Monday, December 11, 2017

Ten Years Gone

On December 3, 2007, my dad turned 56. That evening he, my stepmom, a couple others, and I had dinner at their place. My stepmom was a wonderful cook, but I don't remember what we ate. I know that we had warm, enjoyable conversations, but I don't remember what any of them they were about. If I knew what I know now, I'd have made note of what had for dessert. I'd have catalogued everything we discussed, everything my dad said. I'd have chosen my own words deliberately and with great care. But I didn't know. I didn't know how busy I was going be during the next week, finishing up papers and projects at the end of my first semester of graduate school. I didn't know that after two years relatively fairly gradual changes, my dad's condition was about to decline rapidly. I didn't know that dinner would be the last meal we ever ate together. I didn't know that conversation would be the last we ever had.

Eight days later, and ten years ago today, my dad passed away.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Coda to the Best Ballplayers of My Lifetime

I started my countdown of the 30 best players of my first 30 years as a baseball fan in early 2016. It became something of a boondoggle, because I didn't have as many personal stories relating to the players as I thought I would, and so few people were reading the entries that it became difficult to find the motivation to put real time and energy into them. I imagined writing two or three entries a week; instead by the second half of it I was writing only one a month. By the time I finished, 19 months had passed. The list already felt a little off, so I've decided to redo the entire project, counting down the top 32 players of my first 32 years as a baseball fan. Just kidding, I'm never doing a project like this again. I am going to write this brief coda,  to touch upon the changes brought by nearly two years passing between beginning and end.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #1: Barry Bonds

Even as an adult, much of life feels out of my control. A child's life is even more out of their hands. I didn't choose my family, I din't choose my home. I was incredibly fortunate in both of those regards. Others, through no fault of their own, are not. I did choose baseball, but I didn't choose to come of age during an era so many writers and fans would belatedly decide was bogus. For more than a decade now earlier generations have led a relentless effort to deny the beauty of the baseball I grew up with, but I say to hell with anyone who says the baseball I grew up wasn't as joyous as the baseball they grew up with, to hell with anyone who would put an asterisk next to any of it, to hell with anyone who would deny the transcendence of Barry Bonds.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #2: Roger Clemens

It's been more than two decades since Greg Maddux became my favorite pitcher and eventually my favorite player, but when I was younger it was Roger Clemens whose poster adorned my wall. He was on the mound, holding a baseball that was also a rocket, because that was his nickname. (Do they still make posters like that one, which were everywhere when I was young? If not, kids today are really missing out.) The poster must not have been officially licensed, because he wasn't wearing his Red Sox uniform. I'm not exactly sure what drew me to Clemens, but given that he won the Cy Young Award each of the first two years I was paying any attention to baseball, and he struck out a million guys, and had that cool nickname, it doesn't seem especially surprising. When I was 12 years old he appeared on The Simpsons as the pitcher for the team of ringers Mr. Burns put together for the big power plant softball game, which probably brought my Clemens fandom to its peak. The 25 years since then brought a gradual but precipitous decline of that fandom, eventually reaching a point where that Simpsons episode is about the only thing I still like about him. Still, the man could really pitch.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #3: Greg Maddux

Since I began this blog more than five years ago, I've gotten to write for and manage maybe the most substantial Cleveland Indians fan site on the internet, and to accept an award honoring Let' Go Tribe as Cleveland's best sports website. My name has appeared in Sports Illustrated and a number of newspapers, including the New York Times, and has been mentioned on Baseball Tonight and during a couple of MLB broadcasts. Probably none of that would have happened if while perusing the sports section on the morning of Monday, June 8, I hadn't decided to have a third bowl of cereal. During my first and second bowls, I'd been reading coverage of the previous day's NBA Finals game, in which the Bulls had obliterated the Jazz 96-54 (still the most lopsided Finals game in history), but by the third bowl of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch I had turned to the baseball page. My Indians had beaten the Reds 6-1, led by a strong outing from Dave Burba, who also became the first Tribe pitcher to hit a home run since before the designated hitter was introduced in 1973. I was checking other box scores when I saw that Greg Maddux had shut out the Orioles and thrown only 99 pitches.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #4: Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson's career path was unlike that of any other pitcher. Actually, that's not true, his path was like that of a few others, but his version of that path was a wildly exaggerated version, which is pretty apt for a man six feet and ten inches tall, who played much of his career with a mullet and a mustache, and who once accidentally killed a bird with a pitch. Johnson was a second-round pick by the Expos, and he soon showed why a team would select him so high in the draft, as he struck out ten guys for every nine innings he pitched during his first full season on the farm. The next year his strikeout rate climbed even higher, to 10.4 per 9 innings, but his walk rate was an unsightly 8.2 per 9 innings. That was the worst mark in the Southern League, but the allure of his strikeouts proved difficult to resist, and by the following September, Johnson had made his MLB debut with Montreal. Not long after that he was dealt to Seattle as part of the Mark Langston trade that highlighted the Expos' ill-fated postseason push in 1989. It was with the Mariners that he first made a name for himself, but greatness took a while.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

After graduating from college, I returned home for a few months until I could figure out the next step. Around the time I moved back in, a pair of cardinals built their nest in a bush in our backyard. Soon there was a pair of speckled eggs. Before long they hatched, and over the next couple weeks the babies went from hatchlings to fledglings. On Father's Day the two of them ventured from the nest for the first time, hopping around in the yard as their parents kept a watchful eye and did whatever it is birds might do to help their young. Dad and I stayed at a distance and watched as they flapped and flailed around on the ground, slowly showing signs of figuring out how to use their wings. In the middle of the afternoon a squirrel killed one of them. The mother and father moved closer to their surviving chick, the better to prevent a similar fate from befalling it. Dad and I got closer too, and a couple hours later we celebrated in the fading daylight when that little bird took proper flight.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #5: Alex Rodriguez

"Never feel sorry for a man who owns a plane."

- Charles Morse

I don't know if Alex Rodriguez owns a plane or not, but he certainly could, having earned more than $400 million as a ballplayer, plus whatever endorsement money he collected over the years. He debuted at a very young age, was great almost immediately, and looked likely to challenge many of the most storied records in the game. What a weird, pathetic path his career eventually wandered though. I spent years strongly disliking him, rooting against him and the teams he played for, but by the end he'd been vilified beyond any reasonable measure, and if he weren't categorically disqualified from pity, I think I'd have felt sorry for Alex Rodriguez.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Maddux on a Baseball Card

If you've read much of my writing, you're likely aware that when I was a kid, baseball cards were a huge deal to me, really taking off when Topps released its classic 1987 set, the one with the wood paneling trim. I say they were a huge deal when I was a kid, but it's not as though I ever entirely let them go. Last summer in fact, I spent hours over the course of my weeks off from teaching loosely organizing the thousands and thousands of cards I had in a couple of large cardboard boxes in the basement. First I sorted them by sport (because I had a few football and basketball cards as well, along with some Star Wars and Marvel superhero cards too. Then I sorted the baseball cards by brand. There were Donruss and Fleer, Bowman and Score, Upper Deck and O-Pee-Chee. By far the largest pile was the Topps one though. My first love, and always to remain my greatest. And because of that, when I came upon something new today, I beamed with excitement the way I would have when I pulled a Kirby Puckett or a Bo Jackson from a pack as a kid.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #6: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols was born the same year as me. Same month, in fact. On Opening Day in 2001, he became the first person younger than me to appear in the Major Leagues. He is by far the best player born in 1980, and while it's too early to know for sure, there's a strong chance he'll go down as the greatest player born at any point in the 80s. (Not that anyone actually keeps track of such a thingThat Pujols is now one of the league's elder statesmen is a reminder that I'm getting older too. I take some comfort in knowing that while 37 is old for baseball, it's only the early stages of middle age for the rest of the world. He was a star from the beginning, and I was aware of the proximity of our births from the beginning, so for his entire career, he's felt like something of an analog to me, if a somewhat more rich, famous, and successful one.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #7: Pedro Martinez

As a child, I was drawn to position players. Home runs, stolen bases, diving catches... those were the things that captured me, and those are things position players do. When I went to a game, or sat down to watch one on TV, I wanted a high-scoring slugfest. In my ideal scenario, the guys standing on the mound as baseballs were whacked all over the stadium hardly mattered. As an adult though, it's the opposite. I now want to a see a pitchers' duel, two guys matching each other, scoreless frame for scoreless frame. If I'm not watching the Indians, I'm watching whichever game offers me the best possible arms. Greg Maddux, who I consider my favorite player ever, played a big role in that, but when I think about planning my day around being able to watch a guy, it's Pedro Martinez who comes to mind. And if my life depending on a ballgame, and all I could control was who would pitch, it's Pedro Martinez I'd hand the ball to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #8: Ken Griffey Jr.

This seems like a subjective thing, I know, but Ken Griffey Jr. was the ballplayer for my generation. The #1 overall pick in 1987, Griffey made his MLB debut on Opening Day in 1989, when he was still a teenager. He was a huge deal right from the start, popular enough that in just his second season, he was voted by fans to be a starter for the All-Star Game, making him the second-youngest position player ever to be so honored. (Only Al Kaline was voted in at a younger age, and by just one month.) By the end of his age-30 season, he'd hit 40+ home runs in seven different seasons. Before Griffey, no one so young had done that more than five times. He made breathtaking plays in center field, the kind every kid pretended to make when he was at Little League practice or alone in his backyard, and won ten consecutive Gold Gloves during the 90s. He finished in the top five of the AL MVP vote five times, winning the award in 1997, and having an excellent case for it in 1993, 1994, and 1996 as well. He was chosen for the All-Century team, despite not yet having turned 30. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, having received a record 99.32% of the vote. Only a fool would leave Griffey off their ballot.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #9: Chipper Jones

Larry Jones Jr.'s father was a baseball coach, and when the boy took to baseball at a young age, his family saw it as a sign that he was a "chip off the old block," which is why they began to call him Chipper. Two players still to come in this countdown are the sons of former Major League players, and a number of others on the list had a father or other close family member who played college or semi-pro ball. I wonder how much more likely a child is to become a great player if they grow up with someone who was a great player. And whatever the difference is, how much of it is the actual genes, how much of it is having someone in your life who can teach you the skills, how much of it is the connections that family member may have, and how much of it is having someone who's trying to bend your life in that particular direction?