Three Pitchers Who Bucked the Odds

  The following is a companion piece to "Shake Hands With the D.L.", which examines injuries to pitchers down through the years. This piece takes a closer look at three pitchers from the distant past - Babe Adams, Eppa Rixey and Dazzy Vance - who overcame serious injuries and went on to have long, interesting, productive careers. In fact, Rixey and Vance are in the Hall of Fame and many think Adams should be.  1. Babe Adams.  He was born Charles Adams in 1882, to an Indiana farming family so dirt-poor they couldn't feed all their children, so Charlie was sent to work and live on a farm in Missouri. There was a lot of baseball played in the area and Adams got interested in pitching as a youth; in his first organized game he was beaten pretty badly. The shortstop from the opposing team befriended Charlie and taught him how to throw a curveball, which would prove to be a turning point in his baseball life. The young Adams practiced throwing it against the side of a barn for a year, shades of Bob Feller, 35 years later. In his first pro game in 1905, Adams threw a one-hit shutout, attracting the attention of scouts and the St. Louis Cardinals promptly bought him. After one game with the Cards in 1906 didn't go so well, they sold him back to the minor leagues and the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up. His three starts with them in 1907 didn't turn any heads either, so the Pirates sent him down for seasoning, which worked. He pitched well in the minors 1907-8 and more [...]

Shake Hands With the D.L.

In May of this year, I read that 104 pitchers have been on the major-league D.L. (disabled list) since the beginning of 2012, that number likely rose by 50 or 60 more by season's end. If memory serves, at one point in the 2012 season there were something like 35 pitchers out of action and scheduled for Tommy John surgery, many of them relief closers. That procedure deals with the elbow only and doesn't take into account frequent injuries to the shoulder (often rotator cuff), wrist, forearm, back or legs. Of course Blue Jays' fans are well acquainted with this, in 2012 the team lost three of its five starting pitchers to injury in one week, two of them for the whole season (Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison) and the other for a good chunk of it (Brandon Morrow.) This doesn't include relievers Sergio Santos (out again after missing most of last season) and Luis Perez (on the D.L. long-term) or Dustin McGowan, who's been out so regularly he's considering changing his name to D.L. McGowan. Or Ricky Romero, who didn't injure his arm last year but rather his pitching psyche, maybe permanently by the looks of things this year. Nobody could remember seeing anything like what happened with the three Jays starters in 2012; it was quite bizarre and marked the beginning of their season's slide into oblivion, this past season wasn't much better in this regard. Pitchers getting hurt is nothing new of course, they've always been prone to various arm injuries mainly because the human more [...]

The Iron Clarinet

The soprano saxophone has had a fairly schizoid history as an instrument and this is fitting, because it comes in two completely different forms. There's the straight one, which looks like a slightly bloated clarinet that's been dipped in brass. And the curved one, which looks like a miniature alto saxophone, to be used as a kid's toy or as a prop in a staging of Gulliver's Travels. As alto saxophonist Campbell Ryga (more on him later) puts it, the curved soprano isn't a saxophone, it's "more of a brooch". I don't know much about saxophones, but I'm told the curved one is mellower sounding and easier to control and play in tune, intonation problems have often plagued the horn. Most players favour the straight one though, its sound seems to cut through more and the fingering isn't quite as cramped as on the tiny curved model. Or maybe it's because the tubular model doesn't look as ridiculous, I don't know. In keeping with the instrument's physical duality, for many years there were only two main stylistic models aspiring soprano players could look to and each represented an extreme : the original master Sidney Bechet, who epitomized the earliest traditions of jazz, or John Coltrane, who came much later and represented the avant-garde. For a long time Bechet had the soprano field all to himself, he began playing the straight one along with his first instrument, the clarinet, sometime in the early '20s. This established a pattern that would later become common : most play more [...]

The Cement of Lament

There are certain pieces of music which stick in our minds for hours or even days and often these so-called ear-worms are unwelcome, as we chance to hear a snippet of something we don't even like and it just won't leave us alone, goddamnit. I'm very suggestible in this way, sometimes all it takes is for somebody to mention an old TV show or movie and suddenly my inner jukebox kicks in and I have the theme from "Green Acres" or "To Sir With Love" running through what's left of my mind, thanks a lot, pal. Or I'll wake up first thing in the morning with some dumb, arcane song in my head for no reason at all, making me wonder with no small anxiety just what the hell I was dreaming about that makes "I Love Jennifer Eccles" so all-fired important all of a sudden. It's spooky....what? ....was I at some Hollies fan-club convention in my dreams? And if so, what does this say about me? Sometimes though, I get lucky and an actual "adult" piece of music I really love lodges in my mind's ear for a day or two and its persistence is only maddening to those around me, because I can't stop humming bits of its melody, usually in my trombone-impersonation voice. (Honestly, just how annoying could that be? Apparently, very.) Such is the case with J.J. Johnson's lovely ballad/tone poem "Lament", which has been dogging me off and on in recent months, including right now. It's that kind of tune, it just won't let go, burying itself in my ear like cement. But at least it's good company, it more [...]

La-di-dah, di-dah-di-dum……

On a recent gig there were some requests for autumn songs - "Autumn Leaves"' naturally, which never goes away but I never tire of either, as long as it's not played too fast. Its imperishable structure and cyclical chords make it a great vehicle for blowing, plus people know and like it. Also "Autumn In New York", which is maybe the best of this lot, a masterpiece with the great line describing Manhattan's streets as "canyons of steel". "Autumn Nocturne", "Autumn Serenade" and "Early Autumn" are also good tunes for this season, as are "September Song" and "Indian Summer". We thought we'd put a medley of autumn tunes together and my ever febrile sense of punsmanship led me to suggest songs with the word "fall" in them, like "Let's Fall In Love" or "I Fall In Love Too Easily". Naturally these offerings were greeted with groans and blank looks, though no actual violence from my fellow musos. Come to think of it, Wayne Shorter wrote a tune called "Fall", which is never played or asked for because nobody actually knows it. Another one I like is "'Tis Autumn" by a guy named Henry Nemo, no relation to Jules Verne's nutty evil geneticist character. It's a ballad with a really tuneful melody and cute, fanciful words which actually include some scat-like syllables: Old Father Time checked, so there'd be no doubt; Called on the North wind to come on out, Then cupped his hands so proudly to shout, "La-di-dah di-dah-di-dum, 'tis autumn!" Trees say they're tired, they've born too much more [...]