Saturday, July 14, 2007

"They Died Old"--Vol. II

"The very heart of the ballpark, where it's at its weirdest, is down under the stands...The mixture of people, strange places and things, resembles a drive-in flea market taking place at the same time with a world ethnic food festival...Aisleways of all different sizes, some no wider than four fat people walking abreast, force folks to cram together...Pickpockets must have a field day...Junk clutters it...Paper cups, All-Star ballots from God knows what year lie ground into the floor..."

I borrowed the above quotation from one of my all-time favorite books, Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks by Bob Wood, which chronicled his 1985 trek across America to visit each and every Major League Baseball stadium, and his entry on Chicago's Comiskey Park is one of the best chapters in the book.  From the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal to the 1979 "Disco Demolition", the original Comiskey Park had quite possibly the wackiest history of any ballpark in baseball, wackier than even venerable Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.  Built in 1910 by owner Charles Comiskey, the park was home to some of the craziest shit the grand ol' game has ever witnessed during its 81 seasons of existence.

The "Old Roman", Mr. Comiskey spared no expense on building the stadium, but was a total skin-flint when it came to paying his players, hence the player revolt that led to "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and the boys throwing the 1919 World Series vs. the Reds (chronicled in the fine film Eight Men Out, starring John Cusack and Charlie Sheen).  The White Sox didn't return to the Fall Classic until 40 year later during the "Go-Go Sox" era and lost to the L.A. Dodgers 4 game to 2 in the 1959 World Series, during which outfielder Al Smith received a beer shower (Old Style, I presume).  The park's other big moment in the sun was when it hosted the very first Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1933.  Also known as White Sox Park during the '60s and '70s, Comiskey Park I at one time featured the heinous combination of an Astroturf infield and grass outfield (visible in the top photo) during the early '70s, and also served as home field to the NFL's Chicago Cardinals until they moved to St. Louis in 1960.
Things got really fun when Bill Veeck (as in "Wreck") bought the team in '59 and installed the park's trademark, the exploding scoreboard, replete with pinwheels and fireworks that went off after each White Sox home run.  Never afraid to try any gimmick, Veeck even employed aliens (legal ones!) on his ground crew.  He sold the team after just two years, then bought it again in 1975 (after they nearly left town), and that's when the insanity truly began...

Veeck would try practically anything to put fannies in the seats, so nothing was too outrageous on the South Side.  Ever the baseball purist, Veeck immediately chucked the Astroturf infield for the 1976 season, and outfitted the team in baggy turn-of-the-century retro uniforms.  He also took the waredrobe alteration a step further by having the Sox wear shorts during selected home games.  Upon seeing the players wearing them for the first time, former K.C. Royals first baseman John Mayberry smirked, "You guys are the sweetest team we've seen yet!"  Veeck didn't stop there—he installed a shower in the center field bleachers where fans could cool off during hot summer afternoons, and you could also get a haircut from a professional barber (for free, I think) in said bleachers.  All the while, you had Hall of Famer Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" from the broadcast booth during the 7th inning stretch, and his radio partnership with borderline psychotic Jimmy Piersall was the stuff of urban legends.

Veeck's legacy is synonymous with his biggest promotion that backfired—the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" on July 12, 1979.  Chicago DJ Steve Dahl conducted the ceremony between games of a doubleheader between the Sox and Detroit Tigers.  Fans could get in the park for a mere 98 cents (Dahl's FM radio station frequency) if they presented a disco record, which coincidentally made a damn good frisbee, and they were flying like foul balls throughout the first game.  During's Dahl's between-game ceremony, a crate full of disco records was blown to smithereens, thus setting off a full-fledged riot as fans overtook the field and tore the place apart.  The White Sox wound up forfeiting game two of the doubleheader.  Long live Rock, indeed!!

No account of old Comiskey Park would be complete without mentioning the First Lady of Chicago, organist Nancy Faust. This gal can play just about anything—Jazz, Rock, Country, Gospel, Polkas, the Mickey Mouse theme, whatever—Nancy is very beloved on the South Side, and she helped make "Na Na, Hey, Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" the penultimate "Turn Out The Lights" song at any sports stadium, and she still plays for the Sox today at U.S. Cellblock—er uh—Cellular Field.

I visited the old park at 35th & Shields twice, first in 1985 and again during the stadium's final season in 1990.  Mr. Wood's account of the unkempt-ness of the park in the opening paragraph above was pretty darn accurate, but I loved it anyway.  It was a taste of a by-gone era for me, and I got a kick out of how quirky this place was.  The picnic area under the left field stands was so aromatic from the burgers being grilled, and I'd never been that close to a left fielder during an actual game before.  I loved the zig-zag ramps that ran behind the exploding scoreboard too, and I remember ashes from the fireworks fallout after a Sox dinger landing on us in the right field stands.  The layout of this stadium was goofy as all get-out too—pillars in the middle of the concourse that seemed to serve no useful purpose, hallways that led to nothing, and I remember this one soda/popcorn stand that was carved into upper deck stands on the first base side in which the poor concessionaires literally could not stand straight up—the Hunchback of Notre Dame woulda loved it!  The old seats at Comiskey were harder than marble too, and I couldn't believe how bad the sightlines were in the seats down the foul lines—you literally had to turn your head at a 45º angle to see home plate!  I'll also never forget the sound a Carlton Fisk batting practice home run made when it struck the metal beam on the front of the left field upper deck stands—it sounded exactly like the climactic gong at the end of the Moody Blues' "Nights In White Satin"!

As twilight set in on Old Comiskey Park, so did senility, and as goofy and crazy and beloved as the place was, it had to be replaced, or its prime tenant would have become the Tampa Bay White Sox in 1989.  Almost too late, the Illinois legislature okayed funds at the 11th hour to build Comiskey Park II right nextdoor.  For reasons that are unclear to this day, the stadium designers opted to aim the new park away from the famous downtown Chicago skyline and instead give Sox fans a lovely view of the ghetto!  From an upper deck seat with a decent pair of binoculars at the rather antiseptic new park (which opened in 1991), one could easily catch a glimpse of Thelma and J.J. from "Good Times" having yet another argument in the Projects across the Dan Ryan Expressway!  The White Sox partially realized the error of their ways a couple years ago and made some very nice cosmetic changes to Comiskey II, including lopping off the top five rows of the veritgo-inducing upper deck and replacing them with an old-school ballpark roof.  They did succumb to corporate gluttony by changing the name to U.S. Cellular Field, but considering that Charles Comiskey was a complete and total dickhead anyway, in this case I'll waive my usual disdain for corporate stadium names.  And great day in the morning—the White Sox won the freakin' World Series in 2005, too!

The old joint had one last moment of grandeur, as a scene from the John Candy/Ally Sheedy film Only The Lonely (as in the classic Roy Orbison tune) was filmed there following the 1990 season, and the exploding scoreboard put on one last show.  Sadly, like a relative dying of old age, old Comiskey Park was slowly demolished in 1991.  It would have been more fitting to just detonate the place (just like those Disco records in 1979), with a climactic barrage of pyro from the scoreboard, which could have literally exploded for the finale.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hey! Hey! Hey!

...IT'S COS'S BIRTHDAY TODAY!Can you believe Bill Cosby turned 70 today?  His b-day is easy to remember from one of his classic routines from the ‘60s:  "July 12th—my birthday…it was 104 degrees—in the shade. Not a snowball in sight…"  Sadly, the man has become rather aloof in his later years—now he’s MISTER Cosby instead of just plain Bill like he used to be.  Although I certainly don’t disagree with his "crusade" about changing certain elements of Black culture, etc., he’s become too professorial and jaded for my liking.  Some of it is certainly understandable—losing his only son the way he did would make anyone bitter.  I wish he’d at least lose those damn Ray Charles sunglasses he always wears nowadays—as brother Russell would say, "NO class!"

But let’s not forget that this man was brilliantly funny at one time, and he’s right up there with George Carlin and Richard Pryor as one of my all-time favorite stand-up comedians and he's far and away the best comedic storyteller of all-time.  I have just about every last one of his albums from the ‘60s and early ‘70s memorized verbatim, and "Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids" cracked me up when I was a kid.  It was one of the better animated kids’ shows of all-time because it managed to be funny and teach a lesson at the same time without losing its cool and getting preachy, and I'd like to think I'm a better person for having watched it.  "The Cosby Show" had its moments too, but I grew rather tired of the overall tone of that show over time because it got too heavy-handed and message-y—a prime example being pompous symbolic Black consciousness crap like naming the twins "Nelson" and "Winnie".

We can forgive all that though, because you have to admit that Cosby’s overall contribution to the world of comedy is pretty darn "o-bee kay-bee".

I just can’t help but point out the disingenuousness of Johnson County D.A. Phill Kline even considering seeking the death penalty for the punk accused of killing Kelsey Smith.  For the uninitiated out there, Mr. Kline (for whom one ‘l’ apparently isn’t enough to spell "Phil") is the over-zealous anti-abortion former Kansas Attorney General who tried to circumvent female patients’ privacy rights in order to go after certain abortion doctors in the Land of Oz.

Funny, but I thought conservatives were so dead set against "activists" in the legal profession…

SHE DIED AGAIN?!?Former President Lyndon Johnson’s wife Lady Bird died yesterday at age 94.  Not to make fun, but I honestly thought the former First Lady Bird was already dead!  Hell, LBJ died what, 34 and a half years ago?  I figured she had died a long time ago, but she still missed Bess Truman’s all-time record for longest-living First Lady by about three years.

"Night Moves"—BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND (1976)  My ears totally butchered this song when it first came out.  "Tight pants points hardly reknown."  I thought they were "Hollowing out".  "We were just young and restless and bored/Living by the sword…" sounded more like "And everybody saw…"  "We weren’t searching for some pie-in-the-sky summit."  Summit sounded like "Something". Dammit Seger, enunciate, will ya!

The NHL is kicking around the idea of staging another outdoor regular season hockey game, this time at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year’s Day.  Great idea, unless you want TV viewers to actually watch the game!  Memo to NHL:  January 1st is wall-to-wall college football bowl games—why not schedule the outdoor game for that misbegotten weekend prior to the Super Bowl when there’s nothing but poker games and spelling bees on sports TV?

I keep forgetting to comment on that silly Hot Dog Eating contest they held last week on the 4th.  Just like this current Ultimate Fighting Champion fad crap, this thing will continue to grow in popularity until somebody dies while doing it, which is only a matter of time.  As for eating contests, I say make it a challenge.  Instead of competitively eating something tasty, why not hold a fruitcake eating contest?  Anyone who can get all the way through one fruitcake would be the champion!

Monday, July 9, 2007

It's been a Hard Blog's Night...

…at Coors Field in Denver yesterday, when the Rockies-Phillies game was rather rudely interrupted by a violent little storm that overcame the ballpark so fast that the ground crew struggled to get the tarp down on the field.  One poor guy (long about the 4:00-mark of the above video clip) gave new meaning to the term "dragging the infield" by hanging on to the tarp for dear life.  It got so bad that even the Philadelphia players and the umpires came out to lend a hand, and it was rather comical to watch.  And in typical Colorado weather fashion, an hour later it was bright and sunny again, and they were able to finish the game.

In a semi-related story, an afternoon rainstorm on the 4th of July put the kibosh on the Kansas City Royals' super-megawatt postgame fireworks display which they had heavily promoted.  The weather cleared out in plenty of time to get the game in, but even though the display apparatus was covered before it rained, moisture literally short-circuited some of its electronic boards and the show was no-go.  To their ultimate credit, the Royals immediately sought to make good on it by giving out vouchers to those in attendance for a free ticket to another home game, but that didn’t stop the local über-whiners from bitching up a storm (pun intended) about the whole thing.  Sample the following from one letter-writing pyrotechnics expert in today's K.C. Star:

"Were the Royals so incompetent that they hired a company that couldn’t cover the fireworks or work to solve the problem during the game?  The paper reported that a power failure caused the problem…Whatever happened to just using a match?  Our Fourth of July memories were ruined, and even with the extra game ticket, we won’t return."

Ruined?!?  Oh, GET OVER IT, already!!!  As if this is the only time the Royals do fireworks?  They do fucking fireworks after every Friday night home game, for crimeny's sake!  As if no one else in K.C. had a fireworks display (for free, unlike the Royals game) on the 4th?  People like her are just the kind I want to run over with my car (repeatedly).  This letter writer’s address was Shawnee, KS, so I’m not at all surprised that it came from a whiny Johnson Countian.  This bloody idiot had plenty of time to hop in her Hummer and drive about five minutes north of the stadium and see Worlds of Fun’s fireworks display, which is perennially one of the best in the city.  Failing that, she could’ve driven ten minutes to my street in Raytown and seen plenty of pyro for well over two hours—and people using matches, to boot!  And good gravy, the Royals did the best they could under the circumstances by trying to make amends, and I applaud them for it, so if you don’t want your free ticket, lady, then give it to me!

According to Rudy Giuliani, "When I left, it (New York) was the safest large city in America.  I reduced homicides by 67 percent.  I reduced overall crime by 57 percent."  Yes, Rudy, I respect you for the way you handled 9/11, and those statistics may in fact be true, but if you have the balls to take full credit for single-handedly accomplishing all that, then you’re just a tad too big for your britches there, bud.  Now, if you'd used the word "we" in place of "I", then I might be a bit more inclined to listen to you…

Seems that in spite of having no practical political experience whatsoever, anti-war rabble rouser Cindy Sheehan is now threatening to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 unless Pelosi gets the ball rolling on impeaching Dubya in the next two weeks.  Hmmm, I thought Sheehan said she was done with all her protesting and such.  Not that I disagree with her original cause—let alone the idea of impeaching Dubya—but now I think maybe her detractors were right about her after all.  Sheehan has obviously become addicted to being a celebrity and has turned into a publicity hound and spotlight junkie, not unlike Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and their ilk.  I’m sorry she lost her son in the war, but now her protests are starting to ring hollow and phony with me, and she sounds every bit like the radical liberal wingnut that Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, et al, accused her of being.

…what exactly did this weekend’s Live Earth concert series accomplish, other than to feed Al Gore’s ego?  What’s the bet most of the Live Earth performers (and Big Al) arrived at the venues in gas-guzzling limousines, eh?  It’s a safe bet that many of them drive Hummers, too.  Not that I have anything against the environment or looking for energy alternatives and all, but I’m so sick of this current phony "go green" crappola with all these celebrities and corporations jumping on this political bandwagon simply because it’s so fashionable now.  I’m not buying their sincerity any more than I’m buying Wal-Mart’s claims in their commercials that "if X-number of Americans bought our tank tops each year, then the rain forests would be saved."  Okay, I’m being facetious with that last bit, but that’s how it all comes across to me—pure hooey!

WORLD’S DUMBEST SONG LYRICS—Vol. VIA few more that I dug up…
"You’re All I Need"—MOTLEY CRUE (1987)  "I loved you so I set you free...I had to take your life."  Yeah right, Vince, Nikki, whoever—that makes a whole lotta sense.  This might’ve been an even bigger hit than "Home Sweet Home" if it weren’t for such empty-headed lyrics and macho bullshit violent imagery.  What a waste of a great backing track for a power ballad, too...

"For A Rocker"—JACKSON BROWNE (1984)  "I’ve got a shirt so unbelievably right…I’m gonna take it out and wear it tonight for a Rocker!"  Gee, one can only hope the Rocker was totally overwhelmed by J.B.’s choice of waredrobe!  "Don’t have to feed ‘em—they don’t eat. They got their power supplies in the soles of their feet…"  Huh?  Exactly what kind of mutant creatures did they invite to this party?  They sound like the Cantina Bar cretins in Star Wars to me…
"Long Stick Goes Boom"--KROKUS (1981)  The title alone is so asinine here, I won't even bother with the lyrics.
"Kids In America"--KIM WILDE (1982)  "New York to East California..."  East California?  What, did Lake Tahoe secede from the Union?  Whoever wrote this song needs to brush up on his/her American geography."Beatin’ The Odds"—MOLLY HATCHET (1980)  "And when it all was over, we won it in the end."  Yet another entry from the Department of Redundancy Department…