Win Win

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It’s a beautiful fall day as I sit down to type out a few words on my smartphone. Blogging gives me a chance to spend a few minutes getting thoughts down, before the moment changes and the feelings are lost. and this is a moment that I want to preserve in some manner.

The arrival of fall brings football season, and my alma mater, the Northwestern Wildcats, are playing well. They’re ranked number 17 in the polls, which is a validation of their play by those people who have accorded themselves the right to judge such things. Where this season will end up is a mystery, but I’m looking forward to tonight’s game against Ball State in a way that I wouldn’t normally do. As the philosopher Pete Rose puts it, the burgers taste better when you win.

The Chicago Cubs, that other great sporting interest of mine, have clinched a wild card spot, and there will be playoff baseball here for the first time in a while. I hope they will finally get to the World Series and win it, but that remains to be seen, as well.

But what’s really great is that these two sports teams that rarely win are doing so at the same time. Rarely do I get to enjoy one team or the other winning on a regular basis, and never have both been successful at the same time. It’s a vortex of success, and I’m not complaining about it one little bit. Well, maybe a younger and more handsome dude than I could be sporting the teams’ gear in the picture above. But I’ll take what’s come along and enjoy it while it lasts.

Back to Baker Street

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I had a dentist’s appointment tonight, and when I went into the room to sit in the chair, I heard the familiar saxophone line of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. It’s as recognizable as any hook that’s ever been recorded, and I enjoyed hearing it again. But it also took me back to the last time I heard it, on a snowy day in early February of this year.

I had read that the new set of 2013 baseball cards was out, and since it was snowy and cold, I stopped at a place that sold them to remind myself of spring. And an observation I made led to a story that got published online and in print, and then it bounced all over cyberspace for 24 hours, and then it went away. But hearing the song reminded me of a connection that I initially made with Baker Street, and I wanted to share it here.

I made the point that baseball cards that refuse to acknowledge Pete Rose felt wrong to me. It seemed as if someone was trying to remove the saxophone solo from Baker Street. It wouldn’t be the same song that everyone recognizes the second they hear those notes. Baseball cards and Pete Rose went together for me back in 1978, and probably for thousands of other kids just like me.

So the Topps company decided to tell everyone that someone got 4,256 hits in his baseball career, but that someone must remain nameless. I thought it was dumb then, and I still think it’s dumb now. Pete Rose is as essential as the saxophone notes to Baker Street, as far as I’m concerned. And hearing that song will probably always remind me of this.

Link to a post on ThroughTheFenceBaseball

Last night, as baseball’s All-Star game was going on, I found myself returning to the subject of Pete Rose. A comment that was made by announcer Tim McCarver, about incident involving Rose in an All-Star game from 1970, got my dander up. I turned to writing, as I often do, as a way of sorting through my feelings on the matter. Here’s the result.

Onward to the second half of the season!

Submitted for the Cubs’ consideration

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Dear Chicago Cubs,

I welcome the news that you will be turning away from random celebrities, in favor of giving the seventh-inning stretch more of a Chicago feel. To honor your decision, I want to kick off a campaign to secure myself an invite for one of the celebrity-vacated spots, for the 2013 season or whenever you see your way clear to inviting me.

To set forth some credentials, I offer the following: I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was seven years old. I wrote about my Cubs conversion, and have chronicled many other Cubs-related memories in this space, as well.

In addition, I also write about the Cubs for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and would be happy to relate my experiences to that site and its readers. I also write for ChicagoSideSports, and what a story that would be for them, as well. I have several ideas to write about for them, but I promise that no other piece would matter until that story is told.

I feel, on some level, that I’ve helped to diagnose one of the problems plaguing the Cubs in the quest to win at Wrigley Field. Last year,  I wrote a piece about how Bruce Springsteen has brought success to the Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox, after he played a concert in their home stadium. That piece ran in TimeOutChicago, and I was very glad to see it. But I also took it one step further on my blog.

I pointed out that Bruce Springsteen’s 2003 concerts at Fenway Park seemed to clear the way for the Red Sox to finally break their curse/drought/whatever in 2004. I looked at the playlists for those shows, and identified The Promised Land as a song that speaks of faith in someplace that hasn’t yet been seen. I theorized that if Bruce could play The Promised Land at Wrigley Field last summer, perhaps that would be enough to break whatever’s been afflicting the Cubs for so long. Nobody can say that Boston won for that reason in 2004, but nobody can say that they didn’t, either.

I went to the first Springsteen show at Wrigley last year, and even though I didn’t hear the Promised Land, it was a phenomenal show. I also picked up on a hidden Ron Santo tribute during the show, wrote about it, and sent it off to Jon Eig, the editor at ChicagoSideSports. He got the piece up on the site in time for others to read about it before the second Springsteen show, and this time, when My City of Ruins was played, I have to believe at least some at the show knew what was going on. Bruce even called the fans’ attention to it, in a way that he didn’t do at the first show. I can’t say I had a role in any of that, but again, I put the story out there and events played out as they did.

The second Springsteen show led off with The Promised Land, and I took to my blog the next morning and declared victory. I’m not foolish enough to take credit for the song actually being played. But I did lay down a marker that if anything good comes from it, I want it known that I pointed this out before the fact.

In the wake of the Ron Santo piece, I also wrote a Kerry Wood piece for ChicagoSide, and a Ryan Freel piece, and the Pete Rose piece that took off in ways I never imagined, and has helped lead to an evaluation of whether Rose has suffered enough for what he did. All of which has been very gratifying, and has put my words and ideas into the minds and on the tongues of many people.

I’m no celebrity, and I never will be, either. I’m just a dedicated Chicagoan who loves the Cubs like nothing else, short of my own family. My Twitter page, my blog site, my Tumblr page, and my Pinterest account all verify my devotion to the team, and my Facebook banner leaves no doubt as to my thoughts about baseball itself. And if that doesn’t merit even a bit of consideration for a singing gig at Wrigley Field, so be it. Just having the chance to type all of this up was interesting enough.

Thanks for the consideration.

Rob Harris

Kate Upton and me (sort of)

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Trending on Yahoo is something that I have never done before the last couple of days. And, truthfully, I wasn’t trending at all. The “Pete Rose erased” story, which grew out of this piece for ChicagoSideSports and in the Chicago Sun-Times, was doing the trending. But I started it all off, and if that story appears next to a picture of Kate Upton, I won’t complain about that one little bit.

My 15 minutes

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What an interesting day this has been. A month ago, on January 13, I speculated that the first “double 13” of the year was an ominous thing, and there were still eleven more of them to go. Well, today was the second “double 13” of the year (and in our lifetimes), and I won’t soon forget it.

The Pete Rose piece that I wrote for ChicagoSideSports went viral, and has been picked up by many news outlets. I’ve seen my name in hyperlinks for the first time, and seem my name tagged in stories too. I’ve created lots and lots and lots of hyperlinks and tags in the time I’ve been writing this blog, so to imagine anyone doing the same with my name is humbling, to say the very least.

It’s also been very disappointing to see the vitriol that’s been thrown at me. I have thick skin, and there isn’t a name somebody can throw at me that I haven’t already been called at some other point in my life. So no worries there.

The anonymity of the internet leads people to believe they can say whatever they want about someone they don’t know and will never meet. And it turns out they can, sad to say. I don’t have the time or the temperament to seek out those who want to throw stones my way. If knocking me or a piece I wrote down makes them feel better, then I’m glad I could help them out in some way. And I’m glad I don’t have to live the life they do, either.

I did contact Topps for a comment about the piece, and if it was MLB’s decision–and not Topps’–to leave Rose’s name off of the cards, they had a chance to tell me that. The decision to use the Career Chase in the first place was probably Topps’ and not MLB’s. But the decision to tell me how many hits Starlin Castro–or any player who had their career hits total highlighted in this fashion–has was probably Topps’ call to make. By bringing hits into it, and thus leaving Rose out, Topps created this mess. They should have seen this coming when they did what they did.

I’m conflicted about Topps, since they have been on the receiving end of a lot of nasty comments about their decision. But then again, the amount of attention they are getting right now probably dwarfs what they usually get. As Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton will attest, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

It’s been quite a day, that’s for sure. It will probably be a long time before there’s another one like it. Or maybe another day is coming up in 28 days, when the next “Double 13” is upon us. I’ll find out soon enough.

Link to a ThroughTheFenceBaseball piece

I wrote this piece last night, and coined the term “#KickAstros” to describe the Cubs potentially sweeping the Houston Astros in the final three games of the season.

It’s ironic that all year I’ve talked about the Double Triple concept that I created a year ago, and now, just when people are starting to make their peace with it, I pull back and want them to win instead. I’m a fan, first, last, and always. Like Pete Rose told me once, “the burgers taste better when you win.”

So I’m looking forward to some tasty burgers for the next couple of days. After all, there’s a long, burgerless offseason up ahead.

The burgers taste better when you win

That bit of wisdom in the title was imparted to me by Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader in major league history. He would know about this, because he also played in more winning ballgames than any other baseball player. And since baseball games have been played for well over a century, that means a lot.

Over the course of three days in April of 2002, I played five baseball games at a fantasy baseball camp in Florida. Considering that I hadn’t done that since I was in grade school, I think it went pretty well, too. The highlight for me was a fleeting moment that happened during one of the games.

I had come up to bat with a runner on second base and nobody out. I wanted to get a hit somewhere and drive the run home, but I hit a slow ground ball to second base instead. The second baseman fielded it, made a throw to first base, and I was retired.

As I ran back to the bench, dejected that I didn’t achieve my goal, I got a fist bump and a “nice job” from Pete Rose, who happened to be observing the game. It didn’t compute right away, but as I went and sat down, I figured out the reason.

Pete Rose understood, in a way that I did not, that I had still helped my team out. By grounding out to second, the runner on base was able to take third base with less than two outs. I don’t remember whether the runner scored or not, but the point had been made: advancing a runner leads to runs, which leads to victories and–as I have learned–tastier burgers as well.

Getting autographs

Thanks to reader Jeff, who indicated that he wanted to hear something about Billy Williams. As a White Sox fan, I doubt he wants one of the Cubs mini helmets I referenced in an earlier post. But I’ll send some Sox-related swag his way, instead.

When I was a kid, I had no problems asking baseball players for their autographs. I thought that’s what every kid was supposed to do. It was the reason I went to games, sometimes.

I remember getting future big leaguers Leon Durham and Tito Landrum’s autographs on a foul ball I had procured at a Springfield Redbirds game in 1980. I also remember playing hotbox with the ball the next day.

I also remember getting Satchel Paige’s autograph on a scorecard at a baseball game in 1978. His picture was on the cover of the scorecard, and that was all I knew about him. I wish I had known more about how great he was as a player, but I was ten years old at the time, and had not yet learned half of what I would know about the game later in life.

My wife read this post and told me of a time when she waited in line at a department store in Cleveland to get an autograph from Mickey Mantle. She also reported that Mantle was in a state that you might expect Mickey Mantle to be in, too.

The idea behind getting an autograph wasn’t to hold on to any of them for monetary value, although some people do exactly that. For me, it was more of a way to demonstrate that I was once in a famous person’s space long enough to get a signature on whatever item I was able to hand to him.

Early in the 2002 baseball season, I was watching a Cubs game on TV when the announcers indicated that Billy Williams was going to sign autographs somewhere at a particular time. It turned out that I was available at this time (although I have no idea why), and so I went with my then-three year old daughter. We waited in a line, and when we made it to the front, I asked him to sign a baseball I had with me, and a card that my daughter had with her (given to her by me, of course). He graciously did so, and we left the line so that the next person could get their chance. The card is shown above.

As a player, Billy Williams means nothing to me. True, he was a longtime Cub, but by the time I began following baseball in the 1970s, he had been traded away to the Oakland A’s. He does have a nice statue outside of Wrigley Field, though, near the corner of Addison and Sheffield.

The life of a ballplayer is something that I don’t know anything about. The life of a hall of famer is something I know even less about. But I can tell, from the crowd of people that were waiting in line that day, that signing autographs comes with the territory. It must be an ego boost for the players, and it’s certainly a revenue stream for them as well. I think Pete Rose went to prison for not reporting income from that, if I remember correctly.

Does having an autograph make an item more valuable than it might otherwise be? Maybe for some it does. And I’m not disparaging that at all. But the bigger picture, I think, is that this is honoring a tradition with athletes, and movie stars, and authors, and really anybody who can be called a “celebrity.”

I went to New York City last summer, and one of the places I saw was Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street. It’s exactly what you would imagine a deli to be, right down to the signed pictures of famous people hanging on the walls. Anyone who signs a picture for someone else must feel like they’ve made it in whatever it is that they do.

Baseball players, by virtue of the fact that they play baseball for a living, fit into this category, as well. Not many of them will make it to the majors, let alone become inducted into the Hall of Fame, but they all have kids (and maybe some grownups, too) asking them to sign autographs before or after a game. And that’s not such a bad feeling, I would imagine.

And the first shall be first

When each of us was in school, we all learned pretty quickly where we fell in the alphabetical listing of students in the class. Teachers had us listed that way in their grade books, and whenever the roll call was made, we knew if we would be called near the front, in the middle, or at the very end. In a room fill of thirty kids, with a last name starting with H, I would typically be the seventh or eight name called. Not at the very front of the list, but I never had too wait too long, either.

Henry Aaron, by virtue of simply having the name he did, entered the record books on the first day he played in the majors in 1954. The previous head of the alphabetical line had belonged to Edward “Batty” Abbaticchio, who played from 1897-1910.  For over forty years, a player from the deadball era had been the first name anyone came to when they ran down the list of historical big leaguers.

We all know now that “Hammerin’ Hank” went on to play for more than two decades, and in the process became the all time leader in games played, home runs, RBIs, extra base hits, and many other important statistics. His performance on the field gradually elevated him to the place where his name had already put him, which was at the head of the line. While I had not considered it at the time he was playing, I like the fact that baseball’s first player alphabetically coincided with its statistical leader in many important statistics.

Just as some of Aaron’s on-field accomplishments were eventually surpassed (Carl Yastrzemski and Pete Rose passed him in Games Played, and Barry Bonds passed him in Intentional Base on Balls and some other statistical measure), his fifty-year perch at the head of the alphabetical list was ended by the debut of David Aardsma in 2004.

Aardsma is still playing now, and since he’s a pitcher, he won’t break any of Aaron’s offensive records. But one day, someone may even come in front of Aardsma and push Aaron down to #3 on the alphabetical list. And it’s a tribute to Aaron’s greatness on the field that some of his offensive records might still be standing, even when this happens. May some us live to see that happen one day.