Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Classic card of the week


Alvin Dark, 1993 Ted Williams Card Company Collection

This week we return to the well that is “The Ted Williams Card Company” collection, in which Ted Williams himself –- or, more likely, someone other than Ted Williams –- selects a handful of old-timey baseball players and creates new baseball cards for them so that we, the baseball-card-buying public, can fantasize about what it would be like to have an actual card of one of these guys from their playing days, instead of something that is worth four cents.

Today we feature Alvin Dark. Back of the card, holla atcha boy:



While most managers come from the ranks of major-league players, not many have careers as successful as Alvin Dark’s.

I have major problems with this sentence. This card is from 1993. I’m certain that many of the young baseball fans who came across this card had no idea who Alvin Dark was, much less that he was also a manager who last managed a game in 1977. This sentence assumes that it is common knowledge that Alvin Dark was a major league manager. There is no other mention of his managerial career on the back of the card, which leaves the onlooker more confused about Alvin Dark than before, when he or she did not even know that Alvin Dark ever existed.

Also, this sentence implies that few players go on to have managerial careers as successful as Alvin Dark’s, which is not, I think, true, or, more importantly, the point. Here is how an informative sentence about Alvin Dark would read if a moron did not write it:

While most managers –- did I mention that Alvin Dark was a manager? No? Well, he was! -- come from the ranks of major-league players, not many had playing careers as successful as Alvin Dark.

But enough about grammar and sentence structure. Let’s talk about what I assume was Alvin Dark’s nickname and not just a random racial epitaph on the back of a baseball card:

“Blackie”

Yikes. Many of you may recall the racial undertones of previous Ted Williams Card Company features. Here we are informed that a man named Alvin Dark was nicknamed “Blackie.” It’s hard for me to believe that this was not a playfully derogatory nickname given to him based on his surname. Which begs the question: Why mention this? Like, ever? Seriously…”Blackie?” You're going to bring that one back in 1993 for another generation of kids? Bad times all around.

Wikipedia –- while acknowledging this nickname –- mentions that Alvin Dark was also know as “The Swamp Fox.” That’s pretty cool…why not use that one instead here? Especially considering that (if you read on in the Wiki link) Dark himself apparently made some suspect racial comments in his day.

Well...poor sentence structure and racism make this arguably the unfunniest Classic Card ever featured here. For that, I apologize. In an effort to correct that, and to make light of an otherwise very offensive nickname, I hereby direct you to an old SNL skit featuring Michael Jordan as "Blackie"...which I could not find the link for. Enjoy nothing!

Did you know?

Ted Williams' original desired list of players to be featured in his personal collection included "Stocky" McDougal, "Clam Hands" Johnson, "Kidney Stone" Hannigan, and "Racist" Larry, who was an equipment manager for the Red Sox in the 1940's.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Riding a bike: It's like riding a bike

Note: This column appears in the 7/30 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/31 issue of the Peoria Times

I have started riding a bike again.

I had vowed to buy a bike from the moment we first moved here. Of course, I vowed to buy many things upon moving here and discovering the Arizona lifestyle, things that included a golf cart, a pool, an RV, a mister system, one of those Hummer / golf cart hybrids with the iron bars that families in our neighborhood use to go trick or treating, a barbeque built into a giant slap of concrete, and yes, a cowboy hat. To my surprise, many of the things on my wish list cost more money than I had anticipated, and I still cannot foresee a scenario in which it would be appropriate for me to wear a cowboy hat, nor can I find one that fits in a way that would prevent people from saying, “Look at that idiot in the cowboy hat.”

My most feasible desired item remained a bicycle. I saw myself riding my bike on a beautiful November morning next to my wife on her, more womanly bike. We would ride our bikes on the paths that weaved throughout our neighborhood and that hugged the desert landscape, and we would drink coffee with one hand and operate our bikes with the other. Inevitably we would run into our great new Arizona friends who were riding their bikes, and they would subsequently invite us over to their pool party, which would be awesome, because we don’t have a pool.

The only thing preventing me from realizing this dream was actually going to the store and buying a bike. Yet, I never did. I may have subconsciously been thwarted by the fact that I know nothing about bikes.

Opportunity arose a few weeks ago when a coworker of mine was helping a neighbor of his sell some stuff as he was moving out of state. He had a nice mountain bike he was looking to get rid of. So I bought it.

My wife -- who by the way, was never as enthusiastic about my morning-path-riding dreams -- was skeptical about my purchase, especially considering that two foster kids at home did not exactly leave much time to ride aimlessly around the neighborhood. Nevertheless, I couldn’t wait to take it for a spin.

It had been approximately 20 years since I had ridden a bike, so getting back on was kind of awkward, but also a thrill. I stayed on the sidewalk and the paths, as I loathe bikers in the street, and I really, truly enjoyed whizzing around town and just taking it all in.

The next time out I tried to test the mountainness of my bike by taking it down a small dirt path towards a paved one. I hit a rock and jumped off the bike before it tumbled to the ground, breaking off one of the reflectors in the process. The important thing was that nobody was watching. Because of that incident, I have yet to recapture the fearlessness of my youth. When I come to a curb, instead of just jumping it like I did back in the day, I come to a complete stop and then awkwardly lift the bike onto the sidewalk and continue riding. The only way I could look dorkier was if I were wearing a cowboy hat. Or, ya' know, the helmet that came with the bike.

Still, my new bike is great. I love riding around and shifting gears and stuff like I know what I’m doing. I love being able to do something outside in the summer without melting, as the hot breeze induced by riding a bike is strangely refreshing. I’m living the Arizona lifestyle out there, and that makes me feel good.

The only thing left to do is to get my wife a bike. Riding around alone is getting old.

I also need a new reflector.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Classic card of the week


Matt Nokes, 1988 Topps

In 1988, Matt Nokes was awarded by Topps the “All-Star Rookie goblet.” And rightfully so, as Matt Nokes, drunk off of goblet juice, hit 32 home runs in 1987, his rookie season. Unfortunately for Matt Nokes, this proved to be the best season of his career, although he did play pretty good ball for the Tigers and Yankees thereafter.

I hope that opening paragraph whet your pallet. Because if you are like me, you want to know more about Matt Nokes. Like, right this freakin’ second. For example, did Matt Nokes –- professional baseball player -– enjoy playing baseball?



Matt played Little League, Babe Ruth League, and Palomino League Baseball.

That is noteworthy because, as many people know, most professional baseball players do not start playing baseball until college, if that. Albert Pujols, for example, was drafted directly out of an insurance company cubicle, and showed up wearing jorts for his first minor league game. So Matt Nokes obviously had a leg up on the competition from the get-go.

But all play and no play make Matty a dull boy, no? Did Matt Nokes’ focus on baseball adversely affect his repertoire of pastimes?

His variety of pastimes includes going skiing, fishing, and playing guitar.

Matt Nokes: Renaissance man. In the span of 48 hours in the offseason of 1991, Matt Nokes skied the advanced trails of the Rocky Mountains backwards, caught a 12-lb flounder while fishing with his dad, performed with his two-man band “Hall & Nokes” (on vocals? Yes –- Mel Hall) at the Carlsbad Greek Festival, and hit two doubles in a Dominican Winter League game.

But baseball “is what Matt Nokes best,” as the many people affected by Matt Nokes like to say. That is why he started his website, where you can buy many Matt Nokes-related videos and learn more about riding and striding.

What's that? You don't know about riding and striding? You are so weird. Let’s find out what Darryl Evans and his 414 career home runs have to say:

“Matt’s quickly becoming well known around the country for coining the term ‘RIDE AND STRIDE.’”

That’s what she said. Also, you should know that every time you use the term “ride and stride” you have to pay Matt Nokes one dollar. If you are like me, you owe Matt Nokes zero dollars.

It should also be mentioned that this method is part of "The Pyramid of Hitting," in which the second step of the pyramid is: "Blocking." All of this will make sense when you purchase the DVDs. In the meantime, back to Darryl Evans:

“It’s a timing technique and a mechanical Absolute!”

Geez, Darryl Evans. Is this technique also a vodka? Because that is the only reason you would capitalize absolute. Also, “a mechanical Absolute?” That makes Absolutely no sense. I am no longer listening to Darryl Evans. But I would nevertheless like to know more about the advantages of the Ride and Stride method:

Allows the hitter to find his center of rotation and eliminating any leaking energy.

Matt Nokes’ website: 1
The English language: 0

Potential professional baseball player: I don’t know, Matt Nokes. When I’m up at bat, I can’t seem to find the center of my rotation. And my energy is leaking everywhere. Last week I leaked my energy all over home plate and the umpire had to call in a hazmat crew to clean it up.

Matt Nokes: I think I have just the thing for you.

Did you know?
If you reach the top of Matt Nokes' "Pyramid of Hitting," you get to ski down it with Matt Nokes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Allstate report confirms the obvious

Note: This column appears in the 7/23 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/24 issue of the Peoria Times

There are two things that the newcomer instantaneously realizes about the Valley: 1) it is hot, and 2) the drivers are awful.

I have written about the driving here before. To no avail, apparently, as little has changed. Thankfully, my opinions have recently been echoed and backed up with lukewarm evidence.

Allstate released its “America’s Best Drivers Report” last week. (In the car insurance world, this is the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue release. Except sexier.) If you haven’t read the report then I don’t want to ruin the ending, but let’s just say that we lost.

Not quite a surprise, considering that the most noise Valley residents make is in opposition to measures that make driving safer, like, oh I don’t know…traffic cameras. Still, for me personally, it feels good to know that Allstate has my back, and that I am not turning into an 80-year old man shaking my fist at passersby on the highway. Although I still do that.

The report considered 200 of the largest cities in the U.S. and based its rankings on car collision statistics. Glendale checked in at a modest 71st, earning the coveted black ribbon. According to the report, this means a Glendale driver is 3.6 percent more likely to be involved in an accident that the “average American motorist.” (The average American motorist is Pat Sajak. Weird, right?!)

Peoria is worse, ranking 88th (we are 7.7 percent more likely to bulldoze someone). And Phoenix was 95th, although that ranked No. 1 among American cities boasting a population over 1 million. The report failed to mention that a large percentage of accidents in Phoenix are avoided when drivers realize that there is nowhere to go in Phoenix and then turn around, illegally.

So even based on minimal information, the Valley is a dangerous place to operate a vehicle. I imagine that if there were a means to gather data that measured near collisions and an overall disregard for traffic laws and human life, the Valley would have ranked considerably lower than it did. This is, after all, one of the few states that doesn’t think helmets are a good idea and doesn’t mind people riding in the bed of pick-up trucks. As long as the gun rack is strapped in safely.

On the roads, it is still The Wild Wild West here. Horses have been replaced by monster pick-up trucks that have dragons on them and that sit absurdly high up on gigantic tires that take up eight lanes. If you have any piece of machinery with wheels, you can legally drive it on the roads here. People drive golf carts with license plates. (Absolute true story: Last summer I pulled into a Safeway in Sun City and at a four-way stop, a woman riding a golf cart with a confederate flag flying from it waved me through. That was the exact moment it hit me that I wasn’t in New Jersey anymore.)

So Allstate obviously did not consider everything when making these rankings. Ironically, they seem to take all of these factors into account when computing Valley car insurance rates, which remain some of the highest in the country. I don’t have Allstate, but last year I received a small discount for wearing a helmet when I drive my Subaru Impreza. Just so I fit in, it has a dragon on it.


That's me by the front tire. Wave!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Classic card of the week


Jack Clark, 1991 Score

Jack Clark –- seen here leaving his bat magically suspended in thin air so that the hitter behind him will not have to drag his bat all the way from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box -- was awesome. Jack Clark’s awesomeness is even more awesome when one considers the various obstacles that he bravely endured throughout the course of his major league career. The year of nineteen-hundred-and-ninety was especially cruel for one Jackson Clarkson:



Jack managed to survive a herniated disc in his lower back,

You have to remember -– this is 1990 we’re talking about here. The fatality rate of herniated disc cases was over 97%.

a fractured cheek bone

How a person can play baseball with a fractured cheek bone is beyond me. Though, I imagine that it’s similar to the experience of playing baseball after you’ve been hit in the cheek bone with a baseball. Uncomfortable, though not impossible, since you don't need your cheek to swing.

and a number change (to 00) to smash over 20 homers for the 10th time in his career in ’90.

One can only imagine the physical and emotional trauma that occurs as a result of the personal decision to change your uniform number to a different uniform number. When you are changing this number from a positive integer to a double-zero, well…most players just never recover.

A 1998 scientific study conducted by several hundred non-licensed and anonymous therapists explored the implications of humans changing their uniform numbers to double-zero and the largely disastrous results. The study revealed that while some players do this out of self-pity –- "Look at me, I am nothing! No, worse yet, I am double nothing!" – most players make the change out of arrogance, believing that their talent is so otherworldly that it will overcome the fact that they have two big zeros on the back of their shirt. It is uncertain which school of thought Jack Clark was registered at. The point is –- he survived it.

Also, I’m sorry but…“smash over twenty homers?” That seems like an extreme verb for 25 home runs. I mean, 25 ding-dongs is good and all, but I wouldn’t use "smash" there. You smash 40 home runs. You hit 25. Unless, of course, each of Jack Clark’s 25 dingers in 1990 were hit really, really, really, really hard:

A dead fastball hitter with one of the hardest swings in the game,

Well alrighty then. In a local San Francisco cable commercial for a furniture outlet filmed while he played for the Giants, Clark introduced himself as such: “Hello. I’m Jack Clark. I work hard. I play hard. I swing hard. I herniate my lower back hard. But most of all, I buy furniture hard.”

He can still turn a game around with one swish of his bat.

I am honestly uncertain whether this is a typo, or if the author is trying to convey the hardness with which Jack Clark swings by using the word swish. Because, ya’ know, technically, swish is the sound of a strikeout, and a Jack Clark strikeout would not turn a game around, but keep it exactly the same. I’m just saying.

Did you know?
The story of Jack Clark was the inspiration behind the Destiny's Child hit "Survivor."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The scorpion: Because then everyone would want to live here

Note: This column appears in the 7/16 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/17 issue of the Peoria Times

When we informed our family over two years ago that we were moving to Arizona, the reaction was predictably mixed. They were happy for us, but sad to see us go. It was my uncle however, that had some practical advice: Watch out for scorpions.

This advice has proven to be invaluable, especially considering that every single person we initially asked about scorpions upon moving here reacted indifferently. I have come to believe that this is a vast conspiracy, and that every person who lives in Arizona privately acknowledges not to make a big deal out of scorpions when newcomers ask. The state brochure should read, “Arizona: What scorpions?”

I cannot tell you how bonkers it drives me when people do not react with the proper indignation when it comes to this subject. Arizona is home to the bark scorpion, which Wikipedia -- my source for all social, spiritual and scorpion-related information -- describes as being the only species “capable of causing lethal reactions in humans.” Hey, no big deal! It’s just death…what are you gonna do, ya’ know?

When we came across our first scorpion –- a bark scorpion, in our closet, thank you very much –- a few weeks after moving here, my wife and I reacted as if we were both on fire, and I eventually ended up smashing the thing with my flip-flop until the particles of the scorpion were no longer distinguishable to the human eye. There have been other encounters, several of which have resulted in me leaving panicked voice mail messages for our “bug guy” at midnight on a Saturday.

Can we blame this on the economy? Actually, yes. Due to the real estate crisis and foreclosures resulting in vacant houses that aren’t treated, we have seen more scorpions this summer than ever. All bark scorpions of course. Feeling frustrated, defeated, and more concerned now with two foster kids and a small dog at home, we decided to take matters into our own hands, vigilante-style.

My wife and I became vegetarian hunters.

Scorpion hunters.

Based on the recommendation of a friend with similar concerns, we took drastic action. I purchased a black light online (blacklight.com). It’s called – no joke – The Arachnid. Now, before we go to bed at night, we take The Arachnid, a pair of pliers, a glass mug, and whatever courage we can muster outside and we hunt scorpions.

First of all, you cannot believe how The Arachnid illuminates a scorpion. Totally exposes it in florescent green. Then I grab it with the pliers, ideally crushing its insides, and drop it into the mug which it cannot climb out of (because they cannot climb glass, and because I just cut it in half). Then we transfer it to a closed container and leave it there to die and think about the harm it has caused by being a scorpion.

(It should also be mentioned that the black light illuminates other things as well, most notably paint stains. Because we have several paint stains on the rocks outside, and on the carpet in our bedroom, I have almost had about twenty heart attacks as a result of shining the light on one of these stains and thinking a gargantuan and impenetrable-by-pliers scorpion has taken over our property. The same stains do this to me every night. Also, because we do this right before bed, I have had nothing but scorpion-related dreams for the past two weeks. The other night I dreamt I had a scorpion dentist. Needless to say, this entire endeavor has been an exhausting assault on my senses.)

We caught six scorpions in the first five nights, including a baby that I showed no mercy to. And that six isn't counting the two that got away (into our neighbors yard...sorry, buddy!) I think the fugitives have spread the word to the others, as activity has slowed. But we remain vigilant.

Eventually we would like to attach The Arachnid to a hardhat and wear Dickies suits and goggles and film a realty show. If anyone important is reading this, call us.

Oh, and if any of our family is reading this, come visit us! It’s awesome here! What…scorpions? Pffttt. They’re no big deal.


When we put the black light on these guys, they hissed and ran away.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Classic card of the week


Steve Lake, 1991 Score

So many words come to mind when I think of Steve Lake. Intense. Gamer. Mullet. Steve. Sweaty. Chest protector. Rainbows. Omg, I just called a fastball down broadway that was hit 600 feet, but I’m going to pretend it was a pop up. Eye black.

It becomes difficult to gather all of these thoughts and words and emotions re: Steve Lake together to form one, all-encompassing statement. But difficult is not always impossible. Back of the card, take us home:



Steve is the best defensive backup catcher in the league.

Splam. Pop! Take it the biz-nank. Of all the catchers in the entire league (just National, not Major…I think) not good enough to start, Steve Lake is the best. At defense. And if you think this is an arbitrary statement just carelessly tossed out there to add some pizzazz to the otherwise pizzazzless resume of Steve Lake, here are some stats to back that up:

Unhappily,

How did we get to “unhappily” already? We have barely scratched the surface of Steve Lake’s backup defensive prowess. I am, indeed, sad.

he wasn’t available to the Phillies for just about all of the second half of ’90 because of a sprained little finger on his right hand.

This certainly casts a dark shadow over my perception of a tough, mustache-owning, welder-by-trade Steve Lake. But, as everyone knows, you can’t backup catch without a fully operable pinky finger.

When he was healthy in ’90,

Which was: rarely.

Steve threw out five of the first seven runners attempting to steal on him.

This is Exhibit A in the case of Steve Lake, Best Defensive Backup Catcher in League vs Whatever You Think. No one dared to run on Steve Lake ever again, except that eighth guy, who, obviously, reached safely. However, in his defense, that was the exact throw that caused Steve Lake’s pinky finger to fall off.

When No. 1 catcher Darren Daulton missed two straight games against the Astros, Steve stepped right in

As was his job.

and went 5-for-9.

That is some serious defense.

He also gunned down the only runner foolish enough to try and steal second.

In the modest sample size of two games, Steve Lake was the best baseball player of all time, with a .555 batting average and one (1) foolish baserunner murdered (fbm). Unhappily, there were other games.

In ’89, Steve made only three errors, did not allow a passed ball and tossed out 50 percent of would-be base stealers (24 of 48) in 55 games.

Actually…that’s really good. I mean, yeah. Geez. I have nothing to add, except to argue that if this was the second sentence of this tidbit instead of the last -– and if everything else was left out -- the back of this card would read much better. Nevertheless, court adjourned.

Did you know?
After gunning down a would-be base stealer during a spring training game in 1988, Steve Lake yelled out, “How’s that for pizzazz?!” and then thrust his groin in the direction of a stunned crowd.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tough economic times cause indefinite construction

Note: This column appears in the 7/9 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/10 issue of the Peoria Times

I have some bad news for anyone currently waiting at a Glendale light rail stop.

You might want to catch the bus.

It was revealed last week that the proposed Glendale light rail project will be delayed by “at least two years,” which, in government-controlled construction terms translates to: 30 years.

The current economic circumstances have made building a light rail less of a priority, apparently. Still, this is a surprise, especially considering the vast popularity of the Phoenix light rail, which has experienced no problems. Unless, of course, you count accidents, the reported mistreatment of its operators, and a general state of confusion as it relates to where it goes and why you would ride it.

In fact, the Glendale delay is Phoenix’s fault, as the city is forced to wait on the construction of Phoenix’s 19th Avenue extension, which itself has been pushed back from 2012 to 2014. So while everybody waits on Phoenix, Glendale’s light rail system is also hampered by the tiny fact that no one has decided where, exactly, it is going to go.

Details, details.

Yes, it remains undecided whether the light rail will run into downtown Glendale, or towards Westgate. If the decision (to be made, ya’ know…whenever) is Westgate, then that is predicated on the extension of Interstate 10, which has also been pushed back to the year 2021. Can’t wait!

While I understand the urgency of the recession and how the budgets for certain projects have been affected –- no one needs to ride the light rail to the job they don’t have –- I cannot grasp how multi-million dollar projects are simply left in a state of flux. It would seem to me that construction generates jobs, and that it would be in the city’s best interest to complete a project that itself will be a revenue generator –- like, for example, a light rail -– as quickly as possible, instead of incurring the additional costs of letting things sit. But hey…whatever.

For me personally, my daily ride to and from work has been adversely affected by the Loop 303 extension currently moving at a snail’s pace in Peoria. For the past few months construction has been going on there, and by construction I mean that there is dirt, some trucks parked on the dirt, and traffic cones regulating everybody into one lane and making my daily commute 20 minutes longer. The pure joy of passing this construction zone each day only to see that absolutely nothing is going on cannot be described in mere words, only hand gestures.

To make matters even more enjoyable, the speed limit in this area –- and in many construction areas, such as that on Deer Valley in between 83rd and 91st Ave -- is reduced to like, three miles per hour. And if you think the police haven’t taken advantage of that, then you are indeed mistaken. One would think that the traffic ticket revenue generated from construction zone speed limits would be enough to complete the construction itself, but apparently not.

Nevertheless, should you generate enough speeding tickets while going 30 miles per hour through a construction zone to lose your driver’s license, don’t fret – the light rail is coming.

But I hope you’re not in a rush. No one else is.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Classic card of the week


Frank Viola, 1991 Score Dream Team

Here is a picture of Frank Viola wearing a black turtleneck and holding up an apple. For further explanation, let’s head to the back of the card:



Frank was “Sweet Music” to the Mets in ’90.

Frank Viola’s nickname was Sweet Music because his last name, Viola, is also the name of a bowed string musical instrument that is part of the violin family. Therefore, many considered the manner in which he pitched to be, metaphorically speaking, as sweet as the music generated from the instrument that bore his name. Hence, an apple.

Throwing what many consider to be the best changeup in the game, he won his first seven decisions and ended up a 20-game winner for the second time in three years.

Changeup is code for apple.

A happy man with a lot of little kid in him

Frank Viola was –- and hey, knowing Frank Viola, which I don’t, probably still is -– a happy fella, which is good to know. This, unfortunately, did not stop Chris Hansen from confronting Frank Viola after misreading that last sentence. Also, apples!

Frank delivers every pitch the same way so that a batter doesn’t know whether he’s getting a fastball, changeup, or curve.

This is an attribute of pitching that is exclusive to Frank Viola, and thus, warrants mentioning. Other major league pitchers at the time were often victims of their own inability to repeat their delivery regardless of the pitch being thrown. For example, Dave Righetti would twist his left nipple before throwing a changeup. Dennis Rasmussen would wear his hat to the side when he was about to throw a curveball. And Viola’s own teammate, Ron Darling, was known to involuntarily yell out “fastball a’ comin’!” before throwing his two-seamer.

The point is this: Even when Frank Viola was pitching an apple instead of a baseball, you would never know it by his delivery. That is why he was so good. That is why he was on the Dream Team. He was also a painter.

"He's an artist," said Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, "I enjoy watching him work."

Frank Viola, as a metaphor: musical instrument, third-grade boy, artist, thrower of fruit.

Did you know?
Frank originally caught the eyes of scouts while pitching for the Long Island Sprockets.