Baseball and Beer

Fall officially arrived on September 23, according to the solar calendar. Days are getting shorter in the northern hemisphere, although it’ll be another month or so for actual fall weather to settle in along the Gulf Coast.

Fall brings the World Series, the epic clash of the American and National League teams. At the same time, college and professional football teams don helmets and shoulder pads for a weekly clash on the gridiron. Two great American sports crowd each other for our interest, inviting comparisons among fanatics.

'Tis the season to ponder the BASIC FOUR B'S OF GOOD LIVING: Books, Barbecue, Beer and Baseball. [Note: You may substitute "Bock" for beer.] You have merely to sit in the backyard in a lawn chair next to a smoking grill with a good book and a cooler with the radio tuned to Milo Hamilton giving the play-by-play Astros game. You can't do that in football season. Not up north, at least.

Baseball aficionados gather and recall classical lore such as "Who's On First?" and recount stories of the giants. Like "The Bellyache Heard 'Round the World" when Babe Ruth blamed a bad day at Yankee Stadium on eating too many hot dogs before a game. Or a more recent memorable moment when pitcher Randy Johnson hit a bird with a pitch.

In all baseball lore, nothing like this has ever been recorded, not even by Yogi Berra. But then, nothing like Johnson has ever been recorded. This is a guy who has to bend down seven feet to tie his shoelaces.

With all due respect for football fans, here is my


1. Players wear fewer earrings.

2. When our team loses, it seems more comforting to say "We'll get 'em tomorrow" instead of "We'll get 'em next week."

3. Nobody dances on the home plate after running the bases.

4. No matter what position you play, everybody has to swing the bat - unless you're a pitcher in the American League, which means you don't have to face the embarrassment of a .130 record every fourth day.

5. Defensively, the object is to GET the player out, not KNOCK the player out.

6. Baseball has an official sing-along song, and everyone knows the words to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Sure, football has "You Gotta Be a Football Hero," but who sings it? Who even knows the words?

7. If the ball clears the fence, you get to keep it.

8. Baseball umpires don't have to explain their call to the fans with an electronic gadget strapped to their waist like a sissified fanny-pack.

9. Football has no counterpart for Yogi Berra.  He is the YODA of professional sports. He even got his name because a teammate thought he looked like a yogi sitting in the dugout with his legs crossed, like a jersey-suited swami of salami.

10. No garish, overblown productions like Super-Bowl half-time. The only questions hanging over the World Series games are: Who will throw out the first ball? and Who will sing the National Anthem? - October 5, 2007

Thanks to the Hartman Distributing Company in Victoria, I've had numerous opportunities to taste a variety of craft beers at their monthly Pint Jockeys event. All that's required to be a part of this cultural event is a photo ID proving you're at least 21 or, in my case, a sufficient amount of gray hair.

Guests are given a sample glass, a set of tickets and a list of the beers on the agenda. The list includes a description of the beer, but as anyone familiar with language knows, describing taste is like describing . . . well, taste. In the world of beer, one man's pungent is another man's poison.

The rating system devised by movie reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert was simplicity itself, reducing most reviews from four or five stars to two digits, the opposable thumbs separating man from ape. I devised a system of my own which, although more complicated, is more nuanced in keeping with the subtle flavors, malt character, balance of hops and citrus fruits, lingering aftertaste, and strength of IPA and CPA and IRS and FBI.

Just kidding. As everyone knows, there's a granite wall of separation between the government and breweries, unless they make a profit, or produce anything stronger than baby formula.

On the favorable scale:
One check - Meh, I wouldn't spit it out. Could I get a shot of bourbon with this?
Two checks - Hey, I'd drive to the store for this. Is it in stock, do you think?
Three checks - Gimme the keys! I'm driving across town to pick up this stuff!

Unfavorable scale:
One X - Don't you have some something better, like Keystone Light?
Two X - Was this strained through a used baby diaper? Do you have some Keystone Light to rinse out the taste?
Three X - Gaah! I wouldn't let this pass through my urethra! 

Durango Colorado Wheat – bland
Tommyknockers – Pickaxe – higher IPA, tolerably good

Voodoo Ranger/8 Hop Pale Ale – I should have paid more attention to the “New Belgian” label. When fruit is added to beer that is already light enough for ladies to drink fashionably, it turns into “gay shit.” 
May 19, 2017

The Shot Argued 'Round the World
“Words fail me. When he stood up there at the bat before 50,000 persons, calling the balls and the strikes with gestures for the benefit of the Cubs in their dugout, and then with two strikes on him, pointed out where he was going to hit the next one and hit it there. I give up. That fellow is not human.” – (Bill Corum, New York sports writer)

Today marks the 125th birthday of a baseball legend. By coincidence, I finished Babe Ruth’s Called Shot by Ed Sherman, a whole book about the recurring controversy over whether or not the Great Bambino pointed to the outfield fence during a particularly rancorous World Series game in 1932 pitting the Yankees against the Cubs.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version - "Maybe."

It's a cherished piece of baseball lore, with as much evidence to support it as not. In the batter’s box with Babe, naturally, is his family and teammates. The umpire himself, who must be impartial, also agrees. And no less than long-serving Francis Cardinal Spellman says so. Roma locuta est, cause finita est.

So, pop open a few beers and wolf down a few hot dogs in his memory. The Babe would have wanted it that way. - February 2, 2020

Red in Tooth and Claw in Yankee Pinstripes
I plucked Nice Guys Finish Last out of a dusty bin in a garage sale, the last time it would ever be read. I don’t mean the memoirs of combustible baseball manager Leo Durocher, but this particular copy. I had to tape the cover on the book, and it shed brittle, yellowed flecks on my chest every time I turned a page. “Just hold on a little longer,” I’d coo.

First, the title. Everyone’s heard the expression uttered by the world’s most famous powder keg who ever put on a manager’s jersey. And he wore a lot of them: Brooklyn Dodgers, NY Giants, Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros. Anyway, what he really said was meant as a compliment about a team of decent players who couldn’t seem to get out of the basement: “Nice guys. Finish last.” Sportswriters at that time were just one missing link between knuckle-draggers and Homo erectus. They overlooked the period, and just like that Durocher became the Hobbesian version of Yogi Berra, red in tooth and claw and wearing pinstripes.

Durocher began life in baseball next to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He wasn’t as great by comparison – who could be? – but he found ways to make himself useful, and studied the managers while he was at it, eventually moving up, and moving up teams in the process. Part of the process may have involved some tactics that would get players thrown off the field today. Pitchers often used spitballs, and were not above deliberately throwing fastballs at an opponent’s head, and this was decades before batting helmets. Bench-clearing brawls often ensued.

It’s too bad Durocher wasn’t as demanding of his ghost-writer as his players. This is mostly awful. Some of the sentences don’t make sense, the time jumps around, and a lot of needless repetition distracts from the enjoyment. The photos are even worse. Either Durocher picked the worst ones he could find, or the publisher ran the whole batch through a vat of chlorine.

Well, at least it’s not The Conquest of Gaul. Although, in a sense, leading the Brooklyn Dodgers and the NY Giants to World Series championships may qualify. - July 8, 2019

This year was our first Christmas in our new home, and we were blessed to have all three of our kids celebrate it with us. And they brought presents! Paul gave me two caps which he got from a store he manages. The store sells caps. Surprise, Dad! Anyway, thanks to him, I have a form-fitting way to show my loyalty to my favorite teams: the Houston Astros and the University of Houston Cougars.

Timothy gifted me with an assortment of beers. It’s a man’s version of a box of chocolates, only I know what I’m gonna get. I don’t know what they’re gonna taste like, however, until I pop the top, but that’s part of the fun. This has become a tradition, along with a critique of the brands:

1. George Killian’s Irish Red – It had so much hope with the words Irish AND red on the label. I expected something freckled and feisty. Instead, I got a blush version of Bud Light. Fortunately for the rest of the world, the Irish reputation for Guinness and whiskey is unblemished.
2. Rolling Rock – Chicks love this. Why not? It’s a blonde Bud Light.
3. Spaten Optimator – Germans are famous for boots, so you’d think a German beer would have a little more kick. Think Rolling Rock came back from a weekend on the Wilhemstrasse wearing a pair of high-heel Fuss-Schuhes.
4. Pacifico Clara – If it weren’t for that bearded Lothario and the ubiquitous “I don’t always [add verb here] but when I do” meme hawking Dos Equis, most Facebook users would be swilling Corona with a wedge of lime. Fortunately for Coronistas, there’s always Pacifico Clara. It’s like, I want to leave the shallow end of the pool but I’m afraid of shark-infested waters. Hey, why don’t I dip my toe in this?
5. Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout – Santa may have left a lump of coal in my stocking, but I’m not complaining. In fact, if I’m good, I’ll be bad all year so I can get more. Compared with the aforementioned ladies’ champales, this is like drinking fermented stew. Or Guinness Stout.

On second thought, a case of St. Arnold Elissa is good for all seasons. - February 1, 2016

Baseball season is almost over – IS over for Astros fans, anyway. As of this writing, we are three games out of the WC spot. The only way the boys in orange can advance to playoffs is if they win every game, the Orioles lose all their games, and the price of oil goes to $100 a barrel.

I don’t want to go out on a negative note, so let’s look at some positives. Altuve kicked ass. Plain and simple. Springer was right up there with him. And the new kid, Bregman, recovered quickly from the DL and proved it by driving in a run his first day back. Fact is, we have some serious swatters in the box. What we need are some 20-game winners on the mound.

Best of all, next to winning the pennant, Tal’s Hill is finally getting leveled. The dumbest idea ever to plague Houston since moving the Astros to the American League and building a stadium next to another stadium will join the locker-room showers of history.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate everything ol’ Tal did for the team before his ignominious firing by that damned Yankee John McMullen at the end of a stupendous season in 1980, almost winning the pennant. After McLane bought the team, he brought Smith back, and asked the vindicated general manager for ideas on how to make his new playpen more interesting.

Smith proposed a 30-degree slope in the rear of center field. Interesting? No doubt. Bad idea? Do you really need to ask? Okay, how about adding a flagpole for fielders to dodge, if they haven’t fallen over the hill already?

By then someone should have alerted medical staff to check his blood pressure and medications. But, no! It was approved and built to specifications. The hill will be gone after November, so now’s your last opportunity to take your picture on it. Just don't run  into the flagpole or fall on your face. - September 28, 2016

I hear people drink beer on the Fourth of July. Plan to drink some myself. Recently, a blogger who is yet another expert in a nation of know-it-alls ranked cheap American beers and declared Lone Star Beer is #8 out of 36 beer brands. Why 36? Maybe it was too much trouble to drive to Alaska. Dead last on his list was Keystone. He probably wasn’t old enough to remember Jimmy Carter and the bilgewater that bore the name of his brother – Billy Beer. I have it on good authority that people used it kill to weeds along the fence line.

My oldest brother always said he and his college roommates bought Shiner if they couldn't afford anything better. Now Shiner beer is more expensive than imported beer. And Lone Star is exported outside the Republic of Texas thanks to that cheesy movie with John Travolta. It’s still cheap as long as you’re not in a bar in New York filled with wanna-be-Texans. Well, as another college-educated wag succinctly put it, the worst kind of beer is NO beer. So shut up and belly up.

Whatever your opinion is of our namesake brew, at least there’s a decent honky-tonk song dedicated to it. Red Steagall sang Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music. I’m not a beer snob, but I suppose Lone Star will do – if you can’t afford anything better.  So crack open a cold Lone Star or whatever you’re having, and enjoy this song while you’re rereading the Declaration of Independence, if you’re not too depressed from what Washington has done with it. 
July 4, 2013

On Saturday night, a man with a twenty-dollar bill in the beer aisle is like a kid in a candy store. Hmm. What to buy? You can’t go wrong with Shiner. Well, you could if you get the Holiday Brew. It’s like Bock with a sprig of nutmeg. Only a chick would do that. Sam Adams has always been my favorite but the price of his beer makes me want to pitch it overboard. Ironic. What’s more ironic is the fact that beer made in a town an hour’s drive from my home is more expensive than beer imported from Mexico. Homeland Security be posted on the Mexican border, not highway 77.

There was a big stack of Black Crown Budweiser in the aisle. I’ve never been a Bud man, but a guy at HEB said it won some kind of taste-test award. It's stored in wood barrels under German dance halls where hordes of schöne Mädchen deliriously dance to polkas and is comparable to Shiner Bock. Also, the alcohol content is six percent. Well, that's the tipsy point - I mean, tipping point. In the business world that's known as the "closer."

Okay, I exaggerated a little. But no more than the HEB stocker. But then he was also wearing a Budweiser uniform shirt. Maybe he works on commission. He sure doesn't work for a TRUTH commission. Comparable to Shiner Bock? Maybe if you diluted it with water.

Prosit! Oops! I mean, salud!
If you like beer with meat in it, stick with the Shiner family (avoid the Holiday Brew, though). Me, I'll stay with the Miller High Life, and supplement my intake with Shiner on weekends. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the girl on the moon. I bet the Señorita could hold her own against Heidi in a beer-barrel brawl. At least Miller uses an actual girl for its company logo instead of a goat. - March 3, 2013

The temperatures are in the mid-nineties and the humidity makes me feel like I’m wading through glue. The thermostat on my car jumps to the midway mark as soon as I turn the key, and the laundry hamper is full of sweaty t-shirts at the end of the day. The only thing missing is clouds of mosquitos. The next good shower will fix that oversight.

Rejoice, therefore! These are the signs that we are in the midst of America’s Greatest Pastime. The crack of the bat. The wave. The Called Shot. The smell of leather, popcorn and roasted peanuts. Ballpark franks. Pre-game shows leading up to the All-Star game and the World Series featuring video clips of Willie Mays’s over-the-shoulder catch, Jackie Robinson stealing home and the subsequent volcanic eruption of Yoga Berra who was guarding home plate.

Baseball novices may not appreciate such lore, but every newcomer instantly learns about two traditions that have become intertwined for decades – the seventh-inning stretch, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game. In fact, this year marks the 100th anniversary of one of our nation’s most well-known songs. According to Baseball’s Greatest Hit, that song reached number one on the charts at the end of October of 1908, after the World Series was won by. . . the CHICAGO CUBS!

What else was going on in 1908? The top players were Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Christy Matthewson of the New York Giants, a true gentleman amid all the ruffians. Mordecai “Three-Fingers” Brown was a leading pitcher. The spitball was legal, as was the shineball, which involved the pitcher rubbing the ball on his pants legs to alter the surface of the ball. Baseball cards were sold with cigarettes in that era. Joe Camel never had it that good.

The seventh-inning stretch was already starting to become a tradition. Legend has it that President Taft, who attended the home opener of the Washington Senators in 1910, got up to stretch in the middle of the seventh inning. Fans in attendance thought he was leaving so they stood up out of respect. Thus, it was posited, a tradition began. But, as the writer of the book points out, the fans stood up at the same time the next day which suggests it was already a habit. On the other hand, as everybody knows, Taft weighs in as our heaviest president. Maybe it took him a few days to get out of his seat.

As of this writing, the Cubs are the top of the standings in the National League Central Division. For that matter, they’re ahead of everyone else in the league in percentage of wins. Maybe this will be their year. It’s only been a hundred years, so I’d say they’re right on schedule. Still, this is the Cubs we’re talking about. There’s plenty of time to blow it. But in the meantime, all the fans in Wrigley Park are singing:

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game." - June 16, 2008

Pilgrimage to Nolan Ryan Museum
At long last I have made the pilgrimage. I have made hajj.

Last weekend my son and I journeyed to Alvin, the Mecca (pronounced Makkkkhhha, I think) of baseball, to enter the sanctum sanctorum know as the Nolan Ryan museum. To get there, we had to drive past a lot of broken-down lives. I interviewed a few of them at two gas stations and a liquor store to get directions. We stopped at a MacDonald’s festooned with Nolan Ryan posters and pictures. Even the dividers had little baseball bats instead of slats. All they needed was a McRyan burger. Couldn’t be far, I judged. Turns out it was right across the street at the Alvin Community College

It cost $7.00 for adults. There are TV monitors set up all around with a “chapter” of his life: childhood, minor league, the Mets, the Angels, the Astros and – Damn that John McMullen! (see below) – the Rangers.

“Ryan knows that hitting 41 doesn't mean the end of the line. He played five more years after John McMullen pushed him right into the Texas Rangers' appreciative grasp after that 1988 season, sending Ryan all the way to Cooperstown in a Rangers cap.”

So, now that I’ve done that, where next? To paraphrase the Jewish diaspora, “Next year in Cooperstown!”  - March 2005

While grocery shopping in Midtown, which is a more hipster version of the Heights, I found this can nestled among an array of other craft beers. The market for 99-bottles-of- beer-off-the-wall has skyrocketed since I was first aware there was a difference between a pilsner glass, a beer stein and a Solo Cup.
The shrink-wrap coating allows for the colorful label, a quarter-moon with a mustache and cowboy hat. Cute. The side of the can announces a “fruity and tropical aroma [which] “pairs great with a fully stocked jukebox.” It’s brewed and canned by Eureka Heights which is located in – you guessed it (if you live in Houston) – the Heights.

On this shopping spree, I made an offhand crack about hipster culture to my daughter who speaks the language, but with a sarcastic accent which she gets from me. She reminded me that the hipsters are bringing back all the things I miss – vinyl records, pencil sharpeners with a crank handle, toasters that don’t flip over when I push down the button. And now I can thank them for beer worthy of the name.

So, I raise a glass of Neon Moon to you, hipsters. Just remember I was a nerd before nerdiness was cool. - September 7, 2019

1 comment:

  1. Great beer commentary! Gather this stuff into a book. If nobody will publish it for you, do it your own self; it doesn't cost that much and the satisfaction is beyond compare. I'll buy a copy!