Sunday, March 22, 2015
That's what you want, right? I mean, I'm such a loveable old cuss.
(I'm 58. For some of you, that's old. The rest of you? Ha-Ha!)
(Well, that wasn't very nice of me, was it? And I want to be nice to you because why else would you go to the Boston Herald website and read my latest op-ed?)
(Not that I wouldn't be nice to you, anyway, even if I didn't want something from you...)
That's about it for today - here, that is. Over at the Boston Herald website, though...
Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!!! There I am, saying things!!!
(This won't get any better if I keep typing, so I'm going to cut my losses and stop now. Soon, with more better stuff.)
Thursday, March 19, 2015
[This comes from the very early days of this blog, about 9 years ago. If you've read it before, thank you for sticking with me as long as you have. Do you have no life? I can't imagine any other reason. Anyway, here it is - again - and I'll be back on Sunday morning to point you to the Boston Herald for something new.]
The Green Sox
Show of hands, please. How many of you have ever owned a baseball team?
Not too many of you. That’s too bad. I did. Remember the Boston Green Sox?
No? How strange! I mean, after all, they won five World Series in one year, back in 1966, and no other team has ever done that. You’d think people would remember such a feat. Jeez.
During the late summer of 1966, I was sick. I can’t remember now what it was I had; probably one of the childhood illnesses that would be common to a 9-year-old, like measles or the mumps.
(The Mumps. Sounds like a recurring sketch from Saturday Night Live. “Hey, did you see ‘The Mumps’ last night? Damn, that Cheri Oteri is funny! I thought I was going to pee my pants when she said they were from Scotland!”)
Anyway, while I was laid up in bed, a bunch of my friends did one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. They brought me a shoebox full to the brim with 1965 Topps baseball cards. There were probably 500 cards in the box, almost the complete set. Now, I know that they almost certainly fished the boxful of cards out of somebody’s trash, but that didn’t matter to me; it was the thought that counted. All of us kids liked baseball and baseball cards, and there were always card-flipping games going on, so they could just as easily have divvied the cards up between them as given them to a sick kid.
So, I had all of these baseball cards. I spent hours going through them, reading the stats on the back, wondering where such oddly-named places as Duluth-Superior and The Quad Cities were, and marveling at the fact that anyone would actually admit to having played in something called the Sally League.
(I have a pet theory, by the way. I think the reason boys have historically had much better math scores than girls is because girls don’t have any equivalent to baseball cards. Guys learn early on to deal with abstract numbers, fractions and percentages, all through the reading of sports statistics. If girls knew that My Little Pony batted .276 in the Three-I League, or that Barbie had an earned run average of 4.19 while playing for Pawtucket, the world would be a different place altogether. Once you start dealing with things like a third of an inning, two plus two isn’t all that hard.)
Getting back to the story, after I had looked at all of these cards a couple of times, I found that there had been a subtle shift in my boyhood dreams concerning baseball. Whereas before I had wanted to be just a baseball player, now I thought it would be exceedingly cool if I could not only be a player, but also the youngest team owner in the history of the sport. Of course, since I would own the team, I could choose my own manager and what better choice than me? To facilitate this fantasy, I decided to build my own team from out of the 500 or so players at my disposal in the shoebox.
The first thing I decided – and it was a fairly profound insight for a 9-year-old - was that the team couldn’t include players I had heard of before. How could Tony Conigliaro play for both the Red Sox and my team? So, although he was my favorite player in the real world, he couldn’t be part of this fantasy. The same was true for the rest of the Red Sox and for almost all American League players. Any player I had heard of before was eliminated. This cut the field pretty much in half.
Before I chose my roster from the remaining players, I thought about where the team would be located and how they would have come into being. Well, I lived in Boston and I liked Boston. New York had two teams; Chicago had two teams; Los Angeles did, too, so why not Boston? My team would be a National League expansion franchise and, since there were already White Sox and Red Sox, why not some Green Sox? It was my favorite color.
Now I had my ‘expansion draft’. I made up a roster of twenty-five players from out of the shoebox. No doubt a whole tribe of psychiatrists could make a serious living out of explaining why I chose whom I did. However, I’ll tell you that I chose my players based mainly on two factors:
1) They had to have some sort of interesting statistical aberration. In the case of many, it was that they were power hitters. If a guy had a few 20-home-run seasons, he was a leading contender. With some, it was their minor league record and I could enhance this fantasy by pretending that I was the only manager in baseball who saw their true potential! Others were guys who had hit 250 or 300 career home runs, but were old and gray and ready to be put out to pasture. I would be the manager to coax one last great season out of them. For pitchers, perhaps they had an inordinate amount of strikeouts one year, or they had once had one or two really good seasons, but had lost their effectiveness due to injury or age. Again, I was the genius boy manager, motivator of over-the-hill athletes, who would teach them to once again reach the peak of their abilities.
2) Or they had to have a really cool name.
Here’s the roster of the Boston Green Sox. These are all real players, and the links will take you to their pages at baseball-reference.com, where it won’t take you long to figure out that this team probably would have had trouble winning 50 games in a season, let alone any championships, especially with a 9-year-old for a manager.
P – Larry Bearnarth
P – Al Jackson
P – Curt Simmons
P – Chuck Estrada
P – Jack Fisher
P – Carl Willey
P – Bill Wakefield
P – Galen Cisco
P – Bob Bruce
C – Chris Cannizzaro
C – Gus Triandos
C – Jim Coker
1B – Jim Gentile
1B – Roy Sievers
2B – Ron Hunt
2B – Dick Tracewski
SS – Jim Davenport
SS – Julio Gotay
3B – Bobby Klaus
3B - Ozzie Virgil
OF – Hawk Taylor
OF – Chuck Hinton
OF – Gino Cimoli
OF – Frank Thomas
OF – Woody Held
Woody Held. I realize now that his name sounds like the punch line to a juvenile joke. You know the type, where you have a list of fictitious books written by authors with ironically funny names? The Yellow River by I.P. Freely; The Tiger’s Revenge by Claude Balls; The African Princess by Erasmus B. Black; that sort of thing. Perhaps my outfielder would have written The Joy Of Onanism.
The attraction of a couple of the others is less subconsciously explained. Bobby Klaus, for instance, sounded like he might have been Santa’s kid brother. And how could a kid not be fascinated by some guy named “Hawk”? He was the star of the team. I always had him batting clean up and he’d perennially challenge Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season. This was partly a function of how I devised the rules of the games I played with this team.
I used dice to simulate games. Each roll of the dice was a time at bat, and each number rolled corresponded to an action. Here’s how it worked:
If I rolled…
2 – Home Run
3 – Ground Out
4 – Fly out
5 – Ground Out
6 – Fly out
7 – Single
8 – Fly Out
9 – Walk
10 – Strike Out
11 – Double
12 – Triple
There were additional things to be done with the dice in certain situations. If, for instance, there was a man on first and the next batter came up with a ground out, I would then roll the dice again to determine if it was a double play; things like that.
Now, if you do the math (which I don’t expect you to do – I did it myself, a few years after the fact, to see just how closely my rules would have really approximated a baseball game) you’ll find that the team as a whole would hit well over .300 and you could expect about 200 home runs a season. There were a lot of 14 – 11 or 19 - 8 games for the Green Sox. My poor pitchers had hideous ERA’s.
Yes, I was so into this fantasy world that I kept detailed statistics for the team. My softball players of today will tell you that I still keep an ungodly amount of stats for our real seasons. For some reason, I’ve always found the breakdown of numbers in defined categories an interesting way to pass the time. I feel that there are secrets there, waiting for a diligent researcher to come along and uncover them. This is sometimes true, but other times I have to admit that it’s just so much high-level solitaire; a sort of bubblegum for the mathematically inclined mind.
I usually played the games out as honestly as the rolls of the dice would dictate, but sometimes the needs of fantasy are stronger than any sense of morality. Heck, it was my fantasy. If you can’t change the rules at whim now and again, what’s the use of even having a fantasy? You may as well live in the real world all day. So, I have to admit that the Green Sox didn’t win all of their championships strictly on the up-and-up.
Of course, after a while you tire of such things; you grow up, in other words. You realize how silly it is to be spending hours rolling dice, writing down utterly meaningless figures in a notebook and imagining yourself as something wholly unrealistic even under the most insane of circumstances. You realize that you aren’t going to be the miraculous boy manager. Soon after, you understand that more than likely you aren’t going to be a major league ballplayer, either. As a matter of fact, you realize that you aren’t even going to be a minor leaguer and, truth be told, the highest level of competition you’ll probably ever reach after high school is a decent brand of fast-pitch softball. You put away the baseball cards and you shelve a number of dreams along with them. Childhood and fantasy take a backseat to adulthood and real life.
Still doesn’t mean you aren’t pissed when your Mom throws out your cards, though.
I can’t end this on that note, because I’ve given my Mom way too much grief for her having thrown out my baseball cards. I think by now she knows that I’ve totally forgiven her, but just in case she’s still worried about it, she shouldn’t be. She’s gone out of her way to make it up to me, most notably by buying me another big shoebox full of cards one time when she was at someone’s yard sale, and then giving them to me as a birthday present, about ten years ago. That was extremely touching.
Anyway, I probably got the cards originally because someone’s mother threw them out. I like to think that when my Mom threw them out, they ended up giving great pleasure to some other kid.
Here’s the happy ending.
A few years back, when I was on a vacation in New Hampshire, I was strolling through the downtown area of where I was staying and I passed by a sports memorabilia shop. I took a couple more steps, stopped, and then decided to turn around and go back to have a look inside.
There were thousands and thousands of baseball cards, all categorized by year and then sorted alphabetically as well. I decided to see if the 1965 bins contained all of my old players. I’m happy to report they were all there - and in much better shape than when I last saw them, to boot.
I bought all 25 of them and took them home again. The nice thing about my team having been comprised of has-beens and never-weres is that they weren’t all that expensive, even for cards so old. I think I spent about 6 dollars to reacquire the Green Sox. They’re sitting here in front of me now as I write this, suspended in time so that now I’m way older than any of them were when I was the boy manager.
God bless you, Chris Cannizzaro, wherever you really are. You, too, Gino Cimoli. And especially you, Hawk Taylor. In real life, you guys may not be remembered as great players, but in the part of my heart that still belongs to a 9-year-old boy? You’re all in the hall of the fame.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
My trolley was defaced.
I hear you saying, "What in the name of Beelzebub's left tit are you talking about, Jim?"
(It's rather amazing I can hear you from so far away, but I guess that's just part of the magic of the internet.)
I'm talking about my trolley being defaced. If you had read the first sentence with a bit more comprehension, then I wouldn't have to repeat myself.
OK, I'm sorry. That's a cheap way to let you know I've got another piece over at the wonderful Boston Herald, one of the nation's oldest and - for my money, which I got from them - finest newspapers in the land.
Why not go there and read all about it?
(Come on, you know you're intrigued. I have a trolley? You at least have to find out what that's about, right? If you don't go there and spend the couple of minutes it will take to find out what this is all about, you're a far less curious cat than me. If somebody told me they had a trolley and it was defaced, I could no more resist reading about it than a Democrat can resist voting for a tax increase.)
(I could have said, "... than a Republican can resist voting for an increase in the defense budget." Take your pick. I also could have said, "... than a Libertarian can resist voting against [fill in the blank].", if that floats your boat.)
(It won't float your trolley, defaced or otherwise, so go to the Boston Herald website and read my stuff. Take that sentence apart and it won't make any more sense than it does in complete form, so don't bother.)
(As always, those of you who buy a hard copy of the paper can use it for admission to the party I'll be throwing upon the occasion of winning my Pulitzer, sometime around 2031 or so. The Herald only costs about $1.50 these days and there will be unlimited FREE bologna sandwiches at the wingding. They'll cost at least ten bucks by then, so it's an investment!)
Thanks for sticking around to the bottom of this. You're a patient sort.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Sunday, March 08, 2015
Do you like March Madness? Or do you hate it with a passion?
An affirmative answer to one of those means you will be happy to read my column in today's Boston Herald.
(Of course, a negative answer means you'll have to pretend to be happy with what I wrote, which I know you'll do because you're a very nice person.)
Anyway, you shouldn't allow yourself to be kept in suspense any longer. Go to the Herald website and read what I have to say. If you share my opinion, you could leave a comment over there telling the editor what a swell fellow I am.
(If you hate what I have to say, but still like me anyway, be very quiet. I'll make it up to you someday.)
As always, if you take the time to buy an actual physical copy of the paper, it will serve as your admission to my Pulitzer party when I get the award sometime in, say, 2024. Take advantage of the opportunity; there'll be a make-your-own ice cream sundae station!
Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Thursday, March 05, 2015
Some people get bored. I can honestly say that I have never been bored at any time during the past forty-five years. This is because I am a simpleton. It’s true. I’m not stupid (shut up!) but I am easily amused, and very often by things that others might find simple.
I suppose the most obvious example would be The Three Stooges. No matter how many times I've already seen one Stooge episode - and I've seen all of them at least 20 or 25 times - I can watch it again and get a laugh.
I’m not even so complicated as to prefer Curly to Shemp, or Shemp over Joe. Give me any combination of Moe and Larry with a third stooge. I will laugh.
(This piece isn’t about The Three Stooges, per se, but I do need to say something more about them, so hang with me until I get it out of my system, and then we'll move on to other stuff. The main differences between the episodes with Curly, or Shemp, or Joe, or even the mostly-dreadful late-career movies with Curly Joe DeRita, came from outside of the trio. Curly was a comedic savant, no doubt, but the writing in many of the short subjects in which he appeared was far superior, approaching real wit in spots. Shemp, his older brother and his replacement [following a major stroke necessitating Curly’s retirement from the act], was a wonderful comic, but by the end of his run as the third stooge, the effort being put into the productions, behind the cameras, was less than sparkling. Budgets had been cut and some directors – oh, hell, Jules White – tried to direct Shemp in the same manner as Curly had been directed, even going so far as to ask Shemp to replicate his brother’s trademark clownish mannerisms. When he is forced into doing so, it is, if not painful, at least strained. When Shemp was in the hands of a skilled director, such as Edward Bernds, and allowed to showcase his own strengths of verbal improvisation and wonderfully rubber facial contortions, the films were much stronger. And poor Joe Besser, a truly gifted comedian, was saddled with having his efforts compared to the previous two Howard brothers. Taken on his own, he was a very funny fellow. However, his strength was not the sort of knockabout slapstick that The Stooges specialized in. His was a more gentle comedy, almost pixyish, and couldn’t possibly please those who preferred getting their laughs from someone being hit on the head by a sledgehammer. As for Curly Joe DeRita… well, let’s just say he wasn’t given much to do, and I’ll leave it to future stoogephiles to determine if that was because there wasn’t much he COULD do. Maybe, like Besser, his real strengths just didn’t fit the concept. In any case, while it was great that Moe and Larry finally got some due during the twilight of their careers, belly laughs were few and far between during DeRita’s tenure.)
What other simple things amuse me? Gilligan’s Island would be one.
At times, it makes The Three Stooges look like a Noel Coward play by comparison. It makes me laugh, though, and it doesn’t try to do any more than that, so I love it. Alan Hale (The Skipper) is my favorite among the ensemble. MY WIFE could tell you (with, I'm sorry to say, some major embarrassment concerning what she settled for in a husband) that I'll come apart at the seams laughing at his farcical mugging and then replay the same scene four or five times in succession, laughing like a candidate for the cracker factory – again - every time.
(MY WIFE says I have a medical condition known as "comic amnesia". I think she sees it as an affliction, but I consider it a gift from God. I can laugh at the same joke over and over and over, most of the time not even seeing the punch line coming, even if I've heard it many times before. Affliction? No way! How can having a good laugh be an affliction?)
(Oh, wait a minute. I get it now. It's her affliction. Never mind.)
Anyway, it’s not just comedy that amuses me endlessly.
I can watch The Lone Ranger over and over, even though most episodes are laid out in the same way and contain few surprises. More often than not, The Lone Ranger and Tonto stumble upon a wrongdoing being committed, ...
(They were the luckiest damn vigilantes imaginable. Half the episodes begin with them watering their horses, or doing some other mundane task, when they hear gunshots nearby. They take off to investigate, and...)
... there is often a runaway stagecoach that the duo must chase down and stop, ...
(After watching as many Lone Ranger episodes as I have, you couldn’t get me onto a stagecoach if you promised me I’d get a hummer from Angelina Jolie during the trip. I don’t recall a single episode of that show wherein a stagecoach appeared that didn't end up with it either robbed or as a runaway [because the driver had been fatally shot.] It appears to have been the most dangerous conveyance man has ever invented.)
... then, during the course of trying to track down the evildoer, somebody believes that The Lone Ranger himself is evil because of his mask, but he generally wins him or her over with a manly smile and the display of one of his silver bullets, ...
(How did all of these dunderheads know so much about the damn silver bullets, but never had the faintest notion about The Lone Ranger’s identity before seeing his ammunition? If they heard about silver bullets, wouldn’t they have heard about a guy wearing a mask, riding a great white stallion, and traveling with an Indian companion? Maybe that would ring a bell? Nope. They had to be shown a silver bullet before they put two and two together. The west was full of dopes.)
... and then Tonto usually finds more trouble than he bargained for when The Lone Ranger asks him to ride into town to scout around...
(Well, Bill Cosby mined this claim before me, but it’s so logical I have to mention it. Didn’t Tonto ever get sick of hearing The Lone Ranger asking him to ride into town? After the first two or three times he got ambushed and captured, wouldn’t he have said, "Ugh, Kemo Sabe. You sure me riding into town such a good idea? Tonto like you and all that, but me tired getting head punched in. Why not YOU ride into town? Tonto stay here and do what you usually do while Tonto in town getting head punched in. By the way, just what is it you do while me gone? Silver no speak, but I bet him tell interesting tale.")
... and in the end, there's always either a fistfight or a gunfight - or both - with The Lone Ranger and Tonto prevailing. Then they ride out of town while someone asks, "Who was that masked man?"; the reply comes, "You stupid shit! That was The Lone Ranger!"; then you get a "Hi-Yo Silver!" and some final credits with The William Tell Overture playing in the background. No matter. It entertains the heck out of me every time.
I don’t want to give you the impression that something has to be on TV to amuse me. For instance, I’m tickled to death by softball talk; that is, the things players say to other players, over and over again, on a softball or baseball field. For instance, a pitch can come in a good foot over a batter’s head and odds are somebody on the bench will say, "Good eye!" when the guy doesn’t swing at it. That always blows me away. Or if a pitcher gets two quick strikes on a batter, then runs the count to 3 and 2, some one of his fielders is likely to say something helpful such as, "Don’t lose him now!" Often this happens as the pitcher is beginning his windup. Yeah, that’s just what he needs. He’ll surely throw a strike, now that you’ve reminded him of the situation, instead of one that bounces in the dirt like he was planning to do. Then there are the pure outright lies, such as "Nice cut!" after a batter has taken a totally off-balance lunge at a ball and missed it by half a foot. Priceless.
(I wouldn’t change it for the world. All of those things are said by teammates who are trying to be nice by cheering on their fellow players, and I’d rather be surrounded by loving idiots than intelligent mean-spirited assholes. I’m just saying, though, that stuff is hilarious when you stop and think about it.)
What else makes me smile every time?
When I’m in a crowd at a rock concert, the featured band has finished their set, and I see someone over the age of thirty, who has likely attended more than two or three rock concerts in his life, applauding feverishly because he actually thinks the group won’t come back for an encore of the biggest hit they haven’t yet played unless they are implored to do so via five minutes of insane cheers and manic howling. Does anybody actually believe, while the lights are still down, that the group is packing up their gear and heading out the stage door, but one of them stops and says, “Hold on, lads! Listen to that crowd! Why, I’ve never heard applause like that in my life! What say we go back and give them our most famous song which we inexplicably left out of the original set list?”
Here are some other things I never get tired of:
Reading Mark Twain
Leave It To Beaver
Watching Cats Chase Each Other
Calvin & Hobbes
Filling Up The Internet With This Sort Of Rubbish
Anyway, I’m never bored. There’s always something interesting going on in life, and if I can’t readily find it, I just throw a DVD on and watch the one where Shemp has to be married by 6 o’clock or else he loses his inheritance. As long as I have that to fall back on, I’m good.
Soon, with more better stuff.
[Shemp photo from Like Television... Only Better! The Gilligan's Island cast photo came from BobDenver.com, a wonderful tribute site run by Bob's widow, Dreama Denver.]