Wednesday, November 14, 2007

PPA Sports Heroes of the '80s

Indulge me, if you will, in a little pointless nostalgia that's been kicking around in my head lately. It will, at least, get us out of the cycle of despair and boredom that is "Greg writing."

For about the last month, I've been a little nostalgic for baseball -- during most of the '80s, it was my favorite sport, a far cry from now (when I really don't watch it at all). Not sure what's prompted this -- the Rockies' run? I'm not a Rockies fan, and I didn't watch much of the Series, but it was nice to see friends and family excited. More likely, though, it was just misfiring synapses, the product of age. Whatever the case, old beaten-up Bill James books have reclaimed a spot by my bed, and I've yearned a little bit for those old days when I actually gave a crap about the sport.

Having some idle time the other day (most likely, I was staring at a blank notebook page at the time) I started thinking about some of the oddballs that made up my favorite players as a kid. Some make sense -- Cesar Cedeno and Cal Ripken Jr. were my absolute favorite players (I had a Ripken poster above my bed, and thought he was cruelly underpublicized -- hard as that may be to believe now).

But some of the others? Not quite as popular.

Rance Mulliniks -- if Ripken and Cedeno were the top two, Rance Mulliniks was not far behind. Why? I really don't know (as is the case for a lot of these -- you've been warned). He looked like a friendly guy, I guess. He was a smart, good hitter, and it pissed me off that he never seemed to get recognition (because he was a platoon player, a distinction that escaped me then). When Sports Illustrated ran a one-page profile on "Mullinorg" (the Blue Jays' third-base platoon of Mulliniks and the less-loved Garth Iorg), I read it to tatters -- somewhere in the PPA archives (my parents' basement), there's still the clipped-out photo from that article.

Tim Raines -- One of the rare players that actually had a local connection -- he starred for the Denver Bears (and hit a home run in the first baseball game I ever saw, at Mile High Stadium). I always felt vindicated by the fact that he went on to star in the majors. Two other Bears that I figured would follow in that path -- Dave Hostetler and Randy Bass -- didn't quite measure up. Bass went on to be big in Japan, the precursor to bands I knew in college who boasted of being big in Italy. And oddly enough, checking my facts for this little bit, I note that Bass is now a member of the Oklahoma state senate.

Al Hrabosky -- If anyone can find me an "I Hlove Hrabosky" bumper sticker, I will pay top dollar.

Britt Burns -- Another local connection, albeit briefly -- he did a rehab stint for Denver (they may have been the Zephyrs by then -- not sure) and was cool enough to sign a ton of autographs for me. Jamie Quirk, another favorite (most likely, because I thought "Quirk" was a cool name -- seriously) ignored my pre-pubescent shrieks of "Mister Quirk!" I still haven't totally forgiven him.

Bobby Murcer and Jim Spencer -- Forever linked, the two Yankees in the first pack of baseball cards I ever got (long before I learned to hate the Yanks). I really know (and knew) nothing about either of them as baseball players. Spencer died a few years back, and Murcer has had very serious health problems -- whenever I read about either, I feel kinda sad.

Kent Hrbek -- Always seemed like a hell of a fun guy. The Jamie Quirk Cool Name rule applies here.

Tom Herr -- I also liked Ozzie Smith, which was understandable. Tom Herr perhaps benefited from proximity. I'm probably being a little retroactively unfair -- I think my memory of him as a pretty solid baseball player was accurate.

John Mayberry -- When I was really young -- we're talking 7 or 8 -- I really found the idea of Canadian baseball teams exotic. The fact that there were teams in another country just blew my mind, and John Mayberry somehow symbolized that more than anyone -- when I think of the Blue Jays, he's one of the first names that pops into mind, and I can see him wearing those old jerseys. Again, checking things out, I'm shocked to realize that he retired at the relatively young age of 33. I was under the impression that he'd already played for centuries when I discovered baseball, and went on for a good decade afterwards. Not so.

Ron Kittle -- When you're an awkward kid with glasses, and you see some awkward guy with glasses playing baseball at the highest level and succeeding, well ... you become a fan. Kittle's Rookie of the Year award gave me hopes of greatness (hopes counteracted, alas, by an alarming lack of baseball skills). I even looked a bit like him when I was young. I'm still waiting for him to reach his potential, unfortunately.

Greg Luzinski -- See Kittle. Unfortunately, as I grow older, I'm resembling Luzinski more and more. Both guys played for the White Sox when they wore the weirdo "SOX" uniforms, which with childish tastes, I ranked only below the Astros rainbow jerseys for sheer awesomeness.

* * *

That was oddly fun. I'm sure there's a gazillion guys that I've forgotten, and will remember at 3 a.m. Some time down the line, I may do this with other sports.

The writing? It proceeds. Slowly.


gsdgsd13 said...

Boy, I made those pics way too big, but I'm too lazy to fix right now. Later.

Brushback said...

Nah, big pictures are good.

Yeah, Rance Mulliniks.

vakfan said...

Ron Kittle absolutely rocks. I am considering making my homepage.

Anonymous said...

I think Rance Mulliniks might have become one of your favorites because he was in every single pack of baseball cards available to the public during his career.

gsdgsd13 said...

Man, I wish Mulliniks was that common. I lived in a part of the country that got the special "Ron Oester in every pack" promotion.

Jes Gőlbez said...

Rance does the occasional colour commentary for Blue Jays broadcasks. Like you'd expect, he's a bit geeky and rather friendly.

Hrbek - Are you sure you don't just like him b/c he's got a Czech surname?

Kittle - As a long-time White Sox fan, I'd have to concur on the Kittle selection.

Knightsport said...

Rance Mulliniks is my cousin. I still talk to his mom semi-frequently. I didn't know he had any fans outside the family. It might interest you to know we are also cousins with Brad Ausmus, the current catcher for the Houston Astro's. Baseball runs in our family, all of us play.

Anonymous said...

I used to watch Rance play when I was growing up in El Paso. He played for the El Paso Diablos (farm team to the Angels). I LOVED watching Count Mulliniks play. And, living in Houston, have loved watching Brad Ausmus play here for years as well. I had no idea they were related until now.