Posts tagged ‘sports’

June 23, 2020

#164) Remembering Dalko

The virus that has shortened the 2020 baseball season has also taken one of the game’s cult legends.

Stephen Louis Dalkowski, Jr. died in April at age 80. To be sure, “Dalko” wasn’t exactly a picture of health – he had been in an assisted living facility since 1994 and suffered from alcohol-related dementia – but the cause of death was complications from COVID-19. Like Bobby Fischer and Sid Barrett, his death caused grief but also at least some surprise that it hadn’t happened sooner.

I learned the sad news from one of my periodic “Is Dalko still alive?” checks. To be sure, I haven’t burned too much midnight oil thinking about Dalkowski, but his story has always intrigued me and every so often I see fit to dig a little deeper to see what I can find about him. In keeping with this blog’s tradition of ignoring big issues in favor of obscure ones and responding late to news stories, I present a homage to the man said to have the fastest pitch in the history of baseball, two months after his death.

Steve Dalkowski isn’t completely irrelevant to today’s culture; if you’ve seen the movie “Bull Durham” you…

Scratch that, let’s try a different tack.

While Dalkowski’s name might not ring a bell outside of certain (read: baseball geek) circles, his story has universal elements: simple origins, great talent, unfulfilled promise, loss of way and redemption. Long story short: his fastball was legendary but he had no control, on or off the field.

How fast was Dalkowski? Like many folk (anti)heroes, some stories are true, some are exaggerated and some are myth. For example, accounts of him intimidating the great Ted Williams as an 18-year old are apocryphal, but the story of him breaking umpire Doug Harvey’s mask and giving him a concussion is true. While it’s generally agreed that he threw at least 110 miles per hour and was said by some to be close to 120, no accurate account exists. Only once did he ever throw for a radar machine, measuring either 88 or 93 miles per hour, depending on the source. However, the technology was primitive by today’s standards. Using a flat surface, not a mound, he had to throw for 40 minutes (the day after pitching) before the machine could read him. The measurement was also taken at home plate, not 10 feet from release as is done today; this alone may have cost him 9 miles per hour.

Steve Dalkowski grew up in New Britain, CT, where he played football and also set a high school baseball record by striking out 24 batters in a 9-inning game. Upon graduation, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles and began an itinerant career that resembled a Rand McNally atlas: Kingsport, TN; Aberdeen, SD; Elmira, NY; Pasco, WA. His control problems followed him to each of these stops. In a 170-inning stretch, he struck out 262 batters and walked 262 batters. In a single game, he walked 18 and threw 6 wild pitches.

In Aberdeen, future Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver figured out that Dalkowski had a lower than average IQ and couldn’t process mental tasks such as focusing on the batter while also paying attention to baserunners. He had Dalkowski simplify his approach to the game and asked him to stop drinking the night before he was to pitch. By 1963, Dalkowski was invited to attend spring training with the Orioles.

Though exact accounts of what happened vary, at some point during his last game before he was to head up north to begin the season Dalkowski suffered an injury to his left elbow, possibly a pinched nerve. It was the beginning of the end of his career. After being released by the Orioles organization, spent some time in the Pirates and Angels farm systems before retiring in 1966, having never thrown a pitch in the majors.

Life after baseball was rough on Dalko, and he spent the next three decades unable to hold even menial jobs such as picking fruit alongside migrant workers. He accumulated a police record (mainly low-level barroom scuffles), drank heavily (it’s said that he could outdrink even noted partier Bo Belinsky and that as a fruit picker, he would leave a bottle of wine at the end of the row to keep himself motivated) and eventually, like Bobby Fischer, was found wandering the streets of Southern California. He was taken in by a family of strangers on Christmas Eve, 1992. They connected him with his sister, who placed him in assisted living.

While his fate may seem ignominious for someone who once had such potential, there is at least some redemption in the Dalkowski story. He received steady visitation from those who were curious about his past and on several occasions was asked to throw out ceremonial first pitches at games. When people talk about velocity, his name still comes up. “Bull Durham” director Ron Shelton played in the Orioles minor league system in the ’60s, a few years after Dalko, and heard the stories. Dalkowski was the basis for Tim Robbins’ character, “Nuke” LaLoosh. It’s probably not too much of a leap to say that he also inspired “Wild Thing” Vaughan, Charlie Sheen’s character in “Major League.”

Whether “Wild Thing” was a homage to Dalko (who also wore thick glasses), a bit of dialogue from “Major League” sums up his legacy. “I thought you had to do something good to get into the Hall of Fame,” Wild Thing broods while nursing a beer at a bar. “Not if you do it colorfully,” his catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) cheerfully replies. Indeed, despite having never played a major league inning, Dalko is remembered more than many truly great baseballers (quick: what position did incoming Hall of Famer Ted Simmons play?) Having not made the Show may have contributed to the Dalkowski legend.  A journeyman career in the big leagues would have been forgotten; having the fastest pitch ever but coming up just short is romantic and tragic. Also, by having not played in the majors, Dalkowski was witnessed by fewer, allowing more room for his story to grow more with each retelling.

There might not be a Dalkowski plaque in Cooperstown, but in 2009 he was inducted into baseball’s Shrine of the Immortals. The criteria: “Distinctiveness of play (good and bad)”; “The uniqueness of character and personality”; “The imprint the individual has made upon the baseball landscape.” The Shrine includes actual hall of famers such as Yogi Berra, Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson and other cult figures such as Bill Buckner, Dock Ellis (the Pirates pitcher who may or may not have thrown a no-hitter while high on LSD) and Moe Berg, the catcher who served as a government spy and could “speak a dozen languages but couldn’t hit in any of them.”

Will there ever be another Steve Dalkowski? Probably not (without even considering the effect that COVID-19 will have on the future of the game). There may be pitchers who approach or even surpass his velocity, but offbeat personalities just don’t thrive in today’s game. We loved Jeter because he did and said the right things, but it’s been a while since we’ve Feared the Beard.

Historians will have much to keep them busy when it comes to writing about 2020 and Steve Dalkowski’s death will not be at the top of the list. Still, in his own small way, Dalkowski left an impact. Man, legend or myth, he is now free of his demons and regrets about what might have been.

December 4, 2019

#156) Kaepernick and the NFL are in on it together

There, I said it.

You can’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.

The saga has gotten to the point where neither side’s behavior makes any sense, at least if the goal is to find the right NFL team for Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who has been out of a job since he started taking a knee during the National Anthem.

Were any of the NFL teams that attended Kaepernick’s recent workout in Atlanta serious about signing him? As Andrew Hammond notes in this News Tribune article, “[A]ll 32 teams in the league have had three years — a lengthy three years — to do their due diligence on Kaepernick, check his commitment to football and see if he was keeping in shape. You don’t need a closed-door, staged event to put those questions to bed. If you did, it may be time to reevaluate your free-agent scouting practices.” As for Kaepernick, did he believe that his appearance at an Unthanksgiving event was going to get Jerry Jones beating a path to his door?

If it all is in fact a long con, someone has to be benefiting. Who and how?

In the 2016 season, when he started protesting, Kaepernick already had a relationship with Nike (dating back to 2011) and a contract that ended up being worth $39 million. However, in the years following the protest, he was featured in a much more high-profile Nike ad and landed a new endorsement deal which included his own line of branded apparel. However one interprets the motives of Kaepernick’s protests, it’s a little naive to say that in no way has he benefited from the controversy.

For the NFL’s part, like every sports league, they need a villain. With incumbent bad guy Tom Brady near the end of his career (sorry, fellow Patriots fans but we all know it) who will be next? Due to rules that favor parity across the league, it may be a while before the NFL gets a good on field villain. Kaepernick seems to ignite more ire among his detractors than almost anyone on the planet, with the possible exception of Greta Thunberg. As long as he is not in the NFL, he will be a news story, begetting loud fist-shaking mobs both pro and con. If he were to sign? Sure, there would be some outrage, but Kaepernick is a 33-year old quarterback with (sorry, I know it’s not woke to say this) a losing career record. His return would be short lived and after gloating about it on 4chan, the Nike burning crowd would get bored and move onto inter-racial couples reading the Koran.

Regardless of who is the villain and who is the victim, Kaepernick and the NFL need each other, just like Superman and Lex Luthor, the Hatfields and McCoys and Taylor Swift and the Kardashian/West family. But the relationship is only symbiotic as long as Kaepernick is not with a team. Once he sets foot on the field, his supporters won’t have a face for their cause and the NFL will lose a story line.

Cynical? Sure. Crazy? Probably. But maybe just crazy enough to be true.

June 26, 2019

#151) Remembering Buckner

Former major league baseball player Bill Buckner died at age 69 on May 27th in Idaho, following a battle with Lewy body dementia. Despite my being a baseball geek and having listened to quite a bit of Boston sports radio since moving back to Massachusetts following 20 years in California, the news escaped my radar. Being a baseball geek (see above) I had a random fact I wanted to impulsively look up on the Baseball Reference website and I was saddened to see Buckner’s name in the “In Memoriam” section.

At first I was surprised that I hadn’t heard, but as I thought about it, it made sense that Buckner’s death wasn’t a big sensation. The Boston sports world has recently been focused on the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Celtics’ disappointing playoff performance, the Red Sox’ unimpressive start and the prospects for the upcoming Patriots season. It could also be that perhaps the Boston media and fan base are (for once) doing the right thing and giving the Buckner family a little bit of space.

Buckner’s moment of infamy happened on October 25th, 1986 in the sixth game of the World Series against the New York Mets. Any Sox fan old enough can tell you exactly where they were; those too young to remember or born after it happened have heard the tale just like children whose parents told them about the JFK or John Lennon murders or the moon landing. When Buckner let a ground ball go between his legs, allowing the Mets to win the game, he and his family began an ordeal that included everything from harassment of their kids to death threats.

A tipping point happened in 1993 when Buckner got into a physical altercation with a fan (he was signing baseball cards at an event and the fan said, “Don’t give him a ball, he’ll just drop it.”) There are those who say that, just as crab fishermen risk their lives for a fat payday, once an athlete signs the big contract, they are fair game for ridicule if they make a mistake in the spotlight. For the most part though, by this point, Boston sports fans – not always known for tact or compassion – got the message: enough is enough.

Shortly after the incident, Buckner (who had made his home in the Boston area even after being released by the Sox) and his family moved to Idaho. According to the ESPN “Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame…” show, Buckner, “tired of numerous replays of his error”, couldn’t get himself to watch the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series win. However, he received a standing ovation at Fenway Park when he threw out the first pitch of the 2008 season. He also drew praise for his turn on the show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which he played himself. He remained lifelong friends with Mookie Wilson, the Mets batter who hit the ball, appearing with him in a 2016 commercial.

With four Sox championships in the 21st century, it’s easy for those who remember Buckner to laugh about it now. That the man was willing to laugh about it himself perhaps spoke even more loudly than his on-field accomplishments: over 2,700 career hits, a batting title and being one of only 29 players in baseball history to play in four different decades. Some have argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Those too young to remember Buckner or indeed anything much of the lean years from 1987-2001, when the Sox, Bruins and Celtics were coming close but never going all the way and when Bill Belichick was a defensive coordinator for the Jets, can still learn from the story that began on that October night. In death, as he did in life, Bill Buckner teaches the lesson that while the world may not always be fair, one can always transcend the situation by taking the high road – and that forgiveness is a gift.

February 4, 2019

#148) How not to complain #8: Sorry Jeff Pearlman, the Patriots are not the problem

Hey, Jeff, how’s it going. Fellow tribesman sports geek David Lockeretz here. Complaining is in our blood, but when you called Super Bowl LIII the worst ever, was your intent to show the NFL how it can improve or were you just upset that the Patriots won? I get that you’re a New Yorker and I’m a Bostonian, so there are certain sportsball issues on which we will not see eye to eye, but calling Super Bowl LIIII the worst ever is a charge that is hard to back up objectively.

Let’s start with the margin of victory. At 10 points, the margin in LIII was below the historical average of 13.9. Yes, it was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever – but it was close, something that cannot be said for many Super Bowls. It was only the second Super Bowl ever (after XXXIX*) to enter the fourth quarter tied, keeping the David vs. Goliath storyline intact. No, the game wasn’t particularly elegant, but by your own admission, Super Bowl XV, the game that turned you into a fan, was “technically poor.”

Yes, there was a blown call in the Saints/Rams NFC championship game. Why weren’t the Saints able to put the game away after jumping out to a 13-0 lead? Why did Drew Brees throw an interception in overtime? If the NFL is scripted, wouldn’t the refs have done everything they could do stage a Brees/Brady Super Bowl? If The Rams Didn’t Belong In The Super Bowl Because The Refs Blew The Call, isn’t it karma that the Pats won? Sports will always have a human element and humans aren’t perfect.

Moving on to the half time show. I’m no Maroon 5 fan, but was their performance really the “lamest…in modern memory?” Jeff, were you on the edge of your seat for Coldplay? Did the Who’s 2010 performance make you beeline to the local record store to get “Tommy” on vinyl? Is it a Good Thing that “many musicians made it clear…that they would no longer support the league’s entertainment efforts”?

Which brings us to the issue of race. You write, “This is the NFL trying to convince us (via advertisements featuring Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches) that the whole Colin Kaepernick thing never happened; that — hey! — we love when blacks speak out, just as long as it doesn’t affect our image or our profits.” True perhaps – but would a 41-38 Kansas City win over New Orleans magically have made everyone suddenly see eye to eye on anthem protests and come together like the people in Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad? I’d bet a GE dishwasher that had African-American quarterback Patrick Mahomes won the Super Bowl for the Chiefs, the NFL brass would have found a way to make his moment about themselves and how much they love diversity. The Patriots’ successes and the NFL’s woes are independent.

I’m not asking you or anyone else to love that the Patriots won yet again. To borrow an adage that used to be said of the Yankees (*cough* before they started sucking *cough*), rooting for the Patriots is like rooting for Brad Pitt to get the girl or Bill Gates to win the lottery. But why make yourself just a generic voice in the Patriot haters crowd? Maybe you just need to blow off steam. Understandable. But if you’re looking for meaningful change in the NFL fan experience to come from your deconstruction of Super Bowl LIII, you will be as disappointed as everyone west of the New York state line.

*I decided to take the high road by not pointing out that XXXIX was another New England victory.

April 18, 2017

#126) Book review: “House of Nails” by Lenny Dykstra

Some baseball fans remember Lenny Dykstra for his hard-nosed, balls-to-the-wall style of play that earned him the nickname “Nails.” Others remember him for bankruptcy fraud, falsifying documents while leasing a car and writing a bad check to a prostitute. Dykstra’s ups and downs are chronicled in “House of Nails” – a memoir that is part self-reflection, part shit show (if you are offended by the term “shit show” don’t read this book; it contains an amount of cursing that would make a longshoreman uncomfortable.)

Anyone looking for balance, meaningful remorse or nuance in this book will want to keep looking, but that shouldn’t come as a shock. “House of Nails” is written by a die-hard Lenny Dykstra fan and is best read through that filter. Given that, how well does Lenny Dykstra present the awesomeness that is Lenny Dykstra?

Like the New York Mets in the years following their 1986 World Series championship, “House of Nails” is a collection of promising parts that never quite live up to their potential. The pieces are all there – no holds barred accounts of steroid use (by Dykstra and many others); unapologetic descriptions of life on the road with two of baseball’s most notorious teams (the 1986 Mets and the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies); boasts about blackmailing umpires; an insider’s perspective on the real estate crisis of 2008; escapades with Charlie Sheen – but while the anecdotes are by turns entertaining and cringe-worthy, the potential for a bigger whole is never realized. Granted, this is a sports bio, not Shakespeare, but with a little more finesse, “House of Nails” could have been a seminal baseball book of our times: “Ball Four” meets “Scarface.”

A mythological interpretation of the story, to which I don’t think Dykstra would object (he refers to himself as “a Greek fucking statue” in a way that may or may not be tongue in cheek) would see Dykstra as a tragic figure who starts from humble beginnings and achieves greatness but is undone by a desire for the forbidden (steroids, girls, Wayne Gretzky’s house). Our hero then pays his penance and becomes a New Man. However, Dykstra’s repentance is generic and conditional (“Undeniably, I have made some monumental mistakes in my life, some of which, inadvertently, have had a negative impact on my family”) while his accounts of those whom he feel wronged him are given much more detail (“Please note that [my attorney’s] letter is dated February 28th, 2012….eight months after I was incarcerated for grand theft auto.”) Dykstra enjoys playing the tough guy card (“I called him a cunt, and [Dodgers catcher Rick] Dempsey took something that resembled a swing at me”) but also the victim (“I was placed in solitary confinement for leasing a car”) when it suits his narrative.

Dykstra’s grievances have legitimacy. Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to steroids when record-breaking home run races were filling seats and then took the moral high ground when it made them look good (and why exactly did the federal government feel the need to step in anyways?) Dykstra may have been obsessed with buying Wayne Gretzky’s mansion, the prize that would prove to be his undoing, to the point where he irrationally walked into an unsound home loan, but at the height of the real estate bubble, banks weren’t exactly known for doing the right thing either. As for Dykstra’s treatment while incarcerated, the book may only give his side of the story – but misconduct by wardens and other officials in the L.A. County jail system is a matter of record.

Ultimately, “House of Nails” could be seen as a microcosm of Dykstra’s baseball career. Hall of Fame? No. Fun to watch/read? Yes. Considering how many books and baseball players alike come and go without making an impact, one could do worse than Lenny Dykstra did both on the diamond and the printed page.

 

September 21, 2014

#86) Facebook and the NFL: When sucking doesn’t matter

Everyone’s pissed off at the NFL. Everyone’s disgusted with Facebook. Everyone will be watching the NFL this Sunday and letting Facebook know about it.  Yes, despite–or perhaps because of–their efforts to alienate their fan/consumer bases, Facebook and the NFL aren’t going anywhere.

We hate them but we can’t look away. It’s more than the car-crash-staring instinct; it’s a true love-hate relationship. Nobody hates Myspace or baseball. You can only hate something or someone that you once truly loved.

We started loving football in the 1950s and 60s. Football looked better on television than baseball.  Baseball expanded, diluting the talent pool and bringing the game to cities where it didn’t have a chance, such as Miami*. Free agency meant that baseball teams no longer stayed together. World Series games started too late but the Super Bowl was always on a Sunday and the whole family could watch it. With far fewer games than any other sport, each one was an event. We’d anticipate them and spend Monday talking about what those damn Steelers should have done differently. The NFL became so big that it thrived even without a team in the country’s second biggest market, Los Angeles. Rotisserie leagues in baseball became a thing, but NFL fantasy leagues became a bigger thing.

We started loving Facebook in the late ’00s–April of 2008, to be precise, when it officially became the #1 most visited social network site. Myspace had shown us how easy and fun it can be to put together an online scrapbook of photos, websites, songs and pithy quotations, but it had become too messy and impersonal. Facebook made connecting with that kid you used to beat the crap out of (or perhaps vice versa) back in 8th grade simple and easy. Facebook translated better to smartphones.

Then, to use Facebook relationship status terminology, it got complicated. Facebook faced questions about the privacy of its users’ information. Naysayers pointed out that it was losing ground to Instagram and Pinterest. The user experience started to seem more about getting into political arguments with virtual strangers than reuniting with long lost friends. In the NFL, Janet Jackson happened. Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress happened. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson followed. Yes, it got complicated.

Or did it?

As of this writing, Facebook is ranked as the second-most visited site in the world according to Alexa. The NFL saw a 7% increase in viewers of the first Thursday game of this season compared to the first Thursday game of last season. We may say that Facebook is dead and that the NFL only cares once its sponsors pull out. We’re going to watch anyways. According to Alexa, we’re going to spend an average of 27 minutes per day on Facebook this month. Some of us might even call 911 if we can’t log on. No number of poorly handled press conferences or allegations of privacy violations can change that.

It’s not that we buy in in spite of the fact that the NFL and Facebook suck. It’s not that we buy in because they suck. It doesn’t matter if the NFL and Facebook suck or not. We’re married to them. Myspace was our high school crush whom it was easy to leave when things didn’t work out; Facebook is our spouse.  Facebook and the NFL made good impressions on us when it counted and continued to not suck for long enough to convince us to spend the rest of our lives with them. Yes, some of us might get divorced–we all have the friend who has actually followed through on their plans to swear off Facebook and goes to the park on Sunday to feed the ducks while the rest of us watch ball–but most of us won’t. Years of marriage has taught us that fighting usually leads to great make-up sex.  Besides, is it really worth it just to have to file all of that paperwork and decide who gets what? We’ve all got better things to do.

Like watch the New York Jets and post about it on Facebook.

*Yes, I know the Marlins have won the World Series twice. Nobody gives a fuck.

February 26, 2014

#73) The best baseball game you’ve never heard of

We already know that Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was the greatest game of baseball ever played, but in this post – with a fresh new season of America’s Pastime about to get underway – we’ll look at a game played more than 50 years ago that, despite the winning team’s dramatic comeback, has been surprisingly overlooked in Greatest Game Ever Played discussions.

I speak of the second playoff game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves to decide the 1959 National League Pennant.  Until recently I wasn’t aware that there had even been a best-of-three playoff to decide the ’59 NL race, much less that the Dodgers won the second game and the pennant with a three-run ninth inning rally and another run in the twelfth.   I’m not the only baseball fan who’s been unaware of or has overlooked this game: in Bert Randolph Sugar’s “Baseball’s 50 Greatest Games”, the book to which I attribute more than any other my baseball history geekery, he passes this one over.  The game is also not mentioned on the Baseball Moments page of Major League Baseball’s official website.

Why has this game languished in obscurity?

The biggest reason may be that it wasn’t a decisive game, unlike the playoff games the Dodgers lost to the Giants in 1951 and 1962, or the famous American League East one-game playoff in 1978.  The Dodgers had beaten the Braves in Milwaukee and were not in a must-win situation when they faced Lew Burdette in the L.A. Coliseum for the second game.  The Dodgers’ comeback in the bottom of the 9th lacked a dramatic home run; they scored three runs on four singles and a sacrifice fly, and their winning tally in the 12th was the result of a throwing error.

Another factor may have been timing.  The 1959 Dodgers were a team in transition, posting a rather forgettable 86-68 record.  They still had a few mainstays from their glory years in Brooklyn – Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo to name a few – but PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson were gone and it would be a few years before Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax would reach their primes, leading the team to two championships in the ’60s.

It’s possible too that the baseball world didn’t yet take the Los Angeles Dodgers fully seriously; perhaps the team was still dealing with the backlash from having moved to L.A. the year before.  While the franchise would go on to win a total of five titles in L.A. with Koufax, Drysdale, Steve Garvey, Kirk Gibson and Tommy Lasorda all becoming household names along the way, in 1959, baseball in So Cal might have felt like the proverbial round peg in a square hole.  The L.A. Memorial Coliseum, where the team played through the 1961 season, wasn’t meant for baseball, as evidenced by the awkward playing field dimensions.

Still, one would think that a game that so perfectly illustrates what everyone loves about baseball – the unpredictability, the lack of a clock – would be better known.  If anything, the Braves, then two-time defending NL champs and boasting the bats of Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews and the arms of Warren Spahn (who won more games than any other lefty in baseball history) and 20-game winner Lew Burdette, should have given this game some cache.

Baseball fans can be guilty of selective memory.  Why did the Red Sox lose the 1986 World Series?  Because they blew two leads in Game 6, allowing the Mets to force extra innings, then after scoring two more gave up three runs in the bottom of the 10th.  They also blew a three run lead in Game 7. Bill Buckner.  When you Google search for George Brett, what comes up in the search bar?  Why, his .390 average in 1980 and his championship with the Royals in 1985, of course.  Just kidding; pine tar.  It’s ironic that in a sport that cherishes history perhaps more than any other, great moments remain overlooked.  Perhaps comparing this game to legendary contests such as the ’51 Giants/Dodgers playoff or Game 6 of the 1975 (or 1986 or 2011) World Series is a stretch, but there have been plenty of less dramatic games that have gotten more attention.

The Dodgers would go on to beat the “Go Go” White Sox in a six-game World Series.  The playoff proved to be the end of an era for the Braves, who would move to Atlanta in 1966.

December 31, 2013

#69) Top 14 of ’14! (A goal and prediction)

What’s wrong with this picture?  Why am I writing about my Top 14 hikes of 2014 on New Years’ Eve 2013 – and on this blog, not Nobody Hikes in L.A. where such a list would belong?

It’s a prediction, readers.  I am attempting to manifest my destiny for 2014 by writing about what I hope will be my top 14 hikes of next year.  Will they happen?  Maybe, maybe not; maybe I’ll discover some better ones; who knows.  I thought it would be an interesting exercise, sort of like a time capsule.  And heck, it might give you, the readers–at least those of you interested in exploring Southern California’s natural landscape–some ideas.  The links are to existing reports about the hikes; the commentary is my own fudging.  Enjoy, and see you in 2014!

#14) South Mt. Hawkins Loop.  Great hike from Crystal Lake with excellent views of the San Gabriel high country and the L.A. Basin.

#13) Dripping Springs Trail.  Long hike in southwestern Riverside County and northern San Diego County, climbing the slope of Agua Tibia Mountain.

#12) Santa Cruz Island – El Montanon and High Point.  Challenging 8-mile loop to one of Santa Cruz Island’s highest points.  (I already have two hikes on Santa Cruz Island on NHLA, but this one would cover some new ground.)

#11) Combs Peak.  Remote desert summit in the northwestern corner of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

#10) South Fork Trail.  This trail climbs over 2,000 feet through a steep-walled gorge, as the scenery dramatically changes from high desert to forest.

#9) Santa Rosa Island – Black Mountain. Strenuous eight mile hike to the highest point on Santa Rosa Island.

#8) Alta Seca Bench. This hike explores the remote high country of the Santa Rosa Mountains, providing excellent views of the desert below.

#7) Santa Barbara Island.  Like San Miguel, this is one of the more remote islands in the Channel Islands National Park, known for its wide ocean views in all directions and springtime wildflowers.

#6 ) Nordhoff Peak.  Challenging summit in Ojai with excellent views of Ventura County.

#5) High Point/Palomar Mountain.  One of San Diego’s tallest and most scenic summits.  The hike takes you from the edges of the high desert to a thick pine forest.

#4) Pine Mountain.  After Baldy, this is one of the tallest summits in the Angeles National Forest, with excellent views of the high desert, the Cajon Pass and…oh yeah, Mt. Baldy.

#3) San Miguel Island.  The most remote island in the Channel Islands National Park, San Miguel sits on the edge of the open sea, at the mercy of the elements in a way that few other places are.  Highlights include the Caliche Forest and the Cabrillo memorial.

#2) San Bernardino Peak.  Excellent, challenging hike with phenomenal views all around.

#1) San Gorgonio Mountain.  Putting So Cal’s tallest mountain at #1 is about as hard a decision to make as placing Sandy Koufax on the pitcher’s mound of an all-Jewish all star baseball team.

Well, there are my hiking goals for 2014.  Happy new year everyone and best wishes for success, prosperity and peace.

December 4, 2013

#64) The real reason Red Sox fans are upset about Jacoby Ellsbury

Red Sox fans aren’t upset about Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the Yankees; they just think they are.

Oh, they’re pissed, no doubt; at least if tweeting death wishes can be seen as a sign of being pissed.   But let’s take a step back here.  The Red Sox are the defending World Champions and have won more titles in the last decade than any other MLB team.  Many baseball pundits believe that Ellsbury isn’t worth what he wanted to be paid by the Red Sox and that the Yankees are overpaying him.  As Yogi Berra once said, in baseball, you don’t know nothin’, but it’s certainly plausible that the deal will have more of a net benefit for the Red Sox than the Yankees.

Granted, the fan who expressed hope that Ellsbury “get[s] herpes from Jeter and die[s]” might not represent the overall mentality of Red Sox Nation, but let’s face it, New Englanders can hold a grudge like nobody else (present company included).  But while the sense of outrage at having lost yet another player to the Yankees might have been justified ten years ago, before the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino”, it now comes off as a little bit petty.  From 1987 to 2001, no Boston/New England sports team won a championship, but since the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, the market has claimed more titles–8–than any other: three each for the Pats and Sox; one for the Celtics and one for the Bruins.  In the same time period L.A. has six (including the Anaheim teams) and New York has four (including the New Jersey Devils).  Boston fans have the look of the successful businessman who still resents the high school girlfriend who dumped him.

Be all that as it may, perhaps there’s a deeper explanation for why Sox fans are so outraged.  It could be that the recent wealth of Boston championships is actually the cause of the Nation’s animosity.  Before 2004, the line was always, “What are we going to do when the Sox actually win the World Series?”  It’s like prisoners who anticipate their release but once they’re actually on the outside, don’t know how to function.

My guess is that before long Sox fans will have forgotten about Ellsbury.  Sure, he’ll get some half-hearted boos when he comes to Fenway wearing pinstripes, but maybe he’s not the real problem.  Maybe Red Sox Nation misses the good old days.  Maybe they need Bucky Dent to hit the pop-fly home run.  Maybe they need Aaron Boone to hit the home run off Tim Wakefield.  And maybe, just maybe, they need the ball to go through Buckner’s legs.

September 8, 2013

#59) Miles and Manning: Score another one for the music geeks!

Note: this is a Simulblog, posted both on Positive Music Place and D-Theory.

It’s rare to hear the name  Miles Davis mentioned on any non-jazz radio station–especially a sports station–so when it happened yesterday morning I assumed that either I needed another cup of coffee to clear the fog from my head or that there was another Miles Davis being discussed; perhaps a little known tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But no, it was the Man with the Horn; the jazz legend who gave us “Kind of Blue”, “Birth of the Cool”, “Bitches Brew” and much more.  Exactly just was Miles doing on the “Weekend Warriors” sports talk show?

The guest was David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene“, and he was discussing a theme from his book: parallels between the thought processes of great athletes and great musicians.  Epstein said (paraphrasing here): “Musicians like Miles Davis and Steely Dan* are known more for what they don’t play; how they use space to shape their music; defining what’s there by what’s not there.  Similarly, an amateur quarterback, like me, would look downfield at all of the wide receivers to decide where to throw the ball while Peyton Manning looks at where they aren’t, because that’s where they will be as the play develops.”

So there you have it – an example of how seemingly disparate worlds have parallels.  In high school, the star quarterback and marching band geek may be on opposite sides of the social spectrum, but in achieving greatness after graduation, they just might have something to teach each other.

* Epstein didn’t actually mention Steely Dan; I just felt like dropping them in.