Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chasing the Rabbit Ball

The deep need
to point the toe toward the plate,
releasing the pitch toward the pit,
as I consider the fine art
of making surreal threads
for baseballs, scuffing the stuff,
making it real and raw,
a finger food for the not so famous,
keeping the dead ball down,
chastising the ancestors of Curt Flood,
those all diamond decked out
in silver and gold necklaces,
glittering chains telegraphed
for the coming of screw balls,
superstitious as hell,
awaking to the heavenly bells of spring,
where promise is a red bird on a wing ...

Hear the crowd ... Hear it sing!

All you free agents of the mind:
You know I'm no perfectionist
of any kind, only a man struck
by lightning twice
in the minor league
of my own mind,
a simple child ticketed thrice
on opening day

Thursday, June 13, 2013


How many brain-dead
baseball diamond drills
do we need to run, rookie?
Do we need to purchase
for you an insurance policy
to protect you against
the sorcery of blurring
curves, the chin music
of mommie balls
coming in fast?

Spring training
is the hope-forming time
to scrunch scar tissue,
to test aches subtracted
from the totem death-dance
of old brown city street snow,
of writer's block shaped
into three white bases,
to take into our nostrils
the sweet fragance of March

And after the vets have tapped
the buzzing fridge of free cokes,
turning termimnal pains
into mere dietary disease,
we must line up trainer's tape
to meet and meet together
at the left-field foul pole
to intensify the muscle memories,
the heated up PFP, PFP, PFP ...
the endless ritual
of pitcher-to-first,
pitcher taking the lob,
spiking the bag

This is how we practice
each thin temporal moment,
experience to ascribe antidotes
for thoughtlessness into decisions
because only repitition can influence
our grace before ownership's
remote tentatcled lens
so if we can make it to October,
if we get lucky,
maybe you'll thank me

So don't be a loud-mouthed rook
wasted for higher purposes
beyond the reasoning of mere mortals
Don't talk back to me!
Don't think to much!
It's bad for everyone concerned
Don't carouse with wild women
sent to stand on your bases
and don't talk money with me
We pay you plenty
and candy comes after

Because I knew John McGraw
Who fussed himself silly
Made teammates enemies
But they played great
Despite his tyrannical self:
Gawd how I loved his glare,
like Joe Torrie's blank stare;
a poker face almost saying, man,
I loathe baseball, I wanna go home

I heard stories about such skips:
See, this pitcher, this catcher,
they hate each other, so they throw
harder and harder to each other
and surely at some point
there's got to be a limit,
a point where their palms
turn red, maybe even bleed
until all innings end, unforgiven

By the time they get back
to the bench they are screaming
at each other so ol' skipper
comes over, spits, and says,
"Okay boys, you go back
into your pretty clubhouse
and have at it. May the worst
man win. I'll warm up Johnson
and Mack, get the equipment on."

So the two embattlers
go behind closed doors
and end up killing each other
The general manager calls
new recruits up from Triple-A
to replace them both:
Everybody wins

Taking Stock of Bonds

Ten warm-up pitches
ascend ten Dante-esque
levels up the screen
behind home plate
and Barry Bonds
took a look
and his mega-salary
was mistaken for humble
and human; his life as pure ego
was at stake, make no mistake

He waved to manager Don Baylor
in the opposition dugout
in the sunny half-joke
in spring training in the desert:
hard to reason with the risk
of certain beaning
as limousine Barry
goes up to the plate, the pitch,
and Bonds does straight-into-the-air time
and lands back down to do the earth dance,
an element of fear enhanced, gets up
and his earring shines from some light
beamed from far up in the sky
since, with nobody on, there are only
so many points a ball can be thrown
through the atmosphere as the next pitch
was down the middle of the strike zone

After Bonds had swung it landed near
a western wear store west of Apache Junction:
So much for the element of surprise

Later that day at the ballpark, frankly,
Barry Bonds almost trampled my son
trying to get his autograph
and my kid said, What a jerk!

It made me so proud

My Cup of Coffee in the Majors

A shadow passes on opening day
as the umpire screens the views
of new scores coming in,
old scores settled long ago,
as the heartbeat of the homeland
counts the day's receipts
checking for signs of mischief,
as angry Aztec gods
make a point, hiring lawyers
for copyright violation,
as spring birds bunt,
turning snow into drops
of sugary sweet wine,
as the ball comes down
the third base line
with just enough gust
to push the ball foul
as ice cold beer sales
flow into the face
of forever: O sure,
I had a cup in Euphoria
but didn't stick for the Stixx
and the banks were all closed
at sunset and I couldn't
get a grip and the previous
night's bright lights
could have been a trick

Friday, May 10, 2013

I Just Want to Thank Jesus For ...

Thinking outside the foul pole
of the Taoist physics of baseball,
outside the ever-expanding slice of pi,
outside the statistical analysis
of all the big names gone cold
in late spring, for the Great Nine
split into four-point-five pointed stars,
for numbers becoming no Boy Scout,
believe you, me ...

Billy Beane chased the ghost
out of the machine dream
when the Bronx Bombers
flew overhead and the mobbed bosses
stole it all back: the rivers, the streams,
the automated stacks of bats sponsored by
the volcanic flows of the sick and dying
in the psychological steam so bad
we could barely scream out a defiant
chorus of "Sweet Caroline" ...

And so the baseball heart, hit out of the park,
flew out of me, as I flew out ... And then the Capistranos
of consistency on the mound raised a fist in the air
thanking Jesus, who, when he appeared
suddenly, on command, in center field,
hit the ground, mortal, in terror, naked, alone,
hurting bad, scared and mad at the scene
of so many ballplayers, thanking God
for the home runs hit in his name,
as if he cared ...

This pitch, sponsored by Jesus ...
This spit, sponsored by Satan ...
This Moneyball sponsored by ...
This and this and this
on the scored and board
of the Lord, Oh Jesus,
Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus ...

Friday, April 05, 2013

Ballpark Paintings
for Andy Jurinko

Wall-wide murals at Mickey Mantle's,
a central perk hot spot fashionable
with super exact paintings
of Ebbets and Crosley Park
and Yankee Stadium situations
up the ying and yang
for me, the hour-late,
because nobody from Arizona
ever knows what time it is

But the baseball artiste had waited,
patient enough for me
to do a drop in from the desert,
for a burger and some chatter,
to bat with a baguette,
as the son of a South Texan
bewildered already by the bowels
of Penn Station, intimidated
as the wild wolf chased on the field
by sea gulls at Shea Stadium,
who had spent the previous day
walking across Manhattan
to his studio, wearing a ridiculous
reddish purple beret,
a spontaneous purchase
at a military supply store,
who reached the apartment
in the shadow of the Twin Towers,
eviscerated but enduring
the wide-eyed, world-weary
embrace of glass canyons,
the smell of sweet rolls
and garbage wafting in from rows
and rows of back alleys, taxis rolling
like bullets, wild-eyed preachers
mixed up by dirty magazines,
every language spoken at once
as public drinkers, private thinkers,
compassionate aliens in action
sold books on blankets

Only the pastoral lights could paint
a bolt-down for the bogey out there,
saving me from a big bad swing at my
home run hollow head

Friday, December 09, 2011

Occupy Albert!

No Joy In Mythville: The Mighty Casey Has Sold Out
By Douglas McDaniel
Okay, Los Angeles Angels, you had a choice, either pay Albert $254 million over ten years, or, you could build an entire downtown arena ... and so what did you do? ...
Latest Louisville breaking news, headlines, weather, and sports. Kentucky local TV news and more from NBC local affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, WAVE 3.
· · · · 2 hours ago

Friday, February 11, 2005

I Take it All Back!

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Baseball's cultural historian sends his apologies

By Douglas McDaniel

You'd see it in italics, right before any baseball writer tried to wax poetic about the game. This oft-repeated quote by cultural historian Jacques Barzun has served as a mantra for books and magazines covering baseball for 41 years: "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and reality of the game."
Barzun wrote those words in a book of essays, "God's Country and Mine," in 1954. Those were good days for baseball. They were also good days for cultural historians, who were needed around to say clever things because America, in general, was less inclined to pummel the public with televised sound bites. As perhaps the most famous commentary of the sport, Barzun's lavish, lyrical essay is one of the greatest intellectual pep rallies for baseball ever expressed.
Sure, in '54, the game was on a roll. In '54, major league baseball was in the full glory of the golden age of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Stan Musial. Ebbets Field was still standing. The collective soul of Brooklyn was still intact. That year, Willie Mays made his famous "catch" in the World Series and the Cleveland Indians were a contender. The Indians were expected to go to the World Series.
Oh, how things have changed. Two years ago, Barzun, an 85-year-old professor emeritus at Columbia University, took it all back. Speaking like a man betrayed, he said: "I've gotten so disgusted with baseball, I don't follow it anymore. I just see the headlines and turn my head in shame from what we have done with our most interesting and best, healthiest pastime."
His biggest gripe: greed.
"The commercialization is beyond anything that was ever thought of, the overvaluing, really, of the game itself. It's out of proportion to the place an entertainment ought to have.
"Other things are similarly commercialized and out of proportion. But for baseball, which is so intimately connected with the nation's spirit and tradition, it's a disaster."

The Wrong Side of 'the Miracle': The Cubs of '69

"Ya gotta believe" are the magic words, the "open sesame" of baseball history, immortalized by Tug McGraw in 1973. But the baseball good-wish fairy doesn't always respond. Chicago Cubs fans and players remember the year, 1969, when the wish was never fulfilled.
In the span of two months, the Cubs slipped from nine-and-a-half games in front of the Mets to eight games behind.
"It's true," says Jack Brickhouse, who watched it all go down in '69 from the great heights of the radio announcer's booth, "The Cubs lost it."
The Big Fade. A 17?-game turnaround starting in August. Brickhouse, like the rest of the city of Chicago, had never seen anything like it.
"But let's not forget," says the long-time Chicago baseball broadcaster, "the Mets stepped out and won it."
It's more than 30 years later, more than the amount of time it takes for each great remembering. Those who played for the '69 Cubs are much sought after. "They are still talking about it in Chicago," says Ron Santo, the Cubs' third baseman, team leader and cleanup hitter in '69.
"What I remember most," says Ken Rudolph, the backup catcher for the Cubs that season, "was what it did for the city. It brought a lot of enthusiasm for the game, a lot of life to Chicago. Bleacher Bums, die-hard Cubs' fans, that was the year all of that got started."
Yes, there's a special mystique about the '69 Cubs, who lost everything but won a special place in baseball history. The season has shaped the psyche of Cubs' fandom to this day.
"Being a Cubs fan is like being in love with a beautiful girl," says Brickhouse. "The meaner they treat you, the harder it is to leave them."
At no time was she more cruel than in '69.
The season to remember started with a kick, literally. With the Cubs in first place early in the season, Santo celebrated each Cub win by running down the third-base line into the outfield, clicking his heels. The "low five" was inspired after the second game of a doubleheader, when Jim Hickman hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Montreal Expos. The homer put the Cubs in first place.
"As I ran down the left-field line, I just clicked my heels, I was so excited," says Santo. "The next thing I know I was watching myself on television clicking my heels. Leo Durocher (the Cubs' manager) called a team meeting the next day and says, `How about making that the team victory kick?' "
It became a daily event for the new legion of Bleacher Bums, a rowdy mob of fans, social phenomenons themselves, who made noise out beyond Wrigley Field's ivy-covered wall, to see Santo click his heels like a ballet dancer.
Wins began to pile up almost as fast as the attendance figures for the Cubs, who had become an "overnight" sensation with such new talent as Santo, Don Kessinger, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert and Ferguson Jenkins and perennial favorites Billy Williams and Ernie Banks.
The Cubs led the Mets by nine-and-a-half games entering the dog days of August. Though the Cubs had lost two critical series in both New York and Chicago against those pesky Mets in early July, it looked as if this were going to be the season to end all of those years of misery. But then it just fell apart. In a short, agonizing span.
"We didn't blow it. We just didn't play well at the end of the season," Santo says.
Certain games stand out, certain turning points. Most of them, in fact, against the Mets. But the key moment in 1969 for the Cubs, the contest that may have turned the season from glorious to tragic, came against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Several former Cubs recently remembered the game on Sunday, September 7, 1969, when Chicago took a 5-4 lead going into the ninth at Wrigley.
The Cubs had just returned from an awful road trip on the West Coast, losing seven of nine games. A two-run homer by right fielder Hickman in the eighth gave Chicago the lead against the Pirates. But Willie Stargell hit a game-tying, two-out home run onto Sheffield Avenue in the ninth. The Cubs lost the game in extra innings.
"If there was a pivotal moment that season," Santo says, "it was the Stargell home run. From that particular ball game I'm wondering, `What else is going to happen?' That for me was the real snake bite. It was just downhill from there."
Beckert, the Cubs' second baseman, cringed about that game, too.
"Everything was going good in that game, and then Stargell hit his home run," he says. "For some reason, that's the thing that sticks in my mind."
The next day, Monday, September 8, the 138th game of the '69 campaign, the Cubs faced the Mets in New York. It was one of those Mondays. Wayne Garrett won the game for the Mets with a run-scoring single in the sixth. But several Cubs said the game was lost earlier than that.
In the first inning, after the Mets' Jerry Koosman struck out the first three Cubs to start the game, Chicago pitcher Bill Hands sent a message pitch close to the head of Mets' lead-off hitter Tommie Agee.
"He flattened Tommie Agee, absolutely knocked him on his butt," says former Cubs pitcher Rich Nye. "It was a great way for Hands to assert himself. We were thinking, `Now this is the Cubs.'
"But then in the second inning Koosman came up and faced Ron Santo and drilled him with his first pitch. Ron ran up and down the baseline as if his wrist were shattered."
Santo stayed in the game. But the Cubs were shaken. "Later on," says Santo, "somebody on the Mets said it was a message pitch. But I had no idea at the time. If I had known at the time it was intentional, I would have done something."
Nye says the Cubs appeared to be intimidated by Koosman, adding, "We didn't do anything after that." Koosman struck out Banks, Hickman and Hundley to end the inning. When Agee came up again, in the bottom of the third, he hit a two-run homer. The tide had clearly turned. Koosman struck out 13 for a 3-2 win.
The Cubs lost the next game, 7-1, on a complete game for a Mets' pitcher, a five-hitter by Tom Seaver. The Cubs had lost six of their last eight games to the Mets, who kept winning and clinched the National League East crown two weeks later.
The Cubs were left to wonder: What happened?
"Leo Durocher mishandled the ballclub that last month," says Brickhouse. "He panicked." But Santo defended his manager. "You can't blame Leo. I felt Durocher did a tremendous job that year."
Rudolph agreed with the view that the Cubs starters simply ran out of gas.
"The biggest contributing factor was we had a 25-man roster and 15 people playing," he says. "Leo didn't rest his starters and they got tired toward the end of the season. We had lot of younger players--myself, Jim Colborn, Joe Decker, Jimmy Qualls--and we didn't play a whole heck of a lot."
For example, Qualls proved to be a thorn in the Mets' side on at least one occasion in 1969. He broke up Seaver's attempt at a perfect game with a one-out single in the ninth, while the Cubs were still in first place on July 9.
Says Beckert, "That was Leo Durocher's philosophy. He was from the old school. He stuck with his everyday lineup."
But he doesn't blame Durocher.
"When teams are losing, it's easy to get down on yourself," Beckert says. "It weighs on the psyche. It builds its own momentum. Everything fell apart, but when it fell apart, we fell together."
Despite what happened at the end of the season, it's still regarded as one of the most glorious years ever in Cubs history.
"What's amazing to me," says Santo, "is those Cubs are so well remembered in Chicago. I just wonder what would have happened if we had won."?

In Search of the Real Casey

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.
After Ernest L. Thayer wrote the classic ode to hero worship, Casey at the Bat, he was often annoyed about questions regarding the ownership and origins of his epic. Once the poem was popularized in vaudeville, other writers claimed authorship and many old ballplayers claimed to be Casey incarnate.
When the poem was first published by the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888, a couple of active players could have fit in Casey's cap. Even if Thayer claimed to have made it up, it's fun to wonder if any historical figure provided grist for his literary mill.
In the early 1970s, a writer for the Detroit Free Press, George Cantor, had one theory. He wrote: "Isn't it probable that Thayer, writing in 1888, would have the previous season's championship team uppermost in his thoughts? ...The members of that team would have been squarely in the public eye. ...Isn't it entirely possible that the Mudville of Thayer's poem is actually Detroit, home of the 1887 world champs?"
He further argues that Samuel "Big Sam" Thompson, star right fielder of the Detroit team, and 1887's biggest slugger in the National League, was the corporeal Casey. Naturally, the Detroit writer had a vested interest in affirming a local birthplace for the literary character.
A much better case can be made for Mike "King" Kelly, the towering star of his day. Thayer, who was originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, and attended Harvard, was familiar with the fates of Boston's sports teams, and Kelly was playing for the Boston Braves at the approximate time the poem was written. In fact, after being traded to Boston from the Chicago White Stockings, the much-ballyhooed Kelly and his Braves suffered through two disappointing seasons in 1887 and '88. Kelly's grandiose failure during this period could have been prime fodder for a lampoonist like Thayer.
Cocky (and of Irish descent), Kelly certainly believed he may have been the model for the cocky (and of Irish descent) Casey. During his many vaudeville appearances, the baseball hero of his generation performed the standard as "Kelly at the Bat."

Emaculate Fields

The ball field is emaculate but empty. The contrast of the dirt infield and well-tempered green grass forming the diamond call out: The echoes of memories collected after two American centuries. You can drive by the little league ballpark and only rarely see a father and son playing catch. Nor are there games of pickup, easy and disorganized diversions where you just pick sides and play. Soon, little league teams will play there. Soon, the annual rite of spring will be renewed. But for some reason, for the local children, the game needs a jump start. Instead of the pastime being as spontaneous as stickball in the street, it's an organized thing: An adult system imposed on childhood. There are kids aplenty, and games for them on every level--Little League, Bobby Sox, Pony League, Babe Ruth, American Legion, high school...but where do kids just go out and play? The ball field is empty. Absolutely perfect. It's a
sunny, spring training kinda day. The national pastime's light is on. There is nobody home.
The sad state of the major leagues have something to do with this ebb in the continuum. "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and reality of the game," wrote cultural historian Jacques Barzun in his 1954 book of essays, God's Country and Mine. Sure, in '54, the game was on a roll. In '54, major league baseball was in the full glory of the golden age of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Stan Musial. Ebbets Field was still standing. The collective soul of Brooklyn was still intact. That year, Willie Mays made his famous "catch" in the World Series, and the Cleveland Indians were a contender. The Indians were expected to go to the World Series.
Oh how things have changed. Two years ago, Barzun, an 85-year-old professor emeritus at Columbia University, talked like a man betrayed. "I've gotten so disgusted with baseball, I don't follow it anymore," he said, taking it all back. "I just see the headlines and turn my ahead away in shame from what we have done with our most interesting game and best, healthiest pastime."
It's doubtful, however, the average 10-year-old really cares if the game is abandoning its sense of tradition. The average 10-year-old is much more concerned with Nintendo, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and whether Shaquille O'Neal can make the transition from the basketball court to the rappin' MTV video. Meanwhile, their parents are wondering how they are going to transport their sons and daughters to all of the soccer games, basketball shoot-outs and judo jousts. Baseball is just another stop for the carpool.
Kids haven't changed, but the competition for their attention span certainly has.
Which is a shame. Baseball began as a boy's game in the country fields of 19th-century America. If the game has continued to reside anywhere, it's been in the heart of the child, both young and old. At no time of the year does the heart of the child call out more than in the spring. That's when children drag out their dusty bags of bats, tattered balls and gloves flattened like pancakes from months of disuse. You can search through relics from days gone by, and in the green cathedrals of America, to hear echoes of that fading heartbeat.
On the cover of March 1928 issue of American Boy magazine, there's a picture of a boy in knickers and stirrup socks renewing the ritual. He's apparently just searched through his closet and found his old uniform. It's spring time. Holding the jersey up to the light, he's noticed some surprising holes in his cherished outfit. "Moths!," exclaims the type. At the bottom of the page, a teaser for what's inside: "Miller Huggins Discusses His New York Yankees."
One can just imagine the excitement of a 1920s boy at the receipt of this issue. This was just one year after the fabled 1927 Yankees of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Yet, as famous as they were, such heroes were hardly the victim of overexposure. Or, for that matter, a cynical populace. For the standard kid in the Midwest, news of baseball was devoured like chocolate. Radio broadcasts were rare. Small town newspaper coverage was sporadic. And here it was, Miller Huggins, manager of the Yankees, talking about what it's like to breathe the same air as the Babe! One can just feel the hero-worshipping heart of the child at the very fevered peak of baseball in the 20th century.
And if that child could ever see the mighty Babe swing and play, well, that would be an indelible memory lasting long into childhood. Indeed, our childhood memories can resonate for a lifetime. They can be stronger than the game we saw just the other day. Which is why old baseball relics get saved to begin with: to keep those memories alive.
Move the clock forward to 1948: Ron Harner is six years old. His family, which lives in a small town in the coal mining region of central Pennsylvania, doesn't have much money. His father is good enough to play pro ball, but has to stay home to work in the mines and support his family. Any luxuries are rare. So it's a special event when Harner goes, with his mom and dad, to see the Philadelphia A's play the Chicago White Sox at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.
The A's! In person! Connie Mack! In person! Harner is ecstatic. But it gets better--in the form of a ticket stub: the picked-out-of-a-hat winner in a promotion held during the game. "I was six years old and ended up with a ticket stub that won a pair of free tickets and also an authentic A's jacket," the 51-year-old Harner said today.
The Harners go home and wait. Then, on August 9, 1948, a thunderstruck 6-year-old boy in Valley View, Pennsylvania receives the following message typed on official letterhead from the "American Base Ball Club of Philadelphia":
My dear young friend:
I know that you have been waiting patiently for the Athletics jacket which you won at the game with the White Sox on July 18th. I have just been informed that they will soon be ready.
I would like you to be my guest with one of your parents at the game between the A's and the St. Louis Browns at Shibe Park, Saturday, August 28th at which time it will be my pleasure to present this jacket to you ...
Looking forward to seeing you at the game, I am
Sincerely yours,
Connie Mack
There is no signature, and therefore no real way to know if Connie Mack wrote the letter. But Mack's hand was real when Harner shook it in the A's dugout 45 years ago. He still has that jacket, the letter and his memories of his mom, his dad, and the man whose career in baseball spans back to more than a century ago.
"I remember," Harner says, "an old man saying to me when I had the winning ticket for the prize, `Son, you just won a prize from the greatest manager in baseball.' "
Everyday he can look at that jacket and ride the only feasible time machine we'll ever have: the one inside our heads.
"Baseball always reverts back to childhood," said artist Andy Jurinko, another person whose memories of Shibe Park in the 1950s have powerful--and relevant--lifetime resonances.
Jurinko, 55, saw his first baseball game at Shibe in Philadelphia when he was a teenager. In those days, he spent industrious hours making full-color diagrams of every major league ballpark. The drawings were for a dice baseball game he'd invented.
Eventually, he put childish things away. He went to Kutztown State College in Pennsylvania on a football scholarship, joined the Army, then art school, then spent years as an acid-dropping hippie artist in San Francisco in the '60s and '70s. His life was a metaphor for a changing America. His early work focused on pop culture and the street scenes of the era, topless go-go dancers, Hell's Angels, portraits of Jayne Mansfield holding a Chihuahua. Later, realizing his sense for gritty realism didn't quite fit in with flower power, he retreated east, trying to find a niche in corporate America.
Then, in the late '70s, he told a friend about his baseball dice game. Jurinko recreated the game, doing tempura paintings of old major league ballparks for the backdrop, and started playing diceball with his buddy for hours at time. He realized: This childhood obsession could be an adult one, too.
By 1986, he'd sold his first ballpark painting: A black-and-white aerial of Ebbets Field and a Polo Grounds oil, the latter going for $11,000. He was onto something. Next thing he knew, a Fenway Park piece sold for $25,000. There was money in memories. Now Jurinko is one of many who are making a living on fashioning his memories to reach a nostalgic baseball public.
Jurinko's work plugs into the way an old ballpark can conjure memories of youth. Even the most tinkertoy ballpark or ragged field can produce a cathartic flood of emotion.
Such was the case for myself when I visited old Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which has since been replaced by the grand, neo-classic Ballpark at Arlington.
It was a few months before Arlington Stadium was torn down. I was let inside the ruin by an old African-American dressed in a guard's uniform with a Texas Rangers' insignia. He patroled the sun-punished remains of the ballpark as if games were still going on every night. He was a lesson in denial. His job was to refuse to let dreams die. He made the rounds, regularly checked the cluttered ramps, strolling through the red seat-backs strewn like a pile of autumn leaves.
The ballfield's infield was buried in a Kilamanjaro of scooped-out Texas peat. Windows in the luxury boxes were broken in spidderwebby patterns, and inside, knotted telephone lines were stunned into silence. I walked through all of this and got this spooky feeling. It made me feel like I was in the movie, The Poseidon Adventure, which was about a cruise ship that had been overturned by a tidal wave. The gutted luxury boxes were desolate except for cracked wall mirrors, and I wondered if this meant seven more years of second place for the Texas Rangers.
Because the Rangers were my team, ever since we lived in Dallas in the early '70s. But we left in 1972, and I didn't get to see very much ball played in this stadium as a boy. Perhaps, for that reason, the sight of that eight-ton scoreboard lyng dead filled me with an overpowering sense of loss. Across the way, I could see the new stadium. It represented new dreams for all of the youths who talk their dads into buying them red caps and inflatable bats and baseball cards of Jose Canseco, Will Clark and Juan Gonzalez.
Yet, looking at the shards of seats littering old Arlington, like so many bodies after a battle, I saw my childhood denied. I broke down in tears, thinking about something I hadn't thought of for a long time: Dick Billings' wrist bands. Billings, catcher for the Rangers in '72, was my hero, mostly because of the wristbands he wore. Those red, white and blue wrist bands were the definition on machismo for this 11-year-old boy. Anyway, there I was, 34-year-old, crying like a baby. Just letting go. Then, I decided to take something of value, important to me perhaps, but nobody else. I gathered one of the red plastic seats, an old program, a blue plastic sliver off a refreshment stand that said, "Nachos."
I reclaimed my youth. And my hero, Dick Billings.
Later that day, I went to see the Rangers play the Oakland A's at the new ballpark. That night, we watched in the press box as O.J. Simpson played out his tragi-comic drama in his Ford Bronco on an L.A. Freeway. A few minutes before, I'd caught Will Clark and Jose Canseco in the hall leading to the dugout. They were ducking "The National Anthem." Canseco wheedled in an irreverent Tweedy Bird voice as Clark winked, "Can you imagine hearing that song one-hundred and sixty-two times a year and for twenty five or so spring training games?"
Yes, the modern sports hero has changed. So it's easy to understand how the intensity of a young's persons gaze is at a considerably lesser beam. But perhaps we always had to drag our kids to the ballpark. Maybe they always needed prodding to understand the game's nuances, its beauty and history. Tradition is taught, not inherited. Father and sons play catch, at first with some tentativeness, and then with gathering speed. Adults look at their old four-fingered gloves, autographs and souvenirs and remember. It's not that we are so enamored of the game as children. It's that the seeds we planted so long ago have a way of growing on you. The continuum is funny that way.

Arlington Stadium

Arlington Stadium diamond is buried
In a Kilamanjaro of scooped-out pond peat.
Right behind old home plate,
Mounds of green grass bubble,
Claiming Saint Jude's glory against
Staccato, encyclopedic volumes
Of late-season, dog day fades.
They say an old black man--
Dressed in a guard's uniform
With a Texas Rangers' insignia--
Patrols the sun-punished remains
Of Arlington's tinker toy park
As if games were still going on
Every night at the Turnpike.
He makes the rounds.
Regularly checks the cluttered ramps,
Seat backs strewn in an autumn pile of leaves,
Chairless rows of buckled, heat-bent steel,
Windows spiderwebby in little white lies,
Dark stairwells with broken chairs,
An eight-ton scoreboard lying dead,
Knotted telephone lines stunned into silence,
The gutted luxury boxes desolate except for
The speckled and cracked wall mirrors
Indicating a premonition of
Seven more years of second place.
He listens for the haunting echoes
And speaks to the ghosts of overturned Poseidon
While the refuse of Rangers' history
Is just a salvage barge away...
If they can just find a buyer
For the steel.
This is my dream denied.
This is my lost thirteenth year.
My found treasure. Aired only in boxscores
In a brown and faded and distant archive,
Ted Williams managed outcasts so bad
Dick Billings was a shooting Lone Star.
Is there anything of value I can reclaim?
Where is Dick Billings' red, white and blue
Wrist band or Mickey Rivers' broken speech?
Where is chatter so remote as to defy transcription?
After the last game they lifted home plate by helicopter
Like a clump of old sod they used to replant Comiskey,
And locked it into the new park
Where there are new dreams for others. Not me.
Just saw Nolan Ryan, he's doin' fine--Not me.
There is my youth but where are my dreams?
We moved San Antone in seventy-two
And I never saw one damn game here.
I stayed locked in a closet for a decade
Longing for that girl at the soda pop stand.
Now I'm back to break off
A piece of useless memorabilia
And wash it with tears to give it soul.
Somewhere in the humid winds
I hear the whisper
Of muted, hospital sounds.

My Cup of Coffee in the Majors

With all of the hullabaloo about the inherent social Darwinism well-proved by the "Survivor" television show, first won by Richard Hatch because he formed the so-called "Alliance," we all might've learned a lesson about alliances in business and life in general. Is all networking the essence of success, that is, better than working independently?
My answer begins with a description of a lavish boardroom in Scottsdale, Arizona, as a bunch of publishing entrepreneurs are celebrating the accomplishment a hard-won affiliation with Major League Properties, Inc. We are all there, feeling like we had finally made the Bigs. The entire staff was sitting beside a long, magnificent table and I remember there was a big blowup on the wall of a famous black and white photo of Babe Ruth saying goodbye to fans at Yankee Stadium.
There I was, the managing editor of a new magazine, The Diamond, the official history magazine of Major League Baseball. The Boys, my bosses, who had given themselves all grand titles ---- VP this, executive of that, CEO of ad infinitum ---- spoke in solemn and reverent terms about what it meant to get the licensing for a product that would go out to every major league season ticket holder.
The guy who hired me at The Diamond was Ron Bianchi. When I first entered the finely adorned, wood-paneled offices of the controlled-circulation glossy mag-to-be, there was no one in there but the Boys. Bianchi had tons of baseball memorabilia on his desk and we talked about the greats of baseball literature. Ring Lardner, Roger Angell, Thomas Bosworth -- the poetry of Donald Hall. It was music to my ears.
Bianchi was an idea-a-minute guy. Nothing was too big or farfetched. A dreamer who made people believe in his dreams. His father was some kind of judge back East, and he once told us a story about he'd been a PR person for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the Three Mile Island incident.
For more than a year he worked to get an interview with Fidel Castro about his pitching career with the Washington Senators organization, and eventually made all the connections to travel to Cuba for the meeting. But it never took place. Bianchi's Cuban contact disappeared mysteriously while he was there, and he was left stranded as he waited for "the call" to meet Castro. But it was a great story when he got back. And as time wore on, Bianchi, who liked to put on a kind of mafiaso demeanor, looked more and more like some Jeffersonian relic with his blown-back, graying mane of hair.
Interestingly, he was the first guy to tell me about the Internet. I think it was 1992. He plopped a copy of Wired on my desk, a form to fill out from Compuserve, and said, "This is the future, Bubby. This is where it's all going to be at someday." I looked down at the stuff, placed on top of my pile of manuscripts and proofs, and thought, Shit, one more thing I'm going to have to take care of.
Anyway, if Bianchi had a nemesis in life in those days, it was Michael Bernstein of Major League Properties in New York. Bernstein was some red-headed piece of work, from the stories Bianchi told after trips to New York.
Bianchi described Bernstein as a demonic street-fighter, a cussing, cursing, cynical, unhappy human being who quite probably wished he'd been able to pull off The Diamond himself, rather than have us do it in the Netherlands of Arizona. One of the biggest points of contention was this: Major League Properties had right to review all of our content and advertising before we went to print.
This became a bigger and bigger problem. If the moguls of Major League Baseball are notorious for their stupidity, imagine what their publicity and licensing machine is like. Even though MLB allowed alcohol to be served at most, if not all, major league ballparks, Properties wouldn't let us sell advertising to any of the beer companies. A huge loss for a magazine in need of paying revenue. The restriction was so tight that if an advertiser didn't have a franchising license from Major League Properties, or at least their seal of approval, we couldn't get the ad. I'll never forget the day we landed a $300,000 contract for a long-term two-page spread from a company that made leather jackets with classic baseball images woven into them. We shuffled our pagination and planned out a whole six months worth of stuff and everybody was on a real high for this big time magazine startup. Our first big source of actual revenue.
But then, a few days later, Major League Properties told us we couldn't run the ad campaign because the company had no official license to offer such products.
They reviewed our stories, too. We would fax our working drafts to Bernstein's assistant (who I called "The Chimp.") She didn't seem to know much about baseball and had certainly never played the game. But she had to read a lot of our stuff because Bernstein, running his own baseball version of Pravda in New York, didn't have much time for reading about Ty Cobb, Josh Gibson or the Babe.
I called her "The Chimp" because of that Disney film about the guy who taught his chimpanzee to judge the quality of television shows. If the Chimp didn't clap, well, it didn't run.
I talked this dean of baseball literature, Mark Harris, who wrote "Bang the Drum Slowly," into writing an article for us. We sent it to Properties and they objected to it, a story about the only man ever killed in the majors by a beanball.
"Too depressing," the Chimp said.

I sent it back to Harris for a rewrite, very apologetically. After all, who were we to tell this literary dean of baseball that tragedy wasn't serviceable content at our magazine?
He re-wrote it, but later printed the original version, of course a much better version, in an anthology of his writings.
We had a story about Babe Ruth, in fact a lot of stories about the Sultan of Swing, and we could never get anything in about how he was a womanizer and drunk and the first ubermensch of American sports. We were supposed to be an authority on baseball history and we never once used the words "tobacco" or "spitting" and you can bet the Babe's regular visits to the whorehouses of New Orleans during spring training never made it into even one faxed document to Major League Properties. Ty Cobb, the personification of evil in terms of personality traits, was equally problematic. Never ran a story about old Ty, especially not his high-flying spikes.
No, we kept all of that that visceral stuff that history is made of, heck, stuff that good stories are made of, like tragedy and human frailty, out of The Diamond.
Bianchi had this story idea about an old Dodger pitcher who committed suicide because of some kind of love triangle involving Ernest Hemingway, but he never wrote the story because of our deal with MLBP. He just didn't want to hear Bernstein howl, with that brackish New Yorker accent, from his offices to us over the telephone speaker.
With advertising revenue limited due to our licensing deal, we were going, going, deep, deep into the red. So Ron and the Boys -- the VPs this, execs that -- had to find inventive ways to keep the magazine funded until we could figure out how this thing was supposed to pay for itself.
Didn't work, though.
They brought in some guy with ties to the Vatican, supposedly, to pull together his investors. I remember there was talk about some guy named Abu, who was going to rollover funding from Africa. Another guy had a heart attack right before he was to provide venture capital. Or so we underlings were told. We eventually found one main sugar daddy, Gordy Hormel, of the hot dog conglomerate, but he eventually stopped sending checks with the onset of the Major League Baseball Players Association strike of 1994.
The magazine closed after 9 issues, out of business with at least $5 million in debts, probably more. Bianchi and the rest of The Boys never really recovered. They were a considerable scandal in Scottsdale as the lawsuits started to pile up.
I guess the moral to the story is you have to be careful about the motivations of your partners. They may not have your best interests in mind.
Bianchi never learned that lesson. He tried for years to get The Diamond back up and running, and apparently he kept borrowing money from every stranger and more nefarious sources. I used to put him on my resume as a reference. Until last year, that is, when I found that he had been murdered, in a mob-style hail of bullets. They found him full of holes in a forest near Payson, Arizona. I imagine that just before he died, Bianchi was marveling at his life's story, how someone might find a source for literature in his end.
Who killed him? Some former affiliate had just had enough. That's my guess. Like I say, affiliates may not have your best interests at heart.

The Kevin Brown Rule

There's a lot of hand wringing.
The presidential campaign war chests, especially for that of Republican nominee George W. Bush, whose campaign raised an excess of $100 million in contributions before the 2000 convention. But we should be unimpressed, perhaps even outraged, about this miniscule price tag for four years of rent in the White House.
Heck, before he was rented to other teams, Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Kevin Brown cost more to Ruppert Murdoch, who owned the team, than that year’s presidential nomination drivee.
Since the new economy has thrown all of our numbers out of whack, apply the Kevin Brown contract -- $105 million for seven years -- to gauge just how big a deal it actually is. The nice thing about life in the information age is numbers crunching like this can be done in just a few minutes.
So let's explore the Kevin Brown Rule.
Now, most sports fans will know that if they go to ESPN's online site, there are other athletes who now make more money than Kevin Brown. They will also learn the Dodgers haven't done diddley since Rupert Murdoch -- the megarich media mogul who owns the Dodgers and Fox-TV -- signed the hard-throwing righty in 1996.
No matter.
Follow me here. The same year Rupert signed Brown, an F-117 Stealth fighter was shot down over Yugoslavia. I think the Yugos used a fully registered handgun (street value, $50) to bring it down. Or maybe it just ran out of gas. The price tag for one of those planes is $45 million. That is, you can have one Kevin Brown, or, two Stealth fighters with, say, $15 million left over for a few days of stealth fuel. Interestingly, that aircraft's stock really dropped when the Yugoslavians brought it down (but it surely doesn't cost any less).
Prior to that, the Stealth had been a hero in the Gulf War in 1991, dropping laser-guided bombs with pinpoint accuracy over Baghdad. The plane is unique since its design deflects radar. No matter that the Yugos found more success in using the naked eye to shoot it down, the real point is it made a hero of the current Republican candidate's dad, President George Bush.
The F-117 flies combat missions at night since its Batmanesque-shaped plane and black color could be targeted with a spear in the daylight, just as Bush's policies -- and the entire Reagan era, for that matter -- looked fairly vulnerable after the smoke cleared over Baghdad.
Moving on, we had President Bill Clinton. Independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr spent close to $60 million to try to get Clinton out of office. What a waste. He could have bought a Stealth fighter, strafed the White House with pinpoint accuracy, and saved the taxpayers $10 million.
Sure, they would have had to rebuild the White House. But public construction projects only help the economy.
George W. Bush, who used to own a baseball team, and frequently argued that building a baseball stadium with taxpayer money -- The Ballpark at Arlington -- also helped the local economy, raised a record amount of pre-convention money for a presidential candidate at $100 million (according to figures by The Center for Responsive Politics). Not quite enough to buy Kevin Brown, but enough to buy two Stealth fighters, and certainly enough to buy the White House.
If Kevin Brown bought one Stealth fighter, and launched his own investigation by an independent prosecutor, then he would probably owe about $6 million. At that point in his career, prior to moving onto the Yankees, it wasn’t the right move. With the Dodgers, sure, he’s still got that Stealth-like pinpoint accuracy working for him, Rupert has got plenty of money to spend in a league that doesn't have a salary cap, and then there was that big G.W. Bush tax cut.
Brown is a hard-nosed battler on the mound, but I don't think he can parlay his fame into lucrative commercial endorsements. Surely, his lack of personal magnetism, or charisma, is a liability. Just as it is for both guys named George. I mean, just look at what the newest George had to spend to make his mug palatable to the American people.
No, I think Brown should invest in high-tech. Specifically, in an IBM RS/6000, code-named "Blue Wave," a powerful supercomputer bought by the Department of Defense for $18 million.
You geeks out there know what I'm talking about.
Brown would be able to test his chaos theories in the privacy of his own home, generate weather patterns digitally, puzzle out the bizarre shifts of human behavior, hitter's tendencies and more. Sure, it's only the fourth-fastest supercomputer in the world, but if he bought four for $72 million, he's still on par with what Vice President Al Gore raised to this point to make himself unelectable.
With $38 million left over, Brown really looked strong going into the fall campaign. Some might argue, hey, if he only bought three supercomputers, he could buy one Stealth Fighter, a fully registered handgun, and have enough left over to see a movie, go to dinner or buy a CD every now and then.
Kevin Brown will rule, regardless.
Or, I mean, Rupert Murdoch will rule. He owns Kevin Brown, a baseball team, and a media empire that could skewer anyone, anywhere, far better than an independent prosecutor. Murdoch once bought an entire satellite system on a whim, and probably the only thing keeping him from spending $500 million on an entire pitching staff is it would make him a social pariah with the other owners.
One might wonder why Murdoch didn't buy Stealth fighters instead. But since Murdoch, a so-called conservative, is a media mogul, his investments don't benefit much when Stealth fighters bomb and strafe invisibly, thus limiting programming footage to entertain the masses. Also, since his investments are literally everywhere, that's more territory than two Stealth fighters can reasonably protect with any efficiency.
Especially when you consider fuel costs. Hiked up each campaign season, no less, by oil and gas interests that helped George W. Bush raise $100 million to buy the White House.
See how it works?


Angels are everywhere. They are in the Bible and they are making a big comeback in more recent media outlets. Big enough even, to grace the cover of Time magazine. When it comes to baseball, you can find them in the outfield.
For instance, they roam the movie remake of the semi-classic tale of the player who gets a little help from heaven, Angels In the Outfield, opening next month at a theater near you. In the new version, Danny Glover stars as a baseball player for the California Angels, a team cast (sorry Angels' fans) as a team that doesn't have the chance of winning a pennant. Naturally, the Angels get cherubic assistance into contention.
The original film featured Paul Douglas as Guffy McGovern, the crusty manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. For historians, the film is one of those rare occasions to see the old Forbes Field in its splendor.
Even before the original was released in 1951, angels were in the deep, deep centerfield of baseballology.
For example, since the turn of the century, the term angel has indicated a cloud that comes to the aid of a fielder by blocking out the sun, thus making it easier to make a catch. According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the term first appeared in print in an August 1909 issue of Baseball magazine: "Pitilessly, the sun beats down from the sky, broken only by the fleecy-white clouds that players call 'angels' because they afford so benevolent a background for the batted ball."
Of course, the advent of domed stadiums made such divine intervention unnecessary. Further evidence, say fretful traditionalists, that the end of the world is at hand...