Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28- Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Today I find myself whisked away back to 1998. Times were certainly crazy; Hugo Chavez became the President of Venezuela, Google was founded, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski plead guilty to his crimes and pop sensation Falco, the man behind “Rock Me Amadeus,” passed away unnoticed as some guy named Frank Sinatra also passed away and ate up the headlines. In baseball, expansion brought forth two new teams: the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

It’s kind of weird to think that this hat, the Devil Rays road cap, was only used for their inaugural year. I mean, that’s hardly enough time for fans to praise or eviscerate it on message boards and various other social media sites… which didn’t really exist because it was 1998. Seriously!? The times have certainly changed indeed! Anyway, on account of their start-up, the Devil Rays weren’t expected to do much other than pull a few gems in the amateur draft and possible sign a few aging veterans. For once the analysts nailed their prediction.

Similar to the 1992 expansion draft, both expansion teams selected 35 players. The draft was divided into three rounds. Each team would select 14 players in round 1, 14 players in round 2, and 7 players in round 3. Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar and Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola, Jr. oversaw their teams' selections.
The Devil Rays and Diamondbacks could pick any player not on the protected lists of the 28 other teams, although no team could lose more than one player in a given round. The protected list for each team consisted of:
  • For the first round, 15 players from the rosters of their entire organization—both their 40-man roster, plus all minor league affiliates.
  • Each team could add three more players to its protected list after each round.
  • In addition to the above, players chosen in the 1996 and 1997 amateur drafts were automatically protected, plus players who were 18 or younger when signed in 1995.
  • Players who were free agents after the end of the 1997 season need not be protected.
As with the 1992 expansion draft, the order was determined by a coin toss. The winner of the toss could choose either: (a) The first overall pick in the expansion draft or (b) allow the other team to pick first and receive both the second and third overall expansion draft picks and the right to pick first in the subsequent rounds of the expansion draft. Tampa Bay won the toss and chose to select first. Easy stuff, really.

A few notables from the draft for the Devil Rays include: Randy Winn, Miguel Cairo, Dmitri Young, Bubba Trammell, Quinton McCracken (amazing baseball name), Esteban Yan and Bobby Abreu who ended up getting traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker. Who!?!? Exactly.
Now, as I mentioned above, the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks were also allowed to sign free agents. The Dbacks elected to sign Jay Bell to a five-year $34 million contract, while the Devil Rays rolled the dice on the two guys who I decided to mark my hat with.

#12- As a baseball fan, this move always made me feel a bit weird inside. Wade Boggs started his career (1982-1992) out with the Boston Red Sox and dominated the league as an offensive threat at third base. Boggs then moved on to the New York Yankees (1993-1997) where he won his one and only World Series ring in 1996, the first the Yankees had won in 18 years. So, when Boggs signed with the Devil Rays in the twilight of his career it gave me an uncomfortable feeling; like Boggs was meant to go out with one of the two most historic teams in MLB history, not some starter project. But, upon doing some research, it turns out that Boggs graduated high school in the Tampa area and wanted to go home to retire. Boy, did I feel like a selfish ass. But you know you did too! Boggs made his debut with the Devil Rays on March 31 and hit the first home run in the franchise’s history in the sixth inning of their inaugural game. The other significant moment in Boggs’s history with the Devil Rays came on August 7, 1999. While I realize this moment came while he was wearing a different hat, I decided made a slight exclusion. To get the full effect I have to go back to Day 1 of the MLB Fan Cave Top 30 audition in Arizona last year.

After our elevator pitch to the executives it was time to play some Baseball IQ. Earlier in the day we had met up with Matt Vasgersian and Eric Byrnes outside one of the executive board rooms at Chase Field. I was beyond stoked to reconnect with Eric Byrnes after a 12-year gap, while Vasgersian gave me the, “what the hell is up with this guy?” look. Throughout Cave Dweller applicant introductions in the morning I was hit up by 10 of the others as they were trying to recruit me for their trivia team. I was polite and said yes to everyone, even though I knew in advance that were going to be assigned to teams. To make a long story short; my team, which consisted of Toronto Blue Jays fan Dave Barclay and Minnesota Twins fan Lindsay Guentzel, were sitting in the peanut gallery waiting for our turn to dominate. Every time a team missed a question I writhed around, wanting to blurt out the answers. Vasgersian, toying with me, finally asked me the right answer to a question miss by the two teams competing. The question was, “Derek Jeter became only the second person in MLB history to record their 3000th hit off of a home run. Who was the first?” After both teams missed, Vasgersian looked at me and said, “Unabomber! What’s the answer?” After everyone stopped laughing, including myself, I blurted out Wade Boggs’s name. For the rest of the trivia showdown Vasgersian and I bounced jokes and answers off of one another. And yes, our team, aptly named the “Una-lovers,” took home the gold.

Boggs was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. His accolades include 12 All-Star Game appearances, two Gold Gloves, eight Silver Slugger awards and five batting titles, all of which came with the Red Sox. Oh, and he got knocked out by Barney Gumble in Moe’s Tavern. Right around this area…

Which is really funny because this bar, Max’s Tavern, is the real life Moe’s Tavern from the Simpsons. In which you should always remember; Pitt the Elder is not Norway’s greatest Prime Minister.

#29- Another native of Tampa, Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff was purchased from the Atlanta Braves at the end of the 1997 season. Unfortunately for McGriff, his last moment as a Brave was the horrendous strikeout call by home plate umpire Eric Gregg against the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series. Here you are…

From 1998-2001 and then again in 2004 McGriff donned the Devil Ray black and grey, black and purple and grey, green and white, green and white and grey… you get the idea. They changed their uniforms a lot. What’s rather amusing about McGriff’s time in Tampa is that, like Boggs, it didn’t really seem like the right fit; especially to anyone who grew up watching McGriff on TBS: The Superstation. However, McGriff’s time with the Devil Rays proved to be a great move for his career. In the 577 games he suited up for them he hit .291 with 99 home runs, 359 RBI and 603 total hits. All of those numbers, except the home runs, were better than his first five years in the League when he was with the Blue Jays. McGriff made five All-Star game appearances, none of which came in Tampa; which is just wrong because the second best year of his career came in 1999 when he hit .310/32/104. Sadly, McGriff will more than likely not make the Hall of Fame with his 2490 hits, 493 home runs and one World Series ring with the Braves from 1995, but at least he can help your kids become future Hall of Famers.

He gets results.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27- Houston Astros

I had previously owned this Houston Astros cap from 2000-2001 when I was living in Vancouver, Washington and wore it quite often when I went to work at Just Sports at the Vancouver Mall. Since our polo shirts were navy blue it made for a good match along with the khaki shorts or pants I was wearing, depending on which season it was. One night in January of 2001 I was riding the bus back home as I never had a car until I was 19-years-old. I was tuned into my portable CD player and lingering in between a state of consciousness and a light slumber when the bus made a sharp turn to the right onto 92nd street where my stop was. Due to my state of slight confusion, I quickly hit the stop button and grabbed my backpack. I hopped off and made it about two blocks in the rain before I realized that my head and face were not being protected by the familiar bill that usually kept me dry. I had left the hat on the bus. Pissed off doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. It would be 10 years before I bought a replacement.

I ended up finding this hat brand new on Ebay for about $10 in August of 2011. Every now-and-then I find a few gems there, but I became incredibly hesitant after I got burned by some kid in the Bay Area selling a “brand new” San Francisco Giants cap for $15. If by “brand new” he meant wore it for three years without taking off the tags, then yes. When the Astros cap came in the mail I immediately went to and filtered through an array of stats and stories, until inevitably falling on 5714, the number of strikeouts that Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had throughout his Major League career.

It seemed to make sense to me at the time, but I never really had a good reason for doing it, especially considering that I owned a few New York Mets, California Angels and Texas Rangers hats which would have made just as much sense. I don’t know. Something in my gut just told me to throw that number on the hat, which for me is weird when considering how analytical I am when it comes to marking my hats. Historically it would have made sense to add that number to a 1986-1993 Rangers hat, since he did hit that mark, retire with and go into the Hall of Fame with that hat, or even the 1972-1989 Angels hat since he did tally the most strikeouts of his career with them. But no, I opted to roll with the 1965-1970/1980-1993 Astros hat.

So far I’ve done this post way different than the others. I usually start out with the history of the hat and end with my mark, but you’ll see why at the end. The Astros did in fact use this hat from 1965-1970 and then again from 1980-1993. From 1980-1981 it serves as the team’s road cap, before they transitioned it into the “alternate home” and road cap in 1982, which then became just their game cap by 1983. When it comes to hats and uniform combinations, very few teams have been weirder about this than the Astros. Ryan’s tenure with the team started in 1980 and ended in 1988 when he finished out his career with the Rangers. Prior to the Astros he played with the Angels from 1972-1979 and before that he played with the Mets from 1966-1971. So if you’re keeping score at home it looks something like this: 9 years with the Astros, 8 years with the Angels, 5 years with the Mets and 5 years with the Rangers.

Ryan only won one World Series throughout his 27 year career which came in 1969 with the Miracle Mets. Outside of that, he had 493 strikeouts and was merely a blip on the radar during his time in New York. When he got to California with the Angels his reputation came to light. Throughout his eight year run Ryan went 138-121 with a 3.07 ERA and a staggering 2416 strikeouts, the most with any team he played for. He also threw four no-hitters during that frame, which tied him for the most with Sandy Koufax at the time. No big deal; he was just getting warmed up.

During Ryan’s stretch with the Astros he went 106-94, which gave him a win percentage of .530, only three thousandths of a percentage behind his Angels wins percentage. He struck out 1866 batters, but he did post the two lowest seasonal ERAs of his career in Houston: 1.69 in 1981 and 2.76 in 1987, as well as one no-hitter with the ‘Stros on September 26, 1981… while wearing the orange cap. See!

His time with the Rangers went incredibly well. As you saw in the photo above, he threw two more no-nos and he went 51-39 with 939 strikeouts putting his strikeouts per nine innings at 10.1, the highest of his career. Six years after he was retired he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and perma-plaqued with a Rangers cap, something that I have questioned since Induction Day. Obviously his beast statistical years came with the Angels, not to mention he only won a championship with the Mets. Somehow in 27 years he NEVER won a Cy Young award; the closest he came was runner-up to Jim Palmer in 1973 despite the fact that Ryan struck 383 batters out. Palmer only struck out 158. Daaaaaammmnnnn!!! Ryan led the League in strikeouts 11 times: 7 with the Angels and 2 each with the Rangers and Astros. I realize that Ryan is a Texas boy and got to choose how he went into the Hall, but the powers that be really should have put the kibosh on that one. So glad they changed that rule!

But even with all of these facts and figures, the mystery of why I chose this hat to mark the 5714 on the front panel was still a mystery… until I went to the Hall of Fame. I’ve only been there once, back on August 1, 2012 with my friend Dave Kaufman. With the exception of a few photos of the plaques, I never really did much investigative work about what the Hall had to offer. I wanted to be surprised when I got there. And needless to say I was when Dave and I came across this display.

Not until today did I ever give much thought to it. This whole number investigation and explanation didn’t start until I picked the hat for today’s post. I honestly don’t even remember why I took a photo of this pane, but there it is; the hat with the 5714 strikeout caption below it. A hat which had no real significance on any special occasion for Ryan.

Weird things like this have happened throughout my life. I’ll think about something or get a strong feeling about whatever and it will pop up at some point in time down the road. This sort of “psychic” intuition always proved useful when I would think about a particular episode of The Simpsons and sure enough it would be on later that night. I realize that there is no real way for me to prove that I’m not pulling your leg… or is there?

I went back through all of the photos I’ve taken over the last year on the Samsung Galaxy Note I got while I was in the MLB Fan Cave, as well as a few photo albums on my computer to prove that I’m not full of crap and didn’t just make up an elaborate story.

This photo should all be familiar to you as it serves as the background for my blog. I took it on May 26, 2012, about three days before I got kicked out of the Fan Cave. I realize it’s hard to see, but the numbers are on the hat.

Here’s a close-up of that image.

Still not convinced? How about this photo?

This was taken on October 12, 2011, well before the Fan Cave and well before my hat collection ballooned to the number that it is now.

Sooooooooo… in your face! But like I said, it’s all weird.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26- Milwaukee Brewers

It’s blast from the past time!!! I guess I should be clearer on that. This hat actually is a blast from the past. What? Break it down even more? Ok. So what I mean by all of this is that this particular Milwaukee Brewers hat has been in my possession for a little over 14 years. Funny story actually: During spring break of my sophomore year of high school I ventured up to Vancouver, Washington to visit my mother who I hadn’t seen since Christmas. Blah, blah, blah family stuff… so at the tail end of my trip we went over to the Vancouver Mall to poke around. There was a particular store I developed a fondness for called Just Sports which had quite the array of Cooperstown Collection hats. I dug around a bit and picked three (this one, 1969-1991 Montreal Expos and the 1970-1991 Philadelphia Phillies) of them up, as they were only $22.99 a piece back in those days. A day later, I flew back to Bakersfield, California as class was starting back up. Wait… I forgot the funny part. Two years later I was working in that store when I moved up to Vancouver right before my senior year of high school. So yah, 14 years of owning this cap, and look how immaculate it still looks on this inside. LOOK AT IT!!!

I take care of my hats.

The Brewers rocked this cap from 1978-1985 for all of their road games to pair with their sweet powder blue uniforms. 1978 was also the same time when the Brewers introduced the “MB” mitt logo, which is arguably one of the greatest logos in sports, let alone advertising history. But, like all great things, it faded into the night as the Brewers opted to keep the all royal blue style as their game cap. I don’t like to point fingers (Bud Selig), but I’m pretty sure that someone (Bud Selig) within the Brewers organization (Bud Selig) is responsible for this unfortunate act. It’s probably not one person (Bud Selig), rather a conscientious decision made by everyone in the front office (Bud Selig acted alone).

Throughout that seven year time frame the Brewers only tasted the Promise Land once in 1982 when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The year had actually started off rather poorly as then manager Buck Rogers was fired after going 23-24 in the first 47 games. The Brewers replaced him with Harvey Kuenn who finished off the season going 72-43, helping the franchise win their only League Pennant and helping him with the AL Manager of the Year award. Kuenn only managed the team for one additional year as he was fired at the end of the ’83 season despite finishing 87-75; yet another poor decision by someone in the front office (Bud Selig). He managed three total years in Major League Baseball (one game in 1975, 1982-1983), all of which came with the Brewers. Kuenn suffered a grocery list of health-related issues throughout his life, including having his right leg amputated just below the knee in 1980 after a blood clot developed. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 57, and despite his short run, he is still one of the greatest, if not THE greatest manager in the franchise’s history.

For my marks, there really aren’t two guys more worthy than the key members of Harvey’s Wallbangers, let alone the only two guys to go into the Hall of Fame as Brewers.

#19- 14 years ago I didn’t care too much about numerical order. Actually, 14 years ago I only had this number on the hat. Robin Yount was not only a lifer with the Brewers (1974-1993), he’s by far one of the greatest hitting shortstops in the history of the game. He cleaned house with a .285 average and 3142 career hits. He, his blonde curls and his porn stache won two AL MVPs in 1982 and 1989, but they only flaunted the stage at in the Midsummer Classic three times (1980, 1982-83), which totally blows my mind. Not even the second year he won the MVP did he make the All-Star team. What!? I’m not really sure why, but I remember Yount being a stellar shortstop, but apparently only winning one Gold Glove in 1982 disproves that theory.

#4- I didn’t add this sucker on until this last year when I was in New York for the Fan Cave. Paul Molitor is probably the greatest quiet hitter in the history of the game. By that I mean he had 3319 career hits, a .306 lifetime average, but he never won any major hardware in the process with the exception on a few Silver Slugger awards in 1987-88, 1993 and 1996. He won one World Series ring with the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays and finished in second place for the Rookie of the Year award in 1978 to Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers. His best finish in the MVP voting came in 1993 when he finished in second behind Frank Thomas.

I realize I didn’t give as detailed of a story behind both of these guys compared to any of the other hats/players I’ve written about, but there really isn’t a whole lot to say. The Brewers were never really talked about on the West Coast, and realistically I only grew up with these guys via Topps and Donruss baseball cards. Kind of sad actually, as they may be the only two Hall of Famers the franchise will ever have for decades to come.

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25- California Angels

I realize tonight that I’m stepping over into the Dark Side with my hat of choice, but I think it’s fair to say that you should all expect to see it happen quite a few more times throughout the year. What can I say? I have a lot of Angels hats. It’s not my fault. Take it up with the organization for changing things so often.

Back in July of 2011 I picked this guy up off of one of my favorite hat Web sites If you haven’t been, give it a look. It’s by far the premier place to pick up old school hats made to the exact specifications of when they were originally made. Since I was picking up at least one of every team I had my sights set on this particular California Angels hat for well over a decade. The Angels wore it from 1972-1992 (1990-1992 featured a wider version of the logo) and it is still hands down my favorite hat they ever wore. There’s something about the simplicity of the straight-barred “A” with the little halo about that makes it incredibly alluring. To be honest, I think a lot of it also has to do with the nostalgia that comes with those particular uniforms being worn in the “Naked Gun” as well.

Despite my obvious ties to the Oakland Athletics, I always had a soft spot for our division rivals. I blame a little bit of it on RBI Baseball on the old school Nintendo, but most of it has to do with two particular guys who are still, in my opinion, faces of the franchise; but I’ll get to that in a minute. The order I had placed with Mickey’s Place for this hat was the first one I had done. Unlike Lids, I couldn’t just walk back into the store and swap it for something else or return it. Mickey’s Place is a shop based out of Cooperstown, New York and sits about two blocks away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. If the hat didn’t fit, I was pretty much screwed. On July 24th it arrived, along with a Chicago White Sox and a Houston Colt .45s hat, both of which I’ll be writing about in the future. I took the box into the bathroom and tried all of my acquisitions on. Thankfully they fit perfectly. Without much question I took them back in to my room, grabbed a silver Sharpie marker and tagged it immediately with two of my childhood heroes.

#21- If you recall my post from Salt Lake City Bees post on January 28, you’d know that I was raised in a Mormon household. My faith has always been prevalent in my life, but I don’t speak about it often unless Mormons somehow come up in a conversation. Throughout my life I was always teased about it. Even now I always seem to find myself around people who like to bash or poke fun at Mo-Mos. I will admit that what Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done in regard to the Mormons is quite hilarious, but I’ve never understood why people would hate on a group of people that love their God, love their family and love to share their faith. I’m not one to press my views or my faith on others, even though I feel like I’m doing that a little bit now, but I do like to openly discuss it with anyone who has any allusions about say: the planet thing, the magic underwear thing, the temple thing, etc. Anyway, there weren’t exactly a lot of people within the church to look up to as a kid, but there was one particular dude who made me proud to be Mormon, Wally Joyner. Wally really didn’t look like much of a baseball player when I go back and look at his photos and baseball cards, but man could that cat play ball.

He was drafted in the third round out of BYU in the 1983 amateur draft and made his Major League debut in 1986. That year he finished in second place in the Rookie of the Year voting, hitting .290/22/100, and getting edged by 12 points by some no-namer who goes by Jose Canseco. He finished eighth in the MVP vote and made his only All-Star game appearance of his career that season. He played a total of seven years with the Angels, the first six coming from 1986-1991 and the last in his final year in 2001. Throughout his Angels career he went .286/117/532, while his only trip to the World Series came with the 1998 San Diego Padres. He always looked like he could be Matthew Broderick’s brother, especially after the first time I saw “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” What’s even funnier about that is that he actually did have a few roles in some Latter-Day Saint produced movies called “The Singles Ward,” “The RM,” “The Home Teachers” and “The Singles 2nd Ward.” In both “Singles Ward” films he played Brother Angel, and coincidentally my uncles were in the first three films I listed. Wally Joyner, a great ball player and a heck of a Mormon.

#25- From 1989-1999 there was no one in Major League Baseball that I idolized or was inspired by more than Jim Abbott.

I feel bad for any young baseball fan who never had an opportunity to see him pitch for the mere sake that every time he stepped on the mound he defied the odds. For those who don’t know, Abbott was born without his right hand. Yah! But to put things into a better perspective of how talented he was throughout his career, he was the eighth overall pick in the 1988 amateur draft out of the University of Michigan. The dude is a legend right off the bat. Abbott played for the Angels from 1989-1992 and then again from 1995-1996. He played above average in his first two seasons, but his third season was clearly his best. In 1991 Abbott went 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA and 158 strikeouts. Need I remind you, dude pal only had one hand. He finished third in the Cy Young award voting, losing to Roger Clemens who had borderline equal numbers (18-10 and 2.62 ERA) with the exception of 241 strikeouts. But it was with the New York Yankees that Abbott will mostly be remembered. On September 13, 1993 Abbott tossed a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. As a 10-year-old I recall watching the game from start to finish, applauding in my living room after the final out was made.It's still one of the few games that I will go back and watch over-and-over on You Tube.

Only one time in my life was I ever lucky enough to see him pitch in person, which came in 1990 when my dad and stepmom scored a suite through their work (PG&E). Despite being seven-years-old with a wide assortment of food all around me, I made sure to stay focused every time it was the Angels' turn to play defense. Throughout my Little League days my friends and I would try to mimic Abbott’s glove transfer when we threw. To us, it was mind-boggling to watch him throw, put his glove on and snag the occasional ball shooting right back at him.

I know I have a bit of a “against the grain” attitude about a lot of things in my life, but I can’t help but be a big softy when I reflect back on Wally and Abbott. They were both upstanding human beings within the community, and both played the game a high level of grace. Kudos to you gentleman.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 24- Kansas City Royals

It’s so good to be back home, back to the familiar. But mostly it’s great to be back with my large assortment of hats. I realize that being so attached to a material possession is probably not a good sign, but they give me a feeling of comfort at the start and end of all of my days. It’s the same for anyone who collects anything really: coins, baseball cards, Hot Wheels cars, or even severed heads. Wait, what!? Sorry. But you get what I’m saying.

Last night was interesting to say the least. I started this blog as sort of a personal mission to not only educate everyone about something that’s important to me, as well as help keep me in a better habit of writing every single day. Not only was I able to talk about a hat, I was also able to tell a detailed story about someone very important to me. Granted, I could have made the tale much longer, but I didn’t want to bore anyone. That is another challenge of this journey, let alone for any writer; keeping the audience coming back and growing. My viewership has jumped significantly this month. At the end of January I was averaging a little over 100 viewers a day. Now I’m bringing in around 150 a day. Something I am truly thankful for from all of you.

So with that, it’s back to business.

I’m not the biggest fan of taking the bus, but when you’re left with little to no choice, the idea sounds much better than walking 110 miles back to your house. My parents bummed me $50 and I was able to snag a ticket for $18. Luckily it was at night, so I didn’t have to worry about being chatted up too much by a random stranger with something hanging out of their nose. I propped my head against the window and kung fu gripped my computer just in case. After two and a half hours I was back on Eugene soil, with my friend Jared Clark waiting to pick me up. My original plan was to head straight home and crash, but I couldn’t forget to do my post tonight. Instead, I had him take me home to grab a new hat and then drive me on down to the library to crank this sucker out.

I picked this cap up some time in April after we got our first stipend check for our “work” at the MLB Fan Cave. My first order of business was going across the street to pick up all the hats I salivated over at the New Era Flagship shop across the street, as well as raiding the Lids Web site for a few hats I had my eye on for a few months. This was not one of those hats in the purge… sort of. Anytime I bought hats through the Lids Web site I always had them delivered to the shop three blocks away from the Fan Cave because it was free. When I went in for my first shipment I saw this guy kicking it at the top of the rack. I shuffled through all of the 7 3/8s and pulled at the one the fit the lowest to my head. I was such a happy kid when I left with me large box, but so overprotective on the trek back. There was no way I was letting any dubious roughians get there mitts on my wares.

Anyway, the Kansas City Royals wore this cap from 2002-2005, and it was also the hat used by a Bakersfield club team when I was growing up called the Kern County Royals. Clever. 2002 and 2005 were very interesting years for the Royals organization as five managers shuffled through in just those two years alone. Tony Muser, John Mizerock and Tony Pena in 2002. Tony Pena, Bob Schaefer and Buddy Bell in 2005. During that stretch the Royals only finished with less than 100 losses once in 2003 when they went 83-79 to finish in third place in the American League Central during Tony Pena’s first full year at the helm. Despite the rough outings, the Royals had a few bright spots in those years in the form of a few up-and-coming stars, as well as a few guys giving it their last hurrah.

#4- Here’s a name that will take you back, Angel Berroa! He was originally an amateur signed by the Oakland Athletics in 1997, but didn’t make his MLB debut until 2001 with the Royals. In his first two seasons Berroa played a total of 35 games, but it was in 2003 where he made his mark. The Royals have only had four Rookie of the Year award winners in their history dating back to 1969: Lou Pinella (1969), Bob Hamelin (1994), Carlos Beltran (1999) and Berroa in 2003. In 2003 Berroa had his only truly notable year on record by going .287/17/73 and 21 stolen bases in 158 games at shortstop. It should be noted that Berroa beat out Hideki Matsui and Mark Teixeira for the award that year.

#11- With four World Series rings under his belt, Chuck Knoblauch ended his career in 2002 after playing only one season with the Royals. Despite being a career second baseman Knoblauch filled in throughout the outfield and as the team’s designated hitter in 80 games going .210/6/22. I was 19 at the time and for some reason this always seemed really weird to me. I had witnessed all four of Knoblauch’s World Series victories, and couldn’t understand why or how he ended up in Kansas City. The thing that I will always be grateful to him for is that he always got my streak started in’s Beat the Streak. My longest record is a modest 12, but Knobby was the guy who started it all for me. Thanks Chuck!

#29- 2002-2005 was an especially baller time period for Mr. Royal himself Mike Sweeney. Talk about a guy who never really got his due, but went out every day and played his guts out; Sweeney became a household name at the start of the 2000 season when he made his first of four consecutive All-Star game appearances, but 2002 was one of the best seasons he ever had. 2000 was hands down his best offensive production year on record; however, in 2002 Sweeney had his best average of his career when hit .340 in 126 games. Now, he hit .333 in 2000 with 159 games under his belt, but hey; I’m the writer here. Sweeney tagged 24 homer runs and knocked in 86 runs in the process, giving him a respectable 20th place spot in the American League MVP voting.

Yup! Those were some unfortunately mediocre years for the Royals, but it’s always good to look on the bright side of things.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23- Florida Marlins

Today has been one of those days that I never wish to have occur again. If you didn’t read my post from last night: 1. Shame on you. 2. I’ll quickly brief you…

My girlfriend Angie Kinderman and I were driving to Portland after the University of Oregon baseball home opener in Eugene. Angie had a flight to catch back to Miami this morning so we decided to head up later last night to crash at my parents’ house. The drive is roughly 110 miles, but we only made it just a little past Salem before more car decided to seize up. We got the car towed to my parents’ house and we fell asleep.

This morning we woke up a little later than we planned, mostly because neither of us wanted to get out of bed knowing that it would be the last time we share that space for a while. Since my car was out of the question I had to come up with an alternate mode of transportation to get here there on time. I called up a cab and we got a ride to the MAX light rail. Not only did it take us there for cheap, it also gave us an extra hour to hold each other and sob (I held it in for as along as I could). We arrived with about an hour and 15 minutes to spare, but the line for security was rather ridiculous so Angie had to get on her way. We kissed and said our “I love yous” and then she disappeared. My heart sank as I trekked back to the MAX. The woes of my day were just getting started however.

Somehow in a little less than two months I had completely pissed away all $3000 of the grant and financial aid I had gotten in early January. I didn’t quite realize it until I stopped at the bank to double check my account to see if I had enough to get my car fixed. Hell, I didn’t even have enough to catch a bus back to my parents’ house in the West Hills of Portland. After a 3 mile hike uphill in the rain I made it back and collapsed on my bed. The unanswered questions of the last year immediately raced through my head: Why didn’t I save any of my Fan Cave money? Why didn’t I fall in line to have stayed longer in New York? Why did I do this to myself? After talking to my parents about my options my mom chimed in, asking what I was going to write about for my blog post in an attempt to get my mind off of things for a bit. My eyes widened and I snapped at her, “What post!? I don’t even have a hat with me to write about!” That was the moment when I really hit bottom. I’m definitely the kind of guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, but I’m usually not that bad. Needing to get away from things for a bit I decided to retreat back into my room and scan through the photos from my post-Fan Cave MLB road trip to see if I could find something to cheer me up. I finally got to the middle of September when the light turned on.

Angie and I had been talking regularly on Twitter since I had first moved to New York for the Fan Cave. As a Twins fan she gave me a lot of smack talk, which I always enjoy, but never did I think we were going to meet. For starters, I never thought that I would have been one of the first two eliminated from the Fan Cave, so the thought of meeting her during the 2012 season seemed out of the question. That plan kind of blew up in my face. So, we continued to chat as I traveled around. Based on the way the schedules were set up this last season I always did my best to visit a state when every team had a home stand ending around the time the other team(s) was/were just starting one. In the case of Florida those opportunities were few and far between. I had spotted a brief time frame in which the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins were both going to be around, but I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to pull it off. Back in early August I had kind of blown it off because I didn’t think I was going to have the time to go to Florida and then make it back west to catch games in Houston and Arlington. It wasn’t until I was leaving Pittsburgh, headed for Detroit, that I got convinced to come out, but it wasn’t by Angie (sorry sweetie).  

Collin Balester had been playing in Toledo for the Mud Hens since June after he got designated for assignment by the Detroit Tigers. Collin and I had met in the Fan Cave during the filming of the Miguel Cabrera “Miggy Poco” sketch, but during the time I wasn’t filming Collin, Gar Ryness (Batting Stance Guy) and I got real chatty (mostly about beards).

After the three of them left Collin and I began chatting back and forth regularly on Twitter and developed a bit of a friendship. After he got sent down I was absolutely crushed. It’s one thing when you see a player have that happen to them; it’s a whole other reality when you know the guy. I never knew what to say other than, “I’m sorry,” but I never knew the right way to say it; something I felt really bad about after he had hit me up after my elimination for the Fan Cave to say that he was sorry. When my train left from Pittsburgh we had a brief stop in Toledo to switch over to a bus for the rest of the journey to Detroit. Some time after 1 AM is about the time I had realized where I was going and decided to send him a DM to let him know I’d be nearby. What I wasn’t counting on was that the AAA season had ended the previous day and he had gone home for the year. Collin grew up in Hunting Beach, CA, so I had assumed he went back there. As it turned out he and his family had actually moved to the Tampa area. Some time over the next few days we continued our conversation, which eventually led to him asking if I was going out to Tampa on my trip. Without hesitation I responded back with, “I’m still thinking about it.” His response was something on the lines of, “You should.” Needless to say, when an MLB player asks if you’re going to come out to his home turf, you get your ass there. Around the time all of this was going down I had told Angie that I would be rolling out to Miami and asked if she would want to go to a Marlins game with me. She responded… three days later… with a yes, and she also mentioned that I could crash on her couch.

On September 18 I landed in Tampa and rented a car with about an hour and a half to spare before the Rays played the Boston Red Sox. Collin went out of his way to be a really awesome guy and was able to snag tickets for him, his father-in-law and me. But this story will have to wait for another post.

On September 19 I drove to Fort Lauderdale to meet Angie. I was a bit nervous, as I always am when I met new ladies. We met at her apartment and exchanged hugs and “glad to finally meet yous” and I then boldly asked if I could use her shower. No, this wasn’t a pickup line. If you’ve never been to Florida, you should be aware that it is a very humid state, especially in September. After driving for four hours I was extremely sweaty and feeling like a bucket of yuck. Her being a cool Midwesterner, responded with, “Sure! No problem.” After the shower we both got ready for the game. She got all decked out in some Miami Marlins gear, while I opted for the classic Florida Marlins look. We spent the whole time talking about our lives, getting to know one another better on the way to the ballpark. She was even kind enough to point out the bridge where the dude on bath salts ate the other dude’s face.

We arrived at the stadium about 45 minutes before the gates opened so we grabbed a few beers and walked around, continuing to be a bunch of chatty Kathys. When we got inside the only time we were apart was when one of us went on a beer run. We walked over and checked out the Bobblehead Museum…

The “2001: A Space Odyssey”-looking monolith out in center field (shark sighting!)…

And we even got a batting practice home run ball from an usher hit by Chipper Jones.

The Marlins were playing the Atlanta Braves, which also happened to be the last night Chipper was playing his last game in Miami. About three innings into the game I remembered that I hadn’t marked up my hat, so I pulled out my phone and looked up a few numbers to scribble on. The hat was only used for two years (1993-94), something that I always felt was a bit premature since it's a pretty sweet cap. At the time I wasn't thinking about that, I was merely trying to be clever, and ended up marking it up more personally, rather than historically. Angie then took over my camera to get a shot of me at work.

#25- I had the chance to meet and chat with Al Leiter within the first weeks I was in New York for the Fan Cave. To kick off the 2012 MLB season Leiter, Sean Casey and Kevin Millar did the ceremonial lighting of the Empire State Building because of their work on MLB Network. We got to hang back, watch and take a few photos before we headed up to the top of the floor. It was pretty wild. We got a special tour of the celebrity wing and even bypassed all of the lines because we were special or something. Now, I really hate heights, so I wasn’t exactly having the greatest of times, but I held tough and got through it. When we were headed back down Leiter and his family met up with us in the celebrity wing, where he could tell I was physically uncomfortable. He asked what was wrong and I explained that I was afraid of heights. He then asked if it was all tall buildings or just this one. I then went on to explain that it has mostly to do with being at the tallest point of anything, as in I get uncomfortable when there isn’t another building near me that’s taller than the point I’m at. The two of went on about this and broke down every angle for a solid five minutes, completely forgetting about everyone else in the room. Sweet dude. Anyway, I added him on this hat for that reason, but more importantly for his years with the Marlins from 1996-1997 where he won his third World Series ring (the first two were with the Toronto Blue Jays).

#30- I really should have added #15, but decided to go my own route on this one because of the fact that Cliff Floyd did in fact change his number despite winning a World Series ring with the Marlins in 1997. I mean, it’s not a common thing for a guy to change his number after winning a championship unless they’re traded to another team or something. From ’97-’99 Floyd rocked #15, but from 2000-2002 he donned the #30. It kind of paid off too as he went .317/18/103 in 2001 and made his one and only All-Star team on top of finishing 22nd in the National League MVP voting.

In retrospect I probably should had added #34, Bryan Harvey, as well. Harvey saved 45 games for the Marlins in their inaugural season and was pretty much the only redeeming quality of that season.

After I marked up my cap Angie asked me why I do that, so I gave her the full elaborate story. She listened intently, something I found totally irresistible about her because I don’t know of any other girl who would. We drank more beers and the Braves dominated the Marlins, but that was the least of our worries. Our conversations went on and on, and we finally made our way to The Clevelander, the bar behind the left field wall, for more boozery.

One of the gems about this place is that they have nude women in body paint dancing on a stage next to a pool. We of course commented on this heavily in between sips of our $11 Bud Lights and our long gazes into each other’s eyes. I’m still not sure why it took so long; perhaps it was the dancers on stage, but I finally leaned in and gave her a smooch. Our chattiness soon died on account of our lips being connected for what seemed like an eternity in drunk time, but what was probably only like 36 seconds in sober time.

I’ll spare you all the rest of the details of the night, but if there’s one guy I have to tip my cap to for inadvertently making it happen, it’s Collin “raddest dude on the planet” Balester. Thank you!

February 22 (late)- Baltimore Orioles

Back on January 3 I had written about a hat very similar to this in lieu of the University of Oregon Ducks taking down the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl. After the vicious drubbing the Ducks gave the Wildcats I was hoping this version of a custom 1901 Baltimore Orioles cap would give the Duck baseball team the same luck for their home opener against the Loyola-Marymount Lions. Even with my girlfriend Angie Kinderman in attendance with me, luck was certainly not on our side.

I’ve made it a habit not to mark up my custom hats as they are than until itself, customs. No team ever really wore the hat, but based on the color and logo scheme one can draw their own conclusions from it. I saw this hat about three days after I had received the original black panel, yellow “O” and green bill hat thinking the same thing as when I purchased the first, “This hat is awesome!” I had it sitting with the rest of my hoard for the last month and a half, all the while waiting for today to roll around. Going into tonight’s game the Ducks were ranked fifth in the AP poll, their highest in team history. Not too bad after rejoining the PAC-10/12 in 2008 after a long hiatus. Rain had been pouring all day long, but the Oregon Baseball Twitter account assured everyone that the game was still on. Angie and I stopped for a beer at Max’s Tavern and headed on our way to PK Park.

It was especially cold tonight, but not freezing. The rain was still coming down at a light drizzle as we entered the park. The grounds crew was removing the tarp the covered the pitchers mound; oddly enough the only spot of real dirt on the field. The national anthem was just getting underway as we headed down to our seats. It was around this time that the rain miraculously stopped; not showing itself again until after the game. The game started out fine, but not exactly in an utmost favorable way for Oregon. At the end of the first two innings the Ducks had left six runners stranded while Jake Reed, the starting pitcher, did what he could to keep the Lions at bay. Angie and I bundled up with one another, trying to keep warm. As the game progressed the Lions drew first blood in the fourth, and then tagged on four more runs in the fifth. Despite the Ducks’ best effort, they lost to the Lions 7-2.

This was not how I imagined my last night with Angie would go after the wonderful week I spent with her, but this was the least of my worries. We got in the car and headed north to my parents’ house in Portland to crash for the night so I could get her to her plane which heads back to Miami at noon on Saturday. Angie had done her best to keep things together, but I could see teardrops falling from her eyes as I drove into the wet night. I tried to come up with something, but I was still stewing about a recent blog post from 3UP 3DOWN, a group of friends of mine I had made over the last year based on our MLB Fan Cave applications. I asked he about the situation: They had written a draft style post about all 30 of the new batting practice hats, something I was about to do starting on Monday one at a time. My issue with this merely came in the form that all of them have been aware of my hat a day post and they wrote it and sent it to me without asking if I was going to write about any of them. I realize that I don’t own the market on talking about New Era hats; however, if someone you know, who is vying for a prestigious position you held the previous year with Major League Baseball, writes about a similar topic and then says that they were merely trying to “compliment” what you’ve done without consultation, wouldn’t you be a bit stewed about it? Angie and I looked at every angle of this problem, all the while trying to keep the focus off of our impending separation.

We got to about the halfway point, Salem, when I noticed that my car was losing velocity. I quickly down shifted and moved off of the freeway to a safe area. I got to about ¾ of the way up the off ramp when my car keeled out. We were stuck. I got on the horn to AAA, got a tow truck out and the guy at the wheel checked things out. After trying to turn the car over we both came to the conclusion that my timing belt had snapped. The feeling of absolute failure had washed over me. He hooked up the car while Angie and I waited in the truck. He hopped back in and we headed back on our way to Portland. I stared out the window, thoughtless and stroking Angie’s hand, for about 10 miles before the silence was broken by the driver. We chatted about the car for a moment and then the conversation somehow shifted to where we were from. He had mentioned he was from the West Bay while I said I was from the East. I then made a remark about his San Francisco Giants hat and the conversation carried on amongst all three of us from there. All the worry and stress slipped away over the next 35 miles.

Baseball, I’ve found, unites people. It doesn’t matter if you’re rivals or comrades, the mere love of the game can turn the worst of situations into a positive. Without baseball I wouldn’t have met Angie last September. Without baseball I wouldn’t have met my friends. Without baseball I really wouldn’t be the person I am today. I’ll get over my differences with my friends, because that is what they are, my friends. Differences may break out, but I’ll find a way to come to a resolution after a good night’s sleep. In the morning I’ll bid Angie a safe flight, but not a goodbye, as we’ll see each other again soon when I visit her in Miami around the start of the regular baseball season. Life is just weird sometimes, but we cope with adversity and move on. Just like tomorrow I’ll get my car situation and get back to Eugene to write my next post just as Angie makes it back home. Things always get better if you want them to.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21- Montgomery Biscuits

It’s not often that complain about starting trends, but with this one I had a little bit of beef. When I started my hat quest back in late 2010 I made sure pick this little guy up first. The Montgomery Biscuits, an AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, came to be at the start of the 2004 season. This particular hat is not of the original specifications. This style is the alternate hat which was released at the start of the 2009 season; however, it is a re-release of the original road cap which was used from 2004-2008 and featured a much lighter shade of blue for the panels. Not light blue, but a darker shade of royal. This one is actually navy blue. Getting back to trend setting though, I used to wear this cap most Thursday and Sunday nights when I bartended at Max’s Tavern in Eugene, Oregon. Much in the same light of people asking about my beard or calling me Brian Wilson, younger guys would always ask me about this hat: What it is, where I got it, etc. As my collection started to build I took this cap out of the rotation as to not overindulge. It was also around this time in May of 2011 that I started noticing this hat on the heads of random customers I had met over the last few months. Needless to say, I was a bit dumbfounded.

If you don’t follow me on Instagram (you should first off) then you probably would know anything about my large assortment of Champion brand NBA jerseys. I’ve been collecting those since I scooped up a rookie Grant Hill Detroit Pistons back in 1995 when I was 12-years-old. From 1995-2000 I practically wore those jerseys every day of my life. 

It became such a regular occurrence that my friends began calling me by whomever’s last name was printed on my back. It was around 2000 that I started noticing another trend within the music world, most specifically in the rap/hip-hop genre. More and more old school NBA jerseys began popping up in music videos, much to my chagrin. While I am totally aware that some white kid from Bakersfield, California more than likely didn’t start that trend, it became a bit of a nuisance when others, who didn’t know me personally, began assuming that I was copying their trend. Many arguments were had, and rather than continue to try to defend myself on a daily basis, I moved on and created a new style.

Going back to May of 2011, all of those feelings I had when I was younger came rushing back as I did not want to be labeled as one of those guys biting another persons’ style, despite the fact that I may have actually created the trend. As time pressed on and my candidacy for the MLB Fan Cave became a reality, I stopped thinking about that issue as much since I was now in front of a national audience.

During my campaign on up through my last day in the Fan Cave I was known as: the New Era guy, the hats guy, the tattoo guy OR the Hats and Tats guy. It was a very interesting distinction as I had never really gotten much of a coin like that since my jersey days, but then again it probably also helped that I used my #HatsandTats hashtag so regularly that my friend Brad Jeffers had come up with back in February of 2012. Either way, it became more of a point of pride. I became an inadvertent spokesperson for New Era, letting people know where to get the hats I had and the meanings behind each of the numbers written on the panels. You know, kind of like what I’ve been doing for the last 52 days. But hey, if I can help sell a few more hats for the guys who make them as a result of this blog, I’m totally cool with that. I just hope I can educate at the same time.
Sorry for the long tangent, back to the hat! In 2006 and 2007 the Biscuits won their division, as well as the Southern League title in both of those years. What was even more surprising is that they did it without the help of ANY future MLB stars. Well, unless you consider Reid Brignac, Justin Ruggiano, Elliot Johnson, Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Nieman, John Jaso and Evan Longoria stars. Kidding of course.

Since this particular cap did not feature any of those players, I was lucky enough to find a stellar amount of talent since 2008 to mark this bad boy up with.

#15- It’s kind of ridiculous (in a good way) how amazing the general management and scouting crew for the Rays are. Take this guy for example; an original 18th round pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2005 and later 10th round pick by the Rays in 2006 who went .316/8/45 and stole 37 bases as a leadoff hitter in 100 games in 2009. That year he won the Southern League MVP without much competition and was the third Biscuits player to do so in a six year time frame. With the loss of B.J. Upton to the Atlanta Braves, there is no doubt that DESMOND JENNINGS will be one of the new leaders and faces of the franchise for years to come.

#18- In 2009 this cat made 11 appearances for the Biscuits, going 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 62 strikeouts. Pretty amazing considering that he averaged just shy of 10 (9.8) strikeouts per nine innings. He made his MLB debut in 2010 and ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2011. Not too bad for a fourth round pick in 2005. Well done Jeremy “Hell Boy” Hellickson.

#36- In 2011 this kid drubbed all of Hellickson’s numbers. In 18 games he went 8-3 with a 2.20 ERA and a team leading 131 strikeouts. That’s roughly 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He made his debut in 2011, primarily as a reliever, and was projected to be the Rookie of the Year in 2012. He put up noble numbers: 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA and 175 strikeouts. There is no doubt that Matt Moore has a bright future ahead of him in the Show.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20- National League Umpire

After last night’s unfortunate, but necessary research plunge, I was a bit hesitant to have this hat next in the rotation. The one advantage of moving on to the National League umpire cap is that I at least knew the end point of its use on the field. 1995 was the final year, just like its American League comrade, as 1996 ushered in the new era of the giant red “N” with the logo of the NL in the center (a crest with an eagle head and a bat and glove in each talon). So with that, it was back to YouTube and photo archives, funneling through footage from all World Series prior to 1988. Actually, one thing that I should have pointed out in the AL umpire post is that that particular hat was the second edition of the basic white font umpire cap. The first featured the “A” and “L” on separate panels. The one advantage that I have with the NL is that they never changed the look in all of the years they used it.

I decided to start my research in 1982, as I recall seeing this hat used by the NL umpires during the 1983 World Series footage I had scoured yesterday. I couldn’t find many videos on the World Series, but I did comb through 15 minutes of San Francisco Giants highlights from ’82. Being a loyal Oakland Athletics fan, I felt dirty every second my eyes glossed over the screen. About 13:46 into the video I got confirmation. 1981 was a little bit more challenging as most of the videos I found only featured World Series pre-game on ABC with a young Al Michaels and an always tenacious Howard Cosell. Once again I had to comb through several videos of highlights from the previous games until I got confirmation. It took about seven videos, but I got it. 1980 only took about two minutes as I came across a video of a controversial triple play call during Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros. Having four umpires in frame during the 20-minute argument made things very easy for me. Last, the 1979 World Series. Like the previous video, it took about two minutes to confirm that all of the umpires were wearing all-navy blue hats as the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates slugged it. My total time spent doing research tonight: roughly 47 minutes. Yay!!!

From 1980-1995 the National League umpires rocked this hat, but this is only the second time I’ve ever worn it. My timing couldn’t have been any better when I decided to go with it today as it has been exactly 359 days since I last wore it. How do I know? Well… a week shy of a year ago I was in Phoenix, Arizona as a member of the Top 30 for the MLB Fan Cave. I had taken about six hats down south with me as a precaution. By that I mean I made sure to cover every possible angle I could depending on what we did and who we were to work with. On the last day (today for the current group) I had my panel interview with the executives in charge of the operation. Basically it was about 13-15 people with very prominent jobs within MLB sitting at tables in front of you and on both sides of you while you sit in a chair in the center of the room. Before I had gone in for my session, I waited outside and relaxed. Not knowing what to expect I just sat on the small set of steps which faced the breakfast lounge. During my wait, a gentleman in a light blue polo shirt came out and stopped mid-track to ask me about my hat. His question, “So what’s the deal with the hat?” I asked him to repeat his question, at which he repeated the same thing. Not knowing who he was, my response to the repeat question was, “No, I need you to clarify your question. Are you asking about the history, why I’m wearing it or some other bit of information?” He then asked why I was wearing it. I told him about my collection of hats and how it wouldn’t be complete unless I also had a few umpire hats in the mix. He seemed impressed by my answer, at which we discussed the Diamond Collection. After about eight minutes of this talk he finally told me that he was in charge of the licensing for the Diamond Collection. I then thought about my previous curtness when trying to break down his first question and how it would later affect me as it turns out he was a member of the panel interview. “Oh drat!” I thought. As it turns out, it didn’t affect me at all. Matt Bourne, the Vice President of Business Public Relations at Major League Baseball, had a pretty good-sized folder in front of him, filled with information dating back to before I was in high school, and he led the interview. The rest of the panel consisted of Tim Brosnan- the Executive Vice President of Business for MLB, and is essentially the next guy in line for spot of Commissioner after Bud Selig retires, Jacqueline Parkes- the Chief Marketing Officer for MLB, Jeff Heckelman- a member of the Public Relations staff and Tyler Hissey- the stooge who runs the Fan Cave Twitter account and Facebook page. There were others, but none of them with as high of a ranking as those five. Anyway, I got through the interview with little to no problems. All of my answers were off the top of my head and honest, which is a principle I abide by unless I really need to mull something over. I left the room, but not until I shook everyone's hand and thanked them for their time. My friend, and Fan Cave Top 30 member Brad Jeffers was waiting outside for his run of the gauntlet as I submerged. I felt pretty good about things. Obviously, the rest is history. I was one of nine people to make it to New York City, I was let go, promised assistance for the future (job wise by Parkes and Heckelman) and have yet to be talked to by any of those people since. So, like the umpires who previously wore this cap, the state of my future career is ultimately in their hands. God damn it.

I couldn’t come up with two better people to pay tribute to, so I’ll just roll into it…

#10- John McSherry was a National League umpire from 1971-1995. Throughout his career, McSherry umped in three All-Star games (1975, 1982 and 1991), eight NLCS (1974, 1978, 1983-85, 1988, 1990 and 1992), two NLDS (1981 and 1995) and two World Series (1977 and 1987). Of all the games he umpired, the most notable had to be as the home plate umpire for Game 6 of the 1977 World Series when Reggie Jackson belted three home runs. The 8-4 Yankees victory earned the "Bronx Bombers" their first World Series championship under owner George Steinbrenner and their first title since 1962. After Jackson's first home run off Burt Hooton, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda came to the mound to make a pitching change. Lasorda asked McSherry who he should summon from the bullpen; McSherry suggested that Lasorda go with right-hander ElĂ­as Sosa. Sosa would give up Jackson's second home run in the fifth. McSherry was not a slender man either. At 6’2’’ his weight had ballooned up to close to 400 pounds by the time 1996 rolled around, a note which some say was a contributing factor to his death on April 1, 1996. I still remember this day. It was Opening Day of the ’96 season and McSherry was working home plate for the Cincinnati Reds/Montreal Expos game in Cincy. Seven pitches into the game, McSherry called a timeout, spoke briefly to Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee, and walked slowly towards the Reds' dugout. Moments after signaling for the second base umpire to come in and replace him, McSherry stumbled and collapsed. Resuscitative efforts were begun on McSherry and he was taken to University Hospital in Cincinnati, but he was pronounced dead within the hour. He was 51 years old.

#21- Harry Wendelstedt is arguably one of the best umpires to ever work in the National League, and did so from 1966-1998. During his time he umped in four All-Star games (1968, 1976, 1983 and 1992), three NLDS (1995-1997), seven NLCS (1970, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1988 and 1990) and five World Series (1973, 1980, 1986, 1991 and 1995). Most notably, Wendelstedt was the home plate umpire for five no-hitters, a distinction he shares with Bill Klem. On May 31, 1968, Wendelstedt made a famous call that preserved Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale’s consecutive shutouts and scoreless innings streaks. Giants catcher Dick Dietz came to the plate in the top of the 9th inning with the bases loaded and no outs. On a 2–2 count, Drysdale hit Dietz on the elbow, apparently forcing in a run that would have ended the streaks. However, Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz made no attempt to avoid being struck by the pitch, and called him back. Drysdale retired Dietz on a short fly ball and got out of the inning without yielding a run, earning his fifth (of six) consecutive shutouts. On March 9, 2012 Wendelstedt passed away after a 10-year fight with a brain tumor. Wendelstedt has a son, Hunter, who is still umpiring in the league and wears #21 to honor his father.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19- American League Umpire

I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a pain in the ass doing research for this hat has been. For starters, there isn’t a single dedicated Web site or listing to prove the use of each and every style of cap used by MLB, American League and National League umpires. Trust me; the last fours hours prior to writing this were dedicated to scouring every last terabyte of information revolving around umpires caps. I started with the obvious, “Dressed to the Nines,” a Web site operated by the Hall of Fame which showcases every hat, pant and jersey combination for every team throughout Major League Baseball’s history. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a lot of flaws with their displays. For instance, the wrong colors are used on a number of hats, which has prompted me to use other resources a number of times on my daily task. Most importantly, none of the umpire uniforms are listed on the site. And with that, a seemingly easy task became more of a vision quest.

Lucky for me, I knew a rough time frame in which this particular cap was used; however, I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to these things so accuracy was key. The first time in my life I could recall ever seeing this cap was in one of my favorite comedies of all time, “The Naked Gun.” If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you should, but I bring my account up because of something I said earlier while I was watching clips from the film: “Why isn’t The Naked Gun in anyone’s Top 10 baseball movies of all time list?” It’s a valid point. I mean, it has actual MLB stars from the era (Jay Johnstone and Reggie Jackson), not to mention one of the funniest portrayals of umpiring/Leslie Nielsen’s brilliance in a five minute clip on the field at Dodger Stadium. (Sidebar: The mere fact that they filmed the California Angels/Seattle Mariners game at Dodger Stadium proves how much people actually hate the Angels outside of Los Angeles) But the most vital detail of this clip is that this is in fact the first indication of when this hat was used on a professional field. Watch…

As a frequent user of I made sure to do my research on my last catharsis. “The Naked Gun” was released on December 2, 1988, which was obviously after Kirk Gibson and the God damn Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series. After doing some digging I found out that the entire film production took place between February 16, 1988 and some time in April 1988; which means that filming of the baseball scenes took place during spring training OR April 21-24 when the Mariners were in Anaheim playing the Angels (Which is more than likely). Like I said, I did a lot of research. Now, the other part of this question is, “how do I know that the hats weren’t used before then?” Easy, I looked through every World Series, American League Championship Series or significant date within the A.L. I could find from 1980-1988. In an ironic twist that will come up in several blog posts in the future, the 1987 video I found was a Dan Gladden highlight compilation.

Now, I figured out the first part, but I still had to find the end date. The easiest thing to do was start in 1994 when the updated version of “Angels in the Outfield” was released. You remember, Christopher Lloyd saying, “you can call me AL” as he put the cap on. By the way, I’m curious to know if Disney was sued by Paul Simon for that quote. Hmmmmm… anyway, I then bounced around a bit more and found a few photos from 1995 which featured the hat, but not in 1996. ’96 was the first year in which the umpires started wearing those horrific red shirts, but most importantly, it’s the first year in which they rocked the caps with the giant red “A” with an eagle in the middle.

So yah, I did a lot of research on something you’ve probably given little to no thought about. But hey! We have an answer! As for the marks, I had to be just as clever about it.

#11- The American League didn’t adopt numbers for umpires until the start of the 1980 season, so with that I had to roll with someone who umped during the time when this cap was used. So, who better than Don Denkinger? Now, I know what you’re thinking, “who the hell is that clown?” Well, Denkinger is the guy personally responsible for giving the Kansas City Royals their one and only World Series title in 1985, thus preventing the St. Louis Cardinals from winning what would have been their 10th. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up; Game 6. It is probably one of the most ridiculously blown final out calls outside of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. Denkinger umped until the end of the 1998 season and served as the crew chief for the 1988 and 1992 ALCS as well as the 1991 World Series.

#50- After doing all of this research I decided to have a bit of fun. If you didn’t watch “The Naked Gun” link I posted, here’s your chance to redeem yourself. Since the filming was one of the first times the cap was used I couldn’t think of anyone better to pay tribute to than Leslie Nielsen. It’s hard to spot, but Nielsen wore the #50 during his umpiring scenes. Baseball is first, and foremost a game and Nielsen did a wonderful job showing just how much fun the guys in blue could have on the field. Granted, if modern day umpires acted like he did they would probably get their immediate walking papers. But just imagine how much more fun the excitement and entertainment would be.