Wednesday, April 27, 2016

MLB Pitching Trivia, Mostly About No Hitters and Perfect Games

     With Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta recently throwing a no hitter (his second one, in fact), I got to thinking about no hitters and perfect games.  Just as a review, a no hitter in baseball is when a pitcher gives up no hits (obviously) in a complete, 9 or more inning game, but does allow at least one base runner, either by a fielding error, walk, hit batsmen, etc.  To qualify for a perfect game, though, the pitcher can't allow any baserunners, for any reason--27 guys up, 27 outs.  Because this is so difficult, there have been only 23 perfect games ever, 21 since 1900, and no pitcher has thrown more than one.  So here's some trivia about these special games, along with a couple of other pitching tidbits.

1) Multiple pitchers have thrown 1 or 2 no hitters (sometimes combined with 1 perfect game), but only three men have thrown more.  Nolan Ryan threw 7 no hitters, Sandy Koufax threw 3 no hitters and 1 perfect game, and Bob Feller accumulated 3 no hitters.

2) The only brothers to each throw at least one no hitter are the Forsch brothers.  Bob threw 2 with the St. Louis Cardinals (on April 16th, 1978 and on Sept. 26, 1983), and Ken threw one with the Houston Astros on April 7th, 1979.

3) Consider poor Dave Stieb, who pitched from 1979-93, and 1998.  On Sept. 24, 1988, while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, he lost a no hitter at the most agonizing time, with 2 outs in the 9th inning, or one out to go.  Then, in his very next start, on Sept. 30th, the same thing happened.  The next year, on August 4th, 1989, he lost a perfect game with 2 outs in the 9th.  Finally, on Sept. 2, 1990, he finally completed a no hitter.

4) "Sad Sam" Jones of the Chicago Cubs was the first African-American pitcher to throw a no hitter, vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 12, 1955.

5) On a similar note, on June 15, 1963, Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants was the first Latin American pitcher to throw a no hitter, vs. the Houston Colt 45's (later the Astros).

6) The pitcher with the most wins to never throw a no hitter/perfect game was Grover Cleveland Alexander, 4th on the all time list with 373 wins.

7) Horace Clarke was a mediocre-at-best player from 1965-74, mostly with the New York Yankees.  However, in 1970 he broke up 3 no hit attempts in the 9th inning within a month.

8) Preston Gomez, who managed the San Diego Padres from 1969-72, the Houston Astros from 1974-5, and the Chicago Cubs in 1980, made two extremely controversial managing decisions.  Padre pitcher Clay Kirby (July 1971) and Astro hurler Don Wilson (Sept. 1974) were both throwing no hitters, and Gomez took them out of the game before the 9th inning!  Both were losing the game, but still--that's cold!  (Also, both saw their relief pitches give up a hit to blow the no hit attempt.)

9) Johnny Vander Meer set a no hit record that will be nearly impossible to beat.  On June 11, 1938, while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, he no hit the Boston Braves.  Incredibly, in his very next start, against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 15th, he did it again.  To be fair Ewell Blackwell, also of the Reds, pitched one no hitter (on June 18th, 1947 against the Boston Braves), and in his next start, lost a second consecutive no hitter with one out in the 9th.  But I doubt anyone will every throw 3 no hitters in a row (or even throw 2), so Vander Meer's accomplishment seems very safe.

10) This one's a bit subjective, but I think Philip Humber (April 21, 2012 while with the Chicago White Sox) and Charlie Robertson (April 30, 1922 also with the White Sox) are the two worst pitchers to throw a perfect game.  Humber's final stats were a won-loss record of 16-23, a 5.31 ERA, a 1.420 WHIP (walks and hits per inning), and an ERA+ (adjusted ERA, factoring in time period, ball park, etc. with 100 being average) of 81.  Robertson's numbers were 49-80, 4.40 ERA, 1.518 WHIP, and a ERA + of 90.  The other perfect game throwers are mostly Hall of Famers, or at least multiple All-Stars.

11) The record for catching the most no hitters is 4.  Jason Varitek, who played with the Boston Red Sox from 1997-2011, caught those thrown by Hideo Nomo in 2001, Derek Lowe in 2002, Clay Buchholtz in 2007, and Jon Lester in 2008.

12) And here's the freakiest no hitter bit of trivia, Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed to have been high on LSD (acid) when he threw his no hitter on June 12, 1970 against the San Diego Padres.  Full disclosure, he only admitted this over a decade later.  Some dispute his claim, saying his teammates, coaches, fans, and the announcers would have noticed during the event if this were accurate.  But if it is true, that's amazing!

13) Again, the worst no hitter is a matter of opinion.  Here's the two "best worst" candidates, in my opinion.  Cincinnati Red pitcher Jim Maloney's no hitter on August 19, 1965 against the Chicago Cubs included 9 walks and one hit batsman, in 10 innings.  Similarly, Florida Marlin A.J. Burnett walked 9, in 9 innings, in his no hitter vs. the San Diego Padres.  Surprisingly, neither gave up any runs.

14) Finally, while also being subjective, I consider Mike Warren of the Oakland A's to be the worst pitcher to throw a no hitter.  His career stats include a 9-13 won-loss record, a 5.06 ERA, a 1.500 WHIP, and an adjusted ERA of 75.

15) Moving away from no hitters, these days, starting pitchers are usually pulled after they throw around 100 pitches.  I was interested in who threw the most in a game. Alas, exact records have only been kept since 1988.  Pittsburgh Pirate Tim Wakefield's 172 on April 27, 1993 is the highest definite amount (and since he threw the knuckleball, which causes less strain on the arm, this helps explain why his manager let him throw so many).  Washington Senator Tom Cheney is alleged to have thrown 228 in the 16 inning game where he set the strikeout record (21) on Sept. 12, 1962 vs. the Baltimore Orioles.  However, while unofficial, it sure stands to reason that Joe Oeschger (Boston Braves) and Leon Cadore (Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers) probably surpassed this total.  They each threw a staggering 26  innings in a game that ended as a suspended-by-darkness 1-1 tie.  Or they came 1 inning short of throwing 3 complete games in one day!  Researchers estimate that Cadore threw about 345 pitches, while Oeschger threw about 319.

16) For the same reason, the record for fewest pitches thrown in a complete, 9 inning game is disputed.  Both Aaron Cook (for the Colorado Rockies vs. the San Diego Padres on July 25, 2007) and Carlos Silva (for the Minnesota Twins, vs. the Milwaukee Brewers on May 20, 2008) threw only 74.  However, many believe that Charles "Red" Barrett threw only 58 in his complete game win for the Boston Braves vs. the Cincinnati Reds on August 10, 1944.  He gave up 2 hits in a 2-0 shutout, and only struck out 1 batter.

17) Yusmeiro Petit, who's pitched from 2010-2016 with the San Francisco Giants, and currently the Washington Nationals, has been a below average pitcher for his career, going 21-27 won-loss, a 4.54 ERA, a 1.260 WHIP, and an adjusted ERA of just 90.  However, he holds an all time record.  Over several, mostly relief outings, he retired 46 batters in a row.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Icelandic Alcoholic Drinks

     For this post we're going to the island nation of Iceland.  Which is, at a population of about 330,000 scattered over 103,000 square kilometers (40,000 square miles), the most sparsely populated country in Europe.  Some other fun facts about this place are that is was settled in 874 A.D., and runs almost entirely on renewable energy (geothermal power and hydroelectricity).  It's only indigenous land mammal is the arctic fox.  It has no amphibians or reptiles.  It also has no standing army.  Additionally, and this seems particularly weird to an American, you can't name your baby whatever you want.  You have to pick one off an official list, or else apply to a naming committee for approval.  Finally, the Icelandic people are big fans of umlauts and other diacritical marks.  Evidently these can be rendered using my computer, but I was not able to spend the time or effort at this time.  So I hope folks will forgive my misspellings.
     Iceland's history with drinking is unusual.  First, Prohibition was declared in 1915.  But this was broken rather quickly.  Spain threatened to boycott Icelandic cod fish imports if Iceland didn't in turn allow Spanish wines to be sold in their country.  So in 1921 Iceland caved, and legalized wine.  Then, hard liquor was legalized in 1935.  But here's when things got especially strange.  Beer, at least that which had an alcohol content over 2.25% (or basically every beer but near-beer, or maybe some light varieties), was still banned, even though its stronger cousins were okay.  Huh?  The thinking was apparently that since beer was cheaper than wine or hard liquor, if it was legalized alcohol abuse would be out of control.  Also, Iceland was trying to get its independence, and beer was associated with the country it was trying to free itself from, Denmark.  At one point, in the 1970's and 80's, the standard practice for those wanting beer was to mix a weak, legal, less than 2.25% beer with vodka.  Which, not surprisingly, was considered by most to be an unappetizing compromise.  Finally, in 1989, "real" beer was legalized.
     I was able to try two Icelandic liquors, both in 2014.  A friend of mine (Hi Justin!), went there on vacation, and brought back  Brennivin, and Opal Red.  The former, nicknamed "Black Death," is Iceland's signature drink.  It's a type of schnapps made from potatoes, and flavored with caraway, and has an alcohol content of 37.5%.  Opal Red is made by a company, Noi Sirius, that also makes candies and chocolates.  It's also a type of schnapps, and has an alcoholic content of 27%.  I didn't take notes, so my memories are therefore a little vague.  However, I recall not liking the Brennevin that much, finding it harsh and strong tasting.  But, on the other hand, I really did like the Opal.  It was herb-y, and had a mentholated-type flavor.  I declined a second Brennivin shot, but did have a second Opal.  (Incidentally, movie director Quentin Tarantino opined that Opal is, "The worst drink on Earth," so clearly he disagrees with me.)
     Now onto the great taboo, the beer.  In about 2013 I saw Olvisholt Brugghus Lava smoked stout for sale.  Stouts are a style I almost never like.  It was also expensive, being about $8-10 for a 16 ounce or so bottle.  But, I figured, "When else am I going to find a beer from Iceland?" and bought it anyway.  It was, alas, just as I thought--pretty terrible.  And strong at 9.4% alcohol.  I recall I did finish it, but only because it was so rare and relatively pricey, not out of interest or enjoyment.  But, most raters on Beer Advocate thought it was good, so if you like the style, you might like this one.
    Happily, a local beer store in South Jersey got in some other Icelandic brews about six months ago.  As I do have my notes for these, I'll reproduce them.

1) Einstok Icelandic Pale Ale  (listed as an American-style pale ale) 5.6% alcohol:  B-.  Seems more like an European-style pale ale rather than American.  More malty than hoppy.  Good, but not great.

2) Einstok Icelandic White Ale (a witbier) 5.2% alcohol: C+.  A bit bland for a witbier.  Not that spicy or wheat-y.  Drinkable, though.

    (UPDATE.  I found another Einstok beer at my local store, recently (March 2018).  Included below.)

3) Einstok Icelandic Wee Heavy (a Scotch ale) 8% alcohol: D-.  Really bad.  Scotch ale is not a style I've liked before, and this was no exception.  Kind of tasted like Scotch whisky, which I loathe.  Unpleasantly sweetish and malty, too.  Hard to finish.  Almost a drain pour.

     So, as you can see, I've liked 2 out of the 3 Einstoks I've tried to date.  And to be fair, the one I didn't is a style that I'm emphatically not a fan of.  They were also more reasonably priced, being about $2-$3 for a 11.2 ounce (330 ml.) bottle.  In Olvisholt's defense, though, while I thought what was in the bottle was inferior to the Einstoks, the bottle itself was cooler--it has a cool erupting volcano on its label.
     Therefore, when it comes to Icelandic alcoholic beverages, I found them to be a mixed bag.  Some were kind of bad, others good to very good.  I look forward to trying some of these again, and other new types, but honestly, I don't know if/when this will happen, given Iceland's exporting tendencies.  Also, I'm hankering to try one of Iceland's infamous dishes called hakarl.  It's fermented shark, and is supposed to be one of the most intense edibles in the world.  Famous chef Gordon Ramsey couldn't keep any down.  Anthony Bourdain said it was the worst thing he's ever eaten.  And "Bizarre Foods" host/diner Andrew Zimmern called it "hardcore," and "not for beginners."  So you can see why I'm intrigued.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Ghanaian Candies

     Yet again, the Union Market in Washington, D.C. is paying dividends.  This week's topic is a couple of candies from Ghana.  So once more I want to thank Keith for introducing me to this cool shopping district.
     While preparing for this post, I learned I was making a linguistic error--I was referring to these products as "Ghanan" candies.  As you can tell from the post's title, I was wrong, and the real term, of course, is Ghanaian.  If you're curious, there is a term for the type of word used to identify people of a certain particular place, that's derived from that place name.  It's called a demonym.  Furthermore, the study of place names is a real thing, too--it's called toponymy.  And, to reference an old "Seinfeld" episode, folks from Tobago are not called 'Tobagons," like the type of sled, but "Tobagonians."
     Anyway, I was able to buy two types of candy.  One was a chocolate bar called Oranco, and the other was Santos, a kind of hard candy.  Since I was on a project, and had many of the candies available, I offered/pressured my coworkers to try the Santos, too.
     Going worst to best, the Santos were.....weird.  They're called sweet, and the ingredient list is glucose, sugar, gum base, and artificial flavors and colors.  They're small brown oval candies, in individual wrappers.  They have a fairly intense menthol-like taste.  I disliked them at first, and thought they had an unpleasant burning flavor.  They were more like a cough drop than a candy.  Most of my coworkers had this same impression, with one notable exception.  However, I gave them multiple chances over a week or more, and they kind of grew on me a little.  They're still far from excellent, or even very good, but they're okay, I guess.  They're made by Royal Sweets, Ltd., out of Accra, Ghana (Ghana's capitol).  I wasn't able to find out much more about the company or its products.
     The Oranco was a 50 gram chocolate bar, from Goldentree, from the Cocoa Processing Company, Ltd., out of Tema.  I was able to find a website for this one.  They make various cocoa products, including other chocolate bars, chocolate for cooking, and even a (non-alcoholic) cocoa liquor.  Ghana is one of the major world producers of cocoa, so the chocolate was local, fresh, and contained no cocoa butter substitutes.  Oranco is a orange-flavored milk chocolate.  I really enjoyed this one.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, so this was in my wheel house, so to speak.  I could definitely detect the orange flavoring, and it was a nice pairing.  Unlike the Santos, I can recommend Oranco without any reservations.
    One final note, getting back to demonyms.  Like many people I was confused about why people from The Netherlands are called the "Dutch," and how "Holland" fits into all of this.  Well, there's some dispute, but as near as I can tell, this is the story.  Holland refers to a part of the country, along the western, central part of The Netherlands.  Although some people (mostly foreigners) use Holland to mean the entire country, this is incorrect, and apparently considered to be insulting to many.  I suppose it's the equivalent of referring to my entire home country as "New England," or something.  As for the other term, from what I read "Dutch" is an Old English word meaning "people or nation," and was mostly used to refer to the inhabitants of The Holy Roman Empire in Europe.  Those living in the mountainous region of Southern Germany were the "High Dutch," and those living in the low, flat Netherlands area were called the "Low Dutch."  Over the years people (the English, and other foreigners) got used to the term, and even after the country was independent and renamed "The Netherlands" they still used the "Dutch" term.  (Why they found it so easy to switch to "Germans" I couldn't find out.)  But, to sum up, the preferred term for someone from this country is "Netherlander."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Crayfish

     Crayfish are one of those animals I've often wanted to eat, but until recently, I didn't have the chance.  Which, after I looked into this, seems a bit weird.  Kind of like last week's post, chayote, crayfish seem almost ubiquitous.  Various types of them are found in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  Louisiana in the U.S. is a particularly huge harvester of them--in some years they've produced 95% of the crayfish eaten in the U.S., and 70% of the crayfish in the world.  But evidently they're not that common in the Northeast, or else I'm not very observant.
     Crayfish (aka "crawfish," "crawdads," mudbugs," "yabbies," and others) are related to lobsters and shrimp.  And they closely resemble their kin, too.  They look like mini-lobsters, growing to an average length of about 7 inches (18 centimeters) as mature adults.  Their habitats are fairly diverse.  Except for polluted and salt water, they seem to live in nearly anywhere wet--rivers and streams, swamps, rice paddies, even flooded ditches.  A friend of mine (Hi Jess!) found one in a most unlikely spot.  While exhuming a human burial, which was down in wet soil, she was shocked to discover a crayfish literally sitting atop the body's pelvic bones!
     Anyway, last week I finally saw crayfish on the menu.  Oddly, it wasn't at a Cajun or Southern-themed restaurant, but at a German bar/restaurant/dinner theater, called Wohlfahrt Haus, in Wytheville, Virginia.  They were served as an appetizer--breaded and fried, with a mustard sauce for dipping.  As usual in this situation, I ate some normally, and then tried to separate some of the actual meat from the breading, to get a more complete, pure taste of the crayfish itself.  They were very similar to shrimp, I thought.  Since I like shrimp, this meant I enjoyed their larger cousin, too.  I will definitely try this again if/when I get the opportunity.  I'd especially like to try them boiled, during which diners usually eat the claws and heads in addition to the tail meat.
     To end on an off-putting note, though, I read that pet crayfish in aquariums (and maybe wild ones, if they're able) have an odd eating habit.  As they grow, like many other creatures, crayfish molt, and shed their outer skin.  But unlike most animals that do this, crayfish then eat the skin.  So, they engage in a nasty example of auto-cannibalism.