Larry Walker? Borderline Hall of Fame Baseball Player. Larry Walker’s T-Shirt? First Ballot, Unanimous Inductee.
A Moment for College Nostalgia
Other than this article being written by top-shelf sportswriter Wright Thompson, this story really has nothing to do with sports. I just love the way he writes. This story, posted on the University of Missouri website, is about why we return to our old college haunts, what we’re looking for, and the hold our college days have on us.
Returning to such places puts us all across a narrow table from our younger selves. Ordering a slice or a burger and sitting knee to knee with me minus 20 years, stripped of my mask and its justification, is a rare gift. We almost never get to get reacquainted with the best version of ourselves, at this place where dreams began, before they got exposed to life and started to decay.
In May of 2018, I joined my college buddies Netter, Shaff, Wiess, Ivy, Barbershop, and O in Sioux Falls to watch our baseball team begin their march to an incredible Division II National Championship. I hadn’t been back on campus for at least 15 years. It was inevitable that we found ourselves at Crow Bar on 41st, and I was giddy – to be back there, back with those guys, back in the rhythm of conversation only found with people who knew me then. While in the moment I didn’t consciously think we were back in the place where dreams began, it resonates indefinitely.
For Thompson, there was also a special connection between he and his old-timer friends who worked the student newspaper back in the day (Mizzou has a pretty renowned journalism program) and the kids pumping out the stories for the paper/site today:
Four years ago, a group of us flew back to Columbia in the last week before the original Shakespeare’s closed for demolition. We got a suite at the Tiger Hotel to act as home base, should we need a locale for late-night shenanigans. The first night, we emailed the Missourian sports reporters and invited them to meet us at Booches. They asked questions, we told stories, and all of us imagined a different world that seemed far away. I’m putting words in their mouths, but I suspect they wanted to be us and we wanted to be them.
If this story doesn’t trigger a little college nostalgia, then I don’t know what the hell to tell you. Wonderful read. – PAL
Source: “Who Was I In College?”, Wright Thompson, new.missou.edu
TOB: I actually think this is so much more than college nostalgia – it’s about life and aging and death; it’s about pace of life and the not spending the time to enjoy the moments we should be enjoying because we’re too busy thinking about what’s next; it’s about the fleeting nature of memory. Here are my two favorite passages from a great piece:
After running a thousand miles a minute for going on 20 years now, today takes up so much of my energy that it can be a struggle to remember. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with it — and why I love just spending a day at Booches and Shakespeare’s. And yes, I often hit both in the same day. I’m not trying to make new memories as much as I am visiting old friends who grew up and disappeared a long time ago. I want back some of what I’ve forgotten or misplaced.
Sometimes the fragments come in pairs. I’m at Booches with my dad talking over my classes and my future; then he’s been dead 15 years and I can’t remember the sound of his voice. I’m 43 and with my toddler daughter, and, in her eyes, I suddenly see my father and hear his voice again as she tries to find hers. I’m standing in line with friends for Shakespeare’s slices between classes; then it’s nearly two decades later and we are back with our sons and daughters. It’s senior year and we are at the round window table at Booches, wondering if we might ever find success; then we are at that same table as middle-aged adults returning for a speaking engagement, surrounded by students wanting to know how we went from their seats to ours. Time really is a construct, a fragile one at that. One of my Mizzou professors, George Kennedy, is standing at the end of the bar eating a tenderloin sandwich for lunch; then a decade later, he’s still standing there.
He’ll always be standing there.
The bartender at Booches nods at me when I come in, even if it’s been years, and a small, nihilistic part of me knows that the change that’s come to downtown — do you remember coffee at Osama’s or whiskey at Widmans — could one day overtake Shakes and Booches. Columbia is changing. We are all changing. Magazines like this one print class notes in the back, where we get to see who got married, who got promoted and who hit the big time. I’m 43 now, and my friends are all around the same age. Sometimes it feels like we spend 45 percent of our lives trying to be something, 10 percent of our lives being it and 45 percent having been it. We are at the top of the mountain for another decade or so, and then we’ll start the slide down. We rise together, and we fall together. Those class notes will include marriages, children, announcements of retirements, notices of death. But at the two most important restaurants in our old college town, all that is left outside the door. As long as we can go back and wander through the rooms of our past, we can pretend that future will never arrive. It’s pizza time for all of us. There’s time for all of us. There’s always time.
Great find, Phil.
Giants Hire First Uniformed Female Coach
Last week, the Giants announced they had hired Alyssa Nakken to be an assistant coach on manager Gabe Kapler’s staff. Nakken, 29, will throw patting practice and hit fungoes. She will wear a uniform on the field. She is the first woman to ever be hired as a coach to an MLB staff ( there are now a few female assistant coaches in the NBA, and one in the NFL – you may have seen 49ers coach Katie Sowers’ American Express commercials during the NFL playoffs).
If you’re wondering if Nakken is a token hire – I think that’s a fair reaction. But it does not appear she is. Nakken played college softball at Sacramento State and was named all-conference four times. She began a graduate program at USF in sports management, and from there landed an internship with the Giants’ baseball operations department. After her internship, she coordinated the Giant Race program, and continued to work in baseball ops.
Still, a 29-year old with that experience, male or female, is an odd choice for an assistant on a major league coaching staff. But if this is a token hire, Kapler has shown quite the commitment to tokenism:
[Kapler] was seeking to put together a staff that embraced diversity in every aspect.
“Diverse in thought, in background, in ethnicity, in socioeconomic experience,” Kapler said. “We just wanted to create as diverse a staff to the degree we were able so that we can be a reflection of the players in our clubhouse and also in our community.”
Kapler’s staff includes an Bahamian former player (first base coach Antoan Richardson), a 32-year-old native Hawaiian who has never played a professional game in the majors or minors (bench coach Kai Correa), a veteran with 26 years of major-league experience (third base coach Ron Wotus), a native Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico (quality control coach Nick Ortiz), a hitting director whose grounding is in biometrics (Dustin Lind) and a 29-year-old hitting coach who will be younger than Belt, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford (Justin Viele).
This is anti-cronyism. Whether Kapler ends up being a successful manager for the Giants or not, I will say this: he’s doing it his own way.
“The really important message is that experience comes in all shapes and sizes,” Kapler said. “You look at our coaching staff and the immediate reaction is that it’s young and somewhat inexperienced, and traditionally, that’s true. But experience is also having a perspective that is wide ranging and diverse, and that includes having taught people at many different levels and ages and many different backgrounds.
“A lot of our coaches have a long history of consistent and diligent coaching. It just isn’t, like, stopping in the Gulf Coast League or Arizona League and then moving to Low-A ball and then to Double A. They just have a more diverse teaching and coaching experience.”
Again, whether he succeeds or not, I think that’s an extremely smart philosophy. Regarding Nakken specifically, Kapler had this to say:
“She’s an elite athlete and can translate those skills to help our players get better,” Kapler said. “She’s resourceful, a good communicator, organized and clear in her thoughts and delivery. Before this job is anything, it’s teaching. She brings a well-rounded skill set that is unusual to find in a coach.
“And she’s extremely equipped to execute initiatives. Part of coaching is managing very large projects, which she’s done in the past. All of those things are important when you’re developing players and developing a culture.”
This makes sense to me. Certainly, some experience with the game is important, but the best teachers and coaches were not always the best players. So many other skills are required in order to teach. And once you come to that conclusion, it’s idiotic to limit your pool of candidates to 50% of the population. Nakken is the first female coach on a major league staff, but she will not be the last.
For her part, Nakken has been quiet – the team is shielding her from interviews as she gets acclimated to her new role. But, I’m excited to hear from her, and I hope her presence and teaching pay off. -TOB
Source: “Woman in Uniform: New Giants Coach Alyssa Nakken Makes Major-League History, “ Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (01/16/2020)
PAL: Progress isn’t perfection on the first pass. I think her softball experience is less important than her track record while an intern and coordinator with the Giants. And having a diverse staff has been proven valuable by any measure in any workplace. It’s cool to see the glass ceiling in the big four sports leagues, and it’s incredible to know my college friend, Teresa Resch, is a part of this movement.
W.N.B.A. Star Sits Out Another Season
Interesting story here with a Minnesota connection. WNBA star Maya Moore (plays on the MN Lynx) will sit out a second straight season of WNBA basketball to dedicate her time to criminal justice reform and the release of Jonathan Irons.
Per Kurt Streeter of The NY Times:
Irons, now 39, whom she met in 2007 during a visit to the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri, is serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted of burglary and assaulting a homeowner with a gun. Born into severe poverty, Irons was 16 when the incident occurred in a St. Louis suburb.
The homeowner, who was shot in the head during the assault, testified that Irons was the perpetrator, but there were no corroborating witnesses, fingerprints, footprints, DNA or blood evidence to connect Irons to the crime. Prosecutors said Irons admitted to a police officer that he broke into the victim’s home, a claim Irons and his lawyers have steadfastly denied. The officer had interrogated Irons alone and did not record the conversation.
I had no idea Moore sat out last season, and while she’s made money in leagues around the world (many W.N.B.A. stars make a lot more dough playing overseas in the offseason than they do in the league stateside), it’s not an insignificant amount to turn down for regular people like you and me (Moore would make the league max in in 2019 of a whopping $120K, or ¼ of a regular season game check for LeBron James). She’s passing up the opportunity to play in the Oympics this summer, which is a huge marketing opportunity for athletes in less popular sports like women’s basketball.
I admire people who aren’t afraid to focus on what’s important to them, especially when it falls outside of the way other people see them. Good on you, Moore. – PAL
Source: “W.N.B.A.’s Maya Moore to Skip Another Season to Focus on Prisoner’s Case”, Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (01/22/2020)
More Fallout From the TrashCanSlamCamScam (™)
As I said last week, I love this story. I cannot get enough of it. Any angle you got, I’m reading it. For example, this take wondering where retired catcher Brian Mccann is, and demanding he offer an explanation. If you don’t know or remember, at the tail end of his career, McCann became famous for “policing” other player behavior. Pimp a home run? He’s gonna get in your face before you even cross home plate.
RESPECT THE GAME, BRO. RESPECT IT! That kind of guy sucks, IMO. And I’m not alone. The writer of this story very openly loathes McCann for that stuff:
And now Sileo wants to know:
Where was McCann, the self-appointed arbiter of baseball’s unwritten rules, when he was on the 2017 Astros as they flagrantly violated baseball’s written rules?
It’s a very good question, and I am really hopeful that a baseball writer with some stones and a video camera finds McCann and asks it of him. Because he’ll say something really friggin stupid and it’ll be hilarious. -TOB
Source: “MLB Cheating Scandal: Where is Brian McCann?” Tom Sileo, The Stream (01/18/2020)
PAL: Two things:
- I am not a fan of McCann, but Gomez is insufferable on a first inning home run. I would’ve told him to get moving, too.
- Whatever the agreement was/is with MLB, A.J. Hinch took the bullet for all of the players. I wonder if he ever manages at the MLB level again. I only hope they send him a nice birthday present this year.
Ever Asked, “Who Is Monte Irvin?” Me Too.
If you’ve ever been to a Giants game, you’ve likely looked at the retired numbers on hanging from the upper deck: 24, 25, 44, 30, among others. Giants fans know those numbers and who wore them. My son sees the numbers every time we got to a game and asks me who the players were (and if they’re still alive). But there’s one name and number I really haven’t known too much about: #20, Monte Irvin.
Thanks to Joe Posnasnki, I now know quite a bit. Per Posnasnki, quoting Irvin himself – Irvin was Mays before Mays. Most of Irvin’s career was lost – some due to his service during World War II, and more because his prime was spent in the Negro Leagues, which did not keep statistics as religiously as MLB always did. So we don’t really know what kind of numbers Irvin put up. But we do know what his peers said about him. Like Hall of Famer Roy Campanella:
“Monte was the best all-around player I have ever seen. As great as he was in 1951, he was twice that good 10 years earlier in the Negro Leagues.”
Or Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell:
“Monte Irvin should have been the first black in the major leagues. He could hit that long ball. He had a great arm. He could field. He could run. Yes, he could do everything.”
And we also know what he did in MLB once he did arrive, well past his prime. At age 32: .312/.415/.514, 24 homers, 94 runs, 121 RBIs, 147 OPS+.
So, now you know who Monte Irvin is.
By the way, this is part of Posnasnki’s excellent and ongoing series on the Athletic counting down, daily, his Top 100 baseball players of all-time. Irvin came in at #69, nice. I haven’t read them all, but I encourage you to read it, and any other players in the series thus far that you want to learn more about. -TOB
Source: “The Baseball 100: #69 Monte Irvin,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (01/18/2020)
TOB’s Annual Plea to Put Bonds in the Hall of Fame
See you next year, *sigh*. -TOB
PAL: Keep waiting. Bonds got more than a favorable return on his “investment”. This is the one thing he doesn’t get just because he wants it. This is the punishment.
Video of the Week
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Song of the Week: Billy Bragg & Wilco – Airline Plane To Heaven
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