dxmachina: (Computers 02)
...or how I spent my summer.

I spent a good portion of the summer teaching — the lab portion of my usual MCC assignment on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8 to 10 p.m. The three days a week thing got old fast, but otherwise I had a good class and a good time. One of my students was even a minor local celebrity, a features reporter for a local TV station who is apparently chucking it all to become a (male) nurse. Of course since the local TV station is not local to where I live, I had no idea until some of the other students pointed it out. He was totally not the stereotypical self-absorbed TV personality, but was rather a keen student and very helpful to others.

As for the rest of the time, here are the highlights...

Last weekend of June... )

Fourth of July weekend... )

Readercon weekend... )

First weekend in August... )

The funeral... )

Summer ends for me on Tuesday, with the start of the semester at MCC. Meanwhile I have been busy preparing syllabi and lecture notes. I'm teaching my usual general chemistry course at MCC, Mondays and Wednesdays 4-7, and a lab over at CCSU on Thursdays from 4:30 to 7:30. The department chair at CCSU offered me a second lab section, but it conflicted with MCC, alas.

Hoping I can post this...

Nope, still down... and I lost all my tags. Bother.

And now we appear to be back.
dxmachina: (Calvinball)
Johnny PeskyThe foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is called Pesky's Pole, in honor of Johnny Pesky. It's a bit of an ironic name in that in his ten-year playing career, Pesky only hit six home runs at Fenway. The story goes that one of those six, a short little hook shot fly ball that curled around the pole as it just barely made it into the stands, saved the bacon of Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell. Parnell named it, and then popularized it when he moved into the Sox broadcasting booth.

I bring this up because Johnny Pesky passed away today, too young at age 92. He was born John Paveskovich and wanted to be a hockey player. In 1942 he had the best season by a rookie shortstop ever, at least according to Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract*. That year he finished third in the American League MVP voting. In 1943 he was in the Navy, and he didn't play again until 1946, when he finished 4th in the MVP race. One of baseball's all time great what-ifs** is how time lost to military service during the war (and also during Korea) affected various players' careers. In Pesky's case, the lost seasons may have cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame. He was an exceptional shortstop in the seven seasons surrounding his service. Add another three years in his prime, and he becomes the subject of some argument***.

* The NBJHBA was published in 2001, some 47 years after Pesky's last game. In the same entry, James also ranked Pesky the 20th best shortstop ever, which is odd because in the original The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, published 16 years earlier, he includes entries for 25 shortstops, none of whom is Pesky.

** Probably second only to
what if black players had been allowed to play in the majors prior to 1947?, which is the ne plus ultra of such questions.

***The rub here is that Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto, who are in the Hall and are the most likely contemporary shortstops to compare to Pesky, also lost those three years, as did Arky Vaughan, by far the best shortstop of that era.

After his playing days, he remained in baseball in one job or another almost to the day he died. He was on the Red Sox payroll for more than sixty years all told, as a player, as a coach, occasionally as the manager, and always as an ambassador for the game and the team.

I had the privilege of meeting Johnny Pesky a couple of times over the years at events at PawSox games, and he was a joy to talk to. The ball he autographed for me is my second favorite after my Koufax ball. Bill James's comment in TNBJHBA mirrors my own experience:

Pesky is a gregarious, cheerful man who can tell stories about old-time baseball for hours—not the well-formed, punch line anecdotes retold a hundred times, but random, slice-of-life stories that resist efforts to move them to paper. Are athletes special people? In general, no, but occasionally, yes. Johnny Pesky at 75 was trim, youthful, optimistic, and practically exploding with energy.

Rest in peace, Johnny. There aren't many ballplayers who get parts of their home fields named after them. Even the Yankees had a moment of silence for him before their game tonight.
dxmachina: (Calvinball)
Despite the surprise snowstorm that greeted my neighborhood this morning, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, it actually the pattern of light on my monitor, which is currently showing me the first Dodgers TV game of spring training. Huzzah!

When he was managing the Amazin' Mets in the early sixties, Casey Stengel was talking to some reporters about two young players, Ed Kranepool and Greg Goossen. He pointed at Kranepool and said, "See that fellow over there? He's 20 years old. In ten years he has a chance to be a star. The he pointed at Goossen. "Now, that fellow over there, he's 20, too. In ten years he has a chance to be 30." Kranepool never became a star, but he was a solid player for the Mets for eighteen years, and has sort of become the franchise's grand old man. Goossen never became a star, either, or even became a regular, although he achieved some small measure of baseball immortality by being one of Jim Bouton's teammates 1969 Seattle Pilots, the season Bouton recorded in Ball Four. He was out of baseball by age 25, but he did make it to 30. Among other things, he became an actor and stuntman, with bit parts in a handful of movies. Much like his baseball career, he never became a star, or a regular, but he did achieve some fame as Gene Hackman's stand-in in numerous films.

I bring all this up because Goossen passed away yesterday at the age of 65, which is way too young.

(Edited to update)

And Charley Steiner just mentioned on the broadcast that Duke Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, has also passed away. He was 84. Not a good day. I just took a photo of his jersey at the Hall of Fame a few weeks ago. Terry Cashman wrote the song "Talkin' Baseball" about the time when New York had the three best centerfielders in baseball.

(Further update)

Jon Weisman's remembrance.
dxmachina: (Pitching)
Bob Feller
Bob Feller taught me how to pitch. Or at least he tried to. When I was a kid, I picked up a used copy of his book, How to Pitch. I still have it, and the inside cover informs me that it cost me 20¢. It's a thin volume, only 90 pages, but there is quite a bit useful information, especially should I have ever found myself in the unlikely position of having to come up with the perfect pitch to throw to Ted Williams. Alas, the ragginess of my arm never allowed me to put Feller's tips to effective use. It's one thing to know what to do. It's quite another to have the physical ability to actually do it.

Feller died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 92. I suppose one shouldn't be much surprised when a 92 year-old man dies, but until he took ill with leukemia earlier in the year, he was still one helluva a vigorous nonagenarian*. He had some of the best nicknames in baseball—Rapid Robert, Bullet Bob, and the Heater from Van Meter.

* Feller was one of the starting pitchers at the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic last year (photo below). Apparently he could still bring it. And unlike a lot of celebrity throwers of a first pitches, the ones who bounce them from forty feet out on national television, Feller always insisted on throwing them from the rubber.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Feller was the Nolan Ryan of his era, a pitcher who threw fast balls that blurred**. Like Ryan, he occasionally had control issues. Not only did he often lead the league in strikeouts, but also in walks and hit batsmen. And like Ryan, the control eventually came.

** Feller once threw a pitch that was clocked at 107.6 mph.

Feller became a national sensation in 1936 at the age of 17. He signed with the Cleveland Indians in his junior year of high school, and, as he later put it, spent his summer vacation pitching in the major leagues. His high school graduation in Van Meter, IA, was covered by the NBC radio network. He never did play in the minors.

Bob Feller at 91
In the three years (1939-41) leading up to the war, he established himself as the best pitcher in the American League, leading the league in wins and strikeouts every single year, and in ERA in 1940. Even so, when Pearl Harbor was attacked he enlisted in the navy the very next day, the first ballplayer to do so. Given his stature, he could easily have pulled light duty in Hawaii***, but he volunteered for combat duty, and served as an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the battleship Alabama. He lost almost four full seasons to the war. He returned to baseball towards the end of the '45 season.

*** <coughDiMaggiocough>

After the war he picked up pretty much where he left off, and pitched for another 11 years. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. He is the only chief petty officer in the Hall.

He was ahead of his time in many areas, and always outspoken in an era when outspokeness wasn't especially appreciated. In the off-season he barnstormed around the country with Negro League players (he often pitched against Satchel Paige), and was an advocate for integration of the majors. The barnstorming also left him financially independent, so that he did not need an off-season job, a rarity in those days. This afforded him the time to work on his conditioning all year round, another rarity among ballplayers of that era. There's a whole chapter in his book about conditioning. He also spoke out against the reserve system, long before there was a players union.

He did not fade quietly into the background once his career ended. Perhaps the best adjective to describe him was irascible. He often chided modern players over various matters****, and once the internet fully kicked in, it often seemed that the snark "Get off my lawn," was invented for him. And yet even when he was at his most curmudgeonly, a fair reading of his comments would almost always find that he was making a valid point. He became the grand old man of baseball, and he will be sorely missed.

**** Most recently it was over the hoopla surrounding young phenom Stephen Strasburg, who has occasionally been compared to Feller. Feller's comment about the young man, who has pitched all of 12 games in the majors, paraphrased, was let's wait till he wins a hundred games or so before doing any comparisons. Not long after that Strasburg blew out his elbow, and required Tommy John surgery. He'll miss most, if not all, of next season.
dxmachina: (Rats!)
Pete Quaife, original bassist for the Kinks, passed away over the summer. I just found out tonight whilst looking up some videos for a friend of Ray performing with the Crouch End Chorus. Ray dedicated this set at this year's Glastonbury Festival to Pete. Rest in peace.


Oct. 21st, 2010 08:41 pm
dxmachina: (Calvin)
I love the fact that Live Science's blog post on Bob Guccione's death is titled:

"Bob Guccione, Publisher of OMNI Magazine, Dead at 79"

as if publishing OMNI was what he was best known for.


Oct. 4th, 2010 09:25 pm
dxmachina: (Writing 01)
So, after one glorious autumn day on Saturday, the weather seems to have taken a turn towards winter—cold*, gray, windy, rainy. Blech.

* It's actually in the fifties, but it feels damn cold after the tropical air we had last week.

I'm watching House as I write this, and I was going nuts trying to figure out where I'd seen the patient of the week before. Turns out it's Amy Irving, who I haven't seen in anything since, like, Yentl. She's gotten old in the interim. What's worse is that she's a year younger than I am.

Ben Mondor, the owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox and one of the best-liked people in Rhode Island, died this morning at the age of 85**. In the late seventies he bought the then bankrupt PawSox, and over the years built it into one of the most successful minor league franchises in the US. He was the antithesis of the stereotypical team owner, always wandering around the stadium during games, talking to fans. (The first time I ever saw him was when he took my ticket as I entered McCoy stadium for a game a couple three decades ago.) He always seemed a nice man, kind and generous, and I've never heard anyone say different. He will be missed. R.I.P.

** He was two weeks younger than my father. Gulp.

I need to get back in the habit of writing stuff down. I did lots of stuff in September, and all I've got to show for it is two lousy posts. We'll see. I've also written no book reports in a very long time, but I have been reading a lot. Lately I've been alternating between rereads of Pratchett's Vimes novels and first-time reads of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series.
dxmachina: (Computers 02)
Looks like I no longer have to worry about that Vox account I set up years ago and never used. From TechCrunch:

Six Apart’s Vox Heads To DeadPool

And then there's Vox's official announcement.

I never really did get the point of Vox. At the time, Six Apart also owned LiveJournal, and Vox seemed to be an essentially identical platform, so what was the point? It looks like I wasn't the only one who wondered.
dxmachina: (Charlie Brown 2)
...the man who hit the Shot Heard 'Round The World.

By all accounts he was a class act, and became long-time friends with the man who gave up the homer, Ralph Branca. One interesting thing about that game is that if Thomson hadn't hit the home run and the Dodgers had won, he likely would've been the goat for having earlier tried to stretch a single into a double only to discover that teammate Whitey Lockman had stopped at second in front of him, leading to two Giants trying to stand on the same base. Oops.

Thank goodness I wasn't alive yet when it happened. It would've been a stake through the heart.
dxmachina: (Koufax2)
Mark FidrychMark "The Bird" Fidrych was apparently killed in an accident on his farm in Massachusetts. It's hard to explain what a sensation Fidrych was in his rookie season. He talked to the ball. He got down on his hands and knees to shape the pitching mound to his satisfaction. And he got guys out.

Unfortunately, after that one magic season, he blew out his shoulder. He managed to play a few more seasons, but they were always comeback attempts. I saw him pitch at McCoy Stadium for the PawSox in his final season, when he was trying to make it back with the Red Sox. He was one of the few Red Sox I've ever actively rooted for.

The Bird was unique. I loved watching him pitch. R.I.P.

The Bird The Bird

What a terrible week in baseball. Besides Bird and Kalas, Angel rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver Friday night, just hours after pitching the best game of his brief career. He was only 22.

Today was the Dodgers' home opener, and they're just crushing the Jints. Orlando Hudson has just hit for the first cycle (single, double, triple, homer) for a Dodger since Wes Parker did it in 1970. And it's only the sixth inning. I just wish the day wasn't so sad.

dxmachina: (Koufax)
Harry Kalas, the voice of NFL Films and the Philadelphia Phillies for decades, not to mention Puppy Bowl, passed away today while preparing to announce the Phils-Nats game in DC. I suppose there are worse ways to go than getting ready to do what you loved. NFL Films will never sound the same.
dxmachina: (Double Rats!)
It was a sad day for this baseball fan. First came the passing of George Kell, a Hall of Fame third baseman for the Tigers, Sox, and other teams, and later a long-time broadcaster for the Tigers. He was 86. Kell's playing days ended just before I started paying attention, so I never saw him play, but he was one of the players in my All-Star Baseball set, and a good one.

Later came the news that John Brattain had died, apparently of complications from heart surgery. Brattain was probably my favorite writer over at the Hardball Times. His pieces were funny and intelligent, and I will miss them. He was much too young at 44, and leaves his wife and two teenage daughters.

The odd thing for me is how much Brattain's death stunned me. It's not so much that a writer I admire is gone. I lurk at the Baseball Think Factory board where he was an active participant. I've never felt much of an urge to participate there myself, mostly because the tone is generally much snarkier, and often far meaner, than I am comfortable with. But one of the things about lurking is that you often become as familiar with the active participants as if you were participating yourself. Brattain was a witty voice of reason amongst the lesser snark. Such a shame.
dxmachina: (Books 03)
Huh. I just mentioned both Philip Jose Farmer and Riverworld in the last post. This morning he died. R.I.P.

He had a very varied career. As I mentioned in the comments of the last post, he famously wrote Venus of the Half Shell under the name of Kilgore Trout, basing the novel on the Kurt Vonnegut's descriptions of the previously fictional novel. He wrote a lot of similar pastiches. I remember reading one novella based on the Raffles character that also involved Holmes and Watson. He also invariably included a character in his books with the initials P.J.F.

I really liked the first two Riverworld books, and eagerly awaited the final book. When it finally arrived several years overdue, it turned out that it was split into two books, neither of which were as good. I suspect part of the problem may have been that Farmer was unable to come up with a truly satisfying explanation for Riverworld's existence. What he did come up with was incredibly convoluted and disappointing, at least to me. (Not nearly as disappointing as the SciFi miniseries, though, which bore only a passing resemblance to the original.) I should probably reread at some point, at least the first two.
dxmachina: (Bike 03)
I just found out today that Sheldon Brown died. Only in America could a bicycle mechanic get a twelve paragraph obituary in the Times of London. I've found his website invaluable over the years for all things bike related. I never met him (although I did try once), but I really wish I had. It turns out my most recent actual ride was the same day he died, February 3rd, so that can be my little memorial to him. R.I.P.

My brother has to have knee surgery next week, which means he won't be ready to do the Five Boro ride in May, which in turn means I won't be doing it, either, because I really don't feel like doing it on my own. At least we figured this out before we actually sent in any dough.

Despite the modern wonder that is daylight saving time in March, I have yet to ride this week. Part of it is because I've been working late, but even tonight, when I got home with plenty of daylight to spare, it was still just too frelling cold. It's not like I'm asking for much, just an evening with a temperature somewhere north of 40°. C'mon spring, let's sprung already.


dxmachina: (Default)

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