Saturday, March 22, 2003

In another example of how blogging takes over your life, I have been asleep in my living room chair for at least two hours. It must have been a tough week because I sure am sleepy. I finally woke up and staggered toward the kitchen to get a drink and my wife asks me if I'm going to give in and go to bed. I looked at her with a frown and concern and said, "I haven't written my blog yet!"

I bought baseball cards today. I can't remember the last time I did that. It was probably a similar lark a couple of years ago because I know there are some cards in the second drawer of my dresser that I promised my wife I'd go through. A promise long forgotten months ago until just now. Anyway, I was driving around with my little girl looking at old houses (what can I say, it's one of the things we like to do). To reward her for being such a good and patient, I promised her we'd stop at a store she likes to buy a doll or a book or something. While checking out her doll, stuffed animal and book (yes, I am soft), I saw a box of Topps cards on the counter for sale. I remember that the last time I bought some, there were eighteen to a pack and the pack cost $25 or something. Well, maybe not that much but it seemed so. Today, each pack had six cards and cost a little over a dollar. I bought five packs.

A true fan only considers Topps a true baseball card. Topps was the only one for years and the only one that stayed true with all the stats on the back of the card. Fleer rhymed with sneer and Donruss rhymed with truss and who can remember what the other companies were named because they didn't matter. I repeat: a true fan only considers Topps a true baseball card.

Opening a pack of baseball cards is always a sacred thing. The pack is perfect until it is open. An unopened pack still contains hopes and expectations. To open a pack is to break its purity but a necessary step to find out if there was treasure or dross inside. I once bought 20 unopened Topps packs from Ebay that were twenty years old. That was twenty years of purity. I could have kept them that way and preserved their worth, but I was too weak and had to see what was inside.

Most of the time, a pack is pretty disappointing. For every semi-star like Jeff Conine, you have four or five Robert Ficks. A Barry Bonds is just not in the cards (pun accidental but fun) unless its a gimmick card which doesn't have his stats. There is another truism: A true baseball card not only has to be Topps but has to have either statistics on the back or be a checklist. The rest are gimmick cards.

My childhood was filled with baseball and Topps baseball cards were no exception. The packs were about the price of a candy bar back then if I remember right. We would buy a few at a time whenever we could. My brother and I faithfully filled out the checklists for the cards we had. We didn't know the future value of the cards at the time so our cards would be stored in big boxes and loose. Of course we put the cards in our bicycle tires. I was a very good baseball card flipper. Flipping was the game of flipping a card against a wall at the same time as one or more kids. The card that landed closest to the wall picked up all the other cards. It was a cheap way to pick up some good cards.

I have the typical American sad story of going away to college only to have mom throw away my boxes of cards while I'm gone. Why do moms have such brain cramps? Only moms who are true baseball fans (ours was not) would not consider such silly notions. She saved the matchboxes though so at least she didn't totally fail me. When I think of the potential wealth of the cards in the lost box, I cringe. I know without doubt that I had at least a dozen Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie cards...worth around $1000 a piece last I looked (although the value has been going down every year and the value might be much less now). I had Willie Mays cards along with most of the cards of the past greats. I never could get a Mickey Mantle card...probably because I wanted one too badly. I can picture in my head cards of Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, Tom Seaver, Frank Robinson and many, many more. But they are all gone. At least I can replace the entertainment value by finding the stats on

I bought five packs today. The wrapping said they were "Opening Day - 2003" cards. That was exciting since a wonderful new season is a pregnant pause away. It's time to be excited again! Opening the packs proved to reveal cards that were glossier than packs of old. The colors are exciting and patriotic--red, white and blue. The Topps trademark logo is on the top left corner of the face of the card. The players are in their typical position of hitting, pitching, fielding or just standing in the field. They aren't posed like in the old days. The backs are vintage Topps with Ht., Wt., Throws, Bats, Drafted, Acq., Born and Home information on the top of the card under the player's name. If the player has played less than fifteen years, there are all the stats and then text about some facts concerning the player. The player who has been around for more than fifteen years are the best because the stats take up all the page.

Something was amiss today. Out of thirty possible cards, seventeen were really good cards. There were: Eric Chavez, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones (yuck), Nomar Garciaparra, Kerry Wood, Craid Biggio (who only needs 705 hits for 3000), Eric Gagne, Brian Giles, Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, Roger Clemens (bonus!), Ivan Rodriguez Curt Schilling and Alfonso Soriano!

For the first time in my Topps baseball card buying experience, I feel like I forgot to genuflect when I entered the church. Are they playing with me? I think I'll drown out my confusion by going to read all these great stats.

Friday, March 21, 2003

In one of the great headlines of all time that would make Mickey Spillane proud, crows: "Billionaire Broad confirms interest in buying Dodgers." Broad, of course, is referring to Eli Broad, the Los Angeles dynamo last heard from when he tried to bring an NFL franchise back to LA. I'm not sure that letting a Broad run things is going to restore this franchise to its former glory days of Alston and then Lasorda and the proud Dodger blue.

The last great Dodger headline was a while back when a small article indicated that "Monday will be out Tuesday." Monday was Rick Monday, the centerfielder that played for the Dodgers in the late 70's and early to mid 80's. Another great thing about is that you can look at the statistics of former MLB players. A lot of sites offer that, but ESPN has a really cool feature where under each stat, the player is ranked in that stat all time. For example, you can find out that Rick Monday ranks 160th all time in home runs but only 407th in career RBI. Isn't that cool information?

Okay, let's try a few of my personal favorites: Bobby Murcer hit 252 homers to place him 141st on the list or 19 in front of Rich Monday. But Murcer ended up with 1043 RBI which places him 188th all time and dozens ahead of Monday. The day Murcer was traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds was one of the most shocking and sad days of my life.

To this day, I can still do Murcer's stance at the plate. I remember going to Yankee Stadium for opening day in 1969--Murcer's first full year. Murcer wore number 2 and a player named Jerry Kenney wore number 1. Since the Yanks were so bad, they needed a gimmick and Kenney (#1) batted first and Murcer (#2) batted second. In this memorable opening game, the visiting team didn't score and Kenney and Murcer hit back to back solo homers. Murcer went on to hit 25 more home runs that year but Kenney hit only one more. A year later, Kenney hit below the Mendoza line (.194) in 404 at bats and was out of baseball a few years later.

Anyway...the day Murcer was traded was terrible. He was a victim of those horrible years when the Yanks had to play at Shea while Yankee Stadium was being rebuilt. At Yankee Stadium, Murcer averaged 27 homers a year. The first year at Shea, his numbers tumbled to 22 and the following year 11. He was then traded to the Giants and hit 34 homers in two years in the cold and wind of Candlestick Park. Murcer played two years for the Cubbies before coming back to the Yankees as a sentimental favorite in their glory years with Munson and Reggie Jackson. Murcer did have a decent career and in one nine year stretch averaged 90 RBI a year.

Hmm...Bobby Bonds...72nd all time in homers with 332 and eighth all time in strikeouts with 1757 (in 14 years!). I bet you didn't know that! His son Barry Bonds has more runs scored in his sixteen years than his dad had strikeouts. In two more seasons, Barry has five hundred less strikeouts than his dad did.

Okay, one more stat peek and I'll stop: Fritz Peterson. Fritz was a pretty good pitcher for the Yankees through their truly awful years of 1966 (two years after their last pennant of the 60's) and 1976 (two years before their first pennant since 1964!). They came in last or next to last for most of those years. Despite that, Fritz ended his career 133 - 131 with a 3.30 ERA. Not bad! Of course, he'll forever be known as one half of the famous Yankee scandal of wife swapping. He and a fellow pitcher named Mike Kekich (39-51 lifetime) decided to switch wives in mid-season. It must have been natural for Peterson's ex-wife to state that Kekich came in out of the bullpen. It was quite the fiasco at the time. I don't believe there was a happily-ever-after. I think the Kedich-Peterson duo worked out but the Peterson-Kekich pairing fizzled out faster than Fernando Valenzuela's fastball.

Well, this column meandered all over the place. That's okay, if you discover's stat collection with the lifetime rankings, it will have been worth it.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

It must be difficult to decide how many more good years a superstar has left in the tank. The Red Sox vastly underestimated Roger Clemens prime by about eight years. But to be fair to them, sometimes it seems Roger needs a kick in the pants to get going. For example, in last year's debacle of a performance against the Angels, Roger came out with gas and the Angel hitters couldn't catch up. It was like butter for the Yankee pitcher. The next time through the lineup, Clemens started getting cute with splitters and sliders and was lit up. One memorable moment was with Tim Salmon. Salmon did not come close to Clemens fastball. He then came up in a crucial situation with men on base and Clemens got cute and Salmon crushed him. Clemens needed a pitching coach or a catcher to kick him in the kabuckus and told him to throw hard and harder.

Anyway, I'm off the subject. A recent story shows that Arizona just signed Luis Gonzalez to a three year contract extension. The reports are that he had a bad shoulder last year. Be that as it may, Gonzalez was 50% less effective last year than he was the year before. Granted, he had a career year in 2001, but that's the point. He had a career year. Gonzalez is 37 years old. I'm not convinced this was a good idea.

Pudge Rodriguez faced similar questions with Texas. Texas didn't like the odds and cut him loose. Florida took a chance but only a year's worth of a chance which is smart. If they catch lightning in a bottle (one of the weird cliches of our time), then great. If not, well, it was only one year. You have to be careful at this point in a player's career. I remember when Darrell Evans was playing for Detroit. For a few years, he hit a mash of home runs. But it was late in his career, and every year you had to look at him and ask how many years he had left. I seem to remember that the Tigers played it just right and Evan went to the Braves (I think!) and was never the same after. The Tigers of old always seemed to play these cards very well. Trammell and Whitacker played together for a decade and left just as their peak did as did Kirk Gibson.

Larry Anderson of the Red Sox is another example of a player whose best years were behind him. The Red Sox, who as have been mentioned, not only blew it on Clemens but gave up on Wade Boggs exactly two years too soon. The Padres on the other hand let Gwynn hang around too long. But the choice isn't only difficult for the teams, it's difficult for the player.

Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Sr, Rickie Henderson, Tom Seaver and Carlton Fisk are all examples of players who played longer than they should have. Sandy Koufax, Mark McGuire, Don Mattingly and Nolan Ryan are all examples of players who judged it just right. Okay, Ryan was 46 you say. But at 46, he was more effective than most pitchers half his age. Kenny Lofton should hang it up. Tim Raines was smart enough to do so this year. It has to be incredibly difficult to leave a sport that you have played your whole life. But a player's dignity and pride has to balance out that difficulty with reality and call it a game after playing as long as one possibly can in an effective manner.

The Dallas Cowboys showed class and dignity with how they handled what they felt was the end of their franchise player's effectiveness. Major League teams can do the same thing with long time superstars that have hung on just a bit too long. Of course, Emmett Smith might come back and have a couple of great years for another team...and of course, he may not.

By the way, how soon until the NCAA thing gets over so that ESPN can concentrate on baseball?

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I am struggling to write tonight. My goal with this blog from the beginning was to be disciplined and write something at least semi-literate every day about a sport I've loved all my life. In many ways, I expect those thoughts to crossover and have some meaning about life in the greater sense. Tonight the greater sense about life is too overwhelming to ponder about something that seems as trivial as baseball.

I will not launch into a defense or argument against where the world finds itself. But I will comment that the hearts of most humans are for peace. There may be a percentage of humankind that finds these types of days exhilirating. But for most of us, these are days of unrest and quiet fear. All we ask is to have the chance to live our lives and find our purpose and meaning. All others ask is to simply enjoy the trip. Wherever you fall in that spectrum, these days disrupt that quiet hope and wish and give us instead a feeling of dread and uncertainty.

Perhaps you came here tonight to escape our world for a few moments. For most of the history of this blog, I hope that is what you find when you come. But for tonight, it's a time for drawing inward, for soul searching and for a desperate hope for peace.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The news sounds good concerning Tug McGraw. The reports were that he has an excellent chance of recovery.

I have mixed feelings about the amount of press sports tragedy receives which is the same for all "fame" inducing venues. There are personal tragedies played out all across America and the world. Why should we care about the rich and famous when they at least can afford the best medical care money can buy? I think part of the reason it matters is that stories such as McGraw's personalize a game played by the gods.

These are human beings blessed with a particular talent and granted a measure of luck that made them more fortunate materially than the rest of us. But they are still humans. And at times, their struggles inspire those of us mere mortals. Lou Gehrig's speech immortalized near the end of his illness and during a day in his honor at Yankee Stadium is still one of the most stirring and inspiring series of sentences of the 20th Century. It is a statement of courage, of humility and of humanity. Only two speeches I have watched moved me that much and the other was King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Lance Armstrong has certainly inspired another generation of victims to fight cancer and to have hope. When a champion triumphs over such a devastating illness, can you measure how many lives are won over by hope as his story is played out? Mike Lowell of the Marlins is another such story.

Yes, it can be sad when a well-known baseball player has a stunning illness or even when a lesser known pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles seemingly dies for no reason. The cynic will state that thousands die every day and nobody writes their stories. That's true. But let me present the other side of that argument. Was Ben Franklin the only genius of his time who was good at settling an argument, writing brilliantly or tinkering with inventions? Surely there were others of his time as talented that didn't ever get even a line of praise for their lifetime of achievement. But that does not minimize Franklin's accomplishments and how his life inspired countless lives through the ages. That's the way "fame" bounces but if you are one of the lucky immortals, your humanity can and does still inspire us and we still root for you and cry with you. All the best to you, Tug.

I was certainly relieved that the trip to Japan was cancelled in light of recent events. Those players and their families did not need to have their lives at risk for the sake of this diplomatic series. Sure it is disappointing to those who put it together and for the officials in Japan and MLB. But you have to protect and not risk our precious commodities especially at this frightening time in our history.

Whenever momentus events in our history occur, the debate always rages of whether the games of sports should go on. On a very personal and honest level, I am frightened to the core of my being by events taking place in the world. In light of these events, are sports important? No, of course not. But boy do I need them to help control and contain my fear. Our spirits need lifting on a continual basis and baseball was healing after September 11 and it's a balm now. Just protect those fans coming to the ballparks. Please.

Monday, March 17, 2003

I hope nobody took my tongue-in-cheek rant seriously yesterday. Just because I can't stand the Toronto Blue Jays, it isn't because I'm a stoogish American clown. Do you want to know the real reason I hate the Blue Jays? It's because during their halycon days, they had the most smug (or should that be "smuggest"?) TV announcers in baseball. Our cable has always had Canadian stations and other than constant news and winter hockey, they would throw an occasional Blue Jay game on. The announcers were so bad. It's okay to be a home team rooter (Phil Rizzuto roots for the Yankees but is consistently entertaining) but it's another to do it in such a smug, saccharine manner that it made me want to spit.

Announcers add so much to the game. Jim Kaat, Bob Uecker, Ken Harrelson, Sean McDonough and others around the league make watching their teams a joy and help build team loyalty. A good announcer can make a three hour stay in front of the TV a pleasant experience.

There is much to MLB that makes for a great experience. Groundskeepers present a canvas that the artists can work. Grounds can be an art themselves. I remember the grass in the old Minnesota ball park and how it had the wonderful checkerboard. I even remember the old Washington, D.C park where the Senators used to play. It was beautiful on TV. Yankee Stadium has become beautiful with the monument park. The new stadiums in San Francisco and other cities are gorgeous and far better than the cookie cutter, artificial turf-laden stadiums of the 70's.

Even a stadium's PA announcer can change the way a baseball game is "felt." No matter how crazy the hype is around the Yankees, Bob Sheppard has given every game played at Yankee Stadium a dignity and class found no where else. On the other end of the spectrum, it was always fun to hear the Twins announcer introduce Kirby Puckett.

For the Flagrant Fan, few can add to baseball more than the baseball writer. When I lived in New Hampshire, I would spend $1.50 for the Sunday paper only for the Peter Gammons column. I've been reading baseball since the wonder days of The Sporting News and have read many of the great sportswriters of our time. But none match Gammons. His columns are coffee on the deck on a Sunday morning special. The Internet and with his columns is the stuff of fantasy. Is life great or what?

When don't announcers, players, groundskeepers, and the rest help make baseball great? Spring Training games, that's when. I watched the Red Sox play an exhibition game. It's impossible to have any interest in games when the stats don't count, fifteen pitchers pitch and you can't keep score because the scorecard doesn't have enough lines. Sean McDonough and Jerry Remy were similarly bored and talked about everything but baseball. I'll stick to reading the Springtime gossip from now on.

All of which seems trivial right now as I just finished watching President Bushes' speech. Heaven help us all...

Sunday, March 16, 2003

I'm not in a good mood tonight but that's okay. The wonder of blogging is that you can be who you are and if you are just starting, no one will read it and if you catch on, it will be because people understand the voice of the writer anyway. So we'll just go with it.

Whose idea was it to put the Expos in Puerto Rico for half the season? I have nothing against Puerto Rico other than my mom and my then step-father honeymooned there. But the Expos are the Montreal Expos until someone buys them and moves them somewhere else. Won't that make Frank Robinson and crew have to play over a hundred away games? Why can't MLB sell the poor lost team and put them somewhere that will help them settle down to one place?

Just to get some comfort in the whole situation, I thought I would look up Puerto Rico's time zone. At first, I was pleased because at least the time zone is the same as Montreal's. But Puerto Rico doesn't follow daylight savings time so right now when we are at 10:20 PM Eastern Daylight Time, it's 11:20 PM there. Now I have to look up Montreal's time zone situation. See how complicated this is? Okay, it's 10:20 in Montreal so now we are going to have a partial season playing games at the wrong time. How can that be right?

Baseball is also going to start its season in Japan. I believe the Cubbies are one of the teams going. Are the Giants the other? I'll have to look it up. Why should loyal Giant and Cub fans suffer over this silly experiment in diplomacy. Besides, if I was a gazillionaire like Bonds and Sosa, would I want to fly to Japan in the midst of war rumblings? As my daughter would say: "Nuh uh."

Do they sell Giant season ticket holder seats at less of a price because some of the home games are in Japan? Or do they sell them at the same price and tell the fans they are welcome to the seats in Tokyo if they want to fly over?

You can't confuse the Flagrant Fan any more than posting box scores ten hours before or after they are expected. Oh man, I am NOT going to look up Japan's time zone. And when will the highlights reach ESPN? If either Bonds or Sosa hit four homers in a game or if the watch for Sosa's 500th home run happens, will it be at three in the morning? Fooey on all of this.

Now a headline on is talking about European games in the near future. Enough already. Most of us who are mindless enough to start bashing the French for their war stance (yes, we all forget LaFayette), have taken a decade to get over the Blue Jays winning two World Series titles--one against the Phillies in the cradle of our democracy on the last pitch! Now we have to endure games in Puerto Rico, Japan and Belgium? Perhaps the royalty of Monaco can buy the Expos. At least the Monaco Expos are still close to the original.