Kirby Puckett, 1960–2006

In the fall of 1990, I went to see a Twins-Roy­als game in the Homer Dome. Do I need to men­tion that the Roy­als were not con­tend­ing for a play­off spot? They weren't, and nei­ther were the Twins. There were approx­i­mate­ly 1000 peo­ple there, but the rare assort­ment of play­ers on the field has made the game stick in my mem­o­ry. Roy­al leg­end George Brett was lock­ing down a bat­ting title in a third decade.[1] Bo Jack­son was about to play his last base­ball game at full strength. And Kir­by Puck­ett was in his prime, smil­ing, clown­ing, and inspir­ing even the Roy­als fans (me and my friends) among the crowd to cheer for him.My friends and I had an entire left-field sec­tion to our­selves, and the Metrodome's infa­mous acoustics com­bined with the absence of peo­ple pro­vid­ed my friend Adlai with a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to ensure that Twins fan favorite Dan Glad­den heard his every com­ment about his mul­let. It also afford­ed us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear Kir­by clown­ing around with peo­ple in the cen­ter field bleach­ers. At that point, no one could argue that Puck was any­thing but a great guy. He was fun; the Twins were good; the Twins infa­mous­ly fair-weath­er fans didn't real­ly seem to appre­ci­ate him at that moment, but he didn't let it get to him.A lit­tle over a year lat­er, his hero­ics would pro­pel the Twins to anoth­er World Series cham­pi­onship, and his leap­ing Game 6 catch, com­bined with the game-win­ning dinger, would com­prise one of the great all-time clutch per­for­mances. Every­thing after that seemed out of character.[1] At this point, this seems even more remark­able than it did then. Seri­ous­ly, who else is going to pull that off? Todd Hel­ton in 2011? Maybe, but not likely.

baseball lit reviews

Books / Game of Shadows

I was just watch­ing ESPN's Open­ing Day cov­er­age of the Braves-Dodgers game, and the con­ver­sa­tion between com­men­ta­tor Erik Kar­ros (wasn't he Rook­ie of the Year like 5 years ago?) and Rick Sut­cliffe turned to steroids. Kar­ros couldn't con­tain him­self. He blus­tered and ram­bled for a while, crit­i­ciz­ing those who demand­ed an inves­ti­ga­tion, and basi­cal­ly rehashed Mark McGwire's non-denial denial to a Sen­ate sub-com­mit­tee: Steroids were abused in the past; the league has adopt­ed a stricter pol­i­cy; let's all move on. The mes­sage was uno­rig­i­nal — a lot of cur­rent play­ers don't want to dwell on this unsa­vory devel­op­ment — but the air of defen­sive­ness mixed with dis­dain seemed odd­ly reminscent of anoth­er guilty, defi­ant per­son — Don­ald Rumsfeld.Anyway, over the past cou­ple of days, I tore through Game of Shad­ows, the recent­ly pub­lished steroids expose by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. After a month of PR build-up and pub­lished excerpts, there weren't many surprises:

  • Bonds availed him­self of steroids. One might say, a but­t­load of steroids.
  • So did Mar­i­on Jones.
  • They're both liars.
  • So are a lot of pro­fes­sion­al athletes.

Bonds is the big sto­ry in Game of Shad­ows. If you couldn't already tell by his car­toon­ish­ly swollen neck/head and his late-career pow­er explo­sion, Bonds hasn't been play­ing fair. He admit­ted to a grand jury that he allowed his train­er (a known juicer) to place droplets of an "unknown" chem­i­cal under his tongue, and to rub an "unknown" cream on his joints. Bonds thought that these were legal sup­ple­ments — the drops were "flaxseed oil" — yeah, he actu­al­ly said that — and he implied that he'd nev­er inject­ed any­thing. Uh-huh, yeah. I'm a fan of the flaxseed oil, and I can tes­ti­fy that it doesn't make your head become like 5x big­ger. Plus, Bonds has always been a con­trol freak. Is it even remote­ly pos­si­ble that he didn't both­er find­ing out what his train­er was stick­ing in his mouth?The book reveals the Bonds was on a steroid reg­i­men that includ­ed more than "flaxseed oil," mak­ing it seem even more like­ly that Bonds per­jured him­self in front of the grand jury. Sources close to him indi­cate that he was on all sorts of injectable crap, includ­ing Decadurabolin (in the butt) and human growth hor­mone (in the stom­ach). He want­ed us to believe that it was all free weights and sprints and vit­a­mins, but it makes a lit­tle more sense that there was some secret sauce in the mix.A per­son­al note: Bar­ry, dude, seri­ous­ly. Just freakin admit it. You're like a lit­tle kid sit­ting in a pile of cook­ie crumbs, cry­ing and claim­ing that you didn't eat any cook­ies. It's undig­ni­fied, real­ly. Say "I took steroids because I want­ed to win, because every­one else was, because it's what I had to do." Fans under­stand com­pet­i­tive­ness, and you're a com­pet­i­tive guy, and steroids weren't against the rules any­way. So just fess up, you big baby. At some point, you could even ask for our for­give­ness. I mean, it's pos­si­ble. You always claim that you're not giv­en the respect you deserve. Here's your chance to earn it.

baseball the ancient past

SportsCenter catchphrases & their usage contexts

I watch so much Sports­Cen­ter that I fig­ured I'd try to chron­i­cle the non sequitors that they use to punc­tu­ate excel­lent sports moments.

  • Three beers apiece for my co-work­ers – While high-fives among team­mates are being exchanged. Deriva­tion: Shaw­shank Redemption
  • What's on the grill? — Punc­tu­ates the moment when some­one, usu­al­ly Dwayne Wade, dunks in some­one else's face, i.e. "Jason Collins, what's on the grill?"
  • Pay for my dry clean­ing! — Accen­tu­at­ed a Vince-Carter-admin­is­tered NBA play­off dunk. Deriva­tion: SNL
  • Bar­tender! John­ny Walk­er Red. — High­light involv­ing the Cincin­nati Reds.
  • _____ has pow­ers com­pa­ra­ble to Won­der­boy! — Fill in the blank with any play­er who is about to do some­thing amaz­ing in the high­light reel. Deriva­tion: Tena­cious D.
  • That's lev­i­ta­tion, homes. — Dunk that could oth­er­wise be described with the words "heli­copter," "wind­mill," or "tom­a­hawk," or any dunk by Vince Carter or Andre Igoudala in the month of Decem­ber 2005. Deriva­tion: Tena­cious D.
  • Bar­tender! Cana­di­an Club. — used in con­junc­tion with the Blue Jays, Rap­tors, or any Cana­di­an NHL team.
  • Get to the chop­per! — Var­i­ous­ly applied, e.g. Albert Pujols has just ham­mered the crap out of the ball and is begin­ning to trot around the bases; Ben Wal­lace has com­plete­ly plas­tered an opponent's dunk attempt and is sprint­ing back down­court, where he receives an alley-oop from Chauncey Billups and throws it down in some guy's face; Julius Pep­pers has just sprint­ed 20 yards in approx­i­mate­ly 1.5 sec­onds in order to light up a quar­ter­back. Deriva­tion: Predator
  • Bar­tender! Shot of Jack. — This, I think, was the orig­i­nal "Bar­tender" excla­ma­tion. Usu­al­ly used in con­nec­tion with a homerun.
  • Bar­tender! Cuba Libre — Intro­duc­ing any sto­ry involv­ing Cuba dur­ing the World Base­ball Classic.
  • Kill me, I'm here! — Gen­er­al excla­ma­tion. I've only heard this one once, and it accom­pa­nied a hock­ey high­light. Deriva­tion: Predator
  • That's it and that's all. — Usu­al­ly to punc­tu­ate a player's exe­cu­tion of a coup de grace, e.g. "Allen Iverson's three in the clos­ing sec­onds puts the Six­ers up for good. That's it and that's all." Deriva­tion: Lil Sis
  • (Always in progress)

Baseball / Palmeiro-zol

The Base­ball Hall of Fame is filled with guys who cheat­ed, played dirty, were ter­ri­ble role mod­els, drunks, jerks, domes­tic abusers, the list goes on. If any of these things dis­qual­i­fied play­ers from eli­gi­bil­i­ty, guys like Gay­lord Per­ry & Whitey Ford (cheaters), Mick­ey Man­tle (a great guy, but a drunk), Ty Cobb (a jerk) and many, many more would have been denied entry.With the excep­tion of the Pete Rose affair, his­to­ry has ruled that only two things mat­ter when it comes to HOF cri­te­ria: sta­tis­ti­cal mile­stones and World Series rings. And for Rose, all would like­ly be for­giv­en if he would suck it up and apologize.In anoth­er few years, we'll add some more char­ac­ters to the Hall's rogue gallery — the juicers. One of them will be Rafael Palmeiro, who tes­ti­fied before Con­gress that he had nev­er tak­en steroids. Palmeiro punc­tu­at­ed his tes­ti­mo­ny with fin­ger-jabs at the assem­bled Con­gress­peo­ple, a ges­ture that now seems odd­ly sim­i­lar to the tech­nique used by Jose Canseco to inject steroids into Palmeiro's butt. Yes­ter­day, Palmeiro was exposed as a juicer, and the NYT report­ed that he used the real stuff rather than some super-charged multi-vitamin:

Palmeiro said Mon­day that he had nev­er inten­tion­al­ly tak­en steroids, but stanozolol does not come in dietary sup­ple­ments and is among the most pop­u­lar steroids on the mar­ket. It can be ingest­ed or inject­ed and usu­al­ly remains in a person's sys­tem for at least a month."It's a mild­ly strong to strong steroid," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a pro­fes­sor at New York Uni­ver­si­ty who is an expert in sports dop­ing. "Potent is the word I would use."

Palmeiro will be joined by at least three oth­er juicers in the Hall: McG­wire, Bonds and Sosa. I don't begrudge these guys. They def­i­nite­ly weren't the only juicers in the game, and they would have been great play­ers with­out the 900-foot moon-shots. On the oth­er hand, I think that the Hall should find a way to express and inter­pret the unsa­vory side of base­ball: Induct Raffy and rest (Rose, espe­cial­ly), and set up a sec­tion of that con­struc­tive­ly dis­cuss­es and con­tex­tu­al­izes the behav­iors and achieve­ments of those play­ers who sought extra-cur­ric­u­lar assistance.Baseball's good guys prob­a­bly don't lose any sleep over this, but I still think that the Hall should find a way to dis­tin­guish guys like Robin Yount & Mike Schmidt (and in the future, Greg Mad­dux & Tony Gwynn). They deserve to be rec­og­nized as fair play­ers in times when play­ers sought unfair advantages.