Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Pine Tar Game Redux

Nobody ever celebrates the anniversary of Robin Ventura charging the mound against Nolan Ryan, only to have the Ryan Express head lock Ventura and repeatedly punch him on the noggin. I can't even tell you the year it was when future Cub Randall Simon tapped that Brewers mascot with a bat, only to have said mascot fall to the ground as if he was struck by an assassin's bullet. We'd like to think it's because neither of those moments featured a batshit crazy future Hall of Famer with murder in his eyes exploding on a home plate umpire. There are a number of reasons that every year on this day, a seemingly meaningless game between two teams who weren't going to impact any sort of pennant race is celebrated and remembered as one of the lasting images in Major League Baseball History. Oh, and July 24th is also this guy's birthday, although he was old enough in 1983 to have remembered the fireworks at Yankee Stadium.

July 24th is the day when all the sports-talk radio stations go out of their way to secure George Brett and Rich "Goose" Gossage as guests, and try to be clever by bringing in Umpire Tim McClelland in the middle of the interview, as his presence is somehow going to inspire Brett to go all Hulk on him again. It does cause the Kansas City Star to run a great piece on the game, a rare great article that's not written by someone with the last name Posnanski or Whitlock. But as Brett himself says (every year I might add), "It was just some game in late July." Oh but it had quite an ending, thanks to this cast of characters:
  • George Brett: Thorn in Yankee's ass for many years; clutch performer who almost stole the pennant from Yanks from 1976-78, and actually did so in 1980; seemingly the last person in the world you'd expect to draw the wrath of washed-up slugger George Scott who, during his brief 44 games with the Royals in the last year of his career, couldn't comprehend why a future Hall-of-Famer was wearing number 5 instead of him; ironically, got along well with the late George C. Scott and rather enjoyed his movies; caused many sleepless nights for Royals Groundskeeper George Toma for spitting tobacco all over the then astro-turf of the then Royals Stadium; actually used the Pine-Tar bat during games a few weeks after the July 23rd game; one of the few, brave people in the world who at one pont in time went on the record in declaring Rush Limbaugh a "friend" (although he did use his fingers to make quotation marks when referencing him as a "friend").
  • Richard "Goose" Gossage: Gave up pennant-deciding Home Run to Brett at Yankee Stadium in 1980; used to get teased ruthlessly by teammates Mickey Rivers and Thurman Munson whenever he'd come in to close a game during the remarkable 1978 season about how he'd find a way to blow the lead; is flat out confused as to why closers today only pitch one-inning; first assignment from Manager Billy Martin upon joining the Yankees was to throw at a batter's head in a spring training game; probably doesn't exchange holiday cards with former teammate Cliff Johnson, who he got into a fight with during the 1979 season, costing him playing time.
  • Billy Martin: Wild, ornery bastard who really bares little resemblance to actor John Turturo, who portrayed him in an ESPN mini-series last year; even though he died on Christmas Day, 1989, is still legally drunk; assumed every big league manager went out to a local dive after a tough loss and called the team's owner convicted and star player a liar; started "Billy Ball" while managing Oakland, a concept that was designed to do nothing else but kill the arms of the entire A's pitching staff; lost a lot of money in the afterlife on how long it would take long time buddy Mickey Mantle to join him among the departed (Billy had two years tops, but in his defense, nobody thought it would take the Mick nearly 6 years after Martin died to finally join him).
  • Graig Nettles: Perhaps the most over-rated Yankee player ever, who gets a little too much credit for making dramatic dives on catches in the 1978 World Series; can't understand why everyone else in the world named "Greg" doesn't use an "ai" when spelling their first name; was always a bit of a prick towards Brett; knows a thing or two about cheating, as he was caught using a bat that was loaded with six superballs inside of it during the 1974 season; threw virtually all of his teammates and George Steinbrenner under the bus in his memoirs, then was promptly traded to San Diego where he was forced to wear those McDonald's brown and mustard uniforms with Gossage; claimed to spend his childhood dreaming of either being in the circus or playing baseball.
  • Tim McClelland: Widely regarded as one of the best "balls & strikes" umpires in the game, yet somehow fell for all of Martin's voodoo charms on July 24, 1983 (which is all the more remarkable given Martin's almost daily ability to start fights with umpires); surreally was the homeplate umpire for Sammy Sosa's corked bat game too; scares nightmares into current Royals pitcher Zack Greinke because he's "so tall"; spent many moments over the past 25 years wondering how he -- being 6-6, 250, wearing a chest protector and holding a baseball bat -- could see his life flash before his eyes when a bug-eyed Brett charged from the dugout.
  • Hal McRae: Has more pent-up anger than should be allowed, justified when considering Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez get all the credit in the world for being the best designated hitters ever when Hal was really the first really great one; has a son, Brian, who, when being thrown at during a game against the Texas Rangers in 1993 opted to charge the entire Ranger dugout instead of the pitcher; had his own moment of complete anger while managing the Royals, pulling a phone out of the wall and throwing towards Royals beat writers following a loss to Detroit; even with great moments of rage, was tossed from a game (at Yankee Stadium no less) in early 1993 and did nothing but silently walk back to the dugout; stood calmly on the on-deck circle while Brett rounded the bases after his homer in the Pine Tar Game, only to wait for his moment to steal Brett's bat during the melee that followed; is extremely irate that Jose Guillen now wears his #11 for Kansas City.
  • Gaylord Perry: Gets more excited in admitting that he threw a spitball than somebody with the name Gaylord really should; was so enamored with his use of the spitball that he himself approached the creators of Vaseline, begging them to hire him as an endorser; used to attend old-timers games wearing a jersey with the logo of all eight teams he pitched for; seemed to be pitching in 1983 if for no other reason than to see a moment like a raged George Brett barrel out of the Yankee Stadium dugout, so he could then play hot potato with McRae and the pine tar bat in question; doesn't like it when you confuse him with "Jim" Perry, a starting pitcher from the same era.

And Brett has his legendary you tube moment, the game has it's own wikipedia page, and every year this gives the sports world something to talk about on July 24th. We can also be thankful that this moment happened in a pre-Sportscenter world (or at least the way Sportscenter is now). The media would have called for Brett's head, likened him to Ron Artest for his violent outburst, and branded him a cheater, despite the fact that then American League President Lee MacPhail would over-rule Martin and McClelland and credit Brett with a home run and oh by the way, get back to Yankee Stadium and finish this little game.

The only downside of this moment is that it overshadows the real Brett/Gossage confrontation, one that occurred three years earlier in Game 3 of the American League Championship series. Same result -- Brett with a bomb to right field -- but this time, the game actually meant something. It decided the first pennant for the Royals.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pelini Can't Lose

In less than a month, Bo Pelini will spearhead his first official fall practices for the 2008 Nebraska football season. Yes, fall practices. In AUGUST. Which makes sense considering the Huskers first game is August 30th, so a few practices could actually be a good idea (especially since practice wasn't necessarily something that occurred a lot the last four years). No matter, we've figured out exactly what's realistic to expect from Bo and company this season, and determined how the "anything less than a National Championship" mantra started and eventually fell out of favor by looking at the first season's of the last four Husker football coaches.

Looking at the 2008 schedule (8 home games!) and all of the other variables involved (i.e. former running back Cody Glenn becoming not just a linebacker but a possible STARTING linebacker), the Pelini formula for year one is simple. Everyone (besides the coaching staff, who are justifiably preaching 13-0, and they should instill such passion in their group) should start with a safe and easy goal of a record of 7-5. As in, 7-5 is the "given" for the 2008 season. That's not being harsh, it's being realistic considering where college football is now (Missouri is going to be a pre-season Top 10 team and has a Heisman front-runner, something unthinkable 5 years ago) and the sort of shit the previous regime pulled in Lincoln (putting a priority on taking down all of the pictures of the former All-Americans over having an actual practice with pads would be just one example). Consider the shake-up with a 7-5 record as the bellwether:

7-5: Means a winning season; assures a Bowl Game (and even if the Corn lose the Bowl Game, they'd STILL finish the season with a winning record); the appropriate gut-check to see that Pelini can move things in the right direction; of course, also means the Corn loses at least one of their 8 home games, but as long as it's not one of the first THREE home games or Baylor, Husker Fan will survive.
Greater than 7-5: Euphoria, maybe not Scarlett Johansen naked euphoria, but enough to officially suggest the program is back in business. Means Nebraska beats Virginia Tech and/or Missouri, which alone is a major victory for year one of the new regime; also: Possible Big 12 North title, and under the, ahem, Billy C school of thought, that's a championship! The negative of this scenario: Husker Fan spends the off-season going into 2009 printing up National Championship shirts.
Less than 7-5: Time to panic. Even 6-6 is unacceptable. Sure, the Huskers would still get a Bowl Game with that record (a Bowl Game played well before Christmas Eve mind you). But not reaching the 7-5 standard would suggest things aint going in the right direction.

All things considered, Pelini's got the least amount of pressure for a first year Big Red Coach since Bob Devaney strolled into town (discounting the rose-colored glasses requirement debut of Billy C, Bo gets major points simply for NOT being named Callahan). Taking a look at the debuts of the four who took the task before Pelini offered to help clean this mess:

Bob Devaney: Came from Wyoming in 1962 and instigated an immediate positive turnaround, going 9-2 (NU went 3-6-1 in 1961 and 4-6 in 1960). Devaney has a building named after him (granted, it's not exactly the greatest athletic complex around anymore), and they probably first thought of naming all sorts of buildings after him based on his debut season alone. The only blemishes from his "rookie" year at NU were a homecoming loss to Missouri and an ass-kicking at Oklahoma. Instantly, Nebraska became a football school. Here's where it all started, and the Bobfather would only raise the standards with back-to-back titles in 1970-71. EXPECTATION LEVEL: Put a product on the field that could increase attendance.

Tom Osborne: Out of all four, had the most pressure on him (at least from the fan's point of view, he was Devaney's hand-picked guy, and Bob would remain TO's boss as the program's Athletic Director). He was expected to not only be Devaney, but win a National Championship. Had the exact same record in his debut season of 1973 (9-2-1) as Devaney's last year as head coach. But an extremely smooth transition, save for a 27-0 shutout at Oklahoma. At the time, TO was lambasted for not being able to beat the Sooners (NU came into the season ranked 4th, got as high as #2 and finished #13). He wouldn't gain the universal approval of Husker Nation until he went for the 2-point conversion against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. But it's hard to find a smoother transition of one legend handing off to somebody who would surpass his predecessor big time. Like year one of Devaney, TO made sure Nebraska won their Bowl Game. EXPECTATION LEVEL: Ridiculously high (as in, win the Big 8 and the Orange Bowl), but TO eventually kicked everything up another level and brought the program to levels the likes of which won't be seen again.

Frank Solich: He was given a pass because he was TO's hand picked successor and everyone was still riding the high that comes from winning three National Championships in four years. Frankie's first year was an awful lot like the first year of "Seinfeld" after Larry David left as a writer and producer. Things were very different, sometimes uncomfortable, but you wound up tuning in every week for the rare chance of greatness. Two games in particular from Solich's 1998 first season as the new sheriff in town suggested that trouble was all around: The opener -- the HOME opener -- against Louisiana Tech, a game NU won 56-27, but also featured 4-foot tall Tech receiver Troy Edwards lighting up the Blackshirts for 21 catches for 405 yards (seriously, how everyone didn't jump on Solich for that alone is a great mystery in Husker History); and the Halloween loss at home to Ricky Williams and Texas, the first home loss in what seemed like decades (actually, it was the first loss in Lincoln since 1991). Solich's first year suggested he certainly wasn't going to be Osborne, but fate (and by fate we really mean Stevie P) wouldn't allow Frankie a chance to show he could adapt to the ever-changing college game. Lost the Holiday Bowl to Arizona. EXPECTATION LEVEL: "Don't fuck it up", but considering he was fired after going 9-3 in his 6th season (in which he cleaned house by bringing in a new coaching staff, many of whom are now ironically enough on the CURRENT coaching staff), there was a certain sector who wanted a return to big time glory.

Bill Callahan: Of course looking back on HIS first year now, it's hard to believe that any of this happened. That Stevie P couldn't find anybody he deemed worthy enough to take the throne. That the guy who was laughed out of Oakland and really the National Football League because he was mostly known for losing his team for calling them all "the stupidest bunch of players he'd ever seen", and for being the, ahem, "coach" for the team that allowed Brett Favre to scrimmage against on that Monday Night Football game played the day after Favre's father passed away, would be the second coming of either Osborne or Devaney. Before Billy C was even fired from Oakland, the thinking was he'd wind up like former New York Giants coach Ray Handley, running away from the stadium after getting a cap popped in him, never to be heard from again. What we'd all fall prey to right away was that Billy C was a great salesman who looked upon Nebraskans as relatively simple folk who would buy deep into whatever he was peddling. In short, the West Coast Offense -- or, the greatest and most complex offense that man has ever constructed, and just to prove it to everyone I'm going to lug around a 900-page book that contains every play in the offense the players will learn -- was the new flavor of the month, so get used to it people! Oh, and since that previous coach, whatever the hell his name is, left us with such garbage, we'll just go through the motions whenever the actual SEASON starts. None of the players, recruited for the option-offense Solich preferred, were suited for this complex WCO thing, and we'd all just have to accept losing until some of Callahan's disciples came to town. Billy C's first season was really waiting on the promise of his recruits (many of whom came only to leave immediately). The worst moment of the season was of course the mind-boggling 70-10 nationally televised loss to Texas Tech, a game that summed up not only the season but the entire Billy C era. The stubbornness in shoving an offense that he never bothered to adapt to the collegiate level or even the players he had around him. And of course, hitching his star to the old Cosgrove wagon. Oh, and after 35 consecutive years, Billy C finally decided enough was enough, and the Corn missed out on a Bowl Game. Also: Still convinced that TO is just another guy who fired him; sort of a dick. EXPECTATION LEVEL: Let's just get through the season so we can see all the new toys who will be here NEXT year!

Something To Do In Lincoln Before Football Starts

Well, look who's coming back (and given the fact that I had at least five of these guys in a Death Pool going back to 2003, I'm even more stunned). The still infamous Zoo Bar in Downtown Lincoln is celebrating their 35th Anniversary with a two-day long street festival (on 14th between O & P, which means that the Mackenzie's of the world will be able to smoke AND drink to their hearts content). Just to show how big of a celebration this is, the Zoo Bar is ramping things up in a big way, getting one of the area's most popular local bands to reunite for one-night only after breaking up 8 years ago.

The Self Righteous Brothers are one of those bands that you can only experience live. And in their case, live would mean at the Zoo Bar, and batshit drunk out of your ass. Because that's the way the band wants it. The two lead singers, who go by Sonny and Mister Righteous, share vocals on every song, have dance numbers choreographed perfectly, start off wearing full tuxes but lose everything except their pants by the first hour, and spend the time between songs asking audience members and bar staff to continuously bring drinks. It's the sort of show anyone five-years removed from college who is yearning for a wild night of debauchery dreams about when getting a night out.

And to further hype things up, our boys now have their own blog and of course a myspace page. And if you know the SRB's, you'll find yourself spending way more time than a person should at these sites. You'll see that all of the original members are coming back to play the Zoo Bar at 11pm on Saturday, except for their drummer, who despite living in Lincoln is declining to participate. In true SRB fashion, both of their sites are declaring their drummer dead (he's listed with the RIP tag on all pictures and mentions, and I expect nothing less when it comes to these guys). The band picture that appears in the ads for the Zoo Bars gala is of some obscure music act of guys who look like they're at least 65 years old.

If you've never seen these guys perform, I hate you. You can listen to some old songs on their blog, even look at some videos, but none of these tell you anything (although in one of their photo albums, Mackenzie is in the background dancing with a rather attractive young lady). The Zoo Bar is currently (and will do so this weekend) selling CD's of some of their early work, including a performance from their legendary Christmas show from 1998.

But you really just need to throw back a few shots of whiskey and load up to a live show. Meaning Saturday, because everyone says this is a one-time thing for them (at least three of the members had stopped performing since they last performed). There's a reason they're in Duffy's Hall of Fame. I have no clue what to expect this weekend, but they used to do a killer cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", without the chorus. Another highlight was a medley of three Tom Jones classics. Of course they had catchy original songs that also became fan favorites. The key to their act is the theatrics of Sonny & Mister Righteous. They've earned the much coveted final performance of the weekend, and I'm sure there will plenty of tastee beverages. I have no intention of being anywhere near a set of car keys before or after the show.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

100 years and, done counting!

D.L, Where the hell have you been on this shit? your suppose to be spot on. First I pull "High School USA" out of my ass and not a peep. Now we have the cubs practically Guarunteing thier way to the World Series with the aquisition of Harden and nothing?? Now, I know as well as you DL, that trading with Billie Beane is like sleeping with Maddona, your going to be regretting it a few years down the road(are you listening now A-rod?)but knowing the players the Cubs gave up in this trade I think it was a no brainer for Jim Hendry.

1. Matt Murton - Stuck in AAA Iowa with Fukadome and Soriano tied up in long term contracts- everyone has known he was getting moved since March.

2. Eric Patterson - Another player with no place to go, also Cubs may have been tired of waiting for him to develop and felt they waisted enough time on older brother Cory and saw little E going down the same path.

3. Josh Donaldson - AA Catcher with promise, but Cubs have a rookie of the year contender at Catcher right now.

4. Gallagher - My guess this is the crown jewel, the guy that Beane had his eyes on, it would not surprise me to see him flourish in a year or two with the A's. He has been mediocre so far with Chicago, but every Cubs fan saw promise with his young arm.

The great news with this is that the Cubs have Harden for the remainder of this year and all of next, unlike CC Sabathia with the Brewers. Also, unlike the Brewers, the Cubs did not need to empty their farm system for a one shot chance at a post-season run.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obscure Movie of the Week "High School USA"

Set in a senior high school class, J.J. (Michael J. Fox) pursues the girlfriend of a rival from a higher clique which culminates in a race at the end of the movie between the two rivals in this light comedy.Also stars everyones favorite child star gone bad Todd Bridges. This was apparently a pilot for an NBC sitcom. The network envisioned stand-up comedian Joel Hodgson as one of the stars of the proposed series. Hodgson turned the offer down. Also playing roles are Anthony Edwards and Crispin Glover. The cast is comprised of many former child stars. Tony Dow from "Leave It to Beaver" plays the principal. Angela Cartwright from "Make Room for Daddy" and "Lost in Space" plays a teacher, as does Dwayne Hickman from "Dobie Gillis", and the school janitor is played by David Nelson, former star of "Ozzie and Harriet". Even Dana Plato plays a key role as does Barry Livingston. Shit even the late Bob Denver plays a part in this movie. To give you an ideal how lame this Movie had to be, here is one of IMDB's quotes from the movie.

Jay-Jay Manners: Hey, Bandini, what's the matter?
Crazy Leo Bandini: I don't know. My toes are killing me.
Jay-Jay Manners: Uh, that's because you've got your shoes on the wrong feet.
Crazy Leo Bandini: No, I don't. These are my feet.

Apparantly this was the TV version of those Bazooka Joe comics you use to get with your bubble gum. I never personally saw this movie, but I am pretty sure I can walk myself through it based on all the other lame 80's high school movies from back then.