Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Sports (page 1 of 2)

Brett Favre: The Man Who Never Learned the Value of Hate (July 29, 2009)

The Ego has landed.

It appears I can now go back to the adult theater and retrieve the “Favre 4 Ever” towel I gave them to assist in cleaning up after shows. Although both the towel and Favre’s reputation may be equally and irrevocably sullied at this point.

On Tuesday, Favre announced that he wouldn’t be playing for the Minnesota Vikings in the upcoming NFL season. At least he said it until he un-says it. Vikings fans can now look forward to the Sage Rosenfels Era, which is only slightly less anticipated than “The Love Guru 2.”

After 8 months of coverage, it may seem that every angle of this story has been thoroughly dissected. For instance, each Green Bay fan has had to go through the shock of learning that their infallible idol of 17 years was a self absorbed, narcissistic, jerk. (For example, check out this idiot with the bad haircut, who actually went on public television to say things like “Favre’s class, every day guy demeanor and toughness made him the best spokesman for Wisconsin we could ever dream of.  And it can never be taken away from any of us.”  I am now going to slam my head in my car door repeatedly.)

Finding out Brett Favre is a pompous ass is like finding out Darth Vader is your father. Or that Adam Lambert is gay. The trauma caused by knowing the last 17 years of your life is a fraud makes you think nothing is real. God is Dead.  Charlie Sheen and Michael Jordan star in underwear ads together.  In The Breakfast Club, they never actually eat breakfast.  The combover remains an acceptable hairstyle.  Nothing makes sense anymore.

But there’s a disconcerting point about the Favre saga that expands well beyond just his endless Hamlet routine. Favregate reminds us once again how disconnected players are from the experiences of the fans. I mean, Favre decided he wanted to come back to the Vikings. Let me repeat that – THE VIKINGS. One of the teams so reviled by Packers fans that merely mentioning their name in some quarters 200 years ago could have led to your tongue being cut out. (Or, in modern terms, withholding cheese curds from a Packer fan for 3 consecutive days.) My daughter is already aware that she will never date any young man that dares to wear a piece of Viking or Bear paraphernalia in my house. (Thankfully, she has held true to this rule, but only because she’s 5 years old.)

The problem is, players see other teams as potential employers. Fans see them as sworn enemies. Nothing is more galling than seeing Brewers and Cubs yukking it up on the field before the game. This is like finding out Seinfeld and Newman were secretly lovers.

In today’s sports, players are millions of miles removed from the fan experience. Just ask my wife, who walked in the room and encountered me doubled over in pain after watching Brewer Jeff Suppan give up a grand slam to the rigor mortis-inflicted Washington Nationals. Think anyone on the team felt as bad as I did? Imagine, for example, Ryan Braun going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He would be forced to drown his sorrows in a hot tub with four Bacardi Rum shot girls. Someday, he’ll probably have to go on the DL from all the paper cuts he suffers from bathing in $100 bills.

Not so in the old days, before free agency and big money. My Dad likes to tell the story of the day he rode his bike by Warren Spahn’s house, only to see one of the greatest lefthanded pitchers of all time out mowing his lawn. Warren Spahn! And the players used to actively buy into rivalries, since free agency didn’t allow them to skip from franchise to franchise in search of a richer deal. Jackie Robinson, then of the Los Angeles Dodgers, actually decided to retire when he found out he had been traded to the hated San Francisco Giants.

But now Brett Favre can’t even muster up enough effort to hate the Minnesota Vikings. It’s really not that hard to hate – I hate people because they have crazy sideburns, or because they drive too slow, or because they write checks in line in front of me at the grocery store. Surely Favre can muster up enough distaste for a team that took cheap shots at his knees for 17 years. I mean, come on Brett – let the hate FLOW.

I suppose I can cling to the theory that Favre hated the Vikings so much, he decided to string their fans along and crush their dreams at the last minute. It seems only slightly less plausible than the theory that Dick Cheney was controlling the 9/11 planes via remote control, but it makes me feel better.

In other news…

When rumors started circulating that the Mariners were offering Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn in exchange for prized shortstop Alcides Escobar, I laughed them off.  After all, if Escobar was too much to offer up for the Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay, he certainly had to be too much to offer up for a 35 year old with a lot of miles on his arm (although his 2.59 ERA is impressive.)  But what is troubling about this Washburn-Escobar article is that it doesn’t contain a line like, “Melvin fell down laughing and urinated on himself when he heard the offer,” or the more desirable “upon hearing the offer, Melvin cordially invited the Mariners to engage in intercourse with themselves.”  Could this have actually been in the works?

It would seem that having a stud shortstop in waiting like Escobar would actually depress the trade value for a guy like J.J. Hardy, who I (probably mistakenly) still think might have some value.  But if you\’re a team looking to trade for Hardy and see that the Brewers have their shortstop of the future in waiting, why would you pony up much at all, knowing they almost have to get rid of him eventually?  Even fantasy baseball players know this trading trick – along with trying to get your fellow owner as drunk as possible and throwing in a worthless player from their favorite team to sweeten the pot.  (I once inexplicably heard the phrase “Oh, you’re adding Matt Mieske?  Then it’s a deal!”)

It would seem that Mike Cameron might actually be the most marketable trade bait at this point.  Good power, great outfielder, still has some speed, and a great guy in the clubhouse.  For some reason, he’s enjoyed a Robert Downey Jr.-like career resurrection in Milwaukee.  Prior to coming to the Brewers, Cameron averaged one home run per 24 at bats for his career – then, in 2008, at age 35, he began hitting a home run every 16 at bats, and hasn’t stopped.  Maybe joining a bowling league and eating a steady diet of cheesy grillwursts has revived his youthful vigor.

(It should be noted at this point that we just passed the one year anniversary of Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates’ proclamation that C.C. Sabathia was “out of reach” for the Brewers, followed up a week later by his adamant declaration that the Brewers needed Sabathia NOW!  After they actually traded for him.)

Speaking of Doug Melvin, is there another case in professional sports where a team’s General Manager looks exactly like their mascot?  Has anyone ever seen Melvin and Bernie Brewer in the same room?  Is Bernie the one taking calls from other GMs from up in the Chalet?

I can imagine the following phone call:

Receptionist: “Brewer front office.  This is who?  J.P. Ricciardi from the Blue Jays?  Yes, Mr. Melvin is in, but wait… someone just hit a home run, and he’s heading down the slide.  Can he call you right back?”

At least Melvin would have someone else to blame for Jody Gerut.

More Brewers: As hard as it is to fathom, is there a chance that Bob Uecker is actually underappreciated in Milwaukee?  Sure, he’s been ubiquitous here for 30 years – but have a look at this video of Uecker on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1984. (I’ll wait right here.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLPKXUb25vU

It’s not just “sports” funny – it is legitimately funny, by actual comedian standards.  Seth Myers from Saturday Night Live called that clip a “clinic” in deadpan comedy.  Not only is Uecker one of the funniest guys in sports, he may legitimately be one of the funniest comedians working today.  And we have the chance to listen to him on a daily basis.  It is truly an honor.

In my last column, I offered up a suggestion to the Brewers marketing division – fly the wildly entertaining Gallardo Brothers up here and make them local celebrities.  It appears my plea went unheeded.  So I’ll try again.

A few weeks ago, when I was sick as a dog on my couch, I watched a good 14 straight hours of old World Series highlights on the MLB Network.  And as the years go on, you can slowly see the quality of fans’ attire devolving.  Up until the mid 1960’s, people actually got dressed up to go to games – suit, tie, and the whole deal.  Now, people show up to games dressed like they’re going out to change their oil.  How classy would it be to have “wear a tie to the game” night, like the old days?  Everyone has at least one dignified outfit to wear to a game.  It shows class, and reverence for the past – something baseball is always pushing. (The only problem I forsee would be that on those nights, women wouldn’t be able to vote for All-Star Game starters.)

Of course, everyone is down on certain Brewers for having subpar seasons – Bill Hall, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, and Manny Parra among them.  But lost in the shuffle is the inexplicable greatness of Craig Counsell, who has hovered around the .300 batting average mark for nearly the whole year.  (In a national broadcast two years ago, Geoff Jenkins let the world in on the fact that Counsell’s nickname was “The Grumpy Rooster,” a fact that I demand be repeated on TV broadcasts on a nightly basis.)  Counsell’s drastic improvement has come at age 38, and directly following seasons in which he batted .220 and .226.  In fact, given his historical track record, I dare say if Counsell ends up batting over .300, it will be one of the most impressive Brewer achievments of all time – right next to Molitor’s 39 game hit streak and John Jaha’s streak of going three straight days without a drunk driving arrest.

Jason Kendall: Dead Catcher Walking (Aug. 5, 2009)

(Reminder: you can follow me on Twitter at @Schneider_CM)

We all love Brewers’ catcher Jason Kendall for what he is – he’s a gritty old guy who busts his tail, looks like he eats shards of broken glass for breakfast, grows funny beards, and marks his forearms up with cool tattoos. He’s exactly what we want in Milwaukee – a blue collar guy with a stare so intense, it looks like he’s constantly trying to avenge the death of his childhood family pet. If you worked in the same office with Kendall, you’d be afraid that if you accidentally ate his egg salad sandwich from the fridge, he’d tear your arms off and make you eat those, too.

But while all the things Kendall is are important, it is what Kendall isn’t that makes the most difference to the Brewers. Put simply, he isn’t a major league player anymore.

It hurts to say, but Kendall’s career has been dead for two years, but nobody seems to have noticed. (The sport equivalent to “Weekend at Bernie’s.”) In the first nine years of his career, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kendall hit .309, making the All Star team three times (even after suffering a horrific ankle break in 1999). As recently as 2004, his final year with the Pirates, Kendall hit .319, with a respectable OPS (on base plus slugging) of .789.

Then, after being traded from the Pirates to Oakland, Kendall’s career at the plate has cratered. After joining the Brewers in 2008, Kendall has, simply put, been the worst offensive everyday player in the major leagues. His at-bats are so horrible, it often leaves television viewers at home flipping the channel to find something more comfortable to watch, such as a live human birth.

Baseball Prospectus keeps a statistic they call VORP – Value over Replacement Player – that measures how many runs a specific player contributes to a team relative to an average player at that position. According to this standard, Kendall ranks butt naked last among catchers in the National League, with a VORP of -8.5. In other words, Kendall actually costs the Brewers nearly 9 runs per year over just any nameless stiff they could plug in the catcher position. (Kendall ranks 89th out of 90 players to play catcher in the major leagues this year, just ahead of Dioner Navarro of Tampa Bay.)

It’s not as if this fancy pants statistic tells us anything we didn’t know just by using our own eyeballs. It appears that when batting, Kendall is using a bat made of balsa wood. The chances of seeing a Kendall extra base hit are about the same as the chances of seeing a yeti riding a unicycle by your house while smoking a pipe. When teamed up with Mike Rivera, Brewer catchers have hit zero home runs this year. Has any team ever gone a full season without a single combined home run from a specific position? (That’s a legitimate question – I couldn’t find a statistic on that.) UPDATE: Answer in the comments section.

“Baseball people” would counter that Kendall plays catcher, a position from which offense isn’t necessarily expected. (“People like me” would respond that he has actually managed to be the absolute worst at a position where no offense is expected.) So he must be some kind of defensive dynamo, right?

Not exactly. Kendall was run out of Chicago Cubs’ locker room after he managed to throw out only 5 runners out of 57 that attemped stealing – an execrable percentage of 9% runners caught. His time in Milwaukee hasn’t been much better, as he has caught only 21% of would-be-base stealers.

That leaves us with the last place a catcher can go when his skills completely leave him – the argument that he calls a great game. If so, he’s been calling great games for a Brewer team that currently has the second worst ERA (4.84) in the National League, with only the laughing stock of the league, the Washington Nationals, behind them. If the Brew Crew replaced Kendall with Whoopi Goldberg behind the plate, the Brewers ERA rank could only drop one more spot. (As this is being written, Kendall is orchestrating a 9-earned run masterpiece from Yovani Gallardo.)

Sure, there are plenty of disappointing players on the Brewer roster – Bill Hall, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, et al. Those guys get the most criticism, only because they have actually shown flashes of potential. Kendall gets a free pass because nobody expects him to hit it past the pitchers mound. (Which provides an important lesson in your life – never do anything well, as you will be expected to do it well all the time.)

To recap: the Brewers have an aging catcher who costs them 15 runs per year on offense, and who is captaining one of the worst starting rotations in the majors. Dr. Jack Kevorkian goes to prison for mercifully euthanizing patients, yet Jason Kendall roams free after quietly killing the Brewers. Where’s the justice? And isn’t there some random Molina roaming the earth?

***

Last week, I sang the praises of Craig Counsell, and how impressive it would be if he actually managed to hit .300 this year, improving his average by nearly 80 points at age 38. My buddy Matt pointed out how predictable this was once The Grumpy Rooster changed his batting stance.

You may recall that in the past, Counsell used to stand completely upright and spastically wave his bat around with both hands over his head, as if he just mainlined three Red Bulls. Nobody in the league had a stance like this – and yet, apparently, it took until we elected an African-American president for Counsell to make the connection that this bizarre stance may have actually contributed to his paltry hitting. It’s almost as if Counsell had been playing the last 10 years wearing red high heels, then decided to give wearing cleats a try. Shouldn’t fans have some kind of redress for a player being so stupid? Some kind of class action lawsuit perhaps?

In my Friday night co-ed softball league, we play with five guys and five girls. Often times, we can’t scrounge up enough girls to play, since girls actually have more important things to do than play softball (like going to bars and ignoring me). In the event that we only have 4 girls in the lineup, when the 5th girl’s spot comes up, they just count it as an automatic out.

As weird as this sounds, I pretty much figure this is how other teams pitch to the Brewers. They just count Bill Hall’s spot as the automatic out. They just imagine that the girl that normally hits in his spot is out at a sorority formal or something, and just count Hall’s at bat as a strikeout. In fact, other pitchers probably get irritated that they have to go through the formality of actually having to throw him the required three pitches to strike him out. The sight of Hall walking back to the dugout will be a familiar one in the next few weeks, as Corey Hart sits out following the dangerous surgical procedure he underwent to have his creepy beard removed.

Other notes:

I know sports are supposed to teach kids lessons about life, but not like this – while watching golf with my 5 year old daughter this weekend, she asked me what “erectile dysfunction” was.  They cram so many boner pill commercials into golf telecasts now, it’s almost a PG-13 affair.  What’s funny is that golf is the last sport you’d expect to have to shield your children’s eyes from, given all the trouble other athletes are getting into. (My daughter knows future Packer Michael Vick as “The guy who is mean to dogs.”)

If they have enough money to blanket network golf coverage with all these ads, can you imagine how many of these pills they’re selling?  Next time you see a 60+ year old guy at the mall, there’s legitimately a 50% chance he’s hopped up on wiener pills, walking around aimlessly, gazing at teenage girls in the same way Wile E. Coyote gazes at the Roadrunner and sees a giant buttery turkey leg.  This has zombie movie written all over it.

But after watching all these grumpy wiener ads, it’s starting to dawn on me – I might be their target audience.  If that’s the case, I might just start taking cyanide pills.

ESPN’s strategy is easy to figure out: they try to get an otherwise indifferent public to care about a specific story, then just beat it to freakin’ death until their network becomes virtually unwatchable (see Favre, Brett.) This has been the case with the Plaxico Burress gun trial – can you name me more than 3 people outside the metro New York area who have given this issue more than 3 seconds’ worth of thought? The guy took a gun into a bar (something that happens every day in Wisconsin), and ended up hurting only himself. And now, we get a full day’s worth of interview clips from teammates about the role of Antonio Pierce, who helped Burress to the hospital. It’s ridiculous – if Burress played for the Kansas City Chiefs, one wonders if the story would make the network at all.

Here’s a really interesting story from NPR about the guy who invented the box score.

Any guess why they don’t have “Kiss Cam” at WNBA games?

One of the articles from the “Best American Sports Writing 2007” compilation came from a blog just like this one.  It goes into great detail regarding the famous Gas House Gorillas versus Teatotallers game in 1946.  It is brilliant – although a little long.

 

Brewer Reporters: Who’s Got the Beat? (Aug. 11, 2009)

Last week, a minor fracas broke out amongst bloggers regarding Brewer beat writer Anthony Witrado, with several blogs calling for him to be fired. Apparently, Witrado has committed the mortal sin of not being sycophantic enough towards the Brewers, answering demeaning e-mails with smart ass responses, and dressing like he’s at a Lil’ Wayne concert.

Well.

First of all, I have no idea who Anthony Witrado is. He could be next in line for the Nobel Prize, or he could be made entirely of feminine cleansing product. But, as a general rule, I’m usually against calling for regular people to be fired. It’s essentially the equivalent of calling someone a racist – it costs the accuser nothing, but damages the subject. The person calling for the firing goes on to live their life as is, while the target has to explain to his bosses why people want him fired. Just doesn’t look good. (My proposal: Anyone who calls for someone to be fired has to put $10 into a fund, payable o the fired person when they actually get the axe. Then you REALLY have to mean it when you say it.  Furthermore, if you predict a trade is going to happen and it doesn’t, you have to pay $20 to the nearest Humane Society, unless one or more of the players is wearing a moustache.)

That being said, I may never have read a single word ever written by Anthony Witrado, who, given the current state of newspapers, probably doesn’t make enough money to actually buy a newspaper to read his own articles. It’s fun to call for the firing of millionaire athletes and managers, quite different to do so to regular shlubs. (That being said, the Journal Sentinel is likely paying as much attention to these bloggers as they are to my demand that obituaries be required to contain a counterpoint written by someone that hated the dead person\’s guts.)

Okay, enough about that – what really interests me about this whole issue is how the role of team beat writers has changed just in the past 10 years. (Warning: I am about to expose myself as a hopeless grayballs.)

There were days not long ago when, if you were lucky, you got to see your favorite team on TV maybe once a week. There wasn’t any internet, no blogs, no cable television. In 1987, during Paul Molitor’s 39 game hitting streak, I actually used to pick up the phone and call the George Michael Sports Machine telephone hotline every five minutes on game nights to see if Molitor got a hit. (Maybe our lack of call waiting was the reason no girls were calling me, since they couldn’t get through. There’s at least a 3% chance this is the case.)

In those days, a team’s beat writers and radio announcers were the fans’ eyes and ears. Most everything we knew about players was told to us by newspapers and play by play announcers. (It took me at least a half a season to figure out Greg Vaughn was black, for instance.) That’s why so many old baseball fans have such reverence for baseball writers and radio guys – they painted the pictures that the fogeys remember so vividly. (If you haven’t read “The Boys of Summer” by former Brooklyn Dodgers beat reporter Roger Kahn, you are missing out on some of the greatest of American literature.)

But now, beat writers have a tougher challenge. Everyone can see every game on television – so reading in the newspaper the next morning about what happened a half a day ago, and about something you saw with your own eyes, just seems superfluous. What happens is beat writers like this Witrado fellow have to demonstrate actual value to the newspaper, so they have to do these dopey online chats so fans feel “engaged.” And since every male in America that likes looking at naked women thinks they can do a better job at writing about sports than actual sports reporters, it has to be just a miserable job. (Which is generally why nobody hates sports more than sports reporters.)

So I don’t necessarily fault Anthony Witrado, Tom Haudricourt, or any of the other Journal Sentinel reporters that are being asked to be more fan-friendly. I don’t mind if every story they write isn’t a hagiography of Doug Melvin. We no longer need them to tell us, for instance, that Bill Hall has spent the entire season accidentally batting with a rainbow trout instead of a bat.  We can see for ourselves. They’re fighting a losing battle against technology and a more knowledgeable fan base.

***

I recognize stories about my softball team are about as pleasant as an Eric Gagne highlight film, but we played a pretty awesome trick on a guy on our team this week. One that could, and by all means should, be replicated in competitive leagues around the state.

The “pitcher” on our co-ed team told us he wasn’t going to make it this week, and worried aloud how we would get along without his pitching ability. Eyes were rolled, and the plan was set into motion. We doctored up a fake letter from the league office, complete with letterhead and signature from the league director, telling this guy that he had been traded to another team (Mo’s Sausage Fingers), due to other teams wanting his pitching so badly. We made up the name of a girl that he was supposedly traded for, and mailed the letter to his house.

The very next day, our team captain got an angry voice message from the guy, demanding to know why he got traded. He then called the league office to find out. The league’s organizer (who the letter was supposedly from) told him he had no idea what he was talking about. At that point, he realized he had been had. But the fact remains. HE THOUGHT HE HAD BEEN TRADED. IN A CO-ED REC LEAGUE.

If this trick doesn’t work, feel free to go with our backup plan. Every team has some guy who thinks he’s an all-star. So send him a fake letter from the league office telling him he’s been voted league Most Valuable Player, and to come to the league office to pick up his award. Give him a specific time to go down there to get his trophy and have his picture taken for the newspaper – then camp out and watch as he goes in to ask for his nonexistent award. Laughs had by all.

***

A story apropos of nothing: I used to work for a guy who ran a golf course in the Madison area. He said he once had a kids’ day out at the golf course, and hired Bucky Badger, the UW mascot, to come entertain the children. But he said (and he swears this is true) that when Bucky got there, the guy in the mascot costume was drunk. Bucky then, in full costume, jumped on a golf cart, took off, and ran it into a tree, damaging the cart. The course owner had to sue UW for damages for the wrecked golf cart.

My question is this: When Bucky Badger gets on the witness stand, does he have to wear the full costume? When a lawyer asks him a question, does he just nod “yes” or “no?” Does he throw both hands up in the air to indicate “I don’t know?” Does he sit there with a steely resolve* when sentenced to life imprisonment? When he makes his one phone call after being arrested, does the other person on the line know it’s him and he’s in trouble? We deserve answers.

As of this writing, the Packers apparently are still interested in signing Michael Vick. I’m not only in favor of this move because I’m a Virginia Tech Hokie, but also because it almost guarantees that the Packers’ sound guy will stop playing “Who Let the Dogs Out” at Lambeau.

Seriously, this song, along with “Whoomp There it Is,” is setting race relations in America back 20 years. Someone PLEASE explain to the Lambeau PA guy that there have actually been songs recorded after 1999. (I’d even approve of him going with “Doggie Bounce”.) The one thing I would NOT encourage is replacing these songs with any songs that actually mention the Packers by name. There is nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – in the world that is worse than Packer-themed music. (Even Hugo Chavez is like, “yeah, listening to that stuff is brutal.”)

This theory was crystallized last week with the release of Dan the Piano Man’s “Favre is Still a Packer,” which actually briefly made me envious of my hard of hearing grandfather. (Because he’s dead.)

Of course, this aural Armageddon was just the latest in a long line of abysmal Packer music. Who can forget the Wizenheimer’s famous “Go You Packers Go?” Sadly, not me. Or the Bubblers’ “Da Packer Polka?” I actually keep a cyanide-laced bratwurst on hand in case someone plays this song at a tailgate.

Other random notes: After I bemoaned Jason Kendall’s lack of power last week, he hit a home run in Houston. Even Mike Rivera had a good game. I fully credit my column for this power surge. In a related note, if anyone out there wants me to do a column criticizing their wife, within a day, your pancakes will be 15% tastier.

I have to give credit to the guy who commented on a completely unrelated post, calling me a “Rush Limbaugh wannabe” and an “ultra-conservative Puritan fascist.” I actually have all those things on my resume, right next to \”has unusually excessive ear hair.\”

This weekend, David Ortiz held a press conference saying he had never bought or used steroids. One important point: Human growth hormone, the alleged drug of choice for Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and others of that era, is not a steroid. So there’s that.

*Too soon?

Old School: Why We Still Love the Brewer Logo (Aug. 28, 2009)

There can be no debate – Milwaukee sports fans are a quirky bunch. What else can be said of a fan base that shows up to baseball games and cheers on giant sized foam rubber facsimiles of encased meats racing each other? (In terms of uniqueness, this ranks well ahead of the fact Milwaukee is the only city in the past century to have elected three socialist mayors. The natural next step is for the city to elect a socialist sausage mayor. Free sauerkraut for the masses!)

There’s another characteristic unique to Milwaukee fans. Go to a typical Brewer baseball game and look around the stands. In every other major league stadium, you’d see fans wearing hats and shirts honoring their favorite team. In Milwaukee, it’s much different. At Miller Park, you see more fans decked out in gear honoring their favorite team from nearly three decades ago.

Everyone remembers the old ball-and-glove logo adopted by the Brewers in 1978.  It cleverly incorporated the “M” for “Milwaukee” and “B” for “Brewers” into a baseball glove. Designed by contest winner Tom Meindel (for which he was paid the princely sum of $2,000), the logo graced Brewer uniforms for sixteen years, which also happened to be the golden years in the franchise’s history. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, 90-win seasons and playoff appearances were the norm for the franchise (when only the two division winners made the playoffs), and the “MB” logo became nationally recognizable.

The team cast aside the logo in 1994 (adding a short-lived green element to the new logo), then changed to the current logo and color scheme in 2000. As it turns out, the uniform change in 1994 virtually coincided with a 13-year streak in which the Brewers finished with losing records. (When Brewer fans hear the words “Scrap Iron,” they shudder like sea otters do when they hear the words “Exxon Valdez.”)

Yet even after nine years of the current version of the uniforms, the good ol’ ball and glove logo reigns supreme in Milwaukee. Fans flock to sports stores to buy Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun jerseys in the royal blue and yellow that identify them as old school.

Sure, other teams will revive old logos for “turn back the clock” games, and some teams have kept their uniforms and logos identical for decades. But in no other city do the team’s fans identify more with a team’s bygone era than in Milwaukee, where the old colors and logos actually seem to outsell the current hats and jerseys. Until this year, the Brewers actually cultivated this nostalgia by having the team wear the old uniforms for every Friday home game (now, they do it once a month.) But they still license and sell the old gear, due to fan demand.

So why do Milwaukee fans cling so tightly to the past? Certainly, other cities have nostalgia for their teams of a quarter-decade ago, but no other cities refuse to let go of their 1980s identity like Brew Town. Perhaps the answer lies not in the Brewers, but in the City of Milwaukee itself.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Milwaukee was a national powerhouse. The city had sports teams that dominated the national scene: The Brewers were always in the discussion for a World Series appearance. The Bucks were on their way to the third best record in the NBA for the 1980’s, behind only the Lakers and Celtics. Marquette was still glowing from a 1977 national men’s basketball championship.

Aside from sports, Milwaukee still had its long-earned identity as the place where the nation’s beer was brewed. Pabst, Miller, Blatz, and Schlitz, all of which were founded by 1856, were all still cranking out the suds and providing good union jobs. (In 1843, one historian counted 138 taverns in Milwaukee, one per every forty residents.)

In 1980, Milwaukee was the nation’s 16th most populous city. Its manufacturing base was strong, leading the nation not only in beer production, but in industrial control equipment, mining gear, cranes, independent foundries, and of course, one of the leading indicators of industrial muscle – Harley Davison motorcycles.

During this era, Milwaukee also had its place in the nation’s popular culture. Both “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” gave viewers weekly reminders that the city was still alive and well. If you asked people around the country, at least half of them would recognize “Shotz” as a real brewery in Milwaukee. (Although for the last three years of the series, Laverne and Shirley moved to California.) Laverne and Shirley was cancelled in 1983, while Happy Days held on until 1984 – yet the fact that Milwaukee just recently unveiled a statue of The Fonz is further evidence of the city’s nostalgia for that era.

Soon, both in sports and in life, things would begin to turn for Milwaukee.

Globalism and technology soon caught up with Milwaukee’s industrial base. Manufacturing jobs began leaving, and the stubborn city was slow to adapt to the new service and technology based economy. By 2009, only one major brewery – Miller – was left in the city, and it had been purchased by a South African company and merged with Colorado-based Coors. Milwaukee began to hemorrhage jobs. Incomes fell to 23% lower than the average American city. People fled Milwaukee, causing it to drop out of the top 20 most populous cities in the U.S. (it is currently 22nd.) By 2007, the city’s population had fallen 20% over its high in 1960. (It also didn’t help that Milwaukee earned a reputation as a city where there’s a decent chance you might be eaten alive by your neighbor.)

The world of Milwaukee sports was similarly affected by the change in times. New cable television technology allowed major league baseball teams to control their own television revenues. Large market teams used lucrative new television contracts to spend more on the best available players, leading to an even greater disparity in revenues. Teams like the Brewers were saddled with middling talent, in aging stadiums, with front offices that made bad decisions. Fans watched patiently as the next big Brewer star always seemed to evaporate overnight. (Billy Jo Robidoux and Joey Meyer, your phone is ringing.)

Aside from 2001, in which they were a Glenn Robinson baseline jumper from making the NBA finals, the Bucks have been mediocre at best, and more often, pretty awful. (Not coincidentally, the Bucks have also tried to lure fans from their glory years back to the fold by reinstating their original uniform colors.) The Packers, of course, had a glorious run through the late 1990s and into the current decade. Had it not been for these years of success, Milwaukee may have just collectively drowned itself in Lake Michigan. (Also, if the Packers ever tried to change their uniforms or logo, torch-bearing fans would burn down Lambeau field.)

So it makes sense that Brewer fans, more than fans in other cities, would choose to cling to the glory years – both for the team that they root for and the city in which they live. In this city, there will always be nostalgia for the time that nobody messed with Milwaukee. A time where you could get drunk and kiss a girl without having to sign a consent document. A time when you could throw an aluminum can into the trash without ending up on some neighborhood recycling watch hit list. A time when a cigarette dangling from your lip identified you as someone not to be crossed. An era when the size of your mustache was directly related to your ability to score chicks. A day where being spotted in a Trans Am didn’t mean you were going somewhere, it meant you had arrived.*

In a small way, the old logo and gear does that for us. But how does it make the current players feel? No matter how many home runs Prince Fielder hits, he always knows that he can’t match the fans watching Robin Yount pinball doubles off the County Stadium outfield wall for 20 years. The Brewers are almost like Kim Novak in Vertigo – “Here, dress like the old Brewers, and we’ll love you just as much.”

It may be time for the Brewers to either fully embrace the old logo or cut ties with it altogether. Brewer fans can continue to reminisce about the old days, but today’s team won’t always be seen as secondary to the teams that we grew up loving.

In his book “The Making of Milwaukee,” historian John Gurda noted the intense nostalgia of Milwaukeeans, saying, “It is impossible . . . to shed the accumulated weight of the past, to truly reinvent the character of either an individual or a community. History serves as both ballast and bedrock.”

The current Brewers are finding that out now.  We want our old Milwaukee back.

***

The craziest part of this whole Rick Pitino scandal is the fact that the guy has written not one, not two, not three, but FOUR motivational books.  For four volumes, he has presented himself as the guy who is going to tell you how to turn your life around.  And now he sits here, disgraced, having admitted that he impregnated a 43 year old woman in 2003 after a tryst at a local Louisville restaurant, then allegedly paid for her to have an abortion.  (I read one of the books, called “Success is a Choice.”  Apparently for Pitino, success means being pro-choice.)

The hypocrisy is astounding.  The only way Pitino could look more like a fool is if he actually once authored a book called “How Not to Impregnate a Crazy 43 Year-old Woman and Have to Pay for Her Abortion.”

What will be interesting is how fans at certain schools react to Pitino when he comes into town.  I’m thinking primarily of Marquette, a Catholic, Jesuit-run university that most likely frowns on Pitino’s… errrrr… discretions.  Certainly, not all students at Marquette are pro-life, in keeping with the Catholic tradition.  Many aren’t Catholic at all.  But those that are generally tend to be intensely pro-life, and not at all shy about expressing such views in public. If you’re an MU student who subscribes to the Catholic doctrine, then you believe that Pitino essentially paid $3,000 to put a hit out on an embryo. Certainly, at places like MU and Notre Dame, Pitino (who actually wrote a book on being a devout Catholic) will hear all about what those students think of his scandal.

It’s rare when such a sensitive political issue reaches the stands of a sporting event.  Let’s just say I’ll be surprised if several Marquette students don’t show up to the game dressed like the Pope, and perform mock excommunications.

Just to recap your State of Kentucky basketball coaches: Louisville’s Pitino impregnates women on restaurant tables, new Kentucky Wildcat coach John Calipari escaped Memphis before they got drilled with NCAA sanctions, and recently deposed Kentucky coach Billie Gillespie just got popped with his third drunk driving arrest (although charges were dropped in a 2003 incident involving Gillespie.)  If Charles Manson weren’t still behind bars, he’d probably be coaching at Western Kentucky.

***

Oh, and as mentioned on national TV last week, Big Papi is a Packers fan.  He married Tiffany Brick from Kaukauna, whom he met while playing minor league baseball in Appleton.  So there’s that.

Fort Atkinson’s own Luke Winn has a really good article in Sports Illustrated about Ken Griffey, Jr. and the death of baseball cards.  Remind me to write more about this later.

 

* – I stole that from \”Mad Men.\”

The 10 Most Ridiculous Packers Items on eBay (Sept. 16, 2009)

So we all got excited on Sunday night watching the Packers graciously accept Jay Cutler’s gift wrapped win.  Football season is upon us – it’s time to ignore your wife and kids, wear the jerseys of players 15 years younger than you, stare blankly at fantasy stats on your computer all day, and scream expletives at the television for 12 straight hours on Sundays.  Seriously, if an alien dropped in on America between August and January, they would immediately deduce two things:

1. All Americans gather in front of their televisions every Sunday night to take their orders for next week from Al Michaels, and:

2. This magic elixir known as “alcohol” gives the jersey-wearing old men universal knowledge, and grants them power to speak extemporaneously about any worldly topic loudly and forcefully.

Perhaps you feel you are ready for the remainder of the season.  You have your Packer jerseys, inflatable seats, and cheeseheads at the ready.  Yet according to eBay, you have yet to scratch the surface of the wondrous products available to a rabid fan base.

What follows is a list of the 10 (or so) most ridiculous Green Bay Packer related items on eBay.  Sure, the online auction site is full of what you would expect: jerseys, hats, obscure Packer football cards (Ingle Martin rookie card, anyone?  Care for a Craig Newsome framed card? Longing for the simpler days of the George Teague era?), and Packer Mr. Potato heads.  (No – wait: that’s actually pretty cool.)  You can even buy a piece of one of Brian Brohm’s”game worn” jerseys, although it is unclear which game he wore it in.  I think they mean he wore it while playing Madden ’09 once.

In any event, here’s the list.

1. “GREEN BUD PACKER” T-SHIRT

Like the Packers?  Like marijuana?  Then this is the shirt for you – flawlessly integrating the famed Packer logo with the famed image of a bong.  Of course, if you own this shirt, you will rarely actually make it out to Lambeau Field to show it off, since remaining on the couch and ordering junk on eBay always takes precedence when the Golden Girls is on.

 

 

 

 

2. MIKE HOLMGREN “LEADER OF THE PACK” HARLEY DAVIDSON FIGURINE

Sadly, you’re out of luck on this one – someone inexplicably just paid $60.00 to acquire this treasure.  So congrats to the big winner – on getting the statue, and for wearing your “Green Bud Packer” shirt for the fourth straight day.

 

 

 

3. BOTTLE OF VINCE LOMBARDI BOURBON

Last week, I complained bitterly about the use of Saint Vince’s visage to sell products.  And now, we have a bottle of “Vince Lombardi Bourbon,” with an atrocious hand drawn picture of Lombardi wearing an expression that closely resembles what the coach’s face may have looked like if he knew someone was using his name to sell this crappy booze.  (The ad says the artist has “masterfully captured Coach Lombardi in all his glory!)

Actually, this bottle is proof that Heaven doesn’t exist – if it did, Lombardi would have struck this guy with a lightning bolt by now.  Oh, and if you’re interested in more of the artist’s execrable Packer art, here’s some for you.

 

 

4. GREEN BAY PACKER WOMEN’S UNDERWEAR

This item is deemed by the seller as “incredible.”  As if it is beyond human comprehension to imagine a pair of underwear emblazoned with the Packer emblem.  Perhaps we need some kind of supercomputer to put it into understandable terms for us. Incidentally, this particular pair is size “large,” – we actually just got word that all the “junior miss” sizes have been purchased by Mark Chmura.

(There’s a scene on Family Guy where Quagmire attempts to buy a pair of women’s underwear, but it cannot be repeated here.)

In other women’s undergarment news, this item also graces the pages of eBay:

GREEN BAY PACKERS WOMEN’S SPORTS BRA AND SHORTS MEDIUM

I should warn you – this item is a clever trick.  Everyone knows that no woman who leaves the house wearing any Packer-related clothing has ever exercised.  You’d be better off buying a giraffe a bowling ball.

(Footnote: As a lifelong Packer fan, I can make these loving jokes about other Packer fans.  Much like Eskimos can only make jokes about other Eskimos.)

 

 

 

 

5. 1972 BURGER KING JOHN BROCKINGTON ICE MILK CUP

Someone just paid $39 for a fast food cup that’s been sitting in someone’s basement for 37 years.  Ironically, after his playing career ended in 1978, Brockington lost boatloads of money after investing in a Ponzi scheme that went belly up and after investing in a nutritional supplement company that was found to have caused several deaths.  So there was likely a point where you could have an ice milk actually served to you at Burger King by John Brockington.

 

 

 

 

6. VINCE LOMBARDI SIGNED CHECK

Another Lombardi item – for the low, low price of $1700.00.  Someone once wrote that John F. Kennedy always paid for dinner with a check, knowing that the restaurant owner would never dare cash a check with his signature on it.  So he ate for free for years.  It’s likely Lombardi got the same treatment in Green Bay for the entirety of his tenure.

Strangely, if you look at the check closely enough, Lombardi used it to purchase a “Slap Chop.”

7. AUTOGRAPHED WILLIE WOOD / HERB ADDERLY JERSEYS

These signed jerseys are noteworthy only because of the accompanying photos on the ads:

“You know, I was wavering back and forth on whether to pay $150 for a signed Willie Wood jersey, but then I saw the picture of the GIRL IN THE BIKINI HOLDING IT, and I thought to myself, ‘any jersey quality enough to be held by an almost naked girl at a trade show is definitely good enough for me.’”

Gives “Willie Wood” a whole new meaning, don’t you think?

8. DIRT FROM LAMBEAU FIELD

I know what you’re saying – how do we know that it’s actually “the soil that brought the Packers home six NFL titles,” as the ad suggests?  THERE’S A CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY, JACKASS!  In fact, if you don’t believe it comes with a certificate, I can make one and print it up right here on my computer.  Maybe that’ll keep you from shooting off your mouth, smart guy.

 

 

 

 

9. MINT AND RARE Reggie White Campbell’s Soup Ad

We all know the elusive Reggie White was hardly ever photographed, and virtually never stooped to selling products.  Which is why we should all thank eBay user “azusboy” for unearthing such a rare treasure – an actual photo of Reggie White in his Packer uniform selling Campbell’s soup from – I hope you’re sitting down – a newspaper insert from 1997.  As clearly indicated in the ad for this rarity, “These ads were printed on thin paper and inserted into Sunday newspapers. Because they were on such thin paper, they were fragile and easily damaged.”

You see, he has gone the extra mile and cared for this item much as the Library of Congress maintains the original copy of the U.S. Constitution.  A team of archivists likely cared for this document 24 hours a day for the past 12 years so it would find its way to your home in mint condition.  If you don’t purchase this newspaper insert, you might as well be urinating on this guy’s lawn for all the work he’s done for you.

Alright, enough.  You get the idea.

10. HANDICAPPED PACKERS LOGO

Finally, some ingenious Bears fans decided they would take the Packer logo and make it into… wait for it… A handicapped logo!

(I’ll give you a couple minutes to pick yourself off the floor and catch your breath from all the belly laughs you’re likely letting out.  Incidentally, the name of the company is “O-Chit,” which tells you we’re dealing with some real Mensa candidates here.)

Here’s a tip for Bears fans, considering what happened Sunday night – take one of these handicapped logos and send it to Brian Urlacher to put on his car.  I hear he’ll be needing it for the rest of the season.

OH YES I DID!

Of course, there’s plenty more: eBay boasts over 240 pages of Packers-related items.  I didn’t even mention the $500 replica 1996 Super Bowl ring you can buy.  What could possibly be the reason you’d want one of these?  If you consider yourself to be a member of that team, then you’re a douche.  Otherwise, people will think you paid Eugene Robinson $100 for his ring so he could score some hookers and perhaps a Mike Holmgren on a Harley statue.

But the best parts of eBay, naturally, are the ridiculously hyperbolic headlines people give their products.  Take, for instance, your run-of-the-mill “We’ll Never Forget You Brent” t-shirts that seem to be all the rage these days.  This guy’s headline reads thusly:

Never Forget Funny Brett Brent Favre Packers Shirt XL

“Now wait a minute – I wanted to get myself one of these ‘Brent Favre’ shirts, but I couldn’t decide which one.  But HOLD ON – this one is CLEARLY MARKED ‘FUNNY.’  I think I should probably go with that one over the thousands of other guys selling shirts that say the same damn thing.  I need to buy the FUNNY version.”

The other, more disturbing, trend is that easily 30% of the Favre memorabilia dealers on the internet continue to spell his name “FARVE.”  Honest to God, people – if you can’t spell his name after 17 years, you might as well give up. I know more than a decade ago, the state legislature had a big debate about the high school graduation test. I propose the following: Get everyone in a room, and ask them if they can spell “Favre.” If they can’t, they are clearly incapable of learning anything. We should then ship these people out to their own city where they can’t make the rest of us any dumber. (I believe Illinois has such a place, which they call “Joliet.”)

Other stuff:

Between 1994 and their resurgence in 2004, there were some thin years for the band Green Day.  That’s why their 1998 video for “Nice Guys Finish Last,” which attempts to lampoon the old NFL Films videos, went virtually unseen.  But check it out – they’re obviously making the “Green Bay” – “Green Day” connection, with moderate results.  But it’s still kind of bizarre to see this popular band pay tribute to your team.

Obviously, nobody watches the NFL Network on Saturdays, since everyone’s watching college football.  So here’s my solid gold idea to get people to watch the network when the NFL isn’t on:

Take players from the same NFL team whose former college teams are playing each other that Saturday, put them in the same room, throw a camera on them, and let the magic happen.  You’re telling me you weren’t interested in the trash talk between Ryan Grant and Charles Woodson before the Notre Dame/Michigan game last week?  Think any sparks flew between Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk before USC-Ohio State?  Watching them view the game together would be can’t-miss television.  Most of these guys are world class trash talkers – and the look of dejection when a player’s team goes down would be priceless.  This could be my favorite hypothetical show.

Also….

Former Viking center Matt Birk is donating his brain to science for concussion research.  In related news, Aaron Rodgers is donating his mustache for awesome research.

Finally, yesterday the Bubbler conducted a “Who am I?” contest in honor of former Wisconsin Badger and 8 year NFL Veteran Jerry Wunsch.  It reminded me of a story I believe I once heard Barry Alvarez tell that may or may not be true:

Before one of the Badgers’ games, Alvarez brought in the Reverend Jesse Jackson to talk to his team.  Jackson went on at length about his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to the civil rights movement.

When Jackson finished talking, he asked the team if anyone had any questions.  Wunsch raises his hand, and Jackson calls on him.  Wunsch asks, “what was it like to hit three home runs in a World Series game?”

Alvarez yells out, “THAT’S REGGIE JACKSON, YOU IDIOT!”

Packers Fans Need Love Too (Sept. 24, 2009)

As fans, we use the Packers for myriad purposes.  We watch the games on the weekend to escape our real lives, where we’re constantly harassed by overpaid bosses, smelly co-workers, and oil change employees that pester us incessantly to buy all the worthless extra add-ons.  We use Packer games for social events – as an excuse to get a group of friends together, and eat and drink until your arteries begin legal divorce proceedings against you.

Yet few people actually use the Packers for one of their most valuable purposes: to spark true love.  In fact, once you’re married, many wives view sports as the primary antidote to romance.  But if you play your cards right, you, too, can use the Packers to find a woman who is willing to officially declare herself an eligible receiver… OF YOUR LOVE.

In fact, merely listing yourself as a Packer fan is the first step to finding true love the same way Grandma and Grandpa did – by posting a personal ad on Craigslist.  All across Wisconsin, the lovelorn masses are taking to the web to find that special someone.  Their passion is so raw, not even spelling and punctuation can contain their priapic prose.  And their affinity for the Packers is what they are banking on to lure themselves just the right suitor.

Here are some of the highlights from actual Craigslist personal ads in which the owners identify themselves as Packer fans:

If you’re in Eau Claire, here’s a 54 year old male seeking companionship from another male.  Of course, there’s no problem with that – only, he says he’s both a Packer and Viking fan – which is actually more gay than the fact that he’s seeking companionship in the arms of another male.

For coming out of the closet, this guy deserves our respect.  For liking both the Vikings and Packers, he deserves to be thrown off the roof of a Hardee’s.

Now if you’re a straight male in Eau Claire, you most certainly should look into this delicate flower of a woman – whose profile simply must be reproduced here in its entirety for you to get the full effect.  Lay back and let the awesomeness of this wash over you as you soak it in:

I love football. Packers of course. Eli manning is my favorite player tho. I drink often enough. blue moon is my poison. I play a mean guitar hero. and kinda ok at D.D.R. I like chillin fishin cruisin booze cruisin but i dont do the drivin when i drinkin. My favorite show is secret life of the american teenager and my favorite movie is across the universe. favorite song is All i Want by Staind. If you havent heard it you should. My eyes are blue my hair is bonde…naturally. Right now its dark brown. I an 5 feet 3 inches tall on a good day usually i only amount to 5 foot 2. I broke my left ankle when i was 16 and now my foot flops around like a fish cuz i stretched a tendon…and i have a pinched nerve on my back right next to my right shoulder blade. I have alot of piercing ears nose other things. i have a really up beat personality i am usually high on life. i hope to be a probation officer or some other type of corrections work while working on going to law school and do the whole lawyer thing and i hope that one day to be a d.a. i know its a big dream but im going to make it happen. if you cant tell i am very confident when i comes to most things. Im am a great person but i wanna be greater than what i already am.

Are you hot yet?  SHE HAS A FLOPPY FOOT!  But don’t get her drunk, because she “dont do the drivin when I drinkin.” However,  fortunately for you, she is a PACKER FAN, which she hopes pretty much cancels everything else out.  So congratulations – you have found the one woman in Wisconsin who roots for the Packers, so don’t let this one wriggle off the hook, boys.

(Of course, as with everything else on the internet, this profile could be fake.  This personal ad, in which a Milwaukee man claims to be seeking a female Packer fan with LONG BRACES ON EACH LEG (real… or pretend?) most certainly is bogus.  Just like Barack Obama\’s birth certificate.  (Let’s be honest – there are certain things the internet just can’t make up!)

Some Craigslist users supply multiple photos on their profiles so you can get an idea of what they look like.  For instance, this Packer fan lawyer from Milwaukee (who, based on his write-up actually seems like a pretty nice guy) supplies this photo of himself:

But, just in case you don’t get the full idea of what he looks like, he throws in this completely different bonus pic:

Glad he cleared that up.  (He also supplies a third photo, of his all-access pass to a Jethro Tull concert.  So there’s that.)

Speaking of pictures, this young lothario from South Milwaukee, fresh off the disappointment of the Packers loss to the Bengals, decided to take to the internet to find a classy woman to console him:

 So all cl seems to be is black women or trashy white women. Thats fine and all but i like asian women. If there are any asian women in milwaukee or the milwaukee area that like attractive athletic white guys hit me up and lets talk. Ive included a pic. Please dont reply to me if you arent asian or a woman. Put ASIAN in the subject so i know your real.

You see, women of South Milwaukee, this guy is all about class.  He doesn’t settle for “trashy white women.”  Which is why he decided to include a photo of himself shirtless – to attract ladies that enjoy the finer things.  And who, apparently, are Asian.

(Chances of any Asian-American woman actually responding to this idiot with an e-mail that has the word “ASIAN” in the subject line: negative 43%.  Under new legislation being circulated around the capitol, this personal ad might actually qualify as a hate crime.)

Other Packer fans on Craigslist aren’t as discriminating.  Take this guy in East Madison, who’s “looking for a football watching buddy.”  He’s a progressive lover – not “not hung up on age, race, or how tall you are.”  He does, however, follow up by saying he doesn’t like “like people who want to smoke around me or who are heavy.”

As we all know, when dating, it’s important to keep an open mind about race, religion, and looks.  Just as long as they’re not a fatty.

Speaking of fatties, this Packer enthusiast from Appleton would like to roll one and smoke it with you.  In order to hook up with this young man, you must be willing to “indulge in the reefer,” and “like jam bands/hippie music.”  (Or as B.J. Raji calls it, “Tuesday.”) He also likes his woman “with a little meat on her bones,” so all you supermodels who started e-mailing him after you read the first sentence need not apply.  Fortunately, I think we found the guy who bought this t-shirt off eBay last week:

While you’re blazed up in Appleton, you can stop by this guy’s house to watch the Packers and the Cubs.  Describing himself as a “huge cuddler” and an expert at giving back massages, this guy fills his profile with his entire life story – given how many exclamation points and smiley faces he uses, the chance of you wanting to hit him with a shovel after a half hour stands at about 98%.  This “gender Judas” throws the rest of the world’s men under the bus, asking women not to judge him based on “the actions of the majority of his gender,” then throws out about fifty words to describe him and his ideal mate.  He caps his tome off with a phony picture of him sleeping on a park bench:

Moving on.

While combing through Packer-related personals, a certain brand of man began cropping up: the guy with tickets who’s looking to use them to purchase a date with a woman.  I believe there’s a name for women who accept payment to go on dates, but I’m drawing a blank right now as to what it is.

Client #9 in this saga is this guy from Green Bay, who claims to have “first row” seats to Packers games, and tells women to call him “if they like what they see.”  Of course, if there was much to see, he wouldn’t have to bribe them with front row tickets.  (There’s an 80% chance these tickets are in “first row” of the folding chairs in his mother’s basement.)

Even better is this guy, who also craves female companionship at a Packer games.  In a bid to lure a “lady packer fan,” [sic] he expresses his desire to go to the game with a “fun paacker-fan girl.”  Only this guy… wait for it… EXPECTS THE WOMAN TO HAVE THE TICKETS.

That’s right, ladies, it’s a double winner for you.  Not only do you get to go to the game, you get the profound honor of supplying this guy with a ticket.  What Packer hottie with a spare ticket wouldn’t jump at that chance?  Oh, and just to show you he’s on the level, he supplies a picture of his shirt:

That should clear up any misgivings you might have about going to a game with a complete stranger.

As one works their way through Craigslist ads, another type of personal ad comes up: the aggrieved lover.  The person who obviously just got their heart ripped out and they go into WAY too much detail explaining what happened.

Take this 28 year old Packer fan from Madison:

   Hey. I got out of a very disfunctional relationship about four or five months ago. The girl was still on my mind and in my heart. We started talking a little bit after a tragedy that affected both of us. Feelings for this evil woman started stirring again. But then I got punked. She was just screwing with my head to hurt me and it worked. Now I\’m feeling lonely as ever… I have a lot to say and no one to say it to. My ex said that no one will ever love me again. I hope she\’s wrong. Are you out there?
My computer is currently in the shop, but I can check email from school or from my phone. Please dont be involved in any sort of ambush directed at me, as I wouldnt put it past some people in this messed up world. Thanks for reading my post.

Holy crap – what well adjusted, attractive young woman wouldn’t jump at that chance?

There are plenty of men and women who make this same mistake.  It’s as if you can tell exactly what horrible things happened to them in their last relationship just based on what they don’t want from their new partner.  Stuff like:

“I’m looking for a man with a good sense of humor who won’t have sex with my sister right upstairs while I’m downstairs eating my Chef Boyardee ravioli and watching Dancing With the Stars!  Serious inquiries only.”

One other trend that pops up among Craigslist personal ad users is that it’s almost always men who mention the Packers in their personals.  A few “women seeking men do,” (with floppy feet, as noted above) and only one “woman seeking woman” popped up.  (There was one woman seeking an “Ebony and Ivory” relationship with another woman, but I sincerely doubt that was a reference to Eddie Lee Ivery.)

However, the one “woman seeking woman” Packer ad that surfaced is noteworthy primarily because it can’t be reprinted here in this column.  Just read it yourself and make sure you have a cold shower nearby.  Good Lord.  (Deep breath.)

As is demonstrated above, single Packer fans need not suffer in silence anymore.  They can simply take to the internet and find the best online romance the web has to offer.  No longer do they have to find Packer love the old fashioned way: by leaving your part time job at Boston Store, running for State Treasurer, taking expensive trips on the taxpayers\’ dime, hiring all your relatives in your office, then using your newfound and unexpected position of authority to meet Donald Driver and grab his ass:


And now that you have secured a date from the best the internet has to offer, here’s my last tip (as if I haven’t given you enough already:) Make sure to play this song for your date – since no woman can resist the sheer sexual power of a jheri-curled mullet:

Live on Monday Night: Get Your Popcorn Ready (Oct. 1, 2009)

Please remove your hats while my son gets this party started:

I was walking down the street some time ago, when I happened upon a little gray bird hanging out on the sidewalk.  Next to the bird was a giant bag of popcorn that someone had just thrown on the ground.  The bird was just standing there, looking amazed at his good fortune.  Here was a pile of free popcorn at least three times his height, and he probably didn’t really have to be anywhere for a while – so he was ready to dig in for a meal unmatched in his short life.

As I stood and watched him, I started to think: what would be the human equivalent to a bird finding a giant bag of popcorn?  It would have to be something so insanely terrific that you couldn’t even express yourself in any rational way.  Natalie Portman feeding you Krispy Kremes?  A horrific Zamboni accident involving Janeane Garofalo?

Then, it came to me.  Next Monday night could be my giant bag of popcorn.

If the Packers beat the Favre-led Vikings in the Metrodome, it will eclipse any non-Super Bowl Packer experience I’ve had.  (Until, of course, they play again in a few weeks.)  As I’ve been sitting at work all week, I feel like I’m baking in my own skin waiting for this game.  I can’t sleep.  Can’t eat.  Can’t conjugate Latin verbs.  (Although I couldn’t beforehand, so there’s that.)

The flip side of that, of course, is that if the Packers lose, it could easily mean the end of me.  I almost feel like I should be making funeral arrangements, just in case.  (Cause of death: “Exploding head.”)  I’m dangerously close to calling a friend of mine to tell him where I’ve hidden all my “adult” materials, just so nobody finds them all after I’m dead and realizes what a dirtbag I was.

(Side note: it seems strange to me that the words we use for looking at naked women always equate maturity with prurient desires. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Think about it – movies targeted to “mature” audiences. Going to a “gentlemans’ club.” What is so mature or gentlemanly about stuffing dollar bills into a naked woman’s garter? In fact, I think it makes a lot more sense to consider those things “immature.” I understand a teenage boy looking at pictures of naked women a lot more than I can understand a grown man doing the same. Then, it just gets a little…creepy.)

Oh, and if my head does end up exploding, I just wanted to say… I have always loved you.  Not you, the other one over there.

Of course, the game is already partly rigged, due to a federal court in Minneapolis overturning a 4-game league-imposed suspension on the Vikings’ Williams Sisters, Kevin and Pat.  Without this homer court stepping in, these ‘roided up cheaters would be out for Monday night’s game.

Just exactly what kind of courts do they have there in Minneapolis?  Is there no actual crime in the Twin Cities that need the attention of the judicial system?  Shouldn’t they be scouring the Minneapolis airport bathrooms looking for horny U.S. Senators?  Then again, this is the kind of justice you should expect in a state that puts Alan Page on the Supreme Court.

In other news:

I was at a concert on Saturday night, and while standing in the lobby, I overheard a comely young 23-ish old woman explain her Packer tailgating experience from the week before.  “I went to some team-sponsored tailgate,” she explained to her male friend., adding, “and I ended up dancing with all these old Packers.  Some guy named Furry or Fuzzy or something. They were all so cute.”

That got me to thinking – how easy would it be for old dudes all over Green Bay to pull this racket?  Just play they “I’m an old Packer from the ‘60s” card, and you’re totally in with the ladies – whether you actually played or not.  There are really only two steps to this strategy:

1. Give yourself a fake colorful nickname from back in the day.  Just say all the other players called you “Stinky Nuts Nelson” or something – sounds realistic enough, right?
2. Make up some fake crazy story about how you and Paul Hornung snuck into the Green Bay Zoo one night and tried to teach the giraffes how to play poker.  Hornung was so sauced all the time, he not only won’t remember the story, he’ll probably actually believe he played with you.

All you really have to do is be old and walk with a limp, and you can score some nice young hotties.  But even if that fails, you can always go down to the local tavern and do the Lambeau Leap into the trousers of some chain-smoking handbag.

(Side note: you may laugh, but remember, this is the state that almost elected a woman to statewide office solely because she claims she had sex with a bunch of Packers.)

(Double-secret side note: I always laugh at people that go to rock concerts wearing ear plugs.  You know these people don’t have wives and kids, because they’d actually prefer to be deaf.  But doesn’t this kind of cancel out the whole idea of going to a concert?  Isn’t this somewhat like going to a Bucks game wearing a blindfold?  Actually, come to think of it, that may be the best way to watch the Bucks this year anyway.)

I have a standing rule that I don’t want to hear anything about anyone else’s crappy fantasy football league team.  But last week, I sunk to 0-3 in my league – a league in which five of the owners are women, one team has three tight ends, and three teams have two kickers.  I blame this anomaly completely on the execrable scoring system, in which running backs and receivers only get a point for every 25 rushing or receiving yards – so basically, unless you get lucky and your team scores a lot of touchdowns, you’re out of luck.

For instance, I had Steven Jackson rush for 117 yards last week, and only get 4 points for it – yet my kicker, Jeff Reed, scored 8 points on 2 field goals and 2 extra points.  So you tell me – which is more valuable? (I have no idea whether this would have helped me win any of my games, but I am 100% certain it helps me feel better to bitch about it.)

I’ve been meaning to talk to our commissioner about some of the other rules, too.  For instance, you get:

  • 10 points if a player with a mustache completes a backwards lateral;
  • 6 points if your quarterback retires and unretires in the same game;
  • 20 points if your punter completes a “direct punt,” or kicking it out of the air without actually catching it first;
  • 8 points if your defense gets some phony federal judge to overturn steroid suspensions for two of your players;
  • 3 points if your running back has had sex with former Wisconsin Secretary of State candidate Sandy Sullivan; and
  • 1 point for every three dogs electrocuted; and
  • 14 points for injuring any player who stars in a Subway commercial with Jared.  36 points for taking out Jared himself.

One of the main reasons I’m excited about watching the game on Monday night is seeing if Johnny Jolly can pick off another pass.  (I think the one he had against the Rams was technically a fumble recovery, but whatever.)  Seriously, the guy has the best hands on the team – they should split him out at wide receiver.  We’ll see if he can break the Packer record for interceptions by a lineman, currently held by Stinky Nuts Nelson, the season before he was trampled to death by a giraffe that caught a bad river card.

I was alerted by a friend to a little known rule in sports: apparently, they actually continue to play baseball games while the football season has started.  I know, I looked it up on the internet.  It’s true.

The funny thing is, remember early in the season, when only a handful of Brewers games were in high definition?  Obviously, they were stacking all the HD games to the end of the year, when presumably all the Brewers’ games would be tense, playoff-level clashes.  So how’s that working out now?

TULOWITZKI!  COREY HART’S CREEPY BEARD!  LIVE IN HD ON FOX SPORTS WISCONSIN!

Finally, I’d like to welcome the SportsBlonde to the ‘Bubbler.  Notice how they haven’t asked me to be on any live video feeds.  She does one blog post, and she’s off talking to Andrew Bogut. (Admittedly, I couldn’t do it, because I don’t speak Australian.)  Then again, if someone saw me on camera, they’d think they accidentally stumbled onto an online meatball eating contest.

So in honor of the new contributors, I wrote this entire post while wearing a bikini.  Seems to be the new uniform around here.

 

Welcome to The 2009 Bucks’ White Stiff Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Oct. 15, 2009)

Dear dinner guests:

I’d like to welcome everyone to the 10th Annual Milwaukee Bucks’ White Stiff Hall of Fame induction banquet.  I know for some of you, this may be somewhat shocking and somewhat confusing.  But trust me, it’s true – Milwaukee actually does have a professional basketball team.  I actually looked it up on the internet.  But when I couldn’t find anything online about this supposed “NBA team,” I went to the history books.

These books told me that when David Stern took over as NBA commissioner in 1984, he had to fight the perception that the league was too black for the average white ticket buyer.  Apparently, this news never got to Milwaukee, where the team began importing a murderer’s row of immobile Caucasians over the next 25 years.

In fact, things got so bad in Milwaukee, even when they tried to draft a Chinese guy, it turns out he learned how to play basketball by watching the Chinese version of “Space Jam,” starring Frank Brickowski in the Michael Jordan role.  When the Bucks made the 5th pick in the draft in 2007, nobody told Bucks GM Larry Harris that “Yi Jianlian” means “Marty Conlon” in Chinese.

While you’re here at the Bucks White Stiff Hall of Fame (BWSHOF), be sure to stop off in the exhibits wing, where you can gaze upon Jack Sikma’s home perm kit, as well as Brian Winters’ beard.  (He actually shaved it off as part of the “Locks of Love” program to give it to a sick five year old boy that could no longer grow a beard.)  If you’re bringing kids, make sure you stop off and get them a replica Joel Pryzbilla tattoo, and pick up a Brad Lohaus “Vanilla Gorilla” stuffed animal as a keepsake.

In the south wing, you’ll see an entire wall dedicated to the 1988-‘89 Bucks team, which will go down in history as the ’27 Yankees of inflexible honkies.  This murderer’s row of pasty giants included Paul Mokeski, Jack Sikma, Randy Breuer, Larry Krystkowiak, and new import Fred Roberts.  (Naturally, Roberts was drafted by the Bucks in 1982, but traded to the Spurs before he played a game in Milwaukee.  Coming back home was clearly part of the Creator’s blueprint for the universe.)

If you’re counting at home, that’s 35 feet of Grade A rigor mortis on one roster.  A sight that will never be seen in the NBA again.  The league hasn\’t seen that much stiffness since Shawn Kemp stopped fathering children on road trips.  The last time that many white guys were on the floor of the Bradley Center, the Allman Brothers were playing their farewell show.

(Without question, the highlight of the 1988 season was when a college biology class visited a Bucks game and accidentally removed Randy Breuer’s kidney while he was shooting a free throw, mistaking him for a cadaver.)

Sadly, the band broke up the next season, when Mokeski clearly got too big for his britches after winning a slew of prestigious awards:

The news hit local tavern owners hardest, as rumor has it Mokeski’s drinking prowess was unmatched by any Milwaukee athlete before or since.  However, his mustache retains the second spot behind Rollie Fingers epic cookie duster.

(SIDE NOTE: If the 2009 Bucks were to somehow honor the 20 year anniversary of this unprecedented team with a halftime ceremony, I vow to buy season tickets.  The offer is on the table, boys.)

 Yet despite Mokeski’s emotional departure, the ’89-’90 season saw the seminal moment in White Bucks history.   Milwaukee fans were treated to the sight of bald 35 year-old assistant coach Mike Dunleavy, who had been retired from the NBA for five years, suiting up for five games and jacking up three pointers as if the mob had given him a week to live.  In 43 minutes of playing time, Dunleavy got off 9 three pointers, making two of them.

In the next two seasons, future BWSHOF inductees Brad Lohaus, Frank Brickowski, and Danny Schayes joined the team.  (In case you’re counting, the Polish former Bucks include Brickowski, Mokeski, Mike Gminski, Mike Peplowski.  I dare you to find me another NBA team with four guys whose names end with “ski” in their history books.  In fairness, Gminski and Peplowski each played less than 10 games apiece as Bucks, but it was because they were both corpses at the time. )

This isn’t to say that every white guy that’s ever played for the Bucks is a stiff.  The Original Buck, Jon McGlocklin, wasn’t a stiff as a player.  (He is as an announcer.)  However, the highlight of his career remains the time Lew Alcindor allowed Jonny Mac to carry his bags to the airport for him.

In fact, the original stiff, and first inductee into the BWSOF, is Len Chappell, who somehow managed to play for 10 teams in his 9 years in the NBA and ABA.  Actually, some of the stiffs were good players at some point.  Jack Sikma made seven All-Star games prior to coming to Milwaukee.  He made zero with the Bucks.  At the time he was drafted, Keith Van Horn seemed a reasonable alternative to Tim Duncan – and averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds over his first five seasons.  By the time he got to the Bucks in season eight, he was only slightly less mobile than the Fonzie statue.

And even when the Bucks manage to draft a non-stiff, they manage to screw it up.  Remember drafting Dirk Nowitzki and trading him on draft day for donut enthusiast Tractor Traylor?  (Be sure to stay after tonight’s induction ceremony, where there will be a presentation entitled “Foreigners: Should We Consider Them White?”  If so, we have to have a separate ceremony to retroactively induct Jiri Welsch, Zaza Pachulia and Toni Kukoc. Andrew Bogut gets a free pass for now, pending how his back heals.)

So thanks everyone for coming to tonight’s gala.  With the selection of Joe Alexander last year, the Bucks have made an ongoing commitment to keeping the tradition of terrible white players alive.  (Special recognition goes to Alexander for winning the NBA\’s “Stiffest Rookie of the Year” award, narrowly edging out the Nets’ Brook Lopez.)  As long as there’s a team in Milwaukee, marginal college Caucasian players can continue to pursue their dream of one day playing in the NBA.  (Don’t give up, Brian Butch!)

Finally, be sure to pull out those checkbooks and give generously to our latest charity – we’re raising money so the Bucks can finally correct one of the greatest injustices in NBA history: the fact that Greg Ostertag was never able to wear a Bucks uniform.  With just the cost of 18 cups of coffee per day, we can make this dream a reality.  Just hand your check to our honorary treasurer, Joe Wolf.

Good night.  And drive home safely.

 

The Day Milwaukee Almost Killed the NFL

These days, it seems like an impossibility.  NFL teams in both Green Bay and Milwaukee?  But in the league’s nascent years, it actually happened.  And the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers almost killed the league by participating in one of the NFL’s most notorious scandals.

This weekend, NFL fans were treated to the sight of the Tennessee Titans being destroyed by the New England Patriots by a 59-0 score.  Yet on December 10,  1925, the Milwaukee Badgers took part in a 59-0 pounding that historians say corrupted the league, and cost Milwaukee their NFL franchise.

In 1925, the NFL was a very different league.  Teams such as the Pottsville Maroons, Akron Pros, Frankford Yellow Jackets, Canton Bulldogs, Hammond Pros, and Duluth Kelleys dotted the Midwestern landscape.  Early versions of the league also featured teams in Racine and Kenosha. (In 1921, the Twin Cities hosted the Minneapolis Marines, which is fitting given the Vikings\’ future love of boats.)  In many cases, games in these middle-sized cities outdrew matches in cities like Detroit and Chicago, where professional football remained a fringe sport.  (Football would soon see an explosion in popularity with the Chicago Bears’ signing of Red Grange out of the University of Illinois.)

In addition to the league being geographically smaller, the way the game was played was also very different than the game we know today.  Teams had sixteen players, most of whom played both ways.  There were no hash marks on the field, so the next play began wherever the last play ended – if the runner went out of bounds, the ball was placed adjacent to the out of bounds line, and the team usually had to waste a play just to move it back into the middle of the field.

Incomplete passes into the endzone were ruled touchbacks, with the team on defense receiving the ball.  Yards were often so hard to come by, teams would often punt on second and third down when backed up in their own territory.  In fact, if a punt returner fielded a punt near his own end zone, he would often just turn around and punt the ball back to the other team rather than attempt a return.  Coaching from the sideline was forbidden (a strategy employed by the Packers during Ray Rhodes’ season as coach.)  The forward pass was seen as a desperation move.

Since many teams operated either at a loss or with a very small profit margin, the league allowed teams to discontinue play in the middle of the season if things weren’t going well.  This was the case in 1925 for the ragtag Milwaukee Badgers, who began the season 0-5 and were outscored 132-7, which forced them to fold up shop for the remainder of the season.  Playing at Borchert Field, this Badger team featured future Packer NFL Hall of Famer (and River Falls native) Johnny “Blood” McNally.  The team was barely newsworthy in Milwaukee, with most of the sports section headlines granted to either Marquette men’s basketball or Red Grange’s 1925 barnstorming tour with the Chicago Bears.

As the season came to a close, the Chicago Cardinals trailed the Pottsville Maroons in the standings by mere percentage points.  The Maroons finished the season 10-2, capping the season with a 21-7 win on December 6th against the Cardinals, who dropped to 9-2, with one tie.  The game, which was presumed to be the league championship game, barely warranted a mention in the Milwaukee Sentinel.

(And if you want a wildly entertaining look at how sports stories were written in 1925, read the actual story here.  The article ends with: “There is a peculiar paradox in the final summing up of the game.  The defeated Cardinals scored the most first downs, counting seventeen to the Miners’ eleven.  The Chicagoans also completed sixteen forward passes from a total of thirty-five attempts, while the Pottsvillers scored only five out of ten attempts.  But that is football!”)

But the Cardinals weren’t about to accept defeat.  Instead, their owner, Chris O’Brien, scheduled two more games at the end of the season in order to push their record ahead of the Maroons.  One of these games was scheduled against the Milwaukee Badgers, whose players had quit mid-season.  Since many of the Badgers’ players weren’t available to play in the game, the team recruited four high school boys, gave them fake names, and sent them out to the field.  In fact, it was Art Foltz, a Cardinal player, who recruited the high schoolers from his old school, Englewood High.

Naturally, the Cardinals pounded the Badgers, winning 59-0.  The local newspaper made no mention of the game before it was played, and no admission fee was charged to fans.  According to the report, “a few hundred” fans took advantage.  The write-up in the Milwaukee Sentinel barely measured two column inches:

The Cardinals also went on to beat the Hammond Pros 13-0 two days later, at which point they declared themselves league champions after going 11-2-1.  During the time the Cardinals were lining up those two games to pad their record, Pottsville played a game against a team of Notre Dame all stars, which the league strictly forbade.

Soon, League Commissioner Joe Carr learned of the use of high school players for the Badger-Cardinal game and sternly punished the team and its owner.  The team was fined $500 (the entry fee for teams was only $50 at the time), and the owner, Ambrose McGurk, was ordered to sell the team within 90 days.  McGurk was also banned from any further association with the NFL for the rest of his life.  (The Cardinals’ Foltz was also banned for life, and O’Brien was fined $1,000, despite claiming he didn’t know about the high schoolers.  The boys were barred from participation in Big Ten College football.)

Yet despite all the penalties handed down by the league, the Cardinals were declared league champions, and all the records from that year have stood.  The Badgers attempted to field a team in 1926, but the $500 fine for the Cardinal game nearly wiped them out.  They did win two games in 1926, but quickly disbanded – many of their players went to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates football team, leading many to mistakenly think the Badgers eventually became the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the meantime, their cousins to the north, the Green Bay Packers, flourished in a much smaller town.  (In the 1925 season, the Badgers, coached by Johnny Bryan, went 0-2 against the Packers, losing by scores of 31-0 and 6-0.)  The only touchdown the team scored all season was on a fumble recovery by left end Clem Neacy, against the Rock Island Independents.

Perhaps one of the Badgers’ most notable accomplishments was employing one of the first two African-American players in NFL history.  In 1922, after one season with the Akron Pros, Fritz Pollard came to Milwaukee, scoring three touchdowns and kicking two extra points on his way to leading the team with 20 points.  Pollard was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

***

In fact, the Green Bay Packers themselves didn’t have the smoothest of entries into the NFL, either.  In 1921, Commissioner Carr found out that the Packers had actually been recruiting college students, giving them fake names, and allowing them to play in games.  (Incidentally, it is believed that this was Brett Favre’s first season in the league.)

Carr ordered the Packers to disband as a franchise as punishment.  But Coach Curly Lambeau desperately wanted back in, pointing out that he had the $50 necessary to purchase a new franchise.  But he couldn’t make it to Canton, Ohio for the league owners’ meeting.

Lambeau mentioned his problem to Don Murphy, the son of a Green Bay lumberman, who offered to make the trip down to Canton on behalf of Lambeau in exchange for one thing: he wanted to be on the team the next year.  Despite Murphy clearly not being a football player, Lambeau acquiesced, and Murphy went to Ohio and bought the team back.

In 1922, in the first game of the year, Murphy played tackle for the Green Bay Packers for one minute.  He then walked off the field and “retired” from football forever.

***

It bears repeating that the NFL was a wild, loosely organized gang of misfits in its first years.  Probably the most entertaining team in the league at the time was the Oorang Indians, who called LaRue, Ohio their home (pop. 900.)

Many of the NFL teams at the time were formed strictly as advertisements for certain companies – The Acme Packers, the Decatur Staleys (after the A.E. Staley Company, later the Chicago Bears), etc.  But the Oorang Indians were formed to advertise the Oorang Airedale puppy breeding business in the village.

The owner, Walter Lingo, was also a fan of Native Americans – so he staffed the team completely with Indians, who would have the job of advertising his Airedale puppies.  As such, he utilized the team extensively during pre-game and halftime shows, which served to promote his breeding business.  At several points, Lingo would pluck one of his players from the bench and have him wrestle a bear at mid-field.  Other times, there would be Indian shooting exhibitions, with Airedales fetching the marks.  The high point, according to historians, was the time Indians were used in a World War I re-enactment against the Germans, with Airedales providing first aid to the fallen soldiers.

Not surprisingly, the team was terrible, finishing 3-6 in 1922.

For more wildly entertaining stories about the early days of the NFL, pick up “Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football by Robert W. Peterson.

***

One of the benefits of poring over newspapers from 1925 is finding gems like this.  Here’s an actual headline from the Milwaukee Sentinel on December 18, 1925:

Today’s melancholy song: Nick Drake (who killed himself before he gained any notoriety for beautiful songs like this one.)

So You Think You Can Be a Sports Reporter? (Nov. 12, 2009)

Admit it.  You do it.  I do it.  Everyone does.  We all complain about our favorite team’s beat writer.  Either they’re not giving us enough information, or they’re not being hard enough on the team, or they’re not praising the right players.  We all know better than they do.

I decided to put this theory to the test.  The folks at Sportsbubbler were kind enough to furnish me with a press pass for the Bucks-Nuggets game on Wednesday night at the Bradley Center, so I went undercover to see what being a major sports beat writer was all about.  (This was fortuitous, since Denver happens to be my 4-year old son’s favorite team.  He absolutely cannot believe an NBA team is named after chicken nuggets.)

The first thing I did in preparation for this test was to e-mail a friend of mine who’s a beat reporter for a major league baseball team.  I told him that I had no clue what I was doing, and asked him for tips.  He said I should definitely go to the morning shoot-around to get the feel for the place first.

So there I was, at 10:45 AM, wandering around an empty Bradley Center.  As it turns out, shoot-around had ended ten minutes earlier, and all the coaches and players had gone back into the locker room.  So it was just me and the ghost of Paul Mokeski in the whole building.  It was completely empty – a spooky sight, given that in just a few hours, literally dozens of people would be in the stands watching the Bucks play.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I just started walking through the “House that Herb Built But Now Wants to Remodel,” gazing at the sights.  In one of the hallways, there’s a giant poster of Brian Winters with the NBA’s “Where Amazing Happens” tagline.  There’s 50 dollars in it for anyone who can get the team to change that poster to “Where Amazing Beards Happen.”  Mostly, I just walked around the court, staring at the banners and retired numbers, with my mouth open.  If someone saw me walking around by myself in there, I wanted to project an aura of wonderment, and not an aura of “I wonder where the best place to hide the explosives would be?”

Finally, I ran into the Bucks’ Director of Media Relations, Dan Smyczek.  I explained what I was doing there, and he couldn’t have been nicer.  He gave me a quick guided tour of the stadium’s underbelly.  He said the Nuggets hadn’t shown yet, since teams that play the night before generally don’t have a shoot-around the next morning.  (The Nuggets had barely beaten the Bulls in a nailbiter on Tuesday night.)  He pointed out where the locker room was, where the media room was, and generally when and where interviews take place before and after the game.  He said that it’s not so bad that I missed shoot-around, since it’s hard to really get any in-depth material there anyway. (So my story on “What Makes Luc Richard Mbah a Moute Cry Himself to Sleep?” will have to wait.)

He then sent me on my way, telling me to return at 5:00.  On the way out, I passed a very weary-looking Joe Alexander, and walked out the door about the same time he did.  For some reason, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the bolted exit door, so I stood there, pulling on it for a good 30 seconds.  I finally gave up and exited through the players’ parking lot, almost getting run over by Alexander.  Admittedly, that would have made for a better column.

When I get back to the Bradley Center at 5, it’s bustling with activity behind the scenes.  While the stands are still fairly empty, the tunnels under the seats are full of people with walkie talkies every 10 feet.  Everyone seems to be in a hurry, scurrying to get to whatever it is they do.

I find press row down on the floor and meet up with a guy named Adam, who takes me into the Press Room.  This is where all the media members can stuff their faces and shoot the breeze before game time.  I spot Craig Coshun, Jon McGlockin, Tony Smith, and other “celebrities” in the room. (Although, admittedly, these guys are “celebrities” in much the same way that Levi Johnston is a “celebrity.”)  This also happens to be the room where media members get their wireless internet password.  I get mine and return to my seat.

(Important note: For the people reading this 30 years from now, Levi Johnston was a young man who has gained national prominence by vaguely insulting a major presidential candidate, then proving he should be taken seriously by allowing magazines to photograph his wiener.)

It comes time to conduct the pregame interviews with the head coaches.  Apparently, the visiting coach is supposed to go first, but Denver’s George Karl is twenty minutes late.  When he appears from the locker room, he backs up against a brick wall, giving his interview the look of a hostage video.  Karl answers some fairly tepid questions.  He thinks Carmelo Anthony needs to win more playoff games before he’s considered an elite player.  He supports instant replay in some cases, but doesn’t think it should take so long.  Many of his answers are drowned out by the stadium’s PA system, which appears to be playing some hip-hop version of a Bob Dylan song.  Karl seems very comfortable with the Milwaukee media (as he coached in Milwaukee for five years), and he graciously stays until the very last media member is done asking questions.

By then, the small throng of reporters has moved down the hall to where Bucks coach Scott Skiles has begun giving interviews.  Skiles has a reputation for being a Grade A red ass – cranky, irascible, and short with the media.  On TV, you get the idea that he’d one day pull the spine out of a reporter if it were only legal.

But in person, Skiles was actually very calm and kind and answered questions as they came.  Sure, he’s not going to win “America’s Funniest Comic” any time soon, but even when he got a question he didn’t like, he politely declined to answer.  Still dressed in his black Bucks t-shirt and warmup pants, his demeanor and candor were impressive.

I worked my way back to my seat following the coach interviews.  By the stickers on our seats, I saw I was seated between a writer for the Spanish Journal and the Sports Bubbler’s own Bucks guru, Paul Imig.

About ten minutes before the game started, I was sitting at my laptop at courtside, when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was a man I didn’t know, who said he had a nephew that just graduated from the University of Missouri, and who was looking to get into sports journalism.  He asked me, thinking I was a sports writer, what the best way to break into sports media was.  I explained to him that I normally write about politics, and that I was just there for that one night covering the game.  So I guess my only advice to his nephew would be, “write about politics.” (In actuality, his nephew better be willing to write a lot.  For free.)

And it’s tip off time!

Before the game, the most appealing storyline dealt with how the Bucks’ young rookie point guard, Brandon Jennings, would fare against the Nuggets’ cagey veteran, Chauncey Billups.  But for all the talk of Jennings vs. Billups, the real test early in the game was how well Jennings got the ball down low.  Bucks center Andrew Bogut scored 11 of the team’s first 19 points, with Jennings assisting on 3 of them.  It was clear from the outset that the plan was to pound the Nuggets underneath the hoop with the Bucks’ big guys. (Bogut and forward Hakim Warrick took 15 of the Bucks’ first 25 shots.)

And this is why I believe Scott Skiles is a good coach.  From a fan’s perspective, it would seem that the Nuggets’ big guys, Kenyon Martin and Nene (a 6-foot-11 Brazilian who changed his name early in his career – it used to be “Dick Whitman,”) would be a tough matchup for Bogut.  Anyone who watched the Nuggets’ blood war with the Lakers in the playoffs last year knows that Denver’s big bodies deliver plenty of bruises.

Yet Skiles clearly saw something that us fans didn’t.  Maybe Bogut’s strengths played into specific weaknesses in Martin or Nene.  Or maybe Skiles knows that big men have a harder time recovering from back to back games. (The Nuggets are finishing up the last game of a six game road trip.)  But whatever it was, Skiles saw it, and I clearly didn’t.  And that’s why he’s a coach and I’m sitting here scarfing down a hot dog.

On comes the ENERGEE dance team, dressed in Veterans’ Day outfits that have about as much fabric in them as one of my socks.  Nothing says “thank you for your service and sorry about losing that arm” better than killer abs.

I am of several minds regarding the whole “dance team” phenomenon.  First, I would love to meet the guy who first convinced women that they should dance half naked in front of big crowds at sporting events.  And actually get them to enjoy doing so.  It’s a crime that Milwaukee has a statue of the Fonz, but none commemorating the inventor of the sports bra, the first guy to put mayonnaise on a hamburger, or the inventor of cheerleaders.  Let’s correct this.

On the other hand, I have to say that I’ve never actually been watching a game and said to myself “boy, I’m really not enjoying this competitive athletic match – what it really needs is some near-nude women!”  (Although I have said that about going to the grocery store.)

Anyway, they’re right in front of us here in press row, and they have provided us all with an angle that I will not soon un-see.  I’m pretty sure I can see what they had for lunch.  Back to the game.

The game stays close early, with the first quarter ending tied at 27.  I read Imig’s column online, where he quotes Brandon Jennings as saying Chauncey Billups is a Hall of Famer.  In order to ensure Billups’ place in the hall, Jennings exercised his option to not defend him, and Billups drains two three pointers on him in the span of two minutes.

One of the first things that’s noticeable from up close in press row is how fast Brandon Jennings actually is.  This gives me much consternation, as my wife has always told me I was the fastest man in Wisconsin.

Hey, wait…

And by the way, as long as we’re here, what is it with Wisconsin excellence and the name “Jennings?”  Greg Jennings of the Packers makes the Pro Bowl.  Brandon Jennings becomes an immediate rookie sensation.  If I were the Brewers, I would make sure I drafted any high school player in America with the last name “Jennings,” just to ride the wave.  Somewhere in Southeast Wisconsin, there’s a dentist named “Ernie Jennings” that gives fillings that make all your food taste like lobster.  There’s a garbage man named “Buford Jennings” that cleans the whole block in half the time.  You get the idea.

Being a beat writer is clearly much different now than it has been traditionally.  In days of yore, fans had very limited access to information about their teams – in some cases, the only way you could see your team on television was if they were playing a national game on a major network.  But now, with every game on television and a preponderance of websites, daily game recaps are almost superfluous.  Who wants to read about something they already watched with their own eyes?  And if they want to read about it, why don’t they just go to one of the blogs that likely has already broken down each player’s performance within 3 minutes of game’s end?

This is what makes the job so difficult – finding new and interesting ways to inform people about something they’ve already witnessed.  And it’s why sports writers take such a beating.  Gone are the days of Grantland Rice banging out erudite verbal masterpieces on a daily basis, composing orchestras of words to inform the public.  Now, the deadlines are seconds, not hours.  And everyone has an opinion – and if it doesn’t measure up to what the reader thinks, the reporter can expect to see their name disparaged on a blog somewhere.  (Although some of them are jerks, so they deserve it.)

One of the first things that you notice sitting next to the Nuggets bench are all the tattoos they have.  This has to be the most inked team in sports history.  Chris “Birdman” Anderson has completely run out of skin on his body to tattoo – he might have to start renting space on other people’s arms.  (As Steven Wright once joked, I’m looking into getting a full body tattoo of myself, only taller.)

And yes, it looks horrible – but I kind of appreciate it from a motivational perspective.  It really is kind of like going “all in” in poker.  Basically, he has to hustle his tail off in basketball now, because he is virtually unemployable in the real world.  It’s not like his fallback job is working at H&R Block or something.  He’s got to make a go of hoops.  Anyway.

(Later in the game, Birdman throws a towel to a little kid sitting in the stands.  As Imig remarked, it’s really easy to root for a guy who seems to appreciate the position he has.)

Following a blocking call on Ersan Ilyasova that would embarrass Tim Donaghy, the Bucks lead at the half 53-47.  Near the end of the half, Jennings makes a long pull-back jumper that has the Nuggets bench glancing at each other with incredulity.  Nuggets reserve forward Malik Allen, sitting three feet from us, looks over and says “If Jennings makes a shot, the next time the Bucks have the ball, he comes down and shoots it automatically.”  This is called foreshadowing.

One of the most noticeable things in the Bradley Center tonight is the section of 100 tickets purchased by Andrew Bogut that he has dubbed “Squad6.”  For each home game this year, Bogut has bought tickets and given them away to the most boisterous Bucks fans he could find.  I decide that after the game, I will suggest to Bogut that he instead give away his 100 tickets per game to homeless people.  How great would that be, to essentially have a soup kitchen in the middle of the arena?  Plus, it would save the Bucks money, as they wouldn’t have to hire anyone to clean up the Bradley Center after games.  You think there would be any curly fries, popcorn, or half-eaten hot dogs laying around after SquadHomeless exits the building?  The Bucks are free to send me a check for all the money I save them.  I have a million of \’em.

The second half begins, and it’s immediately a stark contrast to the first.  Jennings appears to be rolling, hitting a layup and two jumpers.  Things get testy under the Nuggets’ basket as Bogut and Carmelo Anthony get tied up, leading to a double technical foul.  Yet it’s Jennings that’s the first one to go over and make peace with Anthony.  In his sixth game in the league, he already appears to be a leader.  He should probably go ahead and file the restraining order paperwork against me now.

After the third quarter, the ENERGEE dancers walk right next to me to go throw junk into the stands.  I almost pass out from sucking in my gut for 3 straight minutes.

By the fourth quarter, the Bucks have built a lead as large as 12, but the Nuggets come roaring back to make it close. However, with just under four minutes left, with Denver appearing to have seized momentum, Jennings works his way off a screen and hits a big three pointer.  I remember Malik Allen’s cursory scouting report on Jennings – and sure enough, the next time down the floor, he hits another backbreaking three pointer to crush the Nuggets.  Even if you know it’s coming, you can’t stop it.  The Nuggets keep fighting, but Bogut hits a floater in the lane and Jennings knocks down six consecutive free throws to seal the 108-102 win, moving the Bucks’ record to 4-2.

After all the excitement, it seems to dawn on the crowd what had just happened.  They just saw a wispy point guard go for 32 points and nine assists in his sixth game in the NBA. And it’s not like those 32 points were an Allen Iverson-style 32 – Jennings shot 11 of 19 from the field.  And he didn’t score them in a lopsided game – he scored them when his team needed them the most, against a team who had been 6-2 before tonight.

For so long, the Bucks have been marketing their past in order to get fans interested.  They even changed their uniform colors back to the original red and green in order to reconnect with days of glory.  (In a truly retro move, the team has decided women shouldn’t be allowed to vote for the NBA all star teams.) But now, with this one performance, Brandon Jennings has given Bucks fans a reason to look to the future.  No longer do fans have to reminisce about the Junior Bridgeman era – there might actually be a reason to come see this new phenomenon.

And it was at this moment that I realized why I could never be a good sports beat writer.  I simply can’t extricate myself from the game going on, in order to provide a balanced account of the game.  I’m just too much of a fan.  People seeing me on press row probably noticed the occasional fist pump or shout “yes!”  Being a beat writer for one day is like being a gynecologist for a day – you haven’t had enough practice to be dispassionate about what you’re viewing.

After the game, I fought the crowd to go see if I could get in on a couple interviews.  You almost have to pick one side or the other to cover, since the teams are fairly separate.  I see a group of reporters by the Nuggets locker room, waiting for Karl to come out to talk.  As I’m standing there, I see the same reporters I saw before the game, and… Greg Jennings?  Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings holding a microphone?  Here he is, standing three feet from me, ready to start interviewing George Karl?  What in the hell is going on here?  Did I hit my head on the way out?

As it turns out, it appears Jennings, a Bucks season ticket holder, has signed on to do post-game interviews with the Milwaukee Fox affiliate.  For five minutes, I just stood there next to him, as he read the box score.  I wanted so badly to have him sign something for my son, but I was there as a reporter, not for personal reasons.  I thought I would be breaking reporter etiquette to ask for an autograph.  Plus, I am chicken.

It appears Karl left the locker room through a different door, as he actually walks up behind the throng of reporters, startling them.  He’s wearing the beleaguered look of a coach who has lost 645 professional games, and he moves slowly into place.  Six-foot-eleven Nuggets broadcaster Scott Hastings offers to lend Karl his sport coat, to cover up the green golf shirt Karl has changed into.  Karl demurs.  Then the interviews go on.  You can barely hear the coach’s voice, so everyone’s shoving their microphones as close to his face as possible.  Behind the coach, Nene destroys some of the pizza left out for the players.  The television lights seem like they’re roasting the top of Karl’s bald head.  And he does this 82 times a season.

I expected the mood to be much better in the Bucks’ locker room, and it was.  The room is bright, with high ceilings and wooden lockers – although it seems smaller than I expected.  All the players are there, in various stages of undress, with many of them talking to reporters while completely naked.  (Let’s just say if you wanted, you could see plenty of Mbah a Booty.)

Andrew Bogut stood in the right of the room, wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and two giant ice bags strapped to his knees.  There was also an ice-filled yellow janitor’s bucket in front of his locker, presumably to soak his feet.  He answered question after question, then eventually crept away to hit the showers.

On the other hand, Brandon Jennings was leaning up against a corner of the locker room, fully dressed.  He seemed to be answering questions almost sheepishly, as if he were embarrassed about what he just accomplished.  Up close, it’s easy to see that he just turned 20 years old.  He talked with his chin down, hands fidgeting with things in his locker.  When asked whether Billups gave him any pre-game advice, he chuckled and said no.  “Just go slow for me, young fella,” is all Billups said to him before the game, according to Jennings.

By that time, ace reporter Greg Jennings had made his way into the locker room, and he was interviewing Charlie Bell.  Both guys are from Michigan (although Bell is 4 years older), so it seemed like they knew each other.  When the cameras stopped rolling, Bell asked Jennings if he was going out on the town – Jennings said no, since he had to get back to the wife.  So it’s nice to see Jennings and I have more in common than our selections as alternates to the 2008 Pro Bowl.

My work having been done, I wandered out into the night air at about 10:00.  By that time, the Nuggets were loading up onto the team bus, which was presumably taking them back to the hotel.  Had I been a real reporter, I would have been back in the press room, furiously banging out my story.  I’m just guessing that at some point, that story would have included Brandon Jennings.  Perhaps in sonnet form, professing my eternal love for him.

OMG! Tell Brandon Jennings to Stop Tweeting! ROFLMAO! (Dec. 17, 2009)

Disclaimer: This column contains some language of the salty variety.  The high standards of the internet compel me to warn you of this.  But I gotta keep it real. And if you want to send me a “hate tweet,” you can do so at @Schneider_CM.

Let me be clear – my love of Brandon Jennings takes a back seat to no man.  After his sixth game, I urged him to file a restraining order against me.  After his 55 point explosion in his very next game, I offered to have his baby (or at the very least, go snatch someone else’s for him.)  As a Bucks fan, I feel like I’m six years old and I’ve just been given a Zhu Zhu pet – only a braided, tattooed one from Compton.*

Perhaps what has impressed me the most is the maturity he\’s shown in his public statements to date.  In his interviews, he seems very calm, cool, and thoughtful.  Even after he blew up and hit the national stage, he handled himself with class.

So it pains me to say the following:

If you see Brandon Jennings tweeting on his Blackberry, immediately wrestle it from him and throw it in Lake Michigan.

Trust me, I am certainly no puritan.  I happen to think Tiger Woods’ biggest mistake was the horrific spelling and punctuation he used in the text messages he sent his hoochies.  (You went to STANFORD, Tiger… COME ON!)  Many of my writings in the past have delved into the world of the ribald, including this piece that seems to make people laugh upon reading it. (It’s a story about how the Milwaukee police spent a full day staking out the turmoil in my pants.)

But let’s follow the recent Mark Twain-like wit and wisdom of Brandon Jennings last week, via Twitter.  He started off with this erudite reflection on race relations, specifically with regard to the types of women he dates:

Imma change my race of women I mess with.

I like white girls, light skin, asian girls, thai girls, now.

Man Jo I like all type. Of women. God made beautiful women

These posts were quickly revoked, and followed with this explanation:

(true story) all my life I only dated black girls. Nothing against any other race. I love that black women are Strong!

Then came these ruminations on the travails of Tiger Woods:

#Womenshouldnever get mad when a man cheat! Tiger did it!!!!

Followed by this re-tweet of a young gentleman who goes by the handle “ComptonAssDeezy,” who apparently likes to treat his women to the finer things:

 RT smh. Smh!!! @ComptonAssDeezy: #womenshouldnever not give head, and then get mad when her man cheat. you better get with the times bitch!

Let’s stop there for a moment.

These are the thoughts of a 20 year old male.  I was 20 once.  And the world should be thankful I didn’t have the ability to tweet my innermost thoughts.  (96% of them would have involved Nirvana, whether I could borrow your fake ID, and how amazing it was that my college roommate was able to put a picture of a naked woman on his computer.  ON HIS COMPUTER!)  I have been in and around enough locker rooms to know the things that are discussed –  I am certainly no Pollyanna in this respect.

But I think back to my sports heroes of yore.  Do I feel like I missed anything because I didn’t know Robin Yount’s position on whether a lack of oral sex gives a man a right to cheat on his ladies?  Not really.  Do I stay awake at night wondering if Sidney Moncrief craved the sweet caress of Asian women?  Only occasionally.

When used properly, Twitter can be a pretty cool tool.  And I’m all for athletes breaking free from the traditional media to let the fans know more about themselves.  Even Jennings himself gives us a glimpse into his psyche in tweets that I love, like this one, posted after Kentucky knocked off Connecticut last Wednesday:

John wall better then me??? Just asking that’s what I been hearing.

That’s my boy – John Wall isn’t better than you!  Get yours, Brandon!  Or this one:

Give me #RIHANNA for a Day! I know what she wants for Xmas.

Yes!  I agree!  I want Rihanna for a day, too!  (Especially after her duet with Shy Ronnie.)

(Side note: This is the big difference between Brandon Jennings, and, say, me.  If he tweets that he wants a date with Rihanna, there’s actually a 73% chance he will get to go on a date with Rihanna.  I’m guessing that I might be somewhat more of a longshot.  As far as I can tell, this is really the only difference between me and Brandon Jennings.)

He even tweeted about meeting President Obama, saying:

Oh yea forgot to till yall I was at the white house, chillin with Obama. He actually know who I am. That’s crazy.

See, that’s awesome.  But for the love of God, some of it is just too much information.  And someday, it’s going to get him suspended.  So then, it doesn’t just become Young Money’s problem, it becomes my problem.  He’s compromising the team that I love.

Of course, thinking I was clever, I tweeted my line about throwing his Blackberry in the lake – and immediately started to get hate tweets.  (Is there anything that sounds less threatening than a “hate tweet?” It sounds about as threatening as a “nuclear booty,” which was once the name of one of my fantasy football teams.  Anyway.)

The responses to my tweet, with varying degrees of punctuation and understandability, broke down among these lines:

1. YOU MY NI**A, BRANDON
2. Don’t let the haters get you down, B!  You be you!
3. The twitter police gonna get you!

(#1 was actually from my wife, so I’m not sure it counts.)

And believe it or not, there was actually a semi-lucid appeal to the First Amendment somewhere in Jennings’ defense.  (83% of Jennings’ twitter followers likely think the First Amendment is a Hardee’s menu item.)

So, according to Jennings’ followers, I am now “cranky old white guy with nothing better to do.” But let me be clear: NBA players can say whatever they want.  Andrew Bogut, for example, does some cool stuff on Twitter.  But just because you CAN say something doesn’t mean you SHOULD say it.  As Chris Rock once said, you CAN drive a car with your feet, but it doesn’t mean it should be done.

For Christmas, my 4-year old son wants a little Brandon Jennings jersey.  He’s going to get one.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t still fit him when I have to explain what “bitches giving head” means, courtesy of Jennings’ Twitter feed.

(Somewhat-related side note: Yesterday, my 6-year old daughter finally asked me what Tiger Woods did wrong.  After panicking and mumbling to myself, I finally told her that he “hugged too many ladies.”  And by “hugged,” I mean “gave mustache rides to.”)

Now that I think of it, I’m kind of happy tweeting wasn’t available to Milwaukee sports figures in years past.  You’d see stuff like this:

Molly4: Boy, coke is a lot better when snorted off the rear end of a 15 year old!  LMAO!

LHarrisGMBucks: I just ordered out for General Tso’s chicken and accidentally ended up with a Chinese forward! Who says he won’t play here!  FML!

TheHammer44: Can’t believe I hit #755 today! Never be beat! Boy, nothing grows those muscles like milk and pumpkin pie!

HDaltonBrewGM: Just took Surhoff with the first pick!  Glad I took him over losers like Will Clark, Barry Larkin, and Barry Bonds!

JonnyMac14: OMG! Alcindor just let me scrub his shoes for him with a toothbrush! I bet I’ll still be talking about this 40 years from now! On color TV!

Chooey89: Anyone know a good hot tub cleaner?

FrankenBreuer45: Holy crap, did Jordan dunk on me tonight! I sure hope nobody invents a device where, 22 years from now, people can watch me get dunked on over and over! FML!

Other Observations:

Luke Ridnour is playing lights out for the Bucks this year, and I’m pretty sure I know why.  It was just too much work for him to quarterback the Dillon Panthers to three straight Texas high school football championship games, and play point guard in the NBA at the same time.  Now that he’s left Julie and only has to go to art school in Chicago during the day, it’s freed up his shooting practice time.

Now that Michael Redd is back, the Bucks have lefthanders at both guard positions.  Someone call Elias to find out how often NBA teams start two lefties.  Bet not often.

On Bucks broadcasts, when they do the “guess who the first Buck to score in the fourth quarter will be,” game, how lame is it when people pick a guy on the bench?  Seriously, people – watch a game or two and learn the rotation.  A lot of the starters begin the 4th quarter riding the pine – adjust accordingly.  I’m shocked nobody to date has picked “Glenn Robinson.”

Speaking of lame – first Indiana steals Marquette’s coach.  Then they start doing the giant heads on sticks routine behind the baskets.  Are they going to airlift the Bradley Center down to Bloomington next?  Photoshop all the college pictures of Dwyane Wade so people think he actually went to Indiana?  They should all be ashamed of themselves. (Come to think of it, they are welcome to take Jeronne Maymon’s dad, if they want him.)

 

* – For the people of the future, Zhu Zhu pets are poorly made plastic hamsters that have become the “hot Christmas toy” of 2009.  I have spent hours of my life staking out the Toys R Us near my house trying to get my hands on these things.  I will now go drink gasoline.

UPDATE: This post made me look prescient, as Jennings was fined $7,500 by the NBA on Friday for an innocuous tweet that he apparently posted too close to the finish of the game.  I happen to think this fine is BS.

A Day at Lambeau: Playoff Bound Edition (Dec. 28, 2009)

Some buddies and I made the frigid jaunt to Lambeau Field yesterday to watch the Packers catapult themselves into the playoffs with a 48-10 beatdown of the hapless Seattle Seahawks. It appears I still have all my toes – and I may have even picked one or two up from someone else.  Not sure how that happened.

The first thing I noticed was that there were entirely too many Favre jerseys still being worn at Lambeau Field.  I know that in the past 20 years, most Packer fans only owned one jersey, and it was usually Favre (I owned one myself.)  But for the love of God, what exactly is Favre going to have to do to get Packer fans to stop wearing his jersey?  Go on a shooting spree through Brookfield Square Mall?  Get caught urinating on the statue of Vince Lombardi?  (Even then, people would blame Ted Thompson for putting the statue in the way of Favre\’s stream.)

But here’s what I have come up with to fix this problem.  Remember those stories about how they take all the pre-printed Super Bowl champion t-shirts from the losing teams and send them to impoverished nations in Africa so the kids have something to wear?  (For instance, the kids in Nigeria are all running around in Chicago Bears 2006 World Champions t-shirts and hats.)

I say we start a foundation where Packer fans can donate their Favre jerseys, and have them shipped off to poor African nations, so the kids there have something to wear.  We’ll airlift them thousands of Packer #4 jerseys, along with some granola bars.  Then, on the next flight, we’ll airlift them some DVDs of the 1996 Super Bowl win against the Patriots.  It’s perfect – in some little Sudanese villages, the reputation of the ‘Ol Gunslinger will live on intact, untouched by the recent self-inflicted stains on his reputation.  Then we can send all the Favre jock-sniffers over there as aid workers to tell the kids stories about Favre’s glory years and how the evil Ted Thompson cast him aside in favor of… another pro bowl quarterback who is going to be around for a decade longer.

(This idea is almost as foolproof as my idea to create facemasks that stick out like three feet, and extend down to the player’s waist – then, it would be impossible to tackle them without being called for a facemask.  The Packers would just march down the field, 15 penalty yards at a time.  It’s an airtight strategy, if you ask me.  Here’s a prototype that I’ve developed:)

As always, much of the fun of going to Lambeau is seeing all the obscure Packer jerseys on display.  But yesterday, we saw a feat that may never be matched – three guys walking together wearing the jerseys of Chris Jacke (#13), Don Majikowski, (#7), and… Jeff Query (#85.)  Let me repeat that – a guy was wearing a JEFF QUERY jersey.  You may recall Query being drafted in the 5th round of the 1989 NFL draft, then starting zero games for the Packers in his three years on the team.  In 1990, Query caught 34 passes, although he was used primarily as a kick returner.  He moved on to the Bengals in 1992, played three more seasons, then called it a career.  Yet he lives on in Lambeau thanks to the young man wearing his digits.

Before the game, naturally, we tailgated in balmy 20 degree weather.  By the time I hit the port a potty and got back to the tailgate, my friend had put down four beers.  I had been fighting a cold for a full week, and decided to not drink at all – and it was the best decision I could have made.  I have a Dimaggio-like streak of drinking in the afternoon and things going badly.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I don’t understand the idea of getting completely hammered before a sporting event.  Not to get all philosophical, but once the game is over, aren’t our memories of it all we really have to keep?  And if you’re plastered, don’t you lose your memory of the game?  So what’s the point?

Try this – imagine two scenarios:

1.    You get to make sweet, sweet love to Jessica Alba for three hours, although once you’re done, you don’t get to remember any aspect of it for the rest of your life; or
2.    You don’t get to touch Jessica Alba, but you think you did, and you get to carry that memory with you for the rest of your life.

Which one would you choose?  I’d take the lifetime memories, for sure.  What good would options number one be if you can’t remember anything?  (Other than the three hours at the time – or in my case, the sixty seconds of pleasure, and two hours and 59 minutes of crying.)

In any event, I was happy I didn’t drink.

Perhaps the best non-football highlight of the day occurred when American Idol finalist (and Milwaukee native) Danny Gokey showed up to sing “Roll Out the Barrel.”  He showed up on the jumbotron, to milquetoast applause.  Then, before he started singing, he invited the audience to purchase his new album, coming out this week.  At that point, he was serenaded by cascading boos from the crowd.  “BOOO!  BOOOOOOOO!”  The Lambeau faithful weren’t there to be sold a bunch of junk – which is ironic, since there appears to be no fan consternation about having to pay $6 for a bottle of Miller Lite. (Gokey was also flanked by SIX security guards – which is reason #6,983 the terrorists hate us.)  Later in the game, with the Packers blowing out the Seahawks, my buddy Jay suggested they put Gokey back to return punts.  I can’t think of any reason why this wouldn’t have been a good idea.

At some point during the game, after another shanked punt, my buddies deemed Jeremy Kapinos “The Greek God of Feminine Hygiene Products.”  I don’t even really know what this meant, but it made me laugh.

After the game, we stood down near the tunnel where the players exit the field.  Several players – led by Charles Woodson –  ran around the field, hi-fiving fans in the stands.  When Woodson made his way back around our way, we started a chant of “MVP!  MVP!”  When Greg Jennings came our way, the chant changed to “YOU’RE PRETTY GOOD!  YOU’RE PRETTY GOOD!”

The ride back to Madison was rough – especially on Highway 41 heading South.  I’m generally fairly sympathetic to people who get in car accidents, but I swear to God we should fine anyone $5,000 that spins off the road after a Packer game.  It costs thousands of people 45 minutes of their lives while traffic grinds to a complete halt.  Someone call the Legislature.

So while we were stuck in the car for hours, we listened to the Packer postgame show on the radio.  This is one of those things that I find highly entertaining about Wisconsin life, but sincerely hope nobody outside the state can hear.  For instance, about 10 years ago, I remember listening to people call in to a Packer post game show, and one guy said the following:

“I think if he stays healthy… and only if he stays healthy… Billy Schroeder could put up Jerry Rice-type numbers.”

He was, of course, referring to Bill Schroeder the white Packer wide receiver, and not the large-domed former Brewer catcher and current baseball announcer.

But what blew me away about this guy was that he thought he was being reasonable by throwing in the caveat – “If he stays healthy.” He thought he was downplaying his statement by adding qualifiers.  He didn’t realize that even with his attempt at reasonableness, what he was saying was clinically insane.  Such are Packer post-game callers.

Anyway, so this guy calls in yesterday to talk to ‘The Big Unit” Bill Michaels, and the caller’s fumbling around, not making any sense.  So in order to get out of the conversation, he just yells “GO PACK” and hangs up.

This got me thinking – I think Wisconsin is the only place where “GO PACK” is actually used as a punctuation mark.  You can end any sentence with it, and it makes total sense to people.  It doesn’t make any difference what news the preceding sentence delivered – if you slap on a “GO PACK” at the end, you can say pretty much anything.

Here’s a sampling of sentences that could easily be softened with a well placed Packer cheer:

Judge: “Mr. Smith, how do you plead in the twenty six counts of touching little boys for which you are charged?”

Mr. Smith: “Not guilty, your honor.  GO PACK!” (Jury nods in approval.)

Or:

Doctor: “Mr. Gallagher, I have some bad news – it’s inoperable.  You have three months to live.  GO PACK!”

Mr. Gallagher:  “That is bad news – but Aaron Rodgers is really coming around, huh?”

I finally arrived back in Madison around 8:15 PM – which made for a long day, considering I had left my house at 6:30 that morning to pick up friends and get to the game.  Granted, not everyone is coming from Madison, but you have to wonder whether there will ever be a tipping point where fans like me decide it just isn’t worth it to make the trip to Green Bay.  On the one hand, you get to experience an event unlike any other in sports – a Packer game in Lambeau.  But on the other hand, it’s become an all day affair – and with ticket prices going up as fast as they are, and with high definition televisions bringing you closer to the game, aren’t a lot of people going to decide that watching the game at home is just as enjoyable as freezing to death all day in December?  (The answer to my question, of course, is that if people decide to stop going, there are only about 60,000 people on the waiting list that would happily grab those tickets.)

Finally, one thing that’s worth noting that I haven’t seen covered, is that yesterday may very well have been Mark Tauscher’s last game in Lambeau.  It’s a great story for a Wisconsin kid to live out his dream by playing for both the Badgers and the Packers, and now it might be over.  So we should all be thankful for the time we had him.

Finally finally, my favorite Facebook status update of the week, from my friend Ryan:

[My son] is two years old. he’s watching my father-in-law and me fry perch and we are teaching him how. We are the Wisconsin equivalent of “Jersey Shores.”

 

Oh, and I should mention – after the Packers lost to the Steelers, I sent an angry tweet to Greg Bedard at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who had pointed out that Mason Crosby’s missed field goal ended up being the difference.  I generally dislike saying things like that, because had Crosby made it, the game would have played out completely differently – you can’t just plug in his three points and say the game would have been identical.  Anyway, I should institute a post-Packer loss cooling off period before I approach my computer.  So my bad. (Not that anyone really cares.)

This One’s For the Ladies: The Crazy Days of the Milwaukee Does

As Americans, we’re very selective about the women we allow on TV.  When it comes to our viewing habits, we go to extraordinary lengths to save ourselves from the horrors of having to see average looking women.  As a general rule, if you’re a woman who happens to not be hot, you are only allowed on TV under the following circumstances:*

  1. Your child has flown 200 miles in an out of control balloon.
  2. You are a prostitute with a debilitating drug addiction, and hilarity ensues while you proposition an undercover police office on “COPS.”
  3. You are Nancy Pelosi. (Or Harry Reid.)
  4. We just found out your neighbor is a serial killer, and there are cameras at your front door ready to ask you if you ever saw anything suspicious – like your neighbor carrying dead bodies to the curb on trash pickup days.
  5. You are confused about which one of the possible 23 men fathered your child, and you have turned to the nation’s leading paternity authority, Maury Povich, to settle it in the privacy of national television.
  6. You are in the WNBA.

Lately, the last one has been in question.  America’s basketball league for women, the WNBA, is foundering financially.  Propped up for more than a decade by the NBA, attendance is nearly nonexistent. (If Osama bin Laden wanted to guarantee he’d never be found by U.S. authorities, he could just regularly attend Atlanta Dream games.)  Some teams have outright folded, while other teams have resorted to playing in casinos and turning their uniforms in corporate billboards.  It appears the league is on its last legs.

\"\"The prospects for a viable women’s basketball league in America weren’t always so dour.  In 1978, the first wave of young girls reaping the benefits of federal Title IX legislation began to grow up, and sought a place to continue their athletic careers. (This was only a couple of years before Sarah Palin started showing off her fresh moves for the Wasilla High girl’s basketball team.)  During this period, women’s basketball specifically was at a high point, with the U.S. women winning a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal (finishing second only to the powerful Soviet Union team.)

This provided the impetus to start the what is believed to be the first Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) in 1978 – and Milwaukee was at the forefront of the movement.  At the time, Brew City was a basketball hotbed – Milwaukee was only a year removed from Marquette’s national championship, and the Bucks had lost in the Western Conference Semifinals the year before. The Milwaukee Does (obviously a play on the “Bucks” of the NBA) were one of the league’s founding franchises.  In fact, the WBL’s first game was played before 8,000 fans at the Milwaukee Arena, with the Does losing 92-87 to the Chicago Hustle.

Even in its nascent days, the WBL carefully cultivated its image for the American public.  Despite being 40% African-American, black players were rarely seen in league advertising and promotional items.  The players’ sexuality was often used in an attempt to draw viewers.  Even the Milwaukee Does’ logo featured a mascot in short shorts sticking her tail invitingly in the air. (Sadly, the Milwaukee Bucks were never able to capitalize on the raw sexuality of Paul Mokeski.)

\"\"Perhaps the most stark example of the league selling sex to draw viewers was demonstrated by comely 1979 league co-MVP Molly “Machine Gun” Bolin of the Iowa Cornets.  Bolin, an Iowa schoolgirl legend and teenage mother who once scored 83 points in a high school game, also sought to be the league’s pinup girl.  She caused a controversy around the WBL when she posed for a Farrah Fawcett-like poster that featured her in short shorts and a mini-tank top, obviously an attempt to catch the attention of more male fans.  Later, Bolin appeared in a poster in which she menacingly toted a machine gun while wearing her Cornets uniform.

(Bolin was coached in the WBL by former Marquette standout Dean Meminger, and the Cornets franchise was owned by George Nissen, who owned a trampoline business.  Nissen purchased a customized $30,000 Greyhound bus for his players that he called “The Corndog.”)

(Editor’s note – In 1981, Sports Illustrated writer Roy S. Johnson wrote a glowing article about Bolin, saying “if beauty were a stat, Molly Bolin would be in the Hall of Fame.”  Let’s not get crazy, Roy S. Johnson.  Bolin was attractive, but attractive in a “’70s women’s basketball player kind of way.”  Much like people think Shaquille O’Neal is a world class comic just because most other NBA players are misanthropes, Bolin was certainly aided by the plain looks of her peer group.  In any decent high school, she still would have been the girl all the hot girls call to go out just because they need someone to drive.)

Double editor’s note – in the ‘70s, you couldn’t be considered a super babe until you showed up on a poster.  Certain women became household names solely because of their presence on high school boys’ walls.  We need to bring back the babe poster, for the sake of our youth.)

The league’s attempt to sell its players’ sexuality had a flip side, as well.  Many franchises went to great lengths to hide the fact that their players were lesbians.  It is undeniable that lesbians played a historically vital role in promoting women’s basketball. Yet in 1978, America obviously wasn’t nearly as accepting of homosexuality as it is now.  When the WNBA’s Sheryl Swoopes announced in 2008 that she partook of the Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name, it was about as shocking as Dwyane Wade announcing he’s black.  (That doesn’t mean that the WNBA isn’t still trying to shake the perception that its players and fans are lesbians – some teams in the league still won’t do the popular “kiss cams” on their jumbotrons for fear that young fans might actually see women kissing. Which is really the only reason people still get Cinemax.)

But in 1979, gay female basketball players weren’t accorded the privilege of living their lives in the open.  In “Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women’s Basketball,” authors Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackleford detail the travails of Mariah Burton Nelson, who was released from the San Francisco Pioneers for merely attending a gay pride parade.  She never played regularly in the league again.

\"\"As the authors point out, the WBL was a double-edged sword for these players: it gave them the opportunity to do what they loved for a living, but at the cost of having to publicly hide who they really were. (Semi-interesting trivia: the Pioneers were partly owned by Alan Alda.)

Despite the excitement over the first league game in Milwaukee, the Does remained mired in the league’s cellar for their two years in the league.  In 1978-79, they went 11-23, following up with a 10-24 season in 1979-80.  For a portion of the second year, the team was coached by Larry Costello, who also coached the Bucks in their inaugural season, winning an NBA championship with the team in 1971.  Costello later resigned, saying he wasn’t being paid by the franchise.

Yet despite being the home to minor stars like Olympians Anne Meyers and Nancy Lieberman, the league struggled mightily to draw fans.  It didn’t help that reporters were banned from locker rooms (since they were almost always male), leading many to simply ignore the league altogether.  Meyers, with the richest contract in the WBL at $100,000 per year, would later garner media attention for attempting to try out for the Indiana Pacers of the NBA.

During the league’s first two years, several teams folded in mid-season, as franchises were hemorrhaging money.  The league’s players were subjected to long bus rides, empty arenas, and their paychecks bouncing.  The Does attempted to fold in the middle of the 1979-80 season, but the league deemed them too important to fail, so the WBL came up with money and new ownership to save the franchise.

But it wasn’t enough.  The Does folded after the ’79-80 season, and the WBL as a whole lasted only one season beyond that.  The league’s financial troubles came to a head in 1981, when members of the Minnesota Fillies walked off the court in Chicago to protest the fact that they weren’t being paid.

It didn’t help that the WBL suddenly faced competition from the Ladies Professional Basketball Association (LPBA), which stole a chunk of the WBL’s market and players even as their teams were already struggling financially.  Bolin took her 32.8 points per game to the Southern California Breeze of the LPBA, which agreed to pay her the princely sum of $30,000.  Ironically, the LPBA folded after only a few games, and many of its players returned to the WBL.

The league finally closed its doors after the 1981 season.  As it turns out, the Does ended up being groundbreaking in one respect – they donned uniforms of purple and forest green well before the Bucks changed to those colors in the 1990’s.  In fact, the Bucks have recently begun holding “basketball basics for women” seminars featuring former Does player Joanne Smith.**  (Bucks fans are hoping the team changes these seminars into tryouts, as the Bucks badly need a shooting guard.)

As for the WNBA, their league is learning many of the same lessons taught to us by the WBL.  It appears the market for professional women’s basketball hasn’t grown, even with the substantial financial backing of the NBA.  (And, presumably, because not enough of their players have been posing with machine guns.)

For more information on the WBL and Milwaukee Does, check out the WBL Memories Webpage and  “Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women’s Basketball,” by Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackleford.

*For some reason, this same aesthetic standard doesn’t apply to men on TV.  They’ll let any guy on TV, no matter how ugly.  Here’s proof:

\"\"

** – My friends and I have always had debates about whether it’s better to date a girl who knows a lot about sports versus one that knows nothing. (An argument stated magnificently by Davy Rothbart in this GQ column.)  I’ve always believed I’ve been more compatible with girls who didn’t know anything about sports. (Actually, I couldn’t be very picky – I generally decided I was “compatible” with a girl if she had a pulse, more than three teeth, and wasn’t on parole.)  It sounds great in theory – having something as important as sports to relate to with your girlfriend – but isn’t it nice if your significant other has the ability to make you a more complete person by illuminating new areas of your life? And big boobs?

 

McGwire, McGwire, Pants on Fire (Jan. 12, 2010)

If a guy walks into a bank and steals $100 million with a gun, he goes to prison.  If he steals it with a syringe, apparently all he has to do is shed some tears and all is forgiven.

Yesterday, Mark McGwire sat in front of Bob Costas for an interview in which he admitted what he had denied for nearly a decade – that he used steroids and human growth hormone during his record-setting major league career.  (In other equally shocking news, Liberace announced yesterday that he is still dead.)

During the Costas interview, McGwire kept repeating how much he’s wanted to come forward and admit his “mistake” ever since his disastrous testimony before Congress in 2005.  Yet he has only come forth because he’s been offered the opportunity to be the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach.  Apparently this desire to come clean wasn’t quite strong enough until Tony LaRussa offered him a job. (Incidentally, LaRussa is the only one in contention with Barry Bonds for the title of Biggest A-hole in Baseball.”  You’d be better off having Kim Jong Il vouch for you.)

McGwire would have you believe that this whole ordeal is all about him – how hard it has been on him to hang on to this “secret,” how hard it was to tell his son and father, etc.  But it stopped being about him a long time ago.  He’s hoping people view his steroid use a victimless crime – a mere boneheaded youthful transgression that allowed him to heal his bad back.  (“OOOPS!  Sorry I accidentally erased all your record books, baseball!  My bad!”)

But McGwire’s steroid use has a further reach than he apparently can grasp.  For one, he is a common thief.  Records show that McGwire made approximately $74.7 million in baseball salary in his career – over 2/3rds of which was earned after he is alleged to have taken steroids to repair his bad back.  Without them, he could have easily been out of the game. (See 1991, when McGwire played in 154 games, yet hit only .201 with 22 home runs – numbers that couldn’t get you playing time as a Brewer middle infielder.)

Those salary numbers don’t even include endorsement money, which could easily have doubled his income.  And it’s safe to say that the lion’s share of it was earned because of his use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.  That’s money that comes out of the pockets of fans, who believed that what they were seeing on the field was a genuine artifact.

Furthermore, what’s being lost in all the steroids talk is that what McGwire did actually altered the competitive balance of the game. (And yes, this also goes for everyone else that was doing steroids at the same time.)  But games were won and lost because of steroid use, which made major league baseball a contest of test tubes, rather than hard work and skill.  Won/loss records are sacrosanct in sports – it’s all they have to separate themselves from scripted events like “Jersey Shore” episodes.  (The only place on TV where you might be able to see more steroids in use than on a baseball field. And that’s the SITUATION.)

(Incidentally, I said the same thing in 2007 about the Brewers signing steroid user Eric Gagne.  Gagne stole our money by signing a contract based on fraudulent numbers. And I thought it should have been obvious that Fernando Vina was on the juice – nobody can maintain such a perfect goatee without performance enhancers.)

So if you want to have sympathy for anyone, have sympathy for the fans of teams who lost because McGwire was hitting 15% more home runs in a year than anyone had before.  Have sympathy for the marginal player who couldn’t get a major league contract because of McGwire’s bloated salary.  Have sympathy for the family members of Roger Maris, who were used as pawns in the great McGwire/Sosa charade of 1998.  Have sympathy for Milwaukee’s favorite son, Hank Aaron, whose records have been wiped off the books for good.

I’ve heard some people argue that McGwire should be given sympathy because his tearful apology seemed so much more genuine than Alex Rodriguez’.  Unfortunately, we don’t judge the validity of baseball records based on the activity of a player’s tear ducts.

But what’s truly sad is that Big Mac still clings to the chimera that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs.  This fallacy is only believed by the people who are still running around the globe looking for Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

It appears that Hall of Fame voters have taken the common sense approach and seem poised to ban McGwire from the Hall for life.  They could build three more Halls of Fame and McGwire wouldn’t get in.  He says he regrets playing in the “steroid era,” apparently oblivious to the fact that he helped create the era. (Conceivably, no players could be inducted to the Hall of Fame for 10 to 15 years, given the fact that they shared the “era” with Bonds and McGwire.)

So we get that McGwire is sorry.  But is he sorry enough to give back the $100 million he stole from us?  Is he sorry enough to decline entry back into the game as a hitting coach?  Is he sorry enough to have his numbers wiped from the books or to suffer the consequences for criminally taking illegal substances?  I think we know the answer.

A Long Path to the Long Ball

Admit it – there’s no more special moment in American sports than seeing someone hit a home run.  Hitting a long ball imparts super-human status on an athlete, setting them apart from the rest of us couch potatoes.  In the back of our minds, we all think we could hit a jump shot in basketball or catch a touchdown pass in football.  But hitting a ball over a fence hundreds of feet away requires a singularly special skill, of which only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the general public possesses.

To date, it was a skill I had never acquired.  I played high school baseball for three years, although to say I “played” is a bit of a misnomer.  I was a “member of the team.”  When I graduated, I was a rail-thin 5 foot 9, 135 pounds.  Television stations in Ethiopia should have had telethons for me, I was so emaciated.  As such, I was not exactly what you would call a “power hitter.”  And as such, I didn’t exactly get a lot of what you would call “playing time.”  (When people asked me what position I played, I said “left out.”)

I tried everything to be a stronger hitter.  I sat in class squeezing those spring contraptions that are supposed to strengthen your forearms.  I actually did eye exercises that were supposed to strengthen the muscles around your eyeballs, helping you see the ball better.  (This was before college, when I started drinking alcohol specifically for the purpose of helping me see a lot worse.)

I taught myself to bat left-handed, carrying Ted Williams’ book “The Science of Hitting” in my backpack everywhere I went.  I idolized Williams, because he threw right-handed and hit left, just like I was trying to do.  I wanted to craft the perfect swing from scratch, and broke it down to the inch, using videotape and the illustrations Williams had in his book.  (I taped every Will Clark at bat I could, to try to emulate his swing, as well.)  The benefit of Williams’ system was that you didn’t have to be a big, muscular guy to hit the ball hard – after all, he was rail-thin throughout his career.  The obvious downside was, you have to be Ted Williams to be able to pull it off – he was a freak of nature.

None of it worked.  I languished on the bench, a singles hitter at best.  I tried to stay as active as possible when I could – I’d go out and warm up the right fielder between innings, play bullpen catcher to get relief pitchers loose, and pitch batting practice before games.  (Which was ideal, since my best fastball was a perfect batting practice pitch.)

But sitting the bench was still humiliating.  Especially since the girl I was completely in love with went to a lot of the games.  I\’d be out in left field for warmups before the game, and I’d be able to see her large hairspray teased mane sitting in the stands.  (This was 1989, after all.)  Then during the game, I’d disappear from the field, and she’d never see me again.  As if I was never on the team at all.

My junior year, our team was terrible.  Our coach tried every lineup and combination possible – except playing me.  There was one game in particular that I thought for sure he’d start me, just to give me a shot.  But when I checked the lineup card, my name wasn’t on it.  When I took my spot in the outfield for pre-game warmups, tears started streaming down my face.  If I wasn’t going to play now, I never would – and I proved that for once, there was crying in baseball.

I didn’t even try out for the team my senior year.  Instead, I played tennis.  Working so hard to be a good hitter and not playing was too painful to bear.  This probably caused some consternation with my dad, who was a baseball star at Pius XI in Milwaukee, and went on to play on the team at West Point.  I didn’t pick up a bat again until college, when I played some intramural softball with my fraternity’s team.  We were actually good enough to win our whole university’s tournament and make it to the state intramural tournament.  After that, my career lay essentially dormant until this year, when I signed up to play for the Club Tavern co-ed softball team with some friends.

And so it was this Friday night that a 36 year-old former high school baseball player walked up to the plate.  I would be completely unrecognizable to the 17 year old high school kid I once was.  60 pounds heavier, every bone and muscle aching – after each game, I have to pack my entire body in ice and gobble ibuprofen like they’re tic-tacs.

Ball one came.  I was looking to pull one to right field, as I normally do, which really should be considered cheating – since teams traditionally put the person in right field that is only playing because their spouse is making them.  You get a lot of real beauties out in right – people in wheelchairs, people with one leg, dyslexics, etc.  Trying to hit it to right is as much cheating as using steroids is, with the benefit that your onions don’t fall off.

Then came the second pitch – it was clearly a strike, on the inside portion of the plate.  My devious plan to steal a hit by hitting it to right field was about to come to fruition.  But after it left the bat, it did a strange thing.  It kept going.  And going.

I took one step forward, watching the bright white ball climb up further into the dark night sky.  It was a 10:00 PM game, so the softball complex had all but completely cleared out, leaving only family members and their dogs in the stands.  At the point in which the ball usually starts dropping it kept rising.  Get up, get up…

The right fielder, who had been playing almost with her back to the wall, stopped moving, and looked up – just like you see in major league games when an outfielder watches one sail over their head and into the stands.  I took another step forward, incredulous to what was happening.

Then, the ball disappeared over the right field wall…

Foul.

It had cleared the wall by a good 10 feet, but had curled around the right field pole.

Two pitches later, I struck out looking.  In slow-pitch softball.

Our team won, pushing our record to 6-1.  But my longball-that-wasn’t kept nagging me.  Just ten feet to the left, and I would have hit my first home run in my life, at any level.  (The fact that it came at age 36 would have immediately gotten me a mention in the next Mitchell Steroids report, I’m pretty sure.  Right next to Fernando Vina’s skinny beard.)  But how many of those dopes that played ahead of me in high school can say they\’re still hitting home runs?  How many of those guys who got all the playing time while working half as hard as I did can still spray line drives all over the field after a decade of retirement?  Most importantly, does anybody know where my girl from high school lives, so I can send her this picture of the swing? (Damn crappy blurry camera.)

After the game, I went to my car to change out of my cleats and into my sandals.  A girl on my team drove by and asked me if I wanted the ball I hit over the fence.  She pointed to the parking lot across the street, where the softball sat alone, right in the middle of the lot.  Nobody had even bothered to go pick it up.  I ran across the street in my socks, gave it a kiss, and triumphantly held it up – a souvenir that meant nothing to everyone except me.

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