Recounting: The 163-mph Hoax Is About to Turn 26

This was one of my favorite posts I ever wrote. It’s not even really about the Cubs. But since April Fools’ Day is almost upon us (it’s Opening Day, appropriately enough), I thought I’d break it out in anticipation (and awareness that I won’t be posting here when that day rolls around).

One barefoot, boot-clad hurler put one by us in unforgettable fashion.

I’ll never forget the cool April evening when my dad came to dinner carrying an issue of Sports Illustrated. That was enough right there, you understand. It really didn’t matter what came next from his lips. My jaw hit the table when I saw that strange concoction of contradictions before me: my dad, an open issue of SI in his hand, and a look of transported glee on his face. This. Did not. Compute.

Two things you have to understand about my dad: 1) He hates sports. He likes to listen to Ron Santo and Pat Hughes on the radio because he loves radio and the hilarious interplay that unfolds between the pitches. He used to like to go to baseball games in Cleveland (near where my mom’s family lived) and hockey games in Detroit (where he grew up) because he enjoyed strolling the arenas and watching fights break out in the stands. He even liked coming to watch me play baseball or even bringing me and my siblings to Wrigley, because he loves me. But make no mistake—my dad hates sports. 2) He’s a professional reader. He is to oral interpretation what Vin Scully is to baseball play-by-play. For almost my whole life he’s been the host of the internationally syndicated Music thru the Night, which (if my numbers aren’t lying to me) is the top-rated late-night radio program in Chicago. My point is, the man can read a story. And when he finds a story he likes, you can be pretty sure that he will read it to you until you like it even more.

It was this second trait that so obviously won out that night, and my curiosity was piqued as to why a sports journal would, for once, trigger my father’s passion for storytelling. He sat down, donned his reading glasses, quieted the room with his eyes (no small feat with six kids huddled around the table), and said in his deep yet gleefully quivering radio voice: “Listen . . . to . . . thissssss.”

He began with the headline and subhead: “The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch. He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball.”

Okay. My dad was reading me a story about baseball. Or Yogi Bear. I wasn’t sure, but either way, he had my attention.

The secret cannot be kept much longer. Questions are being asked, and sooner rather than later the New York Mets management will have to produce a statement. It may have started unraveling in St. Petersburg, Fla. two weeks ago, on March 14, to be exact, when Mel Stottlemyre, the Met pitching coach, walked over to the 40-odd Met players doing their morning calisthenics at the Payson Field Complex not far from the Gulf of Mexico, a solitary figure among the pulsation of jumping jacks, and motioned three Mets to step out of the exercise. The three, all good prospects, were John Christensen, a 24-year-old outfielder; Dave Cochrane, a spare but muscular switch-hitting third baseman; and Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets’ lead-off man of the future.

The Mets? If my nine-going-on-ten brain could have manufactured a WTF thought bubble, it surely would have done so. The 1985 baseball season was just beginning. (Incidentally, the NCAA men’s basketball championship was played later that night. I put a dime down on Villanova. That’s not Vegas parlance, either. I bet my mom, the true sports lover in the family, ten cents Villanova would beat Georgetown. She called me crazy, but I won ten cents and the faulty belief that I could predict sporting events.) The heartbreak of ’84 was still fresh in my mind, and I had become all too familiar with the history of Cub collapses that predated my foolish allegiance to the only baseball team I’ll ever love. The Mets, I knew, were nothing short of pure, black-cat evil. If this story was about the Mets, I wanted no part in its horror.

“Wait a minute, now listen!” my dad assured me, noticing my visible disgust and withdrawal. He read on, setting up the story of how each Met batsman stepped into a canvas enclosure, obscured from the curious eyes of the media. Out stepped a gangling, awkward clown of a pitcher with a hiking boot on his right foot and not so much as a sock on his left. Every hitter just watched, or tried to, as the pitches zoomed by in furious blurs of white, ending with a musket-like pop of the catcher’s mitt and an agonized whelp of pain from behind the catcher’s clenched teeth.

Our dinner sat there losing steam as my dad did quite the opposite, reading on in a crescendo of uncharacteristic baseball fervor:

The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only [reserve catcher Ronn] Reynolds, Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets’ front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick’s Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch’s fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch’s velocity—accurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer’s descriptive—the “jug-handled” curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds’s mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, “Don’t tell me, Mel, I don’t want to know….”

My dad read the whole article, every word, but I had lost my appetite both for the hamburger and potato casserole and for the sad tale of an unhittable pitcher ensnared in the dastardly clutches of the New York Metropolitans. My dad kept reading the account of the mystic hurler’s idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes, and the off chance that his reclusive nature would prevent him from ever joining the official ranks of Major League Baseball. But all I could think of were the ramifications this development would bring to bear on my Cubs.

Hope escaped from my soul like air from a slow-leaking balloon. No, I thought, this can’t happen. This mustn’t happen.

And it didn’t. A couple of weeks later during a 10:00 newscast, during which my dad was already asleep . . . and I probably should have been as well, the glorious truth came to light. The story was a hoax, published on April 1, 1985, and crafted with wicked mastery by the late, great George Plimpton. The giveaway had been hiding all along, like some balloon boy in his wacko parent’s garage, in the subhead on the very first page. The lead-in, “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga,” formed an acrostic greeting welcoming all fools to enter gullibly in. Happy April Fool’s Day.

I was delighted. Not only were the Mets brought back down to this planet, but my dad’s excitement had been for naught. At first I was excited to tell him how wrong he was, but then whatever form of ill-developed compassion I had within me took over. I didn’t want to make a fool out of my dad. I didn’t think he was foolish. I thought he was cool. He had taken an interest in baseball, or at least the part of it that he could get excited about, and imparted it to the whole family. And, indirectly at least, he was on the news! The story he read to us and our collective bamboozlement had become a small part of a national hoax. What did it matter that Sidd Finch was fake? The moment was real.

My dad wasn’t big on throwing the ball around, obviously. But I don’t regret for an instant that he read me a story instead of throwing me a fastball. That’s who my dad is, a guy who sits amazed by the human element of baseball and completely disinterested in the baseball part of it. I would take that memory and the thousands of other ones like it over 100 games of catch.

No fooling.

Unfinished posts: Money from the Sky

As the countdown to March 27 rolls on, whereupon will unleash its discredited fury on Cubdom, I thought I’d do a little housekeeping by finishing posts I had started and left unfinished. And by “some,” I mean, “at least one.” I’ll probably post a favorite or two (as ACB and Aisle 424 are doing) and maybe some posts I wish I’d written. But for now, since the NFL has chosen to test the work stoppage waters, it seemed like a good time to dust off and finish up this post originally scheduled as a Day-Off Reflection in 2010.

At Shea Stadium on opening day in 1995, three fans wearing shirts that read, “GREED,” tossed dollar bills onto the field then gathered near second base, clenched fists raised in protest. Baseball had returned after the worst sports work stoppage of my lifetime, the strike that cost 1994 its World Series.

One image sticks with me from that year: Shawon Dunston, sitting in the dugout, arms folded across his knees and head bowed in disbelief. It was the last game of the year, one that had already been drained of any hope of being The Year for Dunston and the Cubs and their fans. But you could see how it affected the O-Meter man. He was sad. He was angry. He was not going to be playing the game he loved because his fellow players and the MLB owners couldn’t agree on how the proceeds should be distributed.

Some people blamed the greedy players. Some people (myself included) blamed the greedy owners. I was mostly just greedy for baseball.

So in 1995, I attended my very first Cubs home opener. The Cubs gave away free magnet schedules. The fans gave a whole lot of them back. You see, the thing about magnetic schedules is that those suckers have serious aerodynamic efficiency about them. One fan from the upper deck managed to hit home plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck with one. (I don’t know who the home plate umpire is, but I’m trying to finish up a year-old post on a dying blog, so I’m too lazy to look it up. And yes, I don’t know for sure it came from the upper deck, but doesn’t that make the story more interesting?)

It was dumb of the fans to throw those schedules, but not nearly as dumb as it was for the team to say, “We understand you’re angry over the strike, so to make it up to you, we’d like you to have some projectiles. Enjoy.”

So on this or any other day when I’m unable to enjoy a Cubs game or baseball of any kind, it seems extra stupid to intentionally avoid playing baseball when there’s an opportunity to play it. Especially when, as Shawon clearly displayed, the players want to play as intensely as the spectators want to watch. I’m sure the owners don’t object to making money whilst playing real-life fantasy baseball, either.

Get along, people. Coalesce. Stop screwing over each other. Be greedy for baseball.

Sammy’s Skin

I thought this wasn’t supposed to matter. Sammy Sosa hit 545 home runs in a Cubs uniform. Some people hate him because of his boom box. Some people hate him for cheating with a corked bat and a chemically altered physique. Some people hate him for caring more about putting on a show than being a good teammate. Some people hate him because it’s fashionable.

Now Sammy Sosa‘s skin is lighter than it used to be. I understand neither why that’s funny nor why anyone cares. But apparently people do.

Never mind the fact he was really good at baseball. Never mind the fact that he restored enthusiasm in baseball not only in Chicago but also in North America. Never mind that while he played with the Cubs he paid very little effort into anything other than being prepared to play baseball well and to entertain the fans who watched him.

But his skin is lighter now. So . . . LMFAO.

Counting Down

When I started this blog two years ago, I was an idiot. The Cubs had been bounced from the playoffs for the second consecutive year via their second consecutive sweep at the hands of an NL West team. But the Cubs had also been to the playoffs for two consecutive years. And on paper, in the offseason between 2008 and 2009, the Cubs had improved.

I was already blogging about other stuff, but mostly on a personal basis for the benefit to the detriment of people who knew me personally. Blogging about the Cubs, I figured, would be a chance to reach people who shared my particular dysfunction of liking the least successful sports franchise of the last century. But it didn’t feel like that stupid of an inclination at the time. I thought I’d be blogging about The Year.

And if by The Year I meant, “the most frustrating winning season in Cubs history,” then I was right. But that’s not what I meant.

Now that I’ve had a chance to chronicle the Cubs for two seasons that weren’t particularly enjoyable, I can confidently say that I’m still an idiot. But I’ve learned some things.

I’ve learned that I like you. If you’re reading, I like you. I can’t help you, but I like you.

I’ve learned not to count on the World Series.

I’ve learned when to quit. Well . . . kind of.

The life of And Counting as an active Cubs blog is coming to a close over the next week or two. I’m counting down instead of counting up. And by the time the season starts, you can expect to see this page go unchanged for quite some time.

BUT . . .

You aren’t quite rid of me yet. If you’ve been paying attention to Another Cubs Blog, you know mb21 is bringing that fine Cubs shrine of discreditation to a close as well so he can start up something new with berselius and a couple other Cubs bloggers. I’m proud and honored to be an Other. [UPDATE: so is Tim.]

I’ll have a few more posts to throw out here before it’s all said and done, but I just wanted to give you all both the opportunity to count down with me. And thanks for reading. I appreciate it more than you know. Okay, I appreciate it a lot. Now you know. See you in another life, brotha.

Should the Cubs Try to Sign Albert Pujols? The Insiders Answer.

The question is simple. Should the Cubs try to acquire Albert Pujols in light of the negotiating deadline in his rear-view mirror? He’s reportedly asking for something in the neighborhood of $300 million over 10 years. That’s a really nice neighborhood. Anyway, I asked this question to a group of Cubs insiders to get their opinions, and here are their answers:

Carrie Muskat, Pujols is under contract with the Cardinals. Making an offer now would be tampering.

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune: Yeah, the Cubs need to give $30-million contracts to more old guys.

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune: Only if they can sign Tony LaRussa as well and trade the Wrigley Building for the Gateway Arch. But it’s unclear whether St. Louis would go for that.

Rick Morrissey, Chicago Sun-Times: I’ll answer that question with another question: would you trade Flintstone vitamins for anabolic steroids? Would you plant an old, overripe watermelon in the ground and use a falsified birth certificate for fertilizer? Do you read my column instead of prescription drug warning labels? I’m not saying he’s juicing and lying about his age and doomed to suck. I’m just saying.

Rick Reilly, ESPN: Signing Albert Pujols to a $300 million contract would be riskier than tightroping across the Grand Canyon on the final thread of talent still remaining in Alfonso Soriano’s career.

Bruce Levine, ESPN Chicago: Should they sign the best player in baseball? Of course. But can they? The last I heard, the Ricketts family had to ask to borrow money just to clean the bathrooms at Wrigley.


Steve Rosenbloom, Chicago Tribune: Do the Cubs need another overpaid diva from another country? The question answers itself.

David Kaplan, WGN Radio: Albert Pujols is the best in the business. If you have a shot to bring him to the North Side, you take it. I want a World Series for the Cubs as much as anybody, and no one can ensure that that happens better than Jose Alberto Pujols. And when Prince Albert hoists the World Series trophy in the parade through Wrigleyville, and he needs a new best friend to share the moment with? I’ll be there.

Editor’s note: the following contributors did not return requests for comments. Answers were supplied on their behalf: Carrie Muskat, Paul Sullivan, Phil Rogers, Rick Morrissey, Rick Reilly, Bruce Levine, Judd Sirott, Steve Rosenbloom, David Kaplan

What is a Cubs Game Worth?

Do you really have to be there?

The newest Cubs ticket plan, the six pack, is now on sale at Six games for $150 or more (they advertise the prices starting at $97, but the cheapest seats available in package E, for example, ring up at $141.16 once fees are included.) Not bad, all in all, I guess. You’re going to pay $23 a ticket for not very good seats to 1 premium game and 5 games you’ll try to sell to someone else (or maybe vice versa, I don’t know you).

But is a trip to Wrigley worth that right now? I’ll throw out all the other costs associated with getting to the game, because going into Chicago is worth it. I love Chicago. I love driving into Chicago. Up Lakeshore Drive. Through the tangled mess of the Dan Ryan. Neighborhood routes or expressway bypasses, I don’t care. I love being in the city, and I’m not going to add the price of getting there into the Cubs’ side of the ledger. Getting there is on me. Glad to do it.

Once I’m there, though, is it worth $23 to mingle around the statues and take in the ballpark rising from the cramped city . . . trapezoid; to trudge through the fog of beer fumes and hot dog vapors; to fade into a crowd of people who more than anything just want to see a Cubs win and enjoy a few drops of sunshine along the way; to sit in uncomplicated seats; to bring my voice close enough to the field that the players can hear my cheers of support and groans of disappointment and shouts of triumph? Is that worth $23? $30? $125?

How much is it worth to me to indoctrinate my sons with an emotional attachment to a team that offers little rational return on the investment? To bring them to a place so big and green and beautiful that reveals itself in a sudden wave of glory as we head up the steps onto the mezzanine? To sit beside them and talk about whatever they want to talk about and answer every question and not have a TV on? How much is that worth to cement a moment in time between me and the members of my family?

I guess about $15 per person is what I’m saying.

Who Would Pay to Rename Wrigley?

All this talk of renovating Wrigley at the taxpayers’ expense (and let’s face it, no matter how the taxes are collected, bonded, spent, or repaid, it all comes down to people paying taxes through the nose) has stirred up a lot of conversation about other potentially disconcerting ways for the Cubs to bring in revenue. While we fans are still partial to the idea of selling 2011 Cubs World Series Champion memorabilia as an ideal money-making scheme, the likelihood of that is { }.

Cubs think tank members in blogging and mainstream realms agree that the most obvious way for the Cubs to collect some quick cash is to peddle their most attractive commodity: Wrigley Field. More precisely, the naming rights. Wrigley by any other name would still smell like piss, so let’s get over the sentimental attachment to our former overlords, shall we? It wasn’t named Wrigley before that family owned it, so why shouldn’t the name change now that we’re 2 or 3 owners removed from their gum-chewing legacy?

Even if the Cubs do decide to sell the naming rights to their North-Side shrine, they still need to find a buyer. I’ve come up with ten possibilities, and, in a departure from the norm, most of them aren’t even sarcastic options. As far as I know, none of the companies I’m suggesting have naming-rights deals with other arenas, fields, parks, stadia, etc. Some with good reason. Let me know what you think about the prospect of watching the Cubs play in, say, Apple Field.

1. Apple
They’ve got the money. They don’t typically shy away from extra publicity. Maybe it could come with a decent Wi-Fi package for the fans as well.

2. Frontier
Frontier Communications is an ISP/telecom provider typically in smaller suburban and rural communities, and they recently acquired a ton of customers from Verizon service areas. Somehow this resulted in an enormous dip in their stock value. Telecom companies typically like naming-rights deals because brand awareness is huge for them. The publicity of owning the rights to the field soon to be known as formerly-known-as-Wrigley would give them a much-needed competitive edge in the market. It’s a bigger doubt, though, that this smaller player in the telecom game would be able to pay out big bucks.

3. BP
Don’t laugh. Or laugh, whatever. But BP, we know, has the money. They also have a brilliant history sponsoring crosstown cups. What they don’t have is anything to lose. Yes, BP Field would make Cubs fans mad and unhappy. But guess what? They already are. BP and Cubs fans have nowhere to go but up, so I look at this as a low risk, high reward venture.

4. Kraft
I don’t have a real good reason for this one other than that they could use a stadium deal, they have a ton of money, and I think my sons would enjoy Cubs games more if the vendors sold Lunchables.

5. Mars, Inc.
Food/candy giant. Recognizable, well respected name. Unobjectionable products. Oh, and Wrigley is their subsidiary, so they could keep the field named Wrigley and finally pay up on the 30 bagijillion dollars of free advertising they get every year. Or they could sue the Cubs for trademark violation for desecrating their brand by tying their name to a urine-soaked frat house. I prefer the bagijillion dollar option, though.

6. Bank of America
Kiefer Sutherland tells me that Bank of America is a proud partner of the Chicago Cubs. This is only natural. Let’s put that bailout money to work at Wrigley. I mean, at BOA Ballpark. But seriously, the banking industry is another one where name recognition means a ton. This investment would pay off.

7. Comcast
From what I hear, Comcast customers are just as tormented as Cubs fans, so this makes all the sense in the God-forsaken world. It’s another huge, competitive market, and Comcast stands to benefit greatly. Couple that with the 25% stake the Ricketts family has in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, and it’s a win-win for everybody.

8. Friends of Meigs Field
Meigs Field got destroyed in a midnight raid by Mayor Daley. I’m sure the group that mourns that loss would take some pleasure in bringing Meigs Field back home to Chicago in the confines of Daley’s least favorite baseball franchise, even if they couldn’t land planes there. But they have no money. So . . . yeah. No.

9. Geico
The gecko. The cavemen. The money with eyes. The dude from Brothers McMullen and She’s the One who’s not Edward Burns. There can be no doubt that Geico isn’t afraid of brand saturation. Why not add the Cubs as just one more spokesman? I see no reason. Making the decision to redub the Friendly Confines Geico Park is so easy, even a Cub could do it.

10. TD Ameritrade
Ever heard of synergy? Of course you have, and your psyched about the opportunity to see it happen for the Cubs. The Ricketts family is no stranger to paying for Cubs business with TD Ameritrade money. Okay, actually, everyone else in the world but the Ricketts is a stranger to that. Synergy. This is unbreakable. This is inevitable.

Purpled Wrigley

Image by @WNUR_Sports

A lot of people seem distraught that the Wrigley Field marquee has been repainted purple for the upcoming Northwestern football game. I don’t mind so much. The scoreboard treatment was a little more shocking, though.

I could get used to that, whatever.

I wish they would have stopped at signage, though. There are some situations where purple just doesn’t work. 
Mike Quade agrees.
So what do you think? Does painting Wrigley purple have you blue in the face? Seeing red? Green with envy? Pinkish hue? Bueller?