Beers of the (Belated) Opening Day

A belated Happy Opening Day to you all! I was very busy in the days and weeks leading up to the blessed event, pitching in on Sports Illustrated‘s MLB Preview issue (cover date March 30, edited by fiancée Emma Span), for which I interviewed multiple scouts about the strengths and weaknesses of opposing teams for the “Enemy Lines” features as well as writing up half a dozen teams for the SI.com previews (which have different content from the magazine). I did another TV spot with Duke Castiglione for Fox Sports Extra, took as many radio hits as I could manage and on Opening Day, hunkered down with colleagues Cliff Corcoran and Jon Tayler to live-blog 11 games taking place over a six-hour span.

Here’s the TV spot from March 30:

Here’s Sunday night’s spot from Fox 5 Sports Extra with Duke Castiglione. As promised, lots of discussion of the…

Posted by Jay Jaffe on Monday, March 30, 2015

Elsewhere, and owing to the suds-stained content on this here blog — including my passing reference to writer Niko Krommydas’ article on Other Half’s mobile canning efforts  — I was profiled by Krommydas for Brooklyn Magazine. We discussed the union of baseball and beer as well as the craft scene in New York City, and the piece wrapped up with my “starting rotation” of five beers to celebrate the baseball season. Three are locals, namely Other Half IPA, Sixpoint Sweet Action and Third Rail Bodega Pale Ale, with Harpoon’s Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA and Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout rounding out the selection. It’s not an all-time top five by any means, just a nice cross-section that tells a story along the way.

Meanwhile, I’ve fallen behind in my Beers of the Week, so…

• March 18: Troeg’s Nugget Nectar

It’s always fun to sample this highly-sought imperial amber ale, which uses whole flower Nugget hops as well as Warrior, Tomahawk, Simcoe and Palisade. it’s a 93 IBU hop bomb that delivers all of the pine, resin and citrus notes your nose and palate can handle.

• March 25: Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA

Though they’re the second-largest craft brewer in the country, Sierra Nevada’s offerings are a staple of any good beer diet. As this Deadspin summarized recently, “Hating Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is for Suckers” and beyond that, the brewery has a whole lot going on. While the wide availability of SNPA played a major role in opening up beer drinkers’ minds and palates to the fragrant, hoppy stuff, tastes have evolved and so have techniques. Earlier this year, the brewery introduced their Hop Hunter IPA, which features a revolutionary method of production. Right there in the field, the oil from freshly harvested Cascade, Centennial and CTZ hops is steam-distilled into a stable, super-potent form that allows the brewers to make wet-hopped beer year-round. Krommydas has a full description of the process here as well as an interview with SN kingpin Ken Grossman; according to the piece, only a half-milliliter of the oil is used per barrel of beer, with whole-cone hops used as well.

And lemme tell ya, WOW. Open up a bottle of this stuff — which costs the same as the rest of their year-round line, hardly a king’s ransom — and pour it into a glass. Give it a couple minutes to breathe and you’ll think you’re the fucking emperor of imperial IPAs. It’s incredibly aromatic, floral and fresh but light, dry and not overwhelming in bitterness (60 IBU). Oh, the places they can take this…

• April 1: Founder’s Black Rye

I’m a huge fan of this Michigan brewery, black beers and rye beers, so this one landed right in my wheelhouse. I initially characterized it as a drier, more peppery version of their porter, one of the best around, but it’s not quite as thick as that, closer to a schwartzbier weight. Whatever it is, it works. It’s a silky dry-hopped ale that according to Founders blends German and American hops, and the rye presence is strong. It comes in at 7.5% ABV and 78 IBU. Not for the faint of heart.

• April 8: Pliny the Elder

You can ask how somebody on the East Coast can get ahold of this hard-to-find double IPA from Russian River Brewing Company, but with all due respect to the sainthood-worthy reader who put me onto it, it’s just not my place to reveal my source. This is one of the gold standards in beer, named for the Roman naturalist who is supposedly the first to write about hops, and rated at a full 100 on Beer Advocate, but only because they haven’t gone the Spinal Tap route and decided it deserves a 110 or something higher. Packaged in a half-liter bottle (though I’ve been blessed to have it on tap in California), this one is big and fruity, with notes of pineapple, pear and orange offsetting the pine and resin as well as the malty backbone. It’s 8.0% ABV, and if you’re drinking this as a session beer, you’re probably either doing it wrong or celebrating a lottery win.

Here’s hoping you can find a way to try this. If you’ve read this far, chances are you deserve it.

As Seen On TV on a Slow News Day

The MLB Network folks haven’t been calling my number lately — the afternoon schedule is filled with spring training games — but no matter. I’m now in the virtual Rolodex of the producers of Olbermann. On Monday, I made my third appearance in as many months for a breezy around-the-horn chat with Keith Olbermann about several articles I’ve written lately at SI.com: the Christian Yelich extension, fellow Marlin Dee Gordon’s potential to be among the NL’s busts, the Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud as a breakout candidate, my season preview of the Twins and the impact of new manager Paul Molitor, and finally, the thorny issue of Pete Rose’s reinstatement and potential Hall of Fame candidacy:

A good time was had by all on a slow news day. For whatever reason, the three spots I’ve done for Olbermann (one with fill-in Adnan Virk) have been as relaxed as I’ve ever been on camera. Here’s hoping there are more in the future!

Beers of the Week: Mid-Marching

Filling in the gaps on a few more brews of note, including a pair for this past week despite my ESPN El Paso radio spot — the raison d’etre of these lists in the first place — being postponed.

• February 25: Smuttynose Durty Mud Season Hoppy Brown Ale

Though they don’t get a ton of fanfare, I’ve long been a fan of Smuttynose Brewing Company, a New Hampshire concern that’s been around since 1994. Their year-round beers have been pretty easy to find at my local grocery store and deli for the past several years, and between their Finestkind IPA, Shoals Pale Ale, Old Brown Dog Ale and Robust Porter, they’re always dependable and generally underrated, a fine mid-priced option to have in the rotation. Peruse their rankings at Beer Advocate and you’ll see a lot of scores in the high 90s, especially from the Alstrom Brothers, who gave the aforementioned IPA a 100. They deserve more attention than they get.

I’ve particularly been a fan of Smutty’s darker beers; their porter is a go-to for me, and I liked the Noonan Black IPA that I tried awhile back. Having enjoyed their Mud Season last time around, without hesitation I picked up a six-pack of their 2015 edition when it showed up at my local. This one is a high-ABV (8.4%) and IBU (97) brown ale where the hops —  Bravo, Nugget and Rakao according to their website, of which I’m really familiar with only the Nugget — are definitely up front as advertised, and at Double IPA strength to boot, with pine the predominant aroma. That gives way to citrus notes that are quickly elbowed out by the more typically malty caramel and toffee characteristics of a brown ale and a fairly bitter finish.

If you’re a fan of Stone Arrogant Bastard, this is in that league, with more alcohol but better portion control, as it comes in 12-ounce bottles instead of 22-ounce bombers. Good stuff.

• March 4: Sierra Nevada Harvest Wild Hop IPA

I stumbled across this at Top Hops, the great specialty shop on the Lower East Side, and at $4.99 for a 24-ounce bottle, I figured it was worth a flyer even if it was probably a few weeks past its prime, having been released in December. It was positioned as the fifth in a five-beer series that explored hopping methods with rare hops, with two single-hop IPAs, plus a fresh hop IPA, a wet hop IPA and this wild child — all of which made me bummed that I had failed to catch up with the series before, particularly since I don’t think this one’s coming to Netflix anytime soon.

Anyway, this beer was made with Neomexicanus hops from New Mexico, of which the Sierra site says, “These bizarre, multi-headed, native U.S. cones have a flavor like nothing we’ve tasted.” Indeed, the predominant up-front tastes and aromas made for a fruity combination of melon and citrus — maybe cantaloupe and tangerine? I need another to be sure. Despite the wild hops’ reputation for excessive bitterness, this wasn’t overwhelming at all at 55 IBU, nor was it particularly high in alcohol (6.5% ABV). It may not have been the best of the limited Sierras I’ve had over the years — the Estate Homegrown Ale and 30th Anniversary Fritz and Ken’s Ale come to mind and OMG I WANT TO GO TO THERE — but it was certainly a nice change of pace. I was more than happy to pick up a second bottle when it showed up closer to home.

• March 11: Other Half IPA and Other Half Superfun! Pale Ale

With my radio spot postponed, I figured it’s a good time to write about some beers that my Texas listeners wouldn’t have a shot at tracking down anyway, so here’s to perhaps the hottest local brewery. Located at the southern tip of Carroll Gardens near the Gowanus Expressway, Other Half is within walking distance of my home, at least when the weather is warm enough. Last summer, I got into the habit of picking up a growler at their tasting room on the way back from eating tacos and pupusas at the Red Hook Ball Fields. The brewery, which debuted in November 2013, has quickly become one of the most popular among craft aficionados, not only in New York City but beyond. They specialize in big West Coast-style IPAs, but they have an experimental bent that led them to brew 45 different beers within their first 12 months, with all kind of saisons and other varieties that are outside my wheelhouse, but that I respect nonetheless.

Their flagship IPA is a fine West Coaster, with Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Simcoe hops. Heavy on the citrus with grapefruit and orange notes as well as pine, delivered via a light body that belied its 7.1% ABV and 70 IBU, it’s far from their most adventurous beer, and it probably isn’t their best IPA. I prefer their Citra-based Hop Showers IPA, not to mention their Green Diamonds DIPA, which has drawn comparisons to Heady Topper (which alas, I’ve never had). On this Friday night, I had set out for Bierkraft in search of their Not My Jam Black IPA, only to find that the keg was kicked, replaced by one of the IPA; I wasn’t in much mood to complain. My fiancée and I polished that thing off over the course of an Altman movie, so it was an evening well spent.

On that same Bierkraft run, I picked up a 16-ounce can of their Superfun!, the first of their efforts in conjunction with the mobile Iron Heart Canning service, which makes it possible for smaller outfits to can without the capital cost of building their own lines (see this article in Brooklyn Magazine for more). This one came from a batch of 7,500 whose labels were hand-applied, sold at the brewery for $4 a pop and marked up to $5.95 at Park Slope’s notorious gougemart — though I guess it was a fair premium given that I’m not big on standing in line for beer.

Superfun! isn’t an IPA, it’s a session pale ale that comes in at 4.2% ABV, but crack open that can and you’ll think you’ve got a Double IPA under your nose given the intensity of the Simcoe, Galaxy, and El Dorado hops. Tropical fruit (mango?) notes up front, with some orange and tangerine in there as well, with a dry finish but not overwhelming bitterness (the IBU is unknown, in part because Other Half’s website is less than half-assed). Though released in February, this would make for a great warm-weather beer, though it’s beyond impossible that it ever shows up at, say, Yankee Stadium, a.k.a The House That AB InBev Runs. I’d love to have more of this, but until the run gets larger and the price point drops, a growler is probably the way to go. Still, I can’t begrudge their canning runs given the way they can spread the word farther and wider about what a great brewery this is, and I look forward to paying a similarly steep price for a can of Green Diamonds soon.

Beers of the Week: It’s Not All Beer and Skittles

In theory, I was supposed to do a better job of keeping up with the posts on this blog, at least when it came to beer. Alas travel, wedding planning (!) and a bit of bookpanic (a German word that roughly translates to “panic over the awesome responsibility of writing a book”) have conspired to guilt me out of putting more time into this. But let’s catch up on those beers of the week I’ve spotlighted on my ESPN El Paso weekly hits:

February 4: Bronx Rye Pale Ale

In 2013, Bronx Brewing began distributing its Pale Ale in 16-ounce cans — the kind utilized by Sixpoint in their bygone heyday, in 4-packs — to New York and other parts of the Northeast. In late 2014, soon after hanging out a shingle on their very own brewery, they added two more of their brews, their Rye Pale Ale and Belgian Pale Ale, to their line of canned offerings. I’ve yet to try the latter, but the former — which I first had on tap at a nearby bar, and have since enjoyed straight from the can — is right in my wheelhouse.

The Bronx offering comes in a bit more mellow than some of the more head-turning examples of the genre such as Sixpoint’s lamentably late Righteous Rye or Sierra Nevada’s all-too-scarce Ruthless Rye. While it has the distinctively peppery snap of a rye beer, it’s maltier than those two or Harpoon’s Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA, a Casa Jaffe-Span staple. The Bronx version has more than a touch of the distinctive biscuity and nutty flavors that define their Pale Ale, with the hops (Chinook and Crystal, according to their site) working in a supporting role instead of trying to grab the limelight. It weighs in at 6.3% ABV, making it a good session beer, though I will say that the biscuity-ness of it can get a bit cloying if you don’t mix things up. Drop a hop bomb or a dry stout between two of them and the whole will add up to more than the sum of the parts. Which brings me to…

• February 11: Rockaway Black Gold Stout

Another local offering, this one comes from Long Island ‘s Rockaway Brewing Company, and I’m happy to see that like the Bronx Rye, it turned up at the great new bar down the street. The Black Gold is an Irish Dry Stout, with a frothy head and roasty coffee/bittersweet chocolate notes. It’s not sweet at all, and while I love my Left Hand Milk Stout, this is a different beast — and at 5.6% ABV, a playfully tame one, suitable for session drinking. I’ve had it on both CO2 and Nitro taps, and here I think I prefer the former, but I wouldn’t kick either off a tap list.

• February 18: Epic Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout

So in mid-month I went home to visit my parents in Salt Lake City. As is my custom, the first thing I did on my first full day was go down to Epic Brewing Company‘s brewery/store. Epic stakes its claim as “Utah’s first brewery since prohibition to brew exclusively high alcohol content beer,” which is important because Utah’s arcane liquor laws prevent beer stronger than 4% ABV from being sold in grocery or convenience stores; you either have to go the direct route or via a state liquor store.

An eerie silence fell over the store as I walked in. Had I been wearing spurs, you could have heard them jangle. I nodded to the cashier, whispered, “Better get a box,” and in short order picked out eight of their 22-ounce bombers for my stay, some for my schlep back to New York: Smoked Porter, Double Skull Doppelbock, Hopulent IPA (two of ‘em), Imperial IPA, Spiral Jetty IPA, Rio’s Rompin’ Rye — all of them repeats except for the Imperial… and this one. Maybe it was the price point ($11.95 for the bomber) and the presence of so many other alternatives in their cold case that kept me away previously. I’ll never get those chances back, alas.

Epic Big Bad Baptist is a real motherscratcher at 11.2% ABV, an imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans, then aged in a whiskey barrel. I quickly fell in love with the interplay between the roasted malt sweetness and coffee-driven bitterness and whiskey finish, lamenting that I could not load up on more bottles before leaving the next morning. I’d put it in a class with Brooklyn Black Ops, my other favorite barrel-aged imperial, and at less than half the price, it’s a bargain.

Oh, and so I schlepped three bottles — all IPAs — back to Brooklyn, and my unbroken streak remained unbroken.

• Honorable mention: Payette Rodeo Rye

Man can’t live off bombers alone, so while I was in SLC I also went to pick up a 6-pack of lower-octane stuff. Rather than opt for the familiar from Uinta, Wasatch or Squatters, I spun through a few Beer Advocate ratings and took a chance on this Idaho brewer’s canned rye offering.

It was nothing short of a revelation. Unlike many a 4% beer that tastes as though it were brewed at a higher ABV and then hosed down in the yard, this one was as flavorful as a higher-alcohol offering. The hop aroma practically burst from the cans — all Citra, as it turns out, one of my favorites — and pine and citrus aromas met the spicy snap of the rye. The Rodeo makes for a great après-ski beer, a situation where low-alcohol is the way to go, and quite frankly, it throws down the gauntlet for any brewery trying to thrive within the stupid ABV limitations. I wish some of their Utah rivals were so aggressively flavored.

While in SLC, I also had dinner one night at Avenues Proper Restaurant and Publick House, where I enjoyed a pint of their Darth Lager, a delicious Munich Dunkel with dark muscovado sugar, and sampled four other beers, the most notable of which was their Skittlebrau Peach Saison (wow, did I really write this seven and a half years ago?). No candy was harmed in this one.

Rocky Bridges (1927-2015)

Bridges59A

“Rocky Bridges looked like a ballplayer. In fact, he may have looked more like a ballplayer than any other ballplayer who ever lived. His head looked like a sack full of rusty nails, he kept about six inches of chewing tobacco lodged permanently in the upper recesses of his left cheek, and his uniform always looked as if he had just slept in it — which of course he probably had. He had a squat, muscular frame, a wire-brush crewcut, and a glower that could have intimidated Ty Cobb. He was the sort of guy who would spike his own grandmother to break up the double play. Whenever I saw him kneeing eagerly in the on-deck circle, his knobby little hands kneading the handle of his Louisville Slugger, his baggy pants hiked up to almost the midpoint of his barrel-like chest, his baseball cap cocked slightly askew and tipped to a notably unraffish angle, it would occur to me that in reality Rocky Bridges did not exist, that he was in fact a character from a Ring Lardner short story, or a punch line to a Grantland Rice anecdote, or a figment of Damon Runyon’s imagination. ” — Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

When Don Zimmer passed away last June after 66 years in baseball, I called him the ultimate futility infielder. Allow me to amend that, for Rocky Bridges, who died last week at the age of 87, was every bit as worthy of that title, and every bit as much an inspiration for this site. The secret of futility infielders is their ability to thrive despite their shortcomings in talent, thanks to persistence, flexibility and a command of fundamentals that go well beyond the playing field. They’re the laces that hold the leather together, the very soul of baseball.

In an 11-year major league career that included all of 562 hits, 16 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a pedestrian .247/.310/.313 batting line — yet somehow also an All-Star appearance — the limitations of Rocky Bridges’ ability were dwarfed by a persistence that allowed him to spend nearly half a century in the game. Armed with a self-deprecating wit, he was a natural in conveying to impressionable young men  the message that talent and skill alone aren’t sufficient to thrive, that the need to enjoy the game, to remember that it’s supposed to be fun, is necessary to cope with its ups and downs.

As the manager of the Pacific Coast League’s Phoenix Giants from 1974 through 1982, Bridges brought his team through my hometown of Salt Lake City (host of the Angels and later Mariner affiliates during that timespan) with regularity, and quips from the eminently quotable skipper often found their way into The Salt Lake Tribune. The passage from the Boyd/Harris book, which I stumbled across when I was 13 or 14, sketched out his back story as a fringe major leaguer, and in the late 1990s, my pal Nick Stone unearthing a used copy of the Jim Bouton-edited I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad, an anthology whose title and first chapter came from a 1964 Sports Illustrated profile of Bridges just as he was winding up the first of his 21 seasons piloting a minor league club. Writer Gilbert Rogin called Bridges “one of the best stand-up comics in the history of baseball,” and several generations of scribes who had the fortune to cover him over the years would probably agree. Rogin’s 3,500-word piece — and just about everything else written about him over the past sixty-some years — is stuffed with punchline after punchline from the former Punch-and-Judy hitter.

“I always wanted to be a baseball player. Now that I’ve quit playing, I still entertain that idea.” *

Born in Refugio, Texas in 1927, Everett Lamar Bridges grew up in Long Beach, California, where he starred in high school. He was playing semipro ball in 1947, and expecting to join the Army when his coach told him to come meet Brooklyn Dodgers scout Tom Downey. As the story goes, Bridges spent his last nickel on cab fare and came away with a $150 month contract, which he later called “the deal of a lifetime.”

“I’m the only man in the history of the game who began his career in a slump and stayed in it.” *

Bridges started his professional career in Santa Barbara of the California League. He hit just .183 with two homers in 39 games, but took up chewing tobacco on the field and smoking cigars away from it, both on the advice of a teammate who told him he’d never make the majors unless he did. The next year at Greenville, he acquired his nickname.

“A public address announcer thought Lamar sounded lousy and started calling me Rocky. For quite awhile I thought it was because of my build. Then I realized it fit my game.” **

After a year in Greenville, Bridges spent two in Montreal — where he played with Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Tommy Lasorda (whose curve “had as much hang time as a Ray Guy punt”) — and then made the Dodgers out of spring training in 1951, impressing manager Charlie Dressen with his grit, hustle, and an apology for missing a sign in a game in which he later hit a game-winning homer.

“I’ve been a paid spectator at some pretty interesting events… and I’ve always had a good seat. I guess they figured there was no point in carrying a good thing too far.” *

In an infield that featured Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese as well as Gil Hodges and Billy Cox, Bridges did not suffer from an abundance of playing time. He hit .254/.306/.328 with one homer in 147 plate appearances spread thinly over 66 game, but was a bystander during the three-game playoff with the Giants that ended with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” After playing even less the following year, batting .196/.286/.250 in 66 PA and riding pine during the Dodgers’ seven-game World Series loss, he was traded to the Reds in a four-team deal.

“The Dodgers told me I was the shortstop. I was actually about the 33rd shortstop Pee Wee Reese ran out.” **

The Reds made Bridges their regular second baseman and he rewarded them with a .227/.288/.273 showing, so they stashed him on the bench. Over the next three years in Cincinnati (“it took me that long to learn how to spell it”), he accumulated just 277 PA in 219 games.

“I got a big charge out of seeing Ted Williams hit. Once in a while they let me try to field some of them, which sort of dimmed my enthusiasm.” *

In May 1957, the Reds put Bridges on waivers, and he was claimed by the Senators, who were en route to a 55-99 record. Though defensively sound enough to play regularly at shortstop, he wasn’t much help with the bat, but in 1958, he hit a respectable .297/.356/.406 with five homers before the All-Star break, earning a spot on the AL roster — somebody needed to represent the hapless Washingtonians — for the only time in his career. Quipped Bridges, “That surprised everybody. They were close to launching an investigation.”

“I never got in the game, but I sat on the bench with Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. I gave ‘em instruction in how to sit.” **

Bridges rode pine during the entire contest, which may or may not have been a factor in the AL’s 4-3 victory over the NL. Alas, in his first plate appearance after the All-Star break, an errant pitch from Detroit’s Frank Lary fractured his jaw, costing him more than a month. “It kept me from making the Hollywood scene,” Bridges said. “I was no longer just a pretty face.” He hit just .160/.186/.202 in 97 second-half plate appearances, taking the shine off his first-half numbers. That winter, Bridges was traded to the Tigers as part of a six-player deal that also included Eddie Yost. He took over as Detroit’s starting shortstop but hit just .268/.320/.349 for a team that finished 76-78. He hardly played at all in 1960, accumulating just 34 PA across three teams, the Tigers, Indians and Cardinals.

“I’ve had more numbers on my back than a bingo board.” *

In January 1961, the expansion Los Angeles Angels — Bridges’ sixth team in a five-year span — signed him as a free agent. They kept him busy enough to accumulate 259 plate appearances in stints at second base and shortstop. After he broke a homerless drought of more than two years, he told reporters, “I’m still behind Babe Ruth’s record, but I’ve been sick. It really wasn’t very dramatic. No little boy in the hospital asked me to hit one. I didn’t promise it to my kid for his birthday, and my wife will be too shocked to appreciate it. I hit it for me.”

“The main quality a great third base coach must have is a fast runner.” ***

Bridges’ age (33) and typically light bat suggested he had little future in the majors, so he retired following the season (“I think they asked me to”), but having maxed out at a salary of $12,500, it wasn’t like he had riches to fall back upon. This was a man who spent various offseasons pouring centrifugal die castings for a foundry, cleaning out furnaces and sacking soap for Boraxo, running a jackhammer or digging ditches. He took a job with the Angels as their third base coach, and served in that capacity under manager Bill Rigney for two years; the team even enjoyed a burst of success, going 86-76 in just their second season. In 1964, Bridges took over as manager of the team’s High-A California League affiliate, the San Jose Bees.

“I was sent down here to learn the pitfalls of managing—not winning.” *

The Bees’ roster at various points featured 13 future major leaguers including longtimers Tom Burgmeier and Jay Johnstone. The latter left an impression; throwing batting practice without benefit of a screen, Bridges was hit on the knee with a line drive and left with a permanent limp. He guided the Bees to a 73-67 record, good for third place in the eight-team league, but more important than their standing was his role in developing players, which started with making sure they were enjoying their opportunity. “The umpire says ‘Play Ball,’ right?” he reminded. The lessons of his first season are all over Rogin’s SI feature.

“I try to dream up strategy and things on third—like please hit the ball. The first game I managed good, but boy did they play bad.” *

Bridges enjoyed similar success in two more seasons at San Jose and one with the Double-A El Paso Sun Kings, whose roster featured future free agent cause celebre Andy Messersmith, future Gold Glove winner Auerlio Rodriguez and future colleague and PCL managerial rival Moose Stubing. According to legend, one night while coaching third base, El Paso’s Ethan Blackaby homered. In shaking his hand as he rounded third, Bridges pressed a wad of wet tobacco into Blackaby’s hand. Blackaby took it in stride, then handed it off to a teammate at home plate — who nearly fainted.

“You mix two jiggers of Scotch to one jigger of Metrecal. So far I’ve lost five pounds and my driver’s license.” ****

Bridges returned to the Angels as their third base coach, spending four seasons (1968-1971) in that capacity under Rigney and successor Lefty Phillips. He went on to join the Padres’ organization, spending a season and change managing the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League. In a scene straight out of Bull Durham, he gave away the bride of pitcher Ralph Garcia in a marriage ceremony conducted on the mound between games of a doubleheader.

“There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than anybody else: build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team.” *

Bridges didn’t last long into the 1973 season with the Islanders, but that year saw Rogin’s feature immortalized in the anthology edited by Bouton and Neal Offen, which came about as Playboy Press tried to capitalize on the success of Ball Four. In introducing “I Managed Good,” Bouton called Bridges his all-time favorite manager while admitting that he’d not only never played for him, but never met him, either. “However, I’ve spent a good piece of my life sitting in bullpens around the county listening to different ballplayers talk about how much fun it was when they played for Rocky Bridges,” Bouton wrote, recounting a tale where the skipper tried to shake things up by giving signs from the third base box while standing on his head, noting that Blackaby (again at the plate) had to stand on his head to receive them. The tale may be apocryphal, to say the least. 1973 also saw Bridges included in The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book.

“We’re about three blocks from hell in the summertime.” *****

In 1974, Bridges landed another job in the Pacific Coast League, this time with the Phoenix Giants, whose general manager was none other than Blackaby, a mere 33 years old but past a nine-year professional career that included just 15 games in the majors. Bridges earned Manager of the Year honors while guiding the Giants to a 75-69 finish, good for fourth place. That was the first year of a fruitful nine-year stint aided by Blackaby purchasing an interest in the team. For the first eight years of that run, Bridges would regularly walk three miles from his hotel to Phoenix Municipal Stadium; during the ninth, he took up residence in the (air conditioned) clubhouse.

“I don’t know how to spell Albuquerque but I sure can smell it.” **

In 1975, Bridges’ team opened the season in the PCL’s New Mexico outpost. He drew boos from the crowd for using the city as a punchline, but turned them to cheers by hobbling to the plate and then doing a headstand.BridgesPHX

“Seems to me that when you manage in the majors, all you’re really doing is walking out on the gangplank and waiting for the guy with the sword to come and poke you in the butt.” *****

At the end of the 1976 season, Bill Rigney — who had come out of retirement to manage the Giants — stepped down. Owner Bob Lurie quickly settled on Joe Altobelli, who had piloted the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate to four first-place finishes in six years, to replace him; Bridges received an interview, though he believed it was merely a courtesy call. He refused to campaign for the job and at 53 years old, realized a big league posting might never come. Undaunted, he led Phoenix to the 1977 PCL title and earned another Manager of the Year award. He had his bad days as well. Pitcher Greg “Moon” Minton, who spent four seasons shuttling between Phoenix and San Francisco at the start of what would eventually become a 16-year major league career, recounted a couple of rough outings, including one where he gave up seven first-inning runs:

“He comes storming out there and growls, ‘Give me the ball.’ I step back. He looks and says, ‘Dang thing is still round.’ He gives it back to me and walks away.

Another time, Bridges came to the mound, folded his arms — back to the bullpen — and said, “Moonie, look over my left shoulder.”

“I don’t see anything, Rock,” said the pitcher.

“That’s right,” said Bridges. “You’re here for the rest of the game.”

“If it was raining nickels, [that pitcher]’d be in jail. If it was raining camel crap, he’d be in the middle of the field without a number.” *****

After graduating cogs like Jack Clark, Larry Herndon, Ed Halicki and Bob Knepper to the majors in the first few years of his tenure, Bridges’ Phoenix club fell on hard times, posting the league’s worst record in both 1979 and 1980. Still, he persisted with his sometimes unorthodox style. As Pete Weber, the voice of the Albuquerque Dukes, recounted, “Rocky’s signs were simple. He realized that it was all about execution, and not necessarily trying to fool the opposition. For a steal, he might whistle at the runner and point to second and sometimes yell, ‘go!’ for good measure. He sometimes called for a bunt by squaring around with an ‘air bat’ in the coach’s box when the batter checked in.”

“This is kind of like putting earrings on a pig, isn’t it?” ******

Bridges left Phoenix following the 1982 season but remained in the Giants organization as a scout and manager of the Short Season-A Everett Giants. “It was nice of the Giants to send me to a town that was named after me, “he said later. “I’d call in my reports and sign off, ‘This is Everett from Everett.'” In 1985, he joined the big club as the third base coach under manager Jim Davenport, who didn’t last the season, a dismal one in which the Giants finished 62-100. He moved on to the Pirates organization, managing at Class-A Prince William in 1986, Triple-A Vancouver in 1987 and then Triple-A Buffalo in 1988. Weber worked for those Bisons, and remembered the day Bridges was introduced. “It may have been the only time I ever saw him in coat-and-tie. He made it clear that wasn’t part of his look,” he said, hence Bridges’ porcine quip.

Veteran writer John Perrotto (a former colleague of mine at Baseball Prospectus) got his start covering the Pirates the year Bridges took over in Buffalo, and remembers the grizzled manager making an impression in spring training “with the big chaw, the limp and a weather-beaten face,” not to mention the sense of humor: “The one thing I do remember him telling me, and it’s stuck with me to this day is — you better enjoy yourself because it’s a really long season. If you’re not having fun along the day, it’s going to be a miserable six months.”

“Hey.  Casey.  What’re you about to do?” ********

After Buffalo, Bridges managed for one more year at Class-A Salem, then worked until 1994 as the Pirates’ roving infield instructor. That last year, he served as a de facto bench coach  for the Welland (Ontario) Pirates of the New York-Penn League, mentoring 30-year-old rookie manager Jeff Banister, who at this writing is about to launch his first season as the Rangers’ major league manager. At a recent Coaches Clinic at Rangers Ballpark, Banister cited Bridges influence, telling a story of a time he leaped off the bench with the intention of hollering at his players, only to be talked down by the grizzled 67-year-old.

“Up here, they didn’t know a damn thing about me, so I could tell them how great I was.” *******

After that seasons, Bridges retired to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he had moved his family — wife Mary and children Mindy, Lance, Cory and John — in 1970. In all, he’s credited with a 1381-1432 record during his minor league managerial career, but more important than the wins and losses was the message he passed on to his players at every stop:

“You got to make the big show, kid. It’s the only letterman’s sweater to have.” *****

Thanks to the aforementioned books and his gift of gab, Bridges remained in circulation even in retirement. The internet is filled with his stories as recounted by dozens of writers, and there’s no shortage of Bridges memorabilia on eBay. Years ago, as this site picked up steam, I myself scored a 1955 Bowman card of his that was allegedly personally autographed, and also an Adirondack 282J Little League “Rocky Bridges” model bat that looks as though it had been brined in tobacco juice for two decades — items that together may not have been worth the $20 I paid for them, save for the reminders of what Bridges meant both to me and to the baseball world.

In the end, there are All-Stars and record holders who probably didn’t leave half the mark on the game that Rocky Bridges did. Talent can take you a long way, but as he showed, persistence and wit can take you even further.

Quotation sources:

* Gilbert Rogin, “I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad,” Sports Illustrated, August 18, 1964

** Ross Newhan, “The Return of Rocky: A Welcome Sequel,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1985

*** (Uncredited) “Only the Game Has Changed,” Sports Illustrated, May 10, 1971

**** (Uncredited) “Scorecard,” Sports Illustrated, August 2, 1971

***** John Schulian, “Rocky’s Road,” Chicago Sun-Times, June 2, 1980 (collected in Twilight of the Longball Gods, Bison Books, 2005)

****** Pete Weber, “Weber remembers the late Rocky Bridges,” MiLB.com, January 31, 2015

******* Jerry Crowe, “For Rocky Bridges, baseball really was fun and games,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2011

******** Jamey Newberg, “The importance of Rocky Bridges,” The Newberg Report, February 4, 2015

Beers of the Week — and a Splash of Haterade

One reason I wanted to fire up this old blog again is to expound upon my passion for craft beer at greater length than Twitter or Untappd allow. Which isn’t to say that I’m anywhere close being to the most articulate person when it comes to discussing brews, but given a broad range of tastes — I love the dark stuff, even in summertime, but also dig the big IPAs, and am slowly getting more into saisons — and an audience that has interest in them, I’m happy to put a bit more effort into improving on that front.

As I noted upon relaunching, for the past couple of years I’ve done a “Beer of the Week” spot with ESPN El Paso radio host Steve Kaplowitz at the end of our weekly baseball spots. Sadly, neither of us thought to keep a record of my picks, but now I’ve resolved do that, and this will be my vehicle for doing so.

Earlier this month, Steve had me down to El Paso for the Sun City On Tap craft beer festival, at which I sampled 17 different beers, focusing on those I had never tried before. Six of them really stood out: Boulevard 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat and Tasting Room Oatmeal Stout, Deschutes Black Butte XXVI Imperial Porter and Fresh Squeezed IPA, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti and Odell 90 Schilling. Steve also took me to Specs, an alcohol wonderland that offered bottles of brands I can’t obtain in Brooklyn, and I set a personal record by hauling back four big bottles (750 mL or 22-ounce bombers) and eight 12-ouncers in my suitcase — keeping my unbroken streak unbroken but getting a slip from TSA that indicated they had gotten all up in my business of underwear-wrapped beer bottles*:

The big ‘uns are Boulevard Imperial Stout (whiskey barrel aged), Deschutes Black Butte XXVI Imperial Porter, Great Divide Showdown Rye IPA and Saint Arnold Endeavor IPA, while the smaller ones are Boulevard Double Wide IPA, Boulevard Dark Truth Stout and Odell IPA.

That last one was my Beer of the Week for our January 21 spot. While I’ve been exposed to excellent beers from a handful of Colorado breweries— Great Divide, Left Hand, Avery, Oskar Blues — I hadn’t even heard of Odell Brewing Company, which is based in Fort Collins and doesn’t appear to distribute anywhere east of the Mississippi River. At Specs, I was drawn first to their packaging and their proliferation of styles, and after looking them up on Beer Advocate, I noticed that their IPA gets a 95 rating from the BA crowd and a 100 from the Alstroms. Sold.**

I wasn’t disappointed. This one was a beautiful combination of citrus (orange rind came to mind) and pine aromas, with a heavy but not overwhelming hop presence and a pleasantly malty backbone. While a bit of research tells me they use Simcoe, Amarillo, Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, Perle and Centennial hops, this is hardly a hop bomb that will annihilate your taste buds. Though it’s 7.0% ABV, it doesn’t come off as particularly heavy in alcohol — it’s very smooth. If they sold it in my neighborhood, I’d put this one in my regular rotation in a heartbeat.

As noted above, I was also impressed by their 90 Schilling Ale, the flagship brew with which they launched their endeavor back in 1989. It’s an amber that’s considerably lighter in alcohol (5.3% ABV) and bitterness (27 IBU to the IPA’s 60). Alas, I had only a few ounces of this one, as well as their Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout; the latter was a bit much amid all of the stouts and IPAs I sampled, but I’d gladly give anything from this brewery a shot, and you should as well.

My Beer of the Week for our January 28 spot was Sierra Nevada’s Hoppy Lager, the latest from their Beer Camp Series, and a variant of a collaboration they did with Ballast Point (called Electric Ray) for their Beer Camp 12-pack, though they’ve lowered the ABV this time around, from 8.5% to 7%. It’s a blonde lager, with Citra, Equinox, Palisade and El Dorado hops, and while it’s certainly more bitter (55 IBU) than even Brooklyn Lager (33 IBU), it’s not going to be mistaken for an IPA. I have to admit, I went through the ones I bought rather quickly — lagers seem to be all about guzzling — so I’m eager to try it again while it’s still around.

Finally, I had hoped to highlight Sixpoint’s new Beast Mode as a Beer of the Week entry. But jeebus cripes, it’s a dud that does nothing to halt my impression that my once-favorite local brewery has jumped the shark after a year which saw them discontinue their distinctive 16-ounce “nanokeg” cans, reformulate Sweet Action and take their Brownstone and Righteous rye — my two favorites of theirs — out of can circulation entirely. I had a fairly bitter exchange with their social media clown on Twitter back when they ditched those two, and was told, “move on to the awesome lineup of new formulations we are set to drop over the next 18 months…”

Well, move on to something else, kiddies. Ostensibly a hopped-up porter, Beast Mode is really too watery and overcarbonated to be described as such. It’s maybe more of a black IPA than a porter, albeit still way short on the roasted malt flavor. “Lots of bark but it won’t bite,” claims their web site, and that’s a sad epitaph for a beer. Particularly one from a brewery that’s done some great darks in the past — 3Beans, 4Beasts, Autumnation, Brownstone, Diesel, Gorilla Warfare Coffee Porter, Otis Stout — this is somewhere between aberration and abomination. I bought a six-pack a week ago, hoping that it would turn the tide of my recent disappointment in them, but I still have two left, that’s how un-fucking-excited I am to tuck into it. Least Mode — there, I said it — is the third straight sixer of theirs I’ve lost interest in before it was gone, following Global Warmer and Sensi Harvest.

Anyway, thanks to a great new local bar down the street, I’ve got a backlog of excellent local beers I’d rather highlight than rail against Sixpoint, so I’ll focus on those next time around.

* If you want to know: I wrap each bottle individually in an article of clothing – t-shirt, socks, jeans, underwear, whatever, then pack as many as I can into a plastic shopping back (preferably a thick one, not a flimsy grocery-type bag, so that they’re wedged together firmly, with no glass-on-glass or other jostling possible.

** While I like to refer to the BA numbers, I have long resisted the temptation to throw numbers on beers myself — not even 1-5 stars, or the 20-80 scouting scale. I spend enough time dealing with quantification in my day job and my book-writing, and while I respect the efforts of the BeerGraphs folks, that’s not my pint of ale.

Poetry Not-So-Grand Slam

Amusing results when I put my Twitter account into this Poetweet system described here. I tried all three formats it offers for the four poems below; the first one is in the rondel format (two stanzas of four verses plus one of five), while the second and third are sonnets (14 lines) and the fourth is the indriso (eight verses).  Dig the crossover between styles. Yes, I’m ready for my Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.

TO CLEAR

It’s Arizona. Of course it’s real.
Bad guy anymore compared to bonds
The official announcement of a deal
Will push for if embargo ends:

Peckinpah showing, and the last
There’s still 3 weeks before finals
Hall of Fame vote: + my podcast
Flexibility it brings the Nationals

Playing might get more groupies
Chicago seems balmy by comparison!
Broke paying outrageous salaries
In honor of me and Rickey Henderson
And I love the Studio One series.

CLEAR ENOUGH

James Shields. Said market changed
Outhit but NOT out-glove Cosart.
Imperial Stout (whiskey b aged)
Not for the faint of heart

NEVER FORGET
Bad guy anymore compared to bonds
As option “given their budget”
Will push for if embargo ends:

I like their Kalamazoo Stout better
LIBERTY. thanks autocorrect
I’ve restored to the active roster

Awhile since I had a good new one
Playing might get more groupies
Automatic but won’t be 1-&-done

CONGRATS

Man with the real lay of the land
Tonight’s Bad Movie Night selection
And preface are by and (!) (!!!!!!)
Card: Reds lacking clear direction

Better ambassador for baseball.
TSA, but you’re a good man to offer
Not something I’ve dug into at all
Put on ballot, Jimmy Wynn 0-fer.

Is a factor, esp. in MVP races.
Math to my craft beer side.
Willing to air his grievances.”

But yes, it’s closer than I thought
One about this? I had forgotten
To come out for the show last night

THANKS AUTOCORRECT

Outhit but NOT out-glove Cosart.
Man with the real lay of the land
Not for the faint of heart

Candidates, not a must-vote.
Easy, not that it won’t happen.
Has Ever Read Anything I Wrote

Get away from gambling influence 2/

GMs of all-time. 25: Andy MacPhail

Ernie Banks (1931-2014)

The smile says it all. Even in the twilight of his baseball career — as on this 1969 Topps card, just before heading into his final season as a regular — Ernie Banks was overjoyed to be playing baseball. I’m too young to have seen Banks play, but when I came into possession of that card, one of about two thousand from the 1965-1975 period handed down by my cousin Allan, along with plenty of Hank Aarons and a few of Willie Mays, I’d like to think my own smile was that wide upon discovering the lone entry from “Mr. Cub.”

Alas, that smile has been extinguished, as Banks passed away on Friday at the age of 83. Over at Sports Illustrated, we’ve got the full salute, with Tom Verducci on why Banks will be missed, Cliff Corcoran on the outline of his stellar career, Rich Cohen from the past summer’s “Where Are They Now?” issue whose cover he graced. My own entry focuses on Banks’ home run prowess, the likes of which had barely been seen from a shortstop prior to his mid-Fifties breakout, and his standing with regards to advanced metrics, including JAWS. For all the number-crunching, though, nothing can quantify the power of that smile, which lit the baseball world for so long.

Nomination Accepted: The SABR Analytics Conference Awards

On Thursday night I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Jacob Pomrenke of the Society for American Baseball Research, informing me that one of my articles — “The Case of the Disappearing Slugger: Where Did MLB’s Power Go?”, published last September 3 — has been selected as a finalist in the Contemporary Analysis category of the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards. The full slate of nominees, five articles apiece in the categories of Contemporary Analysis, Contemporary Commentary, and Historical Analysis/Commentary, was announced on Friday.

Written on the occasion of Giancarlo Stanton’s 35th home run, my piece examined the possibility that the majors would fail to produce a single 40-homer slugger for the first time since 1982, situating the declining numbers of such players — Nelson Cruz wound up being the only one to make it there, with Stanton stopped at 37 due to a horrific beaning — against the larger backdrop of falling home run and scoring rates as well as the reasons they’re on the wane. Like so:

It truly is just an honor to join the rest of the slate:

Contemporary Analysis

Contemporary Commentary

Historical Analysis/Commentary

The winner in each category will be determined by online voting at SABR.org, BaseballProspectus.com, FanGraphs.com, HardballTimes.com, and BeyondtheBoxScore.com, starting next week, with the results at each site weighted equally at 20, and the announcement of the winner during the conference in Phoenix, from March 12-14 (alas, I’m unlikely to be attending this year). As the only writer within my category not currently affiliated with one of the last four sites — and one of the few from a mainstream site, where the whir of the propeller hats can’t overwhelm the conversation, and where there’s no resident voting bloc — I don’t expect to win. Nor should I, at least as far as I can see. Pavlidas and Brooks’ pitch-framing piece laid the groundwork for numbers that I use every week, and the others were no less impressive or sophisticated. Not that I’d turn my nose up at anyone who wants to vote for me, but it’s a gas to be in the aforementioned company, regardless of the outcome, and I’m grateful to those who consider my work on that level.

Surprise appearance on Olbermann

Out of the blue on Tuesday afternoon, a producer from Keith Olbermann’s show reached out and asked if I wanted to come in to tape a spot for the night’s show, discussing the absurdity of new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred naming Mets owner Fred Wilpon to chair the MLB finance committee. Now, when news of the Madoff-tainted owner‘s appointment — actually a downgrade from his position on Bud Selig’s executive council — reached the baseball world this weekend, I didn’t think my Twitter-based snark was particularly noteworthy, but it caught said producer’s attention, and with Monday’s holiday, Olbermann still had a good rant to unleash regarding a man who lost $700 million in a Ponzi scheme. Who was I to pass up the chance to ride shotgun?

Due to the short notice, some difficulty clearing my plate, and a distinct lack of cooperation from the MTA subway system (the closest Q train was apparently in the Bermuda Triangle), I ran late and had to sprint through Times Square, never a good plan at any time, let alone 5 PM on a weekday. I was barely able to get my pulse rate down to an acceptable level and still sweating like Patrick Ewing in the fourth quarter — seriously, they powdered me three times — when I went on for my five-minute segment, but I managed to get it together and have a few laughs with the host:

Kids, there’s never a bad time for an Earl Weaver reference. Thanks to Howard Megdal — my go-to for the details the Mets’ ongoing financial morass — for background preparation and Ben Kabak for the A-Rod/Wilpon comparison, which was too good not to steal. Their next round is on me.

Loved this photo from former SI.com managing editor and current Entertainment Weekly editor-in-chief Matt Bean (taken at the Top Hops specialty beer shop, which I correctly ID’d and which rates as one of the city’s best):