Old Hoss Tells Us We Are #1

Rad was more than a tremendous pitcher. He was a pioneer. Here is a quick tip of the cap to, and acceptance of, the bird flipped our way by the legendary gent who’s namesake was the inspiration for this blog. Here is the man in all his glory, Old Hoss Radbourn in a Boston team photo on Opening Day, 1886, giving the finger to the cameraman. This is the first known photo to showcase the gesture. Way to go ‘Ol Hoss!

Old Hoss Radbourn, back row, far left, flipping the bird. The first known photo to show the gesture.

Connecting the Final Cubs’ Dots

All good things come to an end. Except in this case…

One good (or bad, depending on your preference) thing will be ending soon. As the offseason winds down, so does the once-enormous number of quality free agents available, as well as some long-rumored trade deals that are on the hook for the Cubs.

It’s been a weakly kept secret that the Cubs are looking for another arm in the rotation, while several teams are interested in one of the Cubs’ hot young bats. Many have been the times where IF Javy Baez and/or OF Jorge Soler have been mentioned in potential deals with teams, notably Cleveland and Tampa Bay, both of whom are in love with the young player(s). Among those free agents still available, is CF Dexter Fowler. There is one scenario where resigning Fowler, who initially rejected the Cubs’ qualifying offer in November, would make perfect sense.

Cleveland has been highly interested in Soler for some time, and a deal involving P Carlos Carrasco would be a nice fit. Should the Cubs trade Jorge Soler, the very next move would ideally be to sign Fowler, or vice versa. It’s a simple matter of connecting the dots. With Soler out of RF, the Cubs can move newly acquired Jason Heyward over to right, his natural position, and have Fowler patrol center. In addition, this would effectively load the Cubs lineup (even more than it already is), for with Fowler you have a table setter who scores runs and also has some added power.

Other potential suitors for Soler include Tampa Bay, who have been in pretty regular talks of late, for a deal for P Jake Odorizzi. Should the Cubs not want to move Soler or Baez, there are plenty of big prospect bats available that would be attractive for any number of teams.

In all, these are good problems to have. I for one, believe the Soler-Heyward-Fowler carousel, as long as they’re adding a strong SP in the process, would be the best scenario for the Cubs.

But then, how often do we get to have our cake and eat it too?

Shoeless Joe vs. Field of Dreams

I’ve long maintained that Field of Dreams is not a baseball movie.

It’s really not. It is at it’s core, a story about an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who is long racked by guilt wishing to reconcile his relationship with his deceased father, John, by way of their one mutual love, baseball, as the backdrop. The wonderful novel from which the film is based – Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, tells a noticeably richer story and like most book to film adaptations, the written version is different than the visual. The changes from book to film, due largely for pacing & budget’s sake, spin a wider and thicker web with many signficant differences. At the risk of sounding overly theoretical and metaphysical, let’s examine the main changes between the novel and film. Which is better – the book or the movie, you ask? Well, that’s entirely up to you. However, if you have not read the book, stop reading now if you wish to avoid spoilers…

Several important characters were in the book but not the film. Most crucially:

Eddie Scissons: An oldtimer who originally owned Ray’s farm. He also claims some fame as the oldest living Chicago Cub (or is he?)

Richard Kinsella: Ray’s identical twin brother. He has a girlfriend named Gypsy and whether by design or by intent, he cannot see the field or the players…

Abner Bluestein: Real estate business partner of Ray’s skeptical brother-in-law Mark.

JD Salinger: The book’s version of Terrence Mann. In real life Salinger threatened to sue if his personage was used in the film, so the fictional character of Mann, brilliantly played by James Earl Jones, was created.

Other important book to film differences:

  • In the book, “the voice” that Ray heard was not a whisper. It was in the form of an old-style PA announcer. (Think Tex Rickards and you’ll get the idea.) This type of voice really puts a spooky charge into the creation of Ray’s leap of faith endeavor.
  • Ray only built one part of the field at a time, not the whole thing like in the movie.
  • The players didn’t disappear into the cornfield. Rather they exited the ballpark through a door in the left field wall. This was historically (at least partially) accurrate as many ballparks in the deadball era didn’t have tunnels through the dugout to the clubhouse. Most parks back then had their clubhouse entrances somewhere in the outfield, and some didn’t even have visitors clubhouses at all.
  • One of the most common questions among fans of the movie is “where do the players go when they disappear?” Well, this question was directly addressed in the book. When Ray asked the players what becomes of them when they leave the field, Sox first baseman Chick Gandil answers “we sleep.” “And wait”, says Happy Felsch. “And dream…oh, how we dream,” adds Shoeless Joe Jackson. Taken literally, this would attest to what Jackson and others alluded to in the film, in that there IS an afterlife and the players are fully conscious of it. Taken figuratively, one can assume the players simply don’t know where they came from, how, or why they are there, which Jackson also hinted at in the film. This whole scene is open for endless debate. (My personal theory is that the Black Sox were in a sort of purgatory, while honest, noble players like Ray’s father, were in heaven—yet all former players got to enjoy their Lazarus-like resurrection to this Edenic field regardless of which afterlife they came from.)
  • When the field is fully built, a semi-transparent mirage of an entire stadium completes the effect, with ghostly players appearing along with the “real” players that first came to Ray’s field, which only Ray and his family can see or talk to. As such, they got to watch entire games and not just practices as were shown for much of the film.

Thus, while not surprising that the novel lays out more detail and enriches the storyline, there is no real wrong answer as to which is better. Both are excellent. Yet the novel, in several ways, delves a bit deeper into the actual baseball angle, with several subtle references and offering tidbits of folklore about the game. While many of these are not present in the film, studying the book gives one that “oh! NOW that makes sense!” feeling when watching the movie.

My advice: Enjoy both the book and film for the full experience of this magical story.

…and go have a catch with someone.

 

 

 

Those Little Moments

“…call it fate, call it luck, call it karma…” says Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman in the 1984 classic, Ghostbusters.

On July 25th, 2015, myself and two fellow diehard Cubs fan friends made the drive from our suburban town of Joliet to Wrigley Field for the Cubs/Phillies game. We didn’t anticipate anything special that day, just a few friends attending a ballgame like we’d all done so many times before. Little did we know that we would witness history.

It was a steamy summer Saturday and we arrived, customarily, well ahead of the 3pm first pitch to visit a few local establishments and take in the electric gameday atmosphere of Wrigleyville. On the way into the ballpark, I casually said to my friend Bill “you know what? I’m gonna do something today I haven’t done since I was about 10 years old.”

“Keep score?” Bill asked, reading my mind.

“Keep score.” I replied.

“Me too, that’s a great idea actually” he says, and we both proceeded to buy scorecards before entering the friendly confines.

We then witnessed Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels hurl a no-hitter against our beloved Cubs, cruising to a 5-0 win. It was about the only time I remember being satisfied with a loss, what with seeing a rare piece of baseball history in person. Now of course, deciding to keep score at the last second had nothing to do with the gem Hamels would toss, but it sure makes for an interesting coincidence. Why we both decided to keep a scorecard on that particular day, not for countless games prior, and not since, is worthy of a head scratch or two.

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Just another slice of the magic of baseball.

Ode to the ‘Ol Ballpark

My usual jogging route through my neighborhood takes me right up to St. Joe’s Park, the place where I, and my older brothers before me, played little league from ages 7 to 14. Today however, I decided to jog a bit further and actually go into the park itself, the first time I’ve looked at it up close in over 20 years.

Whoosh! The feeling of nostalgia and influx of memories was stronger than I anticipated. Being completely alone on a gray morning in a place where I spent so much of my youth was equally enjoyable and forlorn. Leaning up against the fence and staring out over the field where I logged countless innings that felt like ages ago, and yet not so much. If I imagined hard enough, I could actually see myself out there as a kid, hear the echoes of the old P.A. system, see the lights at old Coaches Corner, and hear the annoying, endless buzzing of the air conditioner at the concession stand. Though the park and league are still in operation (going into it’s 76th year), it’s a ghost of it’s own past – my past. This of course, was the park where:

  • At age 4, I tripped over a curb and went headlong into a fencepost, requiring stitches.
  • My 12 year old All Star team won the Zone tournament title (the hottest doubleheader in the history of earth) to advance to the Bronco World Series in Citrus Heights, California.
  • I once hit my Mom in the stands with a foul ball and still feel guilty about it to this day.
  • I threw a complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts for my team’s only regular-season victory when I was 14.
  • My teammate, Dan Markun and I each hit two homeruns in the same game and were staged to mimic the Canseco/McGwire “Bash Brothers” pose for the local newspaper photo. Beyond cheesy.
  • My second homer from the above story came on a knuckleball at the end of an extremely long at-bat, and right after the catcher promised me I was about to strike out. As I cockily walked down the first base line, I said “nice pitch man!” to the pitcher. The one and only time I ever talked trash on the field.
  • My grade school team, St. Raymond, completely dominated the entire season en route to a State Championship when I was in 8th grade. Many say the greatest team in IESA history.
  • You were a local legend if you put a home run on the roof of Bailey’s, the store in right center field, or hit one over the Greeen Monster in center. I did this twice.
  • I learned to absolutely loathe John Fogerty’s Centerfield, when it was played over the P.A. no less than 6,938 times during my 12-year old All Star season.

I often wish I would’ve viewed the game then the same way I do now…I may have played well after High School. I could go on forever blabbing this anecdotal material and perhaps I will expound upon some in a later post(s), but the essence of what I felt this morning was about the connection to the past and the fond retrospection of youth that baseball, specifically the ballpark itself, can provide. Like no other sport’s field, rink, or court of play, an old ballpark has a hauntingly charming atmosphere that should be revered. I was reminded of this today in full force.

It doesn’t have to have an altar and stained glass windows to be considered a church.

No Right For This Wrong

Last week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred denied Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement into baseball. Naturally, the decision launched much debate, with strong arguments on both sides. I for one, agree with Manfred’s call, wholeheartedly. Here’s why:

  1. The rule was not just broken, it was shattered. Rule 21 is pretty clear. Rose bet on the game both as a player and manager. Repeatedly. He then lied about it and tried to cover it up. Repatedly. He continued for many years to deny it. Repeatedly. He only officially came clean when there was a chance for money to be made (book deal, appearances, et. al.) Repeatedly.
  2. He hasn’t followed the path that now three different commissioners have laid out for him to likely earn reinstatement. He has failed, for nearly three decades, to “reconfigure his life” in a manner that shows honest remorse, or an attempt to convey honesty. He still in fact, gambles on baseball. For better or worse, he has not changed.
  3. “What about all the PED users?” you’ll hear people ask. Comparing gambling to PED users is apples to oranges. Both are evil acts, yes. But whereas a PED user, although cheating, is simply trying to improve himself to the point of winning games or breaking records, those who bet on the game have too much control over the game itself – and therein lies the danger. They can manipulate, in very subtle ways, how the game is played and thus directly affect the outcome. A PED user still must play with all the inherent natural randomization of the game itself, despite the physical enhancements the drug may provide. A gambler can de-randomize everything and change any aspect from a single pitch to an entire game. Integrity, honesty and chance are all sacrificed in the world of betting, and this is why baseball does not trust Pete Rose. He hasn’t earned it.
  4. Baseball has a richer, more ghostly history than any other sport. To go back on a ruling(s) that has sparked so much debate, would take away some of that deep folklore. Though this is purely intangibile and speculatory on my part, it’s something to consider. It’s for reasons like this that players like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver (of 1919 White Sox infamy, a topic for a later post) will likely never be reinstated. To do so would remove the tragic hero and replace him with just another great ballplayer. This may be just, but it would essentially bring the baseball ghost back to life, and lessen the forlorn tale.
  5. Rose is not the victim here. His wounds were and are, purely self-inflicted. While he was one of the all-time greats, and has Hall of Fame worthy statistics, he is not a tragic hero. His case is not an injustice. He destroyed the integrity of the game, and for 26 years since his banishment has not even attempted to redeem himself, despite clear instructions on how to do so from the baseball powers-that-be.