The McBride Diaries (Vol.24)
Posted on 10/18/2007at 5:16 AM
Since the 2007 baseball season has been such an exciting one full of surprises, I’ve found myself inspired enough to write about my own personal assessments of what’s been going on, and how it’s affected me personally this year.
For starters, as you well know, I’m a die-hard Phillies fan. Thanks to my grandfather and my uncle, I spent many an evening at Veterans Stadium watching the Phillies. What a tease, though. You see, my first Phillies game, I saw Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Gary Maddox, and my “imaginary uncle”, Bake McBride. Those particular Phillies were great. Great enough to even win the World Series. The year was 1980.
Then, 1981 came. A strike split the season in two halves, with the Phillies having to play a one-game playoff against the Montreal Expos at the end of the season. “No problem”, I thought. Shucks, we were the defending World Champs, right? What could the Expos do to us? Beat us?? Well, that’s exactly what the Expos did - beat us. I couldn’t understand it. Defending champs didn’t lose deciding games, I thought.
1982 – The Phillies didn’t even make the playoffs. Not to mention, almost the entire 1980 team left via free agency at the end of the season. I was too young to understand what that meant. All I knew is that I was crushed seeing Manny Trillo, Larry Bowa, Lonnie Smith, Keith Moreland, Bob Boone, “Uncle” Bake McBride, Greg Luzinski, and even our manager, Dallas Green all gone. We were a team, I thought. Why was everyone leaving? Now, we had some new guys named Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Ivan DeJesus (in my ‘hood, we used to pronounce his name: “EYE-vin d-JEEZ-us”), Von Hayes, Bob Dernier, Sixto Lezcano, Gary Mathews, and Bo Diaz.
1983 - I was very angry that I had to get used to these “new” guys. However, we shockingly made it back to the World Series. I vividly remember the Phillies winning the first game against the Baltimore Orioles. We had our ace, John Denny, pitching for us. Denny won the Cy Young award that year. I think the final score of the first game was 2-1. Talk about a pitcher’s duel. Let’s see how good my memory is - I think Scott McGregor pitched for the Orioles, maybe. Anyhow, it was all downhill after that. The Orioles then won four straight to defeat the Phillies in the series.
I set up all that prologue to tell you that from 1984 until now (with the sole exception of 1993), the Phillies have basically sucked! I have watched, rather embarrassingly, the Phillies come close and blow it a number of times, especially in recent memory. As with most Philly sports teams, we seem to take some sort of pride in finishing second. I don’t get it. In Boston, Red Sox fans always talk about the curse of the Babe, but Boston had the Celtics, Bruins, and now, the Patriots to pick up the slack for the now-uncursed Red Sox. We better never hear Boston complain about that “Babe Curse” ever again! In Chicago, Cubs fans talk about the curse of the goat, but the city had the once-immortal Bulls and the one and only Michael Jordan to pick up the slack for the Cubs. Not to mention the White Sox! Oh, I forgot, they play in the “soul” section of Chicago. They’ll never be as loved as the Cubs. LA has the Lakers and the Laker dynasty, San Francisco had the 49ers, who dominated an entire decade, DC had the Redskins of the late 80’s/early 90’s, New York has had all kinds of dynasties - Yankees, Knicks, and Giants. Detroit has the Piston and Red Wing dynasty, and even Green Bay has the Packers dynasty. In other words, every major city has had at least one major sports dynasty that won multiple championships within the last 25 years. What has Philly had??....
Nada! Zilch! Cero! Bupkus! The big O!
Eagles? Nope. Flyers? Nope. 76ers? (one measly title in ’83 doesn’t count. We should have won another one.) Phillies? Nope, nope, nope!
However, now that I’ve gotten out all that frustration, I must commend the Phillies for winning the NL East for the first time since 1993. The Phillies were very exciting to watch this year. We scored more runs than any other team in the NL, but it took the monumental collapse of the New York Mets to solidify our place as division champs. Since the Mets in 2007 completed one of the biggest tanks in history – if not THE biggest – it finally takes the 1964 Phillies off the "schnide". Until this year, the ’64 Phillies were known as basically the biggest chokers in the history of professional sports. With 12 games left to play in the season, the Phillies were 6.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies proceeded to go on a TEN (!!!) game losing streak, losing the division to the Cardinals, who then went on to beat the New York Yankees in the ’64 World Series. Hopefully, after what the Mets did, people will forget all about the ’64 Phils. I am very glad, however, that Willie Randolph didn’t lose his job. That’s my man.
Getting back to the St. Louis Cardinals for a second……
One thing I love very much about Bruce Hornsby, is that he is a sports FREAK! You don’t understand, this cat watches baseball, basketball (pro and college), and football like it’s going out of style! I love that, because I do, too. In fact, when I recorded “Camp Meeting” with him and Jack DeJohnette, we went out and played a game of 2 on 2 – Bruce, myself, and Bruce’s two sons. I can’t think of too many jazz musicians who are that dedicated to sports. (although Wynton Marsalis is a basketball junkie) Sure, I know most musicians casually watch it, but Bruce is also a “stat” guy. You’ve got to be real hard-core to be a “stat” guy!
So about a month ago, Bruce asks me, “Hey, Christian, wanna go to St. Louis and hang out with me, Rick Carlisle, and Tony La Russa? We’re just going to go to a game and have a ‘guys night out’.” I remembered that Bruce and Tony La Russa are very good friends. I did not know he was also tight with Rick Carlisle, the former head coach of the Indiana Pacers. So, there I was one night in September hanging out with Bruce, Rick Carlisle (who I pleasantly discovered was a huge jazz fan), Tony La Russa, and all of the St. Louis Cardinals. Actually, I felt a bit disloyal. I felt like I was cheating on my Phillies! But, hey, the Phillies never invited me anywhere, and I’ve been wearing my love for them on my sleeve ever since I was seven, so I guess I didn’t feel that disloyal!
What a night! I got to see first hand what happens behind the scenes in the manager’s office, the dugout, the locker room, the press conference, and I’ll tell you something – you should believe maybe 30% of what you read in the sports columns. It’s really a travesty the way sports writers put a bend on something just so they can create some drama to keep people interested. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine what it must be like for a guy like Barry Bonds or Joe Torre having reporters crawling up your behind 24 hours a day asking you all kinds of silly questions. Then, of course, when the player or manager can’t take it, they either explode, or decide to not talk to the press, thus being labeled “spoiled” or having a “bad attitude”. It’s really a shame.
When Bruce, Rick, and I arrived at Busch Stadium, we went right to La Russa’s office. I tried not to appear too geeky as I was being introduced to the third winningest manager in baseball history. As we walked in, there were about 10 writers there asking “The Skip” some questions. As Bruce so elegantly crashed the press conference, he and Rick greet Tony, then Bruce introduced me. La Russa says, “I’ve heard all about you, Christian. Bruce said that you are THE man.” Then he kind of casually introduces us to the press. That was a trip. (Maybe we may get our pictures in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports pages tomorrow morning!)
After we left the conference, we walked around the clubhouse for a few minutes and saw the cats – Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel, Jim Edmonds, Mark Mulder (who pitched that night), David Eckstein, and even the old Cardinal legend, Red Schoendienst. After a few minutes, we were summoned back to the manager’s office to sit with La Russa. What a good time I had hanging with him. He told me that although I was a Phillies fan, I could still be his friend. :-)
After the four of us sat and shot the breeze for a few minutes, we went out and watched the Cards take batting practice. That was my first time on a Major League Baseball field. Very, very cool. I met the Cards TV announcer, Joe Buck, who turns out, is friends with Chris Botti. Small world, huh? Then, I met the Cards hitting coach, the great Kansas City Royal legend, Hal McRae. He’s one down-home brother. I asked him about the 1980 World Series against my Phillies. We had a real good talk. I actually remembered a lot of the Royals from that era, too – Hal, George Brett (of course), Amos Otis, Willie Aikens, Dan Quisenberry, Clint Hurdle (who now manages the Colorado Rockies), Willie Wilson, Frank White, Larry Gura, etc, etc. As we watched each guy take batting practice, McRae showed me what each guy was doing specifically and why it made them good (or not so good) hitters. I had an informal batting lesson from one of the greats!
I asked La Russa to introduce me to Albert Pujols – arguably the greatest all-around hitter in baseball today. Albert Pujols was MAD COOL!! He was so kind and easy-going.
During batting practice, word came in that there was going to be rain heading through town in about an hour. Game time would have to be delayed for an hour. That was ok, because then we’d get to hang out with the team some more. La Russa told us it was ok if we ate in the players’ catering room. It was there that Bruce and I got to hang with Cardinals utility man, Russell Branyan, who’s a big country blues man. I was particularly interested in talking with Branyan because he’d just been released by the Phillies maybe a week before this game. Branyan’s obviously from the country as he speaks with a big ol’ Georgia drawl. It’s so great when athletes and musicians try to speak to one another not really knowing the correct terminology to use when asking about the other’s profession. “Yeah, I play a lil’ git-tar mahsehf, ya know? I like that - whatcha’ call that - down home blues stuff. You know, when they start twangin’ that thang? Y’all play like that?” I must admit, I’m exaggerating the drawl, but he was very much a country boy. When I asked him about being released by the Phillies, he said, “Yeah, they threw me away like Alabama trash!” I always wondered if it’s a big blow to the morale being released like that, or does it come with the territory if you’re not a big run producer or an exceptional defensive player? He seemed to take it well. I was aware that his first game (out of maybe five total) with the Phillies, he hit a game-winning homer. I was a bit surprised that the Phils would let him go so quickly, but, hey, this is why I was so curious about the baseball life. As Bruce, Russell Branyan, and I talked some more, he talked about all the old blues legends – Robert Johnson, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, etc, etc. We had a good time. He was a real, real nice cat.
After we ate, we headed back to La Russa’s office, where he was watching a Yankees-Mariners game on TV while waiting for the rain to pass. Bruce asked La Russa if he’d theoretically like to have the great Ichiro Suzuki on his team. La Russa said, “Not at THAT price!! You see how much he’s getting paid?!?! I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s a great, great hitter, but that’s a steep contract!” I can dig it. Then, I told La Russa how much of a fan I was of his since watching him manage the great Oakland A’s teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s. He said to me, “Man, YOU could have managed that team! I mean, we had everything! We had the best leadoff man and base stealer in the game in Rickey Henderson. If we needed power, we had (Mark) McGwire and (Jose) Canseco. We had Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, who were at the top of their game. Eck (Dennis Eckersley) was the best closer in the game, and (Terry) Steinbach and (Carney) Lansford, and, I mean…..gosh!” It was amazing to see him actually go back in time for a brief moment to realize what a great team that really was. It seemed as if he became a fan for a second. It was then very obvious to me that baseball was his life. To all of these athletes, this is their passion. Just like musicians, it’s our life. If we don’t have anything else, we know at the end of the day, we always have our music. But, unlike athletes, we can play until we’re old. The pain must be very deep when an athlete realizes that it’s time to hang it up. It must be highly traumatic.
One of the guys came into the office and said, “20 minutes, Skip. They’re about to roll up the tarp.” Of course, that was our cue to get out. We wished “The Skip” luck and went to our seats. They were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As the game started, I now had a chance to direct my full attention at Rick Carlisle to get the inside scoop on the NBA. Rick is a heavy dude. It seems as if this man is in coach mode all of the time. He so attentively watched and absorbed almost every move the Cardinals and Pirates made, and he’s not even a baseball coach! When he started to ask me about jazz, he even had a sense of meticulousness and strategy in his questions. “How do you prepare for a gig?” “Do you talk about the gig with your musicians after you’ve played?” “How do you put your band together? Any specific criteria?” His favorite jazz musicians are Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson. (It’s obvious that he must mess around on the piano, huh?)
For those of you who are basketball fans, you’ll remember that Rick was the coach of the Pacers during the ugliest brawl maybe in the history of professional sports. The legendary mercurial temper of Ron Artest exploded into the seats of the Palace of Auburn Hills just outside of Detroit during that legendary fight between the Pacers and Pistons (and the Piston fans) in 2004. I really didn’t want to ask him about that, but I HAD to. Since our talk was private, I will not share with you all that he told me, but I will say that he obviously loves his former players and the NBA, and will defend the league and its players to the end. Basketball has gotten a bad rep in recent years, as the league has seemed to absolutely swarm in a hip-hop vortex. It seems that a lot of people have gotten wary of seeing all the headbands, fights, “bling bling”, tatoos, chrome rims, whining about contracts (and showing up to practice. Heh-heh! “We talkin’ ‘bout PRACTICE!!”), and playground-style ball. Rick sees through ALL of that. He wishes people could realize the strategy these cats play with. There’s way more than anyone thinks, he says. He said, “The defenses are more exotic now than ever. That’s why teams don’t score over 100 points a game like they used to. It’s not because guys aren’t shooting well. But at the same time, the league wants teams to score more. Make it more exciting. That’s not that easy.” I had a great, great time talking with him. A very smart man. He has a very wild suggestion about what would make the game even better. I can’t tell you what it is, because it just might happen, and when it does, the players are going to say “Hallelujah!” Stay tuned to see if there are any rule changes in the NBA in 2007/08.
As for the game itself, the Cardinals lost 8-2. Mark Mulder had a rough night. He only lasted four innings. After the game, quite honestly, I didn’t want to see the players. I figured they’d be in no mood for socializing – especially La Russa! I asked Bruce, “Are you sure Tony’s going to want to be bothered? Maybe we should give him a few minutes.” Bruce, of course, says, “Aw, it’s no problem. He’ll be cool.” Sure. Right. Whatever….
As we go back to La Russa’s office, we walk by a few sullen and dejected looking players. Actually, it was good to see. I always have this vision of the Phillies after a loss going, “Aw, it’s cool. This was only one game. Let’s go to the bar!” You know what I mean? Not really caring. It’s good to see some guys let the loss actually bother them.
Anyhow, we were in La Russa’s office for maybe 20 minutes before he stormed in. Honestly, I was a little nervous. Seeing pissed off managers on TV is a little different from seeing them in person. I think “Skip” sensed my nervousness. He looked at me coldly and said, pointing, “It’s YOUR fault, McBride!!!” Briefly horrified, I said, “What are you talking about?” Then, he said, “Being a Phillies fan, you brought all that bad energy to my team!” But then he smiled and laughed.
Whew!!! What a relief!!!
Now here’s where the real fun starts…..
La Russa called a friend of his at a great Italian restaurant in downtown St. Louis and told him that he was bringing three guests with him. As we got into his car to head off to the restaurant, he had the comedy channel on his XM satellite radio. Much to my surprise, Flip Wilson was on!! He was doing his classic routine, “The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress”. This is one routine I happen to know front to back. I started to recite the skit word-for-word along with the radio. La Russa started laughing uncontrollably! He would shout out, “Check out McBride!! He knows the whole damn thing!!” I was very happy that I was able to keep La Russa entertained all the way to the restaurant.
Once we got to the restaurant, it was five of us – La Russa, Bruce, Rick, me, and team trainer, Barry Weinberg. We had a BLAST!! It was pasta, wine, and “man talk” well into the late-night hours! What a memorable night. At one point, La Russa pulls out a notepad and says, “Fellas, I want you guys to pick the starting lineup tomorrow. Who should I start in left field? Taguchi or Chris Duncan?” Me, Bruce, and Rick looked around at each other and said, “You’re kidding, right? We ain’t touching that one!!” La Russa insisted, “No, come on, do it. McBride, make yourself useful!!” Hahahahaha!! We weaseled out of it. (another “whew!”) I don’t know who he wound up starting in left field the following day, but they won. (I think he went with Duncan, but he was having a very hard time deciding between him and Taguchi)
After dinner, we were dropped off at the hotel by the “Skip.” I had nothing but one of the most memorable evenings ever with Bruce Hornsby, Rick Carlisle, and the legendary Tony La Russa.
As I got out of the car, La Russa says, “The best part of the whole night was listening to McBride do that Flip Wilson routine!”
Thanks, Bruce, for inviting me to join your “boy’s club”!
The following morning, our names made the Cardinals website! Here's what it said (courtesy of MLB.com):
Office visitors: During La Russa's pre-game meeting with reporters, he had a few visitors. Former Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle along with musicians Bruce Hornsby and bass player Christian McBride were on hand to take in Wednesday night's game.
Hornsby and Carlisle are both good friends of the manager and McBride -- a friend of Hornsby's -- met La Russa for the first time on Wednesday. All three of them stayed on the field for batting practice, talking with different players and coaches.
How about that?? I made the SPORTS pages! Now, let's see if I can finally meet some of the Phillies next season!
By the way, I’m picking the Rockies in the World Series. (They’d BETTER win after what they did to my Phillies, doggone it!)