Category Archives: On my mind

You never know what’s going to change your life, or when it’s going to happen

You never know what the most important day of your life is going to be. Even when it happens, it may be years before you realize it. For me, it wasn’t the day I met my wife. Or the day we got married. Or the day our children were born.

It was the day that made all those days possible. It was July 28, 1967. I was nine years old.

Bear with me, it takes a little while to connect all the dots.

My parents, younger brother and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1966 I had become a baseball fan, and I saw my first major league game at old Crosley Field that year when my parents took us on a family trip to Cincinnati. We made another trip in July 1967.

700 Vannah

Thanks to Google Maps, I have a recent photo of the house where my family lived from 1965 to 1968. It looks remarkably the same as I remember it from 50 years ago.

Monkees LPI needed help remembering the exact date. Fortunately for me, our visit coincided with an even more memorable occasion than a ballgame: The Monkees were in town for a concert, and we were staying in the same hotel. They were at the height of their popularity, with the first season of their TV series having just concluded. Somehow I found out what floor they were staying on, and I made a journey there in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of them. Security guards were camped out by the elevator when I disembarked, and I made some lame excuse about thinking there was a pop machine on that floor, but I was immediately sent back where I came from. That evening my family went to the lobby to head for the game, only to find the Monkees were leaving the hotel at the same time to head for their show — through the same lobby. The place was mobbed, completely packed with Monkee fans, and I remember seeing Mickey Dolenz’s head bobbing above the crowd of shorter youngsters.

Monkees 1

Monkees 2

Coverage from the Cincinnati Enquirer, July 29, 1967

TSN 7-29-67No, it wasn’t The Monkees that made this the most important day of my life. It wasn’t seeing the Reds play the Cubs that night, either. It was something that happened that afternoon, when I was killing time at the hotel newsstand. I bought a copy of a publication I had never seen before, something that looked like it was all about baseball: The Sporting News. (The photo at right is the cover of the issue I bought…alas I no longer have the one I purchased.) I was already in love with baseball and newspapers, so the combination of the two was irresistible.

I don’t remember how much else of the contents soaked into my brain that day, but in paging through the issue an advertisement drew my attention:

TSN adYep, I wanted to bring the major league players right into my home and manage them all myself. I had already played Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball with a neighborhood friend who had a copy, but this looked ever so much cooler…all the teams! All the players!

Brochure

This is actually from a 1975 APBA brochure, but I’m sure the one I got in 1967 had a similar image

As soon as we got home from Cincinnati I sent off for that full-color brochure, which got me even more excited. The only thing that wasn’t exciting was the price. There was a reason APBA didn’t list its prices in its advertising so you could just order straightaway — it was expensive, and most people needed more of a sales pitch before parting with that kind of money. APBA was good at sales pitches. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was surely in the neighborhood of $12-15…the equivalent of about $85-100 today. Not something a 9-year-old takes on lightly.

Lucky me…my parents were kind, and I talked them into buying the game with the promise that I would pay them back with household chores. Of course, I was too lazy and sullen to actually do the chores, but as I recall I paid my debt by cashing a few tickets when my father took me to Churchill Downs (I was even more into horse racing then than I was into baseball).

Once APBA arrived I immediately immersed myself in it. But we’re still a few steps away from me getting married and having kids.

The next year, 1968, Dad got a new job and we moved to Port Washington, New York…coincidentally, the home of APBA’s major competitor, the Strat-o-Matic Game Company. Their office/warehouse on South Bayles Avenue was within walking distance of our house. Before long I was making that walk on a regular basis, first to buy their football game and later to buy their baseball game, both of which I played avidly.

SOM ReviewIn 1971 two Strat-o-Matic fans in Kalamazoo, Michigan (well, one of them was in next-door Otsego) started a monthly publication, the Strat-o-Matic Review. Of course I subscribed. The next year, the Review’s editors announced they would host a convention in Kalamazoo and invited other Strat-o-Matic devotees from around the country to come, play some games and get to know each other.

Invite

From the July 1972 Strat-o-Matic Review

Ah, the kindness of my parents…yes, I talked them into letting me go. Dad and I flew to Kalamazoo. When we arrived and I checked in with the organizers, I was told a guy named Brad Furst had hitchhiked to the convention from Spencer, Iowa and was looking for a place to stay. My father — another act of kindness — said Brad could stay with us…the way I remember it was Brad and I shared a room and Dad got another room for himself. Brad was a few years older than I was, but we hit it off right away and spent a lot of time talking that weekend, developing a friendship that continued for several years.

Convention

From the September 1972 Strat-o-Matic Review…I was actually only 14

Hang on, we’re getting warmer…

Brad went on to attend Grinnell College, a superb school in his native Iowa, and when I was preparing to apply to colleges he told me about a school in Northfield, Minnesota he thought I would like, Carleton College. (The way I remember it — and this absolutely may not be true — Brad told me Carleton had a bigger and more established group of Strat-o-Matic players than Grinnell. Although I think Brad remembers it as he just wished he had gone there himself.) I had never been west of Chicago (well, DeKalb, Illinois) and this sounded pretty exotic.

I was accepted at three other schools, and each of them was my first choice for a while, but in the end I decided a small campus in a small town with severe winters was exactly what I wanted, and I chose Carleton. And I feel pretty certain that I never would have heard of it, or at least never given it much consideration, if I hadn’t heard about it from Brad.

Literally everything else that has happened in my life stems from that decision.

Skinner

Skinner Memorial Chapel at Carleton College, where Jo and I were married

I loved Carleton, I loved Northfield, I loved Minnesota. When I was finished with school I wound up in Boise, Idaho, but after about a year there I realized Northfield was home and I moved back in the summer of 1981. Soon after that I met the woman I married in 1983 (at Skinner Chapel on the Carleton campus); our twin daughters were born two years later. We stayed in Minnesota until 2005, when we moved to California. (Oh, and two of the ushers in our wedding were guys I played in a Strat-o-Matic league with when I went back to Northfield.)

And one other thing…Peter Tork, the bass player for The Monkees, attended Carleton in the early 1960s, thus bringing my story full circle. (We named the pinball room in the student union in his honor while I was a student.)

So, to review…I never would have been in Minnesota to meet my wife if it hadn’t been for Brad Furst…I never would have met Brad if I hadn’t gotten interested in table sports games…and I developed my interest in table sports games when I bought a copy of The Sporting News on July 28, 1967 at a hotel newsstand in Cincinnati.

Me and BradKind of weird the ripples that run through a life, huh?

I got to thinking about all this the other day when I had lunch with Brad, the first time we’d seen each other since 1973. (That’s me on the left.) I thanked him for giving me my wife and children and a happy life in Minnesota. Who knew all that was going to come from an accidental night in a motel room in Kalamazoo?

The day Catfish Hunter was used as a pinch-hitter when he was already in the game

Thanks to Phil Ploquin for mentioning this incident in the Retrosheet Yahoo group recently, because I was not aware it had happened: in 1976 New York Yankees manager Billy Martin used Catfish Hunter as a pinch-hitter, even though Catfish was already in the game. Yes, it was illegal, and Martin apparently knew it, but it happened anyway.

Catfish

I haven’t been able to find a picture of Catfish with a bat in his hand, for the Yankees or anyone else, so this will have to do.

Hunter was the Yankees’ starting pitcher September 5, 1976 at Baltimore. Thirty-six-year-old Cesar Tovar, who had signed with the Yanks just days earlier, was New York’s designated hitter (the rule allowing for someone to bat for the pitcher throughout the game had gone into effect in 1973).

In the top of the sixth inning, with the game tied 2-2, the Yankees had Graig Nettles on first base with two out and second baseman Sandy Alomar due to bat. But Alomar had gotten sick with a virus (according to Murray Chass’ account in the next day’s New York Times, my source for this post). Martin had decided he would put Tovar at second base (a position he hadn’t played for nearly a year) in the bottom of the inning, meaning by rule he would no longer have a designated hitter and Hunter would have to bat for himself going forward. So Martin decided to have Hunter bat for Alomar.

The move was illegal under Major League Baseball rule 6.10(b), which read then (and still does), “The game pitcher may only pinch-hit for the Designated Hitter.” Meaning Hunter could have batted in place of Tovar, but nobody else — although once DH Tovar moved into the field to replace Alomar, pitcher Hunter would go into the batting order in Alomar’s spot. But Tovar had not yet gone into the field, meaning Hunter could not yet bat in Alomar’s spot.

Here’s what Martin had to say after the game, according to Chass:

I knew that’s what the [rule] book says [that Hunter could only pinch-hit for the DH]. I told the guys on the bench I don’t think I can do this, but I’m gonna try it. If they told me I couldn’t do it, then I would’ve put [Otto] Velez up, but I wanted to save Velez for later. I told the umpire my second baseman was sick so I was putting the DH into the game and he said O.K.

I was surprised [Orioles manager Earl] Weaver didn’t protest. I can’t fault the umpire. When the hell did you ever see anyone do it? The guy who looks bad is Earl. All he had to do was protest.

Weaver said home plate umpire Marty Springstead assured him the move was legal. “It was my fault,” Chass quoted Weaver as saying. “I didn’t know the rule.” Chass said Springstead admitted he didn’t know the rule either and said Springstead called it “a stupid rule.”

At any rate it worked out fine for the Orioles. Hunter made the third out of the inning on a ground ball to Baltimore shortstop Mark Belanger. And the Orioles went on to win the game, with two runs scoring in the eighth inning on an error by the Yankees’ second baseman. Only it wasn’t Tovar, as Martin removed Tovar from the lineup at the start of the bottom of the eighth and moved Fred Stanley from shortstop to second base (Jim Mason entered the game at shortstop). “Tovar hadn’t played second base in a long time,” Martin said. “I wanted defense out there.” With the Orioles leading 3-2, Stanley mishandled a bases-loaded ground ball by Tony Muser that allowed two runners to score. (Although he was a much more experienced infielder than Tovar, Stanley had played only one inning at second base in 1976 prior to this game.)

Hunter had the chance to bat again, leading off the ninth, but this time Martin did bring in Otto Velez. In the Retrosheet box score of the game Hunter appears with the unique designation “p, ph, p.” His sixth-inning appearance was the last at-bat of Hunter’s major league career, which he finished with a respectable .226 batting average (including a .350 mark in 1971) and six home runs. He even had three hits as a pinch-hitter, the last of which came in 1973 (the year the DH rule went into effect) when he batted for Bert Campaneris in a wild game in Oakland. That was the only time, other than the 1976 game, that Hunter batted after the DH went into existence.

Al Dark’s misadventures putting pitchers in the field

Some time ago I wrote about the last left-handed thrower to earn a fielding chance as a second baseman: Cleveland Indians pitcher Sam McDowell, in 1970. The manager who pulled this unusual maneuver of putting a lefty at second base was Alvin Dark. It wasn’t the first time Dark moved a pitcher to another position, it wouldn’t be the last, and on two occasions the tactic turned out quite badly.

Alvin Dark as manager of the Cleveland Indians

Alvin Dark as manager of the Cleveland Indians

The first time Dark moved a pitcher off the mound in a game was when he was manager of the A’s on June 18, 1967, when with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth at Detroit he moved right-hander Catfish Hunter to first base and brought in lefty Tony Pierce to pitch to left-handed-hitting Gates Brown as the tying run. Brown struck out to end the game.

Then on June 7, 1968, with Dark now managing Cleveland, again with two out in the bottom of the ninth at Detroit, this time with nobody on base and the Indians holding a one-run lead, lefty Mike Paul had a 3-and-1 count on right-handed-hitting Bill Freehan when Dark decided to bring in righty Stan Williams, in the process moving Paul to first base. Freehan singled (through the left side of the infield, away from Paul) and Dark moved Paul back to the mound to face left-handed-hitting Dick McAuliffe. Lee Maye, normally an outfielder, entered the game to play first base for the first (and, as it turned out, only) time in his major league career. McAuliffe hit a bouncer between Maye and second baseman Vern Fuller; Russell Schneider wrote in the next day’s Plain Dealer that Fuller could have made the play, but Maye went after the ball and fumbled it, McAuliffe reaching on the error. Mickey Stanley followed with a triple to score both Freehan and McAuliffe and give the Tigers the win.

The first time Dark moved a pitcher in 1970, when McDowell got a putout at second base, worked out fine for the Indians, but when Dark made a similar move later in the season it was a disaster. It was September 2, and the opponent — as was the case in the game earlier in the season — was the Washington Senators, only this time in Washington. McDowell was going for his 20th win of the year.

Dark had developed a phobia of Senators slugger Frank Howard…and understandably so. From the start of the 1967 season through the start of the Sept. 2 game, Howard had hit .332 against teams managed by Dark (77-for-232), with 24 home runs and 60 runs batted in in 66 games. He also had a history of battering McDowell, especially in ’68 when he went 8-for-12 against Sam with two doubles, a triple and three homers. It’s true he hadn’t had an extra-base hit against McDowell since then, but he did have a .407 career average to that point against Sam. And it was Howard’s presence at the plate that led Dark to move McDowell to second base in the game at Cleveland on July 6.

But Dark would have an even more extreme approach to Howard in the September 2 game. In the bottom of the first, with Eddie Brinkman on second base and one out, Dark ordered McDowell to walk Howard intentionally…not a terribly unusual strategy. But when Howard led off the bottom of the third, Dark called for another intentional walk. Now THAT’s unusual. And when Howard led off the bottom of the fifth, it was another intentional pass. (That made 11 intentional walks for Howard in 15 games against the Indians to that point in 1970.) That one backfired on Dark, as Rick Reichardt and Aurelio Rodriguez followed with infield singles and Howard scored on a wild pitch to put the Senators in front 1-0.

Frank Howard, "The Washington Monument," cast an imposing figure with a bat in his hand

Frank Howard, “The Washington Monument,” “The Capital Punisher,” cast an imposing figure with a bat in his hand

That’s the way the score stood going into the bottom of the sixth. Ed Brinkman drew a walk with one out, Wayne Comer followed with a single to move Brinkman to second and bring Howard to the plate. Even to Dark, an intentional walk didn’t make sense here. So he brought in right-hander Dean Chance to face Hondo and moved the lefty McDowell to first base, with first baseman Duke Sims moving to right field, Vada Pinson moving from right field to left, and Roy Foster (who had made the last out in the top of the inning) coming out of the game.

McDowell didn’t have long to get comfortable at first base. Washington Post writer George Minot Jr. described what happened on Chance’s first pitch:

Howard sent a checked-swing grounder to the right side and first baseman McDowell went far afield, in front of the second baseman, to grab it. He had no place to throw it. Wayne Comer was in at second and Chance was slow coming off the mound to cover first base. The single loaded the bases.

The next batter, Rick Reichardt, hit a ground ball to shortstop Jack Heidemann, who tossed to second baseman Eddie Leon for a force out, Brinkman scoring. Leon’s relay to McDowell at first was too late to catch Reichardt, and Comer, perhaps banking on McDowell’s inexperience, kept running and scored from second base. That made it 3-0 Senators in a game they would go on to win 4-0. Chance got the last out of the inning (a force out at second base on a ground ball to short) and McDowell returned to the mound in the seventh and pitched the rest of the way. (McDowell did finally pitch to Howard, with one out and nobody on in the eighth, and retired him on a harmless pop fly to short.)

Having been burned twice, Dark would not put his pitcher in the field again in his major league managerial career that lasted through 1977.

Spencer Harris, hit king/basketball player

I’ve updated my earlier post on the minor leagues’ all-time hit leader, Spencer Harris, after Seattle librarian Bo Kinney passed on news stories from the 1920s with information about Harris’ activities as a basketball player and referee, even as he was playing pro baseball.  My extensive search for information about Harris’ life hadn’t turned up his basketball experience, so I’m glad to know that.

What? I couldn’t hear you, the music was on

I hear music in my head all the time.  That must be an exaggeration, although it doesn’t feel like it.  Now if I’m actually listening to music–on a CD, on the radio or in person–I don’t have music competing with it in my head.  But typically, if there is silence, or someone is talking, or I’m watching something on TV (sometimes even if it has a musical score), I hear music.  (Right now it’s Lindsey Buckingham’s “Don’t Look Down.”)

No one would have to know this, except I often pat out a drum accompaniment to whatever it is I’m hearing, slapping my hand (or hands) against my knee (or knees) in time to the tune.  Or unconsciously start playing some sort of air stringed instrument.  This drives my wife crazy.  (She may use a different term, but she can always post a comment if she wants to.)

So she’s been asking me about what’s going on in my head when this is happening.  The music sounds, to me, just like it would if I were listening to a CD.  It’s not too loud, it doesn’t keep me from hearing other things around me (so the title of this post isn’t accurate, it was just meant to get your attention).  Sometimes hearing a few notes of something will start a particular tune in my head, or if I hear a discussion that triggers a memory a particular song will start.  But I have some degree of control over what I hear; I can summon up whatever song I want to hear, as long as I’ve heard it before.  I don’t hear songs all the way through unless I am making an effort to.  Usually it’s four or eight bars in a loop until the next tune comes up.  I honestly have no idea how long this has been going on.

My curious wife (her epitaph will consist of the single word “Why?”), who thinks this sounds very strange, took it on herself to research my condition and came up with “musical hallucinosis,” described by T.D. Griffiths in the neurology journal “Brain” as follows:

Musical hallucinosis is a disorder of complex sound processing. Subjects perceive complex sound in the form of music in the absence of an acoustic stimulus. As such, the phenomenon might be regarded as an example of mental imagery, defined as `mental acts in which we seem to re-enact the experience of perceiving an object when the object is no longer available’ (Halpern and Zatorre, 1999)….Musical hallucinosis may be associated with structural brain lesions, epilepsy or psychosis (for reviews, see Berrios, 1990; Keshavan et al., 1992). However, it is most commonly seen in subjects with moderate or severe acquired deafness, and as such it may represent an auditory form of the Charles Bonnet syndrome.

(Wouldn’t “The Charles Bonnet Syndrome” make a great band name?)

Gee whiz, that sounds a lot more serious than this feels to me.  Further reading makes me think whatever it is I “have” is different from what people diagnosed with musical hallucinosis have.  For starters, many of those people truly suffer and would do anything to make the music stop; I enjoy the sounds I hear.  The condition seems to be most often related to older people (older than I am) and people with significant hearing loss (my hearing appears to be fine).  I have a considerable variety in the songs I hear, it’s not like one tune I can’t stand just gets stuck in there for days or weeks.  The volume is not too loud, and the songs strike me as being musically “perfect,” not out of tune or otherwise annoying.  (I’ve switched over to the James Bond theme now.)  And I can manipulate the music I hear; I can extend certain passages, focus on particular instruments or add instruments, change the key.

I should add that I can’t play any instruments myself, nor can I read music.

Every once in a long while–maybe two or three times a year–I wake up with a melody in my head, almost never with any words accompanying it, a melody I don’t remember ever hearing before that strikes me as an original “composition.”  I like these melodies and typically forget them within an hour, they don’t seem to return.

Okay, your turn to judge…is this weird?

This grips me more than would a muddy old river or reclining Buddha

My wife, who is very hip and who encouraged me to start this blog to improve my own HQ (Hipness Quotient), looked at my tagline here and said, “Do you think anyone under 50 will know Yul Brynner?”  A reasonable question to ask about someone who’s been dead for almost 25 years.  And a reasonable question to ask if your image of someone is stuck in the ’50s.  But no, my reference to Yul Brynner is way hipper than that.  It’s from the ’80s.  (From Frank Rich‘s review of the musical from which my tagline comes:  “For over three hours, the characters yell at one another to rock music.”)

I don't see you guys rating the kind of mate I'm contemplating...wait, wrong play

I don't see you guys rating the kind of mate I'm contemplating...wait, wrong play

Okay, maybe I am skewing old here.  But no apologies for that.

Thanks to my wife, I now know that Yul did not spell his last name “Brenner.”  I didn’t realize that until I went Googling to find a link for this post and discovered it was actually “Brynner” (which makes sense as a transliteration from Бринер, his name in his native Russia…one might instead use “Brinner,” but “Brenner” would’t have made the cut..wouldn’t “Breenyer” be more accurate?).

Okay everybody…back to your bars, your temples…your massage parlors…