Category Archives: Major League Baseball

A handshake, a smile and a conversation with my hero, Ron Santo

RIP, Ron Santo

September 1999. The Cubs are out of it.

But we — my best friend Mike and myself — are in it. “It” being our longtime destination of all time — Wrigley Field.

A throwaway late-season series between the Cubs and Cincinnati Reds was meaningless for much of the baseball world. Two teams going nowhere, even if Sammy Sosa was having another monster year after an MVP season in which he led the Cubs to the playoffs.

Looking back, the Cubs, with too many September roster expansion players who had no business on a Triple-A field, let alone in Wrigley (Ruben Quevedo, anyone?), treated the series for exactly what it was. After a towering Sosa three-run shot onto Waveland Avenue in the first game on Friday — Mike and I could trace the ball’s flight from 20th-row seats behind home plate for our very first Wrigley experience — the Cubs didn’t score again for the rest of the weekend. Our first trip to see our boyhood beloved Cubs, and they go the last 22 1/3 innings without touching home plate. We were swept out of our first Wrigley visit.

Honestly, that didn’t matter so much to us. We got to see the cathedral, the Church of Baseball, and despite the long faces that appear in a couple of postgame photos we had taken of us behind the Cubs’ dugout, Mike and I look back fondly on the trip.

And Ron Santo was a huge reason why.

Sunday’s game was an ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” game, for reasons probably lost on the network itself. Ryne Sandberg sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the Seventh-Inning Stretch (Caps are necessary for this at Wrigley) and we had a great view of him leaning out of Harry’s window. Mike and I had seats along the third base side, low in the upper deck, between third and home. It was a beautiful Chicago night (if you don’t count the baseball), with a brilliant view of the North Side skyline beyond the ivy and bricks.

After the game, Mike and I lingered in our seats. We had to leave at 5 a.m. for the drive home the next morning, but wanted to soak as much of Wrigley in as we could. We were two of the last the leave.

Ronnie always said what we fans said -- only he had the microphone.

A great thing about Wrigley is that the stadium is so simple. Even the bathroom troughs have some charm. The concourse, especially at that time, was the only way for fans to get to the upper deck, or for the media to get to the pressbox. We watched Sandberg walk out after the 7th, in fact. And, if you are early enough to the ballpark, you might catch a player on his way into the clubhouse.

Finally, with the brightest lights dimmed, Mike and I left our seats and walked toward the breezeway. We make the first turn on the way down, and here comes Ronnie.

Santo is my biggest baseball hero. By far. Of course, he’s one of the greatest Cubs of all time. In fact, though Cooperstown is less of a shrine without him, he’s one of the game’s greatest third basemen. But that was before my time. I loved Ronnie for a lot of the reasons people my age loved Ronnie — he is a Cubs icon, as much for his playing days as for his radio broadcast career on WGN Radio. Ronnie can’t just be called a homer, which he was, because was the ultimate fan, only with a microphone in front of him. When Brant Brown missed the easy fly ball that would have put the Cubs into the playoffs a day earlier in 1998 (thank you Neifi Perez), Ronnie said what the rest of us said: “OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”

But Ronnie was more than that to me. My mother fought juvenile diabetes for most of her life, as did Ronnie, in a time when few people, not to mention doctors, really understood the disease. When Santo played ball, he didn’t always treat his diabetes with insulin; many times he ate a candy bar and drank a coke. For six years, even his teammates didn’t know he played with the disease. Knowing all that, go back and look at his numbers again.

And so Santo’s unbelievable charity work for diabetes hit home with me. My mother went through two major heart surgeries, a kidney transplant in 1985 (she was her surgeon’s 50th transplant patient), numerous eye surgeries that still couldn’t save her sight in her left eye and intense pain in her extremeties. She eventually lost her fight four years ago, but along the way, Santo had his own heart trouble, had both legs amputated, and finally, on Dec. 3, 2010, lost his fight to bladder cancer.

Neither were ever known to complain about the illness. Ever.

But 11 years before this sad day, Ronnie was walking toward us, striding, I can still see through my teary eyes this morning, on his own legs. There’s no one around us. No one. It’s that late after a sold out baseball game. Somehow, we muster up the courage to say hello to Ronnie.

And Santo stops cold. “Hey guys, where ya from?”

One of us: “North Carolina.”

Santo: “Really? That’s great. You came all the way here from North Carolina?”

Me: “We even drove it.”

Mike: “Yeah, we were here for the whole series.”

Santo: “No kidding? Wow. Sorry we couldn’t have played better for you boys.”

Mike: “That’s OK. It’s nothing new.”

Santo: “Well, you got that right.”

Me: “Thanks, Ron. Thanks so much.”

He shakes both of our hands. “You guys be safe going home, OK?”

“Yes, sir.”

If only Ronnie had some clue as to what I meant in saying thanks. If only I had the time or the nerve to tell him why I had to say thanks.

But hell, I could barely breathe.

Mike and I still talk about that moment, and we laughed and cried with Santo for the next several years thanks to the beauty of MLB broadcasts on XM Radio. (“Hey, did you hear Santo when we couldn’t move the runner over in the fifth?” “Yeah, he was still groaning about it and saying, ‘Geez!’ in the 11th.”)

Today, though, we’re mostly crying.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to shake my hero’s hand. I didn’t need a picture. I didn’t need an autograph.

I had a moment with the man. And, on his way home, he was kind, generous, engaging and actually interested in what my best friend and I had to say.

Just because we were good fans.

Ron Santo, I will miss hearing your voice when the days are warm.

But I will never forget what it sounded like.



I'll miss you, Ronnie.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Ron Santo, Sports columns

Donnie Baseball is back in my life — again

I have this poster, too. Of course I do. It's my favorite of all time.

It’s official. I’m officially a partial L.A. Dodgers fan now.

The Dodgers announced Friday that Joe Torre would be stepping down and Don Mattingly would be taking over, finally ascending to a managerial job he seemed destined for in New York three years ago.

It didn’t happen then, but it’s happening now, and, as I was then, I’m torn. I wrote about this three years ago. Here it that column, from October 2007.

 

I’m torn.

Oh man, am I torn.

I always had a feeling something like this would happen, and now it appears as if it may.

Hey, I like and respect Joe Torre. And anybody who has read my blog knows that I think the guy got about as raw a deal from George Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ brass as anybody in The Boss’ blustery tenure.

But now it looks like the leading candidate to replace Torre is Don Mattingly.

And for me, that’s great.

And terrible.

Every kid who grows up playing baseball has a favorite ballplayer. But for every kid who thinks working on game-time situations in baseball practice is the greatest thing since the annual arrival of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, well, having a favorite ballplayer is something different entirely.

It’s the root of fanaticism. Of hero worship. Of idolatry.

And for me, the diminutive middle infielder who could barely hit his weight but could bunt his butt off, my guy was Donald Arthur Mattingly, New York Yankees first baseman. No. 23 in pinstripes, No. 1 in my heart.

I was that kid. In my room growing up, two of my walls were dedicated to Donnie Baseball. Posters, Beckett Baseball Card magazines. Newspaper clippings. Cards. T-shirts. Anything and everything Mattingly, it went up on the walls.

I can’t explain this. Honestly, I can’t. It should have been Ryne Sandberg. It could have been Mark Grace. I’m a Cubs fan, one in a generation that was brought up on WGN and Harry Caray and 2 p.m. summer baseball games on 24-channel cable systems. That was me.

But it was Mattingly who did it for me.

Guts. Grit. No complaining. Just play ball, and dammit, play it well.

I can try to explain it, but I don’t ever get very far. I didn’t play first, though I did always play infield as a kid. But I was right-handed, and I sure as heck didn’t hit with the kind of thunder the Hit Man did before a back injury brought both him and me to tears. And I was never big enough to wear No. 23 on my back, not with little league jerseys being sized according to number.

But I did hit left-handed. That came from my dad, who, after a rather ignominious senior year of high school baseball at the plate, turned lefty for the first time in a playoff doubleheader and started clobbering the ball, even belting a home run.

His coach told him never to bat right-handed again, and when I came along, dad was foresighted enough to teach me the game from the left side. With a whiffle tee ball set, dad made sure I batted from the left side from the time I was 3, knowing that once kids started to throw curve balls, the ball would break into the strike zone to me. Not only wouldn’t I be scared, I’d be able to hit. This actually worked for a time and helped me onto a couple of all-star teams.

The stance -- and crouch -- that made him who he was at the dish. It also wrecked his career -- and prolonged mine.

And I can remember one time in high school, struggling badly with the bat, eschewing my stand-up batting stance for one like Mattingly’s low crouch, the one that eventually wrecked his lower back and derailed his rocket ride to Cooperstown. Leaning back into that crouch, moving my left shoulder back and down toward the catcher, I saw the ball a split-second longer and actually started making contact again.

Donnie Baseball was there for me, all along.

And now, more than 15 years later, he’s back in my life. He was the bench coach for Torre last season after serving as the Yankees’ hitting coach for three years. But in those roles, the pressure wasn’t ever on my guy, and the Yankees’ success or lack thereof didn’t necessarily have anything to do with him.

The Yankees are the Evil Empire now, though, which they weren’t when Mattingly was playing there. They are the towering symbol of all that is wrong with baseball’s economic structure. They are the franchise that accepts winning and nothing else. While that always sounds good on paper, it translates to a sour climate that has no real joy, only frustration at anything short of a championship and mere relief when it all comes together. What fun is in that? Who wants to be a part of that?

His time. My worry.

Except Mattingly may soon be the focal point of that monster. Should he get the job, every single little thing he says and every single little move he makes will be debated, dissected and, possibly, destroyed.

While Mattingly may be willing and able to take that kind of incessant heat, I’m not sure I can, and I’m not even a fan of the Yankees. It’s something deeper, really, something a shrink could probably have fun with.

Donnie Baseball.

What it comes down to is that I don’t want my favorite player to look bad. Not ever. It doesn’t matter that Mattingly is just a ballplayer, a guy I’ve never met who, for all I know, might in reality be the biggest jerk the world has ever known (although that’s unlikely, what with Barry Bonds still around). Why I should care about Don Mattingly’s legacy or reputation, I don’t know. I just know that I do. I imagine Mickey Mantle fans, cognizant now of Mantle’s alcoholism and his womanizing, feel the same way. Something you held dear from your childroom gets shaken, and when you look back, it all feels so phony, like such a colossal waste of time.

With Donnie Baseball at the helm, I realize that it would be his best shot at getting that elusive ring, and knowing my luck, it would come against the Cubs. But while it could mean undeniable glory for my main man, I also understand that the Yankees could destroy him, and that would get to me.

At the same time, I realize that I could never truly root against the Yankees.

At least not until they ran my guy out of town on a rail like they did Torre.

And then I would hate them, hate them like I’ve never hated anything in my life, and that would include the St. Louis Cardinals.

And so you could say I’m torn.

After all, I’m the guy who, at 23 years old, named his beagle puppy Mattingly in 1999.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, L.A. Dodgers, Major League Baseball, New York Yankees, Sports, Sports columns

The ESPN Nerds commercial

I love this commercial. Love it.

I bet Keith Law, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan, et al, do, too. As they should.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, ESPN, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns

Cubs/Cardinals — and Facebook/Twitter

Normally after a Cubs/Cards series, this is me. Or any other Cubs game for that matter.

In the event you are not “friends” with me on Facebook or don’t follow me on Twitter (and really, what’s the hold-up, people?), I found that attending a three-game series between my beloved (and terrible) Chicago Cubs and the hated (and damn good) St. Louis Cardinals is even more fun when you involve social media.

So then, here are my Facebook statii and/or Tweets from the weekend series from Aug. 13-15, in which the Cubs improbably took two out of three from the Cards (and beat Chris Carpenter in the process) at Busch Stadium. They are in order from when I posted them, so you can relive the games as I did (only without the giant nachos and beer).

Game 1, Cardinals 6, Cubs 3

4:30 leave for the airport. 6:30 board plane. Chance to see cubs win in st. Lou? Unlikely.

Leaving Chicago Midway for St. Louis. Got great tshirts though. Go Cubs, or something.

Why do I even bother buying a metro ticket? Nobody ever checks em. I want my 4 bucks back St. Lou. If Cubs somehow win, don’t worry abt it.

All hope is not lost for baseball. Long conversation on train abt cubs-cards with young black man. Are u listening Bud Selig?

Pujols just hit the first of his three bombs tonight. Its officially a cubs-cards game: I’ve seen pujols homer.

Cards fans know their baseball. Standing O for Yadi Molina in 1st AB at home since the brawl. Chills. Well deserved. Helluva ballplayer.

Game 2, Cubs 3, Cards 2

Kinda psyched to see a no-hitter today. Good chance with Carpenter vs. The Cubs.

Let carpenters no-hitter begin.

Busch stadium applauds the cloud that hides the sun for 30 seconds. 98 degrees with a heat index of 412.

La Russa justed bunted Rasmus in the 8th. Why doesn’t he trust the kid?

What’s it called when the Cubs finish a game with more runs than the other team? Oh yeah, a “rarity.” Still, overjoyed to be a spoiler for a day and beat Carp.

Game 3, Cubs 9, Cards 7

Game 3 today. Two out of three is waaaaaay too much to ask, right?

Great seats for cheap. Kyle Lohse pitching. Cmon Cubs. Maybe we got a shot after all.

I bring out the best in Albert Pujols. Seven games in three years: six home runs. And he’s got four more ABs today.

In busch. Line to restroom. Cubs fan leaves, sees the Santo jersey, motions for me to take open slot. Brothers in bathrooms.

Bathroom again. Cards fan gives me hell for Santo jesery. Other cards fan says: “give him a break. Santo is their mike shannon.” Shook that guys hand. Well played

What’s with all the empty seats busch? 8 2 got u down? Go Reds.

Hey, Mateo, try a strike.

AAAAAARRRGGGGGHHHHH! Only the Cubs could blow this.

Whew. Marmol. Win.

SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dempster such a gamer. Love him. Thanks cubs.

Monday

Loved my time with the Lee-Piersons and the Cubs. But really, really miss my girls and ready to get home.

Home sweet home. For so many reasons, the two of which are obvious. (Three, if you add Barkley.)

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, St. Louis Cardinals, The Sanford Herald

Still smarting over the 2009 Open Championship

Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with me.

Editor’s Note: I love major championship golf as much as anything in sports. And I especially love the British Open.

And for 71 1/2 holes last year, all I could think about was the Open Championship. But in the days, weeks and months following the last half of the 72nd hole and the subsequent playoff, it was all I could do to keep from thinking about it.

Because of my schedule, I’m not able to write my typical “Who Can Win, Who Won’t Win and Who Will Win” column this week for the Open. No big loss for you, especially afterI picked Greg Norman and Tom Watson to win the last two years, respectively.

In its place, though, I wanted to re-run a column I wrote about my experience during and after last year’s Open. It’s one of a series of “Visits with psychologist Dr. Kendall” columns I’ve written in an effort at cheap humor and intense sports psyche-dwelling.

Here’s my column that appeared last August, about a month after the 2009 Open Championship, with a few revisions:

Why I keep doing this I have no idea. It didn’t seem to resolve the Cubs’ infatuation two years ago. I still haven’t figured out exactly how I feel about steroids in baseball. And yet I’m still going back for more, ahem, treatment.

Deep breath. OK, let’s get the dog-and-pony show on the road. Open the door, sign in, flip through old magazines, wait an hour after the scheduled appointment time…

“Mr. Podlogar, so good to see you again. Dr. Kendall is waiting for you.”

Whoa, wait a minute. Last name pronounced correctly. Receptionist welcomes me at the door. Immediately sends me back. What is this?

He’s waiting for me? Seated comfortably in his chair, legs crossed, legal pad on his lap, pen in hand? Huh?

“Alex, Alex, come on in. Have a seat.”

“Um, gotta say, Doc, the service has been exemplary today. I’m a little flustered, I have to admit.”

“Well, you’re something of a rock star around here.”

“Rock star? You know, Doc, it’s kind of unsettling knowing the shrink is waiting with baited breath to see you.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You’re one of our most fascinating subjects, err, patients, um, people. Yeah, people.”

“Gee, Doc…”

“So what’s on your mind today, Alex? The Cubs’ exasperating season? The ridiculous freefall of Aramis Ramirez? Carlos Zambrano’s inability to do anything remotely sane, let alone get outs? Or is it Baseball’s glacier-like progress on instant replay? Maybe it’s LeBron’s decision. Is that it? Huh? Tell me. Tell me! I’m dying to know!”

“Well, those are all good points. Especially the Zambrano thing. But that’s not it.”

“Oh boy — it’s something new?”

“Gosh, Doc, can you back away from the edge of your seat there? A little close, don’t you think?”

“Sorry. Proceed.”

“I think I need to give up sports.”

“Wait. What?”

“I take them too seriously, Doc. You should’ve seen me last year. I was a total wreck. I could barely watch the final round of the British Open, settling instead for text message updates from a friend, some of them during church. And then when I did watch, as Tom Watson, my main man when I was growing up, was about to win at age 59, accomplishing something never before seen in sports, it all fell apart.”

“I see, Alex. It’s a classic case of jinxotic paranoia. You think that because you started watching, a bad thing happened to the person you were rooting for.”

“Well, not exactly — although I totally have that. Carlos Marmol walks the leadoff guy, I turn the TV. But it wasn’t that so much.”

“Oh?”

“It’s how I felt after the carnage of the playoff. I was heartbroken, crushed, devastated. Nothing could cheer me up. It happened halfway around the world, to a man I’ve never met, and I was destroyed. Even when it looked like he would win, I could barely watch. I was a nervous wreck. My wife thought it was the dumbest thing ever.”

“Wait a second. You’re married? Boy, would I love to talk to her.”

“Focus, Doc.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“Anyway, I felt horrible, and for days afterward. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t bring myself to watch SportsCenter because I didn’t want to hear about it, see the highlights or even read the results over and over again on the scroll at the bottom of the screen. No sports talk radio. I removed myself from sports for, like, three days.”

“Wow.”

“I know. My wife loved it.”

“Have you felt like this before?”

“Oh sure. When Steve Bartman happened.”

“The 2003 NLCS, right? The guy who got in the way of the foul ball in Game 6 against the Marlins. The bobbled double-play ball right after it. The eight-run inning and the collapse in Game 7 a day later.”

“OK, OK. Enough.”

“Why Watson?”

“He was my guy when I was a kid. My first on-TV golf memory is of the ’82 Open, when he chipped in on 17 at Pebble. My dad hated Watson ’cause he loved Nicklaus. So naturally, I dug Watson.”

“Ohhhhhhh. So you and your dad have issues, too, huh?”

“Nah. It was just one of those things. We get along great. Geez, Doc, I got enough going on without you trying to make stuff up.”

“Yeah, make stuff up. That’s what we do. That’s why you keep coming to me.”

“Sorry, sorry.”

“All right, so you feel like you take sports too seriously, that the outcomes of the teams or people you root for affect you too personally.”

“Precisely. So what do I do about it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Say again?

“I don’t know. You’re a sports writer, right? How do you put those feelings away when you’re covering a game?”

“That’s different. That’s work. You just dive into your job and be a professional.”

“Can’t you do that with this?”

“What, make sports work all the time? Where’s the fun in that?”

“Where’s the fun in how you’re watching sports now?”

“Good point.”

“Look, aren’t sports about the great unknown? That anything can happen in a single moment, something that maybe you’ve never seen before? Like those perfect games this year.”

“Yeah, those have been pretty fantastic.”

“Think about what Watson accomplished last week. Does the fact he wasn’t able to win make it any less amazing that he was able to contend to the very last moment in a major championship at 59? How about the grace with which he handled his defeat? Sports are what they are, Alex. A series of highs and lows, and the lower the lows, the higher and more satisfying the highs.”

“That’s what we Cubs fans keep telling ourselves, Doc.”

“Just enjoy the moments for what they are, or turn out to be. At the end of the day, who wins and loses doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

“C’mon, you really believe that?”

“Geez, I see we still have a lot of work to do. See you in October, then?”

“Not this year, Doc.”

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, British Open, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Golf, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald

The PODcast, July 13

http://media.podhoster.com/podlogar/2010.07.13-11.59.01-dedit.mp3″

In Part I, the guys go over George Steinbrenner’s varied legacy before unleashing an assault on LeBron James.

http://media.podhoster.com/podlogar/2010.07.13-12.30.00-d.mp3″

In Part II, the King James talk continues before a brief look at the British Open. And then, of course, it’s the legendary Sarda Segment. This week’s foes? Same as last week, which prompts Alex to try to wade through the misinformation. In the end, a rematch is discussed.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, British Open, Designated Hitter, Golf, Grace Christian, LeBron James, Major League Baseball, NBA, New York Yankees, PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson, Sports, Sports columns, The Podcast, The Sanford Herald, Tiger Woods, WDCC 90.5 FM, World Series

George Steinbrenner — on TV

A few of the memorable moments of George Steinbrenner on TV:

The Billy Martin commercial:

The Derek Jeter commercial

From 60 Minutes, in 1987

The 2008 All-Star Game appearance:

On “Seinfeld”, for real:

Bill Nack on The Boss:

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, New York Yankees, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald