Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31- Houston Colt .45s

Tonight the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are kicking off the 2013 Major League Baseball season as the Astros make their debut in the American League. The last two years have been an interesting prelude, to say the least, when the decision to move the Astros into the AL was made roughly two days after I completed my MLB tattoo outline. Since that day I’ve received numerous questions asking how I was going to cope with that decision or whether or not I was going to skin graft the Astros tattoo to the other side. First off, skin graft!? Are you stupid? The cost of that alone would be ridiculous. But even more important, I also had the Milwaukee Brewers tattoo added to the AL side for the main reasons that their greatest success came with the AL in 1982 and I never quite accepted the relocation in the first place. I’ve always been a bit of purist when it comes to teams, especially when it comes to keeping original team names as they were intended when they first entered the league. Unfortunately over time, my thoughts have always been superseded by the owners and governing bodies of MLB. For example: the Washington Senators moving twice and becoming the Minnesota Twins and Rangers before I was born, the Montreal Expos becoming the Washington Nationals and the Seattle Pilots becoming the Brewers. Finally, there’s the team/hat, the Houston Colt .45s.

This season the Astros are trying to avoid becoming the second team to lose at least 106 games in at least three consecutive seasons, a mark established by the expansion 1962-1965 New York Mets. What’s most interesting about this stat is that the Colt .45s became an expansion team in the National League the same year as the Mets. Also, the Colt .45s name only lasted from 1962-1964, the same time frame as the first three 106+ loss seasons of the streak. This hat was one of the first few that I picked up when I started actively collecting New Era caps. I have always thought that this is one of the coolest hats released; it’s simple, much like most of the classic hats that have survived for more than 40 years in the league. What has become most important to me with this team, let alone the hat, is that it baseball fans don’t lose sight off this as a mark in history of MLB. When I was in the MLB Fan Cave last year I only asked for one thing during my time, a Colt .45s jersey. I was told that wouldn’t be a problem, just as long as I never wore it inside the Fan Cave because of the gun blazing across the chest. I complied, but I never got the jersey. The one thing I always found incredibly funny amount the conditions behind getting the jersey was that I had the gun from the jersey tattooed on my body…

Like I said, I’m a purist. I captured every era of Colt .45s/Astros baseball within one tattoo because the things matter to me.

When I marked up this cap there were only two names that made the most sense, and no, they’re not Joe Morgan or Nellie Fox. Morgan was originally draft by Houston and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Fox ended his Hall of Fame career with Houston, but neither of them made a great impact on the team. These two guys were essential to the team.

#32- Jim Umbricht made his MLB debut on September 26, 1959 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1959 and 1961 Umbricht only pitched in one game per season; however, in 1960 he started three games and came out of the bullpen for 14 others. Umbricht unfortunately didn’t make the playoff roster during the 1960 season; however, he played in enough games to help the Pirates win the NL pennant and earn a World Series ring. His numbers with the Pirates weren’t much to sniff at: 1-2 with 5.12 ERA and 30 strikeouts, and he found himself of the expansion draft list for the upcoming 1962 season. With the 35th pick the Colt .45s took Umbricht.

Umbricht made 34 appearances out of the bullpen in 1962 and finished the season as one of the most dominant players on the team. He went 4-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 55 strikeouts. Not too bad for a guy who never got much playing time for the first few years of his career. At the beginning of spring training for the 1963 season, Umbricht noticed a small black mole in his right leg, near the thigh while on a golf outing with Richards. Umbricht ignored the mole at first, but it grew at a rapid pace. Richards and team trainer Jim Ewell told Umbricht to have it checked out by a doctor back in Houston. A three-inch section of the mole was removed for testing and a doctor confirmed it was a "black mole" tumor that had spread to his groin area. A lifelong clean-cut bachelor, Umbricht had developed a reputation as a cheerful person who only cared about others' well-being. Ewell, the team trainer said, Umbricht "had the most wonderful attitude of anyone you'll ever meet". As a result, Umbricht's cancer diagnosis shocked baseball and made national headlines. On March 7, Umbricht underwent a six-hour operation using perfusion to remove the tumor from his right leg. The perfusion technique was radical at the time, and began to be used as a surgical procedure not long before Umbricht's surgery. After a month-long hospital stay, Umbricht and his doctors told the media that he beat the cancer, crediting "early detection and good physical condition," further stating that he "should have five or six good years left" in his baseball career. Umbricht, however, learned that the doctors were unsure if the cancer surgery was a success, or even if it had been completely removed from his body. Even if it was, his chance of survival was slim at best. Upon hearing the news, Umbricht decided to keep it a secret outside his immediate family. That season Umbricht made 35 appearances and started three of those games. He went 4-3 with a 2.61 ERA and 48 strikeouts and a .961 WHIP. For a guy who had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, find out that the operation wasn’t a 100 percent success and then go back to playing baseball is beyond an incredible accomplishment. But sadly, September 29, 1963 would turn out to be Umbricht’s final game.

In the last month of the season Umbricht's cancer had started to spread throughout his body and he needed to be sedated at times because of the pain. In November, Umbricht learned that the cancer spread to his chest area and was incurable. He was released from his contract on December 16 due to his deteriorating health. The National League allowed the Colts to sign Umbricht to a scout contract given the circumstances, with the proviso that it would become a player contract if he rejoined the active roster. By the time 1964 came around Umbricht’s health was progressively getting worse. He didn’t make the trip to Cocoa Beach to meet with the team for Spring Training as he was in-and-out of the hospital. On March 16th Umbricht checked into the hospital for the last time with the hopes that a third operation would be the last needed. During his final hospital stay, the Colts' management, his family and the hospital staff agreed not to release any further details about his illness, though word had leaked that he was dying. He remained optimistic that he would beat the illness until his final days, stating that "everything will be ok" in an interview with United Press International sports Editor Milton Richman. Umbricht succumbed to the disease on April 8, 1964 in the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Umbricht's death came on the eve of the Colts' 1964 season.

The team wore black patched on their sleeves for the 1964 season and the newly renamed Astros retired his number in 1965. He was 33-years-old when he passed.

#49- Lawrence Edward Dierker was signed as a free agent by the Colt .45s in 1964 and made his MLB debut on September 22 of that same year. He pitched in three games going 0-1 with a 2.00 ERA and five strikeouts in the final year in the history of Colt .45s name. From 1965-1976 Dierker played for the Astros making two All-Star Game appearances in 1969 and 1971 and finished 23rd in the NL MVP vote going 20-13 with a 2.33 ERA, 232 strikeouts and 305.1 innings pitched; all career bests, yet for some reason he wasn’t even considered for the NL Cy Young award. The rest of Dierker’s playing career was welcomed with modest success. His final year came in 1977 with the St. Louis Cardinals, but his Colt .45s/Astros run ended with a record of 139-123, an ERA of 3.28 and 1493 strikeouts.

From 1979 to 1996 Dierker switched up to a broadcasting position as the color commentator for the Astros’ radio and television broadcasts until he took over as the Astros manager in 1997. From 1997-2001 Dierker managed the team to a NL Central division title in every season except 2000 when they finished in fourth place. Dierker won the NL Manager of the Year award in 1998 and he finished his career with a record of 435-348. In 1999, Dierker had a close brush with death during a game against the San Diego Padres. The Houston manager had been plagued by severe headaches for several days. During the game, Dierker had a seizure that rendered him unconscious. He required emergency brain surgery for a cavernous angioma and after four weeks of recovery, returned to the helm of the Astros and guided the team through the duration of the season. The Astros won 97 games and a third consecutive National League Central Division title.

Dierker returned to the broadcast booth from 2004-2005 and up until March 23 of this year he worked with the Astros front office serving as the community outreach executive. Dierker’s number was retired by the Astros on May 19, 2002. This season will be only the third year since his rookie year in 1964 that Dierker won’t be a part of the team.

If you need an idea of how bad things may potentially be in Houston this season, just think about that last stat. It’s a damn shame. In my opinion, he’s more iconic of a figure in the history of the Astros than Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jose Cruz and Mike Scott.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30- Baltimore Orioles

Bird is the word!!!

My night has certainly taken an interesting turn. Tomorrow I will be in the Bay Area with my friends Tom Bentley and Vanessa Demske, ready for the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season with the Oakland Athletics playing the Seattle Mariners at O.Co Coliseum. But for now, I’m sitting on a wooden chair in a frat house in Eugene, Oregon as a wicked game of beer pong is taking place less than 15 feet from my computer. This wasn’t exactly the way I thought my night was going to turn out, especially after completing my third fantasy baseball draft in the last week. At least for baseball’s sake the San Diego Padres versus Texas Rangers Spring Training game is playing on the TV in between commercials of “Coming to America” on Comedy Central. My life is weird sometimes.

For the last week there has been a meme created by @MLBmeme bouncing around the internet. You’ve probably seen it; the one of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh after their 27-game win streak was snapped and below it is a picture of Cal Ripken, Jr. when he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games started streak with the caption that says “that’s cute.” A lot of you have liked it and passed it on, but not me. I mean, a win streak and a consecutive games played streak are two different things, but even at that, why would you stop at the game in which Cal broke the record? Why not his final game tallied for the streak? A few people shared the same plight as me, and for all of you people, I thank you.

Cal Ripken, Jr. has been one of mine, as well as most of your favorite players in the history of the game. Like most of the kids from my generation, we got hooked on Cal at a very young age, much like Ryne Sandberg, Ken Griffey, Jr. or Mark McGwire. With Cal there was something more pure and genuine about his dynamic, which is one of the prime reasons why he became one of the faces of MLB in the late 1980s/early 1990s on through the end of his career in 2001. Even today, Cal is still one of the biggest ambassadors of the game, but the biggest shot in the arm for his career, besides his World Series ring in 1983, was the night of September 6, 1995.

If I haven’t stressed it enough over the last 88 days, the players strike of 1994 crippled the image MLB. Tony Gwynn was on pace to hit .400 and the Montreal Expos were on pace to win the World Series that year. With attendance looming after the strike ended and the players got back on the field, MLB, and most importantly the fans, needed something to be happy about. Cue Cal.

When I bought this hat in October of 2011 I got my dates mixed up on when it was used. The Baltimore Orioles used this cap from 1966-1974 and won two World Series titles under it. What I originally thought was that the Orioles wore the white front paneled cap during this era, the one I wrote about on March 14 about the Billy Ripken Fleer card. While I made a slight mistake with this, the message is still the same; Cal did what no other man probably will for some time to come.

#2632- Cal first took the field on August 10, 1981 as a replacement for Len Sakata, the second Asian American to play in the Majors. Cal made 2632 consecutive starts from that date until September 20, 1998 when he let rookie Ryan Minor start at third base in his place again the New York Yankees. After the first out was recorded David Wells was the first to notice that Cal wasn’t playing and stopped to applaud him. Everyone else in the dugouts and in the stands followed suit to give Cal and standing ovation. 17 years of playing every single day ended in an instant, but I suppose that’s the way most things in life really go. Without warning history can be altered, but it’s how people react to it that make all the difference.

While Cal only played 23 games in 1981, 1982 panned out to be a very successful year as he hit .268 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI, which were more than worth the Rookie of the Year award and 30th place finish in the American League MVP voting. Cal, like most of his accomplishments, took it in stride on into 1983. That year Cal padded his stats to the tune of .318 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI, as well as a League best marks in hits (211), runs (121) and doubles (47), but he did get caught stealing four times with zero stolen bases. I’m pretty sure the AL MVP he won that season helped him sleep through the night… as well as the World Series ring. 1983 was also the first of 19 consecutive All-Star Game appearances he made, the most consecutive AL appearances in MLB history as well as the most overall AL appearances in MLB history.

The rest of Cal’s career reads off like a grocery list: eight Silver Slugger awards, only two Gold Gloves at shortstop (weird), a second AL MVP in 1991 and a modest 3184 career hits. One of the most unusual things that people don’t seem to talk about is that Cal joined the 3000 hit club on April 15, 2000 after a single off of Minnesota Twins reliever Hector Carrasco in the Metrodome.

Cal's final game was originally set to be played at Yankee Stadium; however, the September 11, 2001 attacks led to the postponement of a week's worth of games. The games missed were added on to the end of the season's schedule. Since all the games the Orioles missed were at home, this changed the location of Cal's final game to Oriole Park, much to the delight of Orioles fans. On October 6, Cal ended his career in the on deck circle in the bottom of the ninth inning. Long-time teammate Brady Anderson, also playing in his last game for the Orioles, swung and missed a fastball high and tight on a 3–2 count to end the game. After the game, Cal gave a speech thanking the fans for their support over 20 seasons.

Cal was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on January 9, 2007 with a 98.53% vote, only eight short of a unanimous vote. My only question is, who the hell were the eight geniuses who opted against Cal on the first vote?

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 29- Portland Beavers

The 2013 baseball season is only a few days away, and for some reason it doesn’t feel like it where I am.  Few weeks ago I wrote a post on my history with Portland baseball, and I can assure you that very little has changed to sway my opinion on the matter. Yes, there will be a new team moving in about three miles away from where I’m currently living, but it’s a short season-A club that relocated from Yakima, Washington. This isn’t a knock on the Hillsboro Hops; I’m honestly looking forward to watching them play. It’s just a mere observation in a city that houses two top-tier sports franchises (Trailblazers and Timbers) and yet the best it can do is attract, and hopefully maintain, a short season-A club when the Seattle Mariners reside 185 north of where I’m currently sitting and writing this piece. I think one of the more remarkable, and real eye-opening things about this move and the demise of the Portland Beavers all revolves around how I acquired this cap.

Despite the fact that the Beavers relocated at the end of the 2010 season, you can still find a few of their items all over Portland. What’s most insulting is that most of the shops are still charging full price for merchandise of a team that no longer exists. The Beavers hat that I wrote about on March 6 was one I had purchased from PGE Park (now Jeld Wen Field) in the concourse area during a game against the Sacramento River Cats. I think I paid about $30 for it. The one that I am writing about was one of two that I didn’t all ready own which happened to be sitting on the top row (not even mixed in with the other MLB or MiLB caps) collecting dust at the Lids in the Clackamas Town Center Mall in September. As soon as I saw them I said I wanted them as long as they had my size. Sure enough they did, and sure enough I was a bit shocked when they still rang up as $35 each. Granted, I do have a Lids Club card, but it was still a weird concept to have to pay full price initially for the hat of a Minor League team that no longer exists. Oh well. I’ll always be a little sad and upset over what happened.

This particular hat was introduced in 2008 when the Beavers changed their colors and logo from the traditional black/red/white that had been popular throughout the century. I remember thinking it was a bit weird, but I did like the new color scheme. I’ll be honest; I’m not that big of a fan of red. This featured logo served primarily on the front of the batting practice caps and batting helmets; however, those caps were all black. This cap was merely a random second style the team came up with the feature the logo on a different colored cap. The concept for a team to do that is quite genius actually. I’ve never been too much of a fan of mesh caps; however, there have been a lot of logos that only appear on the batting practice caps that I really enjoy; the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks batting practice cap is the first that comes to mind.

Because this is the batting practice logo I figured it would be best to find numbers from a few guys who were big names with the Beavers, but most important, got the job done with their hitting.

#21- A lifetime pinch hitter and Minor League journeyman, Wily Mo Pena was originally signed as a free agent by the New York Mets back in 1998. Over the next 14 years Pena made a few half-of-a-season appearances at the Major League level whenever an extra power hitter was needed, but the other, longer half was spent in AAA. No matter who your team is, there’s a pretty good chance he was on the payroll at some point. In 2010, Pena never saw a second of action in the Majors as he was signed to an Atlantic League team called the Bridgeport Bluefish along with “One At-Bat” subject and current Baltimore Oriole Adam Greenberg. About midway through the season Pena got inked to a Minor League deal with the San Diego Padres which sent him to Portland for 40 games. During his time there he hit .324 with nine home runs and 24 RBI. From the few games that I saw I could never figure out why he never stayed up in the Big Leagues. The man can certainly hit. For the last season Pena played 130 games in Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks along with former Oakland Athletics prospect Brandon Allen and former/current MLB pitchers Brad Penny and Brian Falkenborg.

#29- I went to a lot of Beavers games in 2005 as they had a lot of talent on the squad back then. One player in particular received the most attention simply because of his last name. I imagine that he knew it and had been hearing it all his life, which I can, once again, only imagine how frustrating that might be. Nonetheless, Josh Barfield did a fine job of earning his way to the Major that season hitting .310 with 15 home runs and 72 RBI. He was called up before the season was over, rightfully so, and stayed with the Padres through the entire 2006 season, but was traded to the Cleveland Indians in the offseason for Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andrew Brown.

Barfield played 130 games for the Indians in 2007, but didn’t quite have the bat flair he showed in San Diego as he finished the season hitting .240 with three home runs and 50 RBI. Barfield was demoted to the Buffalo Bisons, the Indians AAA affiliate, and replaced by prospect Asdrubal Cabrera in 2008. When Cabrera went on a skid Barfield was called up to replace him, but Barfield sprained his finger within days of getting back in the Bigs and ended up on the DL. 2009 was primarily spent in Columbus with the Clippers, the new AAA affiliate of the Indians.

In 2010 the Padres signed Barfield to a Minor League contract in which he played 78 games in the Rose City. If I remember correctly I caught him in four or five games that season. From what I could tell, very little had changed in his swing and side-to-side motions on the field. Granted, it had only been five years since I last saw him and he is only two months older than me. That year he hit .294 with five home runs and 36 RBI, but he never got called up on account of David Eckstein being the everyday guy. Barfield bounced around through the Philadelphia Phillies and Orioles organizations over the last two years, but has yet to see any MLB action since 2009. It’s a damn shame.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28- Philadelphia Phillies

I don’t watch a terrible amount of television these days; however, there are a small handful of shows that I couldn’t live without: “The League,” “South Park,” “Justified” and most important “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” If you’re reading this article and you’ve never seen “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” seriously stop reading this right now and go watch all seven seasons immediately. I’m dead serious! You’re not only missing out on one of the most creative and clever shows on television, but you’re also missing out on an essential component of my dynamic.

Believe it or not I’ve seen every episode at least five times; the first through third seasons I’ve plowed through at least 20 times each.  With the exception of “The Simpsons” and maybe the short-lived “Ben Stiller Show,” never has a television program had such a profound impact on my day-to-day life. For example, the last three years of my life were spent schlepping beers and shots at a public house in Eugene, Oregon called Max’s Tavern. The really interesting things about Max’s is that

1.”The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening modeled Moe’s Tavern after Max’s as it was his old drinking hole in college, much like myself.

2. Kaitlin Olson, the actress who plays Sweet Dee Reynolds on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” also used to drink at Max’s when she went to school at the University of Oregon.

3. I just graduated from the University of Oregon and I drink at Max’s when I’m not working.

Ok, maybe that last part wasn’t interesting at all, but the first two definitely are. Almost every night behind the bar, for me at least, was like channeling Mac, Dennis and Charlie. I didn’t put up with anybody’s crap, I cleaned up after people a lot and I flirted with anything that had boobs. As for the Frank and Sweet Dee traits, I’m a pretty decent businessman and I suppose I do have some bird-like qualities. I mean, my school’s mascot is a duck. But like in the spirit of “It’s Always Sunny…,” I never really know when to shut my mouth.

For those of you who have followed me for the past year, I congratulate you. I know at times I tend to just fire some pretty out there opinions on major issues, but with that I’m also not one to flip-flop. I stand by my word. I also never stab people in the back, which I suppose is the one quality I don’t share with the gang. But, like the gang, we’re all baseball fans.

Hands down one of the funniest episodes from the show is “World Series Defense.” I’ll try to break it down: Dennis goes to court with the gang due to an insane amount of parking tickets he received while he and the gang were locked in a utility closet at the Oliday Inn (I didn’t spell that wrong) in an attempt to go through the visiting team’s secret tunnel in order watch Game 5 of the World Series after their tickets went missing. Throughout the episode we find out that Sweet Dee will try to fun onto the field when “the Phillies go up by a ton of runs in the bottom of the ninth at which Dennis and Mac will start fighting each other to create a diversion.” Yes, I see everything wrong with the sentence, but it’s all correct information. When Frank realizes he left the tickets back at his and Charlie’s apartment he, Sweet Dee and Mac go to fetch them while Charlie and Dennis go to Citizens Bank Park to scalp tickets… or con somebody out of theirs. Sweet Dee, Frank and Mac get poisoned because Frank forgot the apartment complex is spraying for bed bugs but only after Mac admitted that he’s in love with Chase Utley (like a brother), Dennis gets hit by a car trying to fake an injury after Charlie pushed him in front and then Charlie got his ass hammered by passionate Phillies fans after Charlie got big leagued by, and took down the Philly Phranetic (spelling is correct). I feel like I’m rambling on much too long on this synopsis, but I guess that’s your fault for having not seen the episode or show… if you haven’t that is. The point is, I love baseball, and I love “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Here’s proof…

I’d say up until this point about 90% of what I wrote was merely a lead-in about my tattoo. What can I say? I can ramble at times. This hat; however, has been around since the start of the 2008 season and has served as the Phillies alternate cap for that time. One thing about this is that it’s actually a modified re-release of the team’s alternate hat from the 1994 season. The only difference is that the 1994 hat had blue panels and a blue bill. You know what? Now that I think about it, in conjunction with last night’s Detroit Tigers post, there were a lot of hats only used for a handful of games in 1994. What upsets me about this realization is that it is next to impossible to find the ’94 alternate Phillies cap. I’ve only known two people to have it: my friend Eric and fellow Cave Dweller Gordon Mack who rubbed it in my face that he had it and I didn’t. I really should have stolen it. Oh well.

As for the numbers, I have to refer to the “It’s Always Sunny…” episode “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods.”

#11- Actually, this one not so much. Jimmy Rollins is a hell of a ballplayer. He was drafted in the second round of the 1996 amateur draft out of Encinal High School in Alameda, California. A lot of Oakland Athletics fans, including myself, would have loved to have him on the team. It took him a while to get through the Minors, but he made his debut in 2000 and made his rookie campaign in 2001. In his first full year he went .274/14/54 with a League leading 12 triples and a League leading 46 stolen bases. Somehow those numbers weren’t good enough to finish higher than third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote. I suppose that’ll happen when you have to go against Albert Pujols.

Rollins has been a spectacular five-tool player: he’s won four Gold Glove awards at shortstop, one Silver Slugger award in 2007 and has made three All-Star Game appearances. Even though this hat debuted in 2008, it was Rollins’s 2007 that made him a top tier player in MLB. That season Rollins took home his only NL MVP of his career as he went .296/30/94 and led the League with 20 triples and a League leading 139 runs. Oh yah, he did all of this as a leadoff hitter too. Basically he put all of Lenny Dykstra’s 1993 to shame. One other import detail about Rollins is that he a 38-game hit streak that lasted the last 36 games of 2005 and the first two games of 2006.

#26- So now I have to re-establish the episode “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods.” Frank donated a ton of money to the SPCA and they decided to reward Frank for his service by throwing a reception in Atlantic City. Frank was also able to spring for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to make an appearance at the party as well. I should point out that the whole reason Frank did this was to flaunt his leather suit and tell the SPCA off; however, Frank hates to pay tolls and decided to take all the back roads from Philly to AC at which Mac caused them to veer off the road as a squirrel ran out into the road. Only Dennis and Charlie decide to go for help at which the two run across a shady truck driver played by Tom Sizemore. Yaaaaahhhh… after he gets them to AC he offers to “tender their services” in the form of “opening him up like a coconut.” Use your imagination. Anyway, Dennis and Charlie make it to the hotel where the party is at and the two take on the roles of Frank (Charlie) and Mac (Dennis). And then this happened…

Dennis sends the photo he took to Mac and he becomes upset. As for Utley, he’s had a pretty solid little career. He was the 15th overall pick by the Phillies in the 2000 amateur draft out of UCLA and made his MLB debut three years later. As Mac said in the first video, Utley certainly is a power-hitting second baseman, a rare quality. His best years were from 2005-2010 as he finished in the Top-15 for NL MVP voting in all of those years except 2010 and he made the All-Star team every year except for 2005. Funny. He’s a career .288 hitter and has so far tagged 199 home runs and 739 RBI. He’s led the Majors in hit-by-pitch three years in a row from 2007-2009 and is arguably one of the most liked players in Phillies history. This is saying a lot because Phillies fans are ruthless.

One thing I wanted to happen during my time in the Fan Cave was to meet Utley so I could talk to him about what his initial thoughts were on the subject of Mac's man-crush. Very rarely do we ever get insight from a player's mind when they are referenced in pop culture, kind of like the guy who made the Madden video of Green Bay Packers' wide receiver Greg Jennings "putting the team on his back" and scoring a touchdown with a broken leg. Jennings took it lightly and had fun with it. I could only hope Utley would do the same. I even thought having Utley write a letter back to Mac would have been funny. It could go either way: embracing it or being creeped out by it.

#6- Sweet Dee prefers the company of Ryan Howard compared to the rest of the Phillies. Who could blame her? The guys rakes! Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Howard was a fifth round draft pick for the Phillies in the 2001 amateur draft out of Missouri State. This has always boggled me because with the power he possesses what the hell were the other schools thinking? In 2004 he got his September call-up and played 19 games in the Show and hit two home runs in 39 at-bats. In 2005 he played in 88 games and went .288/22/63, which was good enough for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Not too shabby for only half of a season.

Howard proved he was a marquis player the following season as he hit .313 with a League high 58 home runs and a League high 149 RBI which were more than enough to get the votes for the NL MVP. I should point out that he struck out 181 times that season as well, and he still hit .313. Wow! From 2007-2011 Howard made the Top-10 in NL MVP voting and he has made the All-Star team three times in his career. Howard currently sits at 300 home runs and is #134 on the most ever home run list and you can see him all year long plugging Subway sandwiches; which reminds me of how hungry I am.

Obviously all three guys got World Series rings in 2008, at which I think all three can pool some cash together and help Dennis pay for his parking tickets. Something that always confused me why he never brought that up in front of Howard and Utley when considering that they gang will fire off about anything important to them no matter who is in front of them. Kangaroo court!!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 27- Detroit Tigers

I tried working on this post earlier this afternoon, but for some reason every approach I tried to take with it took me down a dark, narrow road which eventually turned into a cul de sac much like in the movie “Training Day.” Luckily for me I don’t have to worry about Terry Crews and his pigeon army peering down, ready to peck my eyes out. 1994 was a rough year for everyone. The players strike created a dark cloud that hovered over Major League Baseball on into the next few seasons. What’s quite amazing is that it seems to be a prevalent theme in a lot of my posts. While my bitterness over what went down still lingers, one can’t help but think how the history books would be written had the season finished out on the field and not in the courtroom.

By the time the season was officially canceled the Detroit Tigers were in dead last in the old American League Eastern division with a record of 53-62. Even with 47 games left to go in the season, there was very little chance of the Tigers making up the 18 games they had fallen behind. What is even more depressing is that even though they were in last place in their division, had they been in the AL West they would have been in first place by one game over the Texas Rangers. Seeing a statistic as mind boggling as that in comparison to where the team is now almost makes one wonder how much worse things would have gotten collectively throughout the League, with the exception of the New York Yankees and Montreal Expos. But alas, these are the Tigers we’re talking about, and in the 1990s at that.

This particular hat served as the Tigers alternate cap and it was only used for a speckle of games in ‘94. It’s exactly like the traditional road cap, except for the fact that it has an orange bill. I don’t particularly mind this cap, but for some reason the bill creates a weird line of sight for those looking at it. While other teams have had similar caps with the logo and bill being the same color, this cap, on the other hand, is one of the only ones to not feature a different colored border around the logo.

Since this hat was only used for such a bummer of a season, I at least made up for things with some smart choices on my marks.

#11- Sparky Anderson managed the Tigers for 17 years starting in the middle of the 1979 season and ending at the close of the 1995 season. During his run the Tigers had gone 1331-1248 and made the postseason only twice. The thing you have to remember is that prior to 1995 only the best team in each of the two divisions per League moved on into the postseason. Therefore it was a hell of a lot harder to make the playoffs every year. For Sparky to do it twice with a 50 percent success rate on winning a World Series title; sometimes you have to count your blessings. But, the one thing that very few people tend to remember about the ’94 strike is that it continued on into the 1995 season. That’s kind of a rough way for a Hall of Fame manager to go out; not even completing a full season.

Even though I never grew up a Tigers fan I’ve always found them to be one of the most historically alluring franchises, and Sparky played a big part. I mean, look at the guy…

He always looked the same throughout his career, even when he managed the Cincinnati Reds. He was old school baseball wizard, and any fan of them game would have loved to have had him as their grandfather. He passed away at the age of 76 on November 4, 2010 and deep down you knew you were truly saddened by it. Even if you are a Chicago White Sox fan.

#3- If you watch the MLB Network as often as I do, then you’ve probably watched the “Prime 9” episode of Hall of Fame snubs. While I can’t remember where Alan Trammell fell on that list, you’d better believe that I’m totally 100 percent on board to get him into the Hall. Trammell was a second round draft pick for the Tigers back in 1976 out of Kearny High School in San Diego, California. He made is debut in 1977 and actually wore the #42 for all 19 games he appeared in. By the time 1978 rolled around Trammell got himself a new number and took charge at the plate hitting .284 with two home runs and 34 RBI which were good enough for a fourth place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. In his 20-year career, all of which was played in Detroit, he amassed four Gold Gloves in five years from 1980-1984 (Robin Yount hosed him in 1982), but Trammell was mostly known for his offensive prowess. For his career he hit an impressive .285 with a modest 185 home runs and 1003 RBI. His best year came in 1987 when he finished in second place for the AL MVP when he went .343/28/103, all of which were career highs, but he got beat out by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder George Bell.

Trammel called it quits after the 1996 season and even took up the managerial spot for the Tigers from 2003-2005 with very poor success. Throughout his career he made six All-Star Game appearances, won three Silver Slugger awards, had two 20+-game hit streaks and most important, was the World Series MVP in 1984. Most people tend to think that it was Kirk Gibson who won it on account of his first of two historic game-winning World Series home runs. Nope! It was Trammell, who hit .450 with two home runs and six RBI. Boom!

#45- From 1990- halfway through 1996 Cecil Fielder was arguably one of the top power hitter is the game, ad he did all of his swatting in the Motor City. In his first two years with the Tigers Fielder finished in second place for the AL MVP award, losing to Rickey Henderson in 1990 and Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1991. Fielder’s numbers those years?

1990: .277 average with a League leading 51 home runs and League leading 132 RBI. He also struck out a League high 182 times that season.

1991: .261 with a League high 44 home runs and a League leading 133 RBI. He improved on the strikeouts, but not by much.

Those two years plus 1993 were the only three years in which Fielder made the All-Star game as well. The strange thing about Fielder is that he never hit more than 14 home runs in any of the four years he played with the Blue Jays prior to going to Detroit, and he never hit more than 17 in any year after he left Detroit. The only obvious conclusion I can come up with… Tiger Stadium was one hell of an easy place to knock the crap out of the ball.

I realize I didn’t focus too much attention on the 1994 aspect of the hat, but what else was there really to say. All three of these guys were present in the old days of Tigers suckfest, but all of them were truly legends before and during that era. I guess the only way I can end this is by saying “Robocop” is a damn fine move, and even Clarence Boddicker, a Tigers season ticket holder, would approve of this post.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26- Kansas City Royals

I need to apologize first and foremost for such a late post this evening, but I assure you it’s for a noble reason. A few days ago I was brought on board with eDraft Sports (@eDraftSports), an online fantasy sports publication and biweekly radio network. Tonight, I submitted my first couple of articles. It was interesting to step away from my first person narrative and get back to a news/feature style of writing. It took me a little bit longer than usual, but it all comes with practice. After all, I didn’t graduate with two Journalism degrees and one English degree from the University of Oregon for nothing.

The Kansas City Royals expanded into the American League during the summer of 1969. I hardly doubt Bryan Adams had the Royals in mind when he wrote the tune of the same name; then again, Bryan Adams is Canadian, and not only that he was also born in 1959. What the hell did he know about the life of a high schooler in the “Summer of ‘69”? Wow! I got really off topic. Anyway, from 1969-1994 the Royals donned the same royal blue cap with a white “KC” logo affixed to the front panels. Tonight, I will not be talking about that cap. Instead, I’ll be discussing the first alternate cap in the history of the Royals franchise. This one…

From 1995-1999 the Royals primarily wore this cap on the road to pair with their grey jerseys and pantaloons. Throughout that five-year stretch the Royals planned under managers Bob Boone and Tony Muser. Boone was one of those guys who was a hell of a player on the field, but questionable as a manager. During his three year run the team’s best finish came in 1995, his first year as a manager in Major League Baseball, when the team finished in second place in the newly revamped AL Central. Even though the team finished in second place they still finished with a record of 70-74 to give a win percentage of .486, the highest of Boone’s career. Muser proved to be equally as depressing of a manager; never getting the team higher than third place in the AL Central and never attaining a win percentage better than .475. But, while these Royals teams couldn’t compete with the rest of the top tier talent throughout the league, they did however have a lot of up-and-coming young talent making their breaks in the Big Leagues over those five years.

For my markings I decided to go with an old school player and a fresh-faced rookie. I think you’ll agree that while one is a bit unorthodox, he was just one of those guys that never really got his due. So tonight, I have to hook him up.

#17- The first really interesting thing about this guy is that he originally wore #55 from 1989-1995 only to change it to #17 for his last few years with the club (1996-1999). Because the #17 fit within the time period of the cap’s use I decided to mark it using that number. The other reason I marked it with #17 is because this player’s fortune turned for the worst not too long after he made the decision.

Kevin Appier was the ninth overall draft pick in the 1987 amateur draft out of Fresno State. He made his debut in 1989, but made his rookie campaign in 1990 at which he went 12-8 as a starter with a 2.76 ERA and 127 strikeouts. His performance on the season was good enough for a third place finish for the AL Rookie of the Year award. In 1991 and 1992 Appier went 28-18 while in 1993 he had the best season of his career going 18-8 with a League best 2.56 ERA and a third place finish in the AL Cy Young voting. 1994 proved to be a mediocre year as he went 7-6 while in 1995 he went 15-10 with a 3.89 ERA and a trip to his first and only All-Star Game.

In 1996 everything seemed to change for Appier, but he still managed to have a decent season with a 14-11 record, a 3.62 ERA and a career best 207 strikeouts. If you go back and really crunch the data I have laid out you will see that in a seven-year time frame Appier never had a sub-.500 record. And for a guy pitching for the Royals during those days it was kind of unheard of, and yes, this is even taking Brett Saberhagen’s stats into consideration as his worse year was the year of Appier’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 1990, and Saberhagen’s final year with the Royals was in 1991. But that’s all stuff that will be talked about down the road.

Before the start of the 1997 season Appier signed a long-term deal with the Royals as they promised him they would become more competitive. The reality is that Appier could have signed with anyone. As I mentioned above, with his numbers and with that team he could have been veritable force with any other ball club. Unfortunately for Appier the 1997 season proved to be one of his worst as he went 9-13; however, things took an even bigger turn when he had to have surgery for a torn labrum during the 1998 season. Appier came back strong in 1999, but the rest of the team played sub-par. Appier asked for a trade and ended up getting his wish before the trade deadline. In short, that’s the story of how Kevin Appier joined the Oakland Athletics.

All kidding aside, Appier has gone down as probably one of the most underrated pitchers of all time. I’m not saying Hall of Fame worthy, I’m merely saying underrated. After the Royals Appier spent a year-and-a-half with the A’s, one year with the New York Mets in 2001 before they traded him to the Anaheim Angels for Mo Vaughn in 2002 and in 2003 was traded back to the Royals for what turned out to be the final two years of his career. During his run in the Show Appier went 169-137 with a 3.74 ERA and 1994 strikeouts. Honestly, that’s like Top-100 starting pitchers of all-time numbers right there.

#36- This is another one of those interesting moments when the changing of a kersey number came off as more confusing, but it “helped” out in the long run. Carlos Beltran was a second round draft pick by the Royals out of Puerto Rico in the 1995 amateur draft. He made his debut during the 1998 season, but made his splash in 1999 when he went .293/22/108 which won him the AL Rookie of the Year award, a feat that only four players in Royals history have accomplished. Lou Piniella, Bob Hamelin and Angel Berroa were the other three. However, as quickly as this hat faded into obscurity at the end of that season, so did the #36 when he opted for #15 for the rest of his Royals, Houston Astros, Mets and San Francisco Giants career. The only other major accomplishment that Beltran obtained in Kansas City was a trip to the All-Star Game during the 2004 season, at which he was traded to the Astros shortly thereafter.

Beltran’s career was exponentially better after leaving Kansas City as he made six more All-Star appearances between the Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals (wearing #3) and won three Gold Gloves with the Mets from 2006-2008. Beltran is also won of eight players to hit at least 300 home runs and steal at least 300 bases. Who are the other seven? Go back and read my Arizona Diamondbacks piece from January 14 for the answer.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25- San Francisco Giants

I think we all knew this was going to come; so I might as well get it out of the way, right? Actually, you know what? I need to get a few things off of my chest before I really go into this post.

I’ve been fully aware for a long time that my attitude on certain situations that revolve around the San Francisco Giants have been less than adequate. I first need to apologize to two of the biggest fans the Giants have: Ally Williams and Ashley Chavez. Both Ally and Ashley were in the running for the MLB Fan Cave as I was when we first met. Ally I had talked to a few weeks prior tour meeting in Arizona last February while Ashley and I didn’t really get acquainted until the final night of the audition process. While only one of the two (Ashley) moved on to New York with me, I still made sure to keep in touch with Ally any chance I could. What I wasn’t expecting was that “any chance I could” time would be so limited on account of me

1. Never sleeping and always working on a project.

2. There really wasn’t that much “free” time to do anything.

One thing that I made my personal mission in the Fan Cave was interacting with anyone who hit me up on any form of social media. Even today, I still abide by that principle. The one thing that is to be known about being so social outgoing is that it can become very taxing on the mind and body; therefore, you tend to lose touch with the people who are physically in front of you. When Ally came and visited the Fan Cave in April, along with Tampa Bay Rays fan Megan Washington, I honestly lost sight of everything I had promised then in Arizona. I didn’t keep to my word in always being around and always being available. While we did go out and shave a few drinks together, I feel like I should have done more. To make things worse, I became a huge jerk once the playoffs came around in regard to the fan base of the Giants. While a few of the things I said had some lingering truth to them, at the end of the day it wasn’t my place to be so rude and insulting.

I’ve honestly never had a problem with the Giants or most of the fans. Hell, my first job in baseball was as a bat boy for a Giants minor league team, the Bakersfield Blaze. If anything I have been grateful to the organization for giving me a chance and allowing me to do bat boy duties at Pac Bell Park for a few games when it first opened. It’s only the jerks that really aggravate me, and for a few nights I crossed the line and became everything I disapprove about baseball fans. For that, to Ally, Ashley and everyone who follows me, I am truly sorry.

As for Ashley, I really screwed up things there. I need to start off by saying that I am genuinely proud of her for being crowned the ultimate Cave Dweller, and that things could not have panned out any better with her team winning the World Series in the end to boot. The last time I spoke to her, and every other Cave Dweller for that matter, came about two days before the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City. The only that I was ever selfish about during my time in and out of the Fan Cave was going to the All-Star Game, and all for the sake of having my photo taken with all the mascots I have tattooed on my body. When I saw everyone else enjoying this one thing that I wanted, I snapped. I made a few comments throughout the actual game that the other Cave Dwellers saw. Not a day goes by where I don’t regret what I said. As a result, Ashley, Ricardo Marquez and a few others still don’t speak to me. I really don’t blame them. I betrayed their trust and friendship by taking my battle with the Fan Cave to them, and I have felt horrible since. I am sincerely sorry for any grief that I may have caused.

Now, I have a hat to talk about.

This Giants hat was introduced for the 2010 season to be paired with the orange alternate jerseys the team has been wearing on into the 2012 season. The color concept has also been used for the teams’ batting practice gear; however, the BP gear features a mesh paneled and billed cap. From 1977-1982 the Giants had previously worn a similar cap. The primary difference between this and that style is the alignment of the “SF” in the center of the cap. The “SF” went through a few changes after 1977, but I won’t go into too much detail on those as I have the rest of the season to introduce them and write about them. Now that I think about it, I’m actually closer to owning every game style of Giants cap than I am with my Oakland Athletics. Son of a b…

Because the Giants have only worn this hat for the last three seasons it made my marks easy, but begrudging at the same.

#28- I hate to admit it, but Gerald Dempsey Posey III (and you have to say it like a real elitist) is one hell of a ballplayer. So much that the kid has pretty much take over ownership of the MLB logo created by Jerry Dior.

Buster Posey was taken by the Giants with the fifth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft out of Florida State (a school I’ve routinely hated in football). Even though he played for seven games in 2009, Posey made his real entrance in 2010 playing 76 of his 108 games behind the dish. While his pick off numbers are less than stellar, the kid certainly makes up for with the bat. Not only did Posey with the National League Rookie of the Year award, he did it while hitting a modest .305 average, 18 home runs and 67 RBI, which were good enough for 11th place in the MVP voting. In 2012; however, Posey went off the hook!

After teammate Melky Cabrera got busted with performance enhancing drugs very few thought the Giants would regain their mental composure. Apparently Posey was out grabbing some garlic fries or a churro during this discussion because he kept at his craft. From August 15 on Posey was able to bring his batting average up a measly five points, and by that I of course mean he pushed it .336 which was good enough for his first of many batting titles to come.  Dude pal also clubbed 24 home runs and knocked 103 runners. There was very little to question Posey prowess at the plate. Even I gave him a vote (didn’t count) for MVP. He won it no problem, and I’m pretty sure my vote really made a big difference.

#38- It wouldn’t be right of me to not pay homage to the guy who I was dared to grow and beard like and maintain it for an entire season. Depending on whether you want to believe or Wikipedia, he apparently was born in two different towns in two different states. So far the sake of argument, the kid’s from New England.  Brian “Got HEEEEEEM!!!” Wilson was a 24th round draft pick for the Giants in 2003 out of LSU (yet another football school I hate). Wilson fell so low in the draft after having to undergo successful Tommy John surgery. He made his debut in 2006 and pitched in 31 games going 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA. The next year he did better, going 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA and six saves. In 2008 everything seemed to click for B-Weezy. As the team’s primary closer Wilson shut down 41 games in 47 attempts, 24 of which came consecutively which is the longest since Rob Nen’s streak of 28 in 2000. Wilson also made his first of three All-Star Game appearances that year. In 2009 Wilson finished in third for closers with 38 saves.

Wilson was quickly becoming one of the most dangerous arms in the game, and he was certainly becoming one of the most intimidating in physical appearance. Wilson saved a League leading 48 games in 2010 continued his dominance into the playoffs. The playoffs were also the site for his now infamous facial sweater. Wilson finished in seventh place for the NL Cy Young and 13th in the NL MVP vote. That year, and in 2011, Wilson made the All-Star Game, dazzling television audiences across the globe.

Well, I hope you enjoyed it. I can’t help but think I forgot to mention a few things. Hmmmmmm….

I…seem to remember something. Oh yah! In 2010 and 2012 the Giants took home the World Series; their first championships since 1954, but more important, their first titles since moving to the Bay from their humble days on the edge of Harlem, New York. And while I’m only slightly bitter about them winning two rings, the fact of the matter is that you guys are still two behind the A’s. But my father will still rub it in my face.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24- Pensacola Blue Wahoos

Originally I was going to do a post on one of my many San Francisco Giants caps, but I decided to wait until tomorrow when I have more time to write it up. Instead, I’m rolling with the 2012 Pensacola Blue Wahoos home cap/batting helmet. I realize this is a bit of jump; however, upon looking over and reorganizing all of my New Era caps on account of the fact that I’m crashing at my parents’ place for a bit, I ran a little short of time. This little cleaning project also gave me time to recount how many caps I actually have.

As of now the number stands at 244. For the last couple of weeks I thought I was hovering around 260, so being so close is a little bit of a mixed blessing. It’s good for the sake that I’m at least close to my estimate, but being 16 hats shorts is basically saying that I will be without two weeks of posts. More importantly, if I’m going to hit my goal of a post-a-day, I really need to get my finances in order to achieve my goal.

For those who are unaware the Blue Wahoos are a AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds in the Southern League. Last season was their “debut” season as they were formerly the Carolina Mudcats from 1991-2011. In 2010, businessman Quint Studer bought the Mudcats franchise amid a complicated series of purchases and moves in order to bring a Double-A team to Pensacola, Florida. The franchise would become the Blue Wahoos for the 2012 season. In order to settle this purchase, Studer facilitated the relocation of the Kinston Indians Class A team to Zebulon, where they took up the Mudcats name. In total, the arrangements cost Studer around $2 million. As you’ll begin to learn from these posts, the Minor League ownership game is quite a lucrative business. Teams come and go, much like the players that make up their rosters.

This hat, as I mentioned above, was one of two hats used during their home games, and the logo was featured primarily on the front of all of the teams’ batting helmets. It’s definitely one of the cooler ones to be released within the last five years; however, unlike the Eugene Emeralds who released three new hats for this season, there is one player worthy enough to mark up this cap after only one season.

#4-51: Billy Hamilton, at least the modern day version, is being called the next coming of Rickey Henderson. Personally, as an Oakland Athletics fan, I won’t go as far to say that, but the kid is mighty fast. On August 21, 2012 Hamilton broke Vince Coleman’s 30-year-old Minor League stolen base record of 145. Hamilton’s final number on the season stands at 155; however, only 51 of his stolen bases came during his time in Pensacola. Hence the numbers: 4 for his jersey and 51 stolen bases. While this may seem like kind of jerk move on my part, I assure it’s not. I will give commentary on the first 104 stolen bases in July as I have a personal story that pertains to his time with the Bakersfield Blaze prior to his promotion.

I think what’s most amazing about this stat is that it’s taken 30 years to break it. Base stealing, unfortunately, is a dying strategy on baseball today. For example, the last person to register 100 or more stolen bases in a season was in fact Coleman in 1987 with the St. Louis Cardinals. The next highest after that; Henderson with 93 in 1988. 70 pretty much became the benchmark after that, and only guys like Marquis Grissom, Kenny Lofton, Tony Womack, Scott Podsednik, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Reyes have hit that.

Hamilton is only 22-years-old, while the list above is filled with guys who didn’t hit their fleet of foot until they were 26 or older, with exception of Reyes who was 23. Hamilton still has a lot of time to make it to the Show, just as long as the Reds can find room for him within the lineup.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 23- Durham Bulls

I think the first time I ever watched “Bull Durham” was around the time I was 12. For years I had shied away from watching it primarily because of the cover. My mom had bought it on VHS around the time I was eight or nine years old. I was curious about it because I had seen “Field of Dreams” and assumed that any baseball movie with Kevin Costner was probably going to be pretty good. At the same time I didn’t like girls, and seeing Susan Sarandon on the cover just didn’t do it for me. I should also point out that seeing Tim Robbins in his underwear and tied up to a bed on the back of the tape jacket didn’t exactly scream “Watch me!!!” So, it sat and collected dust. If I can recall correctly the first time I saw any scenes from it was while it was on during the summer on Comedy Central. There were a few good scenes and a lot of funny lines, but I could also tell that they were edited and censored. I knew that the next time I visited my mom I had to watch it. And the rest is history.

Not only is “Bull Durham” one of the greatest baseball films of all time, but it’s probably one of the Top 3 most quoted. Not a season goes by where I don’t use the term lollygagger. I think the time in my life when this movie held true to its authenticity in the day-to-day routines of professional ball players came in 1999 and 2000 when I was doing my bat boy duties for the Bakersfield Blaze. Whether it was in the clubhouse or on the field at least one of the guys from the team would spout off some sort of reference to the film; most of the time having to do with fungus growing on the floor of the shower and how shower shoes were a necessity. If not that, then it was the unremitting use of the word meat in reference to an up-and-coming pitcher. Yeeeeeep, those were the good old days, but who am I kidding? Those days never really ended for me. Every year I venture out to as many Minor League games I can get it in, and no matter what the level is I can tell who has seen the film and who hasn’t. It’s almost become a right of passage for anyone who decides to cleat up and make a go at it professional.

I think one thing that I’ve found very intriguing about this hat is that it was truly made famous by the film. While the Durham Bulls were a real club as early as 1902, it was the A-level affiliate of the Atlanta Braves from 1980-1997 that became iconic because of the film which came out in 1988. This hat was first introduce for the 1986 season, a year before filming began, and it is still used today in the form of a navy blue style for batting practice and a two front white paneled version for home games. Because of the success and nostalgia of the film, any thoughts for changing things up have pretty much gone out the window. As far as any notables from the 1986 squad are concerned, there were a few: Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, Chris Cron and David Justice. In 1998 the original Bulls were relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and became the Pelicans. The current Bulls squad is a new team that has been the AAA franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays who also come into the league the same year

As far as marking this hat is concerned; there were two numbers I couldn’t pass up.

#8- I read a review once which said that Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Crash Davis was the worst character of all three of his baseball films. That critic can go to hell. Crash Davis could not have been more perfect of a character by any other actor… except maybe Timothy Olyphant if there is a remake, but I hope there isn’t; just throwing that out there. Anyway, Crash was the kind of wily veteran figure that any ball club needs at any level. He knows the game, he knows what kind of talent he’s working with, and most importantly he knows how to get the girl in the end… even if she is sloppy seconds. True story. Aside from calling a good came, Crash can still hit. I mean, the guy held the record for most career Minor League home runs at 247, at which he subsequently retired after his final long fly with the Ashville Tourists near the end of the film. The real record is actually held by Mike Hessman who is currently still playing ball in the Cincinnati Reds organization, but that post is upcoming. Crash knew how to deal with the media; he knew how to handle his pitchers even if that meant giving up a home run or two to get them to focus. Yes, Crash Davis is a true man for all seasons if you will; however, there was one thing in the film that has bothered me for years. This…

As you can see the #20 is affixed to Crash’s catcher helmet; however, he has the #8 on the back of his jersey. One of two things can be taken from this.

1. A blatant continuity error that only some film and hat aficionado like myself would notice.

2. Because it’s A-level ball; the equipment gets recycled year-after-year.

To be honest, I mostly buy into option two, but, I’m still keeping an eye on the situation.

#37- Tim Robbins did a wonderful job at playing the young, but mentally absent phenom Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. I’ve been around a number of guys like him in my lifetime. You know, the guy who KNOWS he’s going to be a star and can bed any woman he pleases. I’m not going to name names, but yaaaaaaaahhhh. At the beginning of the film LaLoosh was a hit or miss kind of pitcher. He struck out as many as he walked, but all the kid needed was a bit of guidance to help correct his wild ways on and off the filed. Enter Crash Davis. Like most relationships the bond that Crash and Nuke shared was tumultuous at first, but as games went by the two become familiar with one another, comfortable. Nuke matured in front of our eyes with additional assistance from Annie Savoy played by Sarandon. Not only was she able to get him to breathe through his eyelids like the lava lizards of the Galapagos (and Fernando Valenzuela), she was also able to help him relax on the field and hone in on his pitches while wearing this…

The one thing that I’ve always found most intriguing about this movie is that while baseball is the overwhelming topic of discussion, the real story that’s going on is a family’s love. Despite the fact that Nuke and Annie were obviously banging each other, what really going on is that Nuke is really trying to get that sort of female attention he never really received in life. Proof of this comes when Nuke introduces Annie to her father when his losing streak comes to an end. While we don’t get to know much about him, it’s pretty obvious that Nuke comes from a one parent home and that his father did the best to raise him with the game of baseball. Crash’s role is the sterner role of the father that Nuke never received. While his actual father obviously supports what Nuke wants to pursue for a career, he doesn’t know how to discipline him on the field. Crash knows how to control him and get him to a Major League caliber level. This is why, in the end, when Nuke finally makes the Show Annie is saddened by the news. Year after year she had a new player to entertain and have fun with, but this is the first time she truly feels lonely after he leaves. Crash and Annie were always flirtatious, but while Crash wanted her to commit to just him, she didn’t know or understand how to do that. Now that Nuke (essentially their kid) is all grown up, they can finally be together.

I may or may not have written a paper on this subject, but that was the Cliff’s Notes version. This film is important to anyone who has ever picked up a ball or merely watched from afar. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it’s romantic, and it’s all the things that make baseball so special.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22- Pittsburgh Pirates

I realize that with all the hats I have if I were to tell you that I didn’t want this one in particular you probably wouldn’t believe me. I should actually word that better. At some point in time I was going to buy this; however, when I did pick it up it had more to do with impulse, rather than necessity. About two weeks before I left for New York City to be in the MLB Fan Cave my friend Leif Carpenter shot me a text and asked if I wanted to go hat shopping. Yes, hat shopping. You know? It’s like when women goes shoe shopping, except for the fact that we come back with something awesome and not something that looks cute and will cause our ankles to swell/bleed. This Pittsburgh Pirates hat was his favorite one to wear and he always try to get me to buy it any time we went to the Lids at Valley River Center in Eugene, Oregon. On that fateful day I rummaged around, looking behind random stacks in case they were styles not showing, but… the reality set in; I had actually bought every game worn style the store carried. So, without a good reason to not pick it up, I did. I think Leif was happier about it than I was.

The Pirates rocked this hat for all of their road games from 1997-2000 under than coach and current Detroit Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont. Lamont is one of the few guys in baseball I hate merely on the principle that he’s terrible at his job. Seriously, watch a Tigers game some time and watch Miguel Cabrera blow through every sign Lamont puts up. Even Miggy knows what’s up. It’s actually a known fact that the main reason Lamont still has his job with the Tigers is because he’s great friends with Jim Leyland. What’s really interesting about this fact is that Leyland’s last managerial year with the Bucs came at the end of the 1996 season. Lamont’s first year with the Pirates? 1997, at which he lasted until the end of the 2000 season with a record of 295-352. Bad.

I can’t exactly say that the Pirates had some stellar players during this time frame; however, they did have a few diamonds in the rough. Unfortunately I’ve all ready written about the two best players (Jason Kendall and Brian Giles) back on January 2, but I was able to find a few good ones to mark proudly on this cap.

#22- Before he became a lights out pitcher with the San Francisco Giants, Jason Schmidt was just another guy to take the hill for the Pirates. Originally an eighth round pick for the Atlanta Braves in 1991, Schmidt made his debut in 1995 with the Bravos, but was traded midseason to Pittsburgh during the 1996 season. Schmidt played for the Pirates until the middle of the 2001 season when he was dealt to the Giants, but he only found modest success in the National Eastern division. During his run Schmidt went 44-47 with 4.39 ERA and 596 strikeouts. He never won any awards, and the one stat he ever led the League in was wild pitches with 15 in 1998.

#28- If you haven’t noticed by now, I have a huge respect for former members of the Montreal Expos. A former third round pick for the ‘Spos in 1987, John Vander Wal was a well-known name, but not exactly the touting prospect everyone imagines he’d be. He made his debut in 1991 and hung around Montreal until the end of the 1993 season. From there he went to the Rockies from 1994- the middle of 1998 when he got dealt to the San Diego Padres until 1999. In 2000 Vander Wal found himself with the Pirates and made an impact quickly. That season he was a regular fixture in the lineup and received a career high 461 at bats… which led him to hit .299 on the season, a career best based on plate appearances. He also got career highs in home runs (24) and RBI (94), both of which were the second best for the team behind Brian Giles’s marks. But, like Schmidt, he was dealt to the Giants. In fact, the two were traded for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Funny how that one worked out for everyone.