First, thanks to all who posted comments. Let me violate the standard format of responding by addressing topics and not individuals (to quote Billy Crystal from a long time ago, “and you know who you are”).
There is a correct answer on the trivia. I’m at the Giants-A’s in Phoenix Municipal Stadium Saturday when a “security” fella (typical to the Spring Training equation, he’s a retired judge from Jersey named Bob) asks if I know the story of the lights in the ballpark. Obviously I did not and it appears very few people, even other stadium nerds, do. Yet there, as part of a series of timeline notes, engraved in the stone flooring ringing the ballpark, is the tale of how the lights were removed from the Polo Grounds after the last National League game there in September, 1963, and brought to Phoenix Stadium in time for its opening in March, 1964. This more or less confirms something I’d suspected: the Mets appear to have rented the Polo Grounds from the Giants in 1962 and 1963 – certainly as bizarre an arrangement as baseball has ever seen. The Giants had built or re-built at least the last three versions of the ballpark, and apparently retained ownership even after they moved to San Francisco. The land, oddly enough, was still owned by the Coogan Family (as in “Coogan’s Bluff”) at least into the ’60s.
To more contemporary issues: I actually retired from Fantasy Ball in 1995 for fear of having to draft a line-up of UPS Drivers. Got talked back into it in 2007 by my friend Jason Bateman, then played football in his league that year. The rust having been shaken off, I won them both last year (NL-only, six-by-six format, no freezes, Jason likes to count Holds for goodness sakes). This year I’m co-owning an AL-only team in a league with some of the ESPN experts. I take this way too seriously (the league that went out of business in 1994 had 40-man rosters and we actually held a two-round amateur draft two weeks ahead of the actual MLB draft). I’m better now but I still can’t imagine giving away my sleepers, at least until after the draft Sunday. I will say this, if it’s of any use: I saw Albert Pujols in Clearwater ten days ago and he looked 100% healthy for the first time in years. And no hint of a paunch. And I know my paunches.
There were questions about the Dodgers and Pirates, specifically about Andre Ethier. I have always expected great things of him, but against some pretty mediocre Texas pitching he went 0-for-5 and the response in the press box was neither encouraging nor sympathetic. As to the Buccos – an organization filled with some of the best people in baseball – they would be competitive if they had more than one starting pitcher. There may actually be a deep bullpen: Evan Meek has inherited – no, sorry, I’ll stop there, but he does look like he grew up after last year – and they think Donald Veal might have, too. Combine them with Grabow and Capps and it’s an entirely different concept from last year’s bullpen, which more resembled the firemen from Fahrenheit 451. Pittsburgh’s problem, of course, is July 31st. Since the starters would have to perform miracles to get them to .500, they will have to sell off again, and that means Adam LaRoche and Jack Wilson and maybe even Freddie Sanchez. But McLouth’s the real deal, McCutchen will be, and they think they’ve straightened out Andy LaRoche. Sadly, the sports-record-breaking 17th straight losing season still seems tragically inevitable.
And there was a question about George Kell, who I always thought was an underrated player, an underrated broadcaster, but anything but an underrated man. Ernie Harwell rightly got the lion’s share of the love but George was a gentleman of the old school: he assumed nobody knew who he was (he approached me when I was at ESPN and said, and this is verbatim, “Hi, Keith, I’m an announcer with the Tigers. My name is George Kell” – the sweetness of the introduction overcame my surprise that he would think anybody in baseball wouldn’t know him by sight, or at least when he used that remarkable voice of his. I have a few tapes of his radio work in the 1962 post-season and he might have been the best play-by-play man among ex-players. His ability to convey rising excitement by getting louder and especially faster, matched that skill in the Gary Cohens and Brent Musburgers.†