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The Catfish Stew Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence
2007-04-20 15:55
by Philip Michaels

With no game to summarize and the prospect of talking about Dan Johnson's hip too dreary to contemplate, let us turn our attention to the always riveting subject of fantasy baseball.

As readers who've committed every word ever posted on this site can tell you, Ken has a Yahoo-based fantasy baseball league; both Ryan and I are participants, and you do not have to be proficient at math to realize the implications of this -- every member of the Catfish Stew Galaxy of Bloggers is participating in this fantasy league.

Along with some other people. I guess. But it's the participation of the three of us that's piqued my interest.

Fans of 1890s baseball will remember the the Temple Cup, the trophy presented to the winner of an ill-considered post-season series between the winner of the National League and the runner-up. I recently read Where They Ain't, a nifty little history of the original Baltimore Orioles, and the Temple Cup figures prominently in the book, as the Orioles always seemed to be losing it every year. The problem with the Temple Cup is that pennant winner was usually uninspired -- and hung-over -- after winning the prize that mattered, so that the second-place team, more often than not, took home the trophy. And who wants to see second-place teams constantly beating out the clubs that bested them during the regular season? The post-season series withered on the vine and took the Temple Cup with it.

(Mini-review of Where They Ain't: Painstakingly researched, it paints an excellent picture of the times and it's a pretty good read if you can get past the author's unfortunate decision to adopt the turn-of-the-century patois. Pitchers become twirlers, fans become cranks, and passages like "[The Orioles] had come to Savannah expecting a cherry pie" and "Best of all was the Orioles' snap and ginger" dot the prose. Folks who are interested in old-timey baseball, the Orioles, the Brooklyn Dodgers (who feature prominently in the narrative) or Baltimore of the 1890s will find it a worthwhile read.)

So back when Ryan joined the league, I proposed a Temple Cup-like trophy be awarded to whichever Catfish Stew blogger finished ahead of the other two. Since neither Ken nor Ryan responded, I interpreted their silence to be assent. And so I set out to find an appropriate totem, something that, like the Temple Cup before it, would represent the majesty, the pride and the ultimate insignificance of this accomplishment.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is that trophy.

This handsome devil is Cesar Izturis, currently of the Chicago Cubs, but formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers. One lovely June night in 2005, the Dodgers decided to honor him with a bobblehead. Maybe it was because of his 2004 Gold Glove award or his .302 on-base percentage in 106 games of the 2005 season or the fact that he's a nice fellow who probably pays his fair share of taxes. Nevertheless, he gets a bobblehead as a testament to how much the Dodger organization valued and appreciated him, at least until Greg Maddux became available as a rent-a-player. The tale of how I came into possession of this bobblehead follows after the fold.

And so, at the end of the 2007 season, this bobblehead of Cesar Izturis will be removed from its place of honor in my office, where Cesar currently looks down from a bookcase and nods in approval at all my wise decisions, and presented to whichever Catfish Stew writer finishes with the best record in Fantasy League play. As of this writing, that would be me -- I'm not only ahead of Ken and Ryan, but leading the whole damn league. I mention this not to boast but because I will soon be plummeting back to earth. This week, Ken's team is facing mine in head-to-head competition, and he's currently making like King Arthur to my Black Knight. This doubtlessly begins my inexorable slide to the cellar, so I might as well get my boasting in now because in a few weeks it's going to be, "Fan-tas-see baseball? I am unfamiliar with this game."

Now here's how I got my mitts on Cesar's plaster likeness. From 2003 to 2005, I lived in Los Angeles. And on the night in question, a colleague of mine was departing Southern California for points north. He decided as a going-away party to have a night of fine dining followed by a Dodgers-Cubs baseball game at Chavez Ravine. We ate at a fabulous steak house in Koreatown and, because everyone was enjoying the fine food and conversation, we didn't wrap things up and head out to the ballpark until around 6:50 -- maybe 15, 20 minutes before first pitch. Ah, but the restaurant was a little less than eight miles from Dodger Stadium, so we're cool, right?

Yeah, not so much -- we didn't get there until the third inning, after the Cubs had already jumped out to a 4-run lead. The majority of that time, we spent in the car, listening to Vin Scully describe the game as we inched toward the stadium parking lot.

I mention this story on an A's blog for two reasons, the first of which is to let A's fans know what fresh hell awaits them when the owner of the team moves the franchise to a new stadium that, as this writing, has no public transit in the immediate vicinity. (Also anyone who makes a crack about Dodger fans showing up in the second inning should have to spend a week actually driving to that stadium. I used to live about 20 miles away -- not a remarkable distance by any stretch -- and if I didn't give myself a 90-minute head start to drive that distance, chances are I wouldn't arrive by the first pitch.)

The other reason? Alert readers will see that I arrived in the third inning of a sell-out game on Bobblehead Night and I still walked out of there with a bobblehead. Yeah, I wasn't the only person who got stuck in traffic that night, but I was a heck of a lot closer to the tail-end of the arrivals than I was the beginning. And yet -- bobblehead.

Now, I was an A's ticketholder for four seasons, and even without season tickets, I've been to my fair share of games; most of the time I walk through the gate while batting practice is still going on. And I've never, not once, gotten a bobblehead. It doesn't exactly haunt my dreams -- I don't go to ballgames for the free stuff, after all -- but do I get a little irritated when I show up at the Coliseum an hour ahead of time and the bobbleheads are already gone? I do. And does that irritation grow when, on my walk to the stadium, I'm passing people carrying armloads of bobbleheads back to their car so that they can drive away? Oh yes, does it ever.

Last year, I dropped the A's a line about an unpleasant interaction I had with a member of the crack Coliseum security team, which turned into a back-and-forth on The Many Things About Attending Games in Person That Aggrieve Phil. This bobblehead item came up, and the A's suggested, in much nicer terms than I am about to paraphrase, that if I had any bright ideas, I should feel free to pipe up.

I do: if you're going to give stuff away, make sure you have enough stuff on hand.

You know that 34,000 people can fit inside your ballpark. Further, you know that for a weekend series, you're going to get between 20 and 25,000 people, maybe more depending on the opponent. So why cheap out and only give away 15,000 bobbleheads? Because you're afraid that you'll wind up with more bobbleheads than fans? Gosh, I'm sure local charities would hate to that excess merchandise off your hands.

Yeah, having 20,000 (or more) bobbleheads to hand out is going to cost you more than just having 15,000. But the point of these giveaways is to encourage attendance and foster goodwill, right? Well, if people think they're going to get shut out of your promotion if they're not at the ballpark when the gates open, they're not going to adjust their schedule to arrive earlier -- they're just not going to come at all. I try not to attend bobblehead games if I can help it. As for fostering goodwill, I don't think having a large chunk of your paying customers walk out of the stadium empty-handed is going to revive the era of Good Feelings.

Let me lay just one more example on you -- last year, I had tickets for an A's-Mariners game that also doubled as Frank Thomas Jersey night. According to the box score, 16,397 people attended the game -- 11,000 of those people didn't wind up with a jersey. I'd say a promotion that leaves 70 percent of the paying customers out in the cold isn't a very successful one. But it is possible that I'm just a bitter crank.

2007-04-20 16:28:12
1.   Ken Arneson
How I am leading you this week, Philip, I shall never understand. So far this week I have had:

1) Vlad Guerrero get hit on the hand and miss the whole week.
2) Howie Kendrick get hit on the hand and go on the DL, and I had to release him because I also had...
3) BJ Ryan go on the DL to fill my one DL slot.
4) Brett Myers get turned into a middle reliever because the Phillies are insane.
5) Joe Borowski give up 6 runs in 2/3 inning against the Yankees.

But if Christina Kahrl asks ( tell her that I am upset about any of these events, it is merely because the world is being deprived of a better ballgame, and has absolutely nothing to do with my pursuit of a Cesar Izturis bobblehead.

2007-04-20 16:52:24
2.   Bob Timmermann
You left for a Dodgers game at 6:50?

You're insane!

That better have been the best steak you ever ate.

2007-04-20 17:08:40
3.   Philip Michaels
2 I know, I know. I kept looking at my watch, but no one seemed to pick up on my visual cue. "That Michaels sure seems to enjoy his watch," they remarked.

And yes, it was very, very good steak.

2007-04-20 19:03:29
4.   Bob Timmermann
I would also state that the bobblehead looks almost nothing like Cesar Izturis too.
2007-04-20 23:03:01
5.   De Ruijter
It's sad, but the current highlights of my participation in the Catfish Stew yahoo league have been adding Josh Hamilton and surviving the Felix Hernandez scare.
2007-04-21 00:20:41
6.   Ryan Armbrust
My team, like most of my squads in other leagues, has been hurt by early season slumps by key players. However, I'm feeling pretty good about my waiver wire acquisitions and I'm primed to make a move toward the front of the pack any day now... any time soon... eventually... I think.
2007-04-21 08:02:57
7.   Philip Michaels
4 My parents once gave me a Tony Gwynn bobblehead doll for my birthday -- Gwynn's one of my all-time favorite players, you see -- that looked nothing like Tony Gwynn. Wrong face, wrong body type, wrong everything.

Well in fairness, the bobblehead was wearing a Padres uniform.

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