Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Playing Favorites: National League

Yesterday it was the AL, today the senior circuit:


Favorite: Greg Maddux
Why: I'm sure I've gone on and on about this in the past. Let's just say that guile and intellect over brute strength is a dynamic I've been fond of ever since I stopped growing when I was 14, and that's almost exactly the time I became aware of Greg Maddux.
Would I buy his jersey: Yes, though I'd be surprisingly less eager to wear it than I would a Tigers jersey or even that Giants jersey I mentioned yesterday. While it's no Wahoo, the tomahawk does bother me. I could be persuaded to go with a Cubs or even a Padres jersey if I had to, but man, I don't know.


Favorite: David Cone
Why: There are times when he seems like the only sane person who has played for that team since the early 80s.
Would I buy his jersey: Sure. The Mets-as-Braves-rival thing is manufactured and overplayed, and even if I never root for them, I don't feel any natural enmity towards the Mets.


Favorite: Terry Mulholland
Why: I know this is a weird choice. Mulholland, however, has always represented something wonderful in my mind. Sure, he was a bit below average. Sure, he moved around a lot (he could be on any number of teams, but I chose Philly because I can't think of any Philly Phillie (thanks Mr. Thursday!) I like better). He certainly wasn't particularly colorful. But he always hung in there. He always showed up for work and kept an even keel even though he knew he was no one's favorite and would never be the star he no doubt once thought he'd be. I always got the sense that no matter how he was doing at the ballpark on a particular night, he always had something nice waiting for him back home, be it a nice woman, a good dinner, or just a video he wanted to watch. There are many days I feel the same way, so seeing Mulholland do that for 20 years provided some sort of perverted inspiration for me.
Would I buy his jersey: You betcha, and I'd wear it under my suit to court if I felt I needed a boost on some sad, otherwise unmotivated day.


Favorite: Tim Wallach
Why: I was seduced by the inflated numbers of 1987 and the belief that 123 RBI meant that Wallach was a slugger par excellence. That good juju hung with me long after I realized that he was nowhere near as good as I thought he was.
Would I buy his jersey: It depends. Is an Expos jersey ironic? I'm really not trying to be ironic here.


Favorite: Charlie Hough
Why: Not much to choose from + a love of knuckleballers = an easy choice.
Would I buy his jersey: No. I'm allergic to teal.


Favorite: Ozzie Smith
Why: I would hope no explanation is necessary. The man was simply magic to watch.
Would I buy his jersey: Definitely. In this age of hyperbole, it's not hyperbole to say that he was the greatest of all time.


Favorite: Eric Davis
Why: We've been over this.
Would I buy his jersey: Absolutely, though as I said yesterday regarding Andre Thornton, I'd probably wait to wear it until I was outside of Ohio, either on vacation or permanently.


Favorite: Mark Grace
Why: I had early buy-in on Grace, and was never willing to sell. Here's what happened: when we lived in Parkersburg, West Virginia, my Dad sorta knew a sports reporter for the local paper, the News and Sentinel. One time, just before the 1988 season, the guy (whose name I forgot) came to our house for dinner. We got to talking baseball, and my Dad said something to the guy about how I knew more about baseball than the reporter. I was embarrassed but, the reporter laughed it off. But maybe he still felt threatened, because he challenged me to write up some baseball predictions for the upcoming season, said that he'd do the same, and we'd compare notes when it was all said and done. I went to work -- hard work, involving many back copies of The Sporting News and lots of trips to the library -- and ended up writing, oh, about 15 pages of single-spaced analysis. I included won-loss records, awards, and totally random team notes involving obscure players. I've long since lost the write-up, but I distinctly recall predicting -- based, no doubt, on some Cub-fan hyperbole I read somewhere -- that Mark Grace would have some otherworldly, Gehrigesque career. I didn't quite predict the triple crown for him in his rookie season, but he wouldn't be too far off in my estimation.

Grace did have a nice rookie season and went on to have a damn good career, but I was always rooting for him to be even better, hoping to somehow validate my childhood prediction. Despite its provenance, the rooting was somehow never colored by disappointment, however, and over the years my close attention to Grace turned into no small amount of affection.

Postscript: The reporter's predictions were a lazy affair, handwritten (I used my Commodore 64!) and seemingly ill-conceived. I've lost them too, but I recall him saying that Sam Horn would hit 50 home runs and that the Cardinals and Royals would make some noise, which they didn't. He was going to run some high-concept piece about him going head-to-head with a teenager, but it never happened. Moral of the story: I've been battlin' the mainstream media a long damn time, sonny.

Would I buy his jersey: Without question, but I would wear the Ozzie Smith one if I went back to Wrigley, because I find Wrigley crowds annoying and I take pleasure in taunting them.


Favorite: Tony Pena
Why: Another carryover from my most exciting list, I was totally into his crouch.
Would I buy his jersey: Eh, this is some pretty shallow like we're talking about here.


Favorite: Joe Niekro
Why: Unlike a lot of these guys, I never saw him play all that much. My feelings about Joe are formed mostly by the old "baseball brothers" card that Topps put out at some point in the 70s (I'm sure Wilker can help me out with this). In the card I'm remembering, Phil Niekro had a calm and peaceful expression on his face, inspired (in my childhood mind at least) by the knowledge that he was a better pitcher than the sour-faced little brother on the other half of the card. I was the little brother in my family, and while my desire to play sports always outshone my brother's, his talent was greater. I got over it of course, but I know the feelings behind that sour face. I know that they're none too healthy. I want to go back and tell the 1970s Joe Niekro to just let it go, because if you don't become comfortable with who you are, you're going to do things you'll regret or, even worse, worry yourself into an early grave.
Would I buy his jersey: Only if they put the first initial in front of "Niekro" so there was no mistake about who I was honoring.


Favorite: Paul Molitor
Why: While I know he had a decent amount of pop in his bat, he always suggested to me what a player from the Deadball Era would be like. He played a bunch of positions and just did everything well. More selfishly speaking, I was happy to learn early in his career that he was moved off of shortstop, thereby rendering Trammell the clear winner of the "rookie shortstops" from this card (non-toothpick division, anyway).
Would I buy his jersey: Sure. I loved the 80s Brewers' home uniforms.


Favorite: Will Clark
Why: Sweet swing. Kind of cocky. He was the player I would have wanted to be but couldn't inasmuch as my swing was seizure-inducing and my on-field demeanor deferential to the point of annoyance.
Would I buy his jersey: That's what started all of this, isn't it? The problem I have here is the rule I'm imposing, which is that you have to wear a jersey the player actually wore. Clark's years with the Giants, however, -- 1986-1993 -- coincided with that less-than-stellar "Giants" script on the home unis, and the awkward-looking interlocking "SF" on the roadies. Not sure I can do that.


Favorite: Kirk Gibson
Why: This is a cheat, because I really came to know and love Gibson as a Tiger. Still, I knew he got boned by collusion, and I held absolutely nothing against him for signing with Los Angeles in 1988. I was cheering as loud as anyone when he hit that famous dinger. I was cheering even louder when I saw him play for the last time in 1994 -- again, against the A's -- which also happened to be the last time I ever saw a game in Tiger Stadium.
Would I buy his jersey: Definitely. There aren't many Dodgers I've ever really liked, and wearing gritty Kirk Gibson's number on the otherwise polished and coiffed Dodger whites would feel like an act of defiance of some sort.


Favorite: Randy Johnson
Why: This is purely by default. I don't much care for him, but I can't find a single Diamondback who I even much like, let alone I can call my favorite.
Would I buy his jersey: No. Like Tony Pena, this is some shallow like here.


Favorite: Armando Reynoso
Why: This is a purely statistical thing, in that he managed an ERA+ better than 100 in all four seasons he spent in Mile High Stadium and Coors Field.
Would I buy his jersey: The allergy to purple is slightly less than the one I have to teal, but it's serious enough to want avoid it at all costs.


Favorite: Kurt Bevacqua
Why: Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champ; great sense of humor; had a really hot wife who posed in his jersey and not much else in the July 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated (click the "view this issue" option and turn to page 64). This was important to me as a twelve year-old boy.
Would I buy his jersey: Only if it was a genuine wife-worn model.


Mr. Thursday said...

As a lifelong Phillies fan, I have two points to say. One, the singular form is "Phillie". "Philly" is for the city. Two, no shame in loving the Terry Mulholland. He was one of the proverbial blue-collar ballplayers, and, of course, when I was 10 years old, he registered a career best in ERA+. Also: great pickoff move.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Thanks for the info Mr. Thursday. I wrote "Phillie" first and it didn't look right. Of course, neither does "Philly."

Mulholland also was the guy who famously flipped his whole glove to first base to complete the 1-3 force out after the ball became lodged in the webbing. Although I think that was when he was with the Giants.

Alex said...

Hard to see those pictures on the rookie SS card, but UL Washington looks like he's 50. That could explain his lousy career.

Dre said...

I knew I liked this blog for a reason.

Growing up in SE Michigan, I was glued to WGN growing up. When my favorite Tiger Darrell Evans retired, I needed a new one. Immediately latched on to Mark Grace and spent 16 glorious years watching him. Almost became an obsession as I was growing up, even played a role in going to college at DePaul. It was a sad day when he had to leave Wrigley, but it was an easy decision for me to switch allegiances and become a DBacks fan. Rewarded with a World Series in just 1 season, I was on Cloud 9. Now being rewarded again with an amazing team of young talent is a baseball fan's dream.

And I too, love antagonizing Cubs fans here in Chicago. Wrigley is such an awful place to actually watch a game with all the idiots that surround you. But I take full joy in supporting DBacks gear for 3 games a season. It helps that the DBacks pretty much own the Cubs.

Mike said...

I assume you're familiar with the Straight Cash Homey.net website (http://straightcashhomey.net/). If not, you may want to visit it and perhaps revise some of your answers, or your motivation for wearing the jerseys you speak of. You strike me as someone who might enjoy ending up on the pages of straight cash homey. And I mean that as a compliment.

Josh Wilker said...

I actually think I'm missing the Niekro brothers "Big League Brothers" card, but I think I based my fondness for Joe on the "lesser brother" dynamic anyway.

Still, if I had a choice of Astros jerseys, I'd have to go with the JR Richard. Though I did also really like Terry Puhl, too. Hm...

Jeff J. Snider said...

I don't want to use your site to plug mine, but since you mentioned my A.L. favorites post, I just wanted to throw the link to my N.L. list up here.