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Tales from the stock room Vol. 2

Hell of a week. But one interaction stood out the most.

This really happened..

Me- “Hello, What can I help you with?”

Customer-

“Ghost size 8”

Me- “Ok no probelm”

*goes to get shoes*

*tries shoes on*

Me- “How are they feeling?”

Customer-

Me- “So are they feeling ok for you?”

Customer-

“Yes”

Me- “Ok I will ring them up”

Customer-

The End

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Welcome to my 30s

On July 26th I turned 31. So that means I am officially one year into my 30s. The days following have brought on a lot of reflection. I’ve been thinking a lot of where I am in life. I got married last September to Paulina a woman I’ve been with since high school..almost 14 years now. (yes I’ve only had sex with one woman. Wilt Chamberlain would be appalled.) the two of us survived the pandemic, dealt with some depression, bought a house in a great town and neighborhood, got a dog named him Bodhi (“Thats Bodhi..He’s a modern savage.”), reaffirmed the fact that I’m dangerously Italian..89% in fact mostly Sicilian and the other 11% is Greek. What up Giannis! and I am a community college dropout. I try to take on everyday anew. Let life come to me. But recently my thoughts have been more focused on the future and it seems that my anxiety has been higher than it ever has before. Like whats next for me? Kids? A new Job? I don’t know and for the first time in a long time that scares me.

I have always struggled with figuring out what I want out of life. I’ve always kept thoughts and feelings to myself thinking I was being independent or mature and now I’m realizing that was and is foolish. I am naturally a shy and timid person..introverted. I never really embraced who I really am in fear of embarrassment or not being accepted. I tried to be someone else. I never gave too much thought to some of life’s important questions What do you want to do with the rest of your life? What are some of your interests? etc. Is it too late to answer these questions? I don’t think so. I don’t know if there is anyone out there that has it totally figured out but most of us keep moving forward.

Are your 30s the decade when it clicks? I guess I am starting to feel that way like ok this is who I am now. Fed up with how I acted in the past. Ashamed of those feelings I had. I even struggle to write this because I still don’t feel totally that I am in tune with who I am, these words aren’t flowing like they should. But are your 30s when it becomes more clear? Do I need to do ayahuasca or other psychedelic drugs. I mean If thats where the night takes us ok i’ll give it try. Do I need to have kids? Will that unlock something? I would like to have a family someday sure but I don’t know if I am ready. I mean christ I sell shoes for a living. (again I dropped out of community college) I helped a woman today that had one the gnarliest bunions I have ever seen. Practically a second toe! Somedays I feel like i’m trying to make up for lost time, experience things I was too afraid of doing or that my shyness held me back from. Am I being stupid? Do I need to grow up? “Matt you’re 31 now give it up”. Is that how I should be feeling? Pack it in man focus on improving your portfolio. Invest. Jesus, Am I having a mid life crisis? I hope not! Thats what my 40s are for.

Now that I think about it this kind of feels like the plot of the movie Orange County starring Colin Hanks, Jack Black and directed by Mike White (I liked the White Lotus I heard people say negative things about it) I have the need to search, grow and have new experiences but I am overlooking what is right in front of me. Is Jocko Willinik going to read this and say stop being a bitch. Suck it up and drink one of my shitty energy drinks. Maybe. The internet is weird he may stumble upon this one day while drinking one of his shitty energy drinks.

Look, we are all floating on a rock in nothingness. I may never figure myself out but life is the ultimate puzzle. Writing this and cracking some jokes at my expense makes me feel better and being 31 isn’t half bad its actually kind of nice. I just want to say good luck to everyone else out there like me you are not alone.

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Untitled Golf blog

Gentlemen only ladies forbidden (people forget) recently have been in desperate attempts to save its image. Admittedly I’m not the biggest fan of Golf and its culture but I will say it is nice to see the sport become more accessible over the past few years and change the way people view the sport.

That being said, Hey real quick…Golf STOP using Jordan brand to help bolster that strategy. Yes I know MJ is a huge golfer he sank that awesome hole in one in Space Jam. That was sick, I know. Wayne Knight loved it. But..Air Jordans are one of the biggest parts of pop culture and fashion as we know it and some of the greatest athletic achievements have been accomplished in those shoes and you’re going to try and convince me that if some dude like Jordan Speith is wearing them i’m supposed to think Golf is somehow cooler and more stylish? Huh?? (Tim Allen Home Improvement grunt).

Have you seen guys that golf? They look like walking White Claw cans that will brag about their man caves and give you recommendations about what Instagram model has the best page to “look at”. Yes a dude that loves golf probably still whacks it to still photos.

Putting on a pair if J’s on a golfer doesn’t make the sport cooler. Some of the Jordan golf collection includes models like The Jordan 3 cement, The 5s, and The 1s.

The Jordan 3 cement, Do you people know that Michael Jordan dunked from the fucking free throw line while wearing those?!? And you’re going to talk to me about your short game? The fucking FREE THROW LINE! Thats literally 15 feet away from the basket. But I guess the fat dude making the cart girl uncomfortable while he pounds Michelob Ultras, talks about NFTs and bragging about his 15 foot putt is more athletic and making that shoe look cooler.

The Jordan 5?? That shoe was a part of one of the best AD Campaigns of all time, The Spike Lee joint with Mars Blackmon. “It’s gotta be the shoes!” But I guess it’s cooler that your work buddy wore them to play 18 holes and shoved 6 glizzys down his gullet while doing it. It’s Gotta Be the Shoes!!!

And finally how can we forget The Jordan 1.  Do you understand the significance of that shoe? It is one of the most well known silhouettes of all time. There is no Tiger Woods without this shoe. It completely changed sports marketing and and how brand market their athletes. It is quite literally THE Sneaker to end all sneakers. But I guess they feel good while you’re riding around in a golf cart drinking Truly and talking about pastel shorts Maybe it is Jordan brands fault. Maybe it’s Golf’s fault. I don’t know, all I know is that the lines between the sports are becoming blurred and it needs to end before it’s too late.

Tales from the Stock Room vol. 4

As XC season enters the bigger meets of the year here is a typical interaction between myself and a high school teenager who is trying on racing spikes. Usually a boy

Teen- I need spikes (Stares a hole in your face)

Me- Awesome! Do you know what size trainer you normally wear?

Teen- Uh size 10

Me- OK, lets get a measurement just to make sure

*Teen measures for a size 11*

Me- Ok I think 11 will be better lets start there and see how that feels

As this is going on you can feel the kids mom or dad’s eyes burning a hole through your soul. Like don’t fuck up my kids feet shoe boy.

I come back with spikes

Me- Have you worn spikes before?

Teen- No

Staff- Ok no problem. Just so you know spikes are very tight fitting and aren’t the most comfortable things to wear so keep that in mind when you’re trying them on

Teen- ok

*Tries spikes on*

Teen- They are too tight

Teen’s Parent- He’s saying they are too tight

Me- Ok just take a walk around a little bit and try to get adjusted to them

Me- Remember you won’t be wearing these for a long period of time. You run fast and then get to take them off right away haha

My poor attempt at humor

Teen’s Parent-

Teen- Can we try a bigger size?

Me- Yes of course that is no problem. But I will say if the spikes fits too long you may run into problems.

Teen- Uh ok

*The staff member goes back to the stock room and tries not to cry*

Me- Ok here is a half size up. Pretty dope color right?

Teen-

Me- How is it feeling?

Teen- It feels big

*I say to myself “I’m dead inside”*

Me- Ok. I honestly think you will be ok in the smaller size. You want them to be a little tighter so it feels like it’s almost a part of you foot. It will make you feel lighter and quicker and give you that competitive advantage that you need in your race.

Teen- Ok I’ll do that

Teen’s Parent- At this point has totally checked out. Uhh yea sure ok lets do those.

Your patience is always tested.

Tales from the Stock Room Vol. 3

It’s been a few weeks since my last post but we had a doozie the other day.

As New Jersey felt some after effects of Hurricane Ian this past week the store was mostly quiet do to rain, cloudy, and cold and damp weather. When its quiet it seems that more of the “interesting” clientele find their way into the store.

The door swings open to a man with no teeth walking in and something shaking in his pockets making him sound like some sort of maraca and half of a southern accent. Oh boy here we go..

Man- Hey buddy, I got something going on with my foot I think I need to be resized or something. I think it might be a blister. I felt something wrong this morning while I was power walking around the mall.

Yes, power walking around the mall

Me- Ok sure. Lets check it out

Man- *sits down and takes off the sock on his left foot off to reveal a foot with toe nails more yellow than lemon lime gatorade*

Me- Oh you don’t need to do…

Man- HEH??

Me-Nevermind

Before I go further let me preface this and say I was in the middle of doing some organizing in the store and my co worker who could have helped this customer totally ignored him and stuck him with me so he could look up colors of an Apple Watch he was going to purchase.

Me- *Puts brannock device on the floor to get measurement*

Me- I would say lets go with a 13 wide. But let me check your current shoe to see what you are wearing for reference

His current shoe was a 13 4E. Which is an extra wide.

Me- Well, your current shoe is a 13 4E maybe we go down in width to a 2E which is still wide but not too wide. It’s possible that your foot has too much room and is moving around too much and causing some rubbing and that was is causing you to have a blister.

Man- I need a wide

Me- Yes I know we are still going to go with a wide not just quite as wide

Man- OK. But is it going to be a wide?

Me- Yes, it will still be a wide

I walk back to the stock room and question all of my life decisions up this point

Me- Ok I have something here that I think will work

Man- You know what I don’t think its a blister. Come over here and take a look at this.

My man proceeds to stick his foot in my face and starts pulling apart his toes to reveal a small paper cut like slash.

Man- I think I got a cut or something in between my toes

Me- Uhh yea I can see what you’re talking about.

Man- You think thats what is causing me the pain?

In the background I hear my co worker snickering and giggling to himself. I need to get this guy out of here

Me- Yes I think so. You mentioned a blister but I didn’t notice any blisters so it has to be that cut you have

Man- So you think its the cut?

Me- Yea I think so. Just let that heal and you should be good

Man- *Puts foot down and ponders for a second* Yea you know what it’s probably this dang cut.

Me- Yea just let that heal and you should be good to go.

Man- Ok buddy thanks for the help

Me- No problem have a good day.

I hope my co worker found a color he liked for his Apple Watch.

Beach Strength

What is the ultimate test of strength and endurance? Climbing Everest? Before the 1% ruined it? CrossFit? Running a marathon? Mixed Martial Arts? I think carrying beach supplies to and from the beach needs to be added to that list.

Going to the beach in the summer is one of the best things ever. Family vacation, summer love, late nights with friends and family there is nothing better. But i’m here to talk about the feats of strength people will showcase when going to the beach for the day.

There are a list of things that everyone needs to make a beach day successful. Beach chairs, a cooler(full of food and beverages), beach towels, an umbrella perhaps. Maybe you need to bring things like a tent for small children to lay in so they aren’t in the sun for too long. Beach toys. Football, frisbee or maybe spike ball for the competition and comradery. The brawn and energy it takes to carry those things to the beach from your car or house or what have you is overlooked in my opinion.

When carrying these things you are performing a farmer walk. A highly functional exercise. Core engagement. Working the shoulders. If you have seen any pro athlete’s offseason beach workout videos you would know that sand is one of the top natural resistances when it comes to movement either forward or lateral known to man. Now add that the fact that you’re carrying at least a 15 lb cooler in one hand and awkwardly long umbrella tucked up your armpit in the opposite arm. If thats not athleticism then I don’t know what is.

Don’t be surprised if this becomes the next internet fitness “hold my beer” thing. Where one of those idiots on IG straps 5 weight beach chairs around their body, while carry 2 umbrellas in each hand, and simultaneously balances two 20 pound coolers on their heads while walking barefoot on unbearably hot sand 3 miles away from where they are going to sit on the beach for the day.

To this I applaud (and also I give myself a pat on the back) all the weekend warriors out there for successfully completing these tasks each summer. Your efforts have not been overlooked. So when you are unloading your car with all that shit you need to carry just know I’m here for you. Well done.

Taylor Hawkins: In Your Honor

Like many of you, I woke up yesterday morning stunned and saddened to see the news of Taylor Hawkins’ passing at the age of 50.

Feeling grief and sadness over someone relatively famous that I’ve never met before and don’t know may seem a bit childish, but it is hard to swallow and accept no less.

I don’t know what happens next. It’s likely the Foo Fighters stop touring for a period and grieve the loss of their friend and bandmate. Maybe in due time, someone will try to fill in on drums. It’s too early to have to even fathom.

All I know is that Taylor Hawkins deserves massive credit for the Foo Fighters ascension from small demo project, to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

The sad irony is Dave Grohl has already done this before: overcome the untimely death of a bandmate after Kurt Cobain in 1994. The parallels are too eerily familiar already.

In the summer of 1995, I purchased the first Foo Fighters self-titled album along with ‘Frogstomp’ by Silverchair at Best Buy.

First listening to it then, I was immediately intrigued by the demo rock sound of Foo Fighters, specifically the tracks ‘For All The Cows’ and ‘Alone + Easy Target’. I still am intrigued to this day, 27 years later.

Dave Grohl recorded every instrument and sound on that album. I see this as evidence of a man that was looking to just create and move on following the death of Cobain. It is well documented that during this time of the many opportunities for Grohl to become a drummer in another band, notably to join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Fortunately he passed on those opportunities, forging the unlikely way for a mountain of beautiful music. Starting with the debut in ’95.

The Foo Fighters started as a one-man demo with no intentions of being what they have become. Dave Grohl has admitted this on record many times. But I’d be willing to bet that even he would admit that if Taylor Hawkins had not joined Foo Fighters in 1997, they may not be the rock & roll force of nature they have become.

The recent and beautiful Ringer film Jagged Little Pill chronicles where Taylor Hawkins got his break: as a touring drummer for Alanis Morissette. A young and fresh-faced Hawkins is seen throughout the film, ultimately making the decision to leave Morissette after Grohl reached out to him to inquire if he knew any drummers that would be interested in joining Foo Fighters.

His response:

“Uhhh, dude. How about me?”

He joined in 1997, right around the release of their 2nd album: ‘The Colour and the Shape’. This one I bought at K-Mart. The Colour and the Shape was a stark difference from the first album: this was polished and engineered to perfection, and one could argue it is the defining rock sound of 1997.

Grohl still wrote every song, but others recorded with him. It is documented that during the recording Grohl was not satisfied with the drumming sound of William Goldsmith, so he re-recorded the drum parts himself. This didn’t go over well with Goldsmith, and he left the band.

It couldn’t have been easy to play drums in a band with Dave Grohl. Anyone who has ever listened to Nevermind or In Utero by Nirvana knows why. Dave Grohl is an absolute animal behind a drumkit. Someone would need to be a great drummer, and not feel intimidated by another bandmate.

The Colour and the Shape was a massive success. Songs include Monkey Wrench, My Hero, February Stars, f*cking Everlong. On and on and on.

The next person to play drums on these songs would need to be someone ready to be part of a rocket ready for takeoff. Musically, technically, sonically: someone would need to be able to bring it.

Someone like Taylor Hawkins.

My first Foo Fighters show was in Minneapolis in 2000. The lineup that evening was Muse, Foo Fighters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Today, each of those bands sells out Wembley Stadium on their own.

During the Foo Fighters set, Dave Grohl announced to the audience that this was the first arena tour for them, and they were excited to have Hawkins’ drum set on risers for all to see.

This tour was in support of their October 1999 release ‘There is Nothing Left to Lose’. I bought this album at a place called On Cue. Rage Against the Machine’s ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ came out the exact same day. I had about $15 to my name then, and could only afford one.

I chose Foo Fighters.

The Foo Fighters to me represent a coming of age young kid ready to make his own choices and create his own path in life. At the risk of getting too profound; let me say I’ve always taken great pride in being on board the Foo Fighters train from day 1.

Fast forward this entire life journey to now and many many shows later, I’m proud to say the Foo Fighters have been along with me everywhere I’ve been.

I’ve been lucky enough to see them perform all over the country, notably many great shows in Seattle over the years.

In my time spent living in Europe I can say with a straight face: that outside of meeting my wife Stephanie, the best moment of my time there was seeing the Foo Fighters on a July night in Berlin in 2011. There was an energy in that audience that I’ll never forget. “Holy sh*t, Germans LOVE the Foo Fighters” is what I yelled many times to myself from the pit in the front row.

In all those shows, the common denominator was the developed musical connection of Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl playing off of each other that stands out. Trading solos. Trading “Can you top this?!” riffs, going back and forth. Sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes not.

If you’ve seen the Foo Fighters, it’s likely you know what I’m talking about: the improvised jam sessions between songs, each time leading into the next song in a way that builds and builds and then explodes. It’s a tightly-knitted sonic boom of electricity, with giant smiles on their faces the entire evening. I’m sad this piece with Taylor in it is now over.

I’m going to miss seeing Taylor Hawkins during those moments the most: his hair and arms and legs flying everywhere, looking like the golden rock god that he forever is.

Thank you for taking the sound of the Foo Fighters to the highest heights. You were the heartbeat behind it all.

75 Seasons turn 100: A Chicago Bears Healing Essay

Tonight, Da Bears and Packers begin the 100th Season in NFL history.

Rewind to last January, when one of the most exciting Bears seasons in over a decade came to a crashing (*or doinking) halt when you-know-who hit the you-know-what.

Twice.

This is a declaration that I’ve come to peace with it and am ready to move on.

Sort of.

Something I’ve been saying a lot lately to people is: “If the worst thing that has happened in my life in the last year is a Cody Parkey missed field goal? Then I’ve got a great life.”

I do have a great life. It feels great to type that.

But just to confirm: If the worst thing that happened this year is a missed kick that instantly snuffed out a 12-4 Bears season and gifted the Eagles and the city I live in a playoff win: If that’s the worst thing that happened in my life this year?

Then I really, truly have a great life. There’s no doubt.

But I’m ready to get a football season going again, for better of for worse.

This upcoming Bears season is as anticipated and as exciting as any in recent memory.

I’m ready to see if Akiem Hicks can blow up backfields again week after week. I’m ready to see if Khalil Mack can get to the quarterback and change the course of a season again. I’m ready to see if Eddie Jackson can make big plays and a few game-sealing pick-six returns again. I’m ready to see if Mitch Trubisky can throw for 6 TD’s in one game again. I’m ready to see if Tarik Cohen can get into space. I’m ready to see if David Montgomery can be an impact rookie. I’m ready to see if Da Bears can defend their NFC North crown. I’m ready to see if Matt Nagy can bring continued growth and stability in his second year to a city and a fan base starving for it. Absolutely starving for it.

Which also scares the hell out of me at the same time. In the NFL, not often does a season turn out the way you think it will unless you’re the New England Patriots. But for the rest of us football peasants, it’s true.

So ready or not: the 100th NFL Season begins tonight.

Like any relationship, it’s complicated and has taken growth.

Last February, the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in the Super Bowl.

During that Super Bowl, there was a commercial for the 100th Anniversary of the National Football League. That means one big thing to me: It means I consider my formative awareness and love affair for the NFL during the 1994/95 season. That season marked the 75th Anniversary of the National Football League. During that season, I hit record on every possible NFL Films release: notably The All-Time Team and 75 Seasons: The Story Of The NFL. Those were brilliant and inspiring television moments etched into my 14-year-old mind. 

My family brought home a VCR in late 1990. Learning how to record things off of the radio with a tape recorder blew my mind: but learning how to record shows off of TV really opened up my world to film/sports/etc.

But nothing was recorded more in those days than Steve Sabol and NFL Films.

I’d check TV listings in the Argus Leader to find when NFL Films shows were on, and set the VCR to record each and every episode. Morning, day, and night. I had dozens of tapes, most two-to-three hours long that were all loaded with NFL Films start to finish. I’d study each episode carefully.

I probably should’ve been studying Biology and Algebra instead, but it is what it is. All things considered, things turned out just fine.

But I’d study every single NFL Films frame, every sound byte, every line. I can still hear my favorite lines as I type this:

 

“…all those mornings on the mountain taught Payton if he honed his body like a tool, he could use it as a weapon..”

 

“…when you’re talking about Night Train Lane, you’re talking about in my book: the greatest defensive back that ever lived.”

 

“Give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.” 

 

“I told Coach Halas in my interview when he asked what was my football philosophy: ‘Coach, who’re you kidding? My philosophy is the same as yours: kick the other teams ass.”

 

Fast forward to last January, and unfortunately another memorable sound byte was added into recorded football lore:

 

“Oh my goodness. The Bears season is going to end on a double doink.”

 

So here’s to moving on, and here’s to starting new.

Here’s to a new NFL season, the 100th.

The NFL’s been complicated recently for many, many reasons. But the league did it right with this matchup tonight.

Here’s to the NFL’s Charter Franchise Chicago Bears kicking this thing off at Soldier Field.

Hope, healing, and redemption.

Bear Down, Chicago Bears.

Let’s do this one for Papa Bear Halas.

 

…and P.S. if you build me up and rip my heart out again this season, I’ll likely need a script for Xanax. The entire city of Chicago will as well.

 

GO BEARS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insomnia and the 1999 Yankees

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I go to bed tired. Then I wake up at 1 am, then fell back asleep after.  Wake again at 3 am, then asleep. Then again at 3:45 am. 

What goes through my head at these times?

Specific dates, times. Things like: ‘what was I doing twenty years ago from right now?’

Sounds crazy, but it’s true.

To answer that specifically, in June of 1999 I spent two weeks selling books door-to-door in a Pittsburgh suburb.

Then went home to South Dakota and worked at a car wash in Sioux Falls before going back to college for my sophomore year. Lived rent free, I must note, out of the graciousness of my wonderful Aunt Kathy. **Ed’s note: Thanks Aunt Kathy!**

But lying half awake with insomnia on this night, what also came into my head was:  “write about this: write about the summer of 1999.”

I got up, went into the bathroom, and wrote in my notes: “Write about the summer of 1999.” If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget.

So I wrote it down, and here we are.

The summer of 1999: 20 years ago from right now. It’s currently 4:03 AM on my nightstand alarm clock, and I can’t sleep.

What else do I remember about the summer of ’99?

I saw a bunch of movies that summer: Summer of Sam, The Blair Witch Project, American Pie.

Saw Hootie and The Blowfish at Huset’s Speedway and Collective Soul at Washington Pavilion with Steve Blankenship. Collective Soul covered “Crazy Train”, and Oleander opened. Is there anything more 1999 than ‘Oleander’? Freak of the Week dropped by The Marvelous 3, man I still love that song.

But the biggest thing that sticks out to me about 1999? Besides starting year 2 of college and rooming with The Great Brian Dewald in 301 Binnewies Hall at South Dakota State? That certainly is up there.

What sticks out the most is the Yankees won the World Series again.

Last summer I put down 4,000+ words on the 20th Anniversary of the 125-50 Yankees. As it currently stands, the 1999 Yankees are the last team in baseball to repeat as champions. (They actually won a third straight in 2000, but I can save that for next summer and the 20th anniversary of the Subway Series).

It’s interesting to think: How did they repeat?

We now see Boston getting out of the gate slowly this season, after the best season they ever had. It brings to mind how the Yankees did out of the gate in 1999?

I get it, you don’t care. But I’ve covered that already so don’t need an explanation. But in case you do: Don Mattingly: The bricklayer of a baseball dynasty

Here’s a better thought: what happened the year after each current MLB team had their best regular season ever, regardless of if they won the World Series or not?

After all, this is my damn blog so we can look.

The first noted year below is best regular season record in team history, then their record the following year after:

Anaheim Angels, 2008: 100-62; then the next year in 2009: 97-65

Arizona Diamondbacks, 1999: 100-62; 2000: 85-77

Atlanta Braves, 1998: 106-56; 1999: 103-59

Baltimore Orioles, 1969: 109-53; 1970: 108-54* (won World Series)

Boston Red Sox, 1912: 105-47* (won World Series); 1913: 79-71

Chicago Cubs, 1906: 116-36; 1907: 107-45* (won World Series)

Chicago White Sox, 1917: 100-54* (won World Series); 1918: 57-67

Cleveland Indians, 1954: 111-43; 1955: 93-61

Cincinnati Reds, 1975: 108-54* (won World Series); 1976: 102-60**(won World Series)

Colorado Rockies, 2009: 92-70; 2010: 83-79

Detroit Tigers, 1984: 104-58* (won World Series); 1985: 84-77

Florida Marlins, 1997: 92-70* (won World Series); 1998: 54-108. Yikes.

Houston Astros, 1998: 102-60; 1999: 97-65

Kansas City Royals, 1977: 102-60; 1978: 92-70

Los Angeles Dodgers, 2017: 104-58; 2018: 92-71

Milwaukee Brewers, 2011: 96-60; 2012: 83-79

Minnesota Twins, 1965: 102-60; 1966: 89-73

New York Mets, 1986: 108-54* (won World Series); 1987: 92-70

New York Yankees, 1998: 114-48* (won World Series); 1999: 98-64** (won World Series)

Oakland Athletics, 1988: 104-58; 1989: 99-63* (won World Series)

Philadelphia Phillies, 2011: 102-60; 2012: 81-81

Pittsburgh Pirates, 1909: 110-42* (won World Series); 1910: 86-67

San Diego Padres, 1998: 98-64; 1999: 74-78

San Francisco Giants, 1993: 103-59; 1994: 55-60 (strike-shortened season)

Seattle Mariners, 2001: 116-46; 2002: 93-69

St. Louis Cardinals, 1942: 106-48*(won World Series); 1943: 105-49

Tampa Bay Rays, 2008: 97-65; 2009: 84-78

Texas Rangers, 2011: 96-66; 2012: 93-69

Toronto Blue Jays, 1985: 99-62; 1986: 86-76

Washington Nationals, 2012: 98-64; 2013: 86-76

That’s a lot to take in.

A few things stand out:

*Only 9 times has a team gone on to win the title after posting their most regular-season wins in franchise history: 1909 Pirates, 1912 Red Sox, 1917 White Sox, ’42 Cardinals, ’75 Reds, ’84 Tigers, ’86 Mets, ’97 Marlins, and ’98 Yankees.

*Only ’76 Reds, and ’99 Yankees repeated as champs after posting franchise record wins + a title.

*Four teams had their all-time high water win mark in 1998: Braves, Padres, Yankees, and Astros. Which means there were teams that took some serious L’s that year: Marlin’s 108 losses, Rays 99, Montreal Expos 97, Arizona Diamondbacks 97.

*Only one team in the AL Central had winning record in ’98: Cleveland. The White Sox finished in second place with a losing record, 80-82.

 

So how are the ’99 Yankees the last to repeat? What has happened in the last 20 years?

A bunch of things could factor into this.

One was they returned nearly their entire roster from 1998. Give or take a few guys that didn’t return: David Wells, Homer Bush, Graeme Lloyd, Tim Raines; having the majority of their roster return the following year was a major positive.

Another could be the Wild Card inception in 1995: more teams make the postseason than ever before. Now with the Wild Card and play-in games: could that be why it’s harder to repeat? Could it be more teams, more parity, and more competitive balance then ever?

Before you throw “Payroll/big market vs. small market” at me, just remember this:

Kansas City, Houston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago have all won championships in recent years with great player development without being a top-10 payroll team. To further prove that point, let’s look at another list: here’s every championship team in the last 20 seasons, and where they ranked in MLB Payroll that season:

1999: Yankees #1

2000: Yankees #1

2001: Diamondbacks: #8

2002: Anaheim Angels: #15

2003: Florida Marlins #25

2004: Red Sox #2

2005: White Sox #13

2006: St. Louis Cardinals #11

2007: Boston Red Sox #2

2008: Philadelphia Phillies #12

2009: New York Yankees #1

2010: San Francisco Giants #10

2011: St. Louis Cardinals #11

2012: San Francisco Giants #8

2013: Boston Red Sox #4

2014: San Francisco Giants #7

2015: Kansas City Royals #15

2016: Chicago Cubs #14

2017: Houston Astros #18

2018: Boston Red Sox #1

So what does this all mean?

It means big spending doesn’t always mean a championship.

In fact, only 4 times in the last 20 seasons has the team with the biggest payroll won the title (3x the Yankees, 1x Boston).

What I do know is the Yankees followed up their historic ’98 campaign with another championship in 1999.

It was fun to research the storylines from that ’99 season:

  1. David Cone’s Perfect Game on Yoga Berra Day at Yankee Stadium
  2. Jeter .349, 219 hits/Bernie .342
  3. Mariano Rivera didn’t allow a run after July 21.
  4. Roger Clemens traded to Yankees in February 1999
  5. 11-1 Postseason

Back to my previous question about how they started out of the gate. Let’s look at their chronological season record:

May 1st: 15-7

June 1st: 30-20

July 1st 47-29

August 1st: 62-41

September 1st: 81-51.

So how is this team the last to win consecutive titles?

Let’s start with the guys in the clubhouse, Jeter and Rivera first.

Eventually both will be first ballot Hall Of Famers, and by 1999 each were full budded young superstars: Jeter was 25, and Rivera was 29.

 

Jeter:

Statistically, one could argue that 1999 was the best year he had in his career.

He posted career highs that season in hits (219), batting average (.349), home runs (24), RBI’s (102), and WAR (8.0).

“Within the long list of Jeter’s exceptional stats in 1999, there are two that also stand out: He hit a mind-boggling .371 on 0-2 pitches and hit .455 when facing an opposing pitcher for the third time in a game.” –excerpt from “Derek Jeter’s Forgotten MVP Season,” by Lyndsay Berra. 

Jeter also went into the All Star break hitting .371, an astounding first half.

He was 25: an elastic, flexible, and explosive shortstop with lightening-quick hands. It’s crazy to now think he’d go on to play 15 more seasons after ’99.

 

Rivera:

The only point that needs to be said about Rivera in 1999: He did not give up a run after July 21.

Let me type that again.

He did not give up a run in 1999 after July 21.

That means after July 21st he entered a game and pitched 28 times to finish the regular season, and 8 postseason appearances did not give up a run in any of those times.

*Maybe that’s how you repeat: when your closer doesn’t give up a run for 36 straight appearances*

It’s not easy to do. He’s a unanimous first ballot Hall Of Fame inductee for a reason.

 

Coney Perfect:

The difference in parody from one season to the next can be staggering. In my piece last summer, I delved into the David Wells perfect game on May 17th and how that seemed to galvanize the 1998 club.

And unbelievably enough: David Cone did the same thing and threw a perfect game one year later at Yankee Stadium on July 18th, 1999.

The previous perfect game before David Wells in ’98 was by Don Larsen all the way back on October 8, 1956. Yogi Berra was the catcher, and after the last out created the memorable scene by jumping into Larsen’s arms.

By early 1999, the relationship between the Yankees and Berra can be called rocky at best, after Berra was canned by George Steinbrenner less than 20 games into the season in 1985. Berra vowed to cut ties, and didn’t have anything to do with the club for 14 years.

But before the ’99 season started, Berra and the club were able to mend as he worked with Jorge Posada in spring training before the year started.

The Yankees went even further, and named July 18 ‘Yogi Berra Day’ at the stadium and honored him before the game. Don Larsen was also there and took part in the festivities.

So what happened next?

David Cone threw a perfect game that day, with Larsen and Berra in attendance. You couldn’t make this up.

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Bern Baby Bern:

Lost in the Core Fore lore is Bernie Williams, who for all practical purposes one could argue was probably the best all-around player in baseball in 1999. He arrived a few years before Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Rivera and in his early years principal owner George Steinbrenner spent several offseason’s trying to get rid of him.

Good thing that didn’t happen.

From ’97-’01 Williams was at the peak of his prime, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team for 5 straight years. He was consistently impressive in those years batting cleanup, and helped catapult the Yankees to a World Series three-peat from 1998 to 2000. He won 4 straight Gold Gloves from 1997-’00, and a batting title in ’98.

As for 1999:

.342, 202 hits, 100 walks, 25 HR, 115 RBI’s, .971 OPS. Another Gold Glove in center field.

His signature patient, low-crouching, switch-hitting stance was a prelude to many big moments.

Perhaps none bigger than his heroics in game 1 of the ALCS vs. Boston with a walk-off home run vs. Rod Beck that set the tone for an AL Pennant.  At the time he became the first player in baseball history to his two postseason walk-off home runs, his other previous in the ’96 ALCS vs. Baltimore.

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Speaking of Wells…

In February 1999 the Yankees traded Boomer to Toronto along with Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush for Roger Clemens.

Wells was heartbroken, and said at the time: “It’s tough. Give me a couple days.”

Yankees manager Joe Torre said the day of the trade to the media, as quoted in the Washington Post: “There’s some shock in that room right now. It’s something you have to get used to. That is what the game is all about. There are going to be changes. . . . Roger Clemens is a nonstop Hall of Famer.”

Well, that’s not exactly how it’s played out.

In 1999 Clemens didn’t have his best season, going 14-10 and posting a career high ERA of 4.36 in his first season in the Bronx.

But he won the ALDS clincher vs. Texas, throwing 7 shutout innings to clinch the sweep vs. the Rangers.

An emotional Clemens was then shelled by his former team at Boston during game 3 of the ALCS in his Fenway Park return. He started the Yankees only loss of the playoffs, lasting only two innings in a 13-1 rout.

The starting pitcher Clemens was against? He was up against an absolutely-out-of-his-mind Pedro Martinez who beat Clemens and the Yankees in game 2.

In ’99 Pedro had one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history: winning the Cy Young by going 23-4 in 29 starts. He threw 213 innings and had 313 strikeouts.

Wow.

Fortunately, the Yankees only had to face Pedro once that series, and they disposed Boston in 5 games to set up a rematch of the ’96 World Series vs. the Atlanta Braves.

The anticipated rematch didn’t live up to much hype, as the World Series ended in a Yankees sweep. The sweep gave them 8 straight wins vs. Atlanta in the World Series dating back to ’96, and 12 straight World Series wins overall at the time.

As for Clemens? He redeemed himself in a big way in game 4 of the World Series, going 7.2 innings and getting the win in a 4-1 World Series clinching victory.

It would be an understatement to say that Clemens’ baseball legacy not only in New York, but in all of baseball is….complicated.

But of the three Playoff series victories in ’99, he was lights-out and won two of the clinchers and certainly remains a major piece of how the team was able to repeat.

“The Yankees were awesome,” Smoltz said. “I felt in 1996 that we should have won. I can’t say that this time. I feel like the better team won. We had a chance to win every one of these games, but the Yankees had an answer for everything we tried.” -Washington Post, October 28, 1999 following game 4. 

Legacy:

I believe it’s ultimately about players, and those players year after year playing their best baseball. The Yankees from 1996-2001 had more players do that than any team in the last 30 years. The other part is luck: staying healthy, staying together.

I don’t know how the summer and baseball season of 2019 will play out. What I do know is that 20 years ago from right now, the Yankees followed up their greatest season ever in 1998 with another dominant season and a World Series championship.

They were last to win consecutive titles because because David Cone was perfect. They were the last to win consecutive titles because Jeter, Rivera, and Williams were pretty damn close to perfect. They won because Roger Clemens wasn’t perfect in 1999 regular season, but had big playoff moments and righted the ship at just the right time.

Winning the 1999 World Series, their third in four years, defined the club as a dynasty.

20 years ago was a great summer, and that’s something I can rest easy about.

So now the next time I have insomnia, I’ll write about who had the better rock show: Collective Soul or Hootie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Journey through Cooperstown

In the 2011 film ‘Moneyball’, the movie begins with the following Mickey Mantle quote:

“It’s unbelievable what you don’t know about a game you’ve played all your life”

It’s with that in mind that my comrade Brett Guido and I recently journeyed to Cooperstown, NY. Our agenda was to visit the ghosts of baseball and take in the game’s cherished history: a history that is safely kept inside the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

When we arrived from Philadelphia after a few hours in the car, we were surprised by how small Cooperstown was. It’s a small lake town loaded with Americana charm and a sprawling number of colonial style homes.

With a population of 1,800 it’s basically the size of Parkston, Freeman, or Canton, South Dakota.

As we made our initial drive down main street, we found the Baseball Hall of Fame on our right, directly across the street from the Cooperstown Post Office:

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There are no chain Applebees in the Cooperstown city limits. There’s no Target, no Outback Steakhouse, and unfortunately for us: no Metropolitan Grill (we tried to get reservations and looked up the location–it doesn’t exist). Cooperstown is just good ‘ol locally-owned mom and pop hospitality.

After checking into our hotel–which was literally one block away from the Museum, we didn’t waste much time heading over.  We may have drank a Coors Light first.

We purchased tickets and entered. From there our baseball journey began as we were greeted by statues of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente:

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Next to them is an inscription titled ‘Character and Courage’:

“Becoming a Hall of Famer takes more than just a great baseball career. Off-the-field challenges–and how those challenges are met–reveal an inner character that serves men and women throughout their lives. The life experiences of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente stand out above all. Each faced personal and social obstacles with strength and dignity that set an example of character and courage for all others to follow.”

They all started off playing a boys game: not only unbelievably skilled enough to make it to the big leagues, but skilled enough to flourish. The grit to play through pain. Play through mental aches.

Or in the case of Robinson: play through racial turmoil and hatred and bigotry beyond our comprehension. But instead of spitting and fighting back, Jackie Robinson used the hatred and bigotry as a fuel for his game. And with that fuel, lit a fire in his play that no one in the history of baseball has played with before or since. At least not in our modern age, and certainly not anyone who is white. A competitive rage that is far beyond that of the possessed and controlled rage of a Jordan or Jeter or Brady. And it’s safe to say they would likely admit that as well.

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I’d always heard that Pee Wee Reese played a vital role in leading and voicing his acceptance for Robinson to the league and to his Dodger teammates. He was brave enough to stand up and make his acceptance of Robinson known.

It’s wonderful that the Hall notes their character strengths on their plaques in Cooperstown.

It’s 2019, and we still need more guys like Pee Wee Reese:

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Basically any moment you can think of, dating back to the inception of baseball: has been saved, recorded, framed, labeled, noted, verified, stamped, certified, and illuminated forever under spotlights.

You name it:

Lou Gehrig’s personal keychain complete with his house keys, Babe Ruth hand-written postcards, Babe Ruth bats, Pee Wee Reese’s game-worn cleats, Stan Musial’s locker, Hank Aaron’s locker, Joe DiMaggio’s jersey, George Brett’s pine-tar bat, the hats Nolan Ryan wore for all seven of his no-hitters. Floors and floors of every artifact you can think of. It’s truly remarkable and overwhelming at the same time.

Barry Bond’s record-setting 756th home run ball?

That’s there, complete with a branded asterisk courtesy of owner Marc Ecko. Ecko purchased the ball and cut out the asterisk to emphasize “this unforgettable moment in sports history in popular culture”:

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There’s a great photograph of Christy Mathewson that captures what he really looked like in 1910. Staring at this face, I couldn’t help but think of the great moment in the film Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams’ character has his students stop to admire old photographs they have passed thousands of times without stopping to take notice:

“Seize the day! Seize the day, boys!”

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Another photograph that stood out to me was this one of a young Frank Robinson, which defines the sheer strength and physicality of him in uniform. Frank truly must’ve been an intimidating and imposing presence:

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Another highlight for me was seeing the details of the uniforms. More specifically, the labels and tags. This one is hard to see, but it’s easy to note the jersey size:

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What these uniforms did more than anything was bring to life and personify the person who wore it. The names of baseball lore are now seemingly mythical figures in the minds of anyone that loves the game. But seeing these uniforms behind glass allowed one to visualize the person that wore it.

For example: Joe Dimaggio’s jersey was broad from shoulder to shoulder when seeing it up close:

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You can sit in Hank Aarons locker, as well as view each of his home run baseballs leading up to and breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

His game-worn uniform from his historic record breaking home run on April 8, 1974 was upright and stunning:

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When you enter the great hall that bares the plaques of the Lords of Baseball is an essay that includes the question:

Why Cooperstown?

“In 1908, sporting goods magnate A.G. Spalding announced the verdict of a special historical commission that has been formed to determine the origins of baseball: “the first scheme for playing (the game) according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, NY, in 1839.” In 1935, local philanthropist Stephen C. Clark sought to capitalize in the commission’s findings by building a baseball museum in the games alleged birthplace. With the help of Ford Frick, President of the National League, Clark succeeded. Today, historians agree that Doubleday had nothing to do with baseball’s beginnings, but Cooperstown remains the spiritual home of the National Pastime.”

The overwhelming gratitude of the voices in a :15 minute film available at the beginning of a Hall Of Fame visit sets the tone for an emotional experience. Clips of past and recent Hall Of Fame inductees, including a memorable one from Greg Maddux saying he’s been retired for nearly twenty years, but still thinks about the game in almost every instance of his life. It gave a Field Of Dreams-like feeling, and was at the beginning of the tour.

The game today may not be to our country what it was in, say, 1955. But as I’ve grown older it’s become nothing short of a poetic art form to me. That’s what the Cooperstown visit helped solidify.

Baseball is the closest thing to a time machine we have in our lives, and I’m glad I was finally able to enter it. The ghosts of baseballs past exist: and are all alive and well in Cooperstown, NY.

Enshrined in the Hall Of Fame are the heroes of our fathers fathers fathers. Heroes like Stan Musial: who was the favorite player of a great family friend, the late Bill VanLeur.

 

 

This one’s for Bill:

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