11th and Washington

11th and Washington: June 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

David Wright's jersey set

As we approach the final 24 hours of All-Star voting, here's a look at the jerseys David Wright has earned so far. Above is 2006 in Pittsburgh, when he took Ryan Howard to the final round of the Home Run Derby.

Here is 2007 in San Francisco:

Now 2008 at Yankee Stadium, when he was -- horrors! -- an injury replacement:

And 2009 in St. Louis:

On Sunday, fans should have the option to customize this one with Wright's name and number.

Labels: , ,

Vote Wright! Keep the streak alive!

David Wright heads to third

[NOTE: I actually had this written and set to go up last night, but then Polanco went on the DL, so it no longer carries the same weight. But here it is nonetheless.]

David Wright has played in each of the past four All-Star Games ever since being voted in as a starter for his first one in 2006. He homered in his first All-Star at-bat and hasn't stopped hitting, picking up one base hit in each contest. Here are his statistics.

If you count the 2004 Futures Game, he had a hit in that, too. He was also named to the Double-A All-Star Game that year but did not attend because he was promoted to Triple-A before it was played.

In 2003, he was named to the Florida State League All-Star Game and in 2002, he played in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lakewood. He did not make the 2001 Appalachian League postseason all-star team (only a list; there is no game), but still had a solid debut, hitting .300 with seven doubles, four homers, 17 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 36 games at age 18 in the short-season league.

[Cool side note on that: I could not find the 2001 postseason all-stars for the Appy League online anywhere, so I went to the league site and sent an e-mail to the address provided in the "Contact Us" link. Only an hour later, I got a response from none other than the league president informing me that Wright was not on that postseason all-star team. The only Kingsport player to make it was shortstop Sean Pittman, who topped out at high-A St. Lucie in 2002. I wonder if there was another shortstop blocking his path to the bigs?]

As of now, though, 2001 and 2005, his first full year in the Majors, are the only professional seasons in which Wright wasn't named to an all-star team. He'll almost certainly be named to the NL squad this year should he not win the starting nod, but why leave it to chance? He's got the numbers this year to earn the spot, so let's make sure he gets there.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Elimination of the competition is no reason to let up

David Wright singles

So David Wright's path to the All-Star Game just opened up with Placido Polanco going on the disabled list. He won't be eligible to come off until after the break.

But that's no reason to sit back and consider it a job well done. While Wright may be a near-certainty to make the team, I'd still love to see him start, and if Polanco wins the fan balloting, the starter will be left up to the manager -- the Phillies' Charlie Manuel at that. Of late, All-Star managers have often deferred to either the next-highest vote-getter or the winner of the player vote at the position (if the fans' choice is not one and the same) to get the start. So why leave it in Manuel's hands? Let's keep pressing "Submit" on those ballots and get Wright to the top.

(Granted, Chase Utley joining Polanco is also good as far as the Mets and NL East race are concerned, but not necessarily for the "This Time It Counts" crap and home-field advantage in the World Series. And I'd also like to see the NL just win one and start turning the tide back their way. Jason Heyward missing the game is also a blow to the NL but, again, a potential boon to the Mets, especially because they Braves over the weekend before the All-Star break.)

So keep clicking...

Labels: , ,

Wright closes ground on Polanco in balloting

In the past week, David Wright has closed the gap on Placido Polanco for the starting slot at third base by nearly 118,000 votes.

118,000 votes! In a week!

That's 16,857 votes per day. Trailing by just 22,635 as of this morning and with just under 60 hours to go before ballots close, should Wright gain at the rate of 16,000+ per day over the next 2 1/2 days, he could gain another 40,000 votes and earn the starting nod by 18,000. I'm no math man, but that seems plausible to me.


Labels: , ,

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Wright? The numbers agree

Remember to Vote Wright! Click the button on the right -->

The way I see it, there are three third basemen in the National League who deserve consideration to start the All-Star Game. Ryan Zimmerman is up there with solid numbers across the board (and someone has to represent the Nationals if it's not Stephen Strasburg). Scott Rolen is having a great bounceback year in Cincinnati. And David Wright is proving that last year's power outage was a fluke brought on by the adjustment to Citi Field or the lack of protection in the Mets' lineup after all the injuries. Or both.

The reason I'm so gung-ho for Wright to get the starting nod is partly because he's the only one who has a chance to catch inexplicable leader Placido Polanco and partly because he's been my favorite Met since the day he first donned the uniform. As I did with Gregg Jefferies as a child, I latched on to Wright when I first noticed his name in the minor leagues and I haven't been able to let go.

Not sure Wright deserves it over Rolen or Zimmerman? Go ahead, click through the sortable stats for NL third basemen. Wright's at or near the top of just about every category (not to mention he leads the NL in RBIs). Want one of those new-fangled stats to convince you? He has the edge on Zimmerman in WAR and they pretty much are leaving the rest of the league in the dust. And while fielding metrics are still up for debate, something has to be said for Wright leading the league in total chances and playing an all-around solid hot corner this year.

Seriously, what's not to like?

David Wright

Labels: , , , ,

VOTE WRIGHT! It's your duty as a fan

With All-Star Game balloting ending Thursday night at 11:59 p.m. ET, one stroke before midnight, I'm going to do all I can this week to promote David Wright for third base. There are several reasons for this campaign of mine, all of which I'll reveal in daily posts between now and then.

For this first, brief one before I go to bed, I simply offer the first photo I ever took of Wright, during batting practice at the 2004 All-Star Futures Game in Houston. I was on the field with a press pass and got a shot of him talking with his Double-A manager, Ken Oberkfell, and his Virginia childhood pal B.J. Upton (you can see his name to the right of Wright).

Too bad he was given a black-with-blue-brim Mets hat for that game.

So get started! Click on the Vote Wright link at the top of the right column on this page and let's see him starting in Anaheim on July 13.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Red Sox treated better in New York

Apparently, the Mickey Mouse Red Sox statue in L.A. was vandalized. I find this surprising, considering that in 2008, when MLB put Statues of Liberty around New York, the Red Sox one got away unscathed.

Of course, they put it inside the Sports Museum of America, where nobody ever went anyway, so that may have saved it.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just a bit of a break from the norm

Happened to find myself watching the video for Will Smith's -- ahem, sorry -- the Fresh Prince's ... OK, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Summertime" today. Not only does that song take me back to 1991 (DAMN!), but it gives us a look into early-'90s jersey fashion, mainly in the form of Starter duds.

Go ahead, watch the video and see how many you can spot. Below it, I'll point out all those that I found.

Did that take you back? Of course, now you'll have the chorus in your head for the rest of the day. Here's my answer key. Let me know if I missed any. (Click on any of the images to see larger, though grainier, images in Picasa Web Albums.)

Philadelphia 76ers

DJ Jazzy Jeff -- aka Jeffrey Arnold Townes -- starts us off in a 76ers baseball jersey. As you'll see, all the jerseys are baseball jerseys, no matter the sport of the team they represent. That's appropriate for summertime -- and for this blog, I suppose.

Philadelphia Flyers

Jazz quickly shifts from the NBA to the NHL, donning a cap and jersey of the 76ers' roomates, the Broad Street Bullies.

Cartoon timeout

OK, not a jersey, but worth noting, I figured. The Fresh Smith goes retro with a Speed Racer T-shirt.

West Phila.

Will Smith represents the neighborhood with a West Phila. jersey. He's wearing it in the basketball scene, too, and you can see the No. 1 on the back.

San Francisco Giants

Must be a relative in from the West Coast. Actually, that would be kind of cool -- whether a relative or just an extra in the video, it would neat if they were instructed to wear gear of their favorite or hometown teams, rather than simply being handed something from Wardrobe. There aren't many logos from outside the Philly area, as we'll see.

New York Mets

Let's go Mets! Was surprised to see this one, to say the least. Though, that's from a 2010 perspective. In '91, the Phillies were 78-84 and the Mets 77-84, finishing 20 and 20 1/2 games behind the Pirates. The only rivalry was for third place, and the Phillies had to share it with the Cubs.

Also, if you watch this scene again, in front of the woman in the Mets hat is someone wearing a Simpsons T-shirt -- another early-'90s fashion statement. It wasn't a clear enough shot for me to bother redoing the screengrab.

The Eagle dance

I'm making an educated guess that this is an Eagles jersey, but I'm unable to confirm that hypothesis.

Georgetown Hoyas

The only confirmed college in the video, a Georgetown Hoyas baseball jersey. On the basketball court. Consistent with the theme. In the previous photo of the presumed Eagles jersey, the guy in the yellow shirt behind him might be wearing a Michigan hat, but I couldn't get a clear enough screenshot, so I'm not including it.

Bruins colors

It may be some team other than UCLA, but even though I can't confirm it, I'm including this one because it's a good enough shot of most of the jersey. Plus, when I see those shades of blue and gold, my first thought is UCLA. I'll also use this moment to express my surprise at learning the other day that UCLA just picked up its first win in the College World Series in school history. I know the Bruins don't have the hardball history of USC, but I'd heard enough of UCLA baseball over the years -- from Chase Utley and Troy Glaus, Erics Byrnes and Karros and Todd Zeile, all the way back to Jackie Robinson -- that I figured they had to have a CWS win or two in their history somewhere. But no.

Philadelphia Eagles

This guy's double-dipping with the jersey (baseball style, of course) and hat. Plus you've got the presumed UCLA jersey to the left of the woman and, on the left edge, a Chicago Bulls baseball jersey. I couldn't get a clearer shot of the Bulls shirt, but there are previous frames where he's in the background and the script "Bulls" is legible, plus one shot where you can catch the Bulls logo on the sleeve.

Chicago Bulls

One more Bulls shot on the hat on the right, making Jordan's club the only non-Philly team represented more than once. And we've got a good look at Jazzy Jeff's Flyers cap.

So that's what I came up with. After two viewings (one to watch it, when the idea came to me, then another to take the screengrabs), I was all set to write that every Philly team in the four major pro sports was represented, but I just realized that the Phillies are not, as best I could tell. I don't recall seeing any maroon caps or jerseys, which were the Phils' colors in the early '90s. The only reds I remember were the brighter hues of the Sixers and Bulls. I don't think I'm off base in saying that if this video were filmed today, it'd be littered with Phillie gear -- and perhaps absent of any Sixers threads. Plus, I feel like we'd see more out-of-town logos -- like at least one Yankee cap -- because I feel like '91 may have been just before the explosion of hats and jerseys as status symbols instead of just an indication of fan loyalties.

Here's the final tally:

1 76ers jersey
1 Flyers jersey
1 Flyers hat
1 West Phila. jersey
1 S.F. Giants hat
1 Mets hat
1 Eagles hat
1 confirmed Eagles jersey
1 presumed Eagles jersey
1 Georgetown jersey
1 presumed UCLA jersey
1 Bulls jersey
1 Bulls hat
1 Speed Racer T-shirt
1 Simpsons T-shirt

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Washington chooses its history

Two weeks ago, I drove down to Washington to meet up with two college friends and see the Nationals play the Reds. We'd speculated a couple of weeks before and bought tickets hoping it would be Stephen Strasburg's debut. But unlike many Nats fans, we didn't bitch when the team announced his first start for June 8. We held our annual reunion at a ballpark and got drunk anyway. (And then Brad, the one of us who lives near D.C., went again on June 8 and fell in love.)

One thing that caught my eye on my second visit to Nationals Park was the celebration of baseball history, beginning with the statues of Walter Johnson, Frank Howard and Josh Gibson and continuing throught the concourse with banners depicting Hall of Famers from throughout the Major Leagues. And then, atop the arched "NATIONALS" sign atop the scoreboard, fly four flags, three of which display the years 1924, 1925 and 1933 signifying the original Senators' three American League pennants.

Nowhere did I see any mention of the Expos' 1981 split NL East title or any recognition of Tim Raines, Andre Dawson or Gary Carter (though I imagine Carter may have a Hall of Fame banner somewhere). Granted, even with just one World Series title among two franchises that left town, Washington has a richer baseball history than Montreal, if only marginally. And I do understand the point of promoting the city's baseball bloodlines, both in the American League and the Negro leagues. And as far as the statues and banners go, it's a nod to individual stars, not other teams. The pennants are a different matter.

This all struck me as slightly odd, because essentially the Nationals are celebrating the history of the Minnesota Twins (Senators 1901-60) and Texas Rangers (Senators 1961-71), but not the Expos, the team from which the Nationals were born. The Mets may have a rotunda celebrating the life of an American pioneer in Jackie Robinson, but they don't have any 1955 pennants celebrating the Dodgers' World Series victory.

But now [... segue ...] the Nationals are building a history of their own to honor, specifically every fifth day, when Strasburg takes the mound. In that celebrated first start of his, he set a Nationals record with 14 strikeouts -- dating back only to 2005, of course. The franchise record is 18, set by Bill Gullickson in 1980. As noted in this week's Sports Illustrated cover story, the scoreboard couldn't even keep up -- the strikeout display only counts to 12.

Baseball is going nuts for Strasmas every five days, so I can only imagine the giddiness felt inside the Nationals' front office. The team that didn't want to announce his first start until two weeks before has now let it be known that he'll pitch every fifth day until the All-Star break -- in essense, they're rearranging their rotation around the new kid. In doing so, the Nationals ensure (barring a rainout) that Strasburg will pitch twice on this current homestand, tonight and again on Wednesday, the final day of a six-game stretch back in D.C. Had he pitched every fifth game, he would have gone tomorrow and then again on Friday in Baltimore.

Oh, and about that -- by putting Strasburg on an every-fifth-day schedule, the Nationals ensure (barring, again, a rainout) that he will not pitch in Baltimore next weekend. That would've surely drawn a big crowd, perhaps a sellout, to Oriole Park, no doubt bringing a lot of Nationals fans up from the south -- and from the fanbase battleground between the two cities. Whether they meant it this way or not, that's a pretty big f-you to Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who did all he could to prevent Washington from getting a team and then made sure he got a sweetheart deal regarding television rights, relegating most Nationals games to MASN2.

After Wednesday's start, Strasburg will pitch in Atlanta -- those showdowns with Jason Heyward may stand out when writers cast their Rookie of the Year votes in September -- and then face the Mets at home during the Fourth of July weekend, probably Saturday the third. He would then make his final start of the first half on July 8 at home against the Padres.

Then it remains to be seen what they do with his schedule. They want to keep him at 160 total innings, and with 55 1/3 in the Minors and 12 1/3 so far in the Majors, he's already at 67 2/3. If he averages six innings in these next five starts before the break, that puts him at 97 2/3 -- leaving roughly just 10 more starts this season. Washington will no doubt be tempted to alter that plan if they get to his 10th start and find themselves fewer than five games out of a playoff spot, but it might play a part in setting up the second-half rotation. Do they give him nearly two weeks off and start him in the fifth game out of the break, on Tuesday, July 20? Do they go with a six-man rotation when (if) they get Jason Marquis back or Chien-Ming Wang is ready?

I do find myself drawn to Strasburg's starts. I was at the Trenton Thunder game on Sunday, but I DVR'd the Nationals-Indians game on TBS and watched Strasburg's 5 1/3 innings a day later. Tonight, the Mets and Yankees meet in the Bronx with the Amazin's on a seven-game winning streak (yes, against the lowly Orioles and Indians, but all on the road, which is definitely something for this team), but I may put that game on mute on the TV and watch Strasburg on MLB.TV -- with the White Sox TV feed so that I can hear Hawk Harrelson do his best to refrain from any praise of "the bad guy." I toyed with driving down to D.C. again today, but some car trouble and the current use of a rental and various other hassles had me decide against it. I hope to see him once this year, but it remains to be seen if the schedules -- the Nationals' and mine -- will allow it.

I'd like to experience just one of Strasburg's starts this year first-hand, whether in D.C. or elsewhere, because I was a bit too young to have seen Dwight Gooden in the mid-80s. First mentioned by Mets Police and echoed this week by Marty Noble, Gooden on a Friday night at Shea was an event (and "Gooden on a Friday night" should be the name of an essay or a play or something). I remember the buzz when Pedro Martinez would pitch a few years ago, and I have no doubt that the anticipation for Gooden's starts was much more elevated.

So far, Strasburg has nearly doubled the average daily attendance when he's pitched. His debut drew 40,315, nearly twice the 22,102 the Nationals are averaging -- and that's as of today, including that start of his. He also debuted on a Tuesday, which draws less on average to begin with, so he did bring in twice as many people as the Nats would otherwise get on a Tuesday night. On Sunday in Cleveland, 32,876 came out, just under twice the 16,604 the Indians had drawn. I just went onto the Nationals' site and put in for two tickets for tonight and found it only gave one option: $350 Lexus Presidents seats. Looks like another sellout.

I went back to look at Gooden's starts and compile the numbers from his first three seasons, 1984-86, which included his Rookie of the Year campaign ('84), his NL Cy Young season ('85) and the Mets' World Series season ('86), when they ran away with the NL East. Though Noble specifically cited Gooden's starts from mid-'84 through the first few months of '86, I averaged out his Friday night home starts for all three seasons: 38,385 over nine Friday night home games. Pretty damn good, and that doesn't include some high-drawing Saturday or Sunday games, or the 47,823 who came out on a Wednesday in September 1986 to watch him throw nine innings to clinch the division. Only twice in those nine Friday night games did the Mets draw fewer fans than their average for the season. One was June 1, 1984 -- 20,968 vs. the '84 average of 22,749 -- still early in the legend of Doctor K; the other was, surprisingly to me, July 4, 1986, when 28,557 came out in a year they averaged 34,168. I figured the holiday would bring more to the ballpark, but because it was a weekend, perhaps the throngs were barbecuing or at the beach. Or perhaps it was a day game.

Maybe at the end of the season, I'll go back and take a closer look at Doc's starts vs. Strasburg's, when we have more numbers to include. But if these first three dates are any indication, Saint Stephen is going to be a draw throughout the National League for the rest of the season.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Photo Flashback: Meeting the Mets home and away

I'm finally catching up after a whirlwind weekend. After working long into the morning on Thursday, I went to that afternoon's Mets-Padres game before going back to work that night. And who would've thought that of the two matchups -- Mat Latos vs. Johan Santana and Jon Garland vs. Jon Niese -- that it would be the Niese game that would turn out to be nearly perfect?

When Wednesday's game was rained out and the doubleheader announced for Thursday, I was psyched that Johan drew the afternoon start. I would've enjoyed seeing Niese -- I've seen him before, as far down as the Class A Sally League -- but I'm never disappointed when I get to go to a Johan game. As it turned out, I did get to enjoy Niese's performance on SNY, watching much more closely than if I'd been at the ballpark.

Padres vs. Mets, 6/10/10

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

On Friday, my wife and I hit the road at 1 p.m. -- an hour later than we'd hoped, but I needed to sleep in a little -- and got to our Inner Harbor hotel a little before 5. Even though we were an hour behind schedule, we still trudged up through the Mount Vernon neighborhood for cold beer and good food at The Brewer's Art (make time for it the next time you're in Baltimore), even though it meant missing the start of the game when the light rail took forever to come afterward. We waited for about 20 minutes and watched three northbound trains pass by.

Once there, we entered at Eutaw Street and walked around to our seats on the third-base side, behind the Mets' dugout. It had been nearly eight years since I'd been to Camden Yards and I think almost 18 since I'd been anywhere but the Eutaw Street concourse, so I didn't recall the layout of the main concourses. While Oriole Park began the retro ballpark trend, one significant change in most of those that followed is the open concourse that allows fans to see the game as they're circumnavigating the stadium. It doesn't detract much from the experience for me, and I actually found it quaint and another retro aspect of the design. The concourses are still wide, but they open through vast wrought-iron gates to the surrounding streets and as you walk to your section, you notice the immense support poles holding up the slanted structure above you. Writing now, I wish I'd paused to take a few pictures (though it's not like there aren't any out there, or like I'll never go back there), but at the time, we were weary and late and eager to get to our seats. Then once there, we didn't move until the Mets had wrapped up their 5-1 victory.

Mets at Orioles, 6/11/10

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Photo Flashback: Take me back to the aughts

Not much time for a more in-depth post because I'm off to the Mets game today (Johan!) and have to catch my train in less than an hour. [Expanded below.] Yesterday morning I drove up the road to see the Pittsfield Colonials face the New Jersey Jackals at Yogi Berra Stadium mainly to see the Pittsfield uniforms. The former American Defenders of New Hampshire in the Can-Am League moved from one old, historic ballpark to another, taking up residence in Pittsfield, Mass., at Wahconah Park. If nothing else, the uniforms -- which harken back to Pittsfield's long, 100-year baseball history -- are a 180-degree improvement.

Bonuses yesterday? Former Met Argenis Reyes playing for New Jersey and Pittsfield starter Chance Corgan (above) playing the part with the moustache.

Off to the Citi. This is going to be an extended run of in-the-ballpark fun, so there should be more posts in the next few days.


I sat in the first row next to the Pittsfield on-deck circle and had a great view of the uniforms. I considered trying to strike up a conversation with one of the hitters, but even though it's a small independent league, I figured these guys still take their work pretty seriously and might not be open to an extended conversation while preparing to bat.

Among some of the highlights (all included in the gallery below):

Love how the collar flares out as the pitcher delivers.

The pant cuffs have drawstrings -- but it would look better if they wore true stirrups.

The long sleeves are a great touch, as is the deep collar and lacing. That's a team logo on the sleeve. All of the players seemed to be wearing generic blue batting helmets -- and not the new, S1000, either. I don't know if that's simply a cost-cutting measure or if an order with a Pittsfield logo has yet to come in.

The numbers appear to be felt, which is cool.

All of my Pittsfield-tagged photos are here.

I'm so intrigued by this concept that I may delve into it further in the future. I'd hoped to make a more definitive declaration, but recent unforeseen events that may necessitate auto-buying research have put leisure pursuits on hold.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

I wasn't there: Indians-Senators, 1939

A coworker of mine has what might be described as a throwback blog called Cladrite Radio and today he wrote about a somewhat recent posting of the full-day audio archives from Sept. 21, 1939, of WJSV in Washington, D.C. I think the most apt description of these recordings is an audio time machine.

What stood out to me for the purposes of this post are at the 4 p.m. and 5:45 timestamps -- at 4 is most of a broadcast of the Indians-Senators game from that day (Spoiler alert: don't click on the link if you don't want to know who wins! The broadcast picks up in the fourth inning and continues through the end of the game in Part 12.) and 105 minutes later is a sports report. I haven't listened all the way through (yet), but if you're so inclined, the ballgame at 4 p.m. starts at the beginning of Part 11 and the sports report is just about at the 46-minute mark of Part 12.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, June 04, 2010

Winfield asks fans to help find a cure

When I began this blog several years ago as a means to continue to write about baseball after I left sportswriting, I had no plans to use it as a money-making venture. And I still don't; I simply do it for fun. But I'm not against using this space to promote a good cause, which I have a chance to do today with an advance look at a new initiative involving a Hall of Famer, a popular internet search site and the leading organization in the fight against breast cancer.

Next week, roughly midway between Major League Baseball's Mother's Day push to fight breast cancer and the Father's Day effort to raise awareness about prostate cancer, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield will join the lineup of ballplayers trying to raise awareness for a cure. Winfield has teamed with Ask.com to participate in the website's Answers for the Cure program, which benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure -- the same foundation that aligns with MLB on the second Sunday of each May as players wield pink bats and wristbands on the field that day.

Beginning next week, Winfield can be seen in a new public service announcement encouraging fans to join the fight. For each person who joins the Answers for the Cure program in 2010, Ask will contribute 10 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, with a guaranteed minimum contribution of $100,000. It's a cause close to the big man's big heart.

“My mom passed away from breast cancer, so this is a really important cause for me,” Winfield said in a press release. “I know firsthand what it’s like to have questions about the disease and want to get involved in ending breast cancer. Ask is providing an easy solution for answers, education and awareness and I’m proud to be partnered with them in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”

Personally, I've been lucky. The closest breast cancer has come to my family is a few close friends, all of whom have fought it off and are still with us today. My father survived prostate cancer -- along with Joe Torre, Rudy Giuliani and many others. It's unlikely that any of us have gotten this far in life without knowing someone close who has either fought off or succumbed to cancer in one form or another, and it's great to see Winfield aligning his Hall of Fame name with this cause.

Winfield is part of my earliest baseball memories. He played left field for the Yankees in the first Major League game I ever attended, at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 21, 1983. It was a 2-1 Yankees win on a Sunday afternoon, and for years -- nearly 20 of them, in fact -- I thought that one of the thrills of the day was seeing Reggie Jackson play for the Angels. Years after a certain anxious summer in New York and a burning fall, he could still cause a stir in New York, even for a 6-year-old who had no memories of '78.

But upon discovering Retrosheet, I learned that Reggie didn't play in that game. The "R. Jackson" in the box score was Ron Jackson, who played third base for California that day. Don Mattingly and Hall of Famer Rod Carew each pinch-hit that afternoon, but did not leave impressions on me. Reggie left one that was inaccurate. And even though he went 0-for-3, Winfield was the only other player who stood out in my mind decades later. (It turned out to be a star-filled game for my first one -- in addition to Carew and Winfield, Hall of Famer Goose Gossage got the win in relief of Dave Righetti. Also in that game were Willie Randolph, Ken Griffey, Don Baylor, and Fred Lynn.)

Now, 27 years after I first saw him play, Winfield is still leaving an impression on me by giving his time and notoriety to a good cause. So take a minute (literally) to see what he has to say and click through to help Ask.com contribute to help in the Susan G. Komen effort to find a cure.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Kid bows out of the picture

Ken Griffey Jr. may have been our generation's Mickey Mantle, the player who was admired and beloved beyond his home stadium, the kid who managed to do things on a baseball field that few other players of his time could do.

I have vivid memories of Griffey's career from start to finish, which came yesterday when he announced his retirement. His decision came 23 years to the day after he was drafted first overall by the Mariners and 75 years to the day that Babe Ruth ended his career. Griffey's will undoubtedly lead to the same place: a plaque on a wall in Cooperstown six years and one month from now.

My first Griffey memory comes not from a play or a home run, but from a card. Many of us had it, the 1989 Upper Deck, No. 1. Card No. 1 in set No. 1, it turns out. Griffey didn't just turn around a franchise in the Mariners and get a new ballpark built in Seattle, he launched a business when Upper Deck came onto the scene. (And Junior may have indirectly sunk an industry, because after Upper Deck's emergence on the scene, the baseball card market quickly became saturated and the bubble -- such as it was -- burst.) So here's the story of how I came to own my 1989 Upper Deck #1, Ken Griffey Jr.

In August 1989, my family was on its annual vacation to visit family in Maine, my mother's brother and his family. With my most recent issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly packed in my bag, I noticed that there was a pretty sizeable baseball card show about half an hour away. With an idle afternoon at our disposal, I convinced my dad to drive me up to Augusta, the state capital, and drop me off at the convention center where the show was. Uninterested in browsing, Dad went off to check out a bait-and-tackle shop or some similar fishing outpost with the understanding that he'd pick me up an hour later at the spot where I got out of the car.

I went inside and sauntered up and down the aisles, buying a few individual cards and packs here and there. I may have blown through my vacation budget in that hour, or I may have wisely left some cash back at my uncle's in order to limit how much I spent on baseball cards. Either way, I walked out of the card show with exactly $4 in my wallet.

Dad wasn't there yet, so I sat down on a bench to wait, looking through my new purchases. I don't remember a single thing I bought at that show, but I remember a collector stopping to chat with me as he headed inside with a briefcase of cards. I don't remember what we talked about to break the ice, but I do know that he asked where I was from and when I said I grew up near the Jersey Shore and Sandy Hook, he knew that area. At some point, the Griffey card came up and he opened his brief case and handed me one. I looked it over closely; I had never held one -- it was in a protective sleeve, but it was still the first time I'd been able to examine one so closely, on my own terms. As Darren Rovell wrote in that Slate piece (also linked above), this was a card that came to define a generation of collectors. At the time, we couldn't see it in that light, but we still knew it was a collecting status symbol, a benchmark, a cardboard holy grail to attain.

It was beautiful. The smiling kid -- I'm guessing he had to be 16 or 17 in that picture, likely taken in his high-school uniform -- in a navy-blue turtleneck with gold chains resting on it, a white jersey, an "S" airbrushed onto his cap, a bat resting on his left shoulder. In place of the team logo was a "Rookie" banner, so looking at the front of the card, the gold "S" on the blue cap is the only indication that the kid from Florida was the Mariners' -- and baseball's -- No. 1 prospect.

I handed the card back to the collector, who then went into his sales pitch. At the time, the card was valued at $10 -- to a kid a few weeks away from his 13th birthday, a pretty substantial price for a picture of a baseball player -- but the collector offered to sell it to me for half that, $5. Knowing he'd already cut the price in half, I didn't even try to negotiate it further. "I'm sorry," I said, "but I literally only have $4." He understood and put the card back into his briefcase.

We chatted for a few more minutes before he got up to go into the convention center to do business. But then he turned and put the briefcase down on the bench and opened it. "Here you go," he said, handing me a Griffey card. "You sound like a big fan and collector. You should have one." Stunned, I went for my wallet to give him my last $4. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Just take the card."

He wouldn't take my money, so I got the hottest card of the year for free. I still have it, in what I imagine is the same protective sleeve, kept in a narrow cardboard box -- pretty much exactly the width of a hard protective baseball card sleeve -- with my other most-prized cards.

My next lasting encounters with Griffey were on TV, watching him rob a disbelieving Jesse Barfield of a home run at Yankee Stadium and his dash home in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS.

And then came the saga of 1999, leading up to The Kid ultimately being traded to the Reds for Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez and Minor Leaguer Jake Meyer. Sad day for the Mariners, but at least Cameron has had a productive Major League career -- and he once hit four home runs in a game, one more than Griffey ever did. I hoped Junior would be dealt to the Mets, but it was not to be. So my friends and I made a point to go to Griffey's first appearance at Shea Stadium, on April 25, 2000, and watch him go 0-for-3 with two walks and three strikeouts -- twice against Al Leiter and once against Armando Benitez to end the game, a 6-5 Mets win, with Sean Casey on first base as the tying run. We sat in the left-field mezzanine, in a box at the front of the section in fair territory. As the game went on, fans in that corner increased their razzing of Rickey Henderson. By the late innings, the field was littered with hot dogs, likely thrown from one of the suites below us, because I can't imagine anyone in the stands paying $5 for a hot dog only to throw it onto the field a dozen times over to make a statement at a player.

I saw Griffey again at Shea on June 19, 2006. He homered off of Orlando Hernandez that night, the 548th home run of his career, No. 12 of 27 that season. He hit just 82 more, the last coming in the final game of 2009. The third and final chance I got to see him came last summer, when my wife and I planned a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for a weekend when the Indians were home. The Mariners were in town and Griffey went 0-for-3 as the DH, walking once and scoring on Franklin Gutierrez's home run. Junior was batting .215 after that game, one point higher than he'd finish the season. At .184 through 98 at-bats this season, it was clear that the time had come.

I'm glad he decided to bow out now. The whole clubhouse nap flap was the beginning of the end, and once that controversy came to light, it really became a matter of whether he'd try to finish the season or hang 'em up before then. It was starting to become depressing to see him come to bat as a pinch-hitter and ground out or do little more than punch a soft single into the shallow outfield, then jog to the bench as a pinch-runner. As a fan, I like to see players go out on their own terms, but I don't want to see them hanging on for one last shot at glory. They can't all have Ted Williams endings, hitting a home run in the final at-bat, at home no less. In many ways, it's a shame Griffey didn't decide to retire after last season, when he homered in the final game of the season, in Seattle. Whether he announced it at the start of the homestand, the start of the series, before that final game or after, or even a week later, to know that that game was the last time he'd button up the jersey and tie on his cleats would have been a fitting finale.

Last night was nice as the highlight film rolled on MLB Network, ESPN and MLB.com and the Mariners broadcast became a 10-inning retrospective on his career. To me, the only thing that could've made it better was if Griffey had been there. If I were scripting it, Griffey would've made the announcement at a pregame press conference, then taken the lineup card out to the umpires before the game. As far as I know, there was no transaction made, so he was still on the active roster and could have been in uniform. He then could've spent the game the way Cal Ripken did when he stopped his consecutive-games played streak in September 1998 against the Yankees: watching from the bullpen, warming up the outfielders, shaking hands and chatting with fans between innings. Ripken did it because he'd never had a chance to do those things after playing in every game for 16 years. If Griffey had done it, it would've served as a reminder that he was once The Kid who took batting practice wearing his cap backward, loving the game. But at least, in the end, Junior went out when he wanted to go out, not when he kept looking for a team to sign him when none would. He may have left a little later than his ability allowed, but at least he chose when to go.

Well played, Kid.

Labels: , , , ,