Thursday, July 11, 2019

PWEs, Accompanied by Song

I decided to write a post tonight comprised of recent PWEs that I've received in the mail lately accompanied by songs that have been randomly going around in my head.

First, a word of explanation as to how some of these songs got in my head. My wife and I have a game that we play on Fridays and Saturdays. I put together playlists of songs for her to guess the artist name and song title. We mute the TV and usually put baseball on (or some other sport if it's not baseball season) and have a couple of drinks and unwind and catch up on the week. 

It almost always goes the way that she has to guess the songs and titles. I don't want to sound too cocky here, but she gets really frustrated with me because I get way too many songs correct way too quickly for her tastes. Then she plays music to "challenge" me -- read as literally stuff I have never heard before in my life -- and it stops being fun because she doesn't like the music she's playing either. I've gotten to the point where I'll act like I can't remember a song or artist just to listen to the song!

In any event, the songs to accompany the cards are ones that came up in some of the playlists that I put together for my wife and which now I can't get out of my head. 

Let's start with the PWE that my good pal Kenny a/k/a Zippy Zappy sent my way -- a couple of cards that missed his initial package of Brewers and Bucks and Packers:

Kenny sent me a two Brice Turang cards -- one of him as a Brewer and one as a 15U USA team member. Turang, of course, was the Brewers first round draft pick in 2018 out of Santiago High School in Corona, CA. The Brewers paid him the money not to go to LSU to play baseball. pointed out a couple of interesting facts about Turang when this selection occurred last year. First, Brice's dad Brian was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 20th round of the 1987 draft out of Long Beach City College. He didn't sign, and then ended up and total afterthought selection of the Mariners in 1989 -- the 51st round from the University of Hartford. Despite that less than stellar draft record, the elder Turang worked his way up to the majors and got 283 plate appearances over two years in 1993 and 1994. 

The second interesting fact about Brice Turang is that he is the first shortstop that the Brewers have selected in the first round of the draft since 1987, when the team led off the draft with Billy Spiers. Before that, the Brewers had a bunch of notable shortstop selections, including Gorman Thomas (1969 by the Pilots), Robin Yount (1973), Paul Molitor (1977), Gary Sheffield (1986), and Spiers. But then it took 31 years for the next one.

He also sent me an Adrian Houser card with Houser on the Astros. Since I got this card, Houser has been godawful, so I may just start the card on fire as a sacrifice to the baseball gods to get Houser back on track.

One of my wife's favorite songs to chop vegetables by in the kitchen is "Starships" by Nicki Minaj. Its chorus is incredibly catchy and gets stuck in my head with regularity...and having found it on YouTube and let it play for a bit, I'll probably wake up with it in my head too.

In a related idea, does anyone listen to a lot of podcasts? I got turned on to a podcast from the Vox Network called "Switched on Pop." It features a musicologist (Nate Sloan) and a songwriter (Charlie Harding) who try to figure out what makes songs or artists hits. The episodes stand alone well, and the first one I listened to featured the lead singer from indie-pop band Joywave -- which featured in Kenny's "What I'm Listening To" post -- wondering why so many alternative hits seem to have very similar sounding choruses. I won't spoil the ending for you if you do listen, but I will say that this was the first time in 30 years I'd heard the term pentatonic scale. It's quite an enjoyable podcast if you enjoy thinking about what you're hearing as music and what makes it good.

The next PWE I received came from the potato chip largesse being enjoyed by Mark Hoyle in Massachusetts, as he scoops up all the Utz chips in sight and keeps the cards he needs while sending away ones he does not. Thanks to Mark, I now have two Utz cards -- Jonathan Schoop and Lorenzo Cain. I'm still looking for Jesus Aguilar and Christian Yelich, so if anyone sees these floating around, I'm up for them.

My wife loves country music. Her favorite artists are Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, and Sugarland, but she likes a lot of country music generally. One guy whose music kept being recommended to be played was Luke Combs. His song, "When It Rains, It Pours" is one that gets stuck in my head all the time -- again for its chorus. 

The things I like about Combs is that, well, he doesn't look like a male model, he doesn't try to be a country rapper, and he sings well without much help from the autotune. He just seems like a good old boy who is relatable. Others agree with me; the Associated Press, of all outlets, had a story last year that was headlined, "Country singer Luke Combs' unassuming appeal makes him a hit." The guy built up a fan base not because he's got good looks, but instead he just played over 200 shows in 2016 alone all over the Southeast. 

Maybe all that is why I like him, I guess. 

The final PWE I got during the last week of June came from Matt Prigge. Matt puts together custom cards for the Brewers season to fill in gaps for Topps Now or, more to the point, to put cards together that he likes. He had made up four of these Keston Hiura "Rated Rookie" cards and gave three away through a Twitter giveaway. I was lucky enough to catch the last one of them.

"Yeah!" by Usher f/Lil Jon and Ludacris is pretty old school at this point. Having not been a big dance club guy or pop music guy at all in the mid-2000s, I missed this one when it came out in 2004. It was pretty ubiquitous -- it was, after all, the top ranked song of the year in 2004 and it was the second overall song for the entire decade of the 2000s according to Billboard -- so you can tell I was totally in my own little world in 2004...probably just playing FIFA 05 over and over. 

Anyway, this song gets stuck in my head pretty regularly in the day after my wife and I play our game. It's not a bad thing with this one though -- it's upbeat and a pretty fun song.

Thanks go out to Kenny, Mark, and Matt -- I greatly appreciate y'all being so kind as to send me cards.  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Meet the Brewers #44: Wayne Twitchell

As is usual in September for teams going nowhere, the 1970 Brewers called up a few guys from the minors to give them an opportunity to be around the big club and dip their toes into the big league waters. Such was the case on September 7, 1970, when another tall righty pitcher from the Brewers system made his debut in the first game of a doubleheader.

Six-foot, six-inch tall Wayne Twitchell was summoned from the bullpen for the bottom of the fifth inning with the Brewers having rebounded in the top of the inning from 7-1 down to pull within 7-4 against the Minnesota Twins. Twitchell was tossed into the deep end -- he was asked to face the heart of the Twins order...the 4-5-6 hitters. The first guy Twitchell ever faced in the big leagues was Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, and Twitchell struck him out. In fact, Twitchell struck out all three guys he got for outs in his first inning of work -- sandwiching an error by Roberto Pena and a walk in between each out.

1971 Topps/O-Pee-Chee
Wayne Lee Twitchell was born on March 10, 1948 in Portland, Oregon. As is often the case for players in this era, Twitchell was a multisport star in high school and was named to the Oregon All-State team in both football and baseball. According to the excellent SABR biography for Twitchell, he had the chance to play college football at Arizona State. If he had done that, he would have been following in his father's footsteps, as his dad was a standout running back for Oregon State in the 1930s. 

When decision time came, however, a new option had arisen. Twitchell was selected third overall in the 1966 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros -- behind complete washout Steve Chilcott and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Twitchell's dad had warned Wayne that his family had a history of knee problems, and those problems would have only been exacerbated by trying to play football. 

So, baseball it was. Twitchell was known for being a hard thrower with questionable command, and he toiled for four up-and-down seasons in the Astros organization. As he put it himself, "I always seem[ed] to have the knack of always bringing the teacher out in people. I was taught close to 20 different deliveries, which complicated things." 

The Astros gave up on Twitchell in November of 1969 and sold his contract to the Seattle Pilots. Twitchell was ecstatic to be pitching back in the Pacific Northwest. That ecstasy was dashed when the team was sold and moved to Milwaukee, but Twitchell spent 1970 at home in Portland in Triple-A -- and met his future wife that year as well. 

Twitchell only appeared in 2 games for the Brewers in September of 1970. His second outing was much worse than the first, as he gave up three hits and two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. Interestingly, Twitchell recorded those two outs by way of a strikeout as well. So, for his Brewers "career," Twitchell has a K/9 of 27. Only the immortal Ray Krawcyzk of the 1989 Brewers finished with more Ks and a K/9 of 27, striking out 6 in 2 innings of work on April 28, 1989 in his only Brewers appearance.

Still, things between Twitchell and Milwaukee were not good. Twitchell's SABR bio quotes him as saying that he "just didn't fit in with Milwaukee. They had their ideas about pitching and it wasn't about my style. I was a fastball pitcher and they were trying to make me into a spot pitcher." This quote makes me wonder if, perhaps, the organizational ethos over the years held back the team from developing pitchers. Obviously things changed a lot in the early years, and that couldn't have helped either.

1994 Miller 25th Anniversary Set
Despite being a 22-year-old pitcher with a history of being a first round pick and for whatever reason, the Brewers gave up on Twitchell quickly as well. At the end of spring training in 1971, Twitchell was traded to Philadelphia for minor league outfielder Patrick Srkable. Skrable played one year of 70 games in Triple-A for Milwaukee and was done. Twitchell himself said that he almost quit baseball after he was traded. 

Thankfully for him, he was sent first to Triple-A Eugene in Oregon. Surrounded by family and his new wife and having a manager in Andy Seminick who left him alone, Twitchell pitched for the last time in the minor leagues -- because he spent the next 9 seasons in the major leagues. Called up to the majors in 1971, Twitchell blossomed in Philadelphia and made the All-Star team in 1973.

Unfortunately, just as Wayne was getting on a roll, those knee problems from the Twitchell family history kicked up. Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs was trying to beat out an infield single on September 18, 1973 at Wrigley Field and slid head first into Twitchell's knee. That was the end of his season and led to a four-hour surgery and eight weeks in a full leg cast. The rehab was brutal and necessary; his doctor told him that if he didn't follow his rehab to the tee "you'll never walk normal again."

From that 1973 season, it was downhill. Twitchell stayed in Philadelphia into 1977, with his only real success being in 1976 -- a 1.75 ERA and a 3.72 K/BB ratio working mainly as a reliever. Stats like that make me wonder if he wasn't misplaced in the starting rotation. He was traded in 1977 to the Expos on June 15, and stayed there through the 1978 season. In 1979, he pitched in 33 games for the Mets before his contract was purchased in August of 1979 by Seattle. Finally getting to pitch for his "hometown" team had to be a pleasure for him, but he was released after the season and was done with baseball.

After his baseball career, he moved back to Oregon and became a commercial real-estate broker. He fought cancer for quite some time, but lost that battle on September 16, 2010, aged just 62 years old.

The three cards that picture Twitchell as a Brewer are shown above. I don't have any of the 1971 cards, as that card is from the difficult-to-find high number set. Weirdly, by the time that the card came out, Twitchell had long since been traded to Philly, but I guess that card had been designed long before. It's also weird to me that the Brewers/Miller used a New York Mets photo for his 1994 Miller card -- I guess it's all they could find.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What's Kenny Listening To, Part II

Here's part two of the Kenny/Zippy Zappy appreciation post.

Supertramp, "Goodbye Stranger"

Supertramp was a staple of 1980s classic rock stations -- at least the ones that I heard in Milwaukee in the 1980s. I don't know if they still get radio play any more or not. In fairness, I'd pretty much forgotten this song existed, but once the first notes started playing, my memory was quickly jogged.

Of course, in typical 1970s classic rock fashion, this song lasts about 2 minutes longer than it really needs to last.

Similarly, I'd pretty much forgotten that Michael Reed played with the Brewers before getting this card from Kenny. Of course, that forgetting is much less forgivable than forgetting about a 40-year-old classic rock song, since Reed played for Milwaukee as recently as 2016 and was still in the Brewers system through 2017.

of Montreal, "Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia"

I've heard all kinds of buzz for of Montreal for a few years now. I'm very disappointed in myself for not having done any looking into them before this.

of Montreal originated in the best city in the whole wide world -- Athens, Georgia, of course. The band is fronted by Kevin Barnes, who added Derek Almstead and Bryan Poole upon his arrival in Athens in 1996. Almstead and Poole both were/are members of noted Athens band Elf Power, whom I know I saw at least once in the mid-1990s during law school.

For a while, of Montreal was on the legendary Athens record label called Kindercore alongside bands like Japancakes, Kitty Craft, and The Mendoza Line. I feel like I can recall that the label's formation was pretty big news in town back then. But, I might be projecting memories of being cooler than I actually was when I start having memories like that.

On the other hand, Yasmani Grandal -- even though he is shown playing for the Bakersfield Blaze -- is far cooler than my memories. Here's hoping that he'll stick around in Milwaukee for one or two more seasons.

Soccer Mommy, "Cool"

Soccer Mommy is Sophie Allison, a Nashville native by way of being born in Switzerland and after attending two years of college at NYU and dropping out. Wikipedia says that she cites Mitski, Taylor Swift, and Avril Lavigne as influences, but my ear on this song picks up an influence that may have come from touring with the man -- Stephen Malkmus and Pavement. 

It's a good song. It's one of those songs that will get stuck in my head if I listen a few more times -- lots of hooks and very catchy.

Joe Alexander was the Milwaukee Bucks first round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and boy did the Bucks screw up this pick. Alexander was the eighth pick overall in the 2008 draft out of West Virginia. Every single other first round pick other than the very last pick of the first round (J.R. Giddens out of New Mexico) played more games and more seasons in the NBA than Alexander did. Alexander appeared in 67 games over two seasons in Milwaukee. Players selected after Alexander included Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, and, in the second round, DeAndre Jordan. Alexander was last seen playing in Turkey for Besiktas. 

Denzel Curry, "ZUU"

Curry is a Miami rapper whom I've never heard of before. Curry just released his new album, also called ZUU, on May 31, 2019. This song is short -- barely 2 minutes long. I like it, though. There's not a ton here lyrically, but the beats are good.

Plus, I give the guy props for wearing a throwback Marlins jersey. 

Jones emerged last year as the best running back the Packers had on the roster. After the Eddie Lacy pick went from golden to Golden Corral with Lacy successfully eating his way out of the NFL, the Packers went from converted WR (Ty Montgomery) to 4th round pick Jamaal Williams to 5th round pick Jones over the past three years. 

It might also help if Aaron Rodgers would stop checking out of running plays because he thinks he's the best offensive coordinator in the stadium.

Twin Shadow, "Slow"

Kenny says that this song sounds like She Wants Revenge or Joy Division to him. Yup, definitely that 80s New Wave/00s Renew Wave sound going on. Twin Shadow a/k/a George Lewis Jr. sounds to me is even more influenced vocally by Morrissey. Again, that fits into that genre quite well, since New Order and The Smiths were contemporaries in Manchester in the 1980s.

It's not the sound I was expecting, to be fair, but I'm a fan. Definitely.

I am surprised at how nostalgic I feel toward the Heritage set this year, what with it being 1970 and all. As a kid, I used to love the 1970 set for having the Seattle Pilots in it even though the team became the Milwaukee Brewers that season. I don't know why that is -- perhaps it was a reflection of my enjoyment of Ball Four or perhaps it was because the 1970s were the decade I was born and felt much closer in time to me than anything from the 1960s. 

This is why this card is such a good analog for the Twin Shadow song. I wasn't expecting to like this year's Heritage as much as I have, but I'm a fan.

Eladio Carrion, Khea, Cazzu, and Ecko, "Mi Cubana (Remix)"

As Kenny's blog said, this is a trap song entirely in Spanish. Interestingly, Eladio Carrion is actually from Kansas City. No kidding. That kind of deflates the song for me. Sure, the other three are all Argentine, but finding out that Eladio Carrion is from Kansas City is just disappointing. Maybe that's just me, though.

Kenny Clark is going into his fourth season as a defensive tackle for the Packers. Clark is a good player, no question -- getting 6 sacks in 13 games from defensive tackle is no mean feat -- but the next time Kenny Clark starts 16 games will be the first time. Yes, he played 16 games in 2016, but he only started 2 and only racked up 21 tackles -- he was a special teamer for much of the year.

I have not been impressed with the Packers most recent drafts. I feel like they don't take enough SEC players. Sure, I'm biased toward the SEC in that regard, but I thought taking the best players in the draft was the idea. Maybe that's just me, though.

Joywave, "True Grit"

I have heard of this band before thanks to their collaboration with Big Data on the song called "Dangerous" from about five or six years ago. This song is only okay to me. It just doesn't grab me. Maybe it's the mood I'm in today or what have you, but it just isn't something I want to hear again.

Similarly, while Keon Broxton is an excellent defensive outfield to my eyes, advanced metrics for him are all over the place. Add in his terrible inability to make contact on anything approaching a regular basis, and you can see why he's on his third team this year already. Granted, the Brewers got him for basically nothing from the Pirates a few years ago, so we are already ahead on that equation.

Well, folks, that's it for the Kenny Appreciation post for 2019.

Now that we know what Kenny is listening to these days, I would be interested to hear what everyone else has filling their ears. Are you a country music fan? Do you dig disco? Is New Wave your jam? Tell me what you're listening to!

And Kenny -- as always, thank you very much. You're a good man.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

What Kenny's Listening To with Cards from Torren' Up Cards, Part I

When it comes to music or information in general, I tend to be very omnivorous. I read a ton, whether that includes reading for work or for pleasure. I watch tons of documentaries on Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime on my Roku as well as trying to find ones being shown on PBS or elsewhere that sound interesting. I also listen to about any music under the sun that comes my way at least once to see if I like it.

Of course, this love of knowledge tends to get in the way of my blogging, because I'm more likely to say, "that documentary about Oasis on Netflix sounds interesting" and start watching that instead of sitting down and blogging.

So, it's been a couple of weeks since the ever awesome Kenny a/k/a Zippy Zappy sent me a zippy zapping accompanied by his massive "What I've Been Listening To" post. Kenny is a 20-something whose tastes in music are all over the place, and I think he likes trying to find stuff for me to consider that might either offend or otherwise fall outside the realm of my tastes as a Gen-X'er.

Because Kenny posted 14 songs, I'm going to break this into two posts. It's just a lot to type and listen to all at once!

As always, to highlight the great cards Kenny sent and the (we'll see what an appropriate adjective is) music Kenny is listening to, here's my response post. Music first, followed by the card.

Now, Now: "SGL"

Kenny's post said this song is his favorite of the 14 songs that he posted, and after listening to this song twice *and* looking up the lyrics, I can see why. As Kenny noted, the band Now, Now is a two-person indie band from Minneapolis comprised of Cacie (or KC) Dalager and Bradley Hale. They met in high school in marching band -- something I can relate to, having been a marching band geek myself all the way through college.

This song is a really catchy poppy indie rock song. NPR featured it in November 2017 as one of the "Songs We Love." "SGL" stands for "shotgun lover," which in this context seems to be simply that she is a quick hookup for her lover. The rest of the lyrics of the song seem to provide feelings of unhappiness about that arrangement. 

But I'll leave all the interpretation to you. YMMV.

Since we're going with favorites up front, I will go with a card of Christian Yelich from Series 1 Topps. There's nothing more I can say about Yelich that hasn't already been said, really. 

Okay, one thing. If Yelich gets one homer between now and the All-Star break, he will set a Brewers record for most homers before the All-Star break. Yelich currently has 29 Homers in 70 games; Prince Fielder set the record in 2007 when he had 29 Homers in 87 games. Fielder finished 2007 with 50 homers. 

Lit, "My Own Worst Enemy"

I didn't need to listen to this song specifically for this post because this has been a personal favorite song since its release in 1999. It was kind of a joke between me and one of my friends that this song was sort of my theme song because I enjoyed going out, smoked cigarettes like a chimney when I drank, and generally I had a tendency to undermine myself at that point in my career. 

So that's why it was kind of a joke and kind of just sad, really. 

Even sadder is the fact that this song is now 20 years old. Which means Kenny was like 4 when it was released. 

1989 Bowman pairs well with a 1999 song. Indeed, Dale Sveum pairs well with a song about being one's own worst enemy too. 

Sveum's baseball career was essentially derailed in 1988 when, while playing shortstop, he went back into left field to chase a blooper. Left fielder Darryl Hamilton was charging in hard for the ball. A terrible collision resulted, and Sveum's left tibia and fibula were snapped. It was ugly. Even worse, the bone did not heal properly and a second surgery to re-break the bones to allow them to heal correctly resulted in 1989. 

He missed the entire 1989 season, and the promise that he showed during his 25-homer season in 1987 was gone. His missing 1989 led the Brewers to calling up a petulant youngster named Gary Sheffield even earlier than Sheffield's abilities and maturity should have allowed.

Sveum also made the mistake of going hunting with Robin Yount, leading to Sveum getting bird shot going through his right ear. 

Drowning the Light, "The Spear of Longinus"

You can read Kenny's intro and discussion on how he was introduced to this song by the Metal Attorney, the Red Sox Fan in Nebraska.

I am not terribly impressed by this song, in large part because it is really repetitive and to my ears, quite boring. I used to use black metal/death metal/speed metal to fall asleep on international flights because it was like active white noise. More than once, I would set up a playlist of nothing but the song "Master of Puppets" played 4 times in a row to help me fall asleep. And it worked too.

One of the things that Kenny sent me was this Clay Matthews sticker from Panini. My Packers fandom has been waning over the past eight years -- since the Super Bowl win, really. This entirely coincides with my no longer playing fantasy football. 

I will admit that I don't miss the NFL at all. My football watching is all on Saturdays these days -- watching Georgia play along with paying attention to the other SEC games is usually enough for me. 

Gypsy and the Cat, "Sorry"

A generally innocuous indie rock song. It's something that I would listen to again if it came on, but I'm not sure I'd actively seek it out. 

Interestingly, the band seemed to fall apart due to its own former record label, Sony, screwing them over in some respects. According to this article from April 2016, when SoundCloud became a monetized streaming service in 2016, Sony Australia locked down their artists' songs to make sure that the songs were not freely streamable -- that people had to be paying for the right to stream the songs. 

Before that time, music bloggers often embedded SoundCloud files for songs in their blogs. Blog embeds are tracked by a service called Hype Machine, and it has its own charts. Prior to the Sony lockdown, Gypsy & The Cat had a song called "Inside Your Mind" that reached number 2 on Hype Machine. The next week, after the lockdown, the song was no longer on the chart.

Frustratingly for the band, Gypsy & The Cat had not been a Sony artist for over five years at that point. Yet, Sony's actions effectively derailed their efforts on the 2016 album. One can't help but think that bullshit must have played a role in their breakup.

As a side note, band member Xavier Bacash has a new EP out under the name "Sonny". I haven't listened to it yet.

I feel like this "Top Shelf" chrome of Ryan Braun fits well here. I sometimes forget that Braun is still with the Brewers -- he's almost like a name of a bygone era at this point. He's a solid player at this point in his career. He's never been a great on-base guy -- his value is tied heavily into his batting average, which happens when you walk only 17 times in 266 plate appearances as Braun has this year through June 23 -- so he's basically a replacement-level player even with his 12 HRs and 40 RBI this year. At least that is what bWAR says -- 0.1 WAR and a 94 OPS+ is pretty much replacement level, right?

I Set My Friends On Fire, "Life Hertz"

A catchy song. I've never heard of this band before, apparently because they come from the genre of "screamo" -- where they scream everything they sing. It's a decent song, but based on what Kenny's post said, I'm not seeking out anything else by them.

A relatively interesting card visually, though the colors behind Rogers look like some sort of rainbow fingerprint. I'll take this opportunity to note that these all-white uniforms look terrible to me. In fact, pretty much all of the color rush uniforms look awful to me. 

This card is decent, but I'm not seeking out anything else from Panini here.

DECO*27 - 妄想感傷代償連盟 (Feat. 初音ミク)

That "featuring" portion reads "Hatsune Miku" in Japanese. Kenny points out that Hatsune Miku is a "vocaloid icon," which means that she is a completely fictional CGI anime girl. People go to concerts to seek Hatsune Miku sing these songs, so it's sort of like gathering to watch a TV show.

The song is pretty catchy, as you'd expect from computer-generated vocals. I wonder what the words are.

Appropriately, in the cards that Kenny sent, there is a computer-generated Taylor Jungmann to go with Hatsune Miku. Also appropriately, Jungmann has been pitching in Japan for Yomiuri Giants for the past two years.

Gucci Mane f/Migos, "I Get the Bag"

Thank you, Kenny, for giving me some music from Georgia to talk about. Gucci Mane was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved to Atlanta in 1989. Gucci's Wikipedia article notes that he was actually a good student in high school (he's a DeKalb County kid, having attended McNair High School), but that he also got started with dealing drugs in school too. He's been in and out of prison for gun charges and drugs. Hopefully he's gotten cleaned up. 

Migos is comprised of three guys -- Takeoff, Offset, and Quavo -- and are managed by Coach K, who used to manage Gucci Mane. The three all grew up in Gwinnett County, the county due east of DeKalb County. Parts of Gwinnett are quite urban, while other parts are very country. I like these guys because Quavo in particular is a huge Georgia Bulldogs fan.

The song is pretty good too, by the way.

Kenny sent me several of these 2011 Minor League Heritage cards, including one of Jimmy Nelson. Nelson attended high school in Florida and then went to college at the University of Alabama. 

His overcoming injury to come back and pitch this year has been a great story at the same time as it has been sad. Before his injury, he was verging on being a true #1 starter, finishing 9th in the Cy Young voting. Since his return, he has been terrible -- 3 games started, 12 innings pitched, 10 walks, an ERA of 9.75 and a WHIP of 2.167 pretty much says it all. He is being moved to the bullpen.

That's the end of Part I. Any comments from y'all as to which one of these songs is your favorite? How about the cards -- anyone like any of these cards more than the others? Why?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Meet the Brewers #43: Floyd Wicker

On September 4, 1970, two dead-end teams were playing out the string in front of a disinterested collection of less than 12,000 people in an almost entirely pointless one-game series on the Friday before Labor Day in Milwaukee. The 49-90 Chicago White Sox limped into Milwaukee in the middle of what would become the Sox's longest losing streak of the season -- 8 games. For their part, the Brewers were not any great shakes either, as the second year team was carrying a 52-85 record.

Brewer #43, outfielder Floyd Wicker, joined the festivities as a pinch hitter for Bernie Smith in the bottom of the eighth inning; Wicker promptly tapped out to the pitcher for the final out of the inning, stranding Tommy Harper at second and then replaced Smith in RF. Yet, Wicker would eventually be the hero of the game. The slog between the two worst teams in the American League went into extra innings tied at 2, and Wicker broke the tie with a single in the bottom of the 10th to drive in Harper for the walk-off victory.

1971 Dell Today's Team Stamps. Wicker's airbrushed Expos hat is in the Brewers' book.
Floyd Euliss Wicker was born in Burlington, North Carolina in 1943. He went to East Carolina University for one season as a 16-year-old, turning 17 in the fall of that freshman year. As a freshman, his team won the NAIA national championship. According to the ECU yearbook for that year, Wicker was the third baseman for that team. 

The major league rules being what they were at the time, his ability drew attention from scouts and he signed after just one year of college with the St. Louis Cardinals. Wicker did an interview in 2012 on a blog called The Baseball Historian where he stated that he had had the chance to sign as a professional right out of high school, but he chose a year of college near home instead.

He played in the Cardinals system in Classes C and D at the ages of 17 and 18 for his first two years in the minors, and he then moved up to A ball in 1963. At that point, his career was interrupted by two years of military service. He still played three to five games a week in the service, but it is hard to say that he faced the same level of competition there as he would have in the majors. 

1971 Topps/O-Pee-Chee
Wicker came back to the Cardinals organization in 1965. He was pushed to Double-A in 1966 and responded with a big season -- .303/.392/.417. He followed that up with a creditable year in 1967 at Triple-A Tulsa and a good spring in 1968 such that he put himself on the Cardinals radar for when their other outfielders had to serve their military service. As such, in 1968, Wicker made his big-league debut on June 23 as a pinch hitter. He appeared in 5 games for St. Louis in total, all as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.

Apparently, that was not enough for the Cardinals to make sure that Wicker was on their 40-man roster, however, and the Montreal Expos swiped him from the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft after the 1968 season. The Expos gave him 41 plate appearances -- all but one against right-handed pitching for the lefty-hitting Wicker -- and he struggled mightily with an anemic slash line of .103/.146/.103. In fairness, it's tough enough to hit in the major leagues, but it's even tougher when you only get 24 plate appearances between May 16 and September. On the other hand, you don't help yourself when you fail to get a hit in any of those 24 plate appearances.

That Rule 5 season turned into a lost year for Wicker -- one he never got back developmentally. As soon as the season ended, Wicker was named as the player-to-be-named later in a trade in which the Expos received Marv Staehle from the Seattle Pilots. 

Wicker spent most of 1970 in Portland and had an excellent year in AAA -- .329/.441/.521 with 14 HR and 78 BB in 471 plate appearances. He also featured in a Ray Peters story, in that Ray used Floyd's bat to hit the one and only professional home run that Ray ever hit -- a grand slam for the Beavers the week before Ray got married. 

Thus, Wicker got a call up to the Brewers in September. Wicker then played in 11 games in 1971 starting April 30 and ending May 30 for Milwaukee. Again, he struggled for playing time -- getting only 10 plate appearances and never getting a start for the Brewers. He was then traded on June 1, 1971 to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for utility infielder Bob Heise. 

1994 Miller 25th Anniversary commemorative set
Wicker's professional baseball career ended in 1971. As he detailed in an interview in The Times News (Burlington, NC) in 2012, even though he stopped being a pro, he still loved the game. After he left baseball, he went to work for the United States Postal Service for 33 years, retiring in 2005. During that time, he helped out the Southern Alamance High School and Middle School baseball teams and even coached American Legion ball in the 1980s. 

Wicker still shows up in newspapers in the area of North Carolina where he lives. The 2012 article above was done in conjunction with his receipt of the Distinguished Service in Sports Award that he received from the Alamance County Sports Development Counsel. The article notes his heavy involvement with the North Carolina Baseball Museum and his role in getting two teams from the 1910s from his old high school recognized there as champions. Many of the articles with him involved are for golf tournaments for fundraising for that Museum. 

Floyd Wicker has 4 total cards as a Milwaukee Brewer as shown above. I actually own all of them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Snake Jazz and Snakeskin Refractors

A PWE arrived at my house a little over a week ago, and I just didn't feel like writing last week. Tonight, though, I'm in the mood for a post. So, it's time to celebrate the great cards that Brian from Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary packaged up and sent my way. In the spirit of Snake Jazz, this post is going to be heavy on jazz and perhaps a bit light on writing.

Let's start with Mr. Snake Jazz himself, Dave Baldwin. This card is one that Baldwin gives out to those who write to him, I believe, and it's my first autograph from him. Baldwin says that the term "snake jazz" refers to offspeed pitches generally -- that it means "curvy pitches." Obviously that line never made Ball Four, but I'll take Baldwin's word for it since he played the game in the majors and I never played beyond high school.

The song "Take the A Train" was in the news recently thanks to Jeopardy! phenom James Holzhauer. It was the Final Jeopardy question with the following "Jazz Classics" clue: "In one account, this song began as directions written out for composer Billy Strayhorn to Duke Ellington's home in Harlem."

It's a jazz standard -- one nearly every student jazz musician should play before they leave high school. I played it in high school too (I was a sax player until I graduated college).

Next up are four yellow parallels from this year's flagship effort from Topps. I don't understand why "Milwaukee" gets the big letter effect on the team card whereas "Anderson" and "Hader" do on the individual player cards. Shouldn't "Brewers" be the big name? 

I think I'd like the cards better if Topps did, in fact, swap the last name for the first name. The way it is written now is just silly and looks wrong.

I never understood "Green Onions" as a young saxophone player. That may be because it really didn't have much for me to do unless I was the one soloing. At its core, this song is just a great excuse for a jazz combo to jam and trade solos with one another. You have the walking bass line setting the chords and the rhythm, the drummer keeping time on the snare and bass drum with some flourishes on the toms and cymbals, and otherwise it's just the guitarist and organ trading solos back and forth. That's it.

Don't get me wrong -- with great soloists, it's worth every second -- but it's not groundbreaking or anything. 

Next up are two guys that the Brewers traded away. Gomez helped rebuild the farm system with Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips, and Adrian Houser while Villar was flipped for Jonathan Schoop last year. 

Gomez has bounced around since that time, hitting Houston, Texas, Tampa Bay, and now back to the Mets where he started his career. The way he is playing this year, there may not be a next year for the almost 34-year-old. 

Villar is doing fine in Baltimore -- 7 HR, 9 SB -- and is about a league average hitter with a .736 OPS. He still goes up there hacking, though, walking just 16 times in 238 plate appearances.

According to Wikipedia, scrapple is a "Pennsylvania Dutch" (er, that's German, folks) dish of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour (often buckwheat) and other spices. Perhaps a song about "Scrapple from the Apple" is an appropriate accompaniment for the pork scraps and cornmeal that are Gomez and Villar.

You can identify whichever of them you want as the cornmeal and which one is the pork scraps. 

The next two cards are variations (I think) from Panini's attempts at continuing to issue baseball cards. If you're Panini and in light of MLB extending Topps's exclusive license, how long do you keep trying? I suppose they must be making money or they'd stop issuing cards, right? 

Brewers fans are asking similar questions of Jesus Aguilar right now. His hitting has been so bad that his bWAR is -0.7 and his OPS+ is just 60 -- way below average for the league, not just first basemen. Frankly, his struggles are not new. After the All-Star game last year, he slashed at just .245/.324/.436 -- an OPS of .760. But, his .604 OPS so far this year has continued the decline. His lack of offense has led the team to go back to Eric Thames for a jump start. 

On the other hand, there's Christian Yelich. Yelich has sort of struggled in May himself -- at least in comparison to his ridiculous March/April. In March/April, he hit 13 HR and slashed .353/.460/.804 (1.264 OPS). In May, he's only hit 7 HR and slashed .275/.393/.623 (a 1.016 OPS). Perhaps the real problem here is only that Yelich simply has not had as many guys on base in front of him in May -- only 10 RBI as compared to 34 at the start of the month (that's comparing 29 games in March/April to 19 in May).

"Stardust" is a jazz standard. It's one I have never played. It's sort of a mid-tempo song that is fine but it doesn't stand out to modern ears. At least mine, that is.

Purple Ryan Braun refractor, anyone? Damn the colored refractors in 2017 appeared to be some sort of futuristic nightmare. 

After "Stardust," I felt like a great Louis Armstrong version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" should help redeem things. 

Does everyone still associate this song with the Harlem Globetrotters? I remember as a kid that it was always a special day on "Wide World of Sports" when the Globetrotters were on. They made the kind of jokes that a kid could appreciate. My older self would probably be bored seeing the same jokes get rolled out but man, when I was 8, they were awesome.

To close out the blog post today, I have the bookend to Snake Jazz -- a Snake Skin refractor! Sort of.

Brandon Woodruff has been excellent this year for the Brewers. I was hoping he would be, and he has not disappointed -- unlike his fellow youngsters Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, both of whom combined to destroy my fantasy baseball team's ERA and WHIP in April to the point where I had to cut them so I could stop slotting them in hoping for a rebound. Just terrible. 

Pitching in April was the Brewers big concern, but the offense outside of Yelich, Mike Moustakas, and Yasmani Grandal has really been limping along in May. That's why Keston Hiura got the call from the minors -- to try to kick start something. 

To close out on a high note, I have to go to saxophone maestro John Coltrane. Coltrane and Charlie Parker were the guys I wished I could sound like when I was a high schooler. 

Of course, that was akin to me saying that I totally wished I could pitch like Bret Saberhagen or Dwight Gooden in 1987. While it was a nice daydream, there's no way in hell it was really going to happen.

So, I watched those two pitch and listened to Coltrane and Bird. After all, if you can't be the best, you should watch/listen to the best to appreciate them while you can.

Brian, thanks for being one of the best -- and for the cards. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

PWEs and a Little Music

Thank you to all of you who read my post trying to honor the memory of Ray Peters. Your comments meant a lot to me. Ray was truly a special man who will be dearly missed.

In the meantime since my last post, I have been the honored recipient of two single-card plain white envelopes. The first arrived a couple of days ago from New Jersey and my Twitter friend Nick Vossbrink who also blogs at NJWV and, in addition, is one of the two new co-chairs of the SABR Baseball Cards Committee and Blog Editor. Nick is one of those people with whom I feel I could converse about any subject and learn something new. I like people like that.

Nick sent me an awesome thank you note featuring an Auguste Renoir painting of a ballerina that totally pump-faked me into thinking it was an Edgar Degas because whenever I see Impressionists and ballerinas that is a Pavlovian response.

See what I mean? But even now, thirty years later, I still hear the teacher I had in high school for training for the Academic Decathlon competition -- which is where my Impressionist knowledge comes from -- saying, "yeah, but look at the eyes. Those are Renoir eyes."

Anyway, Nick sent me a very cool 1980s oddball to add to my collection of a Giant turned Brewer, Rob Deer:

I'm pretty sure Deer is either about to swing and miss or crush the ball. That was what he did. For many Brewers fans, Deer's approach at the plate reminded them of an earlier Brewer hero, Gorman Thomas -- lots of homers, lots of strikeouts, a pretty good number of walks too, and low batting averages that didn't kill the team thanks to the OBP and the SLG.

To thank Nick further, here's a Baroque composition featuring attractive women looking cold on a beach with Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor accompanying them.

Thanks Nick!

Next up, a PWE showed up yesterday from Mark Hoyle. Mark has either been buying a lot of potato chips from Utz lately, or else he ran into a deep, cheap vein of these cards at his local card shows. 

Whichever one of these it is, Mark was kind enough to share an Utz card with me:

If I were inclined to add any more player collections -- and trust me, I'm more likely to get rid of some than add some -- Lorenzo Cain would be in the running definitely. LoCain is such an upbeat guy, and he's also an incredible center fielder as well. It is unbelievable to me that Cain has yet to win a Gold Glove -- he deserved one last year, in my opinion, so I hope that issue gets addressed this year.

To thank Mark for the card, I think I'll give him faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money -- from Tom T. Hall.

I grew up on country music in the 1970s, and I do recall this song. I probably would not have remembered this song, however, except for Twitter stalking Mark's timeline and seeing that he had interacted with the Great Wes Moore talking about the lyrics to this song specifically. 

Now that's what you call a friend -- someone to remind you of a Tom T. Hall song from 1976 that you haven't thought about in probably 40 years. 

Thanks, guys, for the great cards!