Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres

RIP Jerry Coleman

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Calvin Trillin has written on more than one occasion that the best hamburger in the entire world is broiled and served at Winstead’s in Kansas City, and he insisted that his evaluation had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he grew up in Kansas City.

I agree with him. Winstead’s (Steakburgers since 1940!) does make the best hamburger in the world. And this viewpoint has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I lived most of my adult like in Kansas City. Really.

Hamburgers are one of those things that bring out the citizen in a person. Pizza is like that too. Barbecue. People may not take great pride in the place where they live. They may gripe about the local government, the school board, the traffic or the general disposition of people. They may complain about road construction or the weather or the fact that nothing stays open late enough. But, dammit, they’ll tell you that any other town’s pizza is garbage, and that the place down the road makes a barbecue sandwich that would put the finest restaurant in Paris to shame.

So, hometown pride* comes out for food. Hamburgers. Barbecue. Chili. I will forever insist the best mustard on earth is made in Cleveland, Ohio. But that pride also comes out for other things.

People love their hometown baseball announcers.

*This hometown pride factor, incidentally, does not preclude Winstead’s from being the best hamburger in the world. As Trillin wrote when reminded that everyone believes their hometown burger is the best: “Yes, but don’t you see that one of those place actually IS the best hamburger place in the world? Somebody has to be telling the truth and it happens to be me.”

After years of telling my buddy Jim that Winstead’s did indeed make the world’s best hamburger, I took him there one afternoon. He spent much of the drive over scoffing. And then he ate his first Winstead’s burger and was remarkably silent. “Well?” I asked. He looked defeated. “That’s a good burger,” he admitted.

* * *

The first I ever heard of San Diego Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman, it was for the malapropisms. Sometimes people called them Colemanisms. He was famous for them. I remember years and years ago getting a book of baseball’s greatest quotations and half of them seemed to be from Jerry Coleman. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and loving those Colemanisms. They are all over the Internet, if you feel like searching, but most I can recall from memory.

“McCovey swings and misses. And it’s fouled back.”

“They throw Winfield out at second. And he’s safe!”

“Grubb goes back. Back. He’s under the warning track.”

“Enos Cabell started here with the Astros. And before that he was with the Orioles.”

“Hi folks, I’m Jerry Gross. No I’m not, this is Jerry Coleman.”

“Larry Lintz steals second standing up. He slid, but he didn’t have to.”

“Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen.”

“On the mound is Randy Jones, the left-hander with the Karl Marx hairdo.”

“He slides into second with a standup double.”

And, of course, the all-time classic:

“Winfield goes back to the wall. He hits his head on the wall. And it rolls off! It’s rolling all the way to second base! This is a terrible thing for the Padres!”

I could read these all day. I keep a collection of them in my head. My second favorite is actually not a Colemanism but a different announcer who said, “That pitch is way outside for a ball, no, they say it hit him.” And my favorite come from my own hometown announcer, longtime Cleveland Indians play-by-play man Herb Score, who made a gaffe that I think of as a poem.

It’s a long fly ball
Is it fair?
Is it foul?
It is!

I love these calls, in part, because I am 100 percent sure that If I was a baseball broadcaster, I would make these kinds of mistakes all the time. But, more, I love them because they represent what a local announcer means to us. They are like family. We laugh with them.

See, national announcers have it tough. They have a wide, disparate audience of people — fans of the home team, fans of the visiting team, fans of neither team, people who know the game, people who sort of know the game, people who don’t know the game at all. Every time something dramatic happens in the game, a huge chunk of audience is ecstatic, a huge chunk of the audience is despondent, and a huge chunk of the audience is interested only in a detached way.

What can you say to reach all those people? Part of the magic of Al Michael’s incomparable, “Do you believe in miracles?” call was that, for a few moments (the Olympics can do this), he basically WAS a local announcer because almost everyone who was watching was rooting for the U.S. hockey team to beat the Soviets. The United States, for a moment, had become one small town. If Michaels had made the same call, say, when Eli Manning threw the touchdown pass to lead the Giants past the Patriots or when Auburn beat Alabama on the final play, the angry responses would have blown up Twitter, and, with that, the internet.

So national announcers have to be precise, they have to be even-handed, they have to be interesting without distracting, it’s a tough racket. Our expectations are all but impossible and so some people will never tire of ranting about Joe Buck or Jim Nantz or Bob Costas.

But the local baseball announcer — we don’t expect perfection. In fact, we’d be suspect of perfection. Instead, we want passion, we want consistency, we want a friend in the booth. In Cincinnati, people grew to love Joe Nuxhall not for what he said but for who he was … that daily presence on the radio who reminded you that, hey, if you swing the bat you’re dangerous.

In Seattle, people grew to love Dave Niehaus, again not so much for what he said but for who he was … that inexhaustible font of optimism and enthusiasm even through all the bad years.

Jerry Coleman died Sunday — he was 89 years old. He was perhaps the most beloved man in San Diego. It’s probably silly to quote Wikipedia here, but on there it says, “He was known as the ‘Master of the Malaprop’ for sometimes making embarrassing mistakes on the microphone but he is nonetheless popular.

The “but” is the wrong conjunction. People didn’t love him in spite of those times he jumbled up a few thoughts. They loved him BECAUSE of it. They loved him because he would laugh at himself and move on to the next pitch. They loved him because Jerry Coleman was a wonderful guy who lived an extraordinary life, a life that towered over a couple of verbal missteps.

Coleman was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines. He was the only ballplayer to serve in combat in both World War II and the Korean War.* He won two Distinguished Flying Cross medals. He was the starting second baseman for the Yankees from 1949-1951, three of the best teams in baseball history.

*Tracy Ringolsby brought this up first on Twitter and he was quickly besieged by people who brought up Ted Williams. Ringolsby pointed out, rightly, that while Williams was in combat in Korea, he was a flight instructor during World War II and was not in combat. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

He played ball with and aging DiMaggio and a young Mantle. One of Coleman’s most memorable quotes was not a malaprop at all but a story he would tell of seeing DiMaggio strike out then hurt himself kicking the ball bag. “It really hurt,” Coleman said. “He sat down and sweat popped out on his forehead and he clenched his fists without ever saying a word. Everybody wanted to howl, but he was a god. You don’t laugh at gods.”

There are 36 words, all of them perfect, a description of DiMaggio that say just about everything.

Coleman was a voracious reader, especially anything to do with history. He got into announcing through his friend Howard Cosell. He broadcast San Diego baseball every year from 1972 on, not counting 1980 when the Padres briefly made him their manager. His catch phrase “Oh Doctor!” is one of the most famous in sports. When a ball was hit high and well, he would shout “You can hang a star on that.” There’s a statue of him outside of Petco Park.

And he won the Ford Frick Award — the baseball Hall of Fame’s highest honor for broadcasters — in 2005. In his acceptance speech he told a story of the time for four innings he kept referring to Cleveland pitcher Jack Kralick as Sam McDowell.

“That put me in the Guinness book of records,” he said to raucous laughter. “‘Most innings, wrong pitcher: Jerry Coleman.’ Not many can make that statement.”

I have a friend who who will insist that while Vin Scully is great and while Harry Caray was fun, Jerry Coleman was the greatest baseball announcer who ever lived. And my friend will tell you: He’s not just saying that because he grew up in San Diego.

Mets owners get some breathing room on their Bernie Madoff settlement payments

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon stands on the field before baseball's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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For years the central fact of life of the New York Mets has been that their owners, the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, lost a ton of money after investing it with friend and business partner Bernard Madoff, perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It has hampered their payroll and led to huge amounts of borrowing and restructuring that, before last year’s pennant run, seemed like it’d be a millstone on the Mets competitive prospects for years to come.

In addition to losing money, it was later determined that Katz and the Wilpons unfairly gained in some other respects and thus they ended up having their phony earnings clawed back via a settlement with the trustee managing the fallout of the Madoff scandal.  The upshot: the Wilpons and Katz, in addition to their losses, were ordered to pay nearly $60 million dollars back, half payable this week, half payable next year. That’s a lot of money for anyone to fork over and this week’s payment loomed large.

Now, however, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Wilpons and Katz will get some breathing room. Specifically, they have modified their agreement with the trustee and some of the owed money has been deferred. Instead of some $29 million payable this week, they will only have to pay $16 million. The remainder will be paid in four installments — from 2017 through 2020 — with an interest rate of 3.5 percent on the unpaid balance, Rubin says.

Now, there obviously was no promise that the $13 million saved this week be invested in the baseball team, but it’s probably a good thing overall for the Mets if their owners’ debt payments are reduced a bit.

Mike Napoli hit a homer for a fan with cancer

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 30: Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on May 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Last night a fan named Kathi Heintzelman showed up at Progressive Field in Cleveland with a sign asking Indians first baseman Mike Napoli to hit a home run for her and to give her a hug. But there was a reason beyond her love for Mike Napoli. She’s starting chemotherapy today and the hug and homer would be a nice thing.  Hard to disagree with that, even if everyone knows that ballplayers can’t hit homers on demand.

Well, most players can’t. Mike Napoli did the easy part before the game, giving her a hug. Then in the sixth inning, he went yard:

 

Whether you believe that such things can be fated or if you merely acknowledge that Heintzelman asked Napoli for a homer at a good time — he’s on a hot streak right now and has hit bombs in four of his last 11 games — it’s a great story.

 

The Twins recall Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton
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Byron Buxton has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester by the Twins.

Buxton will replace Danny Santana, who was placed on the disabled list following a hamstring injury. But the bigger picture here is that Buxton will get a fresh go-around to show that he is the future of the Twins like so many assume he will be. The 22-year-old hasn’t hit so far in the majors, but he batted .336/.403/.603 with six homers, four steals, and a 26/11 K/BB ratio over 129 plate appearances after his demotion to Triple-A last month.

At this point the Twins, who stink on ice, need to just put their top young player in the game and let him learn to swim at the big league level rather than try to squeak out a few extra relatively meaningless wins with guys who won’t be part of the next contending Twins team.

92-year-old World War II vet throws a nifty ceremonial first pitch

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 9.04.09 AM
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Think of how many bad ceremonial first pitches you’ve seen. From the worm burners from local business owners and pillars of the community at minor league games to ex-big leaguers who obviously haven’t picked up a ball since they retired to the famous celebrity ones that go viral the next day, there are probably a lot more bad first pitches out there than good ones.

But when the good ones come, they’re really enjoyable. And few are more enjoyable than the one which preceded yesterday’s Padres-Mariners game in Seattle. The pitcher: Burke Waldron, a 92-year-old veteran of World War II. He did it in his dress whites. He ran out onto the field beforehand. And though his catcher didn’t set up the full 60 feet, six inches away from where Waldron threw it, it was still a spiffy pitch. Way better than most: