With John B Holway
The Square Peg
Ask Questions. Question Answers.
The Astros won a story-book Series over Lost Angeles. how did they do it?
There three explanations.
- After Houston had plummeted to last in 2011 and ’12, they received the top draft picks and used them spectacularly – so well that by 2014 Sports Illustrated put prospect George Springer on its cover and predicted flatly that the Astros would be world champs in 2017.
- They embraced SABR metrics and made two discoveries.
- The faster the pitch spins, the sharper it breaks.
- To get maximum distance off the bat, hit the ball at an angle of 30 degrees.
I don’t know what took them so long on “b.” I discovered it 30 years ago while working on “Ted, the Kid.” I simply asked the army experts at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. they also told me that a missile peaks at about 60% of its total distance unimpeded.
I made a schematic of old Yankee Stadium, where Mickey Mantle hit the gingerbread roof facing. I estimated the roof was 400 feet away at the foul line and 110 feet high and drew the flowing schematic. the angle turned out to be exactly 30 degrees.
If Mick had hit it at a greater angle, it would have peaked too soon; a lower angle, and it would have gone under the roof. and if it was at its zenith when it smacked the facing, the total distance, unimpeded, would have been 666 feet.
At any rate, from a nadir of only 51 wins in 2013, the Astros rocketed to 101 in 2017. they led the league in runs, on base percent, and slugging average in the ALCS they opened in Houston and just nipped the wild-card Yankees (91 wins) 2-1 and 2-1. the spin on their breaking balls was working perfectly, though the angle of their bats was suddenly off.
Then they flew to New York – and disaster. the Yanks walloped them 8-1, 6-4, and 5-0. they out-hit the Texans 25-8 and out-homered them 5-0. Houston, with 5.5 runs per game all year, had averaged only nine in five games against New York.
In the Bronx their pitches weren’t spinning, and their hits were going either up too high or down too low. the players left the field after game five looking “shell-shocked,” wrote Washington Post reporter Dave Sheinin, “as though trying to process some horror” and “staring into the path to defeat.”
One more loss, and the dream was over.
KPR reporter Phil Archer jumped in a cab and sped downtown to Houston’s Midtown Mojo Manufacturers.
The proprietor, who goes only by the name of Absolem, claims to be one of 13 voodoo doctors in the U.S. they follow the fabled New Orleans voodoo queen, Marie LaVeau, who lived two centuries ago. he says voodoo is a 500-year old religion that can be used for good.
Absolem agreed to perform a “bonding” ceremony: “we’re going to bind the Yankees’ hands and sight and bind their skills as baseball players. they might hit the ball and it might not go anywhere”
the ceremony included a large live python, rum, cigars, and drummers as Absolem put the Yankees’ players’ names in a smoke-filled jar. “that smoke will cloud their eyes, maybe they’ll misjudge the ball, things like that,” he explained ‘it’ s going to be a great day for the Astros,’ Absolem said. ‘I guarantee it’.
That night, wrote Sheinin, Astro ace Justin Verlander’s pitching ‘veered from overpowering to gutsy and crafty, with a heaping measure of good fortune tossed in’
Leading 3-0 in the seventh, Verlander walked one man and hit another, and New York’s Todd Frazier launched one. ‘Holy hell!’ cried Astro manager AJ Hinch, ‘that ball’s leaving the yard!’ Springer drifted back, back, back – and leaped
Houston won 7-1.
They also won the next night 6-0 to clinch the pennant.
The World Series vs Los Angeles
The Spacemen jubilantly flew to Los Angeles to meet the Dodgers, winners of 104 games that season.
Clayton Kershaw (18-4) cooled them off 3-1 with only three hits. George Springer (.283/34 homers) whiffed four times. if they lost again, they would be behind 0-2 and would have to win four of the last five. the last 14 teams to win the first two games at home went on to win the Series
Archer sped back downtown to the see Absolem
first, he warned, they must give thanks. ‘without a thank you, the result could be dire. you might get sick and can’t get over it, and you might lose your job because you can’t go to work. we don’t want no setbacks or lossses. we want to keep the team moving forward in prosperity and strength.’
Then he put some rum and roses to LaVeau on the altar and called on her again
That night the teams played perhaps the wildest, craziest, longest game in the history of the World Series. every Astro pitch must have been spinning at world-record rates – I mean record slow! the balls flew off the bats of both teams at perfect 30-degree angles.
At the end of seven, the Astros were losing 3-1.
Eighth inning. only six outs left, and they faced a Los Angeles bullpen that had thrown 28 straight innings without giving a run. Alex Bregman (.284) doubled to the opposite field – the ball fell inches away from Yasiel Puig’s glove. Carlos Correa (.315) singled him home, and it was 3-2.
Ninth inning. three outs left. and the Dodgers’ great Kenley Jansen – 254 pounds and the best reliever of his generation – was on the mound. Marwin Gonzalez (.303/23 homers) smacked one of his cutters over the fence, and the game was tied. no one could remember when Jansen had ever blown a save before.
Tenth inning. little (5’6) Jose Altuve, the MVP-presumptive (.346/24), who had been in an October slump, slammed a homer. Correa followed with another, and the Astros took the lead 5-3.
The 54,000 California fans fell silent.
But Puig, the mercurial Cuban (.263/28), led off with a homer.
Logan Forsythe (.224) got on, and Enrique Hernandez (.215) singled him home to tie the score again at 5-5. Hernandez took second in the throw-in. he was the potential winning run.
A moment later pitcher Chris Devensky whirled and snapped a pick-off throw – into centerfield! except that it didn’t go into centerfield; instead it hit the umpire square in the knuckles! how often have you seen that? in 80 years of watching baseball, I can’t remember when I have. so, instead of going to third, Hernandez had to scurry back to second. he was still standing there when the inning ended.
The teams went into the 11th.
Houston’s Cameron Maybin, a defensive replacement batting .228, singled, and Springer slammed a homer.
Now it was the Dodgers who were down it their last three outs. Houston reliever Ken Giles got the first one. Justin Turner (.322/21) lashed a 3-2 laser to third. two outs
weak-hitting Charlie Culberson (.231/6) drilled yet another home run to make it 7-6. If Turner’s shot had gone through, we might still be playing.
So, it all came down to Puig, who had already hit one titanic homer. the count ran to 2-2. a check swing – ball. an 84-mph change-up – foul. another, even slower -also fouled. the next one – a swing and a miss.
The Astros had won!
Absolem lit a candle to LaVeau.
Five games later Houston was champion of the world.
You can talk about the angle of the bat – obviously pretty good – or the spin on the pitch – there was hardly any. but they couldn’t have done it without those two crucial victories – one in New York and the other in Los Angeles.
Sir Let It Ride
No one knows his real name. he is reportedly a Middle Easterner under 30, who started with a bet of about $50,000 on the Dodgers in the first game of the World Series. he left his winnings in the pot and bet it all on the Astros. he did it six straight times and won every time, then he scooped it all up and walked away with $14 million in his pocket.
And no knows how he did it.
Or if he can do it again.
Bobby Doerr (1918-2017)
Ted was #1 in runs scored. probably half of them were batted in by Bob.
I never saw him make a great play in the field. Willie Wells, the old Negro league shortstop, once told me: “If you ever saw me dive for a ball, you know I misjudged it.” Doerr’s rival, Yankee Joe ‘Flash’ Gordon, was running all over the field. Joe led the league in the most errors; Bobby in the least. from a sizzling hit in the hole to a hot drive thru the box, Bobby was there, waiting for it. he’d there all along.
He was the best I ever saw.
Outside the Stadium
1,066 More Shoes
There are 535 members of the Senate and House. that’s 1,070 shoes. beginning with Al Franken and John Conyers, they have begun dropping two by two. there must be dozens of other members quaking in theirs.
Do some belong to members of the Senate judiciary committee who will judge them?
The current headline cases are similar but different.
Roy Moore was pursuing kids. (Woody Allen did too. the difference is, Woody has been happily married to his for a quarter century).
Donald Trump had his hands under the tablecloth and up their skirts while he chatted innocently with the lady on his left.
Al Franken was acting like a seventh-grader – he clumsily stole a kiss and posed for a puerile gag photo; he couldn’t have done much harm – she didn’t even wake up!
These men have two things in common – they are all famous. and they are insecure in their manhood and afraid to risk rejection.
The woman also have two things in common – they are young and beautiful. none is plain, over-weight, or middle-aged. and some of them wanted jobs or promotions.
TV’s Charlie Rose was the pursued as well as the pursuer. the women wanted something from him – a job, a promotion – and they understood very well what he wanted in return. that’s why they voluntarily went with him alone at midnight to his office or hideaway.
At least one of Trump’s “victims,” a former TV contestant, did the same thing.
There’s a word for such women. it begins with “P”.
The object of Franken’s affection, Leeann Tweeden, was a performer with the USO, which is one solution to an age-old military problem.
From Caesar’s campaigns to Yorktown, armies had “camp followers.”
In World War I the U.S. Army hired French prostitutes and set up “remount stations” – until wives and churches back home found out and raised hell.
In World War II and after, they were replaced by USO shows – look-but-don’t-touch shows, which Leeann Tweeden says “were full of sexual innuendo.”
In Korea, another solution was R&R in Tokyo. in Viet Nam, the Army flew wives to Hawaii or Australia. (single men were on their own).
And the USO shows still endure.
Tweeden, is a gorgeous woman. that’s why she was picked to go on so many tours to “entertain” sex-starved GIs. she wasn’t entertaining them, she was teasing them. after the shows, they crawled back into their sleeping bags, alone and frustrated with fantasies. one can guess how they spent their nights.
Meanwhile, the girls had their picks of anyone they wanted to sleep with. and it probably wasn’t a pfc or a corporal – it was probably whatever general or colonel turned on the most charm. wonder how many times their boss, Bob Hope, got lucky?
At any rate, it wasn’t Franken. Tweeden fended off one clumsy kiss from him, but he was only doing what the audience wished they could. if anyone got raped, it was the helpless hormonal GIs.
She comes across as an opportunist, trying to jump-start her career in sports casting. any average-looking gal or guy can shove a mike in a player’s face as well she can. but they won’t sell as much beer.
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News paid one woman $32 million to hush up their fun and games. That must have been one hell of a night! it’s hard to think of the woman as a “victim.” the words “calculating criminal con artist” come first to mind.
Two other nameless gals may have pulled the same scam on two unidentified senators. it’s the perfect crime: sign a mutual consent agreement, which provides iron-clad anonymity for both him and her. and she walks with who knows how much of your money and mine. the FBI or the Washington police should demand those agreements as potential evidence of crimes.
They were no weeping virgin victims.
You and I were.
Women have what men want – beauty and sex. men have what women want – money and power. These have been irresistible mutual aphrodisiacs since King David.
In America, too.
George Washington whirled many a starry-eyed colonial belle around the dance floor. “The general was impudent, Fanny,” one gushed – “the kind of impudence you and I love!”
At Morristown in the bitter winter of 1781, he sent his second in command, Nathaniel Greene, on a midnight gallop through the snow to deliver a message while the commander stayed at headquarters, consoling Greene’s lonely wife.
American historians say he died of pneumonia after horseback riding in a snow storm. but renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee says it was after a midnight visit to the slave quarters. both stories could be true. but our sixth-grade history books tell only the first one.
The cherry tree story (now excised) did get in the books. As Napoleon muttered:
Thomas Jefferson had a slave mistress, Sally Hemings, though it actually seems to have been a reciprocal love attraction. incidentally, she was his deceased wife’s half-sister.
(a story is told of a black waiter in the South who heard a luncheon speaker say, “Would you want your daughter to marry a
n—-r?” the waiter couldn’t help muttering, “We’ve been marrying them for centuries!”)
FDR had a long-time mistress, Lucy Mercer. she was at his side when he died, not Eleanor.
Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton are the most notorious recent exhibits. but as far as I recall, neither had to waste any energy chasing the women – the gals chased them!
My wife was a high schooler when she made the cover of Newsweek amid a gaggle of other screaming nubile starry-eyed girls with hands outstretched to touch Kennedy across a low fence. The title was “Sex in Washington.”
If Oswald’s bullets had missed, it was only time until a major scandal broke. one potential bombshell was of nude swimming parties in the White House pool while Jackie was away. as soon as a lookout spotted her car, everyone grabbed towels and clothes and beat it out the back door.
Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski hit the news after special counsel Ken Starr $17-million probe of Whitewater Gate came up empty. but she was 22 years old, and as for running, she definitely was not running in the opposite direction.
Even sexless George Bush has been outed with his hand on a woman’s derriere, and it was wasn’t Barbara’s.
Congressman Charlie Wilson employed only gorgeous women on his staff. “you can teach them to type,” he quipped, “but you can’t teach them to grow tits.”
I had a friend who worked for an elderly senator, who literarily chased her around his desk. see she was a great gal or she probably wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place.
Someday, in your lifetime if not mine, we’ll probably have a gay president. (some historians already nod their heads knowingly at the mention of James Buchanan).
It’s not just politicians.
Another friend told me she was fixed up on a date with a visiting football coach. he spent the whole evening either pawing her or talking about himself. she said she’d never go out with an athlete again.
Someday I’ll do a book on sex and baseball. Ted Williams will fill the first few chapters.
Denny McLain tried to hide his many phone numbers, but though he tried many ingenious hiding places, his wife always found them anyway.
Actually, two wives have written books. one told of going to the powder room when two other women came in, talking about the hot dates they’d had with a player. she suddenly realized they were talking about her husband.
Why are 75% of TV female newscasters blonde, but none of the men are? what is the Mendelian law of averages against that? there may be some brunette women on the staff, but they’re probably mostly in the typing pool.
Heh, I enjoy gawking at blondes as much as anybody. that’s why women go to great lengths to make themselves beautiful.
And that’s why you and I are here.
Women use their beauty when it works in their favor but want to be protected when it doesn’t. actually, I agree: we men should protect them both ways. unfair? yes. but that’s the way life is and has to be.
Women’s lib is not for beautiful women – what do they need to be liberated from? they’re doing very nicely as is. (yes, some men are still doing better, but most men, like me, are not).
It’s the other 90% of women who need liberation and protection. they don’t get invited to the senior prom and are doomed to lifelong servitude to sometimes brutish men. after we solve the problem of protecting beautiful women, we should turn our attention to protecting their plain cousins too.
The Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, told of stopping by a potter’s shop at midnight and listening to the pots boast of their beauty:
After a momentary silence spake
a vessel of more ungainly make:
‘they sneer at me for leaning all awry;
what? did the hand of the potter shake?’
There are millions of lovely women locked inside plain exteriors.
Men too. One woman told me the sexiest man she could think of was Orson Welles. think about it: over-weight, but what a sexy and intelligent bedroom voice!
If a Prince Charming ever comes along who can see beneath the surface, there are a lot of sexual women waiting to burst into beautiful bloom
As writer HL Mencken put it:
“If you want to remember me, forgive a sinner and wink at a homely girl.”
She’ll reward you ten-fold.