Monday, November 1, 2010
On a steamy summer night in 1999, the pride of Belleville, N.J., stepped to bat at McCoy Stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox. A brawny catcher named Creighton Gubanich, his six-foot-three-inch, 200-hundred-pound frame inspired fear and respect throughout old McCoy – that gem of a ballpark where South Bend Street meets Division Street.
In Section 13 (cheap blue seats, obviously), a bricklayer from East Providence named Vasco Paiva screamed obscenities in Portuguese. (He might have actually just been talking pleasantly with his children).
Across the street in that school parking lot where everyone parks illegally, children put down their crackpipes just long enough to try to hear the crack of the bat.
Atop the outfield fence, that Marlboro Man cowboy sign quivered at the thought of Gubanich hitting a home run right off his face.
On the streets of Pawtucket, the Buzzy’s Peanuts cart guy paused and stopped thinking about whether his child support was late – it was Craighton’s time.
And in the red infield seats, I sat with my dad, brother and some kid from Fairhaven wondering what Creighton Gubanich would do. As it turned out, he grounded to short and dogged it up the first base line. I was bummed – this guy was a hero to me, and here he was ambling up the first base line like a Del’s Lemonade guy on a cold day.
“Leg it out, Creigh!” I yelled at a reasonable volume.
He was out, by probably 15 feet.
“You’re a homo,” my brother said.
“Why?” I replied.
“Because you just yelled ‘Leg it out McCray’ or some gay shit at this minor league game,” he said.
“Yeah Pat that was pretty gay,” said the kid from Fairhaven, who I think now has a Facebook page where he advertises that he’ll come over and clean your poolcage for a fee.
I tried to explain that I think Creighton Gubanich was a good player and could make a decent living in the majors if he hustled some more, but no one wanted to hear it.
And you know what? I still think Creighton Gubanich could have been a good player. He spent eight years in the minor leagues with different organizations before the Red Sox finally gave him a legitimate shot at a big league role, and he made the most of it. In Gubanich’s third major league appearance, the Sox started him at catcher against the Oakland A’s – the same franchise that drafted Gubanich in the sixth round of the 1990 amateur draft. Surely young Gubanich, then a boy of 18, had dreams of playing for the A’s in Skidz and shaving a picture of the A’s elephant into his flattop (it was 1990). But that never happened, and this was his chance to exact revenge.
And he did. In the top of the first inning he crushed a grand slam off of Jimmy Haynes. (It is worth noting that Brian Daubach – from Belleville, Il. – scored on the homer. This marked probably the only time in major league history where two guys whose hometowns have the same name, but are not in the same state, scored on a grand slam.) Donnie Sadler ran for Gubanich later in the game, and he was replaced at catcher by someone named Varitek (speaking of flattops). The Sox would lose the game in extra innings when Tim Harikkala walked John Jaha to force in Tim Raines (speaking of crackpipes) with the winning run.
That game wasn’t the end for Gubanich, who would hit a respectable .277 in 18 games for the ’99 Sox. But he never played in the majors again. His career ended in 2003 with the Double A Chattanooga Lookouts, who have the best hats of any minor league team.
When you think about it, Gubanich’s career is very similar to that of Crash Davis (Costner’s character in Bull Durhan, not the Western Mass. band). Both hit a ton of home runs in the minors (Gubanich hit 155). Both had very brief tenures in the major leagues that lead to great stories (Davis has his stories about being “in the show,” while Gubanich probably bores his family at Thanksgiving every year with the story of his one major league home run). Both made out with Susan Sarandon (I’m giving Creighton the benefit of the doubt here). The major differences are that Crash Davis is made up and that Davis had Nuke LaLoosh (portrayed by Tim Robbins, was way too old to play a young, up-and-coming pitcher in 1988). Gubanich never found his Nuke LaLoosh. Perhaps it could have been Bo Donaldson, who played with Gubanich on the 2002 Columbus Clippers. But it wasn’t.
I’ll never forget Creighton Gubanich, even though he has faded into baseball obscurity. He was the fourth player in MLB history to hit a grand slam in his first hit. Daniel Nava, who turned that trick this year, could be the next folkloric PawSox hero. Only time will tell.
Until then, leg it out, Creigh.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
And Chris Pronger.
“What, Chris Pronger? Surely you jest,” you say. No, sir-ee. Chris Pronger, that native son of Dryden, Ontario who most recently played for the Anaheim Ducks, terrorized the Bruins on many a weekend afternoon with crushing checks, sadistic slapshots and hateful hockeyhair.
In NHL ’94 for Super Nintendo (also SEGA Genesis, hoser), that is.
That’s right – take it from this typist, a veteran of many an NHL ’94 quadruple-header (accompanied with generous amounts of Cheetos and Bubba Cola). Chris Pronger was a straight-up fucker in that game, in which he played defense for the woebegotten Hartford Whalers. You’d play as Adam Oates and the Bruins, breeze through a few games against, say, the Blackhawks and Sabres, and then you’d see the Whale on your schedule. “No sweat,” you’d say. “Not only do they play in the crap-pit that is the Insurance Capital of the World, but they also blow at hockey.”
That’s just what Chris Pronger, or at least his video representative, wanted you to think. The 1993-1994 NHL season was actually Pronger’s rookie campaign, and the game was released in April 1994, meaning the programmers at EA Sports (it’s in the game) had no reason to suspect Pronger would be a bastard on the ice. He did perform admirably that year, playing in 81 games, scoring 30 points and logging 113 penalty minutes. But NHL ’94 treats him like he’s Gordie Howe, surgically attached to Wayne Gretzky, with a bazooka grafted onto his right arm (Pronger is a lefty, meaning he’d need the other arm to shoot and score 700 times on you each period).
In real life, Pronger scored five goals in 1993-1994. He scored five goals the next year, and he’s never scored more than 14 in a single season, which isn’t surprising given that he plays defense. But in NHL ’94 he’s likely to score five goals before you bat an eyelash (in that time he’ll also permanently injure Ray Bourque and earn a five minute major for crafting a nuclear bomb out of Igor Chibirev’s missing teeth).
Don’t get me wrong. NHL ’94 is a great game, Chris Pronger is a pretty decent player and I harbor no ill will against the mid-90s Whalers. But if you want evidence that a video game can make a humble hockey player into a superhuman Satanic cyborg killing machine, NHL ’94 is your game. And Chris Pronger is your guy.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Fenway Park served as the backdrop for a number of unforgettable baseball moments in the fall of 1975. Bernie Carbo’s game-tying homer. Carlton Fisk’s “wave-it-fair” game-winner. Stupid Joe Morgan’s cheap hit. Larry Andersen’s first appearance at Fenway.
That’s right, Larry Andersen. On the afternoon of Sept. 28, 1975, Andersen – then a rookie pitcher for Frank Robinson’s moribund Cleveland Indians – pitched for the first time at the Old Ball Yard. He pitched two scoreless innings, made Bob Montgomery pop up, and had a hand in an 11-3 Tribe win. But it would be 15 more years before Larry “Sweet Rocket Music” Andersen would cement his Fenway legacy.
It was Aug. 30, 1990, and the Red Sox were about to engage in one of the most lopsided trades in sports history – Larry “Big Unit Train” Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. For the measly price of a goateed first baseman with a taking-a-dump batting stance, the Sox solidified their bullpen with one of the all time Base-Dudes, Larry “Doctor K Cy Young Koufax” Andersen.
Andersen, possessor of a career 3.15 ERA and 758 strikeouts, joined a contending Sox club that had used some of the most miserable relievers in the history of baseball. We’re talking about a bullpen group for whom Dennis “I Struck Out My Grandmother Once Because She Spotted Me Two Strikes, And It Was Still A Foul Tip Into The Catchers Mitt Because I Blow At Pitching” Lamp was considered one of the more reliable options. Stud lefty Rob Murphy compiled an ERA of 6.32 in 68 agonizing appearances. Daryl Irvin, a product of the baseball powerhouse that is Ferrum College, only got into 21 games but still managed to lose four of them. Pawtucket lifer John “No, Not Jon Lester” Leister even got into a couple of games. It was ugly.
But Larry “Tom Terrific Ryan Express” Andersen rode into town like a white knight on his steed, and struck out batter after batter on his quest to lead the Red Sox to a pennant. Setting up for Jeff “Remember When I Robbed That Jewelry Store?” Reardon, Andersen posted a 1.23 ERA in 15 pressure-packed appearances. On Sept. 7 at Fenway, Andersen pitched three near-perfect innings in a game the Sox eventually won in 11 innings on a Carlos Quintana single. Our hero helped preserve a Sox win at Baltimore on Sept. 17, striking out sluggers Sam Horn, Mickey Tettleton and David Segui in one inning. The Man picked up a six-out save at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, whiffing Kevin “I Went To A Baseball Card Show In Fairhaven And No One Wanted My Autograph Because I Suck” Maas to end it.
Who knows if the Sox would’ve won the 1990 AL Eastern Division without Andersen, because they took the East by a mere two games. But revisionist historians downplay the contributions of Larry “Halladay Burnett Smoltz Glavine Maddux” Andersen and choose instead of focus on Jeff Bagwell’s later career in Houston.
Let’s not suggest that Larry Andersen never got his due. In 1990, Irish femme fatale Sinead O’Connor scored a major radio hit with “Nothing Compares 2 Larry Andersen.” A year later, Salt-N-Pepa would record a tribute of sorts, “Let’s Talk About Larry Andersen.” John McPhee’s essay “Encounters With the Archdruid, Larry Andersen” continues to be taught in college classrooms to this day, and the 1997 Victor Nunez film “Ulee’s Gold (Was Stolen By Larry Andersen)” drew praise from critics.
But as we approach the 2009 trade deadline, I think back to the 2005 Florida State League Single A All-Star Game, where I watched a tubby, tropical-shirt-wearing Larry Andersen throw out the first pitch. And it makes me weep, just a little.
Well its that time of year again in the sports calendar. Training camp is starting for NFL teams everywhere and everyone is full of optimism. This statement is especially true for fans of the New England Patriots, who once again expect to compete for the NFL championship with one of the most explosive rosters in football. These past 8 years have been a charmed time for the Patriots, as the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady combo have led the team to 3 championships and 1 undefeated regular season. But what few people remember today are the true glory years for the franchise, 1999-2001, in which the team exposed to the football world the greatest athlete in the history of North American athletics; Michael Bishop.
The Michael Bishop story takes place in a time of racial upheaval in Boston sports scene. The perennially scrappy white Boston sports hegemony typified by the likes of Tom Yawkey, Peter McNeely, and the 86 Celtics was beginning to become integrated by the forces of progressive society. For the first time ever, non-caucasian citizens were coming to 12 Landsdowne St. to watch a Dominican fireballer named Pedro Martinez dominate the competition and making opposing batters look foolish. A polite young gentleman named Anson Carter was playing left wing on the 2nd line for the Boston Bruins for god fucking knows what reason. There were even rumors in Peter Gammons’ Sunday Notes column that Red Sox were considering signing Terry Pendleton, the only black 3rd baseman in major league baseball history, to a multi-year contract. The stage was finally set to break the final, most taboo barrier in sports integration; drafting a black quarterback. So in 1999, local nice guy Pete Carroll decided to select one Michael Bishop out of Kansas State in the 7th round of the 1999 NFL Draft.
Michael’s path to sports immortality, however, would encounter several road bumps along the way, most notably that of the starting quarterback. Drew Bledsoe, local Everclear fan and Dunkin Donuts ice coffee spokesman, was firmly entrenched as the face of the New England Patriots franchise. Bledsoe’s “aw shucks” good looks and tall drink of waterness combined with a howitzer of a throwing arm were busy putting together hall of fame caliber statistics for a perennially competitive team. To the untrained eye there appeared to be no room for another quarterback on the team, which was perpetuated by the clueless coaching staff who left the greatest athlete of our time to rot on the bench. It would take the combined efforts of linebacker Mo Lewis and Tara Reid’s future boyfriend Tom Brady to finally end the Drew Bledsoe era. In the meantime Michael Bishop put up the following statistics for the Patriots;
Completion % 33%
Now I understand what you readers are thinking to yourselves “McCuddy, you cukoo head. Whats so special about that?” Well what the numbers can’t tell you is statistics don’t tell you everything. Statistics don’t tell you how a guy slept the night before. Statistics wont tell you what shirt I’m going to wear tomorrow. And statistics certainly can’t tell you the game to game brilliance that Michael Bishop was able to exhibit for those lucky Patriot fans. To get an understanding of the athletic brilliance of Michael Bishop you need to go no further than to interview callers of the local sportsradio station WEEI during the Bishop era. These blue collar gridiron academics represent the mountaintop of the hierarchy of sports discourse. A representative sample of discussions provoked by collars would include “Guys whats Varitek hittin these days?” , “How bout that Tom Brady, huh?” and “Dude why don’t they bring Trot Nixon back”. These WEEI callers are so integrated with the sports they love that they are unable to manipulate a computer, television, or newspaper to obtain readily available information that instead provokes a telephone call to a radio station responsible for entertaining listeners. Sample audio clips bear out the greatness of Michael Bishop such as Punchy McLaughlin from Charlestown who was quoted in 2000 as saying “Dude they should staht Bishop”. Liam Finnity “Finnah” from Subbury added “Fuckin Bledsoe, he just stands there like he’s in cement, they gotta start Bishop”. Even longtime crank Frank from Gloucester chimed in during the Bishop era in between burps and sneezing fits with “Your sawwwks are never catching the Yankees, Eddie!” You can’t comment on the beauty of the Sistine Chapel by looking at a picture, just like you can’t appreciate Michael Bishop by using statistics. Listening to the fans who were there to experience the magic of Bishop, is like taking a personal stroll the church in the Vatican.
So the end of the Michael Bishop saga comes to an end during training camp in 2001. After throwing a 44 yard touchdown on a hail mary in his first NFL pass attempt, Michael felt as though he had already accomplished everything he needed to accomplish on the gridiron. Much like Michael Jordan leaving basketball to play minor league baseball, Bishop felt he was out of challenges on the football field, and needed to pursue other endeavors to keep his competitive juices flowing. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals Bishop went on to conquer the Arena and Canadian Football Leagues and happens to be a first cousin of comedian Jaimie Foxx. No doubt that Foxx’s academy award winning turn in Ray is no doubt attributable to the fortunate genetics of being related to America’s greatest living athlete. So although Michael Bishop’s tenure with the Patriots was brief his impact was immense. Since Bishop’s departure, the name Michael has become the most popular boys’ name in America in annual name rankings. Even myself, the author of this article, was fortunate enough to have parents who had the foresight to name him after what was sure to be America’s proudest accomplishment. Even at 6 years old it must have been evident that Michael Bishop was gonna be something special. And to everyone who has been watching since, we can attest that he has been exactly that. Take a bow Michael Bishop, you will never be forgotten.