Friday, February 24, 2006

1986 Topps #345

Baseball has the power to mortalize men as much it can do the opposite. Herb Score, Dickie Thon and Tony Conigliaro had promising careers derailed when they were struck by balls, either pitched or lined. Ray Chapman was famously killed by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays in a 1920 game. In 1940, Willard Hershberger filled in for an injured Ernie Lombardi. Though he played rather well, his teammates whispered that a particular game versus the New York Giants would not have been lost if Lombardi were playing instead. Two days later, after Cincinnati lost again to an inferior Braves team in extra innings, Hershberger slit his throat and wrists in a Boston hotel. Lombardi himself would attempt the same in his old age.

In Game 5 of the 1986 American League playoffs, Donnie Moore came in the ninth inning of a 5-4 game with two outs to shut down a rally against Boston. Literally one strike away from sending the Angels to the World Series, Dave Henderson promptly smacked a home run for the lead and the Red Sox were able to win the game and eventually the pennant. Two years later, the former All Star was out of baseball and in 1989, he shot his wife three times during an argument before turning the gun onto himself.

By many accounts, Donnie Ray Moore was not a happy person. He battled depression, alcoholism and drug abuse and it would be irresponsible of us to single out that one pitch to Hendu as the source for all his misery, however tempting it may be after seeing the devasted look on his face in the locker room afterwards. But since athletes are sometimes branded by their crushing failures more than they are by accomplishing feats the rest of us can only name, there are those who say that Moore was simply never able to put the incident all the way behind him. For some, the boos they hear as the result of one game can completely negate the rush of cheers they heard in the 375 games before.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Shut up shut up shutupshutup.

Dear A-Rod,

My admiration for you as a ballplayer is already teetering on reluctance, even though in the past I've actually defended you when people were bitching about how you were sinking the Texas Rangers with your $252 million contract. After all, I reasoned, if you were going to overpay for anybody, it may as well be the guy who is about to enter the prime of the greatest career ever from a weak-hitting position. It wasn't your contract that was the problem; it was (among other examples) paying Chan Ho "Shitty Pitcher" Park $12 million a year and Darren "How the Hell am I Worth $7 Million a Year?" Oliver $7 million dollars a year. People are also fond of saying that you signed with a last-place team just for the money while conveniently forgetting that the Rangers had made the playoffs in three of the previous four years you joined. Therefore, you had every reason to believe that they would continue to be competitive.

When you won the 2003 AL MVP, people asked, "Well, how valuable can he really be if his team finished in last place?" and I'd say, "Because, dummy, what could be more valuable than a Gold Glove shortstop who hits 50 home runs a year?" Even after the infamous fallout of the non-trade of you for Dumb Blonde Ramirez with the Red Sox, I still didn't blame you for wanting to join the Yankees. I mean, who wouldn't want to share the left side of the infield with their girlfriend for the most storied franchise in sports history? And still, even after all that, I had to objectively agree that you deserved the MVP last year over Cookie Monster Ortiz. While he had a sick 1.001 OPS and didn't field at all, you had a slightly sicker 1.031 OPS while playing outstanding defense.

But now? With this whole WBC thing? At first, I thought it was funny how you were walking on eggshells by trying to be patriotic to two countries at once. But like most things that were originally funny, now it's getting annoying. I mean, have you really listened to what you said the other day?
"Just to make it clear, I only spoke once and then I spoke again three months later. All the garbage in between was Major League Baseball. I didn't go back and forth. I said once I wasn't playing, and then at the end I said, 'So OK, I am playing.'"
What? Not-uh. Last year at the All-Star Game, you totally said:
"I am going to play for the Dominican Republic and I am going to make the Dominicans feel proud...I want to say it out loud: I am Dominican...I am Dominican, and that's the flag I will represent in the World Classic...We will have a great team and we will try to win the title so that all the Dominican people will feel proud of their ballplayers and of their own nationality."
Five months later (not three but who's counting? Besides me, I mean.), you were all,
"When faced with the decision to choose between my country, the United States of America, and my Dominican heritage, I decided I will not dishonor either."
And then you were all,
"In recent weeks, following dialogue with caring friends and players, both Dominican and American, I reached the conclusion that if I played in the Classic, I would play for the United States and honor my American citizenship."
And now you're trying to tell everybody you didn't say what you really said and that Major League Baseball was "leaking information" when it was really you saying what you said the entire time? Whatever. Stop acting like a passive-aggressive pussy already. You're being a total bitch.
"The game of baseball has been my whole life. It's given me everything I have. If I didn't think this was better for the game, the growth of the game, I wouldn't be playing. I felt that I owe this to the game. I've made the right decision. I'm very proud to be playing for the USA team. I plan to enjoy it."
Shut up. I don't want to hear it anymore.
"Most people are not going to understand. They're going to ridicule me and make fun of it. Unless you understand my background and where I come from-"
I said shut up! God.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

1988 Topps #468

When this author was but 11 or 12, his father took him, his younger brother and his then-best friend to a Phillies game at Veterans Stadium, a concrete coliseum that resembled a cross between a toilet bowl and an unflushed toilet bowl with humongous turds floating in it. The Phillies of those years were, of course, those turds. However, no one sucked worse than Darren Daulton, whose abysmal sublevels of suckitude were so legendary in Philadelphia that they were almost unimaginable. No one could possibly suck this bad and still be good enough to be on a non-Philadelphian major league roster. In 1985, he batted .201. He made progress in 1986 by batting .225, only to undo such improvement by batting .194 the next year. In 1988 and 1989, he batted .208 and .201 respectively but suddenly, he took a giant step forward in 1990 with a very unDutch-like line of .268/.367/.416. These numbers for a catcher would be much more appreciated in the Moneyball era of the now but he sucked anyway. Almost as if he were trying to prove that he sucked, he went back to batting .196 the following year.

But in 1992, something amazing happened. Right before our very eyes, Dutch not only stopped sucking but became a great player; one of the best catchers in the game. To this day, I don't know what happened that offseason. Maybe he caught onto to the benefits of exercise and nutrition a bit earlier than everybody else. Maybe he starting eating Wheaties. Maybe he starting eating steroids. But Dutch clubbed 27 home runs, became only the 4th catcher in Baseball history to lead the league in RBI and his fantastic .908 OPS was 4th-best in the National League. He repeated such success the next year and part of a pretty good (if slightly flukish) line-up of Phillie hitters that went to the World Series. He became a three-time All Star, helped the Florida Marlins win a ring by hitting .389/.455/.667 in the 1997 World Series and from a performance/position perspective, was one of the most valuable players in the game during his prime. He even married a one-time Hooters spokeslady, which is more than enough to make any man feel redeemed for batting .194. Perhaps no one in the history of any sport has salvaged the suckiness of his career as well as Darren Daulton did.

But while reversing his own fortunes is admirable, he has been arrested several times for DUI, speeding, refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, failing to appear in court and for beating his poor wife. I mean, isn't it bad enough that she wasn't blessed with the smarts to not work at Hooters? Which brings me to the point I've been digressing from since the second sentence of this post. Coming home from
John Kruk's bachelor party one night, he and Lenny Dykstra drunkenly wrapped a car around a tree. Sometime shortly before that aforementioned game my father took us to, the three of us were walking the complete circle (much like turds whirlpooling down a toilet) above the 300 level of the stadium and came across the bullpen where Dutch was warming up one of their crappy pitchers. With my kid brother in tow, my friend and I leaned over the railing, got his attention and shouted, "Friends don't let friends drink and drive!" Dutch promptly chucked a rosin bag at us but not before we were able to run like hell and self-congratulatory laugh our fools heads off over our ingenious wit. It is a story I have nostalgically repeated numerously ever since and I was shocked to find this article from Sports Illustrated. I am disappointed to report that it was not a rosin bag Darren threw at our heads but rather:
...just a mirage of innumerable particles constantly speeding up or slowing down. But the Fourth and Fifth Dimensions remain unseen by most people. Their vibrations are at a lower frequency.
I mean, wow. So if a tree falls and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If that rosin bag ended up hitting one of us, would we have been hurt? If a man hits .194 and every newspaper reports that it happened as millions of people witnessed it, did it really happen after all? Say what you will about Daulton becoming Baseball's answer to Tom Cruise but frankly, I think this article explains a lot. If you don't believe me, scroll back up and look at his baseball card from 1988, particularly the top left-hand side. Where is the rest of the bat? I always thought it was accidentally airbrushed by some hack intern in the Topps art department or maybe Dutch had been hitting with only half a bat for the first half of his career before he realized he could triple his home run total by hitting the same way everyone else does. This has been bothering the hell out of me for 17 years but now I see because all this time, I wasn't using my sixth sense and my vibration was at a lower frequency. The rest of the bat just isn't fucking there.

I don't know what to believe anymore.