By Vince Grzegorek
A moderately warm December has given way to a winter that seems to have had snow, ice, and cold on repeat. It wasn’t too long ago that I golfed on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in wonderfully autumn-like temperatures, but now Mother Nature is making up for lost time, and I don’t want to leave my house.
Fortunately, baseball is around the corner. With pitchers and catchers reporting soon, I figured it was time to pick up a good baseball book and wait for the snow to melt.
My choice was Game Time: A Baseball Companion by longtime New Yorker writer Roger Angell (that’s him at the top of the page), whose baseball prose is the perfect remedy for the winter blues. In many ways, in fact, Angell’s writing is the perfect antidote to the tabloid-esque news of the off-season. Instead of free agent talk, contract discussions, and steroid speculation, Angell provides stories, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. He sits down with some of the game’s greats and elicits interesting tales about their days on the diamond while steering clear of obvious or already well-known ideas.
Sometimes Angell lets the stories shine by celebrating their truthiness while ignoring, or even distorting, certain facts, until the end of the tale, citing them finally as humorous or ironic bookends to fond, but hazy, baseball memories. Sometimes what’s important isn’t what really happened — it’s what we remember happening. The effect is that you feel like you’re at spring training, or in the bleachers for a day game during June, and you have the whole afternoon to sit back and remember and tell baseball stories.
This isn’t a uni-centric book per se, but there are several interesting uni-related tidbits worth mentioning. You may already know of some of these (like the fact that Bob Gibson always wore a long-sleeved shirt under his jersey), and others you may not know, or want to (like a certain player’s underwear). Here’s a sampling:
Page 220: “Watching [Joe Wood], I recalled one of the pictures in the “The Glory of Their Times” — a team photograph taken in 1906, in which he is sitting cross-legged down in the front of a row of men in baggy baseball pants and lace-up, collared baseball shirts with “NESS CITY” across the front in block letters. The men are standing in attitudes of cheerful assurance, with their arms folded, and their mushy little baseball gloves are hanging from their belts. Joe Wood, the smallest player in the picture, is wearing a dark warmup suit, with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms, and his striped baseball cap is pushed back a little, revealing a part in the middle of his hair.”
Page 236: “Randy Myers, the ex-Met longterm subscriber to Soldier of Fortune magazine … had only lately stopped wearing camouflage underwear under his uniform.”
Page 267: “[T]he clubhouse was delighted by the arrival of the amiable all-purpose infielder, Luis Sojo, an old friend and teammate who had been in temporary residence with the Pirates. He’d been let go after the 1999 campaign — according to one story because George Steinbrenner didn’t like his habit of leaving the top button of his uniform unbuttoned.”
Page 304: “The frowsy, hard-playing Gorman Thomas is a walking strip mine. He has worn the same pair of uniform stockings — now as threadbare as the Shroud of Turin — in every game since Opening Day 1978.” [To fully appreciate the longevity of Thomas’ hosiery, consider the fact that Angell wrote this particular essay in 1982. — VG]
Page 306: “When [Willie McGee] was acquired from the Yankees in a minor-league-level swap last year, no one in either club thought to tell him about the deal, which he first learned of in a buried sports-page item, and he still wears the anonymously high uniform number — 51 — that he was given in spring training.”
Pages 350-51: “The Red Sox are also the only team whose favorite slugger, the gently ferocious DH Manny Ramirez, wears the outsized pants of the fattest player on the squad, reliever Rich (El Guapo) Garces, for the style’s sake.”
Page 357: “[There was a] recent moment, undreamed of in “Field of Dreams or “Casey at the Bat,” when Omar Vizquel, the Indians shortstop, complained to an ump about the distracting earrings sported by Seattle reliever Arthur Rhodes, and won an on-the-spot disjewelment… [Incidentally, the next pitch Rhodes threw after being forced to remove his earrings was around Vizquel’s head, inciting a brief war of words and Rhodes’s ejection from the game. –VG]
Page 383: “Now it’s happened. Jackie Autry, [Gene Autry‘s] widow, produced his white cowboy hat at the on-field award ceremonials after the team put down the San Francisco Giants, 4-1, in the seventh and deciding World Series game, and waved it for the exulting scarlet-clad home crowd. It was like George Steinbrenner brandishing Babe Ruth’s bow tie, only sweeter.”
As with everything else in the book, these little details seem to surface effortlessly, and to the benefit of the story being told. I realize that’s hard to tell from the excerpts, so go ahead and read the whole book.
(Non)Tangential Bonus Material: You may have noticed in one of the comments sections from last week that the new AHL team in Cleveland (where the Uni Watch Intern Dept. is headquartered) finally has a name and a logo. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Lake Erie Monsters.
A couple thoughts on the choice: First, I like the fact that they went with “Lake Erie” instead of “Cleveland” in the name. It gives it a more geographic feel. Second, I’m not in love with the “Monsters” name, but it has the sort of hokey appeal that is generally celebrated with minor-league teams. That being said, I’m not quite sure “Monsters” was the right choice, but I’m willing to take it, especially given the earlier rumors that the team would be called the Cleveland Fighting Walleye. Walleyes don’t fight. They get battered and fried as delicious meals.
Finally, the logo is actually pretty cool looking (here’s the secondary logo), even if it doesn’t resemble the monster portrayed in this poster, but I wonder why they have the Monster swimming in water. We’re talking about hockey here, which is played on ice, and Lake Erie freezes in the winter, so why not have the Monster’s head breaking through some jagged Lake Erie ice? Scarier, don’t you think?