More dramatic than the playoffs?

Courtesy of my father, here’s the last half-inning of Vin Scully calling Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on September 9, 1965. I’ve heard a bit of him on the radio during both Dodgers division series games so far, and he still sounds pretty much the same, 43 years later.

During the regular season, for the games he broadcasts (everything but away games east of the Rockies), Vin does the entire game on TV, with the first three innings simulcast on the

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radio; Charley Steiner and Rick Monday do the rest of the game on the radio. For the playoffs, with no local TV, Vin is doing the first three and last three innings on the radio, which means he gets to take three innings off. In his L.A. Times column today, T.J. Simers suggested that he uses the time to take an extended bathroom break, but I prefer to imagine him going over to the WGN booth to try to distract Pat Hughes and Ron Santo. (Yes, I know he’s too much of a professional to actually do that.)

Fun at the old ballpark

Seconds ago, as I was sitting in my kitchen editing a post for my other blog, listening to the Cubs play the Rockies, I heard the following exchange between Pat Hughes, Ron Santo, and a surprise mystery guest:

Pat Hughes: Colorado has eight runs on twelve hits and one error, though I think the scorer might change that one.

Ron Santo: Yeah, I think he might.

Official Scorer (in background): I’m not gonna change it.

That’s why I listen to the Cubs even when they’re 48-67.

Notes on a gray Saturday

1) On the broadcast of today’s Cubs/Padres game:

Pat Hughes: Be careful with this guy, Ron: he spells his name Cla–no “y,” but it’s pronounced “Clay.” I thought it was a mistake. It disturbed me. I couldn’t sleep last night. These things are important.

Ron Santo: You’re bothered a lot of the time, aren’t you?

Pat Hughes: Can’t you tell?

2) Cardnilly heard two people in the stands at Busch Stadium talking about Juan Encarnacion:

Inmate-looking guy [re-emerging from the concourse]: Say, who hit that last home run?
Mildly frightened bystander: Oh, one of the new guys. I forget his name…
ILG: Was it Incarceration?
MFB: Yep. That was the guy.

3) Operation Shutdown may be over, unless Derek Bell can talk the judicial system into letting him continue his workless protest.

4) Pedro has a green thumb. Now if only he’d grow out his hair again, I could wholeheartedly root for him.

5) Congratulations to Jim, who made the 600th post to this blog earlier in the week.

How long and dreary is the night?

Said the poet Burns:

How long and dreary is the night,
When I am frae my dearie!
I sleepless lie frae e’en to morn,
Tho’ I were ne’er so weary:
I sleepless lie frae e’en to morn,
Tho’ I were ne’er sae weary!

But even the poet Burns would surely be feeling a bit more of the vim and vigour these days, what with photos of ballplayers in the paper once more.

The rites of spring are upon us: sportswriters in such brackish backwaters as Kansas City and Milwaukee are dusting off their hopeful columns from last spring, Ozzie Guillen is running down his list of former White Sox to run down in the media, and the news that Matthew Wade Stairs has shed both his belly and his mullet is, well, news. If St. John of the Cross were here in my office with me, warming his long-dead insides on a pre-work coffee while we gazed out at the sub-freezing winter wasteland that is Chicago in March, we’d probably find ourselves in general agreement that the dark night of the soul is giving ground to dawn.

I had two dreams of baseball last week. In the first, I simply listened to a WGN broadcast of a Cubs game. Low on action for a dream, maybe, but hearing Pat Hughes‘s voice again after these many months made me wish for extra innings and maybe even a rain delay. Alas, I got my alarm instead.

Later in the week, I dreamed that I was cycling to Wrigley for Opening Day. The game was to start in ten minutes, and I was halfway there. But I was only wearing a t-shirt and pants. No jacket. No hat. No gloves. No mittens. No long underwear. No balaclava. No battery-powered heating socks. No seal oil with which to protect my face from chapping. I was torn: should I return home to properly prepare for the first game of the cruelest month at Wrigley, guaranteeing that I’d miss the first pitch? Or should I proceed to the game, more or less guaranteeing that my death from exposure would be a lead story on WGN that night?

Instead of choosing, I woke up.

Actual games are on tap for today, though Opening Day is still a ways away. But we can surely be patient now, even through the heavy hours. The poet Burns reminds us:

How slow ye move, ye heavy hours,
As ye were wae and weary!
It wasna sae ye glinted by,
When I was wi’ my dearie!
It wasna sae ye glinted by,
When I was wi’ my dearie!

Pat Hughes, Alliterist

While I was at Tuesday night’s dismal extra-inning loss for the Cubs, Stacey was listening on the radio, where she heard the following roll off the tongue of Pat Hughes:

“There’s a looping liner over a leaping Lee.”

Oh, and in case I haven’t thought to pass it on, Ron Santo recently called Olympic Stadium “The Toilet Bowl of the World.”

Original comments…

stacey: actually, i think it might have been “the toilet bowl of the universe.”

Levi: Oh. I thought that was Mos Eisley Spaceport.

Jim: I bet the poutine is better at Olympic Stadium than it is at Mos Eisley!

Back in the lineup

Following a mostly baseball-free trip to Lake Tahoe, I’m back in the world of the Internet (and, that means, the office). But because I have a fair amount of work to do this morning, I’ve got just some disjointed thoughts to offer.

1) Here are some things that people I overheard on the trip (at restaurants, airports, in the gondola at Squaw Valley) are more concerned about than I tend to be: Property values, cars, gas prices, commercials, and traffic. Oh, and there was the woman at the airport who was detailing to everyone in earshot the degree to which she always gets sick on airplanes. The short version: not quite sick enough to barf, but very close.

Things they are less concerned about than me: public transportation, bicycles, and baseball.

I’ll take my set any day.

2) We did get to see one game while we were on vacation. The last night of our trip we spent at Stacey’s aunt’s house in Sacramento, where I got to watch the Cardinals beat the Athletics on the Bay Area Fox Sports Network. And I got to feed Aunt Sherry’s pair of pet bunnies. It was a great day.

3) The flag at Wrigley Field at Saturday’s very chilly game was still at half staff. The Most-Loved Terrible President Ever has been dead more than three weeks! Isn’t it time to reflect his American optimism and pull that flag back up?

4) Speaking of honoring the dead, if I had been Commissioner of Baseball, “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the day Ray Charles died would have been played by solo organ or trumpet in every ballpark. It’s not like anyone is ever going to sing it better than he did at Game 2 of the 2001 World Series. Watching that performance, I was astonished that any such carefully staged moment as the pre-game National Anthem at the World Series could be so moving. On a song and in a situation where most renditions don’t even reach the level of craft, Ray Charles on that night produced art.

5) Jim’s posts recently have now doubled the amount of non-Maura-created Devil Rays content on the Internet. The infinity symbol no longer quite expresses the porn/Devil Rays ratio on the Web. Congratulations, Jim. The D-Rays will have your season tickets in the mail this week. Hope there’s room on that fast-rolling bandwagon.

6) Ron Santo and Pat Hughes on Friday had this exchange:
Ron: “Patrick, have you ever thought of writing poetry?”
Pat: “No, not really, Ron.”
Ron: “I think you should.”
Pat: “Well, I think I might just stick to broadcasting.”
Ron: “I really think you should write poetry.”
Pat: “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

It’s good to be back.

Original comments…

sandor: Re: #3. I (regrettably) didn’t take any pictures, but in our short jaunt through southern Wisconsin this weekend, we saw an inordinate number of flags at half-mast. Probably more at half- than at full-. In fact, the larger the flag was, the greater chance it was halfway down the pole. It was astonishing.

Jim: They’re supposed to be at half-mast (or half-staff) for 30 days after a President dies. I seem to recall that 10 years ago, flag proprietors were pretty good about keeping them halfway down (or up) for a month after Nixon died, so if he can get that kind of flag cooperation, it’s no wonder Reagan is doing even better.

Levi: Wow. 30 days?

Stand me corrected!

But it still seems like an odd relic of, say, Victorian-style mourning, when you went through several specific stages of mourning with their accompanying public displays.

Toby: Levi, At Sunday’s Cardinals vs. Reds game (in which Junior hit his 500th homer), a kid from your hometown named Landon Bayley threw out the first pitch. Just an FYI.

Levi: How’d he manage to get to do that? And was it faster than Matt Morris’s fastball these days?

Toby: His grandfather is the Bayley in Martin & Bayley – the small Carmi company that built Huck’s into a major chain in the Midwest. It was Huck’s day at the ballpark. He got to meet Lou Brock, who, I believe, also threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

I’ve never clocked Landon so I don’t know if he’s faster than Morris, but I know he’s a good kid.

Best at-bat ever?

Around here, and around the Internet, all the news from Wednesday’s Cubs-Dodgers game was about Alex Cora’s at-bat.

For those of you who missed it, here’s the pitch-by-pitch.

Pitch 1 – Ball
Pitch 2 – Called Strike
Pitch 3 – Ball
Pitch 4 – Foul
Pitch 5 – Foul
Pitch 6 – Foul
Pitch 7 – Foul
Pitch 8 – Foul
Pitch 9 – Foul
Pitch 10 – Foul
Pitch 11 – Foul
Pitch 12 – Foul
Pitch 13 – Foul
Pitch 14 – Foul
Pitch 15 – Foul
Pitch 16 – Foul
Pitch 17 – Foul
Pitch 18 – Home run to right field. Jason Grabowski and Alex Cora score

Because I had just watched the Cardinals game and had to get up at 5:45 the next morning to get to work early, I went to bed just before that inning. Stacey came into the bedroom early in Cora’s at-bat to inform me that Cubs announcer Pat Hughes had said, “For those of you just returning from a brief vacation, Alex Cora is still at bat.”

Much later–or so it seemed to my sleep-addled brain–she returned to tell me that Cora had fouled off fourteen pitches. Soon after, she sadly delivered the news of his home run. But even though she’s a Matt Clement fan and was sad to see him lose the battle, she was willing to concede that it was pretty impressive.

Two other notes:

1. Is Matt Morris trying to take up Johnny Damon’s slack? Check out this photo. It’s not there yet, but he’s on his way to turning his hideous chin friend into a real beard.

2. The comment by Pat Hughes reminds me of two great baseball radio moments I’ve been meaning to share with you. One is a great bit of description by Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon. Describing Matt Morris pulling up short to stop at third base, he said, “He stopped so short that if he’d been a train, he would have jackknifed the last half-dozen cars.”

The second is from a discussion Ron Santo and Pat Hughes were having the other day at Wrigley. It was chilly and windy, but Pat, expecting better weather, had decided to have the crew take out the window panes that protect the announcers from the elements. Ron was on his case about it, complaining that after so many years at Wrigley, surely he knew better than to take out the windows in May. Pat peppered Ron with questions like, “So, Ron, would you say it’s a pain to have these windows out?” and “So, Ron, would you say that it’s an open-and-shut case?” Ron continued his rant, oblivious to the joking.

Original comments…

Levi: Baseball Prospectus has a good point about Damon’s beard: he missed a chance to raise much more money for charity. He should have set up two accounts, one for keeping the beard, one for shaving it, and asked for donations to each. The one with most donations decides the fate of the greatest beard of the decade.

stacey: levi, what is the point is saying i’m a matt clement fan without linking to a photo of him? he steals my heart with his super pitching, tall socks, and super cuteness!

Luke: The at-bat reminded me of Matt Williams’ great at-bat in the 1989 NLCS against the Cubs, although it was only eight foul balls. Here’s an interesting write-up about it (scroll down to “Foul ball!”).

“According to research by STATS Inc., each foul ball shifts the balance in favor of the batter. After Williams’s fifth foul, he was the favorite over Wilson. Why? Physically, the more pitches a batter sees, the better he can adjust to movement and velocity, and therefore time his swing. There is also the psychological toll on the pitcher to consider.”

There’s also some talk of the precision foul ball, like the scene in “The Natural” where Hobbs tries to snipe the photographer when he’s taking BP after his injury.

“The carefully aimed foul ball is a rare but potent weapon, as Richie Ashburn once discovered. The Phillies outfielder was one of the best ever at repeatedly fouling balls off to frustrate and overwork pitchers, skilled enough to lead the league four times in on-base percentage. There came a day, however, when one of Ashburn’s teammates called upon him to fine-tune his fouling skills. The teammate, who was angry at his wife, implored Ashburn to hit the ball at his wife, sitting in the left-field stands. Ashburn forgot about it until he happened to spray some fouls in that general area. When his teammate yelled from the bench, “two seats over, one row back and you’ve got her,” Ashburn hit the next ball elsewhere, drawing the line at assault.

“Ted Williams, in My Turn At Bat, confessed to an occasion when he didn’t draw such a line. Maddened by one of his chronic Fenway Park hecklers, Williams tried to hit the critic with a foul ball. Since the fan sat behind third base, Williams had to go literally out of his way in his attempt, eschewing his pull-hitting instincts to aim left for several swings. He didn’t hit his target, but he probably made his point.


“Any discussion of foul balls must celebrate Luke Appling, the Michelangelo of the mis-hit. Appling once deliberately fouled two dozen balls into the stands to get even with his own ballclub’s failure to provide free passes for a couple of his friends. Another time, he aimed at a peanut vendor who had laughed when a fan was struck by Appling’s previous foul. “I’ll fix him,” Appling declared, then nailed him in the head; the vendor had to be carried out.”

There are worse claims to fame than to be the “Michelangelo of the mis-hit.”

Steve: So…ah….um….ah….who …uh…will join me in my…uh…loathing of Ron Santo? It seems that…ah….just when I have enough ammo to spread my..uh… hatred (like when he irresponsibly crashed his car after suffering insulin shock, like when he was characterized as “despondent” after not getting into the hall of fame) he goes and becomes…um….ah…. a double amputee without a bladder. I feel like…um…Frank Grimes in that Simpsons episode. You know….the…um…the….um…the….only person I’m destroying with… hatred for Santo is myself. Um….Um….Worst color guy ever! All….ah…he’s good for is ….YESSS!!!!… rooting in the pressbox, kissing Sammy’s ass, (“just because Sammy has struck out seven times in a row, it doesn’t mean he’s not seeing the ball good.” He’s due.) wearing Pat Hughes out about his clothes and going on ad nauseum about the attendance quiz. But God forbid YOU rather than he make a joke about one of his three toupees. Pat Hughes is a Saint.

Levi: I’m not entirely sure I believe the Luke Appling story–two dozen fouls is more than I’ve ever heard of anybody hitting. But I could be wrong. To do that to demonstrate irritation is a pretty hilarious reason.

Every pitch of the Cora at-bat is at, so I got to see it. Three things stood out. First, Clement kept throwing the same pitch, to the same location, over and over. His location was right on, every time. Second, Cora hit all but one of his fouls to the first-base side, and they almost all looked very very similar. None was in the air, which made the home run seem even more surprising. And third, after a few pitches, Vin Scully was stuck saying, “And another foul.” Over and over again.

Levi: I love Santo, despite agreeing with nearly every word Steve says. Especially that Pat Hughes is a Saint.

Luke: I will! I will! As Levi and Stacey and Bob well know, I agree with nearly word Steve says, especially that Ron Santo is the worst color guy ever.

Bob can testify how I put my palms to my ears when, in the 9th inning of a close game, Ron has nothing to add but “Noooo!” and “Yesssss!” and “Ohhhhhh!” and “Heyyyyy!” My latest annoyance has been his tendency to start anecdotes with two outs, resulting in Pat having to say, “…. and Sammy Sosa strikes out to end the enning. We’ll hear the rest of Ron’s story about (nonsense unrelated to baseball) after this break.”

Come the Sox series, I’ll be listening to Ed and John over on AM 1000. Sometimes I even prefer to listen to the Sox game, so brilliant are Ed and John, and count on the occasional update to know how my Cubs are doing.

Steve: Amen to the Rooney and Farmer comment, but don’t you think Farmer is getting a little out there at times? Sometimes he gets this “know it all” air about him that makes him a bit pretentious. Iíve learned a lot about baseball from listening to those guys. They can make the AL fun. Back to Hughes and Santo: Here’s another one that might not actually have happened but might as well have.

Pat: Bases full of Cubs two outs
Ron: Uh…I..uh got a fax here from….uh….Beverly in Davenport Iowa. She loves the…uh…Cubs and wants to uh…wish…
Pat: Alou hits a drive…
Ron: Yes!!! Cmon! Yes!!
Pat: And Bonds squeezes it for out #3
Ron: No!!!!

Levi, why do you love Santo so much? Is it for the same reason every kid at the Special Olympics gets a medal? That’s what’s so frustrating about this hatred. No one will contradict my general assesment of the man, instead they just say stuff like “He’s a legend” or try to start some argument with me about Santo being in the Hall of Fame.

Levi: I will admit to being completely bowled over–robbed of my ability to think critically–by his resolute fandom, his Charlie-Brown-worthy yo-yoing between absurd, childlike hopefulness and Dostoevskian despair, and by his (apparently) complete lack of any pretension.

Plus, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

stacey: although i concede that ron santo is an absolutely horrid baseball announcer, i really do enjoy listening to ron and pat. it’s like hanging out with two great friends. one of them knows a lot about baseball, and the other one’s got a french-speaking canadian dog and a Really fat cat that exercises until it is sweaty in a giant hampster ball. and they both really love the cubs.

"Things we should have thought of", or "Pat and Ron, Nor DNA Tap"

On the WGN Radio broadcast of today’s Cubs game, Pat Hughes thanked a listener for sending him and color man Ron Santo a book of palindromes. “Well be getting to that later on,” Pat said. I can’t think of a better gift for those two.

Now we get to see how Luke spells a weary groan in the comments.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, here’s Ron Santo on the Opening Day weather (This is from memory, so it’s not exact): “I remember Opening Day back in 1997 was so cold I couldn’t feel my toes. Of course, I can’t feel my toes today, either.”

Original comments…

Luke, hanger-on: !OooooooooO!

Steve: “Florida Marlins 4, Chicago Cubs 2 Day Game Played on Tuesday, April 1, 1997 (D) at Pro Player Stadium”

That must have been a cold day in Miami…..

Luke: Heh. Clearly Levi is remembering this cold day and this humbling loss to the Marlins. Low of 24, gusts up to 31 mph! My first Opening Day, and I think the first time I met Jim.

Levi: How embarrassing. Luke and Steve are right. I had the wrong week. By the time we saw the Cubs for the first time that year, they were already something like 0-6.

Steve will remember attending this game with me two days later. I remember the heaping plate of futility that Alex Fernandez served the Cubs that day, but I was surprised to learn it was so cold. I guess when you go into a game expecting a no-hitter and you come very close to seeing one, you don’t notice that you don’t notice your feet.

Levi: Also, if you look at that box score, you’ll see that “third baseman” Bobby Bonilla had already committed three errors.

Jim: And from today’s L.A. Times: “On this day in 1997, the Chicago Cubs set the mark for the worst start in National League history, losing their 12th consecutive game, 4-0 to the Colorado Rockies, and breaking the record of 11 losses in a row by the 1884 Detroit Wolverines.”

Ah, yes, that was the trip to Chicago where I had some sort of 24-hour stomach flu and spent the first day on the floor of Stacey and Nikki’s dorm room (although if you’re going to have stomach flu, Stacey and Nikki’s dorm room is a pretty good place to have it). Perhaps I caught the virus from the Cubs as they were leaving Miami, flying over Florida a few days before I followed them up north.

The secondary purpose of that trip was to meet up with some game show fans I knew from the Internet, and I was supposed to go with them to another Cubs game that week that ended up being snowed out.