December 12, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Thursday, October 10, 2013
We often speak of "baseball immortals," but of course they aren't. Former major league players are mortal, just like the rest of us. When we read that one has died, we may say to ourselves, "Oh, I remember him," perhaps picturing a baseball card we had as a kid.
Sometimes, for some reason, we identify more strongly.
On the desk next to me at this moment is a baseball glove, which I moved this morning from a shelf otherwise occupied by baseball books. It measures just over seven inches, top of the middle finger to the bottom, just slightly bigger than my hand. It lies flat, as unlike today's snap-jaw gloves as a wood-shafted mashie is to what Tiger Woods swings.
The glove was a gift, some years ago. When I hold it angled just right under the light, I can see the name Andy Pafko etched in neat cursive along the side.
Andy Pafko died this week, at 92. For me, that news fell into the category of "identify strongly."
My first heartbreak as a Cubs fan (count 'em) involved Pafko. I swear to you that I didn't have to look this up: In June of 1951, the Cubs traded him, along with Wayne Terwilliger, Johnny Schmitz and Rube Walker, to the Dodgers for Gene Hermanski, Eddie Miksis, Joe Hatten and Bruce Edwards. Not Brock for Broglio, but in the ballpark.
They'd peddled Handy Andy, the slugger who'd finished second in the league in homers (to Ralph Kiner) the year before. The Boy from Boyceville (in nearby Wisconsin), a member of the Cubs' then-and-now last World Series team, was gone as the Cubs rebuilt. Ha!
That's just half the memory.
Sharing that bookshelf with the glove is a slim novella describing a radio broadcast I listened to four months later. From the book:
Russ says, "There's a long drive."
On the front of the book's dust jacket is a photo of Pafko indeed looking up, standing next to a sign that says "315 FT," dwarfed by a wall whose top is unseen. On the back we see Bobby Thomson's swing, the ball, and a dotted line showing where it will go.
Pafko at the Wall became the prologue to Dom DeLillo's wonderful novel, Underworld. Andy Pafko will live long in those pages.
Brent Strom, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, has been hired as the Houston Astros big league pitching coach. I first heard the story through the SB Nation blog The Crawfish Boxes, where there's a great bunch of comments about the hiring.
A poster questioned whether Strom was a good pitching coach (in an inquisitive—not derisive—tone), and I responded with:
First and foremost, he is open-minded and seeks knowledge from tons and tons of domains. He is not “above” anyone—he has attended many pitching seminars run by people who were previously unknown (Ron Wolforth, Paul Nyman, etc) and now routinely speaks and assists at these camps/seminars, passing on his vast knowledge. Aside from playing professional baseball (a credential that I don’t put a lot of weight on), he is a crazy student of the game and one who highly values work ethic, experimentation, and pushing the envelope.
Here are Strom and I sharing a stage at the Ultimate Pitchers' Bootcamp in 2012 in Houston.
Trevor Bauer, Fred Corral, Kyle Boddy, Doug White, Ken Knutson, Brent Strom, Ron Wolforth (rear), Eric Binder
I stand by what I said over at The Crawfish Boxes—Strom is an outstanding hire, one who has a lot of knowledge but also a tireless approach to understanding the game. The results he's had in St. Louis (alongside the partnership with former co-workers in Jeff Luhnow and Sig Mejdal) should give any Astros fan increased hope and optimism for the future.
With Strom reuniting with the usual suspects—along with former colleagues Craig Bjornson and Doug White—I would be absolutely thrilled if I was an Astros fan, knowing that the development of the young pitching talent in the organization is under the command of one incredibly hard-working, intelligent, and open-minded man.