Friday, February 25, 2011

Heart of the City: Pop's Water Ice

By: C.G. Morelli

Most of my love for the game of baseball can be traced back to a single, humid July evening in Philadelphia in 1982. That’s when my father showed me a pair of Phillies season tickets and explained we’d be going to Veteran’s Stadium for my first baseball game. From that very first walk down the heavy, concrete steps which led to section 325, peanut shells crackling beneath my Velcro sneakers, the smell of stale beer and shouts of “Hey Schmidty!” floating through the air, and a curious green mascot dancing around on the rooftop of the first base dugout, I was hooked.

Today, I can’t remember many details of the actual game. There was just so much for me to take in; I guess the game itself sort of molded together with the new and exciting surroundings of the Vet. But one thing I remember quite clearly is the moment the game ended. My father leaned over and said, “Now it’s time for the best part…we’re going to Pop’s.”

At that moment I couldn’t see anything redeeming about going to my grandfather’s row home at 10:30 at night, but I quickly realized my father was instead referring to a South Philadelphia mainstay known as Pop’s Water Ice.

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about when I say “water ice,” here’s a quick lesson. If you walk into a supermarket and head to the freezer section, you might find a box of Dixie cups with a rock hard concoction inside. People often like to call this stuff Italian Ice, but it’s actually just a cheap and somewhat embarrassing reproduction of real water ice.

A more authentic alternative to the supermarket stuff comes from a popular chain called Rita’s, which happens to be the leading rip off artist of the Pop’s tradition. Rita’s is decent, but it’s certainly not Pop’s. It often lacks the most satisfying characteristic of a good, refreshing cup of water ice: the fact that you should never need to bother yourself with the use of a spoon. At Pop’s you simply need to squeeze the sides of your cup and basically drink the semi-frozen slush that rises to the top.

It’s the same way people enjoyed the treat as far back as 1932, when Filippo “Pop” Italiano first started selling his water ice from a single push cart in South Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza. Seventy-five years later his frozen treats are a staple along Oregon Avenue, in the shadows of Philadelphia’s major sporting venues. The Italiano family has continued Filippo’s tradition, sticking closely to his famously guarded recipe and building a reputation as the perennial winners of the South Philly Review’s Best of Philly Award.

If you don’t believe the hype, simply drive past the Pop’s storefront after a Phillies game and notice the line that routinely trails to the end of the city block and wraps around the corner. Or, try to park your ride anywhere in the vicinity of the famous stand and I guarantee you’ll be sitting in a pile-up of automobiles that runs three-deep to the curb.

In this case, your best bet is to partake in another South Philly tradition and simply park your car on the median. Don’t worry about getting a ticket, because there’s always a good chance the fuzz will be sitting in line waiting for a large cup of lemon water ice and a pretzel rod along with you. 

One thing I’ll tell you is Pop’s Water Ice is not a flashy place, nor is it a huge entertainment complex where you can unload the kids in front of a row of arcade games. The place has really changed little since Pop himself was pushing his cart through Marconi Plaza. But one thing’s for sure, this place has always been a respite for battle-weary Phillies fans to heal their wounds after a tough loss or celebrate the glory of an unlikely victory.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stan the Man

By: C.G. Morelli

Throughout his career, Stan Musial was a man's man. It's no surprise the nickname stuck. In addition to compiling a cartoon-like career stats line (475 dingers, 3,630 hits, a lifetime .331 average, and three MVP awards), serving in the Navy during WWII, and being elected to the Hall of Fame with over 93 percent of the votes in 1969, Stan the Man touched the lives of so many of his fellow players, coaches, and fans that you'd need at least twenty Busch Stadiums to contain them all.

On Tuesday, President Obama honored Musial with the highest honor a civilian in the United States could possibly receive: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Congratulations, Stan, the honor was long overdue. Here's a recap of the all time Cardinals great accepting the honor:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rube Waddell: A Real Piece of Work

By: C.G. Morelli

Charles Edward Waddell was a small town Pennsylvania farm boy when minor league scouts recognized his ability to throw lightning. Before long, he’d attracted a nickname (“the Rube”) and he was hurling fastballs in the minors. He found immediate success and, by 1902, he was wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform.

In Pittsburgh, however, the Rube found success a little more fleeting. Sure, the kid had great stuff.  But he also had a bit of a strange side to him to say the least. Waddell quickly gained more notoriety for his wild antics than for his ball playing. The man was known to actually leave the playing field during games to chase fire engines, and his unpredictable drinking binges caused him to be chronically and excessively late to games and practices.  Frustrated with his odd behavior, the Pirates cut him loose…and who was there to scoop him up but the old baseball gentleman himself, Connie Mack.

Mack signed Waddell in 1902 to compliment his already burgeoning roster of solid players. Waddell joined the likes of Eddie Plank, Lave Cross, and Nap Lajoie. But the Rube immediately shot to the top of the list, leading the league in strikeouts every year from 1902 through 1907. He led the Athletics in team ERA four times during this span.

For a while, with Mack acting as his surrogate father, Waddell kept his strange behavior at bay, and when he couldn’t restrain himself the citizens of Philadelphia ate him up anyway. Fans especially loved him because he would hang out at local bars in Philly and end up bartending by closing time. He was also known for playing random pickup games in the streets with local kids and for volunteering his services to the fire department.

But eventually, Rube lost his way once more and his erratic, sometimes personally endangering, behavior began to wear on Papa Mack. Waddell was beginning to wear out his welcome. A breaking point appeared to have occurred at the conclusion of the 1905 season. He had led the Athletics to the World Series that year, but couldn’t pitch against the Giants because he’d supposedly injured his elbow in a bizarre incident that culminated in a barroom brawl. It didn’t take long for the public to suspect gamblers were pulling Rube’s strings and rumors began to fly. Nothing was ever proven, but the scandal haunted the Pennsylvania hayseed for the rest of his career.

The scandal, his increasingly flaky attitude towards the game, and his strong taste for drinking, led Mack (who was at the end of his rope) to sell Waddell to the hapless St. Louis Cardinals for $5,000 before the start of the 1908 season. Mack’s Athletics, who had finished a hopeful 2nd with an 88-57 record the season before, could not recover. Without Rube’s services they skidded through the 1908 season, finishing a pitiful and disappointing 6th in the American League with a 68-85 record.

Many Philadelphians, who had almost unilaterally exalted the venerable Connie Mack, lost some respect for their beloved manager who, in the end, could not control his wayward “son.”  The city eventually learned to live without their loveable idiot, but it never found anyone unique enough to replace him in their hearts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ten Pro Records We May Never See Broken

By: C.G. Morelli

Many will tell you that a record is the highest personal honor that can be obtained by any athlete. Others contend that records set new standards and push athletes to reach higher, to run faster, and to push harder. As spectators, we relish in seeing these feats accomplished, and we thrive on seeing them broken a short time later. In fact, it’s no secret that many of us live and die by the age-old axiom, “records are made to be broken.” 

But some feats are just so unbelievable they stretch the viability of such a saying to its breaking point. Here is a list of the top ten records in professional sports that may never be matched.

10. Secretariat’s Belmont Time
On his way to perhaps the most impressive Triple Crown in horse racing history, Secretariat shattered track records that still stand today. Set in 1973, his time at the Kentucky Derby of 1:59 is a lengthy half-second better than any other horse that’s run the track.  But that’s not the amazing feat. Big Red’s blazing Belmont mark of 2:24, is a full two seconds better than his next closest competition (A.P. Indy, 2:26, 1992), making it a run that may never be matched no matter how many geneticists they put on the job.

9. Pete Rose’s Career Hits
When you shatter Ty Cobb’s mark by 65 hits, you know you’ve done something special.  Still, some believe Rose’s career mark of 4,256 hits does seem reachable. Ichiro Suzuki now has 1,592 hits. That means he only needs 2,655 more to eclipse Charlie Hustle. But let’s remember, Ichiro is 34 years old. That means he probably needs to average 270 hits or more for the next decade. A-Rod is currently 2,007 hits shy of Rose’s mark. That means he needs to average 200 hits every year for the next decade. He’s only reached the 200-hit plateau once in his career. Doesn’t seem so reachable now, does it?

8. Tiger Woods’ Cuts Made Streak
Does this guy ever have a bad round?  From 1998 to 2005, Tiger pretty much answered that question with a big, fat NO. Any thoughts of possibly not making a cut clearly didn’t cross his mind during this time because he was automatic. Tiger made a mind-boggling 142 tournament cuts in a row, leaving him in the money more times than Richie Rich. Ironically, the only golfer who seems to have a shot at breaking this streak any time soon is Tiger Woods himself.  But even that seems unlikely.

7. Cal Ripken Jr. / Brett Favre Consecutive Games
The iron men of baseball and football are both testaments to a hard-nose era in sports. Cal’s streak of 2,632 straight games bested Lou Gehrig in 1995. You know you’re tough when you outlast a dude whose nickname was the Iron Horse. Maybe more impressive, because of the position he plays, was Brett Favre’s recent streak of 297 straight starts as the Packers/Jets/Vikings' quarterback. This record is especially amazing in the current hospital ward version of the NFL, where it sometimes feels like the injured lists are longer than most of the active rosters in the league.

6. Wayne Gretzky’s Single Season Goals
The Great One plugged the net 92 times in 1981 on his way to a 212 point season. His mark bests the next player on the list, Brett Hull, by six goals. Even though the NHL has changed rules to increase overall scoring, there’s just not one single player who dominates the game the way Gretzky did for so long. I simply don’t see another player capable of matching the Great One’s mark. And yes, that includes you too, Mr. Crosby.

5. Lance Armstrong’s Tour de “Lance”
Scandal or no scandal, Armstrong’s domination of the Tour de France for nearly a decade is perhaps the most significant act ever performed in the sport of cycling. From 1999 to 2005, Lance won the hallowed event seven straight times. What’s even more amazing is he ran his gauntlet just three years after battling cancer. I don’t care what people want to accuse this guy of doing, his feat is simply unmatchable.

4. Nolan Ryan’s No-Hitters
We may never see a pitcher like Nolan Ryan again, let alone see his record of seven career no-hitters ever beaten. What’s even more mind-numbing is the Ryan Express tallied his first no-no in 1973 at the tender age of 26, and his last one in 1991 at a slightly more ripened 44. Talk about standing up to the test of time. The only thing that’ll last longer than Ryan himself is an almost surreal record. Did I mention he also boasts 5,714 career strikeouts?

3. Bill Russell’s Rings
Perhaps no sports figure has been as fortunate as the legendary Bill Russell, especially when it comes to winning championships. From 1956 to 1969 Russell collected a ring for every finger, and even one for his toes. That’s right, an outrageous 11 championships.  Not even Vince Lombardi or Michael Jordan can match that total. Want your jaw to drop a little lower? He won two of those titles as a player/coach. Maybe we give him a few extra rings for that.

2. Wilt Chamberlain’s Points in a Game
Everyone knows about Wilt the Stilt’s 100 points in a single game, but do they realize just how unreachable this standard seems to be? There hasn’t been a single player to even come within shouting distance of this mark. Kobe Bryant’s became the Stilt’s second fiddle when he dropped 81 points on the Raptors in 2006.  But even that ridiculous performance was 19 points shy of Wilt’s total. Nineteen points? Most guys never reach that total in a single game in the course of an entire season, but that’s the gap between Chamberlain and his nearest competitor. Amazing.

1. Joe DiMaggio’s Hitting Streak
There’s just no way to deny the Yankee Clipper his rightful spot at the top of this list. On May 15, 1941 Joe DiMaggio slapped a single off Eddie Smith, and for the next 61days this country ate, slept, and dreamed nothing but Joe. He thrust the insurmountable weight of the City of New York on his shoulders and carried it through 56 straight games of steady hitting. Then he took just a single day off before feasting on American League pitching for another 16 straight. His 56-game hitting streak has only been approached once, that by Pete Rose, whose measly 44-game streak seems like a distant cloud of dust in DiMaggio’s rear-view mirror. Every year we see another player run a hitting streak to 25, maybe even 30 games before fizzling out. And every year it becomes clear that Joltin’ Joe’s streak will stand as long as there is baseball.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bud Bowl III: Great Taste or Less Filling?

By: C.G. Morelli

Seems I can think back to a simpler time; a time when Super Bowl Sunday wasn’t the selfish, end of season hype generator it is today; a time when our nation’s most widely televised game could share the spotlight with another omnipotent, if ever-juvenile, contest; a time when the stop-break mayhem of a beer bottle football game played ring master to America’s most coveted day of commercial programming.

Of course, I can only be talking about Bud Bowl, the Anheuser-Busch company’s slick marketing ploy which began in 1989 and featured what was billed to be an annual gridiron slugfest between animated teams of Bud and Bud Light bottles.

But I’m not just speaking in general terms here, people. I’m dedicating this article to the genuine article: The greatest Bud Bowl of them all, Bud Bowl III.

To me, this piece of stop-break goodness outshined all other beer-related sporting contests before and after its time. Part of the charm of Bud Bowl III was dependent on the fact that it consisted of a whopping seven ads placed strategically throughout the course of the actual Super Bowl game. That meant you were bound to be treated to an all-important Bud Bowl update nearly twice a quarter on average, instead of the pitiful two or three ad performances of more recent contests.

Also, it was a matchup that set the stage for a possible King of Beers three-peat. A win by Bud would have given them an unprecedented third Bud Bowl championship and an automatic seat in history next to the other dynastic legends of the adult-beverage sporting contest world. Ok, maybe there’s not much competition in this arena. So what?

At any rate, Bud Light wasn’t about to simply crack under the pressure. They had themselves a scrappy team, and past defeats had helped them develop quite a sizable chip on their, eh, shoulders. The addition of top draft pick and star quarterback, “Bud Dry,” also didn’t hurt in the way of boosting Light’s often watered-down confidence.

Aside from all the background hoopla that built Bud Bowl III up in terms of fan excitement, the game itself did not disappoint.

From the opening kickoff, which actually tallied at least 20 seconds on the hang-time meter before ascending out of the stadium, to a big opening drive that featured Bud Light linemen busting open a huge running lane with the aid of a giant-sized can opener, to the introduction of “helmet cam” strapped to the caps of Billy and Bobby Bud (the brothers from Cerveza, TX of course) on a nifty play-action catch and run to open up the King of Beer’s scoring, to the intoxicating play-by-play of ESPN legend Chris Berman, this installment of Bud Bowl had it all.

There was even an encore touchdown plunge by larger-than-life Bud bottle “The Freezer” and a sweet Hail Mary pass to a certain “long necked” Bud receiver to give the defending champs a 21-17 lead with just seconds to go.

But the final play of Bud Bowl III is what cemented it as a commercial masterpiece.

In a play eerily reminiscent of Tennessee’s homerun throwback play (which didn’t happen for another eight years. I think Jeff Fisher may have done a little advance scouting at the Anheuser-Busch facility), surprise kick returner, Bud Dry, collected the kickoff, made a nifty move, and pitched the ball across the field to one of his teammates.

This unidentified Bud Light bottle rumbled down the sidelines, dotted with gasping Budweiser players and coaches, and directly through an over zealous Budweiser team band prepared to celebrate what seemed like a sure Budweiser victory. Then he plowed into the end zone, even with a Tuba uncomfortably clinging to his thermos-chilled body, and gave Bud Light its first ever Bud Bowl championship by a score of 23-21.

By setting up a key TD play earlier in the contest, and through his heroics on the game winning kickoff return, Bud Dry was the clear MVP. True, he may have deserved it. But tell me, folks: Where is Mr. Fancy Pants Bud Dry today?

Discontinued, that’s where.

Regardless, we still have to give Bud Bowl III some today for being the greatest string of stop-break folly to ever grace all those wasted minutes between Super Bowl drives. Have a look for yourself:

The Scribe’s Super Bowl Spread: Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

By: C.G. Morelli

If the Jamaican Jerk Chicken recipe I gave you on Wednesday wasn’t enough, don’t worry. I’m on your side. All week, while you’re busy surfing the internet behind your supervisor’s back and pretending to look busy whenever he walks by your cube, I’m dreaming up a deliciously artery-shattering meal for the big game.

Nothing is easier, more delicious, and less healthy than the classic Chicago-style hot dog. Just ask Jay Cutler. Dude probably eats scores of these things on his romantic strolls through the Windy City. In fact, now that I think about it, that mysterious leg injury shouldn’t be much of a mystery at all. Can you say, “I got gout?” At any rate, enjoy.

Chicago’s Hottest Dogs

1 tbs. grainy mustard
2 tsp. white-wine vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper to taste
½ of a Vidalia onion, thinly sliced into spears
½ of a hot house cucumber
1 large tomato, sliced
1/2 cup celery leaves
2 tablespoons hot banana peppers, chopped
4 hot dogs (I’ve used all-beef and turkey dogs; both have been delicious)
4 hot dog buns, grilled or toasted
1-2 pickle spears
Dill relish to taste

1. Combine the mustard and white-wine vinegar in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.

2. Add salt and pepper to the mixture, to your taste.

3. Add the Vidalia onion, cucumber, tomato, celery leaves, and hot peppers to the mixture. Toss.

4. Throw the dogs on the grill over medium-high heat until browned and heated through, about six minutes.

5. Serve your Chicago-style dogs on grilled buns. Top each with a sliced pickle spear and some dill relish.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Super Bowl Monday: Post Game Work Excuses

By: C.G. Morelli

Super Bowl Sunday is a glorious day. It’s filled with parties and people, keg stands and corn chips. It’s a celebration of 20 weekends spent huddled in front of our sets waiting for the teams to be whittled down to two. And when it finally happens, there are at least four perfect hours of pure football freedom.

But then the game ends, and with it the weekend. The last thing you want to do is toss back a few Alka-Seltzers and prepare yourself for another grueling work week. Can’t you have just one more day?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.  I’m here to guide you through some of the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly ways to make that inevitable Monday morning call out.


Stall-ing Out
When it comes to guaranteed success, no other excuse in the book is more reliable than the old stomach bug routine. Think about it. There’s not a boss in the business that doesn’t have sympathy for an employee who ate a bad batch of hot wings during the Super Bowl and spent the rest of the night dropping shots of Kaopectate on the throne.

Plus, there’s no chance even the stingiest of managers would have use for someone whose main contribution to the work day will be peppering the toilets in the employee john. It’s a can’t miss.

Some Say a Good Phony Fever…
When it comes to the working world, Ferris Bueller’s sage advice that a phony fever will get you nabbed is pure hogwash. Sure, a very small percentage of offices ask for a doctor’s note. But chances are yours is not one of them, and that leaves you with a great excuse. The beauty of the Super Bowl is that it’s played in the dead of winter; also the height of flu season. Coincidence? I think not.

The chances of catching the flu at a crowded Super Bowl party are actually pretty darn good, so your boss will have trouble questioning the absence. A bonus is you can probably stretch this one out for a few days as the “flu” works its way out of your system. Go for some sympathy points by telling the folks at your office you got sick before the Bowl and had to miss the game. Then spend your Monday finishing off the left over pizza crusts and hanging around in your boxers until dinner.

An Offer They Can’t Refuse
You don’t have to be a stand-up comic to impersonate the voice of some idiot with laryngitis. You probably have the idiot part down already. Now, call your boss at the crack of dawn, do your best impression of Marlon Brando in The Godfather as you tell him you screamed yourself hoarse during the game, and proceed to enjoy your day off. It’s time to pull the covers back over your head for a few more hours of quality snooze time.

This excuse works really well for people who need to predominantly use their voices during the course of a work day. You know, teachers, receptionists, telephone operators, political candidates (that’s right Barack, I know you’re thinking about logging in that sick day), and the like.


To the Funny Farm…
Nothing screams, “I’m a psychotic nutcase!” more than a bad excuse that conjures up an image of you as a lunatic super fan. So, before you call your boss in the morning and tell him you’re covered from head to toe in gold face paint and that your now-hairless chest bears the logo of the Green Bay Packers, please think again.

A tactic like this may get you the day off, but don’t be surprised if a bunch of guys in white suits are sent to your home with a tailor-made straight jacket, compliments of the company. Trust me, not only is this a poor excuse, it’s altogether a very poor idea.

Care to Place a Little Wager?
I once knew a guy who tried to tell the boss he lost a bet which prevented him from coming to work. Being that he was such an “honest” gentleman and, therefore, bound to his debt, he couldn’t possibly break the deal. He had this elaborate story all boiled up and everything.

The boss actually stood there and listened to that crap for a full 15 minutes. You know where that guy is today? Neither do I. He got canned about five minutes later. The fact is, not many employers appreciate the Pete Rose type. Go figure.

Sossifer, I’m Ober
If you take nothing at all from this article, remember one thing: DO NOT USE BEER AS AN EXCUSE! Regardless of the fact that the Super Bowl is one of the biggest days of the year for alcohol sales, we are all supposed to suddenly turn back into sweet, innocent, little pixies once the clock strikes midnight.

Bottom line, unless you’re a member of the Kennedy family, do not under any circumstance call your boss and slur something to him about not being able to legally drive this early in the morning.


Boss a Steelers Fan?
If you just want to be brutally truthful and you happen to be a Packers fan, give the old boss an excuse that’s both believable and amusing. Tell him a large gentleman dressed in black and gold smacked you in the chops, heisted your foam-rubber cheesehead, and made you Lambeau leap.

Brighten his morning with this little nugget of information and you might be finishing off stale pork rinds and watching re-runs of Good Times all week.

Enjoy your Superbowl Monday, folks. You’ve earned it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Scribe's Super Bowl Spread: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

By: C.G. Morelli

It’s that time of year again, folks. Time to throw caution to the wind. Time to stuff ourselves full of preservatives, processed meats, cholesterols, and fats. Time to drink beer after glorious beer until our livers scream out for mercy.

 It’s time to watch some football, people.

And while our favorite athletes are out on the field of battle abusing their bodies in the name of the game, shouldn’t we also put ourselves through an equal amount of abuse? I think so. That’s why I put a lot of thought into my Super Bowl spread this year. Who cares if I’ll be the only one around to eat it? I didn’t want to share anyway.

Today, I give you the main course…Jamaican Jerk Chicken. If you don’t mind putting in a little work ahead of the big game, you’ll be picking the bones on this spicy, sweet treat come half time. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Jamaica’s Best Jerk Chicken

1 tbs. ground allspice
1 tbs. dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. ground sage
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbs. salt
2 tbs. garlic powder
1 tbs. sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
2 Habanero peppers, finely chopped
1 cup chopped white onion
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 whole chicken cut in pieces trimmed of fat

  1. Combine the allspice, thyme, cayenne pepper, black pepper, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder and sugar in a large bowl.

  1. Slowly add the olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, and lime juice. Stir it together with a wire whisk.

  1. Add the Habanero peppers, onion, green onions, and mix well.

  1. Put the chicken pieces in the mixture, cover with plastic wrap, and marinate for six to 24 hours (the longer the better).

  1. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for 8 minutes on each side, or until fully cooked. Baste the chicken with the marinade every two or three minutes to keep it moist. Enjoy.