The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Interesting Wakeup

Finally, a night off where I can relax and sleep in my own bed. I'm slowly dozing off when, right around midnight or so, I start hearing sirens. I don't think much of it, of course, because we live near a nursing home.

Then another siren. And another one. And pretty soon I'm hearing trucks idling out on the street. Not close enough to be across the street, but close enough to be annoying. A couple of dogs are barking - we have a few in the neighborhood that are good for that - and I'm wondering what's going on. I feel like I need to get up and get something substantial to eat, so I head downstairs quietly.

That's when I see the flashing lights from outside. I peek out the front door window and see at least three fire trucks down Morris Street - and a hose hooked up to the fire extinguisher at the corner.

Curiosity gets the better of me, and I wake up Sarah, letting her know what's going on and that I'm going to step outside to see what's going on. I get out of the house, down the steps and over to the corner of Morris and Ridgeway - and that's where I see about six or seven fire trucks and a whole gaggle of firemen - some not from Pewaukee - looking up a parking area into an apartment building that's set back from the street, with the back facing Highway 16.

A fire apparently broke out in the garage underneath the building, and there was heavy smoke rising up into the air. There were too many vehicles and trucks to see exactly where, but the stairwell entrance to one of the apartment foyers had smoke coming out. There was also smoke coming from the back of the building.

This building has a short history: it's the same building where the gentleman who tried to take over the Village of Pewaukee Town Hall with a fake bomb back in July lived. I doubt the two are related, of course.

I can still hear the idling trucks outside. Fortunately, there hasn't been any major issues at all (like, say, explosions). Hopefully they'll have the fire contained by morning, or my wife could have an interesting commute to work tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hogs and Kitsches

It's Wednesday, and there is a distinct "roar" in the air around SE Wisconsin. It's not completely unusual to see a lot of motorcycles around the area during the summer, but there is a definite increase in the ratio of bikes-to-cars on the roads and freeways. That and the various signs that businesses have about "Welcome Harley Riders" and such, and you know this is going to be one of those weekends.

Of course, I'm not a biker (of the powered kind), so this isn't my cup of tea. I just don't get the big deal - are we going to have to suffer through this every five years, now?

Side note: back in the old days, before I had a driver's license, I had a moped that I used to tool around my condo complex. A 1978 AMF Roadster moped. Back in 1978, AMF was the parent company of the bikes that made all this roar I'll be hearing this weekend. So yes, I once owned and rode a Harley. Not legally, though (no comment about the time the officer pulled me over in the condo complex).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Angels Watching Over Me

I have had my share of "oh my" moments in my life. Some of them I'd like to forget (see the post about the vending machine at the hospital, for example); some of them I will always remember.

One of those moments was on a typical dreary Wednesday night back in about 1984 or 1985. I didn't have a car anymore – that had been totalled out in an accident months after I got my license, but that's another story (and another "I'd like to forget this" moment). So, in order to get to my teen age bible study at church, I had to use my dad's car.

I'd been going to Calvary Memorial Church in Racine for about a decade at that point. First, it was just Sunday school; it changed into youth group stuff and church outings and such. This particular night, I really didn't have a ride, so I was stuck having to drive myself with my dad's car.

I say "stuck" a bit tongue-in-cheek, because my dad owned a Cadillac at the time. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of Cadillac that you're thinking. It was the much-maligned Cadillac Cimarron – the "compact" Cadillac of the day. And it was more than worth of the scorn it received. Aside from the quality issues, the thing was nothing more than a souped-up Chevy Cavalier with a Caddy-style grille and some "luxury" touches like a custom sound system and power leather seats. What was worse, my dad had already been in an accident with the car months after he had purchased it – another car had slammed into his rear quarter panel, requiring replacement not only of the fender but of the rear door.

Still, for the day it was a pretty nice car, and it was a whole lot better than what I usually drove – which was my stepmother's AMC/Renault Alliance. Exactly how or why I had my dad's car, I don't really remember. I do remember that the day had been a typical February night. That means it was cold but it was warming up – which would mean snow. Racine being located close to Lake Michigan, that also meant that the snow could be mixed with rain. That was exactly the case when I got out of the Bible study that evening.

I remember pulling on to Washington Avenue and heading west towards a post-meeting get-together at a pizza place (which no longer exists) further out and closer to home. As I got to the first set of stoplights from the church, there was a semi ahead of me, and I wasn't too thrilled with having to deal with road spray from the trailer. So, I pulled alongside on the curb side of the road to wait for the light to change. Washington was four lanes at that point, and became a divided boulevard as it headed out towards I-94.

I wasn't as concerned about the weather at that point, though I noticed that it was getting a little slippery. The light finally changed, and I pulled out ahead of the semi, ostensibly to pull ahead so I wouldn't have to deal with slush coming from his wheels. I just got clear of his front end when I saw the Suburban come sliding through the intersection.

There's always been talk about how time slows down for you when something like this happens. Truth is, my brain didn't catch up with reality until after I had already pulled to the side and into the recently-closed gas station across the street. The cross-street ran downhill, so it was likely that he tried to stop but slid through the intersection. I hit him in his right-rear quarter panel, and he fishtailed a bit before coming to a stop about a quarter-block north on Ohio (the name of the cross street).

The car was still driveable, as was obvious by the fact that I could pull into the gas station. I don't remember much after that, other than calling the police from the other gas station across the street where the Suburban ended up pulling into its driveway. There was also the call to my dad (via the phone in the station, in these pre-cell phone days), a short accident interview with the officer, and all the fun of dealing with an accident of this nature. The bumper had done its job and prevented any major damage, but the front end was now a half-inch closer to the back bumper. My dad would get a new car shortly after this one was repaired, but that was also another story.

There was one other thing about this accident that I can't forget: one of the best things about my dad's car was that it was the one car we had that actually had a cassette tape player. I loved it, because I could listen to my favorite artists when I was driving. This was back in the days prior to there being a radio station for practically every listening style and taste, and way back before "CD" or "MP3" came into being. And, because my favorite music wasn't exactly mainstream – contemporary Christian music was in its relative infancy back then – I was estatic that I could listen to my recently-purchased tape of my favorite artist.

Right as I pulled into the gas station after the accident, there was a song playing. That song was off of a new album, Straight Ahead, by Amy Grant. The second verse is very telling:

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today

A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way

Near misses all around me, accidents unknown

Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home

Still I know they're all around me, all day and through the night

When the enemy is closing in I know sometimes they fight

To keep my feet from falling, I'll never turn away

If you're asking what's protecting me, then you're gonna hear me say

Got His angels watching over me, ev'ry step I take

Angels watching over me

Got His angels watching over me, ev'ry move I take

Angels watching over me

Yes, I know it sounds trite, but I think it was a message for me. And it's one I'm not going to soon forget.

Since this happened, I'd thought about somehow telling or writing Amy about what happened. I vaguely remember, in the 14-some years that I've been on these Internets, of posting this to an Amy Grant mailing list, but that was likely years and years ago. It just came back to mind last night.

I doubt Amy reads blogs from sports fans based out of Wisconsin (even if it does have the occasional tidbit about the Predators and Nashville), but at least I've put this up here for someone to see.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some Saturday Rants

I think I've mentioned before how surprised I am that the US doesn't have a Team Handball squad participating in the Olympics. I understand a bit why it's not as popular here in the states (something about its roots as a game enjoyed by one A. Hitler back in the day), but still - you'd think there'd be enough in the way of athletes who'd be able to play the game at a high level in this country.

Another sport I'm really surprised that the USA hasn't done well in at this Olympiad is Field Hockey. The US fared poorly in pool play in the women's tournament (1-3-1); the US didn't even qualify for the men's tournament. Field hockey, especially on the women's side, is almost a religion in New England; I only suspect that the players who might fare well in field hockey here in the states are too busy playing Lacrosse (which is a sport I only tenuously understand not being on the Olympic program).

Onto some other subjects:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What the Wii is Going On?

It's come to this:

Mario does baseball.

It's just too.. horrible...


On my way to work the other night, I had a smart car pull up next to me at a stoplight. I noticed our front bumpers were even with each other, so I turned to peek at the car as it sat next to me.

I was looking at the car's back bumper. The smart barely comes up to my back door.

Now, I knew how small these things were, but this just blew me away.

Anyways - on to other things:

Saturday, August 16, 2008


He is not human. He is a fish.

Eight gold medals.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Look Out!

Warning! He's got brand-new hockey cards, and he's not afraid to blog about it!

Finally, today I went over to the local Target and picked up a box (and a pack) of the 2008-09 Upper Deck Victory hockey cards. My first pack featured Ovechkin and Crosby - I swear, all these common cards.

Not too bad a pull, though - 72 singles, and the 3x5 card is Martin Brodeur. I pulled two Preds players - Captain Jason and J.P. DuuuuuUUUUUUUmont. No Radulov, thankfully.

On to some other topics:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's Happening Again

Every four years, I swear I'm not going to get hooked on watching the Summer Olympics.

And every four years, enough of the sports get shown on the various cable channels, and I start watching things like sculling, water polo, team handball... you get the picture.

Right now, I'm watching the soon-to-be former Olympic sport of Women's Softball. I have no idea if it's live (I finally got to refresh - it is most definitely live, and team USA is winning 1-0 with two innings to go). It's compelling stuff.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Once Again It Happens

From the state that is All Brett Favre 24/7, the real sports story in Wisconsin got pushed to the side last night.

Prince Fielder and Manny Parra apparently had a "discussion" after Manny was pulled for a pinch hitter (Russell Branyan) in the top of the 7th and the Brewers down 6-2. Parra threw his jacket down onto the bench, and Fielder then attempted to throw Parra onto the bench. Nearly half the team had to restrain Prince from beating the living crap out of their starting pitcher.

Meanwhile, no one notices because everyone's trying to tune in for Mike McCarthy's press conference after apparently "talking" to Brett about what he expects of him for training camp.

I am officially convinced that the Milwaukee Brewers cease to matter in the minds of the Wisconsin sports faithful as soon as Green Bay's training camp opens.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Favre and the Black Jeep

Why did I get this sense of deja vu when I saw the helicopter following Brett Favre's car through the streets of Ashwabenon?

All that was missing was a bunch of patrol cars following at 35 mph and a cell phone call saying Brett was in the trunk.

The circus has begun. Aaron is going to be constantly looking over his shoulder for the entire pre-season.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bad Ballpalyers

As I was performing some spring cleaning of my basement (in a futile effort to try and find the title for my wife's car), I came upon an old (1993) copy of the SABR Baseball Research Journal. One of the articles featured a "Least Valuable Player" award system (Al Yellon's "Bottom of the Heap Awards", BRJ22, 1993).

I was immediately intrigued, and remembered that I had done some work with the Lahman Baseball Database in creating both Cy Young Points (mentioned elsewhere in this fine blog) and Offensive Fibonacci Win Points. I decided to rank the two categories for each season from 1871-2007 (boy, we're spoiled in this Age of Information, ain't we?) and find the low and high totals for each season - giving us the "least valuable players/pitchers" in each league for every year.

The player with the worst single-season OFIB total was Jim Levey, who had a really bad -12.8 OFIB rating in 1933 for the Saint Louis Browns as their shortstop. He was so bad that season, the next year he quit baseball... and went to play football with the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NFL. He played three years for the Pirates (who were renamed the Steelers in 1940) as a back.

Oddly enough, the worst CYP total was for the man who threw the first no-hitter in National League history, George Washington "Grin" Bradley. Three years after his no-hitter, he went 13-40 for the Troy Haymakers of the NL; that was the worst season of his career.

I organized the lists to see who was the "worst of the worst" the most times in their careers. There was one name that came up six times on the list: Bill Bergen is universally considered the worst ballplayer (offensively) in major league baseball history. For six out of the seven seasons from 1904 to 1910, he had the worst OFIB as the backstop for the Brooklyn Robins. He was, however, universally regarded as the best defensive catcher in the NL. When his skills eroded in 1911, he moved on to the minors where he played through 1920.

Then there's the somewhat sad case of Hal Lanier. Lanier is better known for being the manager of the Houston Astros back in 1986, but he was originally a all-star rookie in 1964 for the Giants. The following season, however, he was involved in a beaning during the pre-season that left him with a severe case of epilepsy. For five years, he struggled to hit while the Giants tried moving him from shortstop to second base. Over a five year period (1965-69), he was the worst player in baseball, posting a -44.8 OFIB. Now, I know what likely happened - the Giants felt sorry for him, and they kept trying to make room for him in their lineup. However, by doing so they cost their team essentially nine games a year in the standings; The two key players that were the backups to Lanier on the Giants were Tito Fuentes and Jim Davenport. Over the same period of time, their combined OFIB was 0.1 (Davenport was 2.6, Fuentes was -2.5 without playing in 1968). Considering that the Giants were within 10 games of the pennant each year, keeping Lanier probably cost the team three or possibly four pennants. When Chris Speier took over as the Giants' SS in 1971, the team finally won a pennant (but lost to the Pirates in the NLCS).

As for the pitchers: The career highlight of Milt Gaston was when he roomed with Lou Gehrig in his first season in the majors in 1924. The following year, he was traded to the Saint Louis Browns, and went 15-14 with a 4.41 ERA. It was downhill after that. Gaston posted three seasons (1931 with the Red Sox, and 1932 and 1934 with the White Sox) where his combined CYP total was -30.6. He meets a grand total of 2.0 of the Hall of Fame Standards. His only other claims to fame was that his brother Alex was his catcher in 1929 with the BoSox, and that he lived to age 100.

The king of the "Worst Pitchers", though, is Si Johnson. He pitched for the Reds from 1928-36, but it's the stretch from 1931 to 1934 that is simply amazing: he lost 19, 15, 18 and 22 games in each of those years (respectively). The only year where his ERA was below the league average (1932) was the year he posted his career single-season high in wins - with 13. At the beginning of the 1936 season, after two games in relief for the Reds, Johnson was traded to the Saint Louis Cardinals. He was part of an attempted patchwork of fourth starters for the Cards during the late 1930's, and the Birds dropped to sixth in 1938. He spent all of 1939 in the minors, and was drafted by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft in October of that year. He pitched for three and a half years with the Phillies, posting his last truly bad season in 1942 with an 8-19 record and a 3.69 ERA. He led the NL in worst CYP totals each of those five seasons, combining for a -28.2 CYP total and the most times leading the league in worst CYP. He was 8-3 with 2 saves in 1943 when his draft card came up. He spent the last half of 1943 through VJ-Day in 1945 in the Navy - avoiding more last-place finishes with the Phillies. He did return to play in the majors for two more years, but he still wasn't the greatest pitcher. His final record was 101-165, with a 4.09 ERA (8% worse than the league average during his career) and a 1.401 ratio. His claim to fame was that he struck out Babe Ruth in one of the Bambino's last AB in the major leagues. He finished with the Braves in 1947, the year before the Braves won their first NL pennant since 1914. After he retired, he became a fireman at Sheridan Correctional Center in Sheridan, Illinois. He passed away in 1994.