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One Degree of “Dr. Strangeglove” — The Jack Cust Story

The ghost of Richard Lee “Dick” Stuart was alive and well the evening of Thursday, May 1 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Gene Autrey Way.


Many of you weren’t born when Stuart, infamously known as Dr. Strangeglove following the Stanley Kubrick 1964 classic of the same name, held court and, oopsy-daisy, drop-kicked balls from 1958 to 1969.

Stuart didn’t just butcher the rawhide. He stewed, filleted, shaked, baked, folded and otherwise mutilated balls with all the aplomb of a blind elephant in a pottery barn.

Shameless on defense, and almost defiantly so, the good-humored — Thank goodness, for he was a giant — Stuart’s record 29 errors at First Base set while toiling for the Boston Red Sox stands preeminent even today. Frank Litsky’s New York Times obituary for Stuart upon his death from cancer at age 66 in 2002 quoted Bobby Bragan calling old Stonehands — Stuart’s pre-strangeglove moniker — the worst outfielder he ever saw.

Add quote Litsky: When the public-address announcer at Pirates training camp once told the spectators, ”Anyone who interferes with the ball in play will be ejected from the ballpark,” Danny Murtaugh, the Pirates’ manager at the time, said, ”I hope Stuart doesn’t think he means him.”

Oh by the way, Stuart also hit 228 home runs — pre- pre-steroids. In 1963, when he set the record for errors, he also led the American League in RBI’s with 118. This in the modern dead ball era before the mounds were lowered and the hitters designated.

Which brings us full circle to a fatefully unexpected Thursday this side of Los Angeles where the county turns orange. That awful thud. The shameful bounce. A Bugs Bunny cartoon of a fly ball clank clank, you never gonna get that baby back. And the reincarnation of Dick Stuart incarnate, in the form of Jack Cust, Left(out)fielder, Oakland’s A’s, committing the ultimate honors in anti-defense.

This brought back long lost memories of ye olde Dr. Stonehands Strangeglove. The sheer audacity of Cust’s latest blunder, coupled with that loud thud of a sound similar to a cement block dropped about 50 stories to the concrete ground was like a tornado, hurricane, flood, an unnaturally natural event, unforgettably permeating the moment.

That bitter play! Sweet nostalgia. Not heard nor such audacious non-play seen for so many lonely moments and now this.

Give Cust credit for he probably never heard of Stuart. But Lawdy, Miss Clawdy, he did the greatest Dr. Strangeglove impression possible. First, he looked up to see the routine fly ball drift ever so graciously to Left Field. Ever confident — and nobody looked more confident than Stuart right before each next gaffe — Cust held up his glove awaiting the expected result.

Hosanna and look out below, the ball fell flush on a closed glove, bounced about 20 yards away and resulted in disaster, Angels flying around the basepaths. What Cust had done was cover his eyes with his glove. He never stood a chance.

But Cust is a playa, if not a fieldah, per se. Almost nonchalantly, he retrieved the ball, missed the cut-off man — perfect, if this were Superman’s Bizarro World, but here not so much — and eventually departed the field at inning’s end. 

Cust’s no love for Mr. Glove did Stuart even prouder then. As Stuart often did, Cust went the distance and then some. Made up for it all with a ringing home run sparking an eight-run Fifth Inning that won the A’s the game. So imperfect in the damn field, Cust was perfect at the plate going four for four, walking twice and scoring three runs.

I am not too proud to say this: When I focused on the enormity of the effort, the Dr. Strangeglove resurrection in reflection, I got a little misty-eyed.

Somewhere, this side of heaven, maybe a field of dreams at Dyersville, Iowa, Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart is picking up that image of Jack Cust on the defensive cusp as he kicks and klunks a routine ground ball into a two-base adventure before hitting a game-winning grand slam.

Somewhere, the A’s are playing today. And Jack “The New Stonehands” Cust with Dr. Strangeglove as his wingman — all props to Pharrell and Snoop Dog — is dropping it like it’s hot.

These are the days, my friends. We thought they’d never end…

QUICK HITS:

What does it take? Tough Room Department. Brad Wilkerson goes three for three with a walk and is promptly released by the Mariners for all his efforts. Guess he should have been swinging on that fourth ball.

Ballplayers are people, too, Part Infinity. Doug Mientkiewicz, now a Buc, was unusually candid the other day discussing his disappointment and reaction to being traded from the Red Sox to the Mets. He put his bad attitude and play on his shoulders in a very stand-up way. All the fans who get so excited about trades and player movements don’t appreciate the disruption to lives that also take place.

Carlos Zambrano is in the house.  And doing the whirling dervish dance dugoutside before each game. Strange sight indeed, what with all the slamming and bamming, but it’s tough to argue with success. The Zambrani can keep on dancing with the Cubs stars all the way to Cy Young town at this pace.

I must leave you now a virtual presence until we meet again. Enjoy!

(Please visit my online community journalism site at http//:92067FREEPRESS.com as well)!

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That was the week that was, in no small part

Let’s consider some hidden gems last week in baseball annals:

Michael Buffer voice: “Let’s get ready to ruminate…”

“I alone have escaped to tell thee”…(Coleridge-to-Tinker-to-No Chance, Wrigley Field 8/14/85).

Pity the poor Pirates —  The defense rests. And rests and rests. It’s bad. They just finished a stretch of at least one error in 16 of the last 17 games through April 20. Defense wins ball games. The Pirates lose ball games. Get it? And what ya gonna do next? Punt.

Addendum: The Bucs were one of Branch Rickey’s stops. Luck is the residue of design, he said. So, this is the residue of what?

Hidden Ball Trick Pony — Ronny Paulino discovered an interesting twist to catching the damn baseball already. The old rawhide ripped into ye olde throat guard and Houdini-like disappeared within the chest protector trick. Yeah, it happens every spring. Err, Paulino was no worse for wear although he took a while to produce the ball.

Hidden Ball Trick Pony Part Two — Maybe that’s how they do things in Havana, but Yunei Escobar seemed almost shocked his hidden ball trick didn’t fool anybody at Atlanta. That’s not how we do it this side of the Sugar Curtain, Charlie.

Final fallout from Padres-Rockies 22 inning affair — It only took 659 pitches for the Rockies to score that exciting — if you like to watch cricket, shuffleboard, or bass fishing, paint dry — 2-1 victory for the ages and it took the ages to do so, longest game in innings played since 1993 and eighth longest game in time played since 1920.  But that’s not even the good part. They don’t have no stinking curfew in the National League — The AL won’t even think about starting an inning after 1 a.m. — but they sure as shooting do at Lindbergh Field San Diego. Flights are not supposed to leave after 3 a.m. However, regional airport authorities special sauced the baseball charters. Home team first, the Padres left around 3:15 a.m. for Phoenix, followed by the Rockies to Houston. Unfortunately, with the time change and all, The Rockaroos got to Oil Town at 7 a.m., just in time for morning glory commute. Funskis! Of course, air rage. Rockies scored six runs in the top of the 1st Inning and cruised to victory. Padres, not so much. Another day, another loss to the high flying D-Backs.

Torii Hunter Bentley IV Jr. , Sir —  The new Bentley was a real trip for the guy who came from the ghetto to make it big. But it didn’t get very far. Rear-ended just a few blocks from the ballpark. A bit bruised and battered, nevertheless Hunter took the field and took it out on the Mariners (not so ancient, see Coleridge citation above) crashing into the fence as he robbed Richie Sexson of what would have been a game winning  home run in the 9th Inning.

Khalil Greene — Something is rotten in the state of the normally sure-handed and steady shortstop. Two errors in barely a week. Strikeouts and not much else at the plate. He just plain looks distracted.   Time for some consummate zen, Mojombo.

And so it goes…

If you have 22 innings in the office pool, why do you have…never mind, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here

Nothing says special than banging the drum slowly past 1 a.m. in the top of the 22nd Inning at Petco Park.

It helps to like singles. There’s been a zinglinion of them. And weak ground outs. And slow reflexes. And too many hot dogs for the bumbuns and birds.
OK, nothing makes sense anymore. Tulowitzki again. How many times has he strode the late. Eight, nine, one hit, many outs.
A sharp double to left-center after an error. Look out below. Rockies have a one run lead. At last, we can rest.
‘Tis the bottom of the 22nd, 22 innings and not much scoring. Honestly, they’ll have to stop playing. Go ahead and hit Greene at 1:15 a.m. Kip Wells and prepare to descend to the lower levels of Dante’s den. There will be no sacrifice bunting in the bottom of the 22nd. Are you kidding me. And Josh Bard, catcher has played all 22 and is now up hitting into a double play.
A walk. What does it take to kill the Kervoka. Come on Kip Wells. You are crazy wild. And finally strike three.
That handles that. A long time playing but where’s the humanity when it ends. My dog has died.

While I’ve got your attention in the 21st Inning, this thing has got to end

It’s obvious. Nobody is going to score. It’s like an episode of “Lost”. Many hours and innings ago, the pictures of the seeping people were old. It’s tiring just to watch. Kip Wells v. Glendon Rusch, sort of a greatest hit of the early 2000s. Who knew they’d be up and at ’em?

We MUST HAVE CLOSURE.  Too many left on base. Too many hopes and dreams mercilessly crushed. Who can stop this madness? Stop the rain.
I’m getting giddy. A single to left by Tony Clark. Jim Edmonds now. Oh my. That soft grounder to short isn’t going to help anybody.
So, we go to the lucky 22nd.
Frankly, live commentating MLB.com fans. This moment has timeless karma attached to its sad rump.
But I digress. Nothing says baseball more than playing beyond when you drop. The American League has a 1 a.m. curfew.
This is the National League. Mojumbo!!!

As the Padres-Rockies game turns, say around the 21st Inning, or so, a real time experience

As I write this, around 12:30 a.m. Pacific Yadda Time, the Padres and Rockies attempt their 20th inning of play.

If this were Osaka, this game would be done.

But Its pretty little don’t even try to score Petco and after 14 innings of no runs then a tease of the 15th, the longest game in major league baseball since 2003 is kind of sexy.

It’s a classic case of you can’t get there from ere. Kouzmanoff dives to his left and Brooks Robinson the ball hawks.

Styrike one and two. Diving catches. Bizarre calls. That’s what it took to drag this classic contest into the late and early moondust.

One two three and three two one. They’re gone. More innings. We can’t get enough. No one dares blow this one.

The yin in the yang has tired. Troy Tulowitzki breaks his oh-for-seven with an eighth.

We go to the bottom of the 20th tied 1-1. Oh doctor. This is baseball real time. Next game is later today. In another state.

Defensive gems abound. The best two defensive shortstops in the National League unknown to the casual fans, Khalil Greene and Tulowitzki strut their stuff. Dead air and Petco’s spacious park. The perfect storm for a return to 1968 style baseball.

Ah, if only they counted foul balls as points and scored a win that way. Or as in the most recent spring training call the game after, shall we say, 10?

Nah, they’re going to play all night. Grab another bag of popcorn.

OK the taped-up rams head in the 17th was a nice touch. But it didn’t work, obviously. Neither did the gris-gris and the voodoo hex in the 19th. Worlds have risen and crashed. People have been born and died.

And we are headed to the bottom of the 21st. Good.