Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Bad Piece of Announcing

I was watching a little Red Sox with one of the brothers-in-law up in Cape Cod recently. The Sawx were just starting to bust out of their slump against the Jays.
Carl Crawford got one of his infrequent hits, stroking a fastball the other way, a line drive off the Monster.
"That's a good piece of hitting!" the brother-in-law exclaimed, like all of Massachusetts, hoping the $20 Million Man would finally get untracked.
A little while later, the Sox $22 Million Man, Adrian Gonzalez, followed suit. Gonzo too grabbed an outside pitch and went with it, slotting it to left for a single.
"Good piece of hitting!" said the brother-in-law.
Good piece of hitting. This would be hard to confirm (so sadly, I will not try), but I will bet my stash of baseball cards that good piece of hitting, like frozen rope and that ball was a seed!, came from Tim McCarver.

T-Mac is looking for a 'piece.'
I remember T-Mac saying "good piece of hitting" back when he was the Metsies' announcer in the '80s. (Man, we had it good!). Typically, it came when a guy went the other way with a pitch--a pitcher's pitch. And it had to be a line drive. It helped if there were two strikes on the batter. And I think it may have helped if the batter was lefty.
It took a few years, perhaps a decade--and surely McCarver's move to a national stage helped. But "good piece of hitting" turned into a cliche.
Here's a minor league Elvis Andrus slapping a pitch the opposite way on YouTube.
Good piece of hitting by 20 year old Ranger top prospect Elvis Andrus off San Antonio's Jon Ellis to plate two and win game, writes the poster.
It's at the schoolboy level too. Here's one account of a Region 1-AAAA (no idea what that means) contest between Thomas County Central and Northside-Columbus down in Georgia.

“A lot of it, they just did a good piece of hitting,” Coach Chad Parkerson said. “They hit some balls hard the other way. We probably got too much of the strike zone.”
In fact, "good piece of hitting" calls up 25,000-plus links on Google. Unlike many baseball cliches, I don't see a punk rock band named Good Piece of Hitting.
But I do see a clever essay on the phrase from Tim Marchman, then of the New York Sun. Marchman writes in "Baseball's Worst Cliche":
A good piece of hitting cannot be a home run or a solidly hit double down the line. It cannot be a bouncer, bleeder, trickler, or any other sort of hit that has eyes or relies on the misadventures of the defense. It must be hit well, but not too well, and preferably it should go the opposite field.

It isn’t just the character of the hit itself that defines a good piece of hitting, though, as the game situation plays its role as well. No hitting done by someone whose team is up by 10 runs will ever be said to be a good piece; the game should ideally be tight in order for the piece of hitting to be good. On the other hand, it’s possible to imagine a piece hit by someone whose team is down by 10 runs being hit well, although probably only if there are no outs and he’s at the front end of a rally. “That was a good piece of hitting,” the announcer will say, while we watch the player taking off his gloves at first, clapping his hands, and exhorting his teammates to keep on with the charge.

Frankly, I'm a little sad to see Tim Marchman has beat me to "good piece of hitting" by, oh, four years.
I'm an editor by trade, so I'm constantly on the lookout for easier, shorter ways to say something in print. And if you put "good piece of hitting" under the editor's microscope (for the record, we don't actually employ such contraptions), you see that "piece of" is completely superfluous. I mean, a "good piece of hitting" is one and the same as "good hitting," yes? What makes it a "piece"? A good display of hitting, or a good exhibition of hitting, perhaps. But not a piece.
Then again, no one ever accused McCarver of being succinct.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Chasin' Jason All the Way Home

After Jason Bay's perplexing power outtage at CitiField last year, he'll take any home runs he can--even the Little League variety.
Bay's return to the Metsies' lineup has been key to the club's resurgence, and an oddball four-bagger he was responsible for late last week sparked the Mets' four game winning streak.
Jay Bay and his missus

Writes the NY Times:
Bay, meanwhile, went 1 for 4 with a bloop double and scored a run on a four-base error that looked like a Little League-style inside-the-park stand-up home run.

The Little League home run. There's nothing more American: Your kid hits a dribbler to third, the third baseman throws it past first, the first baseman throws it past second as your kid scoots into the base. Finally, the left fielder throws it past third, enabling your kid to step on the plate and burst into tears of joy.
Then everyone hits Mickey D's for a celebratory Happy Meal.
The BoSox blog used the term as a proper noun to describe Bay's round-tripper:
Former Red Sox Jason Bay hit a 'Little League Home Run' last night against the Houston Astros in New York yesterday. takes it a few bases further, with a brief written history of the Little League Home Run and the Mets. In fact, the Queens Quarrelers (Bronx Bombers-esque nickname for the Mets that isn't quite there yet) have had four times in their history where a batter has touched 'em all on his own hit without the aid of a basehit.
The most recent example was two years ago -- Aug. 24, 2009 against the Phillies -- when Angel Pagan’s leadoff popup against Cliff Lee was dropped by second baseman Chase Utley. Utley then tried to throw Pagan out at second base and threw the ball away, allowing Pagan to scamper all the way around and score a run. In the end, such a break against Lee wasn’t enough, as the Phillies won anyway, 6-2.
As one might expect, you don't see a lot of Little League home runs at the Major League level.

JayBay obviously felt compelled to show the world he could hit a proper home run; on Saturday, he took D-backs hurler Barry Enright 400-plus feet to right, and could circle the bases at his leisure.

[image: NYPost]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Batter Chatter Book Review: CARDBOARD GODS

I got a review copy of Cardboard Gods sent to me recently, and my first thought was, what a perfect Father's Day gift. Cardboard Gods is about a boy's obsession with baseball cards growing up, and how those cards helped the boy cope with some considerably difficult situations growing up.

My father collected baseball cards obsessively, and still laments trading the lot of them for some crappy jalopy over a half century ago.

But the more I read, the more I realized it wasn't the right book for my father. Yet it's very much the right book for someone my age, who collected cards throughout the '70s, and for whom non-stars with mellifluous monikers like Johnny Wockenfuss and Rowland Office and Kurt Bevacqua will always be burned into my memory cells.

Author Josh Wilker's mother hopped a bus to Washington for a freedom march when he was a kid, then fell in love with a guy on the bus, and moved Josh and his brother from Jersey to Vermont so she and her new beau could live off the land with their kids. While most everyone around him had the traditional Mom and Dad, young Wilker had Mom and Tom. Neither the live-off-the-land gameplan nor the relationship ended up working out, though the latter lasted longer.

After moving to Vermont, Wilker was friends with a "farm boy named Buster who would go on to become the primary baseball news oracle for a nationwide sports information monopoly," and who also had "contagious enthusiasm" for baseball history and baseball cards.

Of course, this is ESPN's Buster Olney. While there's something strangely noble about reverse name-dropping, why Wilker chooses not to cite him by full name, or mention Olney's ubiquitous employer, is perplexing, especially since the rest of the book is so damned honest and open.

[Reached via email, Wilker says Olney wasn't fully identified because the book is more about who Buster was as a kid, as opposed to who he is now, and adds that he wasn't sure if Olney would care to be identified by full name in the book. For the record, Olney loved the book.]

Regardless, it's a terrific book. It spawned from a blog, and it shows: Each mini chapter starts off with an image of a '70s baseball card, and Wilker uses the card as a metaphor for what he was experiencing at that stage of his life. At times these metaphors are a reach, but Wilker is a clever enough writer to make up the difference.

Like any kid, Wilker adores the game's stars, no more so than Carl Yastrzemski. But the author, a clumsy, lonely kid, a perpetual outsider, identifies with the have-nots of MLB too. Cardboard Gods is at its best, and funniest, when Wilker describes the sheer WTF? cheesiness of the cards showing these lesser players.
He writes of 1975 slap hitter Eddie Leon--and himself:

I needed Eddie Leon. I needed a guy posing in a Chicago White Sox uniform while the crooked, cut-off, erroneous card he is posing on identifies him as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals and the back of the card declares he is neither a White Sox nor a Cardinal but a New York Yankee. The back-of-the-card scripture also points out that he "has been among Chisox' leaders in Sacrifices in '73 & '74."

Among the leaders. On a single team. In bunts. I don't know how you could say any less about someone without saying nothing at all.

A 1976 card showing forgotten Astros pitcher Mike Cosgrove contrasts Cosgrove's grim photo with his upbeat, full of potential image on the year before's card.

He's no longer young. The bill of his cap is misshapen, as if it has been mangled by bullies or forgotten in the rain. He wears badges of desperation indigenous to his awkward, searching decade: a perm, a dust-thin mustache. Behind him, simultaneously claustrophobic and vast, loom the unmistakable high stands of a major league stadium. He has made it; there is no joy. On the back of his card, all traces of his minor league success have been expunged, leaving only the thin gruel of a big league mop-up man destined to vanish from the game altogether before next season's set of baseball cards hits the stores.

I could give 10 examples of dead-on and hysterical card descriptions from the book, but it's too much typing, and I'd probably run afoul of fair uses rules.

Cardboard Gods is a terrifically entertaining little memoir, with flashes of Nick Hornby's delicious rendering of male obsessions and Bill Simmons' brilliant sports-meets-pop-culture riffery, and ability to amplify seemingly gossamer things to find great meaning and humor.

And as much as Wilker finds refuge in his cards, he finds it in his brother, Ian, who often wants nothing to do with his little brother, as big brothers are wont to do. Ultimately the brotherly bond prevails, and the two reconnect over the most joyous occasion either could imagine: The Red Sox World Series parade in 2004.

I previously reviewed the '70s book Big Hair and Plastic Grass in these cyber-pages. It may be comparing apples and oranges, or Dewey Evans and Bruce Boisclair, but Cardboard Gods is an infinitely more entertaining look at the game during that era (the ChiSox' short pants, Oscar Gamble's afro)--and the men whose images are printed on the little cardboard sheets.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Giants Fans are Hella On Wheels

I had a fun opportunity to pen a piece last week for the San Francisco Chronicle about a hopping little SF Giants bar smack in the middle of...wait for it...New York City.

Yes, more than a half century after the Giants bolted Gotham for the Bay Area, San Francisco Giants baseball fever is shared by all at the East Village dive Finnerty's.

Make no mistake--this post is a flat-out self-promotion, showing that I at times actually get paid to write, and am, in fact, Big in the Bay Area. But I was struck by an intriguing bit of regional patois that popped up in the piece: the use of "hella" as something of a pre-adjective.

Boston, as we well know, as its own pre-adjective in "wicked": The Sawx are wicked awful these days, Carl Crawford is a wicked good player, even if he's wicked sucked so far this season.

California, meanwhile, and really primarily Northern California, has "hella." The Giants winning the World Series was hella cool. Brian Wilson's beard is hella whack.

I grabbed a comment about Finnerty's off Yelp for the story. (Yes, I did my own reporting too.)

"I can travel all the way to the other side of the country and be surrounded by S.F. Giants logos, 49er jerseys and even a huge painted Golden Gate Bridge," wrote Cupertino's "Steph C." "I hella love NorCal."

I heard it in the bar that night too, as the Giants came up short against the hella hated Dodgers: Hella.
And when my sister lived in the Bay Area a few years back, I heard the version of hella preferred by pre-teens with conservative parents: hecka, as in, Star Wars is hecka cool. I wonder at what age you graduate from hecka to hella.
The hella cool online resource Urban Dictionary also takes a poke at Los Angeles when defining hella.

Originated from the streets of San Francisco in the Hunters Point neighborhood. It is commonly used in place of "really" or "very" when describing something.

The Fillmore is hella better than the Mission.

Thank God LA is hella far away.

The World Champ Giants (Do the headline writers call them the "Jints", like they do here in New York with the football Giants? And, on the topic of the Jints, I sat across the aisle from Jim Fassel, current coach of the Las Vegas Locomotives, from Vegas to Newark two days ago. Coach Fassel's reading material: NY Post, People. Wow, longest parentheses aside ever!) face the woeful Metsies in Queens starting May 3.

Finnerty's is hosting a "party bus" trip to the Debits Field contest May 4. But if coach buses aren't your style, I know the bar will be hella packed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Crawford Busts Out With 12 Hits in 4 AB's

We're not talking about any Curse of the Craw-bino or anything--I mean, that's got no ring to it--but the Red Sox, and their star left fielder, Carl Crawford, are clearly struggling mightily. (Real-Time Update: Sawx and Tribe are zero-zero midway through today's day game, amidst a forecast of "Light Snow" in Cleve-town.)
Red Sox manager Terry Francona seemed to single out Crawford, and perhaps Adrian Gonzalez, in his comments to reporters yesterday.
"When a hitter's struggling, you see him try to go 3 for 1," said Francona.
As any fan of the game knows, you simply cannot go 3 for 1 in baseball, just as you cannot hit the rosin bag with any true authority, and you cannot hit a five-run homer--other quirky euphemisms for trying to do too much in one at bat.
Miguel Cabrera, for one, tried his best to hit a five-run home run after letting his team down with an ugly drinking incident late in the 2009 season, with the Tigers in a playoff push.
His first game back, he went 0 for 4 and stranded six runners. "That night, I was trying to hit a five-run homer every time I came up, because I knew I had made a horrible mistake and I wanted to fix it," Cabrera said. "I was just putting too much pressure on myself."
Speaking of the beloved five-run homer, here's a nifty bit of sports satire related to Derek Jeter stroking a five-sacker to show up his movie-star-dating infield neighbor.
Alex Rodriguez crushed a grand slam home run into the upper deck last night before a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium, but later that inning his feat was quickly upstaged when teammate Derek Jeter hit baseball’s first-ever five-run homer.

Jeter’s blast flew clean out of the stadium and hit the facing of a highrise several block away. On impact the ball hit a downspout, breaking it open and freeing an adorable puppy that had been trapped inside.
Carl Crawford--and his new Sox mates--will hope for a similar smash today in Cleveland.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Aces Wild in MLB Openers

As the aces of MLB make their debuts these days, there's a fun story in the NY Times worth checking out on the importance of the "ace" in baseball.

Ace has a lot of meanings. It's an unreturned serve in tennis. It's a founding member of KISS. It's a pet detective. It's a fighter pilot with nerves of steel. It's also the product of the union between statuesque softballer Jennie Finch and former Major League journeyman pitcher Casey Daigle.

Er, is 'nice ace' too sexist? If so, then disregard.

Writes the Times:
Daigle always wanted a son named Ace, he said, and it helped that he married a pitcher, Jennie Finch, the Olympic softball gold medalist. Finch has retired from her sport to raise a family. Daigle, whose career earned run average is 7.16, will start the season in the minor leagues for the San Francisco Giants, insurance for the rotation that won the World Series last fall.

Casey Daigle is most certainly not an ace. His four year old son Ace, however, is.

(And don't get us started on "Acer", which was the nickname given to the cocky hockey goalie with the David Foster Wallace hair we went to college with...what did the girls see in him?, and is the make of the computer monitor sitting 24 inches from my face.)

An ace, in baseball, is, of course, the go-to pitcher. In college, it's the Friday Night Guy, who sets the tone for the three game weekend series.

Here's a 2011 prediction from reliable NY Post baseball reporter Joel Sherman on Mets hurler Mike Pelfrey: "...takes a step back, his ERA climbing toward 4.50 as the ace burden without Johan Santana around is too much for him." (Sherman is definitely the ace of the NYP baseball crew.)

Here's how Giants GM Brian Sabean defines an ace in the Times:

An ace, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean said, carries an aura with him before he pitches, and backs it up consistently.

“There’s a difference in your clubhouse,” Sabean said. “People are thinking, ‘This is win day.’ ”

(NY Times...definitely the ace of the New York newspaper crowd. Sorry, Sherman.)

A crew of baseball folk came up with a list of just 13 currently active Major League hurlers deserving of the title for NY Times baseball ace Tyler Kepner: Chris Carpenter, Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, Jon Lester, Lincecum, Price, Roy Oswalt, C. C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

Sabathia of course took down Verlander up in the Bronx yesterday, out-acing the Tigers' top hurler despite not getting the win.

Here's one to chew on for the weekend: If it's the National League, and a team's ace is not on deck, but one behind the guy who's on deck in the lineup, what does that make him?

An ace in the hole, of course.