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Yay! A Plug In Rhode Island’s Major Alternative Publication! June 1, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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Rhode Island’s legendary Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World column in MotifRI has given yours truly a booster shot in their latest column!

Phillipe and Jorge have been writing from Casa Diablo for many years now, offering their darkly humorous take on the cesspit of Rhode Island politics among other topics. Back in the pre-internet days of voluminous dead-tree alternative city papers, they appeared in The Providence Eagle before moving on its competitor, The New Paper, which eventually got swallowed up by it’s Boston counterpart and rose from the takeover ashes as The Providence Phoenix.

The Phoenix folded some years ago, Phillipe & Jorge (otherwise known as Rhode Island’s legendary Rudy Cheeks and Eagle sportswriter Chip Young – OMIGOD, I UNMASKED THEM, SUBPOENA ME IMMEDIATELY!) migrated to MotifRI.

Here’s what they had to say if you didn’t click on the link above:

New Book Reeks of Rhody (and a Lot More)

Kudos and congrats to Casa Diablo regular and Vo Dilun native Jim Berkin  (nee, Berkowitz) whose recently published second book in his Professor Wagstaff mystery series is now available via Amazon. Its title is Wagstaff & Meatballs and is loaded with pop culture and Vo Dilun references (from Brown and RISD to OC — that’s organized crime, aka, LCN, for the uninitiated). The book is a detective/mystery/comedy that would make two of its inspirations (Groucho and Providence’s own SJ Perelman) proud.
Jim has been teaching college courses in history, film and television in the southern California area for many years now. We highly recommend this book as a light and fun summer read.
Your superior correspondents do not wish to provide any spoilers so we hope this brief description will suffice. The first Wagstaff mystery, Cut to Wagstaff, is also available on Amazon and, to find out more about the author (one of the few people P&J know who was a contestant on “Jeopardy”), go to jimberkin.com.

I teach college? Who knew? I don’t know about you, but I’m not insisting on a correction!

Now, to be fair – I’ve known Rudy since my college days. I met him when he regularly ran “Comediac,” a weekly screening of so-bad-they’re-great movies at a local bar called One Up that I really miss. He’d screen stuff like Ed Wood films and The Creeping Terror and Humanoids From The Deep and, of course, The Brainiac, while adding one-liners and commentary via a portable mic and speaker.

And yes, this was YEARS before Mystery Science Theater 3000. I always thought Rudy had pioneered the idea.

Those regular Monday night Comediacs, drinks and all, helped me immensely in compiling material for my honors thesis in college. There was no other way I could have been able to see all those films in such a short amount of time in that pre-internet streaming world. I give those Comediac nighta a brief homage in Wagtaff & Meatballs when I refer to an alcohol-improved nerd argument I had with Eagle film critic Les Daniels about Rock & Roll High School during a game of pool.

Rudy wrote two regular columns for those alternative papers, his own “That Proves It” column, titled as a nod to Plan Nine From Outer Space, and co-wrote the Phillipe & Jorge bit as well. His long history with Rhode Island’s rock and blues scene is well known, starting out as the sax player for The Fabulous Motels and then as sax player/comic/songwriter with The Young Adults, who I guess could be Rhode Island’s early 1970s pre-answer to The Tubes meet The Dead Milkmen by way of Bo Diddley, I guess. Members of the Young Adults would go on to play alongside fellow Rhode Island blues legends like Duke Robillard (who I saw live one New Year’s Eve at One Up) and Roomful of Blues.

Rudy would go on to a morning radio gig on the top FM rock station in Providence after I moved away from Providence, as well as an AM afternoon talk radio program.

Rudy would appear with the Young Adults in the Rhode Island based rock comedy It’s A Complex World, the title coming from one of the Adults’ best loved songs.  Much more information on the film at the link!

Rudy suffered a stroke in the past year, but he’s been recovering nicely through the struggle. Slowly but surely, he’s lost weight and gotten his energy back, and is gradually recovering dexterity and mobility. His eye surgery was also a complete success and he can once again see out of both eyes. Well, how the hell do you think he read my book, anyway?

Best of luck to Rudy in his recovery, and thanks for the mention in the column. It’s not easy way out here in California to spread word about Wagstaff & Meatballs in Rhode Island, where everyone LOVES anything about Rhode Island, so thanks for the help!

 

 

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Kellogg’s 1972 All-Time 3D Greats – Babe Ruth May 30, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’m not sure how many boxes of Kellogg’s Danish Go-Rounds I snarfed down to get the all-time great 3D card in every box. But it must have been a lot.

Thanks, mom, for buying them! Never mind my teeth and the sugar high, I guess as long as it kept this then-little bastard full and happy, it meant keeping it on the weekly grocery list for Almacs!

And with my mouth stuffed with pastry, I couldn’t talk. Certainly a win for mom.

I’ve got a lot of the cards, but some of ’em might have come in trades for other 3D cards, or more likely, assorted traditional Topps cards.

I prized this one the most. I also agree with it.

They had greatest cards for every position – Greatest First Baseman (Gehrig, if you’re curious), Greatest Shortstop (Wagner), Greatest Right Hand Pitcher (Walter Johnson) along with some runners-up like George Sisler and Eddie Collins. The backs were manna for this baseball history geek – lifetime stats & a bio, along with some basic analysis justifying the ranking.

Before the internet, that kind of writing was hard to find!

You kids and your damn fancy interwebs, by cracky, get off my lawn….

Every now and then I look on ebay for cards to complete my set of these. They’re not too expensive, although I don’t get 1970s pre-high fructose corn syrup sugary breakfast pablum with ’em.

And which ones are out of date? Has anyone come along since 1972 to assume the BEST at any position? I’d certainly argue for Derek Jeter at shortstop. And I’d add a “Best Relief Pitcher Ever” card for Mariano Rivera. It’s the Yankee fan in me, I guess.

I vividly remember the endless arguments I’d have with my baseball card collecting friends back then over this card. Ruth? Greatest ever? C’MON! You gotta be kidding! EVERYONE knows Ted Williams was a better hitter and woulda put up numbers like Ruth if he hadn’t missed those years in military service! NO, WRONG! EVERYONE knows Mantle was better, since if he hadn’t blown out his knee stepping on that sprinkler in 1951 he’d’ve outdone the numbers AND WHAT ABOUT HANK AARON and….

No.

Just…. NO!

Ruth is the best ever.

His hitting stats are on par with the best hitters of the game. Is he the best hitter ever? Well, I’ll conceded that’s arguable… but NONE of those other hitters – Aaron, Mays, Williams, Griffey Jr., Bernie Carbo…

Okay, maybe not Bernie Carbo. But I always liked the guy.

Anyway, NONE of them could PITCH.

Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the American League for the Red Sox. He set records that held for 80 years or more. If he had continued pitching, he’d’ve been mentioned in the same comparison pieces as Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, instead of being compared to Gehrig, Williams, Foxx, and every other slugger IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING HISTORY OF THE GOD DAMN GAME.

AND he got more hookers than ALL OF THEM COMBINED!

GREATEST EVER!

CASE CLOSED!

I don’t think Kellogg’s listed the hookers on the back of the card (or their stats), however. Despite the 3D, there just wasn’t enough room.

I’d like to think the immortal babe ate Danish Go-Rounds off naked hookers bodies. It’s the Yankee fan in me.

 

 

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1962 Wally Moon (No Cap) May 28, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I started this baseball card of the day exercise to keep me freshly writing on this blog. Hopefully it’ll rev me up enough to post some longer pieces on television, movies, and the like. And ultimately, it’ll get me into the ZONE to start working on a new book.

Although – BREAKING NEWS! – I plan on putting an older novel on Amazon fairly soon, once some additional work in completed on it. Watch this space for details!

Another benefit of the baseball card exercise is how it’s made me dig through my boxes and albums of all my cards. I’ve forgotten so much of what I actually have that opening the boxes and discovering some of the cards in my collection is like finding them for the first time at some yard sale or thrift store! I got that same little adrenaline rush, I guess.

I haven’t bought new cards for years. As much as I’m still a sports fan, it wouldn’t have the same vibe to it, I’d never sit around looking at all of them, and much like the complete sets I bought in the 1980s, they’d mostly just sit in their boxes. The older cards connect more to childhood memories, or much more often, my fascination with legendary players, stars and motifs of the past.

The motif I loved about this Wally Moon card from 1962 ought to be obvious – LOOK AT THAT DAMN UNIBROW!!!! IT’S AWESOME!!!

Moon was an all-star outfielder who won Rookie of the Year in ’54 with the Cardinals. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He’d get dealt to the Dodgers in 1959 after a weak season, but bounce back to some decent hitting in support of the bigger sluggers on the team. Mostly a defensive star, Moon earned a Gold Glove and would be an integral part of 3 Dodger championships in 1959, 1963 and 1965.

BUT THAT UNIBROW!!!!!

And as an added bonus, my exploration of my card collection opened my eyes to various quirks in the history of Topps. There were TWO versions of Moon’s card in 1962: mine, where he has no cap, and this other one where he’s wearing it. And it figures the cap version is the more valuable one. Ah well. At least you can still see the unibrow.

Moon played sports in a different era, all right. If you’re a major sports star in 2017 recognized for your unibrow, you trademark it like Anthony Davis of the Pelicans did.

Now THAT’S a yiddishe kopf!

Non-Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1964 Jim Bunning May 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Hall of famer Jim Bunning died today at age 85. Bunning pitched for the Tigers, Phillies, Dodgers and Pirates during his career, and compiled some impressive stats along the way. When he retired in 1971, his career strikeout total was 2nd only to Walter Johnson (both have been passed by numerous pitchers since).  He had a great curve ball and solid fastball and much like Greg Maddux, would fool batters mixing up pitches, speeds and locations.

He’d pitch a perfect game in 1964, and had thrown an additional no-hitter back in 1958, making him one of a very few pitchers who had pitched a no-no in both leagues. While he never led the league in stats, he’d always be up there in the top 3-5 pitchers, year in and year out from the late ’50s to the late ’60s.

The bridesmaid-never-a-bride motif carried over into the post-season, however. Bunning’s teams never made it, the 1964 Phillies being the most heartbreaking. The Phillies led the NL from opening day onwards in 1964, but collapsed spectacularly in the last 2 weeks of season. Up by 6 1/2 games with only 12 to go, they’d drop 10 straight games and lose out to the Cardinals. Manager Gene Mauch took the blame, mostly for overusing pitchers Bunning and Chris Short down the stretch and exhausting both of ’em. I still remember the 1976 All Star game, played in Philly, when Gene Mauch was announced as one of the NL coaches and the entire stadium erupted in the loudest boos I’d ever heard. The Phillies had only made the series twice in their entire history at that point, losing both times in 1915 and 1950. They wouldn’t win one until 1980.

Bunning retired from baseball and went into politics back in his homestate of Kentucky, first in local offices, then the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. His popularity within the state waned and he retired from politics, succeeded by current Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has never thrown a no hitter.

While it might have been more fun to watch Bob Gibson or Bill Lee become a Senator and scare the shit out of opponents or simply confuse them, respectively, Bunning’s stellar baseball career clearly contributed to his popularity.

Why did I pick the 1964 card? Well, it’s the year of his perfect game, it’s the oldest card I have of him, and I miss when guys had that Johnny Unitas haircut. RIP, Jim.

CORRECTION: It is NOT the oldest card I have of him! Had a little brain itch when I said that, so I went through a couple of the boxes and, sure enough, I have the 1959. Yay for hazy memories of buying giant lots of old cards at yardsales twenty-plus years ago!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1969 Dock Ellis May 25, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Ellis logged some impressive seasons for the Pirates in the early ’70s, spent a productive year with the Yankees in ’76, and then spiraled downwards as his drug problems overtook his abilities.

After overcoming a diagnosis of sickle-cell trait, Ellis would become part of the Clemente-Stargell Pirate team of the early ’70s that managed a World Championship and remained the premiere power in the NL east really until Philadelphia would take over that role in the late ’70s, save for the “We Are Family” 1979 Pirate last-gasp.

Ellis would only pitch when high on speed, mostly. He claimed he pitched his 1970 no-hitter while on LSD. He couldn’t feel the ball and could only read the catcher Jerry May’s signals via reflective tape on May’s fingers. He’d hallucinate that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire.

In other words, he enjoyed that game way more than anyone else.

He said the scariest experience he ever had pitching was pitching sober for a game in 1973.

Ellis was also an outspoken critic of the bad racial attitudes still hanging around baseball in the ’70s, fighting with managers and owners over various issues involving money & dignity. Once when missing a team bus with some teammates, he did not have his ID and got maced by a security guard when Ellis tried to prove who he was by shoving his World Series ring in the guard’s face.

He particularly hated the Reds, not only as rivals in the NL, but clearly on the level of “vendetta.” Once in a 1974 game, he’d bean or attempt to bean EVERY Reds batter in the first inning of the game, getting pulled by Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh after hitting the first 3 (Rose, Driessen, Morgan), walking the 4th (Perez), and throwing behind and at the head of the fifth (Bench).  Easy to see how much the game has changed in 40 years – now, the 2nd hit batter or the 1st thrown behind would get the umpire to throw you out of the game, even if it WAS Richard Nixon.

Eventually the Pirates got fed up with his attitude and insisted he be included in the trade with the Yankees where Doc Medich got swapped for Willie Randolph, a deal that would pay dividends for the Yankees for many years to come. Ellis would give them one great season in 1976, helping them to win their first pennant in a dozen years, though he’d lose to those hated Reds in the World Series.

After a fight with Steinbrenner (shocking, huh?), he’d get dealt to the A’s for Mike Torrez, bounce from them to the Rangers, fight with the Rangers’ manager over the no-alcohol policy, get dealt to the Mets and finally back to the Pirates before retiring in 1980.

He’d also finally sober up in 1980, giving up drugs and alcohol. Maybe giving up baseball was the key.

But points to Ellis. Much like the formerly self-destructive NFL QB Ryan Leaf, he’d turn things around and become an addiction counselor and work with minor league players to overcome their own substance problems. But the abuse he’d put himself through had caught up to him. He develop some serious liver problems, get heart problems waiting for the liver transplant, and die too early at age 63.

But at least he’d exorcised most of his demons by then.  He was anything but boring.

 

I Got A Good Review! May 22, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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From Kirkus Reviews (click here to go to Kirkus Magazine):

Berkin’s (Cut to Wagstaff, 2012) second Wagstaff adventure pits his protagonist against the Rhode Island mob.
En route to a reunion at Brown University, Wagstaff stops in Las Vegas, where he thwarts a carjacking and saves Alfie Palumbo’s life. Alfie is the son of a Mafia chief from Rhode Island, but he’s no hoodlum; he’s an upstanding art historian who happens to have a disreputable dad. Nor is Wagstaff an ordinary good Samaritan; he freelances as an investigator for a mysterious, “off-the-books” intelligence agency. Key to his success is his faith in “Jungian synchronicities”; in other words, he doesn’t believe in coincidence. Instead, he filters occurrences through his encyclopedic knowledge of film. For example, if something reminds him of a movie, he overlays that film’s plot on what’s actually taking place—then his brain fizzes into action, making unusual connections.

When he realizes that Alfie is one of the same Palumbos who ran his own hometown, he decides to find out who’s behind the attempted murder. The Palumbo family is thrilled by this, and they provide him with a bodyguard and other assistance—but can they be trusted? Central to the mystery are a lost Caravaggio painting that Alfie uncovered in an Italian monastery and an art heist from the 1980s. But when a local man winds up dead in a dumpster, Wagstaff worries that he could be next.

High-spirited, high-stakes mayhem fills every page; there are nonstop scrapes and chases, wise-guy jokes, and references to everything from The Gong Show to Star Trek, The Godfather, and even the 1990 film The Freshman. Berkin’s story is preposterous and his leading man improbable—but the novel’s endearing goofiness makes this a winning combination. Film buffs will love spotting the various movie references (and Wagstaff’s disquisition on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window), while action fans will find plenty here to raise their heart rates. Readers shouldn’t read this book while hungry, though, as Wagstaff’s most intense nostalgia is for Rhode Island cuisine—all described in detail that will leave readers drooling.
Wacky, worldly Wagstaff is a winner.

Yee-haw!

I’m glad they liked it!

Working on getting some more reviews… keep watching this blog for updates!

Get your copy by clicking here! DO IT!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1973 Carlton Fisk May 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Fisk was an all-star catcher for many seasons with the Red Sox, and will forever be a Boston fan favorite for his game winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, back when such “we almost broke the curse!” moments still had meaning.

He’d push the then-Red Sox ownership for a higher salary, and GM Haywood Sullivan stupidly let him go as a free agent to the Chicago White Sox, where he’d spend the next dozen seasons or so remaining one of the best catchers in the league. Stats-wise, he’d have his best season in 1985 with the ChiSox when he hit 37 homers and knocked in 107. He’d also catch a Tom Seaver no-hitter.

Needless to say, Fisk had no problems getting into the Hall of Fame.

As much as he constantly feuded with my Yankees and was in the middle of home plate collisions that led to some legendary bench-clearing brawls in the late ’70s, I always liked Fish as a player. He had constant enthusiasm for the game and an intensity you could feel just watching.

Just watch him take a swing at Lou Piniella after Piniella barrels over him at the plate, leading to a free for all back in 1976. Jeez, those two teams absolutely HATED each other in the ’70s! And I vividly remember Sox fans NEVER forgiving the Yankees for this one since Bill Lee got hurt and wound up on the DL.

I also like this 1973 card of him since he looks like he’s staring down some schmuck who owes him money. Maybe it’s Heywood Sullivan. Or maybe it’s Lou Piniella. Who knows?

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1963 Vada Pinson May 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards, Uncategorized.
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Pinson played 18 years in the big leagues from 1958 to 1976, and for the first half of his career with the Reds, was one of the best hitters in the NL. The early 1960s pre-big-Red-machine version of the Reds was quite the team, with Pinson and Frank Robinson leading the bats. They’d only manage one pennant in 1961, and they’d lose to my Yankees in the Series in five games. I mean, come on, the 1961 Yankees? Who the hell could beat them?

Back in the NL, the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals were very tough competition. Even the Pirates and Phillies managed to get in on pennant races in the early 60s (though the Phillies would blow their chance spectacularly in 1964).

At a yardsale many years ago, I remember buying a box of assorted Topps cards from the late 1950s and early 1960s, all lovingly placed in plastic sleeves. Whoever sold them to me must have counted Vada Pinson, Willie Davis and Ted Kluszewski as their favorite players, since there were multiple cards from multiple years of all three of those guys. I don’t think I got some sort of incredible bargain on the cards, although I paid less than they’re worth.

I think what sold me was the welcome novelty of finding baseball cards at a yardsale that didn’t turn out to be early 1990s common junk from Donruss or Score. I STILL see shrinkwrapped boxes of those things turn up at thrift stores from time to time. Nobody wants them, they’re barely above worthless since they are so easy to find. Seeing them always reminds me of the heady days of baseball-cards-as-investment-commodity that pretty much ruined the hobby of collecting the damn things back in the late 80s-early 90s. Guilty Confession: I have a box of 300+ Brady Anderson rookie cards I think I paid five bucks for back then. Thirty years later and they’re worth less than that. I think they’re in the same box as my 1990 Classic Draft Picks set that card dealers pushed on the basis of Tod Van Poppel (THE NEXT NOLAN RYAN!!!!!!!) being in it. Despite the presence of Chipper Jones & Mike Mussina in that set, it’s STILL worth less than what I paid for it.

But I digress.

I like Pinson’s smile on his 1963 card. He looks like he’s having a real good time out there. Kinda like the good time I had collecting cards once upon a time when you got 10 in a pack for a dime and finding older cards of legendary stars only ran you a couple of bucks and did I mention that we also tied an onion to our belts, which was the fashion of the time?

Meh.

I hope Vada had a good time playing and later coaching in the 1970s and 1980s, because he died WAY too young at age 57 from stroke complications. RIP, slugger.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1979 Jim Sundberg May 18, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Sundberg was probably the top defensive catcher in baseball during the late ’70s. He won six Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team a few times. The only other catcher of the era I can think came close to him throwing out runners was Johnny Bench.

What’s interesting is how many seasons he barely managed to hit .200 while doing so. In his second season in the majors as full-time catcher for the Rangers, he finished the season batting .199!

Normally you’d send a guy down to the minors for hitting that poor, but not Sundberg. He was just too damn good in the field and at managing the pitching staff. In the pre-sabremetric days, I’m sure they figured the amount of runs he prevented defensively made up for the weak bat, and with the DH a relatively new addition to the league, they figured the trade-off was worth it.

He managed a few seasons with a respectable average, hitting over .250, into the .270s, but never over the magic .300. And his glove never failed him.

He spent most of his career with the Rangers, but got dealt to Milwaukee for one season, and then to the Royals, where he earned his World Series ring in 1985. After a brief stint with the Cubs, he finished his career back where he started in Texas.

Now? He’s a Vice President with the Rangers, working alongside Nolan Ryan. And he’s a motivational speaker. I’m sure going out there every day with that piss-poor batting average while still managing to be an all star is frequent among his topics.

I doubt with today’s stats-heavy number crunching and super-hot-take sports media that anyone similar would be given a chance out there. We shall not see his like again.

Wagstaff’s Picks: Preakness 2017 May 18, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Picking the Preakness is my least favorite part of the Triple Crown sequence, to be honest. The field is smaller (so much for big exotics pools) and the did-they-run-in-earlier-legs factor isn’t as strong (so much for nailing some Johnny-come-lately longshot).

I’m not sure if I’ll bet on this one, since I’d have to pick the 4/5 morning line favorite along with everyone else, Derby winner #4 Always Dreaming.

BUT – there are other horses that might sneak in there, so here are some brief thoughts on what I see.

I like #1 Multiplier, with solid speeds and closing, a well rested non-Derby runner stuck with the rail, but with Joel Rosario riding, that might not factor in as much. Multiplier won the G3 Illinois Derby and has never competed at the G1 level, but the works look great. Always Dreaming will want to set the pace for this thing and go gate to wire, but I could see Multiplier dueling from the start. And with a morning line of 30-1, an across-the-board bet might pay off here.

At the other end of the field, #10 Conquest Mo Money, should also get in on an early speed duel, and could have lasting power to the end. Works look good, and the horse can compete at this level, even if the trainer and jockey stats look weak. And he’s got a morning line of 50-1!

Wild card factor? I’d have to go with #2 Cloud Computing. This one’s a total jockey/trainer angle. Castellano and Brown are very often winners together, and the horse has the potential to hit the speeds necessary, although I’m questionable about his ability to close out over the speed duelers mentioned above. He’s at 12-1, I’d probably throw him into a trifecta or superfecta if I went in that direction. We’ll have to see how much I drink that afternoon. With 50 cent trifectas and 10 cent supers, I might not need much to take some chances here.

That sound you hear is the Wagstaff Retirement Fund going down the drain….