Friday, May 29, 2015

Obscure Baseball Feats/Records

     With the baseball season well upon us, I thought today I’d discuss a few records which the casual fan might not know.  If nothing else, I need to distract myself from how terrible my Phillies are.  Most of these are records accomplished in one game, by unlikely players (and yes, some of them are Phillies).  As for the abbreviations, the slash for batters (ex. .300/.400/.450) is batting average, on base percentage, and then slugging average.  OPS+ is on base percentage plus slugging average, adjusted for time period, ballparks, etc.—100 is about average and the higher the number the better.  On a similar note, ERA+ is the earned run average adjusted for time period, ballparks, etc., and once again 100 is average and above that is better.  WHIP is the pitcher’s ratio, walks and hits per innings pitched.  (Below 1.00 is spectacular, about 1.25- 1.30 is average, etc.

1)      Tony Cloninger was mostly a slightly below average pitcher in his 12 year career, posting a 113-97 won-loss record, a 4.07 ERA, a 1.381 WHIP, and a 88 ERA+.  However, on July 3rd, 1966 while on the Atlanta Braves, he did something no pitcher had ever done before, or since.  At the plate he hit two grand slams (and drove in another run, for 9 total RBI’s) in a 17-3 rout of the Giants in San Francisco.  Not bad offense from a position usually considered (rightfully) to be an easy out.
2)      Staying on grand slams, we have the case of Fernando Tatis.  Corner infielder and outfielder Tatis was about an average hitter in his career, going .265/.344/.442, with an OPS+ of 101.  Twelve other players, including of course Cloninger, hit two grand slams in one game, but Tatis shockingly hit both in the same inning.  As a St. Louis Cardinal against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 23, 1999, in the 3rd inning, Tatis hit his two.  Almost as shockingly, both came off the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park.  Why manager Davey Johnson left Park in so long is quite the mystery.
3)      Let’s move to no hitters.  Rick Wise was a decent, but not great pitcher, going 188-181 won-loss, with a 3.69 ERA, a 1.289 WHIP, and a 101 ERA+.  However, on June 23, 1971 while pitching for the Phillies he had a spectacular game.  In addition to pitching a no hitter (with only one baserunner, a walk), he hit two home runs at the plate.  If you’re curious, four other guys have thrown no hitters in a game and also hit one home run—Frank Mountain in 1884, Wes Ferrell in 1931, Jim Tobin in 1944, and Earl Wilson in 1962.
4)      Throwing a no hitter is almost always a career highlight for a pitcher.  However, poor Ken Johnson suffered an embarrassing distinction.  He’s the only player to throw a complete, 9 inning no hitter and lose (0-1, with the run scoring on multiple errors) while pitching for the Houston Colt .45s  versus the Cincinnati Reds on April 23, 1964.  For his career Johnson was a mostly so-so hurler, going 91-106 won-loss, with a 3.46 ERA, 1.199 WHIP, and 102 ERA+.
5)      Pitcher Bobo Holloman had a truly bizarre career.  Delayed in part by World War II, among other things, he didn’t make the majors until he was 30, with the St. Louis Browns.  After making a few relief appearances, he was given his first start on May 6th, 1953.  He threw a no hitter.  But, a couple of months later, in July, he was released, and with good reason, as his numbers were a won-loss record of 3-7, with an ERA of 5.23, a 1.821 WHIP, and a 81 ERA+.  He never pitched in the majors again.  Going back even further, the wonderfully named Bumpus Jones in 1892, while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds against the Pittsburgh Pirates, also threw a no-no in his first starting assignment.  This was really his only bright spot.  In his two year career, he went 2-4, with a 7.99 ERA, a 1.896 WHIP, and a 57 ERA+.  Sabermetrician Bill James rates him as the worst, most unlikely pitcher to throw a no hitter ever.
6)      As a lover of the odd, and absurd, I really enjoy it when position players are picked to pitch.  Obviously, this is usually only in games when the team is already losing by a ton, or more rarely, when they’ve run out of pitchers in a long extra inning game.  The latter scenario has resulted in a few position players getting unlikely wins.  Regular outfielder Rocky Colavito did so for the New York Yankees against the Detroit Tigers on August 25, 1968.  Colorado Rockies catcher Brent Mayne also won a game, on May 6th, 2000.  Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Wilson Valdez beat the Cincinnati Reds on May 25, 2011.  The last guy was Baltimore Oriole designated hitter Chris Davis, on May 6, 2012.  Davis’s case was weirder because he beat another position player-turned pitcher, outfielder Darnell McDonald of the Boston Red Sox.
7)      Merv Connors had a brief, two year career with the Chicago White Sox in 1937-8.  This third baseman/first baseman did well at the plate, hitting .279/.367/.485, for a 111 OPS+.  Known as a good power hitter in the minors, unfortunately his defense was evidently atrocious, as he was let go despite his solid hitting.  He did have one moment in the sun, though, as he hit 3 home runs in one game, on September 17, 1937.  He only had 5 others, total in his short stint in the big leagues.
8)      Staying on this topic, there’s infielder Steve Jeltz.  Unlike Connors, he was fairly pitiful at the plate, compiling totals of .210/.308/.268, with an OPS+ of 61, with only 5 home runs.  Inexplicably, though, two of these came in one game, while he was with the Phillies, on June 8, 1989, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  To add to the unlikely fun, he hit one right-handed, and the other left-handed.
9)      Only 13 pitchers have hit homers in a World Series game, although Bob Gibson and Dave McNally each did it twice.  The last one was Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton, on October 26, 2008, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Blanton’s might be the most unlikely of all, since he’s never even had another extra base hit, let alone a home run, in his career to date (he’s still active).
10)  Some players, like Pete Rose, are renowned for their ability to play multiple positions.  Four times this was taken to the extreme, as players played all nine positions in a single game.  Obviously this is kind of a contrived record, usually only done late in the season, when it won’t affect the standings.  Bert Campaneris of the Kansas City A’s was the first, on September 8, 1965, followed by Minnesota Twin Cesar Tovar on September 22, 1968, Texas Ranger Scott Sheldon on September 6, 2000, and finally Detroit Tiger Shane Halter on October 1, 2000.
11)  The players who have played on the most World Series winning teams are, not surprisingly, former New York Yankees.  Catcher/outfielder Yogi Berra played in an amazing 14 Series, and won 10 times, or one ring for every finger.  Outfielder Joe DiMaggio was a close second, winning 9 times.  Infielder Frank Crosetti was on the playing roster for 8, played in 6, and then was a coach for 9 more.
12)  Something very strange happened in 1912.   In May, Detroit Tiger star outfielder Ty Cobb went into the stands and beat up a handicapped heckler.  (This was par for the course for the sociopathic Cobb.  Although, the heckler reportedly used an ugly racial slur, so it’s almost hard to know who was the good guy in all of this.)  Cobb was then suspended indefinitely.  In protest, the rest of the Tigers refused to play.  So the Detroit organization was charged with finding replacement players with little notice.  They literally signed people off the streets of Philadelphia, where their next game was scheduled.  A team of these replacements and some unretired former ballplaying coaches completed the roster for the May 18 game.  Predictably, the experiment was an abysmal failure, as they lost to the Philadelphia A’s 23-2 (or possibly 24-2—different sources give different totals, and I couldn’t find the box scores).  Replacement Tiger pitcher Allan Travers pitched an 8 inning complete game, giving up 26 hits, 7 walks, and the 23 (24?) runs (“only” 14 were earned), for an ERA of 15.75, an ERA+ of 22, and a WHIP of 4.13.  After this debacle MLB forced the real players to return, and Cobb’s suspension was lifted.  All but one of the replacements, including Travers, never played in another Major League game again.  This, sadly, isn’t the all time record for most hits and total runs allowed though—position player turned pitcher Dave Rowe gave up 29 hits, 7 walks, and 35 runs (although “only” 12 were earned) in 9 innings in a game in 1882.  Travers did something else unique—he’s the only major league baseball player to become a priest.

(In the game hours after I wrote this, my pitiful Phils almost made bad history against the Rockies, getting no-hit for 7 and a third innings.  Fortunately they finally got a couple measly hits to break it up.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Odd Jams and Preserves

     I’ve never been that into jams and preserves.  Like most kids, I used to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and occasionally I would have grape jelly on toast, but not often, and not for a long time.  I did try Nutella in college and liked it okay, and I also had vegemite/marmite (See April 30, 2012 post) a few times, but these were far from regular events.  While wandering through the condiment aisle in the Kroger supermarket in West Virginia recently, I decided to change this up.  This store seemed to have an unusually varied selection of jams and preserves for sale, so I snapped up a few that I found the weirdest.  As usual, I’ll give some details about each one, and then rate them near the end.
     Apple butter is a bit of a misnomer, as it contains no dairy products.  It evidently exists largely due to its resistance to spoilage, which is superior to apple sauce.  It was invented in the areas that would become Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands in the Middle Ages.  Basically, they slow cook the mashed apples until they carmelize.  My butter was the Kroger store brand, called “Private Selection: Washington Apple Butter.”  It was a dark brown color, rather similar to vegemite.
     Pumpkin butter is also not a real dairy butter.  This was also a Kroger Private Selection, coming from pumpkins grown in Oregon.  It was, not surprisingly, a yellowish-orange spread.
     The Four Fruits Preserve was the lone import, as it’s made in France, by a company called Bonne Maman.  It looked a lot like regular grape jelly—purple.  The fruits used were cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and red currants.  The last one I’ve never had.
     I’d never heard of hot jalapeno pepper jelly, but in talking to friends, apparently it’s part of traditional U.S. Southern cuisine.  It’s used as an additive to meat, like mint jelly with lamb, or on crackers with cream cheese.  The jar also suggests that I sauté it in a sauce pan with baby carrots, as a side dish.  Given my deep hatred of carrots, and general unwillingness to cook, this one wasn’t going to happen.  Also, it was unique among these selections in that not only did I not have to refrigerate it after opening, I was specifically warned not to, as the contents would crystallize.  This one looked red, and pectin and spices were added to the jalapenos.  It was made by Braswell’s out of Georgia.
     Since I was in a hotel, with no toaster or cooking apparatuses other than a microwave, I kept things pretty simple.  I had each jam or preserves on bread—Nature’s Own “Whitewheat Bread,” which seems like naming a car a “Ford Chevy,” but whatever.  It was okay bread, and mild, so I could get the full effect of the spread.  I’ll use the typical U.S. scholastic system for grading—A for excellent, B for good, C for average, D for unsatisfactory but barely passing, F for failing, with pluses and minuses as needed.

Washington Apple Butter:  B+.  Sweet, and good.  Liked this better than regular apple sauce.

Oregon Pumpkin Butter:  A.  Really liked this one—reminded me of pumpkin pie, which I’m also a big fan of.

Four Fruits Preserves:  B+.  Good.  However, I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t pick out the individual fruit flavors.  Nicely tart.

Hot Jalapeno Pepper Jelly:  A. Very bizarre.  At first I couldn’t decide what I thought of it.  As advertised, it was both sweet and spicy at the same time.  After a few bites I realized I really liked it, and it was the best of the bunch.

     So there you have it.  I liked all of them, and really enjoyed the pumpkin butter and hot jalapeno pepper jelly.  I ended up finishing all the jars but the apple butter, as I ran out of bread.  I would recommend any of these.  But despite my enjoyment, I don’t think I’ll be buying these again very often—I’m still not into buying spreads and making sandwiches, etc.



Friday, May 15, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Persimmons

     I’d heard of persimmons for many years, but I never had the chance to try them until I was in rural Wysox, Pennsylvania, of all places, in the same grocery (Tops) where I first had cherimoya (see November 15, 2014 post).  Each individual one is about the size of a large apple, and they have smooth skins which are a yellowish/reddish/orange color.  As with tomatoes, whose skin is similar in look and feel to the persimmon, these fruits are technically berries, although most folks don’t categorize them in that way.  Persimmons are native to much of Asia, Southwest Europe, and the U.S.  The name I’m using for them is derived from a Native American word for “dry fruit.”
     Persimmons are known for their astringent flavor.  Even the more mild varieties are considered to be a little harsh tasting when they’re unripe.  Having learned this, I dutifully aged my persimmon for a few days.  When properly ripe they’re supposed to be quite soft, and are often eaten with a spoon after being cut open, like a natural pudding.  Alas, either I didn’t age mine enough, or else I’m just not into persimmons period.  It was juicy, but the flavor was weird.  A friend found it chalky, and I agreed.  It was sweetish, but not that great.  In short, I’m not tempted to try it again, even if I was more careful to age it the right amount of time.  They are, as I recall, not too expensive, though—I think mine was about $2 or so.
     There is, however, one interesting aspect of the persimmon—what it does in the stomach.  It’s packed with a tannin called shibuol that reacts oddly to stomach acids, and can coagulate into a gluey mass.  This mass, called a diospyrobezoar, which is a type of phytobezoar, can grow until it causes pain, nausea, vomiting, gastric obstruction, and even perforation.  Treatments include ingestion of meat tenderizer, or Coca-Cola, to dissolve the mass, or the use of lasers to break it up.  In extreme cases surgery may even be necessary.
     Bezoars, which are the umbrella term for all types of trapped masses in the gastrointestinal system, have a funny history.  People used to think that they had magical properties—the most common idea being that they protected a person against poisons.  Evidently they can provide some protection against arsenic, but not completely, and they’re useless against other poisons.  Before this was proven scientifically, though, people used to pay large sums for disgusting growths from peoples’, or animals’ stomachs and digestive tracts (and some may still do).  Just to add more info, phytobezoars are composed of undigested plant parts, like seeds, skin, fibers, etc.  Other types of bezoars are caused by undigested milk, drug tablets, soil, gum, and even hair.
     I was also strangely amused to see that Coca-Cola was of medical use in dissolving the diospyrobezoars.  I only saw Coke mentioned, and not other sodas, or even other cola flavored beverages, like Pepsi, RC, etc.  Why is Coke so special?  I’d like to find out.  But I’d love to see Coke use that attribute as a ridiculously specific, rare ad slogan.  Something like, “Have a Coke and a smile, because you know your painful and repulsive stomach growths are getting smaller!”
     But, now that I may have scared you off of persimmons, with all the talk about awful stomach “pearls,” you should know that getting them is rare.  Basically, unless you eat them daily, especially unripe ones (which have more of the tannin), you’ll probably be fine.  Although it is recommended that you don’t eat persimmons on an empty stomach, to save you some possible mild upset.
     Given my disdain for this fruit, now I’m very confident that my tombstone won’t contain the line, “Died when his diospyrobezoar burst through this stomach, reminding onlookers of that infamous scene from ‘Alien.’”


Friday, May 8, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Unusual Fried Foods

     I was going to title this post, “Weird Fried Foods,” or even “Bizarre Fried Foods,” but then I took a brief look online.  And I realized that, clearly, I was out of my element, and didn’t realize to what heights (depths?) chefs have gone to in frying things.  Here are some of the more extreme ones—fried (and breaded) bacon, fried pineapple, fried peach pies, fried Kool Aid (I assume in powdered form), and fried peanut butter and jelly with bananas sandwiches.  (The last one, I believe, minus the jelly, was a favorite of Elvis’s.  Washed down with buttermilk.  Which helps to solve the mystery of his ballooning waistline in the 1970’s, I suppose.)
     As we know (or should), stereotypes are often hateful slurs, or at least wildly exaggerated generalizations.  But on this one narrow issue, they appear to be true.  As I was going through the lists (which usually came complete with photos) of strange fried foods, eyes agape in both horror and hunger, I noticed some state names or regions cropping up frequently.  A few Midwestern states, like Iowa.  But a whole lot of Southern states, with Texas in the lead.  One type of social event was mentioned many times, too.  Essentially, it appears that a common theme of (mostly Southern) state fairs is “We’ll bread up a slew of foods, throw them in a deep fryer, and serve them to you.”  Or “Celebrate your state’s heritage while eating foods that will make your doctor weep in impotent frustration.”
     But let’s start the madness.  First up are fried green tomatoes.  If you are a rabid “Simpsons” fan like myself, you may know these as Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon’s (married to Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu) favorite food, book, and movie.  They consist of unripe tomatoes which are seasoned with salt and pepper, rolled in cornmeal (or flour in the less common Northern version), and sometimes dipped in buttermilk, and fried.  Alas, I can’t remember where exactly I had them, other than in an Eastern state.  Since I like tomatoes quite a bit (see November 21, 2012 post), surprise! I liked these too.  They made for a tasty appetizer, complete with a dipping sauce (ranch?  Blue cheese?  Something like that).
     Similar in shape, size, and preparation method are fried pickles.  When I first heard about these, probably 15 years ago or so, I thought they were a joke.  But they’ve sure grown in popularity.  At this point they’re probably only slightly uncommon fried foods, to be honest.  Even restaurant chains like Buffalo Wild Wings have them.  Once again, I enjoy pickles, so much so I’ve been known to eat an entire jar in one sitting.  And breaded and fried is another nice pickle transportation system to the stomach.  Also usually served with a dipping sauce, this is a fine appetizer.
     Fried steak, aka chicken fried steak, is another one I couldn’t believe in when I first heard about it.  The thought of taking a steak and breading and frying it seemed so extreme that it seemed like an insane cook’s idea of performance art, a total instant culinary heart attack.  So I resisted trying this one for quite some time, but finally curiosity won out, and I had some.  And it’s…..really good.  Evidently it’s usually made using a rather weak, crappy cut of meat, called cube steak, and the seasoned flour batter covers this up nicely.  Additionally, I had the German dish wiener schnitzel, which is rather similar.
     You may be noticing a trend here, and I might as well get it over with, and admit it.  I almost always enjoy fried foods.  I often mock them, but then when I taste them I’m forced to shut up and concede that the makers and consumers of these foods are on to something good.  Here’s another “out there” kind—fried ravioli filled with beer.  Evidently it’s only flash fried, so the beer isn’t hot.  Now on the surface this sounds like an abomination, an unholy pairing invented by a psycho.  But I read about it, laughed in wonderment…..and then started to think about what it would taste like.  And then thinking it might actually be delicious (depending on what kind of beer was used, of course).
     Fried apples were different from the others in this post, in that they weren’t breaded.  Instead, they’d been fried without batter, and then canned.  I picked these up at the grocery.  They were Luck’s brand, and were advertised as having, “Authentic Southern Taste!”  I followed the serving directions, as I could while staying in a hotel, by microwaving them.  They were just okay.  They basically tasted like regular canned apples, I thought.  Although, to give them some credit, unique amomgst the fried foods I’ve discussed, they were fat free.
     I’ll end with the most extreme one I’ve ever tried—fried Oreos.  Yes, some folks bread a cookie (using a sweet batter, similar to pancake batter), fry it up, and eat it!  I had the chance to sample this in a barbecue place in Virginia.  And yet again my holier-than-thou amused outrage was trumped.  Oreos by themselves—good.  Oreos basically wrapped in a thin fried pancake—also appetizing.  My arteries presumably hated me, but I found this to be a very respectable dessert.
     Now that you’ve read to the end, I’ll reveal the even more hardcore, crazy fried foods.  Leading off is fried chewing gum.  Yes, gum.  How do you eat this?  I’m thinking either you accidentally keep chewing on the outer breading, and/or accidentally swallow the gum.  Moving on, a friend of mine (Hi JimmyJoeJimBob!) years ago used to say he enjoyed fried mayonnaise balls.  He might have thought he was kidding, but lo and behold, such a thing has been made.  Someone took a condiment, by itself, and battered and fried it.  Or take fried butter.  Yes, amazingly, it’s real.  People took a food additive/cooking grease/spread/condiment and fried it up all by its lonesome.  But here’s the king, so far.  Fried sugar cubes!  For the diner who says, “I don’t want to mess around getting both high cholesterol and diabetes, I want to start developing them more efficiently, in one bite.”
     Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to look up state fair schedules.


Friday, May 1, 2015

May Issue of InD'tale Now Available

     I'm happy to report that the May issue of InD'tale is now available.  As I talked about previously, this issue features an article I wrote about writers' rejections.  I've included various records for single manuscripts, as well as total rejections for one author.  It also has some amusing editors' quotations about famous books, and some of my personal thoughts and experiences with rejection.  Joining me in the issue are Brenda Novak, Tammy Grant, Sofia St. Angeles, Fiona Jayde, Rachel Rossano, Becky Lower, and Amy Jarecki.  And as usual, the issue has many book reviews.   It can be found at:  http://www.indtalecom    I'd like to thank TJ Mackay and the rest of the staff at InD'tale.  So I encourage you to head on over and enjoy 114 pages of free reads!