Hello, Von Hayes, hello

Von Hayes was one of the more intriguing players in the history of the Phillies. Actually, it’s Hayes’ legacy as a Phillie that is the interesting part. That’s much more the case than Hayes’ actual baseball performance. Hayes was a good player – there’s nothing more to parse in that statement. Perhaps if he had played for another team he would be remembered differently. Perhaps with less animosity.

Apparently, Hayes heard a boo or two at the ol’ Vet.

That last part might have more to do with Philadelphia and the Phillies than Hayes. After all, it wasn’t Hayes’ fault the Phillies sent five players to the Indians in the trade for him. It also isn’t Hayes’ fault that he landed in Philadelphia when the Phillies were transitioning from their golden age to mediocrity.

Anywhere else Hayes would have been a nice complimentary player – maybe like Jayson Werth for the current club – and not counted on to be a star.

Again, not Hayes’ fault.

But there certainly are perks to showing flashes of brilliance on the field in Philadelphia. Hayes, of course, once belted two home runs in the first inning of a 26-7 victory over the Mets in 1985. For many adolescents of the ‘80s who followed baseball religiously before the proliferation of cable TV and the mass media, that two-homer inning was enough to make fans for life. Back then there wasn’t a game on TV every night, so we lived vicariously through the box scores in the paper. Here in Lancaster, on the distant end of the Philadelphia media market, Hayes’ name stood out.

Actually, the positive media reports regarding Hayes’ potential was what made the most impact. He had a swing like Ted Williams, we were told. A contender for the rookie of the year in ’82, the Phillies were right to deal five guys (Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, George Vukovich, Jay Baller and Jerry Willard) to get him, they claimed.

Based on the numbers – which look quite skimpy in the post-steroid era – Hayes seemed like the quintessential Phillie of that age. He was a .267 lifetime hitter, but hit .305 in 1986. He hit 124 home runs in 9½ seasons for the Phillies, (an average of around 13 per season), but in ’89 he slugged 26 to finish seventh in the National League.

There were the flashes of brilliance, but mostly Hayes never quite lived up to the hype. In hindsight, those flashes proved to be aberrations.

But one of the best parts about sports is romanticizing the past. Playing remember-when works well in any time regardless of demographics or media dynamic. Though the games look different and our experiences with them have morphed from following along on the radio and newspapers and TV to the Internet, but the sentimentalizing transcends all that. For instance, yesterday I was visiting with a friend who is going to a game at Yankee Stadium this week for the first time since he was a kid in the early 1960s. He remembered the last trip so vividly it sounded damn-near Rockwellian.

Mantle, Maris, Yogi, Rizzuto and his dad. Top that. I’m anxious to hear about how his return trip went.

Anyway, what stirred the Von Hayes memories was a story written by Jeff Pearlman for ESPN.com, about a group of guys that formed a lo-fi alt-rock combo named for the ballplayer. No, they aren’t a Hayes tribute band or anything silly like that. They just claim to be inspired by the old Phillie.

There were two things that piqued my interest about the story. One was the subject matter. These days Von Hayes is the manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers, who play in the independent Atlantic League. The Barnstormers ballpark is located just on the other side of Franklin & Marshall College from my house. From a second-floor window I can see the light towers from the ballpark and on weekends the non-stop fireworks shows launched after ballgames annoy the crap out of the entire town.

But think about that for a minute… Lancaster, Pa., Von Hayes and fireworks. If I had a Turkey Hill slushey, some Atari games or APBA baseball, I’d hop onto my Mongoose bike and roll over to the games. It would be like I was 13 all over again.

The most interesting part about Pearlman’s story, however, was the few grafs near the end where he wrote about his attempts to contact the club’s front office. Apparently, the PR department or some other group in the team office didn’t return Pearlman’s calls.

And here I thought it was just me.

Pearlman and I are in the same boat in this regard. The fact is, I’ve called and e-mailed the Barnstormers’ president and a few folks in the PR department and have never, ever had my messages returned.

Never, ever.

Look, I just work for Comcast SportsNet. We’re bigger than anything in Lancaster, but we’re not as big as ESPN. Nor are we as big as Pearlman’s former employer, Sports Illustrated. So if the Barnstormers aren’t returning calls for Jeff, I guess I shouldn’t be so upset.

Right?

Well…

Pearlman just finished up an in-depth book about the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys. He also wrote a book about the 1986 Mets and Barry Bonds. He famously wrote about John Rocker for SI and even cracked The New York Times best seller list. Not too shabby.

Meanwhile, I’m just used to professional courtesy. In fact, every team in Major League Baseball has always returned my calls or e-mails (some faster than others), and every U.S. Representative, Senator and governor I ever have needed a response from has followed through promptly, too. But if the Lancaster Barnstormers don’t call back Jeff Pearlman for a fun story for ESPN, I guess that Von Hayes story I wanted to write is a no-go.

Oh well.

Here’s a funny part: As I was preparing research and awaiting a reply for access from the Barnstormers for a potential story on Hayes, I contacted the front office of Oakland A’s, whom Hayes worked for as a manager in the minors. Not only did someone from the A’s return my call, but actually showed up in Philadelphia at the ballpark to answer a few questions and talk about baseball. It was a really fun afternoon.

I was told the A’s liked Hayes, among other little nuggets. It might have made for a nice story.

Instead, this is all I got out of it…

And you just got a little whine.

P.S. One more thing about Von Hayes: When I was a kid I was a prolific letter writer. I wrote to anyone and everyone. Once I even wrote a letter to Von Hayes, and guess what?

He wrote back!

Based on that, what’s he doing with the Barnstormers?

All Brett, all the time Part II

I generally don’t believe in conspiracy theories. That goes for conspiracies within government as well as sports. For one thing, the organization and planning of the degree needed for such intricate subterfuge is often beyond the types that work in these businesses.

Plus, keeping secrets is way too difficult. From what I know about writing about politics and sports over the years is that those people leak like sieves. The worst-kept secret is that there are no secrets. As a result, it makes the art of deception and conspiracy rather difficult.

However, when I heard that Brett Favre – the most famous man on the planet if you believe the breathless dispatches from ESPN — had been traded to the New York Jets, well, I started looking behind the grassy knoll.

An attention hound quarterback with decades of fawning by the largest sports media outlet in the world headed to the largest media market in the country… nah, there can’t be anything behind it, could there?

Brett Favre in New York? Mere coincidence.

To be fair, accounts coming out of Wisconsin or Mississippi or 34,000-feet above the earth or wherever the hell Brett Favre is these days, indicate that he really didn’t want to get traded to the Jets. After all, the Jets were 4-12 last season, which is four games worse than what Favre’s Packers were during a dreadful 2006, but identical to the 4-12 2005 season Favre masterminded in 2005.

Hey, it’s not like the Jets are getting Doug Williams or Trent Dilfer [1]to replace Chad Pennington, who nearly guided the surprising ’06 team into the AFC Championship. And they certainly are not getting a Bart Starr in the twilight years in Favre. Make it more like Johnny Unitas going to the Chargers for one last go-around or Willie Mays with the Mets, flailing away on the turf at Shea during the ’73 post-season.

Sure, the New York media will give the big star some love when he arrives. New York loves a media event and a star, after all. But in New York (to paraphrase Lou Reed) there are no stars in the sky – they are all on the ground.

Maybe that’s why Favre reportedly preferred a trade to Tampa Bay? Sunny skies, warm weather, and plenty of things to do outdoors during the winter instead of sitting inside and watching the old quarterback flail around on the turf while attempting to turn the clock back.

***

Back in the old days when Sports Illustrated was the king of all sports media, they used to put out a special Olympic preview in the weeks before the games opened. Aside from the feature stories and the look into the American athletes’ chances in Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, etc., etc., the magazine predicted the winners of the gold, silver and bronze in every event.

It was pretty cool, I thought. Sometimes they were even accurate with the predictions.

Wouldn’t you know it that Sports Illustrated still makes its predictions? Here they are.

After a quick glance, here’s what caught my eye:

  • Bernard Lagat taking the silver in the 1,500, but off the podium in the 5,000.
  • Kenyan Martin Lel atop the field in the Marathon. Strangely, of the 14 nations to take gold in the marathon, Kenya is not one of them. Incidentally, Lel and countryman Robert Cheuriyot are the best, big-race marathoners in the world, but I still say don’t sleep on Ryan Hall.
  • No American women in the distance events. Not even Deena Kastor, who took the bronze in the marathon in sweltering heat and humidity at the Athens games.
  • Tyson Gay over Usain Bolt in the 100.
  • Usain Bolt over everyone in the 200.
  • Jeremy Wariner over LaShawn Merritt in the 400.

Aside from Ryan Hall, Brian Sell, Dathan Ritzenhein and the other distance guys, it will be interesting to see how NBC covers Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang as he attempts to beat world-record holder Dayron Robles in the 110-meter hurdles. NBC went all out in reporting on Australian Cathy Freeman during the Sydney games, which is understandable. But along with women’s marathoner Zhou Chunxiu, Liu Xiang is the biggest threat to win gold for the host country.

***

Finally, Philadelphia Will Do’s Dan McQuade is chronicling the Olympics in blog form for Vanity Fair (yeah, freaking Vanity Fair!). Here’s his first post.

For the record, Dan is Luke Skywalker to my Obi Wan… well, probably not, but I’m going to say it anyway.


[1] QBs just like Brett Favre in that they have won exactly one Super Bowl.

All Brett, all the time

I have a theory. No, it’s not the one where I offered that everyone, at one point or another, has dined on a loogie at a restaurant. This new theory is totally different and much less solid than my other theory.

This one has to do with Brett Favre and ESPN, which based on the recent wall-to-wall coverage of all things Favre and the Packers, is almost like eating a loogie in a TV viewing sense.

Anyway, my theory is since the Olympics are set to begin and NBC has decided to devote 23 ½ hours of its programming per day to Olympics coverage, the so-called World Wide Leader is going to the dance without a date… so to speak. ESPN/ABC cannot show the Olympics – they can only attend and cover it like everyone else. So to turn away heads from the biggest sporting event in the world this year, ESPN has barraged the sports-viewing public with “All Brett, All the Time.”

No, I don’t think it’s anything as sinister as choosing to report a less important story. After all, the Olympics haven’t even started yet. However, a lot of newspapers have sent teams of writers to China to cover one of the more mystifying and intriguing set of Games in a long time. From what I recall, there was no such intrigue regarding the Olympics in Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney or Athens.

China, to those of us in the West, is still mysterious. That’s especially the case when one takes in account the political, social, environmental and human rights concerns. For Americans it’s kind of odd that we actually have someone to look down upon in those regards, but there China is, anchoring an entire continent with its sprawling landscape that is becoming more and more developed by the day.

Think oil prices are high now? Wait until the Chinese citizens in the outer provinces put down the bikes and get cars.

So with the writers heading for the Far East, the MLB season entering the so-called dog days and the football season still a month away, why wouldn’t ESPN try a little misdirection? It’s as if they are screaming, “Hey, don’t look at the biggest sporting event in the world – you know, the one where we are not the rights’ holders. Look over here – to Wisconsin, U.S.A. That’s where the real story is. Come watch.”

And like the Chinese government, ESPN adds, “If you choose not to, we will make you.”

OK, it’s just a theory. There are more holes in this argument than Swiss cheese, but it’s out there nonetheless.

Speaking of out there, my friend and all-around swell guy (and ex-Phillies writer), Marcus Hayes, is in China for the Olympics. He arrived Tuesday at 2 p.m., which was 2 a.m. Tuesday morning here on the East Coast… or 2 a.m. tomorrow — time zones always mess me up. Chances are he’s pretty jet lagged.

Nevertheless, Marcus will be updating a blog (do people even use that word anymore… seems outdated to me) for the Daily News and I suggest everyone read it.

OR ELSE!

Seriously, it might be the second or third place I go when I make my rounds through the Internets every morning. Meanwhile, I had hoped to do one of those Slate.com-esque e-mail exchange columns with Marcus and the Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan, but it seems as if they are going to be too busy.

Instead I’ll just tune in to the 23 ½ hours of daily coverage and write about it here.

In the meantime, Marcus reported that he made it to Beijing after a 14-hour flight. In response to an e-mail where I told him I was envious that he got to go to the Olympics and I get to go to Citizens Bank Park, our hero wrote, “You wouldn’t be so envious if you just spent 4 hours sitting across from a smelly Latvian with 4 spiked hairs.”

See, Beijing isn’t all that different than Philadelphia.

He also reported that he cannot read his own site because it has been blocked by the Chinese government.

Anyway, I told Marcus that it would not surprise me if he went to China and an international incident occurred. Marcus Hayes in China just screams “international incident.”

Better yet, remember Christopher Walken’s character in The Deer Hunter? You know, he went to Vietnam and never made it back because he went AWOL from a hospital in Saigon in order to play Russian roulette for money… for some reason I foresee a similar fate for Marcus.

OK, back to the Brett Barrage, which is kind of like Russian Roulette but only brain cells are in danger.

Read: Marcus Hayes’ Olympic Proportions site

Blah, blah, blah…

Joe MorganESPN is here at the ballpark for one of those national cable broadcasts that any clearheaded person with a normal life and responsibilities finds nauseating. There are a lot of reasons this is the case, but for lack time (and desire) we’ll stick with the superficial.

Firstly, a Sunday night game means the game won’t start until after 8 p.m. My kids go to bed at 8 p.m. and my oldest boy (he’s 4) says “baseball is boring.” The reason is because there are never any big games on TV before his bed time. I suspect there are a lot of kids out there who don’t say baseball is boring and have a respectable bed time as well. They get shut out, too.

Worse, because Sunday night games are produced by ESPN it means they are overwrought with all sorts of gizmos, graphics, teevee things and general fluff that hinder the natural ebb and flow of the game. When ESPN gets its hands on a game it’s just like building a dam in the middle of a free-flowing river. Sure, the water moves a little bit, but there are no rapids. In fact there are times when some production geek jumps out onto the field to tell the umpires to halt the game because all of the commercials haven’t run yet.

Look, I’m an adult with a brain who doesn’t like to have his chain jerked. Just show me the game so I can get to bed at a respectable hour on a Sunday night because the kids are getting up at the crack and after that all bets are off.

Sleep, as we have written on this site on so many other occasions, is better than HGH.

Another reason why the ESPN game stinks is Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Truth be told, Miller was brilliant with the Orioles before Peter Angelos destroyed that once proud franchise. These days it seems as if he gets paid by the word. Meanwhile, Joe Morgan was brilliant as a big-league second baseman with that kinetic chicken wing flap that personified all his at-bats.

They say true genius is marked by a little bit of crazy[1], so in that regard Morgan at the plate was quite a treat.

But listening to Morgan has an announcer is like listening to that old man who slowly drove his big-assed car with the tail fins through my neighborhood a few weeks ago while I was out running. Instead of passing by, the old guy sidled that beast next to me to chastise me for “running on the wrong side of the road.”

“You should run on the other side so you face traffic,” he yelled through the passenger-side window. “You’re going to get killed running the way you are.”

“Dude,” yes, I called the old man (he was at least 80) driving a powder blue Cadillac with tail fins, “Dude.” “It’s a one-lane road. There is no other side.”

So yeah, that’s what Joe Morgan sounds like to me. He’s a guy chewing me out because he can… until I turn the channel.

Which is what I usually do.

But not tonight – instead I’m sitting in the press box filthy with New York writers and local TV types who like to get out for a ballgame once in a while. Better yet, the TV hanging from the ceiling right over my seat perfectly augments the action on the field. That’s because ESPN games are on a seven-second delay, so if I miss a pitch on the field all I have to do is look straight up to catch what happened.

Thank you, ESPN. And thank you to the folks at the Federal Communications Commission for protecting our eyes and ears from something.

***
DeenaHad I been in better shape during November and December of last year I wouldn’t be at the ballpark tonight. Instead, I would be fast asleep in a cozy hotel room with an early wakeup call the night before the Boston Marathon. When I was figuring out my racing plans for 2008 back then, I thought I’d need a good four months in order to get into great shape.

Who would have guessed that I would have been ready to go for Boston instead of two weeks from now?

Nevertheless, the Boston Marathon is tomorrow and like the geek I am I will be glued to the Internet coverage on WCSN.com as well as the television broadcast on Versus.

Is there any way Robert Cheruiyot won’t win his fourth straight Boston? I wonder if Brian Sell considered jumping in the race as a hearty warm up for his buildup before the Beijing Olympics in August.

Anyway, this year’s Boston had the extra added flair of playing host to the women’s Olympic Marathon Trials this morning. It was kind of a doubleheader of marathoning, if you will. But rather than run the regular Boston course from Hopkinton to the Back Bay, the women’s trials looped around the Charles River into Cambridge and back a few times before finishing on Boylston Street.

And just as everyone suspected, Deena Kastor won easily by coming from well off the pace to lead a relatively weak field. Kastor is one of the best five or six marathoners in the world as well as one of the best one or two American marathoners ever, so the fact that she didn’t take over the lead until 23½ miles into the race wasn’t as dramatic as it could have been.

Actually, Kastor made it look kind of easy by rolling through at 5:43 pace.

But when she goes to Beijing for her second Olympic medal, Kastor knows a 2:29 won’t cut it, nor will her main competition be the No. 42-seeded and unsponsored Magdalena Lewy Boulet or the No. 17-seeded Blake Russell, the 2006 national cross country champion.

In Beijing it’s going to be hot, dirty and intense.

Meanwhile, Joan Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic Marathon champion and former U.S. record holder, finished with a respectable 2:48. That’s really good considering that Samuelson has qualified to run in every single Olympic Marathon Trials and will turn 51 next month.


[1] Actually, I don’t know if “they” say that at all. I just made it up.

Breaking down the Trials field… sort of

Hall, Khalid, MebFor some reason ESPN the Magazine is delivered to my house every two weeks. I don’t know why this is because I never ordered it and I don’t really think I particularly want it, either. In fact, I even called a number I found inside of the magazine to ask them to stop sending it to me and they politely yet forcefully told me, “No.”

So I continue to get the ESPN the Magazine.

Occasionally I even look at it because I have a few friends who work there and I like to keep up with them.

That’s just the way I am… I am a supporter.

Supporter or not, I think I am pleased that the magazine comes to my house because there was a quarter-page capsule/preview for the Olympic Trials Marathon, which is quickly approaching on Nov. 3 in Manhattan. Written by Alyssa Roenigk (she has a cool web site), the preview outlines the chances five of the top runners have to make the Olympic team for the 2008 games in Beijing.

It was nice marathoning in an ESPN sponsored publication.

However, there were a few glaring omissions within the five top runners previewed. Included are Abdi Abdirahman, Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Khalid Khannouchi and Brian Sell, which is good and correct. Any top three could (should?) include at least two of that bunch.

But how did Dathan Ritzenhein get on the pay-no-mind list? Or what did defending Trials champion and current national cross-country champ Alan Culpepper do to be excluded? Excluding Ritz and Culpepper is kind of like having a baseball season without the Yankees or Red Sox. Sure, they can be beaten, but chances are they will be with near the top of the standings at the very end.

Meanwhile, some of the capsules on the runners explain how some might miss the top three because of the hilly nature of the course. Two of these runners who don’t like such terrain are 2:08 marathoners. Now I don’t know much about anything, but I know that 2:08 marathoners are rare in America. In fact, in the history of running, only six American men have run 2:08. That’s six, as in one more than five. Of those six, only three – Hall, Dick Beardsley and Bob Kempainen – were born in the United States. The other three – Abdirahman, Khannouchi and Alberto Salazar – were born elsewhere. That doesn’t make them any less American, but the point is, 2:08 American marathoners are not common and they won’t be bothered by the rolling course.

Anyway, with a little more than a week to go before the big race, here’s my top 3, which I am liable to change in the days leading up to the race.

The Top 3:

1.) Ryan Hall
2.) Dathan Ritzenhein
3.) Abdi Abdirahman

Watch out for Sell. ESPN says “he loves hills and will push the pace, keeping opponents honest from Mile 1.” But in Boston in ’06 where he ran his 2:10:47 PR, Sell ran an even pace and surged during the final 10k where he picked off faltering runners (including Culpepper) to finish fourth. Sell is a brute and a tank and he runs smart.