April 2006

April 19, 2006

Had a debate the other day with a friend about who would yourather be right now, Dan Johnson or Rondell
White?

After a solid rookie season, Johnson has been the worst hitter in the Majors
thus far, batting .031 (1-for-32) with no extra base hits and one RBI.

White, a 14-year-veteran outfielder has appeared equally lost at the plate,
going five for his first 51 this year (.098).  He’s looked awkward
batting, and most of his swings have been desperate attempts just to make
contact. In fact, he hasn’t walked once, while striking out 17 times.

I argued that I would rather be Johnson, since he is still only 26 and will
more than likely work things out, while White is 34 and on the downward slope
of his career. For all we know, this could be the start of the end of his
career. Plus White gets injured so often, that even if he bounces back, he’s
bound to wind up on the DL at some point (only played in 140 or more games once
in his first 13 seasons).

My friend Dan fired back at me saying Johnson
could become permanently scarred, and never recover (think Rick Ankiel),
whereas at least White has had a nice career that he can look back on and
hopefully enjoy. White has had enough success to bounce back, whereas Johnson
could get mental and wind up back in the Minors.

It’s an interesting debate, and I’m not sure what the purpose of me sharing it
here is, other that it’s been on my mind the past few days.

On to a semi-more-interesting subject?

Two weeks ago I looked back at some of the ugliest cards
from the 1981 Topps set. This week, in honor of the 29th anniversary
of the 1977 Topps set, it?s time to examine the best cards from that year.
There were several prevailing themes from the ?77 set:

No. 1: Airbrush Mania

 

No. 2: The Ogilvie look-a-like contestOglivie

The top four finishers were:

HoodDon Hood: His photo was taken seconds after coming out of
the dugout, with absolutely no forewarning. Hood wasn?t even given a chance to
look up in his photo.

April 13, 2006

Happy to say there is little to complain about so far this season, something that will surely change in the next few weeks given my putrid track record the past nine years.

Our MLB.com office league, which includes 15 teams, has gone so well that I’m sitting in first place as of this morning. Normally I never brag in this space, but I’m taking the chance the one time I can.

In my family league, two players have killed me so far — Chase Utley and good ‘ol Oliver Perez. Utley’s hitting .200 with no power or speed, and has been as valuable as Royce Clayton. Perez, who I wasted four columns last year complaining about, had a great first start, forcing me to pick him up before his last outing. He then proceeded to get waxed by Cincinnati, allowing 10 baserunners and eight runs (five earned) in just 3.1 IP. I have since dropped him and vowed never to pick him up again, even of he wins 20 straight and is still sitting on the waiver wire.

Many of you have probably come across the RBI Baseball/1986 Game 6 clip that has been circulating around the web this week. If you haven’t, and you loved playing Nintendo in the 1980s, you need to check this out right now. Simply incredible. I’ve watched this seven times now and still want to know how long it took to actually put together.

Rbi

Just the talk about Nintendo’s RBI Baseball has turned so many of my co-workers into 13 year olds again. Baseball video games have never been great since the days of RBI, Bases Loaded and Baseball Stars. Sure video game manufacturers have created some amazing visual effects, but the simplicity of game play was abandoned 15 years ago, and has never been equaled again.

Maybe someday, someone will realize that simplicity isn’t a bad thing. In a time where people have no patience for anything, trying to learn to play a complex baseball video game with 74 different button options is not a good thing. Bring back the "A" and "B" buttons!

Speaking of retro sports games, 97 percent of guys who went to college in 1993-94 played EA Sports NHL 94 – perhaps the best sports video game of all time. A few months back, I saw that NHL 2006 on Playstation 2, contained NHL 94 on it as well. Even though I still have an old Sega Genesis at home, I figured it would be nice to have a version of the game that wasn’t going to break in the next few years.

So I bought NHL 2006, went home, popped it in, found the NHL 94 mode and started playing right away. Within a few seconds it was apparent that someone had made a major mistake. The players on all 24 teams were generic guys, with fake numbers and no names. Went I went to send out the Pavel Bure, Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall line, instead I got numbers 43, 98 and 61.

Obviously EA Sports doesn’t have the rights anymore for all the players that are now retired, but the least they could have done was take the current teams and players, and put them all in NHL 94 mode. Anyone would rather play with real guys, that with generic computer skaters. Very disappointing, and needless to say, NHL 2006 has not been touched since. Is it that hard to get these things right?

Glad to see Bucky get booted off American Idol last night. While I liked him, he wasn’t going to win, and it was time for him to go (just as it is for Ace). It got me thinking about how much Idol is like the NBA Playoffs:

— Too many contestants with no chance of winning from the beginning.

— Viewers are forced to watch for months before it gets down to the final four, which most people could have predicted two months earlier.

— 270 gazillion people watch each week.

OK, the last point only applies to Idol, but it did with the NBA 20 years ago, when the sport was in it’s prime and actually fun to watch.

My final complaint of the day involves the post right below this one. For some reason Steve Trout refuses to cooperate. No matter how many times I ask him to right justify, he keeps floating left. Maybe he’s getting even with me for my Nick Nolte comparison, or he’s still bitter over the time I booed him at Yankee Stadium when I was 13 years old, during his 0-4, 6.60 ERA, 1.90 WHIP tenure in the Bronx. Whatever the reason, blame Trout for the sloppy looking post down below.

April 7, 2006

It’s been 25 years since one of the greatest baseball card sets ever was out on the market. The 1981 Topps set was full of cards that contained some of the worst photos ever taken. Whether the cameraman got way too close to his/her subject, forgot to focus in, or just took one pointless, non-action shot after another, many of the 700-plus cards look like Topps hired a fourth grade class to take the photos for the ’81 set.

And that’s the beauty of it. Once Topps and other companies started getting it "right" in the 1990s, the pictures actually became boring and repetitive. There was no longer the fun of laughing at a guy’s photo or wondering what the photographer was possibly thinking. The innocence of the whole thing was perfect. No one will ever get nostaligic over a glossy, perfectly photographed, limited edition card from the 21st century, but I guarantee many folks will yearn for their childhood when  picking up one of these classic ’81 Topps cards:

Pettini

Joe Pettini:

I’m still convinced that the photographer asked Pettini to put on one of those Groucho Marx glasses/nose/mustache things before taking this photo.

Pettini now actually coaches with the St. Louis Cardinals, but has not donned his Marx disguise in recent years.

 

Trout

Steve Trout:

Gotta wonder how Topps chose this photo to make it on Trout’s  ’81 card. Was there no action shot available?  Did Trout just wake up and the photographer snapped a shot before he could even put his hat on his head?

The photo also has an eery similarity to the Nick Nolte DUI photo from a few years back. Unfortunately for Trout, the sunglasses weren’t enough to disguise his true identity.

 

Richards

Gene Richards:

Amazing that Richards didn’t sue Topps after his card was released in early 1981. It’s as if the cameraman was hiding on the ground and then just jumped up right in Richards’ face and snapped a quick shot.

Some people credit this photo with damaging Richard’s ego, which subsequently led to his demine (61 steals in 1980, only 21 in 1981) and found him out of baseball by the end of 1984.



Ross Grimsley:

Grimsley

Just a classic photo that says it all about the 1981 set.  This kind of hair, along with the mustache, will never be duplicated again. I just wish I appreciated these things more back in the early ’80s.

Makes you wonder if we’ll be laughing at Manny Ramirez’s hair 25 years from now, or even possibly 25 days from now.

And finally, three guest celebrities also appeared in the 1981 set.

Copy_of_jim_morrison_2

Tyson_1

Brown

April 6, 2006 – Part 2

Just went online to check the Masters leaderboard, and once again I was reminded why there is no tournament or championship that’s cooler in the world. The main reason is the fact than any past Masters champion gets to play as long as he is still alive. Seeing guys like Gary Player, Raymond Floyd and Tom Watson still competing in the sport’s top event of the year is one of the most underappreciated things in all of sports.

Can you image if baseball worked the same way. Let’s say any past World Series champion player could suit up if his team was in the World Series, and the team could add an unlimited number of roster spots. If the Yanks were to reach the World Series and Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson and Paul O’Neill were all eligible to play, even if they never actually entered a game, it would be pretty sweet. What if the Yankees were up 18-1 in the ninth and decided to put Reggie up for one at-bat? Sure he runs the risk of embarrassing himself, but you’re telling me you wouldn’t keep watching just in case Reggie took one deep?

OK, it’s a pretty dumb idea, since golf is a lot different than baseball (individual sport, harder to embarrass yourself, easy to hit a ball b/c it isn’t being thrown 90 MPH), but it’s fun to think about regardless.

April 6, 2006

Some lowlights from Tuesday and Wednesday:

For anyone who was willing to give Corey Patterson a second chance after a
putrid 2005, the new Orioles outfielder rewarded all of his owners with an
0-for-4 performance during Baltimore’s
16-6 thrashing of Tampa on
Wednesday. Despite the fact he hit .215 last season and virtually disappeared
in the second half, many folks (including me) were willing to give the guy a
second chance, especially since he was moving to a new home. Sure it’s only one
game, but the pain of seeing an 0-fer in a slugfest could be enough to make
many give up on him pretty soon.

Tuesday proved to be very painful to anyone who owned both Andy Pettitte and
Jeremy Hermida. Pettitte somehow managed to give up 13 hits and 10 runs (seven
earned) in 4.2 IP – something that seems almost impossible in an early-season
start when most managers would pull a pitcher after he’d given up nine or 10
hits. Those counting on Pettitte to anchor their staff this year can’t be very
pleased with his first appearance. But those who also are banking on Hermida to
tear it up, suffered a double stomach punch when the Rookie of the Year
candidate tallied an 0-for-5 against Houston,
despite his team scoring 11 runs on 17 hits.

Finally, was that really Kenny Rogers on American Idol the past two nights? The
guy who claimed to be "The Gambler" looked nothing like the
white-bearded country singer the entire country can usually easily recognize.
Was it the fact that he got rid of the beard in favor of a goatee? Was it his
eyes, which seemed different than usual? Was
it the fact he is 67 and just looks older? 

My wife and I tried holding up our fingers in front of the TV on Tuesday to
block off his hairless cheeks, and it actually helped – at least slightly – to
make him look like the old Rogers
again. Wednesday night my mom came over, I paused TIVO and I gave her 10
guesses as to who Rogers was. She
had absolutely no clue and she works in the music business. I?m convinced
something fishy is up here.

The entire tournament will be remembered for George Mason?s
incredible run, yet the video showed maybe one Mason highlight, and managed to
leave out all of the dramatic shots from the closing minutes of their memorable
win over UConn. The video did include most of the buzzer beater for the tourney,
but instead of just showing us the raw TV footage of the shots, we were forced
to watch over-produced, dizzying angles of each shot, where you could barely tell
what was happening.

While I still watched the video 13 times on TIVO, it seems
that after doing such a fantastic job for 2 weeks of broadcasting 63 games,
CBS would get the final piece of the puzzle right.

April 4, 2006

While some people had the thrill of owning Albert Pujols, Chris Shelton or Roy Oswalt on Monday, others had to suffer through these nasty fantasy lines on Opening day:

Jorge Posada: 0-for-3 in Yankees 15-2 win.
Barry Zito: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 4 BB
Jon Lieber: 3.1 IP, 9 H, 8 ER

While Posada and Lieber will still give you their annual mediocre stats, Zito owners have to be a little nervous right now that the 2004/early-2005 version of him has returned.

Some other thoughts:

While working for MLB.com has been an amazing experience, I do miss the thrill of Opening Day from a fan’s perspective. When baseball is your job, no matter how much fun it is, you can’t take the day off from work and sit home and watch baseball all day. I’m not complaining, but the day definitely feels different from my days of listening on my walkman in high school, or just playing sick.

My favorite Opening Day memory:
When Don Mattingly stole first base in the first inning of the Yankees ’91 opener in Detroit. The Hit Man had one steal all of 1990, but led the Majors in steals for at least a few minutes that season. These are the things that excite you when you are 16 years old and talk to your Strat-O-Matic team more than girls.

I wonder if Jose Cruz and Aaron Miles are enjoying the fact that they are currently the National League hit leaders with four. Odds on that lasting more than a week: 45,392-1.

My worst Opening Day memory:
The Yankees’ 1988 opener. After years of waiting for my building to get cable, it finally arrived prior to the start of the ’88 season. About 10 minutes before the Yankees were about to begin their season, the cable company had still forgotten to switch off the Home Shopping Network (which shared the same channel as Sports Channel on our cable system). I went nuts, called the cable company, but couldn’t get through. The problem lasted into the fifth inning before the game finally came on with the Yankees already up 6-0.

Something that has nothing to do with baseball:
One of our editors reminded me this morning about one of the worst cartoons ever created. In the fall of 1983, the "Mister T"  cartoon began airing (lasted 16 episodes). The premise was that Mr. T and a bunch of gymnasts would fight crime together while on some gymnastics tour. Amazing that someone actually thought this was a good or creative idea. I imagine the discussion between the show’s producers went something like this:

Producer 1:"Let’s come up with the most random group of people to team up with Mr. T as we can. How ’bout gardeners, they can stab criminals with their rakes? "

Producer 2: "Good, but what about plumbers, they can crack open pipes and drown people to death?"

Producer 1: "That’s better, but… wait, I got it. Let’s have a bunch of young gymnasts do backflips, handsprings and kicks to help Mr. T get the bad guys."

Producer 2: "Great idea, how has no one thought of this already?"

Guinness Commerical Guy (making a random appearance in this fake conversation from 23 years ago): "Brilliant!"

Joe Theismann: "That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard."

And finally for today…
For those of you who have been reading my column for the past five years (my dad, wife and a few friends), I’m going to experiment doing it in blog form in 2006. Not sure how long this will last, or if I’ll choose to go back to the old format, but I think I have more of a shot of being amusing for the first time since 2001 if I’m just able to write randomly whenever I feel like it.