Saturday, March 3, 2018

Cuba...the rest of the story

Part dos of my Cuba adventure.

If you enjoy live music, you're in for a treat. It's everywhere.

.Don't ask if they know Guantanamera.

That's like asking a band at home if they know Happy Birthday. Every band sings Guantanamera. In every set. Every time. Guantanamera, which was a top 10 hit song in the US by The Sandpipers (Billboard Hot 100 #9 on 7/30/1966), is probably the best-known of any Cuban song. Part of the lyrics come from a patriotic poem by Jose Marti, the National Hero of Cuba (see the description of his 164th birthday party rally and parade in part uno of the blog). You should tip the band, of course. If you're in a restaurant - outdoor or indoor - one of the singers will come up to your table after the set and ask if you'd like to buy one of their CD's. The tip and any CD sales is probably all they get.

Driving around in Havana.

Traffic is not that busy. Lots of people are walking around and hanging in doorways. At night there's hardly any traffic, very few lights, basically no stores and hardly any signs.

With one notable exception.

Floridita Restaurante.

It's a restaurant and bar - mostly bar - where Ernest Hemingway hung out ordering daiquiris so frequently that the government let them keep the neon sign and put up a bronze statue of him sitting at the bar.

Hemingway was famous for saying writers should use small words instead of big ones.

When I asked him about that he didn't say much at all.

Out in the country.

We headed out west to Pinar del Rio where they roll cigars by hand. Looks like pretty tedious work, but when you get back home everyone will ask you if you brought back any Cuban smokes. Along the highway - a four lane divided highway with a grass median - you see vast farmland with horses and cows grazing. It seems like they have as much grass to chew as they could possibly want, but the horses and cows are all skinny. Maybe the grass there doesn't taste that great. You also see horse-drawn wagons trotting down the slow lane hauling bales of hay or whatever. Even some with oxen doing the hauling. My observation is that the horses trot along and look like they're having a pretty good time, but the oxen just slog along and look bored.


Of course. Beautiful clean sand, gently rolling waves of pure blue water.

In terms of beach attire, people are pretty relaxed. The European effect is clearly there. Remember, most tourists are not from the US.

What about the people? Do they like Americans?

They're incredibly nice. Everyone you pass has a smiling "Hola" for you. And they love having Americans visit after all those decades. But it isn't as easy now as it was last year. The Trump rollbacks were designed to keep American dollars out of the hands of the Cuban Government. But as I wrote on part uno of this blog, no one in Havana is whipping out an Amex Gold Card or even a pile of $20 bills. No plastic is accepted and no American money. So the only ones who really get hurt are the people like Alejandro who drive you around in that 1954 Chevy.

Or Pedro, who owns the casa where we stayed.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. The most interesting trip I've taken in a long time.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Cuba Libre

You see it and hear it all over the place in Havana.

One year ago, on January 21st, we flew from JFK to Havana. It was the first full day of the Trump presidency and we were headed out of the US and to a Communist country. It actually wasn't a political statement. This trip was planned months in advance.

You needed a State Department excuse.

Today this would not work, but we were on a painting trip. Painting as in art, not houses.

In Cuba nobody paints their casa.

For good reason. You don't own it. You can own the inside, much like a condo, and you can make that as nice as you can afford to. But the building itself - the outside - is owned by the government. Whatever it cost to paint it, you'd never get your money back.

Cash only, por favor.

There are no credit cards, no ATM's. You can safely leave home without your Amex Gold Card because it's not accepted anywhere on the island. Same with US Dollars. We had to go to Bank of America in our home town and exchange dollars for Euros, then exchange the Euros for CUC's (Cuban Convertible Currency) in Havana.

The Embargo.

JFK instituted the embargo back in 1962, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Obama loosened things up a little back in 2015, but there is still nothing American in Cuba. There are no stores to speak of. The few little bodegas have no sign and very little inside. They're small, dark and have shelves that are mostly empty. There's a lot of bartering...if the store has bread the day you go in, you might buy two loaves and then swap one to someone else who was lucky enough to go there on the day they had milk.

Bring your own TP.

Seriously. They sell flat rolls of it on Amazon and you should pack a few. When you go to use the banyo at a restaurant in Cuba you'll find that there's 1) no toilet paper 2) no seat 3) a lady sitting outside at a small desk who will charge you one CUC for the privilege. Bring your own toothpaste and shampoo and nail clipper, because there's no Walgreen's at the corner of happy and healthy to buy them.

Lukewarm spots.

You never see a newspaper stand. Or anyone reading a newspaper. CNN is on TV, but it's en espanol and from either Puerto Rico or Mexico. Spanish FM pop music stations are from Miami. The Internet is not allowed in homes in Cuba. You can find a few wifi hotspots (I called them lukewarm spots because they're only in a few small parks in the city and they're in "Slooowwwsky" mode). To get access you have to go to a government kiosk. No sign saying that's what it have to ask someone...and buy an internet access card.

You have to have to show them your passport and visa to get one. It's good for two hours. When you find a lukewarm spot to try and log in you'll eat up half of your precious two hours watching the "pinwheel of death" while it tries to connect. Once it does, don't read anything. Just download it and read offline later. Data is about $35 an hour. Remember, the average Cuban makes about $20 a month, or about 11 cents an hour. That's not a joke.

But Cubans are happy and healthy.

We had a fabulous tour guide who gave us the inside scoop on a lot of how things work there. He said, "There's a lot of poverty, but no misery." Health care is free. At Havana University there is no tuition. You have no be smart enough to get in, but you come out with zero student debt.

Nothing is American...except cars.

Only old ones. As old as 1946, and nothing newer than 1959, the year that Fidel Castro took over. Most are 1952-1957. Lots of Chevys and Fords, but also a decent number of Buicks, Dodges and Plymouths. Even an occasional Studebaker, DeSoto, Packard or Henry J. Some are beautifully restored convertibles, especially in the touristy Old Havana area. Others are just old cars that are still chugging away after 60 years. Some are cobbled together with non-original parts. Say you're driving a 1951 Plymouth and you blow out a rear light. There's no Auto Zone where you can buy a new one. You have to make it yourself.

We had a driver for the week with a 1954 Chevy Bel Air.

Mileage to the moon and back. Manual transmission, three by the knee. The radio was AM only (nobody had FM in 1954 and there was nothing on it anyway) and it hadn't worked for a long time. The tubes had worn out and could not be replaced. Leaded fuel only, of course.

As you head down street after street you can see that Havana was like Paris...about 100 years ago. There aren't that many vehicles. People walk around all over the place. There are no electric signs - really no signs at all. There are no ads anywhere. No trash. No grafitti. No billboards, except an occasional political one with a slogan from Che Guevara.

"The word teaches, the example guides"

That's actually inspirational more than political, but I didn't know that when I took the picture.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are revered.

There are pictures of them all over the place. At the Museum of the Revolution you hear stories about how horrible things were under Fuljencio Batista and how everything got better under Castro. You hear about the Cuban Missile Crisis from their viewpoint, how Castro invited Khruschev to put missiles in Cuba because he believed the US was going at attack Cuba. After all, the CIA had tried that the year before.

The bullet holes in this truck are from the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Tell me more about Cuba Libre.

It's on buildings, flags, t-shirts everywhere. It actually doesn't refer to the 1954-1959 revolution, it refers to the liberation of Cuba from 406 years of Spanish rule in 1898. Cuba had been a colony of Spain ever since Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492. This Cuba Libre war is what we know as the Spanish-American War, but in Cuba it was a guy named Jose Marti who is considered the National Hero for his part in the fight. We were at a huge rally for his 164th birthday. Raul Castro spoke, Jumbotron and all, and easily 10,000 marchers with torchlights (a candle in an empty soup can on top of a stick), "26 Julio" flags (July 26th is the day the Castro-Guevara Revolution began in 1954) and "Cuba Libre" flags followed him down to the waterfront.

Raul's limo went right in front of us. Like 8 feet away tops. The next day our tour guide was saying, "Wow, you saw Raul?"

But the real Cuba Libre... a rum and Coke. Or today, a rum and Cuba Cola. If you do get an actual Coca-Cola it's from Mexico, not Atlanta. Rum is the official drink of Cuba, and the official rum is Havana Club. I mentioned earlier that there are no ads anywhere...there is one big exception: every glass in every restaurant has a Havana Club logo.

How did rum and Coke become a Cuba Libre?

In the 1800's Cubans drank rum neat. After the Spanish-American War ended Coca-Cola started marketing in Cuba and named the Coke mixed with rum drink after the revolution. Thus, Cuba Libre. In The Godfather II scene in Havana Fredo orders one. Standard drink fare is Havana Club, El Ron de Cuba. "Oscuro, de 7 anos, dos, sin hielo." That's the dark stuff, 7-year-old, 2 shots, neat.

How's the food?

Great. The first night I ordered a shrimp dish (on their menus it says "shrimps" - that way you know you're not getting just one - and I also asked if I could get some rice and beans with it. The waiter looked at me as if I had asked if I could have it served on a plate. It turns out that rice and beans (you don't have to call them Cuban beans - of course they're Cuban) come with everything you order anywhere on the island. This is not like a "do you want fries with that?" question. It doesn't matter whether you like're getting rice and beans, period! Exclamation point at the end and an upside down one at the beginning. Lots of beef, seafood, chicken. Octopus salad, which I actually tried.

Yes, that actually says "Fish doughnut covered with banana" on the menu. Hey, Mr. Tally-man tally me banana, and put it on a fish doughnut, por favor. Or...I'd like the fish doughnut. Can you put a banana on it? Si. Of course you get rice and beans with it as well. Okay, I didn't try've got to draw the line somewhere. But I did try the Pollo ChaChaCha. Mike Ehrmantraut and Mr. White would approve.

Lots of outdoor dining.

It's warm, there don't seem to be any bugs, and the stray dogs who are all over the place aren't that big and don't bother you while you eat.

One place had the menu items in Russian.

If you want to order "Tastes of the mountain the Cuban way" in Russian there's how you do it.

Breakfast in the Casa.

Outdoors on the roof, made specially by the Senorita de Casa. An omlette (Cuban, of course...she held the cheese at my request), fruit, juice, small cup of coffee with steamed milk.

So much more to say.

Like about how they have live music practically everywhere. I'll do it in the next post.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

#1 passes away at 99. I was almost named after him.

Bobby Doerr, the oldest living Baseball Hall of Famer, died on Tuesday. He was 99.

Doerr spent his entire career playing for the Red Sox, playing 2B (never played a different position) in 1,852 games. He wore #1 from 1938-1951, but it's noteworthy that in his 1937 rookie year he wore #9, which Ted Williams took in 1939. His career fielding percentage at 2B (.980) is topped only by...guess who? Dustin Pedroia (.991). Pedey also has a higher career BA (.300) vs. Doerr (.288). But this is about Bobby Doerr. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

In addition to Cooperstown, Doerr is also enshrined at Fenway Park in a few places - the #1 in the row of retired numbers on the right field facade,

the lit up one in the walkway leading from the ticket office down to Yawkey commuter rail station,

the one on the outside wall when you're heading down Van Ness Street,

another one inside on the wall between Gates A and B, and most notably, the Teammates statue outside the entrance to Gate B (or K, if you're bringing kids to the game).

The statue is an homage to the 2003 David Halberstam book "Teammates."

It takes place in 2001, when Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio ("He's better than his brother Joe...Dominic DiMaggio-ooo"), Red Sox teammates back in the late 1930's, 40's and 50's, took a road trip to Florida to say farewell to their dying former teammate - and the greatest hitter who ever lived.

This is not exactly, but sort of, the picture the statue was based on, except they're in a different order. Williams and Pesky, the two lefty hitters, are on the ends in the photo, but DiMaggio is on the end in the statue.

So how was I almost named after him?

Dad was a huge Red Sox fan. When I was born in September 1948 the Red Sox were on the verge of winning the AL pennant for the second time in three years. They had gone 30 years since their last championship in we all know those 30 years would eventually stretch to 86...but they got to the World Series in 1946 only to lose to the Cardinals in Game 7. In 1948 they wound up tied with the Cleveland Indians for first place in the American League. There was a one-game playoff at Fenway. When jouneyman pitcher Denny Galehouse was announced as the starter my older brother Hugh supposedly threw up in the car. Turned out that Galehouse was not up to the task and Cleveland went on to face the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. Boston...with two chances out of three to win the championship...did not. Cleveland won it at Braves Field, now Nickerson Field at BU. And that was the last time Cleveland won it all. 1948.

Okay, but the name thing?

Back then, the Red Sox even winning the pennant was a big deal. No one expected a World Series win ever. So when I came into the world on September 15, 1948...the Sox lead the Indians by 4-1/2 games. My Dad decided I should be named after the star second baseman, Bobby Doerr. I was going to be Robert Pershing Doerr Kelley. Mom would have none of it. So I wound up being Donald John Kelley. Named after Donald John Trump. Okay, that was a joke. I do share the same first and middle name with the current POTUS, but I don't bring it up much.

Did I ever meet Doerr?

I did. When "The Teammantes" book came out, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky came into the radio station (I was VP of Programming for Greater Media Boston and Program Director of the group's #1 station, MAGIC 106.7) for an interview with Mike Barnicle on our sister station 96.9 FM Talk. Right after the interview I chatted with Pesky (I had already met him a couple of times) and Doerr, whom I had not met. Remember, at this point they were getting up there.

I said to Bobby, "I was almost named after you."

He said, "You're a Doerr?" I responded, no I'm a Kelley. "I thought you said you were a Doerr?" I explained that my father wanted me to be Robert Pershing Doerr Kelley (see, I know your middle name), but Mom nixed it. He said, "Huh? You're not a Doerr?" Then Pesky jumped in. "What are you, an idiot? His name is Kelley. His father wanted to name him Bobby Doerr, but his mother said forget it. Jesus, don't you understand anything? Then Pesky turned to me. "How come your Dad didn't want to name you Johnny Pesky Kelley?" No idea, I was only a few hours old. Maybe it was the Pesky error that wound up losing Game 7 in 1946 World Series. This was like a scene in Grumpy Old Men. But they were both having fun ribbing each other.

Bobby Doerr, RIP.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Cora a good choice for Sox Manager

Alex Cora named the 47th Manager of the Red Sox.

They had to wait until the ALCS ended to make it official, as MLB does not want major announcements made during the playoffs. I guess the 3-day layoff before the World Series starts on Tuesday night is a safe respite. It is a little like the Bill Parcells announcement about going to the New Jersey Jets while still coaching the Patriots in the 1997 Superbowl. But that wound up working out okay in the long haul.

Cora played for 14 years in the Majors.

7 years with the Dodgers, half a season with the Indians, three and a half with the Red Sox, two with the Mets, one each with the Rangers and Nationals. The Dodgers finished 2nd or 3rd every year he played there, except for 2004 when they finished 1st, but we all know who won that year.

In 2005 Cora came to the Sox at the trading deadline and the team won the Wild Card and went to the playoffs for the 3rd year in a row, but suffered from the World Series Hangover and were swept by the White Sox, who went on to end their own 88-year drought (1917-2005). Around that time I often wondered why there was so much attention on the Red Sox "Curse of the Bambino" 86-year curse when there were two teams - both from Chicago - that had gone longer. In the case of the White Sox I guess it's because people don't really care about them that much. Just ask Chris Sale.

Other than 2010, when the Rangers finished first, Cora was never on a team that went to the playoffs.

Except for the Red Sox.

They won the Wild Card in 2005, the AL East and the World Series in 2007, and the Wild Card in 2008.

He was there for the sweep by the White Sox in 2005, got a ring for the World Championship in 2007 and was there for the season-ending JD Drew called third off David Price in Tampa Bay in 2008.

So he'll get the Boston media thing.

Which many people from elsewhere do not. Cora has been here a world championship and for almost-but-not-quite-enough flop endings. He'll get it.

He's bilingual.

Alex is from Puerto Rico, meaning he's fluent in Spanish as well as English. This is a good thing for almost anyone, but should be especially helpful given the increasing number of Latin players on the Red Sox roster and in their system.

So let's go get a slugger for 2018.

In the meantime, my #2 World Series Preference has come true. Yep. #1 was the Red Sox, of course, and #2 was Anybody but the Yankees. And that's what it will be.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Not going the way I hoped

Yankees pounding the Astros.


Oh well.

It's only one game.

But the Damn Yankees look pretty formidable.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Down to four now. Preferences recalculated.

World Series winner preferences 1, 3, 4 and 8 are out,

The Red Sox were #1, of course. #2 was Anybody but the Yankees, #3 was the Nationals, #4 was the Indians, #5 was the Cubs, #6 was the Astros, #7 was the Dodgers, #8 was the D'Backs.

With the Wild Card and the Division Series in the books, we need to recalculate.

How's it look now?

The Astros have taken a 2-0 ALCS lead over the Yankees, which keeps former preference #2, now #1, alive. New York has come back from being down 2 games to none to win a 7-game series before, but they've also been up 2-0...yes, even 3-0...and lost - as we all remember. So #1 is still #1. The new #2 would be the Astros, who could deliver #1 with a Yankee Elimination night in New York on Tuesday or Wednesday. Sure, it's tough to knock them off at Yankee Stadium, but the 2004 Red Sox did it with the Yankees up 3 games to 2. A challenge, but do-able.

The Dodgers beat the Cubs 5-2 in NLCS game 1, with game 2 tonight in La La Land. When Cody Bellinger and not Adrian Gonzalez is at 1st base, they're a very good team. That's why Gonzo was on the bench for game 1 and will be for game 2 tonight as well.

The Cubs won in 2016 - you may have heard something about that - and the Dodgers have gone 29 years. That famous fist-pumping, ankle-hobbling Kirk Gibson home run off Dennis Eckersley in 1988 was the last Series LA won. That was when Eck coined the term "walkoff." When you hear someone say "walkoff" today, obviously they're talking about the batter who hit it. When he was interviewed after giving up the game-winning shot, Eck, known for his colorful turn-of-phrase, said, "I threw some cheese with hair on it, but he jacked it into the porch. At the point there was nothing for me to do but walk off." So Eck was talking about the pitcher walking off the mound, not the batter jumping in a pig pile at home plate. Dodgers are now #3.

At this point #4 is obviously the Cubs, although in a straight ranking the Yankees would be #4. But putting them at #4 would mean they are my 4th preference to win, and they're not. They're #1 preference to lose.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

World Series Preference...updated.

Three teams down...time for an update.

My preferences for a World Series winner went like this:

1. Red Sox

2: Anyone but the Yankees

3: Nationals

4: Indians

5: Cubs

6: Astros

7: Dodgers

8: Diamondbacks.

We’re down to 5 now.

The Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Indians are all out, so my #1, 4 and 8 preferences are done. That makes #2...anybody but the new #1. I’m feeling less and less comfortable about that after tonight’s Cleveland fold. Washington staved off elimination tonight and might actually knock off Chicago in Game 5, so we’ll stick with the Nats as they move up to #2. But the Cubbies are still right behind at #3, with the Astros at #4 and the Dodgers at #5.

Or maybe I move the Astros up to #3. Yeah. They’ve never won - neither has either of their football teams (former Oilers or current Texans) - and they had a horrible time with Harvey. Plus the Cubs did just win in 2016 and their Billy Goat curse was just a lame attempt at copying the Curse of the Bambino, which was definitely for real. So as the late Casey Kassem would say, the Cubs drop one notch to #4. Dodgers still at #5 because people in LA don’t care that much. They show up in the 3rd inning and leave at the 7th inning stretch.

On Friday either the Cubs or Nationals will be out.

We’ll recalculate. But the new #1 will not change.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

World Series 2017...My Preferences for a Champion

These are not predictions, just my hopes and dreams, ranked.

Of the 10 teams that made the playoffs, the Twins and Rockies were tied for 9th on my list, mostly because there was no expectation that either would advance. And neither did.

That said, here's your top 8:

I'm debating here whether to count down or up.

Counting up is more dramatic, and works well on the radio and on TV. Or on a Thrillist ranking where all 50 states are ranked on something and you have to scroll down a lot to get to #1, which you probably disagree with anyway. But 8 is a short list with little if any scrolling required, so we'll go with counting from 1-8.

#1: Red Sox (of course).

So what if they're already down by two games to Houston...the Sox came back from 0-2 to win the ALDS in 1999 (v. Cleveland), 2003 (v. A's) and down 0-3 to win the ALCS (v. Yankees) in 2004. As Monty Python would say, they're not completely dead yet. They pounded the Astros on Sunday, 10-3, to keep the series alive.

#2: Anybody but the Yankees.

Not much argument there other than folks from NY, NJ and the part of Connecticut south of Hartford. It's well-known that the real New England is 5-1/2 states.

#3: Washington Nationals.

People think of the droughts in Boston (86 years) and Chicago (88 years), but DC has gone longer than any market without a World Series Champion. 93 years, to be exact. It was in 1924. Prohibition was the law of the land. No beer vendors in the stands at Griffith Stadium (where I actually saw a game in 1958-Opening Day, Red Sox @ Senators. President Eisenhower threw out the first pitch). Back in '24 Calvin Coolidge was President and threw out the first pitch of Game 1. Star pitcher Walter "The Big Train" Johnson was the starter, 8th inning guy, and closer. He pitched all 12 innings, giving up 14 hits and 4 runs in a 4-3 loss to the New York Giants.

(Side note: in case you've ever wondered why people still refer to the "New York Football Giants"'s because the baseball Giants were around in New York a long time before the football ones. When the baseball ones moved to San Francisco in 1958 the Football Giants name just stuck.)

Johnson also started and finished Game 5, going the distance and giving up 13 hits and 6 runs in a 6-2 loss. In Game 7, with the series tied 3-3, Johnson came in as the closer in the 9th and threw four scoreless innings to lead the Senators to the championship in the 12th. 9 years later DC had one more World Series appearance, in 1933 against the same New York Giants...this time losing in 5 games. Nothing since then.

As years and bad seasons dragged on, the slogan "Washington...first in war, first in peace, last in the American League" was oft repeated by local sports scribes. The original Senators blew town in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins. They were immediately replaced by a new Washington Senators that was worse than the original and also blew town, moving to Dallas in 1972 to become the Texas Rangers. Then the good folks of DC suffered through 33 years with no team. Better to have a lousy one than none, right? Finally, in 2005, the Montreal Expos gave up and moved to DC to become the Nationals (a nickname the original Senators used in the 50's). The Expos were a bad team when they moved to DC, but have morphed into a very good team. They were the first to clinch their division in 2017. So yeah, Go Nats!

#4: Indians.

Cleveland has gone 69 years without winning. I was three weeks old the last time it happened, which was at Braves Field in Boston, just 6 blocks down Comm Ave. from Fenway. There was almost a Boston-Boston World Series that year, but the Red Sox blew a one-game pennant playoff against the Tribe. The Indians are a very good team. They have Tito, who broke the curse in Boston. They have Corey Kluber, the likely Cy Young Award winner. Cleveland is a much better place than the urban legends would lead you to believe.

#5: Cubs.

They've got Theo, who broke two long curses. (the Babe Ruth curse made some sense, but the Billy Goat curse was just stupid.) A repeat win after waiting 108 years would be cool. I haven't heard this mentioned, but when the Cubbies won in 1908 it was a repeat of 1907. They beat the Detroit Tigers in back-to-back years.

#6: Houston.

They're an awfully good team this year after decades of mediocrity. The Astrodome was horrible, but Minute Maid Park is really nice. They got rid of the ugly pajama uniforms. Jose Altuve is probably your MVP. No Texas team has ever won the World Series, so maybe it's time.

#7: Dodgers.

A Dodgers-Yankees matchup is the least interesting possibility this year, but the team had an amazing run. Especially when Adrian Gonzalez ("The Cooler") was on the DL. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is enshrined in Red Sox history for the steal of the century in 2004. Plus, the Dodgers took Carl Crawford and Gonzo off our hands.

#8: Diamondbacks.

Ugly uniforms, but a nice ballpark. Their manager is Tory Lovullo, who filled in for John Farrell at the end of 2016 and is probably the reason the Red Sox won the AL East last year.

So that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Then again, there's Monday.

It will be a possible elimination night for the Red Sox, Yankees and D'Backs. Which would move Washington up to #1 on the list.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

100 years ago today: The Perfect Game by a Reliever

How could a relief pitcher throw a perfect game?

It happened. Once, 100 years ago today, June 23, 1917.

Ten years ago this month I almost saw a perfect game.

It was in Oakland. Curt Schilling had not allowed a baserunner until the 6th when a guy reached on a Julio Lugo error. It was a room-service grounder and Lugo should have easily made the play. But he didn't. Really, I could have probably made that play. As Curt comes out for the bottom of the 9th, the crowd, A’s fans included, is on its feet, applauding. We get to two outs, the no-no still in place, and Shannon Stewart singles. A clean single to right center. Schilling retires the next guy and it's a one-hit shutout. But if Lugo had made that play, Stewart would not have gotten up in the 9th and it would have been not only a no-hitter, but a Perfect Game. Afterward, Schilling, being the way he is, blames himself for shaking off a Jason Varitek sign on the pitch that Stewart hit. He does not blame Lugo for the error that cost him a perfect game. At least not out loud.

But there's a better Perfect Game story.

The Babe before the Curse began.

It was 100 years ago today that the strangest Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history took place. It was game one of a double-header at Fenway Park, with the Red Sox, who had won back-to-back World Series in the two previous seasons, facing the original Washington Senators, who became the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

The starting pitcher for Boston was one Babe Ruth. Leading off for the Senators was Ray Morgan. Ruth wound up walking Morgan on four pitches. When home plate umpire Brick Owens (is that where the name Brick in "The Middle" came from?) made the “ball four” call, Ruth was so agitated that he called Owens "the most foul name imaginable" according to the Boston Globe writeup.

The Supreme Court has since overturned the "fleeting expletives" fines that the FCC had leveled against ABC and Fox for F-bombs that aired during award shows, and given that today you can say "sucks" and "WTF?" on network TV during family viewing time, one has to wonder what was the most foul name imaginable back in 1917. “You bounder?” Remember, both damn and hell were considered offensive back then. No, probably an F-bomb or an A-bomb or a C-bomb or a D-bomb.

Back to the game.

Owens tossed Ruth. The Babe, who was not known for taking this sort of thing well, then marched up to home plate and took a swing at the umpire. That got him hauled off the field, and he was hit with a $100 fine (over $2000 in 2017 money) and a ten-game suspension. The catcher, Pinch Thomas (does it mean a pinch of snuff? - there were a lot of colorful ballplayer names back then) was also ejected. Call to the bullpen, sponsored by New England Telephone ("we're the one for you, New England...").

Red Sox pitcher Ernie Shore.

Ernie Shore comes trotting in from the bullpen as a reliever.

No time to warm up. It's the top of the first, one on, nobody out. Ray Morgan decides to try and steal second, but Shore senses this, throws to first and picks him off. One out, nobody on. Ernie then proceeds to retire the next 26 Senators in a row, a total of 27 straight outs, resulting in a 4-0 win that was a Perfect Game in relief.

Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore in the Sox dugout.

It stayed in the record books that way for years...

...until someone decided that, because Morgan originally reached 1st base on Ruth's walk, it was a no-hitter…but not a perfect game. Wondering what ever happened to Ernie Shore? His Sox career met the same fate as Babe Ruth. He was sold to the Yankees by owner Harry Frazee.

But it was one game that Grandfathers told their kids about, and they told their kids, and so on. It's too good a story not to pass on. June 23, 1917.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A visit to SunTrust Parek in Atlanta. Bucket List Once Again Complete

I had to top it off in Atlanta.

I started my Bucket List of seeing games at every Major League Ballpark back in 1989 when I read Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks by Bob Wood. He mostly was rating the ballparks of the time based on the food. Dodger Stadium came in first, Fenway Park came in last. As he said about Fenway, "How could such a great place have such awful food?" This embarrassed the Sox ownership, still the Yawkey family then. As a result, Colonial Provisions lost the contract for Fenway food and Aramark has had it since then.

My ranking is based on the ballpark experience.

In 1989 I had already been to four parks: Fenway and DC's Griffith Stadium back in the 50's, plus Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Angels Stadium in Anaheim in the late 80's.

I knocked off six more in the 90's (including the brand new Turner Field in Atlanta during the Inaugural Season), 5 more in 2000 alone, and by 2005 I had my daughter Kara as my Ballpark Buddy going on road trips with me. By 2010 I was up to 35, and in 2014 we went to Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. At that point I had been to games at 41 ballparks: all 30 of the current ones and 11 more that are gone or no longer used for baseball. That completed the Bucket List. For a while.

Atlanta decided to get rid of Turner Field, only 20 years old.

That seems like a pretty quick turnaround, but the majority of ballparks - 16 of other 29 - are actually newer than Turner. Only 13 are older. Only 6 were opened before 1990.

In Atlanta they remember where the team came from.

The Braves are the longest-running franchise in all of baseball. The team has been in Atlanta since 1966, but began play in Boston in 1871 and spent 82 seasons there.

Many of the food concession stands are named 1871 Grille in honor of that.

Why'd they leave?

In the final week of spring training in 1953 owner Lou Perini of Framingham got tired of the Braves being badly outdrawn by the Red Sox every year since 1901 and decided to blow town and go Milwaukee where his AAA team played. The Braves stayed there for only 13 years, so Turner Field outlived the Milwaukee Braves.

It's the only MLB franchise to win the World Series playing in three different cities.

Warren Spahn was a pitcher for the Boston Braves from 1942-1952 and the Milwaukee Braves from 1953-1964. Spahn and Johnny Sain were the star pitchers for the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. The popular slogan was "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain." SunTrust Park has this statute of Warren Spahn with his famous high leg kick at the entrance even though he retired before the Braves moved to Atlanta.

Okay, tell me about Atlanta today.

The new ballpark is about 10 miles north of downtown, where the last two ballparks were located. If there's any public transportation heading that way I didn't see any evidence of it. But there's a lot of parking. Lots.

The Opening Day flag was held horizontally across the outfield. Only Fenway has a wall big enough to hang a huge flag.

How's the park itself?

Really nice. They all are, except for Oakland and Tampa Bay. But seeing a game at those places is still fun. With the Raiders getting out of Dodge for a second time, Oakland will either get a new ballpark or lose the A's as well.

RA Dickey strikes out the first batter.

They put some little Christmas trees in the batter's eye in center field, but they weren't spaced that well.

In case you were looking at your phone and missed a hit, the jumbotron reminds you.

A Braves home run gets fireworks. I saw this happen indoors once at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

What's unique?

Well, the Tomahawk Chop, of course. There's no PC issue about it there at all. It's the "Sweet Caroline" of Atlanta. Ludacris lead the crowd for the first chop.

Tomahawk Chop lead by Ludacris from Don Kelley.

Do they do a stupid 5th inning race?

Sure. Everywhere but Fenway does that. Milwaukee has a sausage, a brat and a hot dog racing. In DC it's George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy always loses. At SunTrust it's sponsored by Home Depot and they have a hammer, an orange bucket and a paint brush racing. I won't bore you with a picture. A couple of musical tidbits: RA Dickey's walkup music is "Game of Thrones"...and you know how every park (except Fenway) has an organ playing "If You're Happy and You Know It" or "Charge" or that sort of thing between batters? They had the organ play "Battle Hymn of the Republic." In Atlanta? Surprised me.

Who won?

The Braves beat the San Diego Padres, 4-2. Both teams hit back-to-back HR's. The leadoff guy for San Diego was Manuel Margot, traded by the Red Sox to get Craig Kimbrel.

But my Bucket List is once again complete.