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):

 

Today in Stupid Bullshit

Three things, apparently unrelated except for the fact that when I reactivated the blog, I explicitly promised you cursing and beer as well as baseball:

• Publisher wants to ban cursing in the newsroom

At the York (PA) Daily Record, somebody is out of her fucking mind, namely publisher Sara Glines, who on Monday sent a memo reminding all employees “that cursing is not appropriate in the work environment.” Do go on, crazy lady:

I know that newspapers have had a salty history and culture. And I know that we all will slip from time to time. Still, I believe we can express ourselves adequately without the use of profanity.

Yeah, about that history and culture… as ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. put it via Twitter, “Banning cursing in a newsroom is as foolish as banning wagering at a racetrack. You can’t have one without the other.”

And about the specific paper in question, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal — one of baseball’s top reporters on the Internet and the airwaves — is an alumnus who got his start there. Said he, “Forgive me for cursing non-stop during my days working for the York Daily Record newsroom. And yes, I would do it again!”

As somebody who’s obviously got an affinity for profanity, I can only laugh at this while noting that if Glines’ efforts to clean up what doesn’t need cleaning up don’t lower morale in the newsroom, her removal of Mountain Dew and Snickers from the vending machines (as noted in a subsequent memo) will. I shit you not.

• Lagunitas sues Sierra Nevada over “trademark infringement”

Two of the top craft brewers in the country in terms of sales volume — and two who consistently deliver quality offerings that find their way into the Jaffe-Span residence — are fighting. Lagunitas Brewing Co., which ranked fifth in volume in 2013 according to the Brewers Association, is suing Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which ranked second, because they believe that Sierra’s use of the acronym IPA on their new Hop Hunter packaging has crossed the line:

Mind you, Lagunitas didn’t invent India Pale Ale, nor are they the only ones who produce it — so many breweries do so that it’s both the most popular and the fastest-growing variety of craft beer. Sierra is clearly using a different font and different design than Lagunitas, despite the suit’s claim to the contrary: “The unique ‘IPA’ lettering used in the Lagunitas ‘IPA’ Family of Trademarks has a distinctive serif font, distinctive kerning (or letter spacing), between the ‘P’ and the ‘A,’ slightly aged or weathered look, with uneven areas on each of the letters, and the eliminatio of any periods between the letters.”

As a former graphic designer, I can tell you — if your eye isn’t keen enough to see for yourself, or if you’ve simply been blinded by this idiocy — that Sierra clearly used a different font than Lagunitas, one that doesn’t look like a stencil or have any aging/weathering. And while my law degree may have come from a box of Cracker Jacks and a repository of Lionel Hutz quotations, I’m pretty sure that you can’t copyright kerning, the removal of periods or the color black. I’m also pretty sure that Lagunitas doesn’t have enough money to go after all of the breweries selling IPAs and labeling them as such.

So good luck with that frivolous lawsuit, guys, and know that for the next 30 days, I’m not buying a single damn one of your beers. Maybe you should call your next one A Little Sumpin’ Stupid.

• Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart Proud of Being Behind the Times

Former ace and new D-Backs GM Dave Stewart has every reason to be interested in James Shields given the state of his team’s rotation, but given that he’s in the market for a contract upwards of $100 million, affording him could be a stretch. But Stewart must have rocks in his head if he thinks he’s found the right selling point. Via the Arizona Republic‘s Nick Piecoro:

“I think James is a throwback guy by the way he goes about his business and the innings he pitches,” Stewart said. “I think the fact that Tony (La Russa) is here and that we have more baseball people – he probably sees us as a true baseball team vs. some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things.

You hear that? In increasing numbers, teams have followed in the footsteps of the Moneyball-era A’s to incorporate analytics into their front-office decision making. The Red Sox have won three World Series since hiring Bill James, the A’s and Rays have made repeated playoff appearances despite their shoestring budgets, the Pirates ended a 20-year losing skid by putting their faith in big data with regards to infield shifts and pitch framing (the subject of a forthcoming book from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s beat writer, Travis Sawchick, Big Data), and now virtually every front office has some kind of input on that front, even the AL champion Royals. Hell, La Russa’s old team, the Cardinals, have become the game’s model organization through their combination of scouting and stats, and D-backs general managing partner Ken Kendrick expressed his dissatisfaction with Stewart’s predecessor, Kevin Towers, over his lack of analytical efforts.

So it’s a bit rich to see a first-time GM for a team coming off a 98-loss season telling others what works and what doesn’t, and trying to pretend that Shields — who did spend most of his career with the Rays and was prized by them before being dealt to the Royals — is somehow out of favor among analysts.

But here’s a question for Stewart: do true baseball teams have swimming pools in centerfield?

• Speaking of stupid bullshit, pardon the “new look”

I unwittingly pressed “Update WordPress” and in doing so overwrote all of the customized design for the blog, some of which was ready to be junked anyway. Gonna have to figure out how to change the scheme’s default colors, at least…

Pitch Talks: This Wednesday, January 14

Just a reminder: this coming Wednesday I’ll be part of an all-star lineup of baseball writers talking about the Yankees, the Mets and the game in general for a series called Pitch Talks that got its start in Toronto. The event takes place on Wednesday at 7:30 at B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill in Manhattan. Tickets cost $25 in advance via Ticketmaster. They’re $30 at the door.  The place has a full menu with food as well as beer, wine and booze.

The evening will be moderated by Peter Abraham, now of the Boston Globe. As I understand it, I’ll be on the Yankees panel with the New York Times‘ Tyler Kepner and WFAN’s Sweeny Murti. The Mets panel will feature ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin and Mets Blog’s Matthew Cerrone, while ESPN’s Buster Olney and Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal will cover the national angle.

At the end, we’ll probably all take part in a Battle Royale, but I’m still unsure whether I have to bring my own folding chair or whether one will be supplied for me. If you’re a reader who braves the cold to come out for this, don’t be a stranger — come find me and say hello.

Please Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

Hola, amigos. It’s been awhile since I rapped at ya. I’ve been busy at Sports Illustrated, particularly so during Hall of Fame season, and the platform there has elevated me to the point that not only do I get to appear on MLB Network’s MLB Now occasionally, I get to rub elbows with none other than Bob Costas, which is pretty damn cool. Who the hell would have thought that could happen when I began this thing some 13 1/2 years ago?

Some visual proof, direct from the MLB.com video archive:

Anyway, even with me churning out one or two articles per day for SI.com — here’s the whole archive — this blog has lain fallow for far too long, and I’ve decided to return to using it as a place to loosen my tie, and a clearinghouse for stuff that doesn’t fit on SI or social media, or quickly gets lost there. Yes, there will be beer; you can keep up with the best of what I’m drinking at Untappd (more on the topic below). There may also be bad words, so buy the kids a fucking dictionary already so they can follow along.

This space will become particularly important as I move forward in working on my book, The Cooperstown Casebook, which I’m aiming to get out in spring 2016 via Thomas Dunne (here’s the Publisher’s Weekly announcement, from August 18 — the same day, in fact, that Emma Span and I announced our engagement to the world). As you might ascertain via the title, The Cooperstown Casebook is about the Hall of Fame, and particularly about my JAWS-driven take on who’s enshrined and who should be. In addition to a trip around the diamond to identify several intriguing cases among recent, current and upcoming candidates, the book will contain some longer essays about the institution’s history, my research into some of its electoral trends, and some ideas for reform.

Some of that research and energy towards reform has already been put to use by the BBWAA; while I’m still six years away from the 10-year service requirement to get a ballot of my own, I was part of an eight-person committee charged with researching and recommending changes to the process (thanks to then-BBWAA president La Velle Neale III and past president/committee chair/former Clubhouse Confidential sparring partner Susan Slusser). We kicked around various ideas, from lowering the threshold for election from 75 percent to another number, from expanding beyond 10 slots to 12, 15 or even an unlimited number (Derrick Goold’s “Binary Ballot” idea), from doing away with the 5 percent minimum eligibility requirement — which has screwed over some great and deserving players in the past — or changing the threshold based upon the number of years a candidate has been on the ballot, and so on. Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame unilaterally enacted its own change last summer, curtailing the window of eligibility for each candidate on the writers’ ballot from 15 years to 10 — a move that in time could break up the ballot’s bottleneck, albeit without helping to increase the pace of players elected, particularly when one considers that the various Veterans Committees charged with picking over the BBWAA’s leftovers haven’t elected a living former player since the 2001 cycle.

Why do we need it? In short, my research shows that voters have failed to keep pace in terms of electing modern players — not just those who played in the 1990s but in the 1970s and 1980s as well. Limiting the field to those elected by the BBWAA, he average number of active Hall of Fame players per team per season from 1923 through 1941 is 1.5. From 1946 through 1988, that level falls to 1.34; it’s been below 1.0 since 1988, and below 0.5 since 1993. And beyond the split in the electorate over how to handle candidates linked to performance-enhancing drugs, the backlog is being caused by the rule allowing voters to include only 10 candidates on their ballots. The 10-slot rule dates all the way back to 1936, when the Hall of Fame first empowered the writers to vote, and at 10 it’s remained despite the major leagues nearly doubling in size from 16 to 30 teams.

At the recent winter meetings in San Diego, the BBWAA voted to accept our recommendation to increase the number of slots on the ballot to 12. It’s a modest increase, and less than what many would have preferred (myself included), but the final decision rests with an inherently conservative institution that is clearly unwilling to undertake a radical change. A formal proposal to the Hall of Fame is in the works, but once it’s submitted, the final decision on that move rests with the institution.

In any event, at SI.com I wrote about all 34 candidates on this year’s ballot, including 24 individual profiles — seven newcomers and 17 holdovers, the latter of which had their profiles revised (some of them significantly) from last year. Links to each of them are here, while links to my agonizing final 10 for my hypothetical ballot are here. My election day preview is here, my immediate thoughts on the election of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz are here, my candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the results is here, and my forecast for the next five elections is here. Even the great Ray Ratto, who hates everything about what this Hall of Fame process has become, liked that one, which tells me that at least one of us has a screw loose.

(Speaking of the future, the more mathematically-inclined may be interested in the attempts by the community at Tom Tango’s blog to quantify what happens when so many big names come off the ballot at once. I’ll have to look at this more closely.)

One of the frustrating things about the election results is how far some of the candidates fell from the exit polls — the ballots published prior to election, collected by Ryan Thibs into a great Hall of Fame ballot tracker — to the actual results, with Mike Piazza slipping from above 75 down to 69.9 percent, Tim Raines from around 65 percent to 55 percent, Curt Schilling from above 50 percent to 39.2 percent and so on, to say nothing of the minimal traction that the JAWS-approved Edgar Martinez (26.7 percent), Alan Trammell (25.1 percent), Mike Mussina (24.6 percent) and Larry Walker (11.8 percent) get. If it seems like the victims of that were the ones most favored by JAWS and other advanced metrics, you’re not imagining things. At Baseball Prospectus, Lewie Pollis found a sizable correlation (R = .59) between my metric and the differential, underscoring the fact that the segment of the electorate willing to go public prior to the results isn’t representative. It skews younger, more technologically savvy, more open to advanced statistical analysis and more inclusive (“large Hall”) than the average voter (in my preview, the average published ballot used 8.99 names, well above the final mark of 8.42, which was still a record).

(Which isn’t to say that those who made their ballots public prior to the election had a monopoly on reason. Dear God no. Pal Jesse Spector does the Lord’s work on the worst ballots here).

Speaking of BP, I was on Episode 595 of the Effectively Wild podcast with Ben Lindbergh and Russell Carleton prior to the election. Here’s a post-election spot of me talking to ESPN St. Louis’ Kevin Wheeler, and another talking to KNBR San Francisco’s Ted Ramey. They’re two of the JAWS-friendliest radio hosts I’ve come across, so those are worth a listen even if I was a bit punch-drunk by Wednesday.

Moving along… I have two upcoming public appearances to promote, and as promised, there will be beer. First, I’m one of eight writers who will be part of Pitch Talks NYC, a panel discussion of local and national baseball topics moderated by the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham (who’s come a long way himself since profiling the nascent baseball blog movement), and also featuring the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, ESPN’s Buster Olney and Adam Rubin, WFAN’s Sweeney Murti, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Mets Blog’s Matthew Cerrone. It’s on January 14, 7:30 at B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill. Tickets are $25, and the event should be a whole lot of fun.

Also next week, the good folks at ESPN El Paso, where I’ve done radio hits with Steve Kaplowitz for at least the last five years – hits that began including a couple minutes of beer talk at the end, with my “Beer of the Week” pick — are bringing me down to their fair city for Sun City on Tap, a craft beer fest held on January 17. Direct from their web page:

Sun City On Tap Craft Beer Festival takes place Saturday, January 17th at Southwest University Event Center. Choose from two sessions, 1PM to 4PM or 5PM to 8PM. Sun City on Tap will showcase over 100 releases from some of America’s best craft breweries. Attendees will receive 8 initial samples with their souvenir sampling glass and the opportunity to purchase more samples! Plus hang out in an atmosphere filled with live music, delicious food available for purchase and great vendors.

Jeebus Cripes, that’s enough out of my yap for now. In closing, a big and heartfelt thanks to the readers who followed along with all of my Hall of Fame stuff, the writers who said nice things about it in print, in person, or over the airwaives, and the gatekeepers of said airwives who invited me to air my spiel. As the great Yogi Berra might have said, thank you for making this day necessary.