buck in st. louis

“In the frozen grip of winter…”

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I had the great pleasure of meeting Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck in 2001 when I was 14 years old.  I was an eighth grader, going into freshman year of high school.  My friend’s dad was his personal accountant and Buck had told my friend to “come say hello” whenever he made it to games that summer.  We only used that invitation once — didn’t want to be gnats — but that one visit is still fresh in my mind.

Buck and Mike Shannon would split innings sometimes; often it was a one-man booth.  Just two St. Louis landmarks, doing whatever they please and doing it remarkably well.

Buck was just wrapping up the bottom of the fourth inning.  The Cards were playing the Pirates for the 80th-or-so time that season.  He came up a couple of smalls steps toward where we were standing, in a tight lobby behind the old Busch Stadium announcer’s booth, and got a few notes from his son Joe as he strolled closer.  I don’t remember him being in bad health.  He seemed to be walking fine.

Buck shook my friend’s hand as I stood there deciding whether to be starstruck or embarrassed.  We looked a little out of place in the professional setting.  He said, “you boys hungry?” as he shook my hand, asked my name, and took us over to the press box grill.

Buck gave a quick nod to the man with the metal spatula and looked at us.  “Let me show you how to make a burger,” he said in that classic voice of his, a voice that made everything sound important, and good and worthy.  The man behind the grill tossed three patties onto the sizzling stovetop, then carefully made small cuts into the center of the meat.  “If you try to flatten it, you lose that juice,” Buck told us.  The man behind the grill agreed.  Grease is your friend at the ballpark.

Buck also grabbed a pack of Nutter Butters and poured them into a bowl.  Dessert.

We sat down at a table and I did my best to act confident, not shy.  “Pujols is awesome,” I efforted.

It was Albert’s rookie year.  And he was awesome.  “I can tell you, that guy has worked his tail off since spring training,” Buck replied.  Pujols would go on to hit 37 home runs that season with 130 RBI, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors by the ninth unanimous vote in baseball history.

Buck put mustard, ketchup and relish on each of our burgers at the table.  I was as picky as most teenagers and probably would have preferred a simple dollop of ketchup, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I was still fighting a feeling that we might be annoying a man at work.  No, a legend at work.

Buck asked my friend about his summer plans, he answered a few more Chris Farley Show-like questions from me and then he had to head back to the booth to call the bottom of the fifth.  Before he did, we snapped a picture and I asked him to sign my ticket stub.  I won’t ever lose those.

This portion of the baseball calendar always reminds me of Jack Buck, as strange as that might sound.  Beyond being a great broadcaster both on the radio and on television, he was a skilled writer of poetry.  Here’s a fitting excerpt for the January baseball fan from his poem “365.”

In the frozen grip of winter
I’m sure you’ll agree with me
Not a day goes by without someone
Talking baseball to some degree.

The calendar flips on New Year’s Day
The Super Bowl comes and it goes
Get the other sports out of the way
The green grass and the fever grows.

It’s time to pack a bag and take a trip
To Arizona or the Sunshine State
Perhaps you can’t go, but there’s the radio
So you listen-you root-you wait.

They start the campaign, pomp and pageantry reign
You claim the pennant on Opening Day

White Sox ballpark to be renamed “Guaranteed Rate Field”

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 10:  General view as members of the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins stand for the National Anthem before the White Sox home opener at U.S. Cellular Field on April 10, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Stadium naming rights have long been with us. They’re just a part of the sports landscape now. Some are pretty spiffy despite their corporate underwriting: “Great American Ballpark” could be the name of a sports facility even if it wasn’t also the name of an insurance company. “Progressive Field” could be the name of a field even an anti-corporate dude like Bernie Sanders could appreciate, at least if he’s sloppy with capitalization.

Others are clunky: “Globe Life Park in Arlington” seems to have both adjective and preposition problems, as if it were run through a foreign language translator and then back again to English. The joint in Oakland went by the name O.co Coliseum for a spell. That was for Overstock.com, but it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

At the risk of being snobbish, I think it’s fair to say that there are also higher and lower rent names as well. Banks, airlines and beer companies, however crassly commercial they are, seem a bit more respectable and venerable than, say, the fly-by-night dot com companies which named sports facilities for several years. “Chase” and “Coors” aren’t going anyplace. Those places are named after American institutions, even if they’re still corporate institutions. I’m pretty sure that circa 2001 half the stadiums and arenas in the country were named after businesses still being run out of tech incubators in nondescript office parks, their first biggest investment being the naming rights, their second biggest investment being the ping pong table in the break room.

The White Sox have long played in “U.S. Cellular Field.” This is pretty dicey as it is, given that that company is only a regional wireless provider. Fifth largest in the country. Certainly not A-list, and likely far more identifiable to more Americans as the name of a ballpark than the name of a going telecommunications concern, thereby sort of defeating the purpose of naming rights. Which must be why U.S. Cellular is getting out of the naming rights business, leaving the White Sox to find a different naming rights partner:

As the tenth largest mortgage company in the country, is there even any guarantee that Guaranteed Rate will be in business in 2030? If the choices are “it goes under,” “it gets purchased by a larger lender” and “it’s still there,” I am not putting money on the latter choice.

That aside, it’s just a goofy name for a ballpark. It’ll better lend itself to columnist jokes about bad guaranteed contracts for bust veterans than it will to spreading awareness of a financial services company. And don’t even get me started on the dissonance between the ballpark name and its tenant’s ticket price policies:

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Best work on that, guys.

UPDATE: LOL

 

Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz cleared waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 10:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies follows through on a 3 RBI double in the ninth inning off of Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 10,  2016 in Los Angeles, California. Phillies won 6-2.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz have both cleared waivers, which means the club can attempt to trade either player unimpeded. Stark adds that two teams are mulling a pursuit of Ruiz, but Howard is “virtually certain” to stay with the Phillies.

Howard, 36, has unimpressive overall stats, as he’s carrying a .198/.252/.445 triple-slash line with 19 home runs and 43 RBI in 286 plate appearances. The Phillies have limited Howard to right-handed pitching by platooning him with Tommy Joseph.

Shockingly, Howard has been one of the best hitters of the second half, as Corinne Landrey explains at FanGraphs. Using wRC+, an all encompassing offensive statistic that sets 100 at average, only Joey Votto has been a more productive hitter since the All-Star break, owning a 226 wRC+ to Howard’s 191. Howard is trailed by Freddie Freeman (179), Adrian Gonzalez (149), and Paul Goldschmidt (140).

Howard is owed the remainder of his $25 million salary for the 2016 season as well as a $10 million buyout for ’17. Despite Howard’s productive second half and even if the Phillies were to cover all of the remaining money owed, there won’t be much of a market for an inconsistent 1B/DH in his mid-30’s who can’t field, can’t run, and can’t hit left-handed pitching.

Ruiz, 37, has had a solid season, batting .261/.368/.352 in 193 plate appearances. Like Howard, Ruiz has lost playing time at his primary position to a younger player — Cameron Rupp, in this case. Ruiz is owed the remainder of his $8.5 million salary and is under contract next season if his controlling club picks up his $4.5 million option. That option may make him even more attractive to interested clubs, as Ruiz is still a valuable catcher. He has accrued 1.3 Wins Above Replacement despite limited playing time and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. A playoff-bound club could do a lot worse.