Week of April 9, 2021

Lee Elder breaking barriers at Augusta in 1975…and making it look good. His caddie should’ve been an extra in Caddyshack, FWIW.

A Modest Proposal: The Gonzaga Tax

On Monday night, Gonzaga got absolutely sonned by Baylor in the National Championship game. It came as absolutely no shock to me. In a group text before the game, the question was posed: “Who ya got?” After a flurry of “Gonzaga” responses, I was the lone “Baylor” response. At halftime, with Baylor up 10, I said, “This was too easy. Gonzaga plays a shit schedule every year.” The game summed up well by this:

Or this:

And it’s true. I will never take them seriously as a true basketball power. They get to fatten up all season on the backs of schools like Portland, San Diego, Pacific, Santa Clara, Pepperdine, and San Francisco. Folks, those are not tough games. Gonzaga gets to coast through the regular season, resting players if necessary, and show up fresh for the tournament. They were 31-0 this year, and to their credit they did play two or three tougher teams in the pre-conference season. But they still get to get healthy and win easy games for three months. 31-0 is nice…but when it includes 17-0 in the WCC, there’s not a lot you can glean from that. In fact, Gonzaga is 92-3 over the last five seasons in conference (and 182-13 over the last ten seasons in conference). It’s just like Boise State in its heyday under Chris Peterson – they played a bunch of cream puffs and then had one tough game all year, for which they were supremely healthy and amped up, and then celebrated when they beat a major conference team that lost two or three times in its own conference. 

And yet Gonzaga has built up a reputation on these inflated records. After first crashing the scene as a Cinderella in 1999, they’ve been considered a national power for at least 15 years. And with that cream puff schedule, they are almost always over-seeded, thus giving them an easier road through the tournament. And yet, come tournament time, they always crash and burn. In the last twenty tournaments, they have gotten by the Sweet 16 just 4 times. For most programs this would be good – but for a program who gets seeded like Gonzaga does, it’s not.

Put Gonzaga in the Pac-12 and see what happens to that record. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be upper half. They would probably be upper third most years. But they aren’t going 92-3. That UCLA team that outplayed Gonzaga over the weekend lost seven conference games this season, including its last four. Beginning the day after Christmas, Gonzaga played one team (BYU) that would not have finished dead last in the Pac-12 this year. 

Thus, my proposal: until Gonzaga moves to a stronger conference, they should have a seed tax – whatever seed the tournament committee wants to place them at, drop them three spots. Gonzaga will then be appropriately seeded. -TOB

Nine Innings with Cousin Wolf

An old buddy of mine has pulled off quite a feat. Matt Halverson, a musician who records under the name Cousin Wolf, had a really good idea a decade ago. Nine songs, each about a major league baseball player. 

I told you it was a good idea. But here’s the thing – not a lot of people care about a good idea. As just an idea, Nine Innings, is a fun topic to run through over a bunch of beers while watching an entire ballgame at a bar—What would the Ken Griffey Jr song be? What about Kerry Wood, or – hey how about a Vlad & Vlad Jr song?

And that’s where an idea like this almost always ends: last call. To make it more than a good idea, someone needs to write the damn songs. And guess what? They have to sound good, and maybe even say something. I can promise you that is a challenge. No matter the ambition or intent, the songs have to be good.

Excellent music video idea.

Halvy’s songs are good. Good – what the hell does that mean? To me, a good song has something that brings me back to listen. By that measure, the two songs Cousin Wolf has released so far – “Kevin Elster” and “Roger Maris” are good, and a yet-to-be released “Dave Dravecky” is real good. Not only that, but Halvy wrote excellent essays about the story behind the songs. 

On “Kevin Elster”, he writes:

In the sixth game of the 1992 season, Elster hurt his shoulder, and he missed the rest of the year and all of the next. He played a handful of games with a few different teams in 1994 and ’95, and suddenly, it was 1996. Baseball was on a steroid-fueled trajectory toward unheard-of power numbers, and Elster hadn’t had a starting job in years. So, he signed with Texas — in part because his brother lobbied on his behalf — where he planned to compete to be the backup shortstop. 

Now, in those days, the Texas Rangers clubhouse was also one of the game’s steroid hubs. Ruben Sierra in the early ’90s was one of the first notable and obvious users, and that carried right through to steroid godfather Jose Canseco and busted teammates like Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers, and eventually Alex Rodriguez.

In fact, Canseco wrote in his tell-all book “Juiced” that he introduced Pudge, Gonzalez and other Rangers players to steroids between 1992 and ’94.

So, back to Elster. In 1996, when young Benji Gil got hurt during spring training, Elster became the starting shortstop and had by far the best season of his career at age 31, hitting .252 with 24 homers and 99 RBI.

He parlayed that into a million-dollar free-agent deal with Pittsburgh the next offseason, and though he played parts of three more big league seasons, he never again came close to the success of that magical ’96 campaign.

One of the crazy parts about that era of baseball is that we just don’t really know who did what — or what impact it had. But I know for myself, as a kid shortstop in the ’90s who just loved playing baseball, that if I’d been given Elster’s option to either take the same juice everyone else was taking and enjoy a few more years in the game, or take the high-road home, who’s to say what I would have done? And with all the focus on the stars who broke records and shattered fans’ innocence, would anybody even care after all these years what Elster did or didn’t do during that 1996 season?

On “Roger Maris”, Halvy has this to say about his fellow Fargo, ND native:

Maris had worked for most of his life to become a good baseball player, and in 1961, after a few really excellent seasons, things came together in ways no one had seen coming. In some ways, he gotten better than he’d ever intended.

And his reward for happening to become exceptional? To be told that he should be somebody else. To play in front of too many who saw him only as not a legend, as not immortal, as not The Babe or The Mick or the Yankee Clipper.

Original artwork from Zach Scheet, Halvy’s neighbor growing up.

You read those two excerpts, and you realize that Nine Innings isn’t just a good idea; it’s an idea in the hands of someone who can actually make the idea worth your time. Halvy can’t help but see baseball as a way into all those big questions we ask ourselves. That sure resonates with me. 

I can only call him Matt Halverson ‘Halvy’ because that’s what I called him back in college. We played ball together, drank some beers, and I too often lost at caps to him, Sammy, Lou, and Timmy. High Life returnables. 

Halvy and I spoke Wednesday. The intent was to discuss the project in full, but we haven’t talked for many years, so we caught up, with baseball and this project mixing in when it suited us.  

Before I share some of my favorite exchanges, please go to https://www.cousinwolf.com/music/nine-innings and check out Halvy’s project in full. His writing is every bit as good as the songs, and he’s got seven more songs to release! – PAL 

Source: Nine Innings”, Cousin Wolf

Excepts from the old friends catching up

On my one ‘issue’ with the project:

PAL: I have to ask you, as a Twins fan, you’ve three guys on your list that played for the Yankees. What the fuck, dude?

MH: I honestly that at the end had the same thought. And I’m like, no Twins. Three Yankees seems like such a cliche in and of itself. I honestly didn’t know who Carl Mays had played for when I was already like midway through writing about him. I just knew his name as having the guy who killed Ray Chapman with a pitch. And so that one was a little bit like, ah shit, another Yankee, but like Maris and Gehrig, I kind of wanted to write about from the beginning. 

On Lou Gehrig: 

PAL: I was listening to “Lou Gehrig”. We are older than Lou Gehrig was when he died. He had a 17-year career and died. He was younger than us. That actually caught me.

MH: And the fact that he, like, died so publicly, like to me that was what that one was really striking, too, is he gets this disease that’s going to take apart his body in a very short time. That’s one hundred percent going to happen. And there’s no hope. And he still has to be this legend. He doesn’t just get to be a man who’s, like, terrified and dying in a hurry and all this stuff he’s got to let go out and, you know, be the Iron Horse and be Lou Gehrig and be a myth, be a legend until he dies. And to do it all.

How baseball’s place has changed roles: 

MH: I’ve always loved baseball, but like five years ago, I just realized that I was still in a couple of fantasy baseball leagues that were just a job for me that I didn’t want anymore, or it’s like it would feel so good to not have to check that stupid thing every day, you know what I mean?

For one thing, my oldest is 12 and he’s my stepson technically. And we’ve been playing catch for ten years now. And it’s been like one of the great joys of my life to connect with them in that way and to be like coaching them and playing so much baseball. 

I was reading this Samurai book, and it talked about this idea of like through one thing, knowing thousand things. You know, like you can’t know everything about everything, but like if you work really (hard), you can know everything.

And it was I kind of realized it like it didn’t matter what I had bought into as a kid. I had done that. I poured myself into something. And I really like giving baseball all I had and taking it as far as I could at that time and been steady with it for, you know, forever. And it was these things that I almost thought of myself as not being able to do, you know, to be that persistent with something, to be that steady with something. 

On the idea of sidekicks (Roger Maris, and Kent Hrbek…of course): 

MH: With like Roger Maris, I knew what I was writing the whole time, and so I wanted to create a beginning of like ‘what the fuck’s going on?’ and then a middle of like (Maris…and Halvy) finding my way to finding myself and the resolve to do this and then a triumphant ending.

MH: Yeah I feel like Hrbek to me always seemed like Puckett’s sidekick all those years, you know, and like underappreciated. My dad was always talking about how the crime that Don Mattingly won all those gold gloves and Hrbek never got one. 

PAL: I feel like that was a very common stance among midwestern fathers in the 80s and 90s.

MH:  I discovered in some baseball reference rabbit hole that Hrbek finished second in MVP voting to Willie Hernandez, the reliever. In like eighty four, Willie Hernandez, the Tigers reliever, won Cy Young and MVP in the same year. But I did not realize that Hrbek had his best season and finished second in MVP voting. If they don’t the MVP  to some chump reliever,  how differently is Hrbek’s career remembered? It seemed like his third full season. He’s an MVP that sets him on just like in many people’s minds, a different trajectory from there.

PAL: Willie Hernandez? What the hell? A reliever who had a nine and three record with a one nine era and thirty saves won the Cy Young and AL MVP?

Ohtani Is Here, Again

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll recall how excited I was for the arrival of Shohei Ohtani, the slugger/pitcher, when he arrived to MLB a few years ago. Early on, we saw flashes of what he can do – big dingers at the plate and electric stuff on the mound. But injuries derailed things, including Tommy John surgery. After 2019, there were rumblings the Angels might ask him to choose – hitting or pitching.

But 2021 is a new year and Ohtani is back. New manager Joe Maddon is reportedly encouraging Ohtani to not only pitch and hit, but to try to play every day, or close to it. In his first start on the mound and it was fun as hell. In the top of the first, he threw a fastball 101 mph. In the bottom of the first, he hit a 451-foot bomb, with an exit velocity of 115 mph.

And that seems like the Ohtani promise, finally fulfilled. Hopefully, this time, he stays healthy. -TOB
Source: Let Us Have Ohtani,” Tom Ley, Defector (04/05/2021)

This is Goofy

White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez got hurt just before the season began and will likely miss the whole season. Apparently he is beloved by teammates because they acted like he died. They hung his jersey in the dugout and everything.

I mean, what the heck? The dude tore his pec – he’s not dying! Here’s Defector’s Chris Thompson hilariously roasting the whole hilarious scene:

The Chicago White Sox kicked off their season Thursday night without departed outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who at the tender age of just 24 years old was suddenly ripped from our world by a God whose purposes are never more mysterious than when the good are cruelly cut down in the prime of life. Coming off a promising sophomore season and primed for a bright future, Jimenez must now lift his White Sox teammates in spirit and memory, from a place beyond the grave. But Opening Day would not be complete—would not be right—without a tribute to this fallen teammate, and so the White Sox took some time during pregame ceremonies to touchingly memorialize their lost brother-in-arms.

First baseman* José Abreu carried a Jimenez jersey lovingly signed by all his teammates out onto the field for player introductions, along with a pair of Jimenez’s batting gloves. I just know that Jimenez was looking down on this moment from a better place, and appreciated this truly moving ceremony. Please, excuse yourself from whatever you are doing so that you may process the deep emotions in private.


Source: White Sox Send Eloy Jimenez To The Great Baseball Diamond In The Sky,” Chris Thompson, Defector (04/02/2021)

Video of the Week:

We showed you the highlight last week, but now you get it with that Jomboy commentary.

Tweets of the Week:

Song of the Week: Parcels – “Tieduprightnow”

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All right, I’ll tell you what. You look like nice people. I’m going to help you out. You want a beautiful name? Soda…All names sound strange the first time you hear ’em. What, you’re telling me people loved the name Blanche the first time they heard it?

-George Costanza