Football is king right now. The sport is at the epicenter of its season and it deservedly has our attention and our devotion. It's a great sport. There is nothing better than flipping on the television on a Sunday and watching a couple of great games. But again, football is a game of now. Its past does not resonate like baseball's past. Think that statement is wrong? Go to sportsblog.org or ballhype.com and count how many baseball blogs there are compared to football blogs. Perhaps that will change in the future. Baseball has always been a passed down love. Fathers and sons (and daughters too). The popularity of football may overtake that passing down effect. But for now, it is baseball's past that resonates with fans just as much as the present: much more so than football. One test of that theory is to think about names. Where is the Babe Ruth of football? The Lou Gehrig? Sure there is Johnny Unitis (isn't it telling that this writer isn't sure how his name is spelled?). Other than Bronco Nogorski (if even that is spelled right), the names of the football past don't bring smiles of recognition like baseball's past names.
That incredibly long and irksome opening paragraph was supposed to lead into a fond look at some old baseball names. Perhaps if you made it beyond that paragraph, you'll still enjoy this little journey. The Fan loves the game of baseball and this off season has already been fun to watch and the new season is out there beckoning like a spring basket for Easter. But let's take a little trip through some names that come to mind in stream of conscious fashion.
One of the all-time favorites is Harmon Killebrew. First, those of you who enjoy a brew now and then would love to kill a few here and there. But the guy was this big burly bruiser who could crush a baseball. So the guy could Harm you or Kill you or both. He was a killer. On the other end of the scale was Mike Pagliarulo. Of course, you just called him, "Pags." Pags had a couple of decent years, but his career was just like his name sounds--workman-like. Born in Medford, Massachusetts, Pags was just an every day joe who made us proud once in a while.
Who could forget the tandom of Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek? It was Kirby and Herby, remember? Puckett is remembered more because of his flamboyance, but Hrbek was a good player with a career 128 OPS+ and a career fielder with 15.7 runs above average. They were great and their team won the World Series.
How about Sandy Koufax? Sandy didn't seem to fit, but it came from his, "Sanford," first name. But what a name and what memories! And the legend goes on and on. How many Hall of Famers finished their careers with their best season?
All this writer needs to type is: "Dave Henderson," and many of you can picture him, right? That slouchy kind of run? That walk-off homer to win the playoff series? The way he flipped the ball after the last out of an inning? Ah yes.
Nothing else needs to be said after typing, "Yogi Berra," or "The Splendid Splinter," or "Ducky Medwick," or "Dizzy Dean," but how about Jerry Koosman or Ron Kittle or La Marr Hoyt? You can still picture them if you are over 35 years of age, right? If you are little older, the lights will go on if the names Jimmy Wynn, Denis Menke and John Mayberry are mentioned too.
The Fan knows you'll remember Dan Quisenberry and his submarine pitching. He used to pitch 140 innings a season when he was a closer. A career 140 ERA+ isn't shabby either. And all the Fan had to say was, "Quiz," and you would have known.
Of course, if you are as old as the Fan, you'll have a smile of a memory with the names of Manny Mota or Bob Veale. And all the Fan would have to say would be, "Jesus, Felipe and Matty," and you would know those three brothers, right? Isn't it great remembering they all played in the same outfield for the Giants?
If you are a little younger, you'll remember the great Brewers' team with Pete Vuckovich, Randy Lerch and Cecil Cooper along with Robin Yount of course. You might even remember Rollie Fingers as their closer. You might even remember the Toronto team of 1989 that came within a whisker of glory with Ernie Whitt, Fred McGriff (the Crime Dog), Tony Fernandez, Kelly Gruber, Dave Stieb and George Bell. And if you do, you'll also remember John Cerutti!
The Fan could go on and on. The point is that the past is alive for those of us who love this game. The present is a gas, but looking back is full of smiles and recognition. Yeah, the Fan can remember Bullet Bob Hayes and Raymond Berry and other football names. But they don't strike a chord quite like Mookie Wilson can.
Happy New Year everyone.