Archive for the ‘Sports Bar’ category

Comic Art Friday: The Jackie Robinson of comics

April 15, 2016

Allow me to begin today’s festivities by wishing you a happy Jackie Robinson Day.

In the event that you’re not a baseball aficionado — in which case, I might think somewhat less of you, but we can still be friends — I’ll explain that April 15 marks the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the game’s first black player since baseball banned participation by African Americans in the late 1880s. The integration of the national pastime led not only to revolutionary change in the sporting world, but in society as a whole. No less a civil rights champion than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. credited baseball’s black pioneers with “making my job easy” by demonstrating that people of color could work successfully alongside their white counterparts, and even excel, when provided opportunity.

Variant cover for Black Panther #1 (2016 series), original art by Ryan Sook

It seems appropriate, then, to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic accomplishment with an artwork featuring the Black Panther, whose advent in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) represented to mainstream comics what Robinson’s arrival did to baseball. It’s Ryan Sook’s variant cover for Black Panther #1, the first issue of the new Marvel series that hit the stands last week. I acquired the original black-and-white ink art from Ryan last month at Silicon Valley Comic Con. I don’t usually have much interest in buying published covers or pages — my collection largely consists of commissioned pieces, as regular readers can attest — but I couldn’t pass up the chance to own this amazing cover. Thanks, Ryan! (You can see the published version, in full color, below.)

These are good days to be a Black Panther fan, which I’ve been since he began appearing regularly in The Avengers in 1968. Not only are we getting a fresh run of Panther stories in the comics — with scripts by award-winning author and social commentator Ta-Nehesi Coates, and art by the incredible Brian Stelfreeze — but T’Challa is also poised to make his big-screen debut next month in Captain America: Civil War. Portraying the Panther is actor Chadwick Boseman, who coincidentally also played Jackie Robinson in the film 42. Boseman will continue the role in a Black Panther solo film scheduled for release in July 2018. You’d best believe I’ll be among the first in line to see that one.

Black Panther #1 (2016 series), Ryan Sook variant cover

It’s worth mentioning that while the Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first character of African descent to star in his own title. In December 1965, Dell Comics — best known for its licensed comics based on popular TV shows — published Lobo, a Western adventure featuring an African American gunfighter as its titular protagonist. The series, created by writer D.J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico, lasted only two issues. Not until Luke Cage, Hero For Hire arrived in June 1972 would a black superhero headline his own book. (The Black Panther took over the lead feature in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic beginning in July 1973. He moved to his own eponymous series in January 1977.)

I still remember the first time I stood in front of the spinner rack at the local supermarket and saw the Black Panther on the cover of a comic book. My younger self could scarcely have envisioned the day when the Panther would stand at the brink of multimedia superstardom, as he does today.

As I said earlier… good days indeed, for us T’Challa fans.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Why ad men don’t write comics

March 28, 2014

I never think in advance about what one of my Common Elements artworks will look like when I commission it. As I’ve written on other occasions, much of the fun for me is the surprise of seeing how an artist decided to use the characters I assigned.

In the case of today’s spotlight piece, however, I did have one thought: How will Dheeraj Verma make NFL SuperPro not look lame?

Because NFL SuperPro just might be the lamest superhero in the history of comics.

At the very least, he’s in the top three.

Wildcat and NFL SuperPro, pencils by comics artist Dheeraj Verma

Sir Alec Issigonis, the man responsible for the British car we know today as the Mini, once said, “A camel looks like a horse that was planned by a committee.” NFL SuperPro looks like a superheroic camel dreamed up by a sports marketing firm. And not a top-shelf sports marketing firm — a midlevel agency trying to get in good with the biggest dog in American professional sports, the National Football League.

You can almost imagine the conversation…

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if, like, a football player became a superhero?”

“Yeah, but not just a football player… like, the literal embodiment of the NFL.”

“Dude, I think you’re onto something! And what if this NFL superhero had, like, his own Marvel comic book? Y’know, with Spider-Man or Wolverine or whoever guest-starring?”

[Pregnant pause]

“Make the phone call.”

I don’t know for sure that’s how it went down, but I’m probably not all that far off.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. If NFL SuperPro is so completely ridiculous, why are you using him in a Common Elements commission?

Because, friend reader, that’s the magic of Common Elements. The element of surprise. Bringing together characters you’d never expect to see in the same frame — perhaps even a character or two that you’d ever expect to see, period.

And because, hey — the very idea that Marvel actually published nine issues of a comic book about NFL SuperPro makes me chuckle. I mean, what could be sillier? MLB Bat-Man? NHL Iceman? Luke Cage as a literal cage match fighter? (Wait… I actually like that one.)

For an example of a professional-athlete-turned-costumed-crusader done right — or at least, less wrong — there’s Wildcat. Although he’s a perennial C-lister, Wildcat holds a place alongside some of the longest-running superheroes in comics. He first appeared in July 1942’s Sensation Comics #1 — the very same issue made famous as the debut of Wonder Woman. If nothing else, Wildcat stands the test of time.

When he’s not running around dressed like a ginormous black cat, Ted Grant is a retired heavyweight boxing champion and expert martial artist. (Because if you’re a superhero, and don’t have superhuman abilities, martial arts expertise is de rigeur.) A longtime member of the Justice Society of America — formerly the alternate-Earth version of the Justice League, now more like a mentorship program in which older heroes show younger crimebusters the ropes — Ted has helped train several up-and-comers, most notably the current iteration of Black Canary.

At various times, Ted has also shared the Wildcat identity with junior heroes. A young woman named Yolanda Montez became Wildcat for a while in the 1980s. Later, Ted’s long-estranged son Tom Bronson morphs into a werecat (I kid you not) and joins his dad in the JSA, both of them calling themselves Wildcat. Tom eventually opts to be known as “Tomcat” instead, which is both less confusing and more comical at the same time.

It’s a good thing that artist Verma chose to depict these two athlete-avengers as fighting on the same side. Should there ever be a battle between Wildcat and NFL SuperPro, Wildcat will kick SuperPro’s hindquarters nine ways from Sunday.

Why?

Because NFL SuperPro is lame.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

If I had a ballot…

January 8, 2013

…I’d ballot in the morning. I’d ballot in the evening, all over this land.

And assuming that ballot were for the National Baseball Hall of Fame (“the Hall” for the remainder of this post, because I’m not typing that entire name over and over again), here’s who’d be on mine this year.

  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Mike Piazza
  • Jack Morris
  • Lee Smith

Tomorrow, the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (hereafter “the BBWAA,” because, well, see above) will announce their selections. I fully expect, based on the electors who’ve already publicized their votes, that Bonds and Clemens will not make the Hall in this, their first year of eligibility. Indeed, I would not be surprised if Bagwell doesn’t make it either, though the case for his election or omission is more easily argued from either side, in my opinion. (I doubt that Morris, who’s on the ballot for the 14th year, and Smith, who’s on year 11, will ever be elected, for different reasons than the aforementioned players.) Piazza? Hard to predict.

But let’s get this on the table right now: If Bonds and Clemens — the greatest offensive player and pitcher, respectively, of their generation — are not elected to the Hall tomorrow, as I suspect they will not be, it’s a travesty.

Most, if not indeed all, of the electors who left Bonds and Clemens (and possibly Bagwell and Piazza) off their ballots will say it’s because they cheated the game by using performance-enhancing drugs (“PEDs,” because… you know). Here’s the first problem with that: We don’t know whether they did or didn’t.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: We do know. Game of Shadows, and all that. Well, I read Game of Shadows right after it came out, and it impressed me at the time as the work of two muckrakers trying to make a name for themselves. There’s a ton of speculation in the book, and a lot of “he said, they said” scuttlebutt from sources the writers declined to identify, but not a great deal of what folks in the legal profession call “evidence.” The fact remains that we’ve never seen the results of a positive test for PEDs that Bonds failed, and I’m not sure we ever saw one from Clemens either. Bonds was tried in federal court, and was not convicted of perjury regarding PED use. (He was convicted on a single count of obstruction of justice, which may yet collapse on appeal.) The last time I checked, our legal system still operated on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

But what about the evidence of our own eyes? Bonds grew from Bill Bixby (or Eric Bana, Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo, take your pick) into the Incredible Hulk right practically in front of us. Don’t get me wrong — I think he used PEDs. I don’t know whether he took anabolic steroids, but I’d guess he at least took human growth hormone (HGH). But what I think and guess is essentially irrelevant. My inferences, deductions, and suppositions are not proof. Like most people, I believe in a lot of things I can’t prove, and I’m entitled to those beliefs. I can’t, however, prove that someone is guilty of something simply because I believe it to be so. Two years ago, I was the foreman on a jury that convicted a man of murder. My fellow jurors and I convicted the defendant on the basis of evidence, not because we looked at the guy and said, “Yeah, I think he did it.” I believe Bonds, Clemens, and every other player suspected of PED use deserves the same consideration.

There’s another factor in this that frequently gets brushed aside. PED use, while clearly contrary to the spirit of fair play and integrity, was not against the rules of baseball during most of what today gets referred to as “the Steroid Era.” Make no mistake, using those substances was against federal and state laws. But unlike, say, cycling or the Olympics, baseball itself did not explicitly prohibit their use, nor test for said use, until well after PEDs were epidemic in the sport. Was that a loophole? Sure. But you can’t penalize people for taking advantage of a loophole if one exists. All you can do is close the loophole, and say, “No more.” Baseball has now done that — we might argue about how effectively — but that creates no retroactive license to go back and slap the wrists of players who might have engaged in activity that was not prohibited by the rules of the sport that then stood. If San Francisco starts metering parking on Sundays (which, not coincidentally, the city did on January 1), the meter reader can’t send me a ticket for not feeding the meter on a Sunday before the law changed.

One more point, and I’ll stop the ranting. People inside the game, whose expert opinions I respect, have estimated that at the height of the Steroid Era, as many as 75 to 80 percent of MLB players may have used PEDs to some degree. That means guys like Bonds and Clemens — and what the heck, throw Bagwell and Piazza in there too — were not outliers if indeed they used. They were part of the flow of traffic, just as you or I are when we nudge our cars upward of the posted speed limit to keep pace with the cars around us. (And we do. Let’s not be all sanctimonious here.) Does that make it right, if they did it? No. But it does mean there was a clear majority of players who were equally in the wrong. Which, to my mind, levels the playing field. It’s no longer “cheating” — and again, as noted above, it actually wasn’t cheating under the then-prevailing rules of the game — if everyone, or nearly everyone, is cheating. Ask the NFL Players Association, which turns a consistent blind eye to the widely intimated idea that perhaps 75 to 80 percent of its membership uses HGH to this very day, even though such usage is currently against the rules of their sport.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love baseball. It has been part of my life for more than 40 years, a part that I now love sharing with my daughter. And I consider myself a purist in a lot of ways — I prefer the National League style of play in which pitchers came to bat, and I enjoy seeing the fundamentals of the game practiced at the highest level. It makes me sad that we had a Steroid Era (assuming we’re not still having a PED Era in some fashion, which may be another example of assuming facts not in evidence). But let’s not kid ourselves: We did have such an era. We did not have a period in which a random handful of players — Bonds and Clemens included — used PEDs. We had a period, probably 20 years or more, during which the majority of major league players “juiced.” The idea that “everyone did it” doesn’t make it right, but it does need to influence how we view those who might have done it, and especially how we evaluate them within the timespan in which they played. Are we going to pretend, from the standpoint of the Hall, that those 20 years didn’t happen? That the statistics don’t count? That the games weren’t played? Ridiculous. We watched, even attended the games. We saw the achievements. They happened. And what’s more, we as fans of the game supported them, with our ticket-buying dollars, with our eyes on the television set, and with our ears to the radio. Let’s not act as though we didn’t. It’s hypocritical to harass the prostitute after we’ve paid for the services.

To those writers who take the holier-than-thou position that Bonds and Clemens, and others of their generation, don’t belong in the Hall because of the PED scandal, I say, “Take a good look in the mirror.” If you covered the game during the PED Era, and made your living by doing so, you were part of the problem too. You could have washed your hands and walked away. But you didn’t. You continued to draw a paycheck from a sport filled with guys dosing up with whatever BALCO and other pharmaceutical factories cranked out. You kept telling the stories, and selling the game. And don’t say you didn’t suspect, because if you didn’t then, why do you now? If you closed your eyes and held your nose all of those years, why can’t you do the same now, and acknowledge the accomplishments — within the context of the game as it was being played during their careers — of the men who provided you the means of your livelihood? Don’t act as though you’re better than they are. You are not.

If I had a ballot for the Hall of Fame, I’d check the boxes next to the six names listed above. Barry Bonds was the most amazing hitter I ever saw. Roger Clemens was one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. Mike Piazza ranks among the best to ever play behind the plate, both defensively and offensively… even if he was a Dodger for a lot of that time. Jeff Bagwell is a borderline call for me, but I’d vote for him. As for Jack Morris and Lee Smith, the former was the best starting pitcher in the American League for an entire decade, and the latter was one of baseball’s first and finest true closers.

In case you’re wondering, my exclusion of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire has nothing to do with whether I think they did or didn’t use PEDs. McGwire was a one-trick pony — a player whose only tool was power. He rarely hit for average, had no speed, and for most of his career was a subpar defensive player. He was a beefed-up Dave Kingman or Dick Stuart, to put it another way. Sammy Sosa wasn’t even that good — a pretty solid mid-level star who had a couple of spectacular seasons. I wouldn’t vote for either of them, not because of PEDs, but because to my mind, they weren’t Hall of Fame-caliber players. (Craig Biggio? Tim Raines? Please. Very good, but not great players, whose stats are at least partially inflated by longevity, especially in Biggio’s case.)

You’re welcome to disagree. I won’t argue with your opinion, or your right thereto. But this is my ballot, and I’m sticking to it.

The perfect Cain

June 14, 2012

Over at ESPN.com — a site owned by a network that typically can’t be bothered to cover the Giants because, after all, we don’t have real sports out here on the Left Coast — David Schoenfield just asked the question, “Did Matt Cain throw the greatest game ever?”

Well, let’s see…

Matt Cain's perfect game: June 13, 2012

No hits.

No walks.

No baserunners.

27 up, 27 down.

14 strikeouts, tying the record for the most ever in a perfect game… a record set by Sandy Koufax, who for five seasons may have been the greatest pitcher ever.

A feat accomplished only 22 times in the 130-plus years of baseball history.

Yes, Mr. Schoenfield…

I believe he did.

You go, Matty. We’re glad you’re on our side.

One Hall step forward, one step back

January 5, 2011

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar, one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game, on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, Robbie is well deserving of enshrinement. The only reason he wasn’t chosen in his first year of eligibility was the incident in which Alomar spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. One single moment of stupidity — and it was stupid, no question — in an otherwise exemplary career shouldn’t keep the guy out of the Hall. Now, it won’t.

As for Bert Blyleven, I’m glad he finally made the Hall on his 13th attempt for one reason, and one reason only: We won’t have to listen to him whine anymore about not being elected.

Here’s the bottom line on Blyleven. He played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball, during which time he racked up 287 wins and 3701 strikeouts. But we’re talking about the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Hung Around Forever. If we’re going by longevity, Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer should be in the Hall (at least, Moyer should be if he ever retires), and no one who knows anything about baseball is going to make either of those arguments.

The fact is that Blyleven was a good pitcher, but nowhere near a great one. He won 20 games only once in 22 seasons, even though he played in an era when 20 wins was the gold standard of excellence for top starting pitchers. Heck, Mike Krukow won 20 for the Giants once — should Kruk be in the Hall? Blyleven only won as many as 19 once. At the same time, he posted seven — count ’em, seven — sub-.500 seasons. That’s seven years in which he lost more games than he won. That’s nearly one-third of his career. Does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

No one who ever saw Blyleven pitch — aside from a handful of snow-blinded Minnesotans — thought he was the best pitcher of his time, or even one of the best. He never won a Cy Young Award. He never placed higher than third in the Cy Young voting. He was chosen as an All-Star twice. Twice — in 22 seasons. Again… does that sound like a Hall of Famer to you?

It’s no accident that the most statistically similar pitcher to Bert Blyleven was Don Sutton, another somewhat-better-than-average pitcher who rolled up deceptive numbers simply by virtue of avoiding career-ending injury for more than two decades. The Hall of Fame should not be rewarding players just for being lucky. Don Sutton — who, like Blyleven, won 20 or more games only once, and was never a Cy Young front-runner — doesn’t belong in the Hall, even though the baseball writers saw fit to enshrine him.

Bert Blyleven doesn’t belong in the Hall either.

Roberto Alomar does.

An SI cover I’ve waited 35 years to see

November 2, 2010

At long last, I can scratch one huge item off my bucket list…

Sports Illustrated: SF Giants Win the World Series

The San Francisco Giants are the champions of the world.

To Big Time Timmy Jim, who won four games in the postseason and flat-out locked the Texas Rangers down over eight innings to notch Game 5;

To Edgar Renteria, the shortstop we all thought was washed up, but who discovered the Fountain of Youth in the playoffs and crushed the home run that won the Series;

To the best pitching staff in baseball — starters The Freak, The Shotgun, JSanch, MadBum, and Z-Man, plus relievers BWeez, J-Lo, The Surge, Crazy J, Jairo, Willie Mo, Rockin’ Ramon, Runz, and Ray;

To the undisputed Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey;

To Huff Daddy, The Boss, and Pat the Bat, guys the Giants picked up off the scrap heap and the waiver wire and revitalized their careers;

To Andres the Giant, Fab Freddy, and Magic Juan, coming through in the clutch with timely offense and sparkling defense;

To Panda, Little Mike, Ishi, Eli, Nate the Great, and A-Row, doing their thing and contributing;

To The Big Giant Head and his coaching staff — Rags, Wotus, Bam-Bam, Bobby, Flan, and Gardy — who pushed the team to excel every day;

To the Giants’ ownership group and front office staff, who signed the contracts and wrote the checks;

To the guys behind the scenes — clubhouse men Murph and Harvey, the training and conditioning team, the non-roster coaches and special assistants like Shawon, J.T., and Will the Thrill;

To the Giants Hall of Famers who never got there — The Say Hey Kid, Stretch, Cha-Cha, and The Spitter — but who keep reminding us what it means to be a Giant;

To the world’s greatest broadcasting corps — The Big Kahuna, Kuip, Kruk, Flem, Papa, Erwin, and Tito — who called every pitch and every swing;

To every last Giants fan everywhere, who’s stuck it out through any part of the past five decades of frustration…

Thank you. And good night.

Orange October: Electric Boogaloo!

October 23, 2010

A wise man once said that one picture is worth a thousand words.

2010 National League Champions: Your San Francisco Giants!

Yeah… that says it all.

Congratulations to my Giants! Special kudos to:

  • Cody “The Boss” Ross, who was named Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series;
  • “Magic” Juan Uribe, who hit the big home run in the eighth inning, giving the Giants a lead they would never relinquish;
  • Brian “The Beard” Wilson, who slammed the door on the Phillies by getting the final five outs, including a Statue of Liberty strikeout of Ryan Howard to end the game and the series;
  • Bruce “The Big Giant Head” Bochy, who pulled all of the right strings;
  • and Brian “Sabes” Sabean, who picked up guys like Ross, Pat “The Bat” Burrell, and clutch reliever Javier “J-Lo” Lopez when the Giants needed extra help down the stretch.

On to the World Series!