Category Archives: 1984 Cubs

Getting a Job: Writing for a new baseball site

On the prodding of Susan Bernard, my eminently qualified writer friend, I applied to a baseball website for a position as team writer. The new site (really, really new) is called the Hometown 9.

I picked the Chicago Cubs, and maybe, through a little luck, I’ll get my writing career rolling. Anyways, here’s the first two pieces: one is my bio, the other, my opening day piece.
My Bio: I come from a long background of frustrated ballplayers as both my grandfathers spent time in the pursuit of playing baseball at the minor league level. Grandpa Clark tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers before being told by Uncle Sam they needed 17-year olds to fight in WWII. As a result, he never got to meet Branch Rickey or that man’s miserly and ingenious ways personally. Grandpa Powers tried his hand in the Texas Leagues of the 1920’s. No records on his success, but I know he spent 37 years as a state penitentiary guard. That pretty much says it all.

Before I swindled Purdue University out an Industrial Engineering degree (or did they take me?), I was likely in hot pursuit of fly ball in centerfield. I grew up on the Chicago Cubs, wishing I could one day patrol their cozy confines in pursuit of some wind blown high pop, while also hoping Jay Johnstone wouldn’t be in the same pursuit.

My high school career never amounted to the glory of getting a visit from a tobacco-chewing scout. Some how 5’6”, 165-pound lefties weren’t on the short list of players to watch. But I could really throw that “speed ball” by you. (Glory Days reference.)

Instead, I matriculated to the concrete jungle that is Purdue University. There, I learned how to walk 1 mile across campus at 7:00 AM in 15 minutes, spend 50 minutes in class, usually falling asleep, then back to the dorm in 20 minutes, due to the headwinds of winter. That practice became a rarity; and so did my achievement of good grades, as a 2.07 GPA attests to.

Baseball play turned to baseball fantasy turned to baseball disenchantment with the 1994 strike. I felt cheated on – unlike my imaginary girlfriends – and so, I put aside the game for a spell. I am sorry for that enterprise, and I am a reformed addict. (No lie.)

So that’s it. Professionally, I have wandered away from industrial engineering and decided upon the career of “writing.” This is my first gig – aside from blogging for several years and slogging through writings that are the epitome of Americana – and I hope it will be a smashing success.

Maybe the Cubs will be too.

1st Article: Opening Day: She’s coming back to me

The mistress of spring is coming back home after a heady trip abroad. She’s wearing a devilish blue dress, cut low, the way I like it, and carrying a baseball bat. Again, the way I love it. That is but one vision of baseball that in my more sensuous dreams might exist.

“What is Love?” but that of a pitcher scraping dirt off the rubber, digging his toe into side, and steaming a bee ball toward a tightly-muscled assassin with a 35-inch thunder maker in his clutches. As the pop of the mit or the sweet crack of the bat means we are seeing the first of thousands of confrontations between the two diametrically-opposed fellas. That is love to a baseball fan.

In our nation’s capital, as the 2008 election stirs patriotic feelings, the Washington Nationals open a new cathedral for the baseball gods to perform their wondrous feats. It seems Cuba’s better known Castro knew the park was going to be a startling vision, and decided, “leader of Cuba or new Washington Senator, er, National pitching prospect?” and chose to give it, just one more try.

As a team in search of a new owner, the Chicago Cubs are seeking to break through after 100 years. 100 years. When they last proclaimed the title of World Champions, the world had no supersonic travel, no television, no atomic annihilation, no internet, no rights to vote for women, and still held back African-Americans. How times have evolved for some. As the team has changed hands, from restaurateur, to gum maker, to son-of-a-(gun) gum maker to corporate conglomerate, the loyalty of the fans has kept alive the dreams of William Wrigley, who never won a title, but is the name everyone will forever associate with the ballpark at Clark & Addison. No matter what the current real estate man has to say about it.

In Los Angeles, fifty years after their movement west on a subsonic bird of Orville Wright’s wilder dreams, the Dodgers are playing again in the L.A. Coliseum. A place developed for Olympic feats and USC football, it makes for a quirky attempt to put 80,000 fans aghast at the odd dimensions swinging around to the left field area. Where an outfielder has to put on protective gear, or at least, gets an opportunity to add 3rd base to his list of abilities. Only outfielder Wally Moon might reminisce fondly about his time hitting in this short-lived version of a major league ballpark.

These are some of the new memories surrounding the return of my mistress from abroad. She is a broad – curvy, sometimes luscious, full of vigor, but she never ages – and yet, she is hardened by a seven-score affirmation that every spring she’ll come back home to us. Fresh. A clean slate. Mistakes forgiven. And more new memories to make whilst “rounding the sack.”

Opening Day. She’s home.

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A Blog about Nothing: Just for today

It’s Friday…That’s the reason. So why not a blog about nothing. Seinfeld made a mint on the idea.

It’s sunny, 75, and my mind isn’t into much of mood to write you why George Bush has to be the worst President ever (unless the stock market is your bag) or Dick Cheney must be the most powerful Co-President in existence. Or that Mark Cuban has tossed his hat in the ring for the purchase of my beloved, much maligned Chicago Cubs. Course I had to reference a friggin’ blogger to make this a blog worth reading. (No time to do my own research.)

I need to go get a pizza pie and fill my gluttoness need. Or down a pint or two at the pub. Or find a woman named Elaine that isn’t too hideous or too much like Julia Louis Dreyfuss on Seinfeld. Don’t need her issues to be as quirky as mine right now.

The Blog about Nothing is out there for your eyes to scan. I knew that couldn’t be resisted.

Have Good Nothing Weekends! I’ll be back on Monday…unless I land in the pokey for something yet to be determined.

Bringin’ Gas and Dialin’ 9: Preface Uncut

The following is a rough draft excerpt of the preface. I’ll admit it is in the passive voice too much. And well, it needs plenty of revision and truncation to make it into say, an actual book. But it is personal and gives a background into why I started writing a baseball book 13 months ago. Before I hack it up and structure it differently, I figured a few would like some background into this “obsession” with baseball. It’s long. Settle in.

Bringing’ Gas and Dialin’ 9: A Fan’s Perspective on Professional Baseball Development (1908-2006)

Among my earliest recollections in life are days spent at the little league ball fields in Winchester, Tennessee in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. During this time my love for baseball grew and the desire to know the game increased almost daily. Playing was paramount to all things to do at that particular age, in that town, and within that kid’s world. Frankly, little else mattered more than playing and learning about the game.

During the later part of each school year, the little league season would start up. After signing up and trying out, I remember the practices were far from the center of town in what was a multi-field complex of rusty small backstops, and little else, near a swampy lake. In those early practices, I got rudely acquainted with the concept of catching fly balls correctly after taking a couple directly off my head. Learning the basics of the game – hitting, throwing, fielding and running the bases – never seemed like work. The skies never seemed cloudy and the ground never soggy. I enjoyed practicing with my first teammates and coaches in life that I remember more in spirit, than in fact. Those were simple times.

When the season started, I would trek after school to the babysitter’s house with my uniform, ball glove and cleats in a plastic bag, with homework scarcely a thought. Being so anxious to play, I would leave her supervision shortly after putting on my uniform and walking to the ball fields with the sun shining brightly in my face as I went down the dusty side streets of Winchester, Tennessee with the sounds of my cleats echoing. The ball fields were close to the local racetrack where the sounds of revved up engines deafen on Friday nights usually, except for those spring days when baseball dominated the picture.

I was usually the first one at the complex – two immaculate ball fields devoid of human life – but the energy was present all ready in the grass, the stands and the fences encircling the fields. A sweet serenity existed all around, but just below that, was a happy tension of anticipating the young ballplayers running around, while the adults would yell and cheer us boys along. This was what I really liked the most: waiting to play on these magical fields.

I would sit up in the stands, with my cleats making the typical sounds against metal bleachers, and look at the chalk, the scoreboard in center, the PA system and home plate…Just the remembrance of a simpler time, a purer place and the raw and natural feeling of being a baseball player ready to make good on the practices with teammates and coaches is something I sorely miss.

I tried every time to be at the park before anyone else. Most times, I succeeded.

I watched the Baseball Bunch on Saturdays. Pete Rose, Johnny Bench , Ozzie Smith and Mike Schmidt among others were guests on teaching fundamentals and talking baseball. After that, This Week in Baseball’s Mel Allen would go over a week’s worth of play in the MLB in his charismatic way. I still can bring to mind his call of a ‘Ranger in Danger’ referring to a great outfield catch made by a Texas Ranger slamming into the wall. Little did I know then how long Mel had been in the role of announcing the feats of baseball players, going back to the days of Lou Gehrig. But that particular time to me was the golden ‘era’ of baseball. As most fans do, we romanticize a point in our life, usually childhood, as the time when the game was perfect. We focus too on the one team our hearts were overjoyed to see. Closest to my heart: 1984 Cubs.

I lived and died with them. I watched every game as a twelve year old, even those West Coast tilts that rarely got over before midnight, and long after any reasonable bedtime I might of had. At this point I had been living in Indiana only a couple of years after my mother and I had moved from Tennessee, but the Cubs became my team to go to the mat for daily.
When I was not watching their games, I would practice with my grandfather, William L. Clark, Jr., in the backyard, with him either hitting grounders or flies or catching my pitching while crouching with difficulty. We would talk for hours at a time about baseball and life. He shared his times growing up in Gary, Indiana as the son of a barber and what his passion for baseball meant to him at that early age. He too had experienced the joys and heartaches of his lifetime: The 1969 Cubs.

When the ’84 season began, the ‘Daily Double’ of Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg started off well on an April West Coast swing and never seized to produce runs. They delighted my eyes with their speed on bases, the hit-and-run play and the emerging power of Sandberg. The ‘Sarge’ batted 3rd usually, wiggling his bat in that undulating manner and finding any way to get on in front of the sluggers. Then ‘Zonk’ Moreland, ‘Bull’ Durham, Ron Cey and Jody Davis drove them all home.

Shortly after the Cubs traded for Rick Sutcliffe, unfortunately giving up a young and talented Joe Carter in process (who Buck O’Neil scouted), they improved dramatically upon a staff that all ready had Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith, Steve Trout and Scott Sanderson to make it ready for a playoff run. Unlike many of the past Cubs teams, thirty-eight since the 1945 World Series, this one had ‘it.’ I knew it, and my grandfather did too.

I watched the Sandberg game – with Bob Costas calling the two home runs off Bruce Sutter during an amazing Game of the Week comeback win at Wrigley in June – and finally knew they were going to win the NL East. My grandfather and I watched game after game as the Cubs pulled closer to the then elusive goal of a winning season and much, much more. I saw the last pitch Sutcliffe threw to clinch the pennant against Pittsburgh with Jody Davis pumping his fist in triumph. And the celebration in the locker room with Jim Frey and the team relieved in ending a near four decade-old burden.

I remember conning the 7th grade Social Studies teacher (who later coached me in high school) into letting my classmates watch the Cubbies in the playoffs. The first two games in the early afternoon got me out of school work and made the semi-hectic middle school life of a transplanted Southerner more bearable that year.

My heart broke in the fifth game of the National Championship series. My grandfather was rarely silent after any Cubs loss, but this time, he said little as if he knew it had been just magical enough to see them go this far. To this day, I firmly believe the Cubs win that series if they had three home games. That team destroyed San Diego at home and that is all there was to it…to my 7th grade way of thinking.

Insert Table here…1984 Cubs Stats

After the Cubs lost the 1984 NL championship series, I continued to watch their plights, but it was never quite the same as that season was.

My grandfather passed away in 1986. He was a baseball fanatic through and through. He tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers during World War II, but was soon off to duty in the Pacific once he turned eighteen in 1944. By April 1945, he was landing an LCVP on the shores of Okinawa. Shortly after the war, he fondly remembered the Splendid Splinter (Ted Williams) hitting a foul ball down the 1st base line at old Comiskey Park. The ball went off his hand – that was driven just out of reach – as he dived over his soon-to-be wife Mildred, much to her shock in the moment. If only he brought his mitt, he surmised, with proud disappointment. Teddy Ballgame was his idol. I miss them both. (Coincidence: They both passed on July 4th very late at night. Though William’s is officially determined to have passed on July 5th.)

Block Stadium in East Chicago, IN

In 1988, Doug Basham, Ron Kessel Jr. and I went to Block Stadium in East Chicago to try out for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After arriving at 9AM, we warmed up for half-hour, ran the 60-yard dash, threw from right field to 3rd base or around the infield under the watchful eye of scouts for the ball club – who were looking for 6.9 sixties and 90-MPH on the gun. None of us made the cut; but we did see the few that did and they got to stay around for batting practice. As we drove back home, we talked about how we would do much better next time while listening to classic rock on WCKG in Chicago. As it turned out, I never try out again.
By 1990, I was finishing up my high school career and four years of playing high school baseball. I was never an elite player; had never wowed any coaches or scouts; and had ‘an attitude’ that was not conducive to either helping my team win games or garnering consistent playing time. But during the sectional playoffs, I made the best diving catch of my life in deep right center field. It partly made up for the uneven way I played in high school and the promise I wished I had fulfilled not only to myself, but also to my grandfather.
As college called, I found other interests (women amongst them) that would bedevil me rather quickly. In those pursuits, my batting average was far, far worse than any I had ever experienced in my first true love of baseball. But I kept on trying nonetheless.
Where actually playing baseball was no longer a top pursuit, participating in fantasy leagues intervened and took its place. I could envision in MLB players an ability to win games based on my selecting and managing a group of ‘my players.’ The advent of the Internet only improved this ability to play and has continued to be a top, if sporadic, hobby, as unsuccessful as some fantasy seasons have been.
My love ebbed on baseball with the 1994 strike season. Somehow, when the players, ownerships, coaches and managers failed me through their actions both on and off the field, I felt cheated on, and had great difficulty forgiving the transgression, likening it to a cheating girlfriend or wife. It took me several years before I would set foot in a ballpark again, losing interest in the exploits of the players and avoiding the game for several years.
In 1998, the home run derby of Sosa and McGwire captivated fans and brought back excitement to many cast adrift. Baseball had its hook, its driver of excitement and its regenerator of fan support. Its purity then was rarely questioned; now, it is an abhorrent to countless fans and media representatives. By 2005, the whole baseball world spoke of nothing but steroids. And my interest in baseball took on a whole new meaning…

Baseball as a subject of discussion is far from original. Just about every angle has been covered by the elite base ball historians – that have countless personal books, old and rare magazine copies, intriguing memorabilia from non-existent teams and stadiums and player interviews to work from – and, to wit, they are at the very heart of any journey into talking about baseball at length. It is hopeful that my research, if not as exhaustive as many, many others, will provide a taste of the sound thoughts others have introduced to the game. But more importantly, I hope to cover many topics in brief that are sometimes overlooked…and some that are always brought up.

When I started out, I was tempted to do only a very short study about steroids and whether (or how) they applied to power surges seen in recent times. As my research about various things came about, I felt that was too cursory of an analysis to explain what has truly happened in baseball. And as time wore on, and information came together, my feelings changed significantly about the scope of the writing and what should be the basis of the project.
Specifically, what should be included, relevant to the steroid topic, and what other issues I felt supported my overarching thesis: the evolution of baseball through the various periods and what relevancy they have in the 21st century.
As the project went forward, I surmised that I could spend many months on each topic included and write an entire book on just that topic alone. Though a heady ambition, I went back to what I was trying to accomplish: reflecting this fan’s perspective on the game and utilize the research and histories compiled by those that have gone before me.
I ran into framework problems about halfway through the project. (This is not unheard of when approaching any history of baseball.) Many authors use a decade-by-decade perspective. Others use biographical techniques to point to key figures or only focus on one period. Some have focus just on the statistics and pictorial reviews of the giant figures in the game. Many others just pick one team and their additions to the overall strategies and philosophies of baseball. I preferred to use a combination of all of these with some minor additions and modifications.
This manuscript comprises various fields of baseball research: player & manager biographies; statistical analyses; baseball physics; team histories; evolution of baseball equipment; innovative new ideas; simulations; fantasy baseball growth; and, anabolic steroids. I felt it was necessary not to solely focus on one area, but to give more than a smattering but not quite a definitive collection of information from all of these fields – with as much depth as I could muster for each area. There is considerable overlap; and that was partly the problem I had with structure.
By far, I have not covered every last detail there is to be seen. Many, many baseball experts have covered these topics before, more astutely, and with more depth and anecdotes to support their arguments made – and I thank them for doing the due diligence and justice to the sport they love unconditionally. My purpose is more of a small consolidation of certain facts, theories that have been espoused by experts and historians, utilizing statistics and graphs to point out trends and addressing the wide-ranging field that is professional baseball.
Baseball is much more than the game we see on the field. The romanticized verses of Casey at the Bat, Tinkers to Evers to Chance and Take Me Out to The Ballgame are a small part of the lore that we tie to the game as it is played. But beyond the lore and the field, the statistics amassed, the physics immutable, the social panorama conflicted, the people entwined and the business and legal aspects weighing on this sport, their does lay real glory, and sometimes, truth.
As we see the game in front of us, the dark curtain hiding what is really going on is never really far from sight, even if we do not see it as clearly as fans. When a player makes the last out in a baseball game, ‘The Hidden Game’ (Peter Palmer and John Thorn) has only just begun for the next afternoon, evening, season or a decade. And certainly that has come to light in many author’s analysis or a ballplayer’s biography has typically discussed – Jim Bouton’s Ball Four for an excellent example – and that has made public the smoky rooms of owners dealings and for the downfalls of players alike.
Overall, my goal is to set forth a foundation of basic understanding of those underpinnings of the game and place steroids, home runs, baseball players, financials and owners in their proper lights, if at all possible, and make for a clearer picture of what has happen in the past 100 years of the sport. The overarching aspects of league play is also a goal. And at times, stand up for viewpoints not seen on the TV, in the print media or via the information superhighway that is the Internet. Hopefully, I support my arguments and add to the flavor of the game. Maybe.
That is all any author attempts to do: to write what he sees from his perspective and try hard to include as many viewpoints in his research of a topic. As I went through the gambit of writing, I attempted to make strides to include as much of the spirit of the game to go along with the statistics and graphs. Any failures are my fault – and I hope others will forgive those shortcomings as best they are able to.
Finally, the most troubling aspect to this project was selecting a title. For one, it is impossible to categorize this as any complete history, because it is not. Abbreviated, addressing a variety of topics, and far from a player overview of any merit. Statistics drove the project, but I felt it was not a statistical analysis solely. I delved into the business side of baseball, but it was not economics-driven project. Steroids, again, not solely about the steroids, yet it does put the topic in a different light.
In the end, I picked two phrases that I thought were the defining characteristic of the pitcher/hitter confrontation: Bringin’ Gas and Dialin’ 9. The ability to throw Cheese. High Heat. The Hot Rock. Dialing it up. Number one. As an erstwhile high school pitcher, I thought it was applicable to the thoughts I had: to come hard and direct from my research, put my thoughts to paper and attack the reader with statistics, graphs and anecdotes like a fastball pitcher. Dialin’ 9 is a call for going long distance by the hitter. Taking him deep. Goin’ Yard. Lighting up the scoreboard. Once again, the idea is to firmly crack the subject deep into seats and tear the cover off the ball. If this title is not applicable, it is my fault once again.
I would like to pass along my gratitude for the assistance of Dr. Bryan Denham of Clemson University for his research and Dr. Norm Fost for his encouragement to pursue the subject… I want to also thank the Lowell Indiana Public Library and their staff for their assistance in obtaining books and articles. The Barnes & Nobles in Merrillville, Indiana for allowing me to research while drinking tons of soda and reading their books for free. Buddy & Pals Bar and Grill in Crown Point, Indiana for the late nights and the live entertainment while I worked out graphs, charts and organizing this book.
The Society of Baseball Research (SABR), http://www.nlbpa.com/ (Negro Leagues Baseball Players Association), http://www.nlbemusuem.com/ (Negro Leagues Baseball Museum) http://www.baseballlibrary.com/, Sean Lahman’s Baseball Database at http://www.baseball1.com/, http://www.baseball-reference.com/ and http://www.retrosheet.org/ for their vast resources of information compiled in a useful manner for any baseball project. Many many others are included in the biography.
(Note: I tried to steer away from appropriating research from many of those sources (SABR); instead, putting together my own thoughts first, then finding supporting references that bolster my point. If I did utilize someone’s work, i.e. Bill James or Pete Palmer and countless others, they are credited in numerous footnotes, bibliography and in the written work. I apologize completely if my work has left anyone unaccredited.)
Glen Powers, Jamie Bray, Tim Richardson, Mark Richardson, Kevin Wheeler and Daphne Ortiz for their review of my work, some in whole, others just a chapter or two. My mother, who always supports the endeavors I take up, even the flawed ones. And anyone else that taught me baseball appreciation which would include the authors I’ve read and the people who I’ve met and discuss the game with over the years and the course of this project.