Apr 30, 2017

Richie Ashburn Autographed Baseball

We found this baseball for sale at Plains Antiques & Home Furnishings in Pennsylvania.   Right off the bat, I noticed the Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas autographs (as well as the reasonable price tag) and decided that this ball was coming home with us.  After we got home, we began to do a little investigating on the other signatures on the ball.

Ron Schueler: Right hand pitcher who played for the Phillies from 1974 - 1976. He was with the Phillies for most of Spring Training in 1977, but nine days before their first regular season game, the Phillies sold Schueler's contract to the Minnesota Twins.

Carl Morton: Right handed pitcher who was one of the players taken by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 Expansion Draft. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year in 1970. In total, he had an 8 year Major League career - the first half with the Expos and the rest with the Braves. Odd that he would be on a baseball with Ron Schueler and the Phillies broadcast team, until we did a bit more digging.

We found that Morton signed with the Phillies as a free agent early in 1977 (the date is uncertain, but Baseball-Reference.com estimates that this occurred "sometime in May"). Morton would go on to spend the season in Triple A with the Oklahoma City 89'ers and was not brought up to Philadelphia. The Phillies released him on September 14th that same year.

So, what were the circumstances that could have led to Schueler and Morton both signing this ball? There are two possibilities that seem to be the most likely:

  1. A kid brought their Little League baseball to a Phillies Spring Training game in March 1977 in that short window of time after Carl Morton signed, but before Ron Schueler's contract was sold. The date of the Schueler transaction is certain, so it had to have occurred before March 31st. This would also mean that Morton joined the Phillies in Florida at some point during this time.

  2. That same kid went to a Braves vs. Phillies game between 1974 - 1976 when Schueler was with the Phillies and Morton was with the Braves. He or she collected an autograph from one of the opposing players (Morton's signature is the only one in a different color pen). By coincidence, Morton joined the Phillies organization the very next year.
I'll never know for sure, but it's a heck of a puzzle that resulted in these two random ships that passed in the night in the Phillies clubhouse to sign the same ball. Schueler would go on to pitch for the Twins in '77 and the White Sox in '78 - '79 before retiring from the game. Morton never made it back to the Major Leagues, and he died of a heart attack in 1983 before his 40th birthday.

As for the last signature... that one was tough. It's the most faded of the five autographs, and it looks very unusual. It took us a little bit of looking through the Phillies and 89ers rosters of the late 70's without seeing any similar names, my dad finally cracked the code...

Byrum Saam: Known throughout his historic broadcasting career as By Saam.  He began his career in Philadelphia calling games for the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics from 1938 - 1949. He worked exclusively for the Philadelphia A's starting in 1950 until the team moved to Kansas City in 1954. He returned to the Phillies broadcast booth in 1955 and remained until 1975. In that time, he called games with Richie Ashburn, who joined the broadcast booth in 1963, and Harry The K, who joined the team in 1970.

Ashburn, Kalas and Saam worked the Phillies broadcast booth together starting in 1970. Saam retired in 1976, but he appeared from time to time in 1977. Ashburn worked the booth until his death in 1997. He was of the most beloved members of the organization, both for his excellence on the field and on the mic. Harry would continue to be the voice of the Phillies, with his final full season ending in the 2008 World Series win. I watched from the stands as Harry threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the Phillies 2009 season. In their first road trip of the 2009 season, Harry The K died in the broadcast booth in Washington D.C. as he prepared to call the Nationals home opener against the Phillies.

So, represented on this ball are two right handed pitchers that met briefly in passing, as well as a lineage of 70 years of Phillies broadcast excellence, which includes a man who began with the team the year before World War II, the Hall Of Fame icon of the franchise whose name is synonymous with Philadelphia baseball, and the voice of the Phillies whose singing of High Hopes still echos in the ballpark.

Pretty sweet deal for $40.

Apr 29, 2017

Apr 28, 2017

Smart Dude With Sideburns

Standard Speaker
April 28, 1977 - Hazleton, PA
While browsing through Newspapers.com, I came across this photo of my dad in high school winning a prize in a science competition.

Apr 25, 2017

Two Fuzzy Carbon-Based Life Forms

Hello.  We are Will and Harvey.  Point us in the direction of your food and stand back!

Apr 24, 2017

Giant Plumber Balls

Wilkes-Barre, PA
The giant red balls outside of Target have been decorated to look like Mario and Luigi.

Apr 23, 2017

The Spice Must Flow

Butterfinger Smokin' Hot Peanut Butter Cups
Nestle (2017)
The newest of the limited edition oddities to come out of the Nestle candy kitchens are spicy peanut butter cups.  They don't taste hot at first, but the aftertaste sneaks up on you.

Apr 22, 2017

I'll Wait...

Popeye's Chicken
Rt. 93 - Hazleton, PA

Apr 21, 2017

Get Down With Your Bad Self

Robert Alton Harris
Artwork by Connie Cann
This print shows the last words of convicted killer Robert Alton Harris before he was executed in the gas chamber on April 21st, 1992.  They must have had a recent movie night on death row because it's from the Reaper Rap at the end of the 1991 film: Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.

Apr 20, 2017

Happy 4/20

I wonder if my doctor will give me a medical marijuana card in honor of 4/20.  He's got a pretty groovy little gazebo in front of the office that would make the perfect spot.

Apr 19, 2017

Gwen Stefani Was Right

Happy National Banana Day.  May your life be blessed with potassium.

Apr 18, 2017

Harvey's Haircut

My little buddy got a haircut.

Apr 17, 2017

Just A Funky Old Shack And I Gotta Get Back

Radio Shack
Rt. 93 - Hazleton, PA
I'm going to miss this place.  It had cheap batteries, awesome remote control cars, and if I ever had a vintage gizmo from a flea market that was missing a wire or something, all I had to do is bring it in and the folks at the counter knew exactly what it needed.

The main thing I'll always remember about this store is that it was the place where I got my first computer - a 486 IBM Aptiva.  We had a computer when I lived in Florida, but that was more of a family computer and it was in the years before any of us knew what the internet was.  Pretty much all I ever did on it was play the occasional game of Ninja Rabbit, Double Dragon 3 or the demo for Out Of This World.  Mostly, it was used by my stepmom for her projects.  The Aptiva was more than that.  It had a 28.8 modem and was my first door to the internet.  I spent hours on that thing, and I'll never forget how excited I was on the the day that we brought it home from this Radio Shack.

In its final years, the store has mostly become a Sprint mobile phone dealer.  The computers and handheld games are long gone, but they have just about any type of phone case or chargers that you could ever want.  Just about everything is marked down between 50 - 80% off, so I stocked up on batteries before they close for good.

Apr 16, 2017

Out With The Pup

Harvey usually finds a few squirrels to chase in this field during his walk.

Apr 15, 2017

Cranking Cantina


Star Wars Cantina Song on a Barrel Organ
Brice Dudouet
An organ grinder named Brice Dudouet performs "Mad About Me" originally performed by Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes... or to those of you who aren't totally hopeless nerds such as myself, he is playing the Star Wars Cantina Song by John Williams.

Apr 10, 2017

Dinner In The Outfield

Harry The K's Grille
Citizens Bank Park - Philadelphia, PA
There are so many good things to eat at Citizens Bank Park that it's hard to decide.  I try to come here at least once every season.  It's an especially good place to relax and have a meal during a rain delay if you're lucky enough to get a table before everyone else in the ballpark gets the same idea.

It didn't rain during the Home Opener on Friday, but it was pretty damn cold, so it was good to come in out of the left field wind and get a nice, hot meal.

I'm trying to lose some weight, so I went with the Farmer's Market Grain Bowl.  I know, I know, make fun of me all you want, but I've had this once before and it's really delicious and more filling than it looks.

Angie got the Steak Frites, which she said was very good.  I'm pretty sure I had this before and it is every bit as delicious as the description would lead you to believe.  If there is a negative here, it's the fact that it's not especially large, so you're probably going to still be hungry if you're a husky eater.

Apr 9, 2017

30 Years Ago: Two 300 Game Winners

Thirty Years Ago Today: The Cleveland Indians entered the 1987 with great expectations, including a Sports Illustrated cover that pegged them the best team in the American League.   It didn't work out that way.  They finished the season at 61 - 101; dead last in the AL East with the worst record in baseball.  However, their first win of the season was historic.

Phil Niekro entered the game with 311 career wins.  He started for Cleveland in the final game of their opening series against Toronto, pitching 5 innings and giving up 3 runs on 7 hits, including a solo home run from Tony Fernandez.

Steve Carlton began the night with 323 victories, and he came on in relief to start the sixth inning.  He pitched for the rest of the night, giving up 0 runs on 4 hits and earning a rare four-inning save.

Even more rare was the fact that this was the first time in baseball history that two 300 game winners pitched in the same game for the same team.  They would do so again five nights later against the Yankees, but with significantly worse results.  On that night, Niekro couldn't get out of the second inning.  Lefty came in to pitch 3 2/3, and the future Hall-of-Famers combined to give up 7 runs in what ended as a 10 - 6 defeat (Carlton took the loss).

Neither pitcher would finish the season in an Indians uniform.

Carlton was traded at the deadline to the Minnesota Twins; the last team that Lefty would ever pitch for.  Steve had one last gem to deliver, and he did so on August 8th, coming one out shy of a complete game and giving up only 2 runs on 7 hits against the Oakland A's for his 329th victory - the last of his career.  The Twins would go on to win the World Series.  Although Carlton was not on the post-season roster, he earned a World Series ring and visited the White House with the team to meet with President Ronald Reagan.  The photos that were taken of that event misidentified Lefty as a secret service agent.

Just over a week later, Niekro was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays - the team he and Carlton combined to defeat in the first week of the season.  His time in Toronto was short lived.  He would be released by the Blue Jays after only three starts in which he went 0-2 and gave up 11 runs and 7 walks in just 12 innings pitched.  In what was a very classy move, the Atlanta Braves signed Niekro on September 23rd and had him start the last home game of the season with the team that he began his career with in 1964.  In what would be his last career game, Niekro gave up 5 runs and was taken out before he could record an out in the 4th inning.  Although the Braves would go on to lose this game 15 - 6, Niekro was taken out of the game to a standing ovation with the game tied, and he did not get the loss.

Photos © Bob Wolfe - Phil Niekro fan page - Geocities Colosseum Field 6335

Apr 8, 2017

Mad Max vs. Vinny Velo

Friday, April 7,  2017

It was a pretty cold home opener this year.  Thankfully, the free giveaway at the ballpark today was a knit hat, so that immediately came in handy for myself and the other 45,000+ in attendance.

Before the game, there was live music, a ferris wheel and a lot of other cool stuff outside the park.  It wasn't quite as festive of an atmosphere as Opening Day 2009, but you'll have this when you're not coming off of the second championship season in franchise history.

Once we were inside the ballpark, I accidentally stumbled into a parade of the entire team down Ashburn Alley, led by the Philly Phanatic, as they were on their way to take the field for opening introductions before the game.  I was on my way to Chickie's & Pete's for something to eat and had no idea that this was about to go down, so it was just a case of being at the right place at the right time.

There was also a little Coca-Cola kiosk set up where you could turn yourself into an animated gif bobblehead.

They also printed out copies of the photo for everyone to have, and it didn't cost a dime.  Pretty awesome of you, Coke.  Thanks!

Usually, I try to shoot for tickets on the first base side behind home plate, but demand and prices are pretty high for the home opener, so it was out in left field for me.  It's not bad to watch a game from the outfield - just not my preferred location.  The chicken fingers and crab fries definitely helped me to warm up.

One of the benefits of sitting in left field was that we got to see our old friend, Jayson Werth, up close in the final year of his current contract.  I'll never understand why other Phillies fans boo this guy.  He was a critical piece in our 2008 World Championship and 2009 National League Championship seasons, and he always hustled his ass off.  Yes, he took the money and signed with the Nationals before the 2011 season for 7 years / $126 million dollars, but lets put that in perspective.  It was the 14th richest contract in the history of the sport at the time.  That's pretty damn life changing for a guy who missed the entire season due to injury just four years earlier and had to settle for a bargain basement deal in 2007 as a platoon player.  Any player would have jumped at the chance for that kind of money and security.  I appreciate everything that Jayson Werth did for my team, and I don't blame him one bit for signing with Washington.

The Nationals didn't waste time in this game.  Vinny Velo walked the second batter he faced, and then gave up a two run homer to Bryce Harper - not a good start.  Daniel Murphy hit another homer off of him in the top of the third to put the Nationals up 4-0.

Joely Rodriguez came on to pitch for the Phillies in the top of the 5th and wasn't much of an improvement.  He walked Bryce Harper and gave up a double to Daniel Murphy to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs.  He did manage to strike out Ryan Zimmerman, but Jayson Werth jacked a home run to deep left field to put the Phillies down 7-0.  

Meanwhile, Max Scherzer was shutting down the Phillies offense pretty efficiently.  He didn't allow a baserunner until Howie Kendrick doubled in the bottom of the 4th with one out.  Odubel Herrera followed it up with a single, but Scherzer retired Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders to end the inning with no damage.  Cesar Hernandez doubled off of him in the bottom of the 6th, and Odubel got an RBI single, but those were the only runs given up by the Nationals ace.

Thankfully, the Nationals pulled Scherzer in the bottom of the 7th and the Phillies immediately responded by putting some runs on the board.  Sammy Solis was brought in to pitch and gave up an RBI double to Freddy Galvis and a home run to Aaron Altherr to narrow the Nats lead to 7-4.

The Phillies looked like they were going to mount a comeback in the bottom of the 9th.  Cameron Rupp led off with a single and Freddy Galvis homered to narrow the Nationals lead to a single run, however the rally didn't continue and the Phillies lost 7-6.

Portrait of a cold and grouchy Phillies fan.
So, the Phillies are now 1-3.  They haven't won since Opening Day, they lost their opening series on the road against the Reds, and now they've lost their home opener to a division rival.  It's not exactly the start that we were hoping for, but it's much too early to count out the Fightin's yet.

Apr 7, 2017

Happy Danny Tartabull Day

Danny Tartabull - OF
MLB Career: 1984 to 1997
Phillies Career: April 1 to April 7, 1997
The late 90's were not kind to the Philadelphia Phillies or the fans, but no year was more depressing than 1997.  In the first 100 games of the season, the Phillies were 30 - 70.  At their lowest point in the season (July 27th), the team was 42 games below .500.  To make matters worse, they drafted J.D. Drew, who refused to sign because the team wouldn't meet his signing bonus demands.  However, the worst part of 1997 wasn't their draft pick.  It was their big free agent acquisition - Danny Tartabull.

Tartabull played for the White Sox in 1996 and made $5.2 million.  At 34 years old, he finished the season with 27 home runs and 101 RBI.  He was past his prime, but there was reason to believe that he still had a couple productive seasons left in the tank.  Unfortunately for Tartabull, the general managers of the day were less optimistic about his future.  In fact, the only offer on the table was a $500k one year deal with the Reds... until the Phillies got involved.

The Phillies decided that Tartabull was going to be their target free agent.  They saw him as their cleanup hitter behind Gregg Jefferies.  They also didn't mind the indignity of begging a man that no other team wanted to sign for $2.3 million dollars.  After signing, Tartabull wasted no time endearing himself to Phillies fans.  When asked about his trip through free agency that ultimately ended in Philadelphia, he told the media "My number one goal was to sign on with a team that had a chance to go to post-season play.  That didn't happen."  Ouch.

He wasn't wrong.  The Phillies finished the season in dead last, 33 games behind the division champion Atlanta Braves.  However, Danny Tartabull didn't suffer through the season along with the fans.  On Opening Day in Los Angeles, in his first at-bat as a Phillie, Tartabull fouled a ball off of his foot.  He walked twice, but didn't get a hit.  His foot was still sore after the game, so the Phillies kept him on the bench for the rest of the series with the Dodgers,  He didn't return to the lineup until the fifth game of the season, which was April 5th against the Padres.  Again, Tartabull was hitless, going 0-2 with two strikeouts and a walk.  He sat again the next day and returned to the lineup for the last game of his professional career the following day.  The Phillies began a three game series with the Giants in San Francisco twenty years ago today - April 7th, 1997.  Our big free agent prize again failed to get a hit and struck out twice, but he did manage to draw a walk and score a run.

Not long after the game, we learned that Tartabull may have done more damage than expected when he fouled the ball off of his foot on Opening Day.  Reports at the time said that he had a small fracture, and there was a possibility of ligament damage, but there were more than a few grumblings that he wasn't as hurt as he claimed to be, and he used the incident as an excuse to cash in his chips (and his $2.3 million dollar check from the Phillies) and call it a career.  He never played in another game and retired at the end of the season.

The lesson we learned 20 years ago today is that sometimes the big free agent acquisition turns out to be a dud.  In fact, we should make it a holiday and give each other greeting cards at Citizens Bank Park to remind each other that we're all in this together.  We're Phillies fans, and when you wear the red and white, you have to keep in mind that sometimes life sucks.

Apr 5, 2017

Chugging Milk With Michael Jack

Mike Schmidt promotional material
This milk advertisement featuring Phillies legend Mike Schmidt was shared on Twitter by Super 70s Sports.  It turns out that quite a few of these were published in the early 80's.

Apr 4, 2017

Relax, It's Just A Cake

Spotted Dick Sponge
This may be the most delicious desert ever made, but I can't get over the fact that it sounds like something a hospital might use to clean up after an STD.

Apr 3, 2017

The Faded Bride


Bridal Boutique sign
443 Winters Ave - West Hazleton, PA
This wooden sign of a bride has been on the side of this building since January 1972.  I remember passing it when I was in the car with my grandfather or taking the dog for a walk.  It's now an apartment building (the dress shop closed down years ago), but the sign is still on the side, fading away in the sun a little more every year.

Apr 2, 2017

Happy Birthday, Pop

Happy 58th birthday to the coolest son of a bitch I know.

Apr 1, 2017

Hot Rooster Action

Sriracha Hot Stout Beer
Rogue Ales & Spirits (2017)
I promise that this isn't an April Fools joke.  You can walk into Wegman's and buy this right now.