Archive for May 2011
(…continued from yesterday…)
My first instinct was to check out my hunch about Musial’s size. Strike one: Musial is listed at 6 ft., 175 lbs. He was only an inch taller than Juan Pierre, and they’re the same weight. It seems perfectly logical to me, then, that any player that size would have the requisite speed to motor all the way around the bases if the opportunity presented itself. I kicked myself, too, for not remembering that Musial played the outfield. That should have been testimony enough to his speed. To my credit, though, Musial only ever stole 78 bases. So I’ll take a strike on that one, albeit a foul tip.
I was barely into my research and the old man was already inside my head. I got to thinking that Forbes Field may have been awkward or cavernous; maybe there was a Bermuda Triangle somewhere in the outfield where balls disappeared. That wasn’t uncommon in old ballparks–for instance, center field at Tiger Stadium was 500 feet at one time, and some balls that flew all the way out there still haven’t been found. Some quick research showed that though the original fences at Forbes Field were 360′-422′-376′ left-center-right, at the time Gene would have seen Musial, they had been reconfigured to 365′-400′-329′. That’s a lot of real estate in left field and to the left field power alley, but considering that Musial batted lefty, it’s not likely that he found that territory with his alleged hit. That was enough for me to think the count is even, one ball and one strike, but my argument doesn’t stand. Further research uncovered more exact numbers that showed the right field power alley was 408′ (!) and straight-away centerfield was 435′ (the wall was 457′ a little off-center). That plays right into Musial’s lefty prowess, and looking at a schematic of the field made me think that maybe I could hit an inside-the-park home run on a well-placed shot:
I deserved a strike on that one for doing sloppy research.
I fell to 0-2 in the count and stepped out of the batter box to regain my focus. I remembered that a lot of what Gene claims is completely legitimate. I would never doubt that he went to his share of games at Forbes Field. He grew up forty miles outside of Pittsburgh, and has spoken before of going to games at Forbes. He has told me about getting detention for going to a home opener when he should have been in school, though I can’t remember where he said he was on October 13, 1960 when Bill Mazeroski killed the Yankees. I got to thinking that maybe I was in over my head and banking too heavily on my research skills to debunk my old man. I thought about just giving up. What’s the harm in letting him have his memory? Then I came back to reality. This was family, and any one of them would do it to me if they had half a chance.
So with Gene ahead in the count, I started digging through the stats from every season Musial was active. I started at 1950 on a whim, thinking that my dad was definitely old enough at that time to remember being at a game, to recognize specific players, and to remember significant events like inside-the-park home runs. I looked at the hundred or so boxscores of games Musial played at Forbes, but only a few showed him having hit a home run. Of the dozen or so double-headers, none featured a Musial homerun. It wasn’t long before I felt as though I had seen enough evidence contrary to Gene’s claim to pull even in the count at 2 balls, 2 strikes.
After two hours of checking the books, I started to worry that maybe my own memory isn’t what I claim it is. Maybe that inside-the-park job I attributed to Juan Pierre wasn’t what really happened at all. I share blood with Mike after all, and maybe I’m exaggerating without realizing it. Maybe my recollection of what happened was what I wanted it to be, not what it was. In two clicks of the mouse, I jumped over to the Florida Marlins on baseball-reference.com. I got my reassurance within a few minutes: On June 13, 2004, Pierre hit an inside-the-park home run off of Craig Dingman on a line-drive to right field in the top of the 6th inning . Though I thought it happened in 2005, being almost entirely correct is enough to build my confidence and move myself ahead of the old man in the count, 3-2. I called timeout.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I made my last effort by checking games as far back as the year Musial debuted in the big leagues. Working backwards from 1950, I found over a dozen more instances of St. Louis playing double-headers at Forbes, but none of them showed Musial hitting a homer in the nightcap. He hit one on September 3, 1944 in game one of a twin bill, but that that didn’t fit the description dad gave.
Finally, I had backtracked all the way to 1941, the year Musial made his major-league debut as a September call-up. He premiered in right field in the second game of a double-header against Boston on Wednesday, September 17. Six days later, on Tuesday, September 23, he played both ends of a double-header at Forbes Field. When I checked the boxscore for the nightcap, I saw that Musial scored three runs on three hits, including a home run off Rip Sewell with a runner on base in the fifth inning. The scoring didn’t indicate if the ball was hit into the stands or if it stayed in play, but it was enough to douse any flames of doubt about Gene’s memory. I had struck out.
So after a weekend of swimming in a sea of baseball stats, I headed back to the dugout with my head down. It’s okay, though; I don’t mind wiffing against the old man. I’m pleased with having worked a full count. I’m happier still to know that the old man’s memory is holding up pretty well despite his advancing years. If nothing else, I understand now how Chris can make his phenomenal claim to early-life memories. He must have inherited that ability from Gene, because when he allegedly witnessed Musial’s feat of power and speed, Gene would only have been four years old.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
It’s not uncommon for my family to use our memories as ante in games of one-upmanship. No sooner can I recall watching Kung Fu and eating pizza in the basement of our house in Woodbridge, VA when I was three years old than somebody else remembers some obscure occurence that predates that, and then somebody else brings up something even older. It can get pretty vicious in a metaphorical wanna-choke-your-siblings sort of way. We all play along and enjoy the nostalgia except for my brother Chris; his cool disdain is best embodied by his quip that his memory is so good that he can recall going to a picnic with dad and coming home with mom.
My oldest brother Mike, though, is a ruthless contender in the memory game, and seldom does he adhere to the strictures of Truth, preferring instead to recall events through his lenses of Truthiness. This was no more apparent than when he claimed to have played little league baseball with Alan Trammell when our family lived in Indianapolis. He wouldn’t surrender his claim until we proved that while they are similar in age, it would have been difficult forMike to share the diamond with Trammell since the former Detroit Tigers second-basemen grew up 2,000 miles away in San Diego. To show that we aren’t completely heartless in regard to manufactured memories, though, we allowed Mike to save face by agreeing that he could very likely have played ball with another person who coincidentally had the name Alan Trammell.
You might be tempted to think that Mike’s penchant for hyperbole was inherited. If it was, it probably didn’t come from our father, Gene. Gene has made tons of claims over the years, almost all of which are backed up with solid evidence. We know he’s personal friends with Franco Harris through business dealings, and Gene has pictures of himself in the company of the former Steelers running back. We know he went to the Super Bowl through his connection to Harris. We know Gene went to two games of the 1968 World Series–he has the ticket stubs from Busch Stadium, and a few years ago I found a scorecard that he inexplicably abandoned after the 6th inning of one of the games. He’s told some other tales that we can’t verify but have no reason to doubt; one of my favorites comes from the late 1950s when he worked in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. He and a few roughneck friends took a bus to a Chicago Bears game at Wrigley Field. Dad said he drank so much beer that he was vomiting out the bus window on the way home. It’s because of those types of stories and dad’s willingness to tell his tales warts-and-all that I give him a pretty high rating in reliability.
But Gene is in advancing in years, and even he recognizes that his memory isn’t what it used to be. I got to thinking about this last week when he mailed me a Wall Street Journal review of George Vecsey’s book, Stan Musial: An American Life. He included a note:
Saw the “Man” play in a double header at Forbes Field in PGH.
He hit an inside the park homerun in the nightcap!
Also had dinner at his restaurant in St. Louis in a later year.
Note: 3630 Hits; 1815 at home, 1815 on the road.
The idea of Musial hitting an inside-the-park round-tripper got me to scratching my head and wondering if that really happened or if the old man’s memory is finally as jammed up as Grand Central Station. I knew Musial was a power hitter (475 career HRs), and thought that by size alone he probably didn’t have enough speed to pull off an inside-the-park job. Besides, the inside-the-park home run is an endangered species. I’ve been to a hundred MLB games, but I’ve only ever seen one inside-the-park home run, and that was from speedster Juan Pierre in 2005 when he cracked a shot that snuck under the diving right fielder’s mitt at Comerica Park and rolled all 365 feet to the wall.
Not being one to let an old man tell his story (or one to pass up a chance to win a round of the family memory game), I set to the task of looking into Gene’s claim to see how well it stands up. I’ve done a ton of baseball research over the past six or seven years, and knew right away that if I dug around enough at baseball-reference.com, or retrosheet, I could uncover the facts. (continued…)
For as long as I’ve been reading his work, John Steinbeck has spoken to me as a student, a teacher, a Democrat, a union member, and as a person concerned with the human condition. I list him as a primary influence as a writer. I’ve long said that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest work of literature ever committed to print. He was a champion of the downtrodden and disenfranchised; the marginalized and minimalized. He was accused of sensationalism by those who didn’t understand that he brought social realism into his writing. Because of all this, and of his ability to blur the fiction and nonfiction with works as stunning as GOW, I’ve said that if I could be any writer ever, I would be him.
Because I had somehow forgotten some of this, or more likely not thought about it for a while, I was pleasantly reminded last week of why I love Steinbeck so much.
When I opened up The Writer’s Almanac last Friday, I found a piece about May 6 being the anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt establishing the Works Progress Administration . The far-reaching attempt to stimulate employment and the economy in the midst of the Great Depression was aimed at the poor and working-class populations, and it required a near-infinitesimal amount of manual labor. The Writer’s Almanac excerpt went on to say:
It wasn’t always the most efficient operation, however, and its critics gave it nicknames like “We Poke Along,” “We Play Around,” “We Piddle Around,” and “Working Piss Ants.” WPA employees were derided as “shovel-leaners,” an accusation John Steinbeck addressed in his essay “A Primer on the ‘30s”: “It was the fixation of businessmen that the WPA did nothing but lean on shovels. I had an uncle who was particularly irritated at shovel-leaning. When he pooh-poohed my contention that shovel-leaning was necessary, I bet him five dollars, which I didn’t have, that he couldn’t shovel sand for fifteen timed minutes without stopping. He said a man should give a good day’s work and grabbed a shovel. At the end of three minutes his face was red, at six he was staggering and before eight minutes were up his wife stopped him to save him from apoplexy. And he never mentioned shovel-leaning again.”
Steinbeck had it right: If you come on down and find out what it’s like, you might whistle a different tune.
It’s saddens me to consider how 76 years later there are so many businessmen so misinformed about the true nature of Labor and what it means to be a bluecollar worker. Too many remain voluntarily misinformed. Too many still are bent on busting the unions that are the lifeblood of the middle class, claiming the unions strong-arm the public sector; they generate lazy, entitled workers who drag down political progress and choke government funds dry. It seems they’d rather have the extremes: the poor and the rich, with the latter grinding the bones of the former in their industrial processes as they push for political power.
I’d wonder if Scott Walker is listening, but I already know that you can’t make a man hear who wants to be deaf.
(These Onion-style pieces are quickly becoming a guilty pleasure… ~ Jeff)
Ozzie Guillen Secretly Developing New Pitches
Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen revealed today that he and his pitchign coaches have spent considerable time early this season inventing new pitches to foil opponents. “They should be ready for the pennant race,” Guillen disclosed, assuming his 11-20 club will be part of the playoff picture come August.
Guillen credits announcer and former major-league catcher Tim McCarver for giving him the idea during McCarver’s yearly World Series broadcasts. Guillen referred to McCarver as, “…genius. He take a slider and a curve and call it ‘Slurve.’ Pitchers use it and strike out batters.” Guillen went on to say that most of his top-secret pitches come from putting names of pitches together with names of other pitches, noting, “We got spit-finger fastball and changespit.”
It has been difficult for some players to adjust to Guillen’s unconventional methods. Long-time White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski expressed frustration with the elaborate signalling processes Guillen mandates for the new pitches. “When we played Kansas City a few weeks ago, (second base umpire) Bob Davidson said it looked like I was jerking off when I wanted (Gavin) Floyd to throw the split-finger changeup.”
Pitcher Mark Buerhle is skeptical about Guillen’s intentions. “I don’t know why he’s messing with my fastball,” the staff ace reported, shaking his head. “He has me tweaking it so it corkscrews and flutters.”
Guillen responded, “Now I not get fined when I call for Fuckleball.”