Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Roots of Little League Baseball

By: C.G. Morelli

As long as baseball has existed, American boys and girls have fantasized about stepping up to the plate and hitting the winning home run for their team.  For nearly 70 years, a very familiar organization has been giving youngsters just this opportunity.  That organization, of course, is Little League Baseball.  People as ordinary as your mailman and as widely known as former major league star Gary Sheffield can say they have something in common…they were once Little Leaguers.  But how did Little League Baseball climb its way into the hearts of America’s cities and towns?

Shrinking the Playing Field

If you’re ever driving through Pennsylvania with your parents, you may pass through the town of Williamsport, where in 1938, a baseball enthusiast named Carl Stotz stumbled upon the idea for the country’s first organized youth baseball program.  Stotz had no sons of his own, but his nephews, Jimmy and Major, kept him out practicing on the ball field nearly every night.  He began rounding up kids from his neighborhood to make the practices more interesting.  Over time, he began experimenting with smaller field dimensions and modified equipment that made it easier for younger children to play the game.  What he had invented was a kid’s version of the game of baseball. 

The following year, Stotz reached out for help from the Williamsport community so that he could begin a league.  Many businesses in the area were willing to sponsor his teams, paying a small fee to help buy equipment and uniforms.  With everyone’s help, Stotz was able to form a three-team league.  His intent was to use the league as a place to teach the children the values of character, courage, and loyalty.  He decided to name it
Little League.

As news of the league spread across Pennsylvania, youth baseball programs based on Stotz’s ideas popped up all over the place.  The leagues formed a network they called Little League Baseball.  By 1974, the organization expanded to include not only boy’s baseball, but also softball for young girls, and senior ball for boys and girls in their teens.  By 1990, it expanded again to include a “challenger” division for mentally and physically handicapped children.

There are now over 200,000 Little League baseball teams playing in programs across all 50 states and in more than 80 different countries around the globe. 

Little League’s Grand Event

During World War II, many fathers were called away to serve overseas in the military.  This made it hard to keep youth baseball programs running since there were less people around to volunteer their time.  As a result, Little League Baseball appeared to be dying out.

In 1947, the organization’s board of directors held a meeting they hoped would help save their game. They decided to host a national tournament in Williamsport for all Little League teams to compete in.  Their goal was to crown a national champion. Later renamed the Little League World Series (LLWS), the original event featured 11 teams from across the Northeastern United States. The championship game drew close to 3,000 spectators and when news of it spread across the nation, it brought Little League Baseball with it.  Within a few years, the organization had a program in every state. 

The LLWS continues to be an American tradition. Each year, without fail, the mini-classic gives us a sneak peek of the major league stars of the future.

Major Little Leaguers in the World Series

1971 – Lloyd McClendon, a former major league player and coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates, hit five home runs in five at-bats for his Gary, Indiana team against Taiwan in the LLWS.

1980 – Former slugger Gary Sheffield led his team from Belmont Heights Little League of Tampa, FL to the LLWS title over Chinese Taipei.

1993 – Sean Burroughs, formerly of the Padres and Devil Rays, pitched two no-hitters for his Long Beach, CA team on their way to a second straight LLWS championship

Who Knew??

  • The shortest LLWS game ever played took place between Hagerstown, MD and Kankakoo, IL in 1950.  The game lasted only one hour

  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1959, proclaimed the second week in June to be National Little League Week

  • In 2001, a field was built on the South Lawn of the White House, as two Little League tee ball teams played the first-ever organized baseball game on the presidential grounds.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stock Boys Need Charity Too

By: C.G. Morelli

There’s nothing I hate more in life than cheesy forwarded messages designed to make you think about how lucky you are to be alive, or on God’s great Earth, or a member of the NRA. I simply can’t stand it when my inbox is flooded with crap that claims I’ve somehow inherited ten million bucks from a deceased medicine man who made a fortune curing yellow fever along the Congo. And, trust me, there’s no bigger panty-buncher than a freaking chain letter that’s plastered from top to bottom with pink, little hearts and flashing stars and claims your life will effectively come to an end if you don’t forward it to at least six trillion people in the next four seconds.

Bottom line, my cursor is planted directly over the delete button in cases such as this.

But today, one of these nasty, disgusting, despicable little letters somehow broke through my normally impenetrable defense. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I’m getting a little slow in my old age. I couldn’t tell you. The point is, I was faced with a difficult decision: Should I delete it without another thought? Or should I read it?  Was there some kind of divine intervention here that brought me together with this letter? Or was it a meaningless pile of dung like all the others?

I decided to take a chance. I read it and was quite surprised by what was revealed. I took the liberty of reprinting the letter here in its entirety. Like most chain letters, I obviously have no clue where this one originated. If I did, I’d have to give its creator a surprising bit of love.  See for yourself:

(Oh, and a bonus for you. Forwarding this message to less than 20 people will not result in death by firing squad.)

The Parable of Kurtis the Stock Boy and Brenda the Checkout Girl:
In a supermarket, Kurtis the stock boy was busily working when a new voice came over the loud speaker asking for a carry out at Register Four.  Kurtis was almost finished stocking mouthwash, and wanted to get some fresh air, so he decided to answer the call.

As he approached the checkout stand, a distant smile caught his eye. The new checkout girl was beautiful! Kurtis was immediately in love.

Later that day, (after his shift was over) he waited by the punch clock to find out her name. She came into the break room, smiled softly at him, took her card, punched out, and then left.  He looked at her card: BRENDA. He peeked outside only to see her walking up the road.  

The next day he waited outside as she left the supermarket and offered her a ride home. He looked harmless enough, and she accepted. When he dropped her off, he asked if maybe he could see her again outside of work.  She simply said it wasn't possible.

He pressed and she explained she had two children and she couldn't afford a babysitter, so he offered to foot the bill.  Reluctantly she accepted his offer for the following Saturday.  When he arrived at her door the following week, however, she again told him she couldn’t go on the date. The babysitter had called and canceled.

"Well, let's just take the kids with us," Kurtis said with a smile.

She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but again Kurtis pressed on. He would not be denied. Finally, Brenda brought him inside to meet her children. She introduced Kurtis to her daughter, who he thought was cuter than a bug. Then Brenda brought out her son. He was in a wheelchair, born a paraplegic with Down ’s syndrome.

"I still don't understand why the kids can't come with us," Kurtis said unfazed.

Brenda was amazed. Most men she’d met would run away from a woman with two kids - especially if one had disabilities. Her first husband and the father of her children had done it, so why not Kurtis? 

You see, Kurtis was not your ordinary guy. He’d been born with a slightly different mindset.
That evening Kurtis and Brenda loaded up the kids, and went to dinner and a movie. Whenever her son needed anything at all, Kurtis was there to take care of him. When he needed to use the restroom, Kurtis didn’t hesitate to lift him from the wheelchair and help him along. It became clear on that first night that Brenda’s kids loved Kurtis.  At the end of the evening, she knew this was the man she’d marry and spend the rest of her life with. A year later they were married, and Kurtis adopted both of Brenda’s children. Since then they’ve added two more kids.

So what happened to Kurtis the stock boy and Brenda the check out girl?

Mr. and Mrs. Kurt Warner now live in Arizona , where he’s currently employed as the next great quarterback to come out of retirement...at least that’s how Arizona Cardinals fans put it.  

Even now, when Kurt, Brenda and their children go out to eat dinner, he has one of the kids pick out a random family eating at the restaurant. Kurt then tells the wait staff he’s picking up the tab for that family's dinner anonymously. He remembers the days he was working nights in the grocery store and feeding his family on food stamps.

A Few Thoughts:
After reading this letter my first reaction was: “Damn it, Kurt! You knocked my team out in the NFC Championship twice already. But how can I hate you now?”

When this initial (and somewhat misdirected) frustration subsided, however, I found myself feeling pretty good for Mr. Warner.


Because he’s nothing but a regular Joe. He understands what it’s like to be at the bottom and fight his way to the top. He values the people around him regardless of their position in life. He exudes sympathy and empathy for others. He possesses a strong core of values and puts them to use even beyond the football field. He is, first and foremost, a giver. And he was one long before he had anything to give.

There’s little doubt, my friends, the stock boy deserved everything that came his way.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Have a Brew on Me: Natty Greene's

By: C.G. Morelli

When I heard Natty Greene’s, a brew pub right in my own backyard, had brought home hardware home from the Great American Beer Festival, I was mildly excited to say the least.

It was 2006, and I had not yet completed my maiden voyage to Natty Greene’s Brew Pub in downtown Greensboro, NC. But after they snagged a silver medal for their Old Town Brown Ale, I figured a visit was long overdue.

The pub was established in 2004, but the structure that houses it was built in 1895. The old town feel inside is comfortable and inviting, all the brewing is done directly on site, and the Brown Ale lives up to its billing.

Long story short, it wasn’t a tough decision to become a bit of a repeat customer over the past two years. Surprisingly, however, it wasn’t the signature Brown Ale that kept me coming back. It was another of what Natty Greene’s calls their “core” of beers, the Guilford Golden Ale.

Its deep, golden color winks at you from within a full pint and begs you to take a sip. Once you do, you’re presented with a mild, nutty ale that’s not overly bitter or gassy like other brews in its mold. Guilford Golden Ale exudes a slight tinge of honey without giving you the impression you’re drinking cough medicine. It all adds up to a beer that’s very enjoyable, even for a person who may not normally order ale.

With a slogan like “Taste the South,” you better be able to deliver a quality, authentically American beer with a clean finish. Natty Greene’s Guilford Golden Ale is more than up to the task.

5 pints out of 5

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ten Most Important Firsts in Baseball History

C.G. Morelli

When someone takes the initiative to do something new, the result is usually one that leaves a lasting impact.

The game of baseball is no stranger to this statement. It has been witnessing players, coaches, managers, and even fans doing “new” things within the confines of its ballparks for nearly 200 years.

But some of those once rare firsts became much, much more.  They were transformed into permanent fixtures of the game, and their existence has had a hand in literally shaping the sport as we see it today.

Here, we pay tribute to the ten most important firsts in baseball history.  

10. The First Batter to Hit 500 Home Runs
On August 11, 1929 the great Babe Ruth launched a towering home run into the right field stands off of Willis Hudlin of the Indians. He had already been the first player to hit 300, and then 400, homeruns. But this, the 500th jack of his career, did more than just set a record. It set the bar for all wannabe Hall of Famers in that department.

9. The First Team to Employ Scouts
The quality of play was a little hit or miss for professional baseball in its early days. That is until Aaron Champion, president of the Cincinatti Red Stockings, became determined to find the best talent in the nation for his 1869 team. He compiled a network of unpaid scouts, consisting of old friends, sporting goods salesmen, old coaches, and retired players, who combed the land for baseball gems. The result was a resounding championship victory for the Red Stockings that season and the use of scouts in baseball for the rest of its life span.

8. The First Player to Become Professional
While playing for the Amateur Eckfords, a man by the name of Albert Reach received a peculiar letter. It offered him $25 in expense money to join the Philadelphia Athletics ball club for the 1865 season. Up to this point it was unheard of to receive pay in exchange for play, but once Reach made his news public and proclaimed himself a “professional” in the game of baseball, everyone wanted to be paid to play. It was a long way off, but this paltry $25 contract paved the way for the million dollar versions we see today.

7. The First Player’s Union
Many would point to Marvin Miller, who headed the MLBPA in 1966, as the first leader of a real player’s union. But the first union, known as The Brotherhood, was actually started by John Montgomery Ward and Timothy Keefe back in 1885. The Brotherhood focused mainly on disputes arising from league suspensions and voting, but their work form the foundation and served as a model for future MLBPA successes.

6. The First Pitcher to Throw a Curveball
Some people credit Bobby Matthews, a pitcher with Cincinatti in the 1880’s with 297 career wins, with throwing the world’s first curveball. Some say it was Hall of Famer Candy Cummings who created his version of the curve while tossing clam shells into the ocean on a New England beach. Whoever it was, the introduction of breaking pitches to the game has had a major impact. To give you an idea of just how devastating the curveball and its followers have been, I can only quote an anonymous rookie from baseball lore who once said, “Mom, I’ll be home soon. They started throwing curveballs.”

5. The First Designated Hitter
The idea was first proposed by Connie Mack back in 1905, but didn’t come to fruition until Opening Day 1973, when Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees officially became the first player to ever bat in the lineup as a DH. That paved the way for guys who can’t run or catch to always have a place in the game. Congratulations, Edgar Martinez.

4. The First Cork-Centered Baseball
Before 1910, you’d have a better chance of getting struck by lightning then of seeing a hitter launch a hand-sewn, yarn-centered baseball out of the park. But that all changed with the introduction of the cushion-cork center. Now, when you walk the outfield concourse at any ballpark in the league, it feels like you’ve been caught in a hail storm.

3. The First Game Played at Night
Most people point to a game played in Cincinnati in 1935. But the first game of baseball ever played under artificial lights actually took place in Hull, Massachusetts between two rival department store teams way back in 1880. It’s hard not to recognize the dependence modern baseball has developed on the night game. Sure, day games are great, probably even preferable. But, the MLB brings in the vast majority of it revenue from the wallets of hard-working fans who can’t just skip out of the office every afternoon at 1:35 to catch a game. Simply stated, without night baseball MLB could not operate.

2. The First Modern World Series
Ending a bitter feud, the owners of the National and American leagues agreed to hold the first World Series in 1903 between the Pirates and Red Sox. Boston came back to win the nine game series by swiping the last four games. Cy Young and Bill Dineen contributed legendary pitching performances in the series. But what was more important was the introduction of a true world championship series in the sport and an event that attracted the nation’s interest like none had ever done before it.

1. The First Televised Game
Nothing beats a day at the ballpark, but it’s tough to get out there all the time. That’s the trouble baseball faced before 1939. But on August 26 of that year, WXBS in Brooklyn broadcast the first televised games in professional baseball history. The legendary Red Barber called the doubleheader between the Dodgers and Reds, and the broadcast was a resounding success. It immediately spawned The Game of the Week, which laid the ground work for the multimedia giant MLB is today. Bringing the game into everyone’s living room allowed not only Americans, but fans around the world to enjoy our nation’s pastime.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The 20 Greatest Baseball Quotes of All Time

By: C.G. Morelli

Everybody loves a good sports quote. Ranging from witty insults to deep, sometimes spiritual, insights into life, a legendary line from our favorite athlete can serve as the inspiration that keeps you going, or as something that simply makes you laugh.

To me, no sport has contributed more generously to our supply of sports quotes than the game of baseball. You can easily spend endless hours reading through quotes relating to our nation’s pastime and trying to decide on a small list of favorites. Trust me. How do you think I came up with my list of The 20 Greatest Baseball Quotes of All-Time? Well, you didn’t think I’d keep them all to myself, did you?

So, grab yourself an ice-cold beer, some ballpark franks, and a few bags of peanuts and have a look for yourself. And don’t worry, you can toss the shells on the floor…we don’t mind.

Baseball’s 20 Greatest Quotes

20. Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates

“There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer.”

19. Lou Piniella, Cubs Manager

“Statistics are like bikinis. They show a lot, but never everything.”

18. Leo Durocher, Dodgers Manager
“I have never questioned the integrity of an umpire. Their eyesight, yes.”

17. Al Stump, Ty Cobb Biographer

“Was Ty Cobb psychotic throughout his playing career? The answer is yes.”

16. Richie Ashburn, Philadelphia Phillies

“A good lead-off hitter is a pain in the ass to pitchers.”

15. Rocky Bridges, Minor League Manager

“There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than anyone else: build a fire, run a hotel, and manage a baseball team.”

14. Cy Young, Boston Red Sox

“A man who isn’t willing to work from dreary morn till weary eve shouldn’t think about becoming a pitcher.”

13. Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves

“The pitcher has got only a ball. I’ve got a bat. So the percentage in weapons is in my favor and I let the fellow with the ball do the fretting.”

12. Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies

“Anytime you think you have the game conquered, the game will turn around and punch you right in the nose.”

11. Durwood Merrill, AL Umpire

“Baseball is the only sport that lets the managers and coaches go out onto the field and rant and rave”

10. Willie Mays, New York Giants

Interviewer: “Willie, how do you compare this catch with other catches you’ve made?”
Willie Mays: “I don’t compare ‘em, I catch ‘em.”

9. Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds

“Slumps are like a soft bed…they’re easy to get into and hard to get out of.”

8. Casey Stengel, Mets Manager

“Come out and see my Amazin’ Mets. I been in the game a hundred years but I see new ways to lose I never knew existed.”

7. Stan Coveleski, Washington Senators

“Lord, baseball is a worryin’ thing.”

6. Tug McGraw, Philadelphia Phillies

“Ninety percent of my salary I spent on booze and women…and the other ten percent I wasted.”

5. Yogi Berra, New York Yankees

“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hittin’.”

4. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox

“All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, ‘There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.’”

3. Jim Bouton, New York Yankees

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball; and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

2. Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth…”

1. W.P. Kinsella, Author of Shoeless Joe (adapted to the screen as Field of Dreams)

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

It goes without saying that subjectivity is not something you can really apply to a list such as this. Therefore, it’s inevitable that one or more of your favorite quotes went missing. Here’s your chance to tell us which ones would make your list:

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Mighty Good Feller

By: C.G. Morelli

It’s mighty hard to set major league records when you’re crouched down in a U-boat with bombs bursting around it. But somehow, inexplicably, Mr. Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians managed to do pretty well in that department even though he spent the prime of his career some 3,000 miles from the nearest American League ball park.

Feller was a 16-year-old farm boy from Van Meter, Iowa when he signed with the Indians in 1935. He may have been a little wet behind the ears, but his fastball was that of a hardened veteran.

In a 1936 exhibition game against St. Louis, a then 17-year-old Feller struck out eight batters in just three innings of work. Performances like these became more and more common for the young phenom, netting him the goofy (and somewhat pornographic) nickname “Rapid Robert.” It also earned him comparisons to some of the premiere strikeout pitchers in baseball history, such as one known to most as Big Train.

“He (Feller) was the fastest pitcher I’d ever seen,” former AL umpire Bill Ormsby once said, “Walter Johnson included.”

In 1938, Feller notched a lasting statistic into the record books when he struck out 18 hitters in a season finale at Detroit. The total tied the original record set by Henry Porter back in 1884.

A quick side note, and one of the only knocks on the nearly invincible Feller, was that the Tigers actually beat him in the game in which he fanned 18, mostly because of erratic control. Feller set the dubious record for walks in a season with 208 that same year.

And then he promptly went out the following season and became the first pitcher ever to win 20 games before the age of 21.

In 1940, Feller registered another first. This time spinning the American League’s first ever Opening Day no-hitter.

And then he went off to war for four consecutive seasons of baseball.

He was 22 years old, in the prime of his career, and he already had 107 wins and 1,233 Ks under his belt. But he decided to enlist in the Navy out of principle, and before it became fashionable for ball players to do so. In fact, he was the very first big leaguer to enlist for active duty after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as a gunner aboard the USS Alabama and picked up eight battle stars along the way.

His triumphant return to the diamond in 1946 yielded 26 wins and 348 strikeouts.  It was the “Van Meter Heater’s” greatest campaign on the books. Feller’s status in the league from then until his retirement in 1956 was consistently among the elite pitchers in baseball.

He threw two more no-hitters to go along with 12 one-hitters, and he added another 133 wins to bring his career total to 266. He fanned 1,000 more batters to finish with 2,581.

These were all numbers quite worthy of induction into the Hall. And without too much suspense, Feller made it on the first try in 1962.

But still, there are questions that will always linger above Feller’s plaque in Cooperstown:
What could Rapid Robert have accomplished in the four seasons he spent defending his country? Could he have left the 300 wins plateau in the dust? Could he have eclipsed 3,500 strikeouts? Would he now be considered the greatest pitcher in major league history?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that Bob Feller was one of the best damn pitchers to ever toe the rubber.

And he was a hero to boot.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Salute to Simplicity: Nintendo Sports

By: C.G. Morelli

 There are sports video games out there right now that are, in a word, unbelievable. You can page through complex football playbooks, create new franchises, or swing a live bat against live pitching. Some systems even go so far as to mimic your actual body movements and translate them into your play. It’s clear that things have come a long way since Pong, my friends.

But what these games offer in the way of crystal clear, realistic graphics, fast-paced game play, and player interaction, they lack in one important area…simplicity. What ever happened to some of the classic Nintendo favorites? I’m talking about the games that paved the way for some of the more amazing advancements we see today.

No matter who you are, if you’re looking for a little old school simplicity in your gaming experience, these NES sports games won’t disappoint.

Blades of Steel (Konami, 1988)
This game was a small step up from the traditional Nintendo Ice Hockey game, where you’d string together a lineup of rail-thin, medium, and heavyweight skaters. The game play remained basically the same, but you’d spend half the game bumping into defenders intentionally so you could engage in crude Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robot style fighting. A classy move was to rip the guy’s jersey over his head and go to town with lefts and rights. 

Sure, you could rip a slap shot past the opposing goalie and watch him have an on-ice temper tantrum, but everyone knew that if you won the fights you had ultimate bragging rights, even if you lost the game itself.

Double Dribble (Konami, 1987)
Who could ever forget this classic basketball game? Rock out to the National Anthem as droves of fans literally pour into the Konami Arena to watch a team like the New York Eagles take on the Boston Frogs. And yes, those mascots do make a special appearance at halftime.

Pull up from half court and watch the ball soar nearly off the screen and then drop, with the sound of a plummeting bomb, in the net for 3 points. Dunk in someone’s eye and witness one of the cheesiest on-screen, reverse slam cutaways in gaming history. 

Did you know this game actually gives you the option of playing 30 minute quarters? I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you have a few hours on your hands, give it a try and see if you can post Chamberlain-shattering numbers in the first quarter.

California Games (Epyx, 1989)
Who could hate a game that has “Louie, Louie” as its theme song, bra? California Games was extreme sports before extreme sports actually existed. Therefore, you can rip off a sweet jester with a Hacky-Sack, meet the incisors of a shark after wiping from your board, or steer a ditzy, blond skater girl into curbs and watch her fall face first into the concrete. This game even takes the time out of its busy day to inform you of how “dorky” it is to crash over the handlebars of a BMX bike.

Cali Games is basically all the big-hair, bright-color remnants of the late 80’s and early 90’s packed into one game. It was originally a game intended for the home PC, but made a smooth transition to Nintendo and other game consoles.

Track and Field II (Konami, 1988)
From the second your plane lands at the airport to mark your Olympic arrival, it’s pretty clear that this game will cause permanent damage to your thumbs from repeatedly pounding the A and B buttons to run each race. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to work your fingers to the bone and win gold for the US in fencing, triple jump, hurdles, swimming, canoeing…the list goes on. 

You’ll appreciate the typewritten report of your progress as you move through each event. Don’t feel alone if the word ‘disqualified’ becomes an important part of your vocabulary.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out (NES, 1987)
Little Mac takes on a role as New York’s version of Rocky. Smack a thorny rose down Don Flamenco’s throat, or crack King Hippo in the gut and drop his pants down around his ankles. Time Bald Bull’s special Bull Charge just right and knock him down in one punch. 

Move up the ranks and listen to the lame trash talk of about 10 different opponents until you reach Iron Mike. Then, drop that squeaky-voiced nutcase with one of Little Mac’s infamous upper cuts and watch Super Mario count him out. 

Just don’t piss off Mac’s corner man…dude scares me. He’ll personally come to your house and have you running wind sprints if you get your butt kicked by Glass Joe again.

RBI Baseball (Tengen, 1988)
When I was a kid, there were about three things I could do to really get my little brother bent out of shape. One was to hold him down and make him scream ‘uncle.’ Another was to “borrow” many of his belongings for “short” periods of time. The third was to whip his butt at RBI Baseball. 

Of course, the best way to get that done was to ride the blazing fastball of Doc Gooden, and compliment it with a few devastating change-ups along the way. This was done by holding up on the D-Pad after the pitch was released and then reveling in your opponent’s frustration. 

This would often result in a Nintendo controller being smashed against a wall (Mom, we swear it was an accident every time) but it was worth it.    

With its frumpy, weeble wobble-esque players and intoxicatingly annoying theme music, this game is an absolute classic. It easily beats both of its sequels.

Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo, 1991)
I don’t know anyone who didn’t spend hours playing this game when it was popular…which is surprising because each team’s playbook consisted of only eight plays. 

If you’re looking for defense, play with the Giants and slaughter QBs with Lawrence Taylor. Or, be the Eagles and do the safety dance almost every game with Jerome Brown and Reggie White.

If you want to score on every offensive play, be the 49ers and throw deep to Jerry Rice.  Montana to Rice is virtually unstoppable in this game. You could also go with the Vikes and their arsenal of reverse runs, flea flickers, and other assorted trick plays. Kansas City’s Christian Okoye simply runs wild on just about everyone and there’s no prayer of pulling him down in the open field. Or, you could go another route all together and run the bootleg left all day with the aptly named “QB Eagles” (Randall Cunningham).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Iron-Fisted General

By: C.G. Morelli

It’s tough to love a guy who was once dubbed “the only successful dictator in United States history.” But when you consider the circumstances and the cold, calculated detachment with which Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis treated his MLB commissionership in the wake of the Black Sox scandal, it’s obvious he was the right man for the job; a necessary evil I guess you could say.

Landis was the son of a Civil War hero, a Union soldier named Abraham who lost part of his leg in the battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia.

Perhaps Landis was hardened by a name that served as a constant reminder of his father’s heroism. Or possibly, it was watching two of his older brothers take seats in the U.S. Congress that served as motivation.

Whatever the case, old Kenesaw Mountain Landis worked his way to the judge’s bench in 1905 after serving as court prosecutor in Chicago for 14 years. Being a self proclaimed man of action, he was determined to make his impact felt.

After just two years on the bench, Landis dropped a $30 million fine on the Standard Oil Company for snaking rebates off the rail and shipping companies. The decision was eventually overturned by higher courts, but the incident cemented an image of Landis as a hard-nosed maverick of the court systems.

In 1915, Landis took the opportunity to dip his nose into one of his life long loves…professional baseball. The Federal League had leveled an anti-trust case against MLB and wanted to have the leagues dissolved and reorganized. But the tough, old judge would not bite. He ruled against the Federal League claiming vehemently that “any blows leveled against baseball would be considered a blow against all national institutions” in his court.

So, when baseball faced its first real scandal in 1919, with the White Sox throwing of the World Series, MLB officials looked to Landis for salvation. They handed complete control of all baseball affairs over to the grizzled judge, and Landis was quick to strike a devastating blow.

Without so much as blinking, he banned for life all eight White Sox players who were involved in the scandal, including the great Shoeless Joe Jackson. He did so without giving any credence to a federal jury who’d found all eight players not guilty of any charges just a few weeks prior. And then he issued a statement that came to define his iron-fisted style of rule from the commissioner’s office.

“Regardless of the outcome of juries,” he said, “No player that throws a ball game, no man that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever again play professional baseball.”

And, boy, did he live by these words during his tenure. After ousting the famous White Sox eight, Landis continued his quest to clean up baseball. After the Black Sox scandal, the commish gave the boot to 13 more players and coaches who had consorted with gamblers. The list includes Joe Gedeon of the St. Louis Browns, Eugene Paulette of the Phillies, and Hal Chase of the Giants. He was even responsible for banning the Phillies owner, William B. Cox, in 1943 for betting on his team’s games.  

Landis also made headlines by temporarily canning Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, both coaches at the time, for allegedly involving themselves in a conspiracy with pitcher Smokey Joe Wood to throw a game in Detroit’s direction. The shady victory allowed the Tigers to finish in third place instead of fourth and therefore collect a larger share of the end of season profits.

When hard evidence could not be produced, Landis was forced to reinstate the two legends. But the message was clear and no player, no matter how illustrious, was above it. The game of baseball, in the eyes of Landis, was a game of purity and the old war hero’s son was determined to keep it that way.

Baseball fans and historians alike may not agree with all of the tactics employed by Kenesaw Mountain Landis during his tenure as commissioner. Players of the time period may have been happy to take their resentment to the graves for the culture of fear Landis injected into the game in his time. But the fact still remains that Major League Baseball was able to surmount its gambling problem and regain the public’s trust as a direct result of the iron-fisted rule of Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Unlikely Running of 'El Toro'

By: C.G. Morelli

On an April day in 1981 with unlikely circumstances, an unlikely hero with an unlikely physical stature and an uncertain official birth date rocked into his motion, gazed into the heavens, and uncorked a wicked screwball from his left arm. What he didn’t realize at the time was he had not only begun an improbable career, but he had unleashed a potent epidemic that would start in Southern California and spread across the nation. That condition was known as “Fernandomania” and, if you lived in the early 80’s, it was nearly impossible not to catch it.

Its origination, of course, was Fernando Valenzuela. He was just a 20-year-old rookie at the time, the youngest of twelve children and from a small village called Etchohuaquila in Sonora, Mexico. But he burst onto the scene with the Dodgers after a spirited minor league campaign in 1980 and, of course, by sheer luck.  A pre-game injury to Dodgers’ ace, Jerry Reuss, brought El Toro to the mound as the opening day starter. With 50 thousand screaming fans packed into the Chavez Ravine, Tommy Lasorda simply crossed his fingers and sent the chubby youngster (though many would argue that point) out the to bump to start the season.  The rest is history.

El Toro was nearly unhittable from the start. He rocketed off to eight straight victories (a record for rookie pitchers) and won five of them with complete-game shutouts. His ERA was a minuscule 0.50 and he ran a streak of 28 1/3 scoreless innings in the process. It was one of the greatest performances ever registered by a rookie pitcher, and Valenzuela became a legend and an inspiration to the Hispanic communities of Los Angeles and beyond almost over night.

He would help the Dodgers traverse the strike-shortened season and advance to the 1981 World Series by leading the National League in strikeouts (180), starts (25), innings pitched (192.5), shutouts (8), and complete games (11).  He became the only player to win both the Cy Young Award and ROY Award in the same season. He capped it all off with a complete game victory over the Yankees in Game 3 of the World Series. It contributed to the Dodgers’ first championship in over 15 years.

Valenzuela’s performance that season was memorable. But how do you top something like that? The answer: you don’t. Maybe that’s why El Toro’s popularity waned after the 1981 season. It wasn’t because he stopped performing.

He continued his dominance with the Dodgers from 1981-1990, leading the NL in wins in 1986 (21). He made six All Star appearances.  In the ’86 All Star game, Valenzuela tied a record set in 1934 by Carl Hubbell when he struck out five consecutive batters. He joined an elite club in 1990 when he pitched a no-hitter against the Cards.

Fernando was no slouch at the plate either. He won Silver Slugger awards in 1981 and 1983.  In fact, Valenzuela is still remembered as one of the best hitting pitchers of all time. He has 187 career hits, including 26 doubles, 10 homers, and 84 RBI. The Dodgers even used him as a pinch hitter from time to time, a role in which he racked up a career .368 average.

Of course, these feats all paled in comparison to what El Toro accomplished in his rookie campaign, and he never fully regained that same level of celebrity.

Regardless, Fernando Valenzuela’s legend is cemented forever. He has burned his image into our brains.  It is the picture of a short, pudgy, Mexican hurler, his glove stretched high above him and his eyes somehow wandering to a point even beyond that, whipping a screwball past another baffled batter. And each time the image dances through our minds we remember Fernandomania felt pretty darn good.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top Five REALLY Old School Sports Games

By: C.G. Morelli

It may be hard to remember a world without video games, the internet, or satellite TV.  But, like disco, we can’t go around trying to forget what was once reality. Even then, us sports geeks found ways to get our fix on rainy days, during math class, and even in our cubicles.

These were the top five sports games of a bygone era. If you’re busy filling out some mundane office form at this very moment, it may be the perfect time to bring one of these classic, sports-minded time-passers back to life. Anyone got a quarter?

1. Supa-Fly Flicka Football
Sweep the halls of any high school and you’re bound to find a piece of white-lined paper that’s been meticulously folded into a sharp triangle. But that’s no mere piece of paper, my friend; it’s a make-shift pigskin. Now, just bring it to the cafeteria, force some pimple-faced freshman to act as your human field goal posts, and you’re ready to play a little Supa-Fly Flicka. Simply spot the paper football at various distances and become a one-man place-kicking combo. Drill a few from 50 yards out and celebrate like a Grammatica brother. Give yourself some quality points if you can send the freshman home wearing an eye patch.

2. Suction Cup (aka Landfill) Basketball
Here’s a dorm-room classic for you. Spending half the night spreading saliva on a pair of oversized suction cups is well worth it once you have the cheesy, plastic hoop installed above your doorway. Now it’s time for a mini jam session, or if you want a real challenge, spot up from the land of three and make it rain foam rubber. If you don’t have a fancy, plastic mini-hoop, or if you’re trapped in an office right now, don’t despair. All you need is a trash can and a few balled-up pieces of paper and you’re ready for a quick game of Horse.  If your boss gets nosy and asks what you’re doing, just tell him you’re really into recycling.

3. Pencil Case Hockey
Can’t skate?  Don’t worry, you can still make your mark as an ice rink warrior—just as long as that ice rink is the surface of a desk or table and your skates are the four legs of a chair planted firmly on the ground.  Bust out a #2 pencil (your trusty stick) and one of those replacement erasers that fit on the end (the puck) and you’re ready to challenge that office geek whose wax lips seem stuck to the boss’s rear, or that annoying kid in class whose hand is permanently stuck in the raised position.  Rip a few wrist shots past either one of these clowns, make a few dazzling saves with your custom-made Meade, and you’ll be more than vindicated.  Don’t forget to drill your opponent with a devastating hip check as you make your way to the door.  True, it might not be part of this mini-game, but it sure would feel good.

4. Desktop Football
The beauty of this game is you only need a shiny quarter and a desk or table, so it’s perfect for study hall or the break room at work. Get ready for kickoff as you spin the coin down the Formica turf in search of supreme field position. Then use your four downs flicking the coin wildly across the gridiron until you reach the end zone, the edge of the table.  Get the coin to break the plane and it’s touchdown city. Shoot the coin over the edge and you lose the ball, even if you do gain the indispensable experience of how it feels to play for the Dolphins.  Once you’ve exerted your mini-game dominance, feel free to spike the coinage in your opponent’s eye and do an oddly choreographed dance.  There’s no need to worry about getting flagged for excessive celebration in this game. 

5. Honest Abe’s Soccer
Yet another mini-game that only calls for the use of coins and a table, Honest Abe’s Soccer is pretty easy on the pocket.  Just toss three pennies on the playing field and its World Cup time.  Flick the penny at the rear through the gap between the other two pennies to dribble your way down the field.  Once you get inside the 18, bicycle one Pele style into the goal, actually your opponent’s thumb and forefinger held at the edge of the table.  There’s no better way to play soccer than without all that mindless running.  Now, all you need are a few pints of brew and a couple hooligans and you can bring the post-game riot into the comfort of your very own living room.  I assure you, Honest Abe would be proud.