I think he will hit around 41 homers, which is still great, but nothing like the magic carpet ride he put together in 2013. The projections systems do not think he will be half as valuable in 2014 as he was in 2013. I am less pessimistic, but still cannot believe that Davis can repeat such a miraculous season. His fielding could improve the more he is at first, but that is about it as far as my optimism goes.

Paul GoldschmidtOver: The projection systems seem overly pessimistic on this one. Consider that Goldschmidt’s batting average, on-base average and slugging have gone up every year in the last three years. Consider that while doing so, his strikeout rate has gone down every season. I believe he is still peaking an can get even better. His defense at first base has been knocked down but is improving. I think the improvement will continue. My only hesitation is where the Diamondbacks are going as a team. Their plan has been confusing and could hinder him in some ways. But I think we still haven’t seen the best of Goldschmidt, which is pretty scary considering how good he was in 2013.

Manny MachadoUnder: I am waffling on this one. I am always hesitant about players who have so much of their value brought up by defense. There is no doubt he had one of the great defensive seasons of all time at third base last season. And then there is that knee injury caused in part by a genetically malformed joint. Will that be a ticking time bomb for the rest of his career? On the other hand, he has not yet become the offensive player I thought he would be. His patience at the plate and his 4% walk rate are far below what he did in the minors. It is disappointing. I expected him to be more of a .360 to .380 wOBA kind of guy and not the .325 guy he was in 2013 following the .317 wOBA he had in 2012. Perhaps he will find his way offensively. He sure looks like a great hitter even if he has not shown it. But it is the knee that worries me too much to give him a prediction of over his last year’s valuation. His projections are brutal, by the way.

So there you have it. By my count, six of the ten top valued players of 2013 should be even better in 2014. And I waffled on the tenth guy. While I am not a computer spitting out projections, we’ll just have to wait and see how accurate I am. Even I think I am too much of an optimist. The exercise was still fun though.

William Tasker was born in New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in northern Maine since 1990. After a long career as a senior executive for a software company, he is currently the executive director for his city’s chamber of commerce. He has been writing his blog, The Flagrant Fan, for eleven years and also writes for It’s About the Money, Stupid, a Yankees blog that is part of ESPN’s SweetSpot network. He recently scored his first ESPN byline.

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Thanks to your overwhelming generosity, we have raised over $5,000(!) for Doctors Without Borders. But there’s no reason to stop there—every dollar you donate goes to help Doctors Without Borders continue to provide independent impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival has been threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. Please help us continue to raise funds by donating here.

Jeff Polman: Rick Dempsey’s Wild and Wooly Traveling Rain Delay Show

We are closing in on raising $5,000 for Doctors Without Borders, an amazing total! Help us get over the edge by donating here.

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My all-time favorite baseball season was 1977. Had a job and Back Bay apartment in Boston that were each about 20 minutes by foot to Fenway Park. Even sprung for a partial season ticket plan, and what a year to be watching those Red Sox! All they had in their lineup was Fisk, Evans, Rice, Lynn, Yastrzemski, Scott, and Carbo. They hit 213 homers for the year, including 33 in one ten-game stretch, battled the Yankees and Orioles for the AL East title all season before a complete lack of worthy pitching sunk them.

While my ‘77 nirvana had to be their three-game sweep of the Yanks in mid-June, out-homering them sixteen to nothing (you can look it up, or just read my account), the other memorable moment came on the final day of the season, Sunday October 2nd. The Sox had eliminated the Orioles on Friday night at Fenway by outlasting them 11-10, and on Saturday the Birds returned the favor with an 8-7 win, giving the division to the soon-to-be World Champ Yankees.

It was raining cats, dogs, and pigeons that Sunday at the Fens, and the contest was delayed for hours. I sat with some other shivering souls under the third base grandstand roof, hoping against hope for an actual game.

Suddenly an odd cheer rippled around the place. Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey emerged from the Baltimore dugout in his socks, a massive pillow stuffed under his jersey and tucked in his pants. He waved to the crowd, walked across the tarpaulin to where home plate was. Everyone stood, having no idea what this was all about but thrilled by the anticipation.

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It was quickly obvious that he was mimicking Babe Ruth. Without a bat in his hand, Dempsey pantomimed a few swing and misses from an imaginary pitcher, then “belted” one. He started jogging around the bases—or at least, the billowing tarp—raising his arms in glory, acknowledging the cheering, rain-soaked crowd. Picked up speed as he rounded third and went flying into home. Left his feet about five yards from home plate and slid on his belly like a car on Splash Mountain, producing a mini-wave and turning the crowd delirious. None of us had ever seen such a thing.

The game was called shortly thereafter, the Sox and Birds joined at the hip with their final 97-64 records, two and a half out. I left the yard, somewhat disappointed but ready to tell everyone I knew about Dempsey’s rain delay act. Years later, it became common knowledge that Rick did this sort of thing quite often. Witness this abbreviated version in Milwaukee.

Flash forward to either 1999 or 2000, I was attending a game at Dodger Stadium and was lucky enough to score someone’s season seats behind their dugout. Dempsey had become a Dodger coach for those two years, and he was hanging out atop the dugout steps before the game.

“Hey Rick,” I shouted, “I saw your rain delay act at Fenway back in 1977!”

He glanced at me with a smirk. “Yeah, sure you did!”

“No, really! Last game of the season!”

“Everyone tells me that,” he replied, “Must’ve been 60,000 people there.”

And then he dropped out of sight and into the dugout.

Whatever, I thought. I don’t need him to believe me. Years later, I still have the glowing memory to prove it.

Jeff Polman writes fictionalized, baseball replay blogs. BALL NUTS, a book version of his “Play That Funky Baseball” blog about 1977, will be available on Amazon January 22nd. He can be followed on Twitter at @jpballnut.

Jen Mac Ramos: Find yourself, get Sam Lynn Salutes and wieners

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I’m told that you’re supposed to find yourself in college. That it’s the time to experiment and try new things and what have you. I never had any idea of what I’m supposed to do to actually find me.

It’s the dog days of summer and I’m 21. Driving down Highway 99, tears slowly forming at the corners of my eyes. I had one more ballpark to hit so I could’ve been to all 10 Cal League parks in one summer. Press pass ready, scorebook and camera in tow, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me — not even the idea of my personal life crumbling around me.

It takes three hours to get from my hometown to Bakersfield. Before I left, I called people I thought were friends, only to be met with anything but friendship. “I told you so,” they said as I repeated “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I don’t remember if my apologies were sincere, or if I was just hurt and needed someone to listen, so I said anything. I looked at the clock — 2 p.m. and I had to leave right a way to see batting practice.

I remember driving by the San Jose Giants’ bus as I entered Bakersfield. Was I going the wrong way? Should I exit and figure my way around with the magic of technology? That seemed like the logical thing to do, so I did. Even then, I still got lost. And let me tell you, you start to wonder what kind of things go on (hashtag) after dark in Sam Lynn’s neighborhood when you pass by a couple of, uh, adult establishments from the freeway to the ballpark.

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Cee Angi: Finding the Charm in Chicago’s Biggest Beer Garden, Wrigley Field

While I’m not a prime candidate to give tours at Wrigley Field, the rumors of my hatred of the ballpark, and the Cubs for that matter, have been grossly exaggerated. It’s nothing personal. I bear no animus towards architect Zachary Taylor Davis, the man who designed the park, or the team that plays there, but as an objective observer I’m willing to admit that there are flaws. Big ones.

It starts even before you get in the park, at the apex of Addison and Clark. People, both sober and bombed, spill out of the bars onto tiny sidewalks packed with peddlers, tourists, locals (who may or may not be headed to the game), transients, and traffic cops who scream at everyone to, “GET BACK ON THE SIDEWALK!” even though every inch of real estate is already occupied by someone else’s feet. Unless you’re light enough to perch on someone’s shoulders, onto the street you spill.

Once inside, the concourse is cavernous; the only light comes from narrow splits in the concrete that lead to the stairs that ascend to the seats. Even if you could see beyond a few inches from you face—which you can’t, because of the crowd density—there’s not much to look at anyway. Your peripheral view reveals the faces of shuffling patrons that you’d die next to in the event of fire as well as concession stands that tout specialty snacks, a deception—in actuality they are selling the same products as the next stand over under a different name.

There is no place to congregate. The concourse is purely in the business of moving people, and if you grab a rail on a less crowded ramp you can’t see the field and the street views are obscured by plywood that serves as a placeholder for missing metal grates. To meet someone anywhere other than your seat, you have to climb to the roof where there’s a beer garden that faces the street instead of the field (and there’s no game audio, or if there is, you can’t hear it). There may be more freedom to mingle in the Bleachers, but the lore of the hedonistic drunks out there have made me never want to find out.

Wrigley has a 90% chance of being beautiful once you’re seated, but if you’re one of the unlucky patrons seated directly behind a pole it could be less fun, especially when you factor in the bedlam of entry and the ticket prices. To give credit where it is due, the field itself is mostly pristine—unless it’s early in the season and the ivy is still a horticultural eye-sore—but with the cracking concrete, rickety seats, and the blight of 100 years of hard use, it’s easy to get distracted by the ick. In my last visit, during a rather uneventful Wellington Castillo at-bat, my shoe got stuck to the concrete from someone’s discarded chewing gum. As I attempted to extricate myself, my eyes danced between the field, the dessert cart that was hovering directly above my head on the exposed catwalk to the luxury suits, and the burrito-sized chunk of concrete that was missing from the stairs next to me and I pondered which would go first if I was trapped, me or the superstructure. While most would never advocate tearing the park down, you’d at least get them to concede that the park is due for upgrades (which are now on their way).

But you can’t mention that stuff to the purists; there exists a sect with Stockholm Syndrome whose apostles insist that falling chunks of stadium are “all part of the charm” and try to rationalize that the chipping paint isn’t dangerous and who would sooner don hardhats than admit that there’s something wrong with the relic of the Federal League.

It takes time to understand Wrigley Field and the people who flock there. The missing piece, the unspoken truth, is that but when people express their love for Wrigley Field, what they are really doing is expressing a connection to the history of the ballpark and the organization itself rather than worshipping a park that is past its prime (though, as above, there are some who swear they love the flaws, and I guess that’s their prerogative). Whether you’re behind a giant girder or not, you’re entrenched in history without much effort. There is no Jumbotron (at least not yet), and no between-inning gimmicks involving t-shirt cannons and hotdog-eating contests. The fanfare is minimal, just the soft hum of the organ and a public address announcer. The beauty isn’t in the park itself, it’s in the fact that you’re sitting in a monument that has been granted amnesty, a courtesy that hasn’t been extended to many other aging ballparks and buildings.

Chicago is one of the finest architectural cities in the world, and from the moment that architects and engineers learned to make buildings tall, they started doing it here in Chicago. There’s Art Deco and Art Nouveau. American Four-Square and Sullivanesque. There’s Edwardian and their very city’s own Chicago School. But the cruel reality for the earliest buildings—those that predated Wrigley or came just after—was that as the architects got smarter, the scrapers could get taller, and buildings that were once marvels and miracles were eyesores that stood in the way of progress.

The Rand McNally Building, designed by Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root, was the first all-steel framed skyscraper built in 1889. It was torn down three years before Wrigley Field was even finished. Burnham and Root’s Masonic Temple Building, which went up 1892—back when the Cubs were the Chicago Colts—was revered for its exterior beauty and finishes, but once operational, its lack of functionality, coupled with a desire to put in a State Street Subway, meant the building was demolished in 1939, the year following the Homer in the Gloamin’. Some of the Burnham and Root buildings like the Monadnock and the Rookery are now National Historic Landmarks and will remain fixtures indefinitely, but those buildings are the fortunate ones that weren’t cleared out to make room for more recent waves of architectural brilliance that push the limit of the mind’s creativity, and literally, at times, defy gravity.

And yet, Wrigley remains.

It’s the same place that my grandparents saw games when they came to visit their relatives who lived on the outskirts of the city, far up north on Pulaski. It’s where Hippo Vaughn and Fred Toney both threw a no-hitter through nine innings in 1917. And in 1922, the Cubs and Phillies set a record by scoring a combined 49 runs in a game, which is still a record. Stan Musial had his 3000th hit there, Ernie Banks his 500th home run. It’s where the Cubs won their last World Series game back in the ’45, and, on a more personal level, it’s the second ballpark I ever visited. Although I was young, I’ll never forget the bone-chilling breeze off of the lake at the Sunday afternoon game. It’s easy—almost too easy—to carry on about the eyesore that the park has become in its unrenovated state; it’s easy—definitely too easy—to be glib about the drunken fans and the stadium’s place as, “The biggest beer garden in Chicago.” I’ve fallen victim to that, we all have, but those are just empty jokes at the expense of a 100-year-old landmark that, when rightfully evaluated for its place in history, is awe-inducing.

The renovations are a good thing. The “plan” of ignoring its flaws and hoping that it would stop decaying wasn’t working, and the alternatives of rebuilding and relocating weren’t going to work either, not without sacrificing something unique and irreplaceable. If there’s anything that can be learned from the renovations at Fenway Park, a park with even more nuance and equal history, it’s that the prestige and significance doesn’t disappear with the addition of Jumbotrons and fresh layers of polyurethane. The modernization is inevitable, but if done with a proper respect for history, the renovations’ impact will be only positive in that every dollar spent will ensure that Wrigley Field will remain a fixture indefinitely, and the Cubs won’t have to box up their history and ship it elsewhere. It gets to remain here and defy the odds of becoming obsolete and antiquated despite so many buildings and ballparks never getting that chance.

Wrigley Field isn’t perfect. It never will be, but there’s something worth boasting about in living a quick walk from the second-oldest park in baseball that is committed to dishing out an experience in a way that 29 other parks can’t. I still don’t think anyone will be hiring me to give tours, but if they did, I think this girl, who spends the bulk of the season at the park on the Southside, might surprise a few people with her reverence for what she has sometimes dismissed as a scrap heap of steel.

Cee Angi is a freelance sportswriter whose work has appeared at Deadspin, Baseball Prospectus, The Classical, and 670 the Score, and is currently one of SB Nation’s featured columnists covering Major League Baseball. Follow her on Twitter @CeeAngi.

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