Homecoming memories: boos, batteries, and bombs

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Obviously a brutal couple of days for Kerry Wood in his return to
Wrigley. Hopefully Eric Wedge gives him today off. Thing is, Kerry Wood
isn’t alone in experiencing a rough homecoming. While you enjoy your
Father’s Day, here’s a look back at some of the good, bad, vengeful,
and memorable games for some other high-profile players in their return
to familiar settings.

STEVE CARLTON – AUGUST 5, 1972 IN ST. LOUIS: I’d imagine this
was kind of like an “F You” performance, but probably more so because
the Cardinals stuck him on a gawd-awful team (Carlton won 27 of the 59
Phillies wins that year). Carlton threw a 5-hit shutout with 7 Ks,
which was part of this crazy 7-start stretch from July 19 through
August 13: 7-0, 7 CG (one of them 11 innings), 4 shutouts, 53 Ks, 0.42
ERA, and a 0.677 WHIP. Wow.

TOM SEAVER – AUGUST 21, 1977 IN NEW YORK: Seaver was devastated
that he was traded to Cincy. Mets fans were devastated that he was
traded to Cincy. And when he returned to Shea in late August, he
embarrassed a crummy Mets team, giving up one run and fanning 11 in a
complete game.

KEITH HERNANDEZ – JUNE 28, 1983 IN ST. LOUIS: Hernandez was
actually pissed that he got traded to the Mets because he hated New
York. He took it out on the Cardinals in the first game of a
doubleheader, going 3-for-5 with a triple and an RBI in a Mets win.

ANDRE DAWSON – APRIL 24, 1987 IN MONTREAL: The Hawk wanted out
of Montreal because the turf was taking it’s toll on his knees, and he
actually took a pay cut to play in Chicago, signing an incentive-laden
deal. Dawson surpassed those incentives as he won the MVP, and his
return to Montreal was quite memorable: 3-for-4 with 3 doubles and 2
RBI. Later in the series, he added 2 homers.

BOBBY BONILLA – JUNE 4, 1992 IN PITTSBURGH: Bobby Bo had quite a
debut with the Mets, hitting two homers (including the game-winner) in
an extra-inning win in St. Louis. But two months later, as he made his
first trip back to Pittsburgh, Bonilla was hitting .258 with only 6
bombs and Mets fans had started to hate him. Not as much as the people
at Three Rivers that night, who hurled, among other things, batteries
at the New York right fielder. He didn’t really do anything to shut
them up, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout in a 7-2 loss. He homered a
couple days later, but in hindsight, everyone probably wishes he had
just stayed in Pittsburgh.

GREG MADDUX – APRIL 5, 1993 IN CHICAGO: Cubs fans no doubt felt
betrayed that the reigning Cy Young winner fled to Atlanta, and Maddux
let them know exactly what they’d be missing on Opening Day, going 8
1/3 of shutout ball, allowing only 5 hits and striking out 4.

BARRY BONDS – APRIL 9, 1993 IN PITTSBURGH: A year after Bonilla
bolted, Bonds signed with the Giants for a then-record 6-year, $43.75
million deal, which killed baseball for good in Pittsburgh and was also
the inspiration for Wesley Snipes’ character in The Fan. The
still-skinny Bonds was obviously booed, although as we saw in later
years, he seemed to feed off the negative energy, ripping a double and
a triple in a loss. The Giants would win the next two games in the
series despite Bonds going hitless.

WADE BOGGS – MAY 21, 1993 IN BOSTON: Boggs went 4-for-4 with a
walk in his return to Fenway, and I’m not gonna bother to look up where
the hits went because I’d like to think they were all opposite line
drive singles over the shortstop’s head.

ROGER CLEMENS – JULY 12, 1997 IN BOSTON: Red Sox GM Dan Duquette
famously said that Clemens was in the twilight of his career after
Clemens signed with Toronto after the ’96 season (come on, how was he
gonna know Clemens would start taking horse steroids and forge a
friendship with Brian McNamee), and that just added to Clemens’ rage.
In one of the greatest “F You” performances ever, Clemens went 8
innings, giving up 4 hits, 1 run, and struck out 16 batters. To cap
things, he stared straight at the Duquette and the rest of brass up in
their suite as he walked off the mound at the end of his day.

MIKE PIAZZA – AUGUST 28, 1998 IN LOS ANGELES: A contract dispute
helped force a trade from the Dodgers to the Marlins, and when Piazza
returned to L.A. a couple months later as a Met, he seemed eager to
stick it to management. Big Mike homered to get the Mets on the board
and then scored the winning run in extra innings. He would hit 7 homers
in Dodger Stadium as a member of the Mets.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ – APRIL 16, 2001 IN SEATTLE: You’re not gonna
believe this, but the Seattle fans didn’t greet A-Rod with open arms in
his first game back as a Ranger. But instead of batteries, they
showered him with fake money, and you know A-Rod heard every single one
of the 45,657 who booed him that night. He singled in the middle of a
Texas rally to get them back in the game, but finished 1-for-5 in a 9-7
loss.

MANNY RAMIREZ – JULY 3, 2001 IN CLEVELAND: Can’t really blame
Manny for leaving the great city of Cleveland for the 8 years and $160
million that Boston threw at him. Don’t tell that to Indians fans
through, who predictably booed him during BP, introductions, the video
montage on the big screen, and when he singled in his first at-bat.
Still unclear if Manny actually knew what was going on or where he was,
but he got 2 hits that night and went 5-for-13 for the series, so his
game wasn’t affected much.

JASON GIAMBI – APRIL 23, 2002 IN OAKLAND: Oakland fans lustily booed Giambi when he showed up as a Yankee, but it’s tough to blame them since this was before the Moneyball
secret was out and they knew there was a plan in place to keep the team
competitive despite losing all the big free agents. Giambi got 2 hits
including a double as the Yankees won, and no question that he
celebrated afterwards by demolishing a porterhouse, probably at
Kincaid’s.

FRANK THOMAS – MAY 22, 2006 IN CHICAGO: White Sox GM Ken
Williams had some not-so-nice things to say about The Big Hurt at the
end of his stay in Chicago, so Thomas probably didn’t feel too bad
about his return with the A’s, ripping 2 solo homers in a loss.

PEDRO MARTINEZ – JUNE 26, 2006 IN BOSTON: Pedro didn’t leave
Boston on the best of terms with management, but the fans still loved
him, and even though his return to Fenway was two years later, he got a
crazy ovation. Didn’t really work out for him though, as he left
trailing 8-0 after 3 innings. Lastings Milledge didn’t help him out,
missing a pop-up in left which led to 2 runs, but he also gave up 8
hits and a homer to Alex Gonzalez, and people thought that the emotions
were too much for him. Turns out he was injured, and didn’t make a
start for another month.

OTHER NOTABLES

DARRYL STRAWBERRY – MAY 7, 1991 IN NEW YORK: 1-for-4, HR, 2 RBI

ROD CAREW – APRIL 17, 1979 IN MINNESOTA: 1-for-4, K … SERIES TOTAL: 6-for-12, 4 R, 2 RBI, 3 2B, 2 BB

JOSE CANSECO – SEPTEMBER 30, 1992 IN OAKLAND: 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 2 BB

JOE MORGAN – APRIL 29, 1980 IN CINCINNATI: 1-for-4, R, SB … SERIES TOTAL: 5-FOR-12, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R

PAUL MOLITOR – JUNE 25, 1993 IN MILWAUKEE: 1-for-4, RBI

SCOTT ROLEN – AUGUST 16, 2002 IN PHILADELPHIA: 2-for-4

JACK MORRIS – MAY 19, 1991 IN DETROIT: 4.0 IP, 7 H, 8 R (4 ER), 3 K, 6 BB, 3 HRA, LOSS (8-3)

TOM GLAVINE – MAY 24, 2003 IN ATLANTA: 3.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 2 HR, LOSS (10-4)

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.