Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mail bonding

Digging into the email bag for your Lists of 5, insults to my manhood, and other correspondence . . .

FROM PATS37: I can't really argue with your list of the five best Pats of all time, but personally I'd put Stanley Morgan on there ahead of Ty Law.

And I can't really argue with that suggestion. While Law's contributions to two Super Bowl victories earned him my nod - he's truly a Clutch Cornerback, if there is such a thing, and I think Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning would both say there is - it certainly bothers me that Morgan's place in history isn't more appreciated. A few years ago, I wrote a column for the Monitor regarding the most overlooked athletes in modern Boston history. Morgan, who played 13 seasons (1977-'89) in New England and caught 557 passes for 10,716 yards (a 19.2 average) and 76 touchdowns, was my choice from the Patriots. Turns out that sometimes I overlook him, too. - CF

FROM BEN S. Great call on "Prophet of the Sandlots." I actually contacted the author, Mark Winegardner, last year to ask what else he'd written and why his book was never made into a movie. He no longer writes non-fiction and is actually one of the country's leading fiction writers (he was chosen to write the last "Godfather" book) . . . The book moved me. I read it in 1992 and still think about it.

I know where you're coming from. I've probably read Prophet five times myself, so I guess I could say it moved me, too. It doesn't hurt that a couple of players who played for my beloved Maine Guides are fairly prominent in the book, including longtime major leaguer Scott Service, whose call-up to the big leagues is documented on a rainy day during the Guides/Phillies final season in Maine. FYI, Winegardner contributed to one other outstanding baseball book, too - he assisted fellow Bryan, Ohio native and baseball journeyman Steve Fireovid in writing "The 26th Man," an engaging account of his less-than-glamorous life as a pitcher who never could quite stick in the big leagues.

FROM BEN F. I know you get a ton of emails contesting some of your lists, but regarding Best Books, I'm not sure if you've ever read "Friday Night Lights" by Buzz Bissinger, but to me that was the most outstanding sports book I've ever read (the movie was less than mediocre by comparison). I'm not saying you're doing society a disservice by leaving it off, but not having it on there makes me wonder if you've had the chance to read it yet. If not, I highly recommend it, and a high recommendation coming from a complete stranger is right up there with being blessed by the pope. You heard it here first.

Read it, and it truly was a phenomenal accomplishment of writing and reporting. A simple oversight on my part. I'm not a smart man.

FROM MT: You should do a list of your "5 Favorite Manny Moments" . . . actually this may turn into like a Top 100 thing if you think hard enough. I know five from 2004 alone:

1) His infamous "I believe you make your own destination" comment after the World Series in 2004 when he was getting his WS MVP trophy. Where did that come from? Suddenly he's a philosopher?
2) The Olympia Sports ad from 2004 . . . or if I just had to pick one single moment, the face he made at the end which made me burst out in laughter at 3 a.m.
3) His catch at Yankee Stadium, robbing Miguel Cairo of a HR, and his whole "double pointing" to him after he realized he was out. That was great
4) The Spring Training impromptu press conference where Kevin Millar served as "translator."
5) Manny giving his extra Game 4 of the WS tickets to some waitress at a Denny's. I forgot where I read that, but I don't doubt it for a minute.

We could do an entire Manny edition of Lists of Five. His biggest gaffes, most awe-inspiring homers, best/worst hairdos, biggest blunders, five favorite clubhouse babysitters, biggest clutch hits, etc. Man, I do love that goofy doofus/savant. Now, like the rest of New England (excluding you nitwits who think the Sox would better off with nine Trot Nixons), I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping he reports. When Gammons makes cracks about Manny retiring to live in the Brazilian rain forest, I worry that it's not meant as tongue-in-cheek as I read it. With Manny, anything's possible. Which reminds me . . .

FROM CHRIS K.: I see Gammons linked to your site on his Reading List off his new blog on ESPN. Congrats, dude. All your pathetic sucking up and name-dropping paid off!"

Um . . . thanks? (Now brace yourself for more sucking up and name-dropping, smart guy.) Getting an unsolicited plug from Gammons is about the coolest thing that can happen to a relatively obscure sportswriter/blogger/chimp with a keyboard. It's not quite the equivalent of, say, Bono showing up at the farewell party for a music writer. But's it's damn close from this perspective.

FROM HANS S., my friend and former colleague at the Monitor: i know you haven't forgotten that kevin romine hit the walkoff home run that began morgan magic, one of the most pleasurable times ever to have been a sox fan. couldn't some other fourth-rate outfielder have been first on your list?

Uh . . . actually . . . ahem . . I did forget. (Bowing my head in shame.) For some reason, I thought it was the immortal Todd Benzinger who hit that homer, but I was confusing it with a game-winning homer Benzinger hit later on during the Sox's incredible 24-game home winning streak that propelled them to the '88 AL East title. All right, I'll lay off Romine. Let's put Steve "Psycho" Lyons on the list instead. The Eric Byrnes of his time - decent tools, no instincts, lots of false hustle - played for the Sox four times. Or about three times too many.

FROM MIKE L., a heck of a clever writer and a TATB-approved practitioner of the sincerest form of flattery: Love the lists of five. Agree with most of your choices, too, though,I would buy the new Jack Johnson CD (Curious George sdtrk) and then see if one of those tunes makes the list.

Actually, my wife beat me to the punch, and while we were waiting for it to arrive from Amazon, I couldn't help but download the relentlessly catchy first single, Upside Down, from iTunes. Definitely has top five potential. My daughter already loves it, requesting it as the "monkey song." Why, yes, she is adorable, isn't she?

FROM JOE IN NYC: I don't get the fascination with Jenna Fischer. I love The Office and Pam's a well-drawn character like you said, but "ridiculously hot?" She doesn't look too great to these eyes.

Sincerely, Stevie Wonder.

FROM CHRIS B. "Dancing Queen"? You like "Dancing Queen"? Who are you really, Johnny Weir?

For the record, my daughter likes "Dancing Queen." I'm more of a "Chiquiquita" guy, with a little "Take A Chance On Me" mixed in to keep it fresh. And no, I'm not Johnny Weir, and I don't wear sequined skin-tight cougar-print shirts and call myself "princessy," at least not when my wife is home. I'm actually Dick Button. (Now let's see if "Dick Button" slips past the Blogger censors . . . )

FROM BRIAN M.: Stick to sports, Finn. Don't get all pop-cultury and turn into Bill Simmons, 'kay?

Funny you should say that. I was talking to my buddy C-Rab today on the phone while watching my "Just One of the Guys" VHS with my pals Jimmy and Adam, and C-Rab was saying he thinks of me as a combination of Pat Morita in "The Karate Kid" and Michael J. Fox in "Teen Wolf," with the columnist's inspiration obviously coming from Garbrielle Carteris in "90210." So, see, I'm nothing like Bill Simmons at all. (Oh. Right. Crap.) In all seriousness, we've been getting this comparison more and more as the site's readership grows, and while I accept the comparison reluctantly - I'd like to think my work stands on its own, since I've been a practicing columnist/blogger for almost 10 years - I generally take it as a compliment because, well, generally it's meant that way. I've enjoyed Simmons's writing dating back to his Digital Cities days, and I'm not one of those people who begrudges him his success or yelps that he mails it in nowadays; he created a niche, was ahead of the game in terms of utilizing the word-of-mouth power of the Internet, has a truly unique and entertaining writing style, worked his butt off, and he deserves every penny and plaudit that comes to him. On the other hand, I like to think I have considerably more respect for the journalism profession than he does, I'm not a fan of people who burn bridges for petty reasons, and I'm not quite sure what to make of the fact that he comes across as remarkably self-congratulatory and even arrogant every time I read a profile of him. A little graciousness is never a bad thing, no matter how successful you are or how many people tried to hold you down. So that's where I stand on that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll now go light myself on fire. (What? That catchphrase is taken? Simmons? Really? Damn it all.)

FROM MIKE B: Five Red Sox related articles:

1) "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" by Updike (New Yorker 1961)

2) "Day of Light and Shadow" by Jonathan Schwartz (SI 1979),

3) Gammons' game account in the Globe after Game 6 in '75

4) Roger Angell's New Yorker columns after '67, '75 & '78. ( Angell revealed in the '78 one that he was rooting for the Sox. When asked what he thought Yankee fans might say to him about that he replied "Yankee fans don't read." I always loved that line.)

5) Thomas Boswell's Washington Post columns in October, 2004 on the baseball playoffs and World Series.

GREAT list. The Gammons and Updike stories are legendary, and you can still find them in various places, including The Red Sox Reader. I'm not familiar with Schwartz's SI piece, but I will be. Angell is Angell, baseball's preeminent essayist, and his fastball was unhittable in the '70s. And I'm really glad you mentioned Boswell - his stuff in '03 and '04 was far and away the best among any national writer not based in Boston, a joy to read not only for his way with words, but his clear-headed perspective of what happened. He just plain gets the Red Sox and their fans, and I wasn't surprised to learn he graduated from Amherst and spent some quality time at Fenway. Boswell is not one to deal in tired cliches, and I can't recommend his compilations of baseball columns and features (including the currently appropriate "Why Time Begins On Opening Day") highly enough.

FROM SHAUN K: "Top Five Fan Rooting Sections:"

The Gallery Gods
Conig's Corner
The Bird's Nest
Mosi's Mooses
Pedro's K Korner

What, no love for Ricky Davis's Get Buckets brigade? Or Derek Lowe's Lower Box O' One-Night Stands? Geez, no respect.

FROM SCOTT S. You should have your iPod repossessed. Your daughter has better taste in music than you.

Andy Gibb here begs to differ. Wait . . . Andy Gibb would beg to differ, if soulless monsters like you, Victoria Principal and his 327 cocaine dealers hadn't ruined him. You killed the music, my friend. You.

And finally, FROM STEVE R., smoothly segueing us into baseball season : Here are 5 things to look for once camp opens this weekend:

1. Someone (probably Schilling) will be described in the papers as being "in the best shape of his life". It never fails that someone is described this way.

2. Someone will also be described as having "added 10 or 15 pounds of muscle". This has often been used to describe various players over the years (Fred Lynn, Derek Lowe, Pedro). After reading Gordon Edes's piece I think it is safe to say that Kevin Youkilis will not be the one who added the muscle. He not only shares his predecessors first name and stat projections, but body type as well. Count me among those who is not a fan of Youkilis. I think he's a stopgap for this year, maybe even the first half of the season only. If he was never mentioned in that Billy Beane 'Moneyball' book he would be viewed as nothing more than a fringe MLB player, at best.

3. The first time Wakefield gets shelled the nitwits on WEEI will go into one of their patented close-minded witch hunts and claim that not having Doug Mirabelli was the cause and not having him around will be a problem for Wakefield. Please. Wakefield is your typical hot-cold pitcher. He can be a world beater for a couple of starts and then he serves up more gopher balls than a Juggs machine in three or four following starts.

4. It will be headline news when Manny reports. As if he's never reported on time? Leave the guy alone and watch him go .300-40-135.

5. There will be endless talk of the Red Sox pitching depth. I seem to recall last year that we were raving about their pitching depth. That depth included and implied the likes of John Halama and Wade Miller and they were both gone by July. You can never have enough quality pitching so I would do whatever it took to convince Wells to hang around because someone - Beckett, Schilling, Wakefield, Clement, Arroyo - will go through a period of either injury or ineffectiveness. I have more confidence in Papelbon than any of them.

Agreed, agreed, agreed, agreed and agreed (though I think Beckett could win 20+ games). And I can't wait to find out if we're right or wrong. This winter is one Shelly Duval appearance from turning me into Nicholson in "The Shining." Something tells me the first time I hear "Play ball," or better, the beautifully raspy three-pack-a-day tones of Jerry Remy, all will be well again.

Thanks for checking in, remember to click to Google ads, and keep the mailbag full. Should have a new Nine Innings column posted Sunday/Monday.

Out like A-Rod in the clutch,


Update, 1:23 a.m. Tuesday: Sorry, no post tonight. I'd like to claim I was pounding wine coolers at the Houston Four Seasons while ogling MJ and Charles Oakley, but the boring truth is I had to paint my office and my daughter's room tonight and the fumes have made me higher than Ricky Williams. I'll try and crank something out this afternoon or late, late tonight. Now excuse me while I do my yoga.