Media: music, Broadcasting, and Print

In addition to my card and autograph collecting, I have a B.S. in Journalism, having graduated from my college in December 2005. I also have worked as a play by play broadcaster in the hockey, football, and floorball world, serving as the voice of the North American Hockey League's Wichita Falls Wildcats in 2006-2013 and voice of the Texas Open Floorball Tournament's broadcasts in 2020 and 2022.

Recently I covered the World Floorball Championship Qualifications in April 2022 between the Canadian and American National Teams for the International Floorball Federation. Below is Game Two of the Qualifications, with USA Mens' Under-19 coach and former NFL Europe wide receiver Theo Blanco.

In 2019 and 2020 I made interview appearances on the autograph collecting podcast TTMCast with Jeff Baker before taking over the role of co-host in June 2021, and as the full host in 2024 following his untimely demise. In 2022, Jeff and I went on the air with Sports Collectors Club, which aired on weekends on the SportsMap Radio Network. I also have made guest appearances on a few hockey-related podcasts: Hanging With Mr. Will, Puska On Pucks, and 4th Line Voice.

I also play music. I puttered around with some short-lived bands in middle and high school as a bassist, keyboardist, and drummer before becoming the drummer for Boston punk band CC40 from 2003-2005. After some time off and a lot of solo playing, I was the drummer and later guitarist for Dallas folk punkers Death Before Breakfast from 2016-2019. You can hear my drum work on their 2018 album "Destroy Everything." I also handled lead guitar and backing vocals in Dallas punk outfit The Nothing in 2019-2021, and played drums with Beethoven's Bastards, from 2021 to 2023, with my playing appearing on all their recordings.

I mostly play drums and guitar, but also piano, bass, mandolin, and all things percussion. I'm always looking for other local musicians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to jam and write with. Mostly garage, punk, 90s alternative, classic rock, anything in that vein, but I try to stay flexible with almost anything rock related from the 1950s to today. I write my own music once in a while, but it's rare.

Lastly, what you'll find most in this section is that I enjoy writing on all sorts of sports-related topics, mostly sports collecting. Some of my pieces have been featured in Tuff Stuff, USA Floorball, Uni-Watch, the North American Hockey League, Nine Inning Know-It-All, and Sports Collectors Daily. With Corey and Howie Mansfield, I was the co-founder, a writer, and chief podcast host for the erstwhile Sports Fans Online in the mid-2000s and its also-now-defunct reboot Broken Bat Media in the late 2010s. Later, I served on the Writing Staff of SportsCardForum (SCF) for the better part of the 2010s as well. I also wrote several blogs related to autographs.

Below you can find some of the pieces I've written over the years for those various sites, mostly SCF. Mostly, you'll read a lot of think-pieces and personal stories more than any deep research.

Autographs: A Two-Part How To

Autographs: A Two-Part How-To

By Drew Pelto

Written in two parts for SportsCardForum, August 2010, with an abridged version published in Tuff Stuff's December 2010 issue, pp. 14-15

Everyone knows that one guy.

The one who has the awesome man cave at his house. I’m not just talking about a flat-screen TV, bar stools, and a pool table. I’m talking about the guy with signed jerseys, photos, bats, balls, pucks, and Swedish pancake makers hanging from the walls. You’ve seen the place. Maybe you’re that guy (you lucky son of a…).

This is to help out the person who wants to be that guy. You don’t have to sink hundreds or thousands of dollars into memorabilia that may or may not be authentically signed. With a small investment in the raw materials and through use of your free time, I’ll show you how to start your own autograph collection.

There are two main ways to get the autographed items you desire – in person, or through the mail. Part one will deal with hounding in person, whereas part two will examine mailing methods.

Part one: “Can I borrow your Sharpie” – an unacceptable phrase

I spent three years as a hardcore autograph hound when I lived in Boston for college. Most of my time was spent on hockey, with some baseball and basketball to pass the time. I started in January of 2003 being unable to tell Ted Donato from Ted Lindsay, but finished my time in December of 2005 with a respectable collection in the vicinity of 1000 autographed items.

And here I am to pass my wisdom onto you. So welcome, rook. Here’s a crash course in starting your collection.

1. Have Something to Get Signed

It seems so obvious, yet I’ve seen many people who come with nothing to get signed. Almost anything works. Cards are cheap and usually easy to find. You probably have a ton yourself. If not, you can often find player lots or team lots on eBay for cheap. Ask around and work some trades at boards like SCF. Photos look great, but are a little more expensive ($2-$5, depending on where you look). Same with pucks, baseballs, footballs, basketballs, bats, jerseys, sticks, you get the idea. They’re great single-signed or team-signed items, but they’re more expensive. If you want something simple, get a pack of plain white 3×5 cards. If they’re ruled, get them signed on the plain white side. After that, if you have a printer capable of printing on index cards, you can print a name, team logo, and really anything you want about the player on it. Make sure you test it on an unsigned card first! Be forewarned, some players won’t sign blank index cards, so think about just printing a team logo on them from your computer. If you plan to collect basketball players, go to a local home improvement store and get some plain wooden floor tiles. Signatures look great on them.

2. Do Your Homework

No one likes a collector who knows nothing about who he’s collecting. I’ve been that guy before, and I won’t lie to you: it sucks. If you hound a team, make sure you can identify at least half the players on it. Strive for knowing who every player is. What helped me out early on was to print off a sheet with every player’s color headshot, name, jersey number, height, and weight. Additionally, these are easy to get signed. If you don’t know who a player is, have them sign the sheet. They’ll usually sign right by their photo. Of course, the easiest way is to just get a team’s jersey or some other generic team item, but with that you run the risk of a player signing it twice (or more). At worst, leech off the other collectors around. If you don’t know who someone is, look at what the player is signing for someone else. Just don’t do it too much, you parasite. As one autograph blogger once told me in my early days, “If you don’t know who he is, then you don’t need his autograph too badly.”

3. Preparation is key!

Make sure that everything you want to get signed can fit into a small backpack, messenger bag, or box. I always use a messenger bag or a laptop case to carry everything in. Make sure all your items are easy to get to. What I often do is make what I call “8 boards” or “9 boards” to hold my cards. Go to a photo supply or scrapbooking shop to get photo corners and get some rectangular pieces of cardboard, foam core board, posterboard, or something of the like (cut it to about 9″x12″). In a pinch, old two-pocket folders work well for this. Composition notebooks are great for this as well. Some will use a spiral bound pack of 4×6 index cards. Take a card, put two photo corners on it (on opposite corners – the top right and bottom left or top left and bottom right), and stick it to the cardboard. Either do it three rows of three cards vertically, or four rows of two lengthwise. You should be able to slip the cards in and out of the corners without any major problems. Don’t try to force them into the corners if it’s hard. Just get an index card or piece of paper to carefully lift the corner, then slide the card in. You may have to bend the card a little, but be careful not to crease it; just gently curve it. If your cards are super-glossy, rub them down with an eraser or a little talcum powder. This will counteract the gloss and the autograph won’t bubble up on the card. For the most part, try to limit yourself to four or fewer cards of a single player. If I make a 3×3 board, I’ll put a row for a player. If I have one card of one player, and one card of another player, I’ll put them in the same row with an empty space between. If I have two of a player and one of another, I won’t put them in the same row (unless it’s a row of 4). Keep a space between players so a player doesn’t accidentally sign a card that isn’t of him. I’ve had it happen three times so far. Once in a while, some players will sign more than two or three each (Brian Mullen, Brian Propp, Brad May, Craig Hartsburg, and Brad McCrimmon are ones who stick out in my mind as guys who will sign full 9 boards), but don’t get too greedy. Stick with no more than 3 items for the most part. Keep your pen ready and your items at close reach. Nothing is worse than seeing a player, having to dig something out, or going and getting something, and looking up to find him gone.

4. Have Something to Sign With

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But the thing everyone seems to forget, or know little about, is the proper pen. It all depends on what you’re getting signed. Lumocolor pens are the best on the market but are pretty tough to find. I highly recommend Sharpie markers. Blue Sharpies work best on cards, photos, light colored jerseys, bats, floor tiles, sticks, and index cards. Black Sharpies are good as well, but I recommend blue over any other color. It can be seen easier on a dark spot on a card than can any other color of marker. Black is best to use on a basketball. If you want to get darker items signed, like some bats, jerseys, footballs, or pucks, get a silver paint pen. Silver Sharpies are good, but highly unreliable. I’ve had them die on me at the worst possible moments. Try to find a Liquid Gold, or Liquid Silver brand pen. Ball-point pens should be the only things used on baseballs. Always keep your writing implement close at hand. I often stow mine in my hat.

5. Location, Location, Location. And Timing.

Know where you’re headed. There’s nothing more futile than not having a good sense of a time schedule and not knowing where to go. A lot depends on what sort of event you plan to hound. Is it a team hotel, or a stadium/arena? What time does the game start? It varies for every sport, sometimes for every team, so you’ll have to deal with a little trial and error at first. With hockey, I often hounded morning skates and visiting team hotels, and occasionally practices. I can’t tell you a perfect system of timing, except that for baseball, players are usually at the park by 3 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game (and begin arriving as early as noon in some cases). Hockey players often have a morning skate at 10 or 11 am for a 7 p.m. game and will leave for the rink between 3 and 4:30. Hotel arrivals vary wildly depending on the team’s schedule the previous day. Make friends with a few collectors and they’ll hook you up. Within my first two months of hounding, I had a schedule completely set and even had one give me the number for the Boston Bruins Media Info Line so I could find out exact times of practices and morning skates.

5a. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Or In This Case, They Dry Up Sharpies.

Don’t get too chatty about visiting teams’ hotels. I hounded Boston a lot, and in 2003 during the ALCS, crowds around the Yankees’ hotel(s) were small: 10 or 20 people. A year later, it was around 100 people for the Yankees at the 2004 ALCS. Word spreads quickly. Don’t say too much about where teams stay or you’ll get a bunch of slack-jawed yokels just there to stare and get junk like scraps of paper or dollar bills signed.

6. Be Polite

Don’t cuss out a player for not signing. I remember hounding a Red Sox game once in the illustrious Summer of 2004: a player ignored us and a woman shouted “Thanks for nothing!” She was met by a groan from the rest of the collectors. Fortunately, she kept quiet the rest of the time. Don’t get mad that you missed out on a player. There will be other opportunities (unless it’s Tim Wakefield who signs one day per season; if you miss him, too bad). Don’t shove anyone out of the way to get to a player or people will do it to you. Say “Please” and “Thank you.” Address the player as Mr. Shanahan, or Brendan, maybe Shanny, never just as Shanahan. Don’t shout out “There’s Jagr!” or you’ll have about 50 other collectors trailing you to get to him. Don’t run toward a player. If hounding at a hotel, don’t follow the players into the lobby. Leave them alone if they’re in the bathroom or eating a meal. If they’re on the phone, try to wait until they finish their conversation. Simply, just treat the players how you would want to be treated in their situation. And don’t crowd players. During the aforementioned 2004 ALCS 100-person-crowd, I was pinned between the crowd and the wall of the hotel as Joe Torre walked out. The hotel security folks had put out a rope barrier which was about as useful as an ashtray on a Harley. At least five people pushed against the rope screaming for him to sign. I politely waited and asked “Mr. Torre, will you please sign my ball?” He came over, took my ball and pen, backed up a few steps, signed, handed it back to me, and got on the bus. No one else got him, and why? Because I was the polite and calm one.

Now how hard is that? If I could fit in the time to do it while holding a 3.4 GPA in a college journalism program while pursuing two minors, you can do it too. I don’t get out to hound as often as I used to, but I do enjoy it whenever I have the time.

Part two: The Russian Postal System blows

You’re still here? Geez man, you’re supposed to be out hounding. I gave you all that good advice and you’re still sitting on your duff, wasting time at the computer?

Oh, right. No teams within a two-hour radius. I feel your pain, as I have the same problem here.

Not all of us can be so blessed as to have a 15-minute walk or 5-minute subway or bus ride to get autographs. Many people live an hour or more away from the nearest team. Some of us live on a dental floss farm in rural Montana (I guess that would just be “Montana”) and have no major league teams within 700 miles in any direction. My two-hour drives to Dallas and Oklahoma City don’t seem so bad now that I see Montana on the map.

For those of us who can’t just go hound, the US Postal Service (or Canada Post, or insert your country here) make it possible to get autographs by writing to your favorite athletes. You don’t get the same interaction, and it can be hard to get certain items signed, but in the end, you’re still getting your autograph.

And so, another brief bit of info – how to get the most out of your mailing experience.

1. Know Your Addresses

Team addresses are easy to find. Just check out a league’s website, and the mailing address for every team should be there. Home addresses are a little tougher to dig up. I went out and spent a good chunk of change to get Harvey Meiselman’s Address Lists in 2007, but they’re honestly worth every penny. As a warning, some teams do not usually give mail to players. In hockey, these teams are the New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals. The latter three will give mail to players if you send via their practice facilities. Addresses for those can be found on a simple Google search. Home addresses can be found other ways, but I’ll leave this up to you to find. There are a lot of sites out there that can help you. Even TCF has a heck of an address database.

2. The Letter

If writing to multiple players on one team, send individual letters, not just a bulk mailing with every player in it. Make the letter you write as personal as you can. Just a simple “Sign these please” will probably end up with your items being sent back unsigned, if they even get sent back at all. If you can, write the letter by hand. Include some personal items about the player, such as congratulations on a recent milestone, or a good-luck wish for the playoffs, or best wishes for coming back from an injury. Make them know you’re not just some schmoe looking to get a free autograph that you can turn around and sell. Typing the letter works, but some collectors believe you’ll more than likely get better autographs, faster response times, and even specific requests you make fulfilled by writing by hand. I haven’t noticed a difference myself. Just make sure your handwriting is legible!

3. Send Something to Get Signed

Again, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? Via mail, cards, photos, and small items work best. Baseballs, pucks, and mini-helmets are possibilities in that vein. Avoid sending jerseys, sticks, bats, big balls (yeah yeah, ha ha, laugh it up; I mean like footballs and basketballs), or anything requiring special packaging. Usually I send a few cards. You can send usually up to about 5 in individual penny sleeves for the price of only one stamp. By the way, don’t send too many items, either. The most I ever send is 5 cards. Often, I put cards in sleeves, put a couple index cards around them to protect them a bit more, and send. Sometimes the player might sign the index cards, too, which is a fun and easy bonus. Again, do your homework. If you see a player signs one item per person, don’t send three. If they signed 8 for someone (a collecting practice I do not condone), don’t hesitate to go for 4 or 5. And don’t send anything you can’t afford to lose. Don’t send an Alexander Ovechkin rookie card to get signed (I learned that the hard way; fortunately I had two of it, so I had one to fall back on) because there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again unless the player has a good track record of signing. And even then, some unscrupulous assistant might switch out the card with a different one and keep your awesome one.

4. Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope

Make sure you enclose one! And make sure it has proper postage. If you don’t enclose an easy way to get your signed items back, you may never get them back. Convenience for the player is the key here: the less the player has to do, the better your results will be. Make it easy for them, and you’ll be much better off and have more success.

5. Postage

Like I said, make sure you have proper postage. A simple 44-cent stamp will get your letter anywhere you want in the USA, but check with the Post Office for letters to Canada or elsewhere around the world. If worst comes to worst, enclose a dollar with your request to cover postage back from the player to you. Or, if your local post office has them, get an international reply coupon. Don’t bother with them in Russia, though. In fact, don’t bother sending anything to Russia for the most part. I’ve seen a success rate around 15% for others in sending to players there. I haven’t tried it. I have personally had success to hockey players in Slovakia and Sweden. I have also seen several successes for various sports in Germany, England, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan, Spain, France, Italy, Czech Republic, and Finland.

6. E-mail is a possibility for some

Some players have widely-publicized e-mail addresses that they’ll sign through. Georges Laraque and Ken Dryden are two at the top of the list who are worth trying. Just send a similar letter to if you were writing via mail, ask if they might send a signed photo or something of the like, and make sure you enclose your mailing address. Laraque also doesn’t mind shooting the breeze with fans, as far as I can tell. Back when the Penguins acquired him, I e-mailed welcoming him to the team and reminding him that Donald Brashear and the Capitals were on the schedule in the next few weeks. I got a response thanking me and lol’ing at the reminder about Brashear.

So there you have it. I think I’ve covered everything there is to know about autograph collecting. Or at least everything I know and can remember off the top of my head. It’s a fun hobby to get into and is decently cheap as long as you just send cards. Think about it this way – for $44, you can get a roll of 100 stamps. That’s 50 requests. My success rate has been about 60% – roughly 30 of 50. If you send 3 cards per player (some more, some less, but average 3), that’s 90 cards you just got signed for a very small investment. It also helps if your significant other is very understanding, as this hobby gets addictive very quickly. At least it’s legal and non-harmful.

Have fun, may your mailboxes be full, and may your 9-boards be finished!

The Greatest Pitcher You Don't Know

The Greatest Pitcher You Don’t Know

by Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, October 2011

Some called him Lefty.

Some called him Red.

Some called him crazy.

George Brunet was a well-traveled pitcher, and one you’ve probably never heard much about; mostly because he was a pretty good pitcher who got stuck on some really bad teams.  Over a major league career that went through parts of fifteen seasons, George compiled a record of 69-93 with a 3.62 ERA and 921 strikeouts.

There’s not a whole lot of anything up in Keweenaw County, MI.  Sure, there’s fishing and hunting, old copper mines and the logging industry, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.  Michigan Technological University is just a short drive down US 41.  But in an area known more for record snowfalls, one would expect hockey and skiing to be the big sports, not baseball.

“It was on my 15th birthday,” Brunet later recalled. “I was fishing… I wandered over to one of the games they played in Ahmeek. They needed a pitcher. Most of those guys were a lot older than I was, and I had on my fishing boots with the hobs on them. But damned if I didn’t go out there and throw a no-hitter.” The sport was popular in the limited summers up north, and in 1953 upon graduating from Calumet High School, George was scouted and signed by the Detroit Tigers.

As a side note, another famous Calumet High School alum in the world of sports? George Gipp, as in “Win one for the Gipper.”

Brunet made his professional debut in the Tar Heel League with the Shelby Clippers down in North Carolina.  He appeared in only seven games for 19 innings, striking out 17, but he walked 15, and had an ERA of 8.05.  Control wasn’t his strong suit early on: even after reaching the majors, he was involved in an 11-run inning in 1959 where the Chicago White Sox had only one hit. Brunet, brought in with the bases loaded, walked two batters, hit the next, walked another, struck the next guy out, walked two more, then got out of the inning with a grounder back to him. After the inauspicious start, the Clippers pretty quickly said “Thanks, but no thanks,” and then it was off to Louisiana and the Philadelphia Athletics organization. Then Oklahoma. Arkansas. Oklahoma again. Texas. Louisiana. South Carolina. That’s a pretty good chunk of travel time for a kid who had never been further from home than a trip across the lake to Ontario. By now, George was a grizzled 21-year old veteran; at least as grizzled as one can be at that age.

In 1956 came the first Major League contract with the now-in-Kansas City A’s and the string of bad teams in the show began.  In only his second game with the A’s, the lefty was called in with the bases loaded… and got Ted Williams to ground out.  Brunet said he was shaking upon getting back to the dugout; he didn’t realize he was pitching to his hero until he had an 0-2 count on him. The next day, Williams told him “Kid, if you keep that fastball down, you’ve got a long career ahead of you.” Little did he know…

From Kansas City, George went on to Little Rock, Buffalo, and Portland in between sporadic calls up to the A’s, including the previously mentioned nightmare of an inning where the White Sox hung up 11 runs on a single hit. In 1960, it was off to Louisville and Milwaukee following a trade to the Braves, then Vancouver, then another trade, this time to Houston with some time in Oklahoma City and Hawaii.  In 1963, It was off to the Orioles, and then out to California in 1964.

In the offseason, it was always back to Michigan, living in tiny New Allouez… right next door to my dad.  After the 1963 season, George came back with a batting practice ball signed by the whole Orioles team.  Along with Brunet are signatures from Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, and coach Luke Appling. The ball still sits in my dad’s collection today, along with about seven of Brunet’s ten cards.

An article in Sports Illustrated in 1980 shows just how bad the teams were that Brunet pitched on in the majors – of the nine major league teams he appeared in games with, six are now known by different names.  Over fifteen seasons, he was on only one playoff team – the 1971 Pirates in his final season in the show. Even in the minors, the guy couldn’t catch a break. In Little Rock in 1957, George had a stretch of over 50 innings where his team failed to give him a single run of support. His record went from 10-3 to 10-11 in that span. He finished the season at 14-15, one loss away from the league lead, but he did lead the league in a positive category, striking out 235 batters.

“George had the unfortunate luck to pitch with second-division clubs most of his career,” said sports historian Bob Erkkila. “Otherwise, I think he would have gone on to bigger things.”

In 1970, Brunet ended up with the Washington Senators. His manager? Ted Williams. “Long career ahead of you” indeed.

Brunet gets a couple mentions in the seminal baseball tome Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Bouton said of the Seattle Pilots’ acquisition of Brunet, “He’ll fit right in on this ballclub. He’s crazy.” Bouton later discovered Brunet had a habit of not wearing underwear. “Hell, the only time you need them is if you get into a car wreck,” George said. “Besides, this way I don’t have to worry about losing them.” According to other witnesses and George himself, no cup either. “Getting out of the way of ground balls up the middle has cost me a few singles over the years,” he said.

After the Pirates traded him to the Cardinals who released him, George bounced around the minors.  He spent 1971 and 1972 in Hawaii, then 1973 in Eugene, Oregon who cut him in the midst of financial woes.  Faced with the likelihood of having to retire and make his way back to Michigan, living out the days fishing and hunting, instead George kept at the game he loved, coaching youth ball in Anaheim.  Then at the age of 37, Chico Carrasquel brought him to Mexico and George’s career was reborn.  After fifteen Major League seasons, Brunet went on to toss another sixteen in the Mexican Leagues.

As much as George wanted to keep his career going, his heart wasn’t in it. Literally, not figuratively. In 1981, he suffered a heart attack, but recovered and kept on going for the majority of the decade, pitching for Coatzacoalcos. At 54, he finally hung up the spikes, but stayed in Mexico and kept on coaching, managing, and working baseball clinics with the kids in Poza Rica. Incredibly, he only suffered any sort of arm trouble once: a blood clot in 1958 that kept him out for two weeks. While some guys can pitch forever (Jesse Orosco comes to mind here), most do it as relievers for the later part of their careers, if not the majority, or the entirety. George spent his whole time as a starter.

“I played with and for George in Poza Rica,” said Craig Ryan of George’s player-manager days. “If you bunted on him and made him leave the mound, the next time up you’d better be loose because he would keep throwing at you till he got you.”

George’s zaniness may have been part of the reason he was stuck on bad teams. In 1959, ready to be the A’s fifth starter, George found himself outside a team hotel in Florida directing traffic at 3 am after a night out with teammates. Unfortunately, one of those cars had the team’s manager and GM inside. After showing up late for a meeting the next day, Brunet was suddenly shipped to the minors, then off to Milwaukee where he and Bob Buhl made quite a pair of wild and crazy guys.  Legend has it that when Buhl was warned on a road trip that anyone not in their hotel room at midnight would be fined $500, he pulled out his wallet, handed the manager the cash, and got off the bus.

Even out in California when Bill Rigney gave him a chance to shine, he managed to get on the manager’s bad side. “One time I really got angry when he took me out, and we had words in the dugout,” George recalled. “Rigney starts counting, ‘$100, $200, $300.’ I didn’t stop until he hit $700. Then I went in and tore the clubhouse apart. The next day I came in and wrote out a check for $700 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Fund.”

Twenty years ago today, at age 56, George Brunet died in Mexico following his second heart attack. He was just two years removed from a thirty-seven year career that took him to thirty cities in three countries.  His totals of at least 3,175 strikeouts in the minor leagues, 55 shutouts in the Mexican Leagues, and 37 seasons pitched still stand as records today.  He was inducted into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Mexican Salon de la Fama in 1999. His photo is on the cover of the 1985 SABR publication Minor League Baseball Stars, Volume II.

If I Were NCAA Dictator

If I Were NCAA Dictator: A College Football Playoff System

by Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, January 2013

Every year or two, something comes along to make the nation scream for a college football playoff system. In 1997, it was the National Championship being shared between Nebraska and Michigan, which led to the adoption of the BCS. In 2006-07, it was Boise State shocking Oklahoma. 2008-09 was Utah beating Alabama, a year after West Virginia took down Oklahoma. And here in 2012-13, it was Louisville taking Florida to the woodshed.

While it’s all well and good that the NCAA has agreed to start using a four-team playoff, to me that’s not good enough. As we saw from Louisville’s drubbing of #3 Florida, sometimes a team outside the top 5 could make a major run. College football needs a legitimate playoff system.

And so this is why I, your benevolent dictator of NCAA football, have come along, for I have a plan that will bring forth a true playoff system for the NCAA FBS teams. Of course, the current NCAA, conference bigwigs, and bowl chairmen would poo a brick if this plan were to ever be brought up so it will never happen. Hence why I usurped the throne and declared myself dictator.

The NCAA FBS currently consists of 124 teams. For my plan to work, we need an expansion to a nice even 128 teams. Charlotte, Old Dominion, and Georgia State are moving eventually to the FBS anyway, so they’re in. Need one more team? Well, there’s an App for that: Appalachian State gets tossed into the mix.

128 is just an easy number to work with. This comes out to an even eight conferences with 16 teams each. Those 16 teams could be divided into two eight-team divisions. I’d also keep the conferences as geographically-accurate as possible. You know our colleges are failing our nation’s people when Boise State gets put in the Big East. While Boise isn’t exactly Pacific, that’s a heck of a lot more accurate than calling it “East.” And so, I present you with the divisions.


North: Washington, Washington State, Idaho, Boise State, Stanford, California, Oregon*, Oregon State

South: Fresno State, USC, UCLA*, San Diego State, UNLV, Hawaii, Arizona, Arizona State


North: Wyoming, Colorado, Colorado State, Air Force, Utah, Utah State*, BYU, Nevada

South: San Jose State*, New Mexico, New Mexico State, UTEP, Texas Tech, UTSA, Texas State, Texas


East: Ball State, Bowling Green, Miami Ohio, Cincinnati, Louisville*, Kentucky, Ohio, Akron

West: Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Illinois*, Missouri, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Easterm Michigan

BIG-16 (Formerly the Big-10)

East: Michigan*, Ohio State, Akron, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Penn State, Buffalo, Syracuse

West: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, Notre Dame*, Purdue, Michigan State, Toledo


North: Boston College, UMass, UConn, Army, Temple, Maryland, Navy, Rutgers*

South: Old Dominion, NC State, Wake Forest, East Carolina, South Carolina*, Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, Miami Florida


North: Marshall, Virginia Tech, Virginia, UNC, Duke, Appalachian State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt*

South: Charlotte, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida*, Florida State, South Florida, Florida International


East: Kansas, Tulsa, Arkansas, Arkansas State*, Memphis, Ole Miss, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky

West: Houston, SMU, Baylor, North Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State*, Nebraska


East: Southern Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia State, South Alabama, Auburn, UAB, Alabama*, Troy

West: Rice, Texas A&M*, TCU, LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, Tulane

Pretty simple really, and it all comes out relatively nice and even without too many drastic changes. It also keeps plenty of top rivalries intact.

Each team plays 12 regular season games throughout September, October, and November. Eventually, each division winner meets for the conference championship the first week of December. And after that: playoffs.

The playoffs will consist of 24 teams. Each conference winner gets an opening-round bye. The division winners that didn’t win their conference play in the first round against eight at-large teams selected by the currently-used BCS formula. The top eight non division winners will go to the playoffs. The BCS will also be used to rank everyone: the conference winners will be ranked 1-8, the the division winners 9-16, and the at-large 17-24.

So, let’s have some fun with it now. Starred above are my predicted divison winners for this season if it had been played out in this format. So the schedule for championship week and the bowls (and my predicted results) would look a little like this…


PAC Championship: Oregon over UCLA

MWC Championship: Utah State over SJ State

MAC Championship: Louisville over Northern Illinois

B16 Championship: Notre Dame over Michigan

ACC Championship: South Carolina over Rutgers

SEC Championship: Florida over Vanderbilt

WAC Championship: Kansas State over Arkansas State

SBC Championship: Alabama over Texas A&M

So from that (using the current BCS formula), your top 8 would be Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon, Florida, Kansas State, South Carolina, Louisville, and Utah State. 9 through 16 would be Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, UCLA, Michigan, SJ State, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State, Rutgers. And the 9 at-large bids would go to Stanford, Georgia, Louisiana State, Oklahoma, Florida State, Oregon State, Clemson, and Nebraska.

From here, we’ll need a total of 23 bowl games to decide a winner. I’m going to keep the 22 longest-running bowls with one rotating-site national championship. To go along with this, I think each bowl should be played at as neutral a site as possible, the more historic bowls should get the more prestigious games, and as many cities as possible should be represented. And I prefer the traditional names over crap like the Bowl, so I’ve gone with the traditional names wherever possible. So, here’s how I would stack up my predictions in each bowl game.


BYE: Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon, Florida, Kansas State, South Carolina, Louisville, and Utah State

Nebraska at Texas A&M, Motor City Bowl

Clemson at Northern Illinois, San Francisco Bowl

Oregon State at UCLA, Music City Bowl

Florida State at Michigan, Houston Bowl

Oklahoma at San Jose State, Humanitarian Bowl

Louisiana State at Vanderbilt, Hawaii Bowl

Georgia at Arkansas State, Mobile Bowl

Stanford at Rutgers, Alamo Bowl

I’m calling A&M, Clemson, UCLA, Florida State, Oklahoma, Louisiana State, Georgia, and Stanford to win each of these. So from there, we move on to…


Clemson at Notre Dame, Las Vegas Bowl

Florida State at Alabama, Holiday Bowl

Oklahoma at Oregon, Outback Bowl

Louisiana State at Florida, Fiesta Bowl

Georgia at Kansas State, Liberty Bowl

Stanford at South Carolina, Independence Bowl

UCLA at Louisville, Peach Bowl

Texas A&M at Utah State, Citrus Bowl

We’ll pick Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon, Louisiana State in the upset, Kansas State, Stanford, Louisville, and Texas A&M. And so, we get into the quarterfinals with…


Louisiana State at Notre Dame, Cotton Bowl

Stanford at Alabama, Sun Bowl

Texas A&M at Oregon, Gator Bowl

Louisville at Kansas State, Sugar Bowl

Now we’re talking! This should make for some fun games. Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas A&M, and Kansas State win. So that leads us into the semifinals…


Texas A&M at Notre Dame, Orange Bowl

Kansas State at Alabama, Rose Bowl

Johnny Football’s luck finally runs out here, as Notre Dame and Alabama will – as expected – meet for the Title, somewhere between January 11 and 14. It would rotate yearly between a number of cities. Who do I say wins it?

What, you want me to spoil the real game on Monday?

Lonestar Lions Win 2015 championship 

Lonestar Lions win 2015 Southwest US Floorball Championship
by Drew Pelto
Written for, April 2015

KEENE, TEXAS – The Lonestar Lions edged out the Dallas Fireballs in their quest for a three-peat as Southwest US Floorball Champions. The Lions took home the trophy with a 4-1 record on Sunday in Keene, TX. With both teams holding an equal record, the Lions took the goal differential tie-breaker for their first championship as a club. Erik Hammar led the team in scoring with 4 points, Adam Niemuth had three goals including the championship clincher, while goaltender Drew Pelto finished second in the tournament with a 0.61 GAA and two shutouts. The Lions relied on strong defense and a balanced offensive attack: 11 of the team’s 12 floor players figured into the scoring.

Texas has become a floorball hotbed of late. Several cities including Austin, Houston, and Round Rock have their own clubs while the Dallas-Fort Worth area is home to the North Texas Floorball Association, which features Lonestar, Dallas, and the DFW Longshots. Hockey has exploded since the arrival of the Dallas Stars in 1993, and floorball has grown heavily as hockey players look for activities in the offseason. With temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in the summer, it’s not always feasible to keep ice in every arena in the state. Floorball easily enters the picture to keep a player’s skills sharp during the down time.

Just south of the Metroplex is the town of Keene, population 6,100, and home to Southwestern Adventist University. While some colleges around the country feature intramural leagues in wiffleball, flag football, ultimate frisbee, and even quidditch from the Harry Potter book series, SWAU is the only college known to feature floorball. They have hosted this tournament since 2012.

“The first teams that played in 2012 were the two teams from SWAU, Dallas Fireballs, Austin, Oklahoma Twisters, and the Southwest US Floorball Open Rec Team,” said Vesa Naukkarinen, chairman of SWAU’s Department of Kinesiology. “When we got our new gym floor, we switched to floorball from floor hockey. It took a year or so to get students involved but now we have several students who play regularly. For the past two years, we have had six to eight teams participating during intramurals and between seventy and ninety players have signed up to play per season.”

The Knights were the first winners of the Southwest US Floorball Championship. While their program is mainly geared toward current students, Vesa noted that they often get faculty members and nearby alumni to participate as well.

For the first time, the group also ran a youth tournament in addition to the annual adult tournament for players aged seven to fourteen. “Southwestern’s program has influenced the youth in the area to pick up the sport,” Vesa pointed out. “We run a Sunday morning program for kids and it’s been a success.. I think we will have more teams in the future since we have more opportunities for the youth to play through partnerships with the Dallas Stars, local schools, and Dallas-area groups playing weekly.” The North Texas Floorball Association also sent their own youth players to participate. Several of those players’ parents participated in the adult tournament, and at least three players participated in both the youth and adult tournaments.

Vesa pointed out the efforts of his students in pushing the sport into new frontiers in and around Keene. “Senior elementary education major Ella Nguyen has volunteered her time to help with kids’ floorball every Sunday and was helping with the kids’ tournament this week as well. And Branislav Muntag, a junior computer science major, deserves recognition for his performance and for getting more students involved.” It has been a community effort to spread the sport at the University. Naukkarinen also hopes that more colleges take it up and perhaps to someday be able to see a National College Championship Tournament contested.

Meanwhile up in Arlington, the Lonestar Floorball Club has become one of the fastest growing clubs in the country, transforming from their initial founding into a tournament champion in the span of only three months.

“When Drew, Kira, and I set this up, our goal was to have three to four total teams from elite, to competitive, to beginner,” said Lions’ team captain Matt Nunez. “I believe that the passion the three of us have for the sport mixed with the crazy amount of marketing we do has led to us finding good players and good people.”

The Lonestar group has maintained a professional-style staff setup since their founding, successfully turning themselves into an elite club quickly. Drew Pelto was named head coach over the entire organization, while Nunez has been the Lions’ captain and assistant coach. Joe Cerquitella is the captain and assistant coach with the organization’s development team, the Lonestar Lynx. Kira Rudnick covers marketing and promotions while playing for the Lynx.

“Our team defense sticks out; hustle and heart as well,” Nunez said of the keys to his club’s rapid ascent. “Drew was great in goal when he had to be. The desire to win was there with everyone on the team. That’s something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen as a floorball player.”

In only three months, the club has gotten enough players to easily form two teams for tournaments. They plan to host a league in Arlington throughout July and August, as well as a four-on-four tournament on June 13.

“The hardest part is getting people to try it for the first time,” Nunez noted. “If you get a hockey player to try the game, they fall in love with it and never stop. Once you get a player in, he brings friends, and it continues from there. Posting photos all over Facebook has helped; people see it and get curious. When I first started it was just the Dallas Fireballs and SWAU that were any good in local tournaments. Now you have a second SWAU team, the Lions, even the Longshots, and one day the Lynx. That doesn’t even cover how far Houston has come.”

They must be doing something right down South: besides the Southwest US Championship, three players on the USA Men’s Under-19 Team are members of the Lonestar club. Of the thirteen players on the Lions’ roster this past Sunday, four had started playing the sport within the previous six months, and only three had played for more than three years.

The tournament also received support from Floorball Planet, a major supplier of the sport’s equipment to the area. They have a store in Benbrook, near Fort Worth and have greatly helped new players get equipment and aid in keeping the local clubs stocked for practices and drop-in sessions. Their continued efforts are helping to keep the sport growing into brand new areas throughout the state and all over the country.

Lonestar Lions 4-1-0
Dallas Fireballs 4-1-0
SWAU I 3-2-0
DFW LongShots 2-3-0
SWAU II 2-3-0
Lonestar Lynx 0-5-0

POINTS: Branislav Muntag, SWAU I, 8
GOALS: 3 players tied with 5 each
ASSISTS: Branislav Muntag, SWAU I, 3
GOALIES: Risto Kotti, Dallas, 0.40 GAA, 4 shutouts

A Man(ning) On A Mission

A Man(ning) On a Mission

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, February 2016

When I look at the 2016 incarnation of the Denver Broncos, I am reminded of Bill Simmons’ 2004 description of a legend. A legend who was known for his once-powerful right arm, who displayed great thinking on his decisions on throws, who has initials of PM, who would go on to battle injuries that altered his career, and who at the time was hunting for a championship.

That man was Pedro Martinez. This article is not about him.

If this were a Hollywood movie, he would have gone out guns blazing, the old Pedro one last time cracking 97 on the gun, mixing four unhittable pitches and throwing at people's heads just for the sport of it. But that Pedro has been gone for a while. The older version creaks along and dances in and out of trouble, a constant tightrope walk, as nothing ever seems to come easy anymore.

– (ESPN Page 2, The Surreal Life at Fenway, 10/19/04)

Like Pedro, Peyton Manning in 2016 is not the Peyton Manning I watched carve up the Detroit Lions like a turkey on Thanksgiving in 2004, when he completed 82% of his passes for six touchdowns – three each to Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokely as the Colts took home a 41-9 victory. A 2016 Manning is walking Pedro’s tightrope, completing fewer than 60% of his passes for the first time since his rookie season, and throwing only nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Watching him against my Browns in October was not the way I want to remember the legend. The Browns’ weak defense managed to pick him off three times including a Karlos Dansby pick-six to take a fourth quarter lead before Brandon McManus bailed Manning out in overtime. A 2016 Peyton Manning is the best offensive thinker on the field, perhaps in the entire league, but he no longer has the same ability to go with it.

And this is exactly why I believe Manning, six weeks shy of his 40th birthday, will come out on top in Super Bowl 50.

Although Manning no longer has those previous abilities, he was able to do enough to beat the vaunted New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. We didn’t see the nearly ten yards per pass attempt that Manning had in five previous playoff victories, including the last time he outdueled Tom Brady in January. His 176 passing yards were the second lowest in a playoff victory in his career, barely surpassing a 2007 win in Baltimore en route to his lone Super Bowl victory. The biggest, most telling aspect of this is that Peyton Manning understands his physical limitations and throughout this season he has learned not to attempt to surpass them.

Manning struggled to come to terms with it earlier this season, much like another former Broncos quarterback, John Elway, did in 1998. In Elway’s final season, he threw for 2800 yards (one of only four seasons under 3000 in his career), struggled with a playoff completion percentage hovering around the low fifties, and ran for only 94 yards, which was tied for the lowest in his career. But Elway and the Broncos coaches realized he was nearing the end, thus planning their offense primarily around Terrell Davis who ran for 2000 yards and a Super Bowl MVP.

The Broncos don’t have that same ground pounder, splitting time between Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to the tune of 1500 yards, but what they do have are the minds of three quarterbacks – Manning, team president Elway, and head coach Gary Kubiak – and an offensive coordinator who was once a linebacker, so he understands offense through the eyes of what the defense sees and can plan effectively around that. What Manning may lack in ability at this point in his career he and his team make up for it in wisdom and experience.

Besides, the AFC Championship proved the whole cliché about defense winning championships. Wade Phillips drew up some incredible coverage schemes, bringing pressure without over-committing blitzes against which Tom Brady could easily audible, and Brady and the New England offensive line struggled to adjust. As much of a freak athlete as Cam Newton is, I’m sure they can draw up something similar to bring as much confusion as they can to a young quarterback playing in his biggest game since the 2011 BCS Title Game where his Auburn Tigers had to be bailed out by a last-second field goal.

The Broncos – and especially Manning himself – want to go out and get one final championship before he joins the Browns as Quarterback Yoda to tutor Carson Wentz or Jared Goff before moving into the front office as General Manager in 2017 (you laugh now, but just watch; he and Jimmy Haslam are buddies). The Panthers certainly want to cap off their near-perfect season, but they don’t have the desperation aspect—they are set up to be a powerhouse for several more years. If they don’t get it now, they will pretty soon. The desperation aspect can help teams. Baltimore went into XLVII as four point underdogs and won for Ray Lewis, the Saints were five point underdogs and won XLIV as the final rebound from Hurricane Katrina, and the Giants were whopping twelve point underdogs in XLII and spoiled New England’s bid for a 19-0 season. In five of the last seven Super Bowls (not counting last year’s New England-Seattle matchup where the line was a straight pick) the underdog has not only been the betting winner via the spread, but has won outright. Odds a week out put Carolina in the driver’s seat by about six points.

I’m not ready to crown them with certainty yet, but I would certainly put a few dollars on it: your Super Bowl 50 champion will be the Denver Broncos.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto’s childhood in Painesville, OH was ruined by John Elway, so it is incredibly hard for him to pick the Broncos in anything other than a poll of Teams You’d Most Like To See Run Over By A Truck, where they would rank behind Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and maybe New England, and his support of the Broncos has likely thus jinxed them. He lives in Arlington, TX with his wife, two cats, and a degree in journalism that he only uses on SCF.

Finding Myself Through Borje Salming

Finding Myself Through Borje Salming

by Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, February 2016

In 1991 and 1992 Pro Set football and hockey products, the Dallas-based company put in a semi-educational subset. First called Think About It, then Play Smart (or Jouez La Bonne Carte in the French version), the cards had words directly from players talking about avoiding drugs and violence, staying in school, and just doing the right thing in any aspect of life. One card that always resonated with me was Esera Tuaolo's card, talking about being proud of one's heritage.

I’m not Samoan, but I am a second-generation American. My paternal grandfather was born in Tervola, Finland in 1902. When he was two years old, his father came to the United States, eventually bringing my great-grandmother and four of their five children over four years later (the oldest boy chose to remain in Finland, living with relatives). My paternal grandmother was born in the United States to Finnish immigrant parents from Kannus and Töysä. My mom's side of the family is pretty mixed – various parts English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and German – and mostly had been on this side of the pond for well over 200 years by the time I was born. I have always thought of myself more as a Finnish-American than anything. My dad and his sister never learned to speak Finnish, and I can do little more than introduce myself, count to ten, sing a couple songs, and curse a lot. None of us have been back to Finland. But many of our family traditions and memories are distinctly Finnish. My dad attends a Finnish Lutheran church and I can eat the hell out of some sienipiirakka, lihamojakka, nisu, pannukakku, leipäjuusto, and wash it down with a pot of coffee. The Finns are the world's biggest coffee drinkers, after all. And don’t get me started on the miracle that is sauna.

I've had an interest in genealogy since middle school after finding a book my mom had that traced a couple generations back on both sides of the family. In other notes and documents, she had her side going back hundreds of years in some areas, but my father's was only complete to his grandparents. He didn't know the name of the oldest son who stayed in Finland, or anyone from before about 1870. With the advent of internet genealogy research when I was in high school, it made it easier to dig further back and compare notes with other relatives. But with the language barrier, I still wasn't able to get too far until Facebook entered the picture. I had another Pelto add me one day randomly as she added every Pelto she could find. So I did the same. Remembering that our name had been shortened from Peltoperä, I started adding them too. Eventually I found a distant cousin who was able to fill in portions as far back as I had on my mom's side – with a line going back to the 1500s throughout Tervola, Rovaniemi, Kemijärvi, and Sodankylä, throughout the area known as Lapland. Another relative on my dad's mom's side got me that line going back just as far, even mailing me printed copies of everything from Finland. I found that aforementioned oldest brother’s descendants as well.

After a while, I set my research aside as life got busier. Over the next few years, I changed jobs and moved, getting into a position as a photo editor for a card company. One day while pulling photos for a hockey set, I came across Borje Salming. As a long-time hockey fan, I was certainly familiar with the man who paved the way for Europeans – especially Swedes and Finns – to the NHL. Now as a loyal Finn, of course I wasn't a huge fan of him being a Swede, but I did recognize his impact on the game. Often while I'm finding photos of players I look up a few facts on them so I checked out his Wikipedia page.

And that's where I first saw the term Sámi.

Now I'm sure you all have gotten stuck going down the rabbit hole on Wikipedia before. You find something, it leads to something else, then something else, then something else, and after an hour your initial search on African violets has led to you reading about Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett. The same sort of thing happened to me here. The Sámi, whom I had never heard of before, are the people once referred to as Lapps: now viewed as a derogatory term coming from references to their clothing being patches, or rags from their multi-colored designs. They once inhabited much of northern Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Finland, hence the term Lapland. Seeing as a quarter of my family came from this area, it of course made me wonder if I was part Sámi too. My interest in my family background had been rekindled, but in a much stronger sense. No longer was I trying to just put in names and dates and just hunt around, knowing a lot of generalities and filling in specifics. Now I was trying to find out who I really am.

I picked up a book on researching Sámi ancestry by a researcher who discovered that her previously-thought Finnish background was actually more Sámi than Finn. In a list of names with likely Sámi connections were three from my own family tree – Peltoniemi, Tervo, and Laiti. My evidence grew stronger.

I followed by contacting another eminent researcher and archivist of Finnish and Sámi background, Kent Randell, the Scholar and Resource Representative of the Sámi Siida of North America. I told him about my background and got a lengthy response that largely confirmed what I had thought: “It is accepted that everybody north of a line that is drawn from Pudasjärvi to Oulu had a lot of Saami ancestry... Anybody with Tervola, Kemijärvi, Rovaniemi ancestry has a lot of Saami ancestry!”

I have filled in even more gaps over the past few months. I'm not just Finnish: I have Finnish, Swedish, Scottish, German, and Sámi background all where I previously thought I was 100% Finn. And a chunk of our Swedish background is from medieval Umeå, a heavily Sámi area at that time. Eventually I found that I had a great-great-great-grandparent who was indeed a member of the Forest Sámi, those who were not nomadic reindeer herders.

I also have read more about Salming, who has been a pioneer of floorball, a sport related to hockey that I play as a goalie. I even wore 21 as a defenseman in my first season – Borje's number and position. Last year I switched to goalie and 11, and now to 52 to honor the Guovdageaidnu Uprising. Salming endured a lot of criticism that he somehow wasn't truly Swedish, partially because of his Sámi heritage and partially because he was a rougher player than most Swedes of the 1970s. Fans and players with a rival team in Sweden referred to him as "Lappjävel:" a rag-wearing son of a bitch.

Salming turned that criticism around and used it as his ticket to the NHL. Ejected after angrily running over a referee in an exhibition game against the Barrie Flyers, Toronto scout Gerry McNamara (who was traveling to look at Inge Hammarström) immediately ran down to the locker room to offer Salming a contract. His move and ultimate success in the NHL were originally viewed as a problem in Sweden: while it opened to NHL's doors to European players, it meant that Sweden suddenly was losing many of its best players, resulting in them moving from a potential powerhouse in every Winter Olympics to now wondering if they could have enough quality players to put out a rigidly-enforced amateur team. This resulted in the country not icing a team in the 1976 Winter Games. Swedish Elite League teams banned Hammarström and Salming from using their facilities in the off-season. Salming was allowed to play for them at the Canada Cup, but very reluctantly. By 1989 the Swedish hockey bigwigs had gotten over it. Salming, viewed for a long time as a troublemaker, party animal, and far from a model citizen, was allowed to play for them at the 1989 World Championships and finished his career with three final seasons in the Swedish Elite League to cap off a 26-year professional and semi-professional career. His play reaffirmed that the Swedish model actually was working in the hockey world and is viewed as a significant moment in the country's hockey history. Salming even appeared in the 1992 Olympics as Sweden’s second-leading scorer and the top-scoring defenseman among any country at age 40. Today, more than forty years after Salming's move to the NHL, the Swedish National Team is still an international powerhouse: despite their fears of losing their top talent, the Tre Kronor have medaled in 48 of 90 World Championships, World Juniors, and Olympics since the fears that resulted in their sudden 1976 exit.

It has been said about baseball's Alex Rodriguez, a Dominican-American, that he often felt that he was never fully accepted by either the Dominican or American community. With a mixed background, to prove himself as a “real” American he had to be more American than the Americans; but to be a “real” Dominican, he had to be more Dominican than the Dominicans. It would not surprise me at all if Salming felt the same pressure, having to be more Swedish than the Swedes to be fully accepted by them with a Swedish mother and a Sámi father.

Similarly, American floorball players in this area seem to be looked down upon by the majority of elite players who are from Finland. We have rarely been given a true opportunity to succeed unless we kowtow to what they want. Our club has a member of the USA Men's National Team and two members of the USA Men’s Under-19 Team playing on it and we still are often viewed and treated as a second-class organization by those around us. Like Salming, I have been personally called angry, thuggish, violent, and viewed as a far lesser player. I do play an edgy game at times, but many others who do the same get excused. Despite my Finnish heritage, I'm not Finnish enough in their eyes. Maybe it’s because I don’t speak the language; maybe it’s because I haven’t yet been to the country despite it being significant in my background; maybe it’s because I’m only half Finnish; maybe it’s because my family is from the Northern areas where it’s likely that I’m part Sámi, and therefore not fully Finn on that side of the family. I don’t know. All I know is that like Borje Salming, it made me want to go at them harder and get better until my team beat them. Discrimination, no matter what the reason for it, became an element of encouragement rather than frustration, and we finally outdid their team and won Texas' two biggest tournaments last year as well as a local summer league. When I took a break from the sport for a few months, my former team beat them again in their own fall league and placed higher at the US National Championships.

Swedes have gone from viewing Salming as the enemy, to seeing him as a national hero and a great advocate for Sámi rights. Fans in Toronto called him “The King” three decades before New Yorkers gave it to fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist. Canadians gave him a five-minute ovation in the 1976 Canada Cup in Toronto even though he was representing his home country against theirs. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Leafs honored his number in the rafters ten years later.

Borje Salming has been a great inspiration to hockey players both Canadian and Swedish as well as all around the world. He has inspired innovators in the area of sporting goods and even new sports via floorball. He has become a cultural ambassador and author of two autobiographies and a grilling cookbook. And personally, he has inspired me to learn more about myself and my background, to always fight for what I believe in, and to never forget who I am.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew M. Pelto (Finnish: Antero Harinpoika Palosaari Laiti Peltoperä; Northern Sámi: Andiijá Hárribárdni Bealdunjárga Dollasuolu Laiti; Surrealism: Tim) is a goalie with the 2015 Southwest US Floorball Champion Lone Star Lions. He primarily collects sports autographs, enjoys exploring all things historical and sporting, and lives in Texas with his wife and two cats of undocumented ancestry. He might punch you if you pronounce it “SAW-na.”

2016 World Cup Of Hockey Previews

In 2016, the World Cup of Hockey made its return following events in 1996 and 2004. Originally seen as a follow-up to the erstwhile Summit Series, Super Series, Canada Cup events, it never quite took off with any sort of regularity and its future is uncertain with the cancellation of the 2020 games. The staff of Sports Card Forum was asked to handle previews of all the teams, and I was put in charge of Finland, Sweden, and Team USA.

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Finland: Inching closer to the top

By Andiijá Hárribárdni Bealdunjárga Laiti, aka Antero Peltoperä, aka Drew Pelto, aka *censored*

Quick, name the top three countries in medals won in major international hockey tournaments involving professional players since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Time's up! Canada is the obvious guess, and their seventeen medals prove you to be correct. USA? Not even close: sixth. Russia? Fifth behind the fourth-place Czechs. Sweden? Well done, number one with eighteen (plus a semifinal appearance in the 1996 World Cup, where there was no Bronze Medal Game).

That third nation—in their country’s stereotypically quiet way—is Finland, tied with Canada’s seventeen. Among those seventeen though have been only two Gold Medals, coming in the World Championships in 2011 and 1995. Add in nine Silver and six Bronze and you see a country that is always in the running but just not quite able to get over the hump at the highest levels.

On the positive side, maybe things are changing for the Leijonat as their youth development appears to be growing stronger. Their Under-20 squads have taken two of the last three World Junior Championships, and their Under-18 teams have taken Gold and Silver respectively in the past two U18 Worlds. Their top scorer from two of those teams, Patrik Laine, is one of the team’s headliners leading into the 2016 World Cup, along with the 2014 tournament-leading scorer Teuvo Teräväinen.

Joining these two among the team’s forwards is an excellent mix of both veterans and young stars, including a couple names many North American fans may not be familiar with. Sebastian Aho is a veteran of international play, having played with Laine on those medalling World Junior teams. He is expected to make his NHL debut this fall with Carolina.

Other youngsters in the blue and white include Florida’s Aleksander Barkov, San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi, and a pair from the Minnesota Wild in Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula. Barkov is already viewed as one of the NHL’s best prospects, while Donskoi is coming off a successful rookie season that saw him in the Stanley Cup Final with San Jose.

Joining the aforementioned Wild pair is forward Mikko Koivu. He is the captain of both the Wild and the Finns and leader of a veteran crew that includes Barkov’s fellow Floridians Jussi Jokinen of the Panthers and Valtteri Filppula of the Lightning. Rounding out the men up front are Lauri Korpikoski, Jori Lehterä, and Leo Komarov. Komarov is the first Estonian-born NHL player, holding dual citizenship between Finland and Russia as an Ingrian Finn. Expect a lot of speed from this team, though they do carry the possibility of getting out-done physically by the North American teams.

Finland has become known for great goaltending over the past decade. In the last twelve years, two-thirds of the NHL’s teams have had a Finnish goalie play for them. Names like Miikka Kiprusoff, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Bäckström, Antero Niittymäki, and Christopher Gibson (he’s Finnish, look it up) have graced NHL teams between the pipes. The Finns have their usual strong netminders again this year as NHL veterans Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask will get the nod, alongside a giant of the KHL, Mikko Koskinen. A member of SKA St. Petersburg, the 6’7” former Islanders prospect has been among the Russian league’s top playoff performers in the past two seasons and was named Best Goaltender at the 2016 World Championships.

Finland’s lone potential weak spots are twofold: defense and coaching.

Sami Lepistö leads a talented but very young group of blueliners for the Finns. At 31, he is the only one over the age of 25 and entering his fifth season away from the NHL, plying his trade for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. While he led the Russian league’s playoffs in points by a defenseman, it is still a step down from the level of the NHL.

The Suomalainen defensive youth movement is led by recent Stanley Cup winner Olli Määttä of the Penguins, along with Sami Vatanen , Jyrki Jokipakka, and Rasmus Ristolainen as the only players on the back end with NHL experience. Dallas Stars prospect Esa Lindell and Chicago Blackhawks’ farmhand Ville Pokka round out the group of blueliners. This defensive corps should move the puck well, but how will their inexperience play into their efforts in their own zone?

Lauri Marjamäki makes his international head-coaching debut for the Finns, named as successor to Kari Jalonen a year ago. Marjamäki has led Kärpät Oulu to two SM-Liiga championships in 2013 and 2014, a Bronze Medal in 2015, and a Silver Medal in 2016. He has served as an assistant coach for Leijonat in previous years including the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, as well as the 2014 Olympics. This inexperience could be a potential bust for the Finns, or it could be the dawning of a new era as the newcomer pushes the country finally over the hump. On the plus side, assisting Marjamäki will be longtime assistant for Jokereit and Switzerland’s EV Zug, Waltteri Immonen, along with Teppo Numminen and Kalle Kaskinen. The team is also getting support from general manager Jere Lehtinen, assistant GM Jarmo Kekäläinen, and a couple of well-known consultants in Saku Koivu and Teemu Selänne.

Don’t sleep on this team. Although they are a country that repeatedly finds itself close but not quite there, they are in a position to surprise: if not now, then very soon. They’ve got talent, they’ve got sisu, they just need to get experience. I predict a semifinal, perhaps even a second-place finish for the Finnish in the 2016 World Cup.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is half-Finnish and enjoys the joke about the American, Frenchman, and Finn who see an elephant (ask him sometime). He is a writer when not reading InkTank (the Finnish equivalent of BuzzFeed), at times an unrealistic homer about his family’s home country’s teams, and currently lives in Texas with a big Finnish flag in his living room. He does not play pesäpallo or participate in eukonkanto. Hyvä Leijonat!

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Team Sweden: Adapting and succeeding
By Anders Harrisson Ångerman AKA Drew Pelto AKA *censored*

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Swedes have won more medals in international professional hockey competition than any other country. They have a strong economy, good education system, and they’re easy for us to communicate with because they top the ratings for English proficiency as a second language. The Swedish Number Project (or as I call it, Ask A Swede) was a great idea and Volvo makes a pretty good automobile. I think it’s safe to say that the so-called “Swedish Model” has worked in many, and perhaps nearly every aspect.

I once had a Finn tell me that many people in their country speak passable, if not fluent English because it is ridiculous to expect the rest of the world to learn their language, and that view is shared by Sweden. Likewise, Sweden has clearly adapted quite well in the hockey world while not completely abandoning their style of play.

Forty years ago, there weren’t many Swedes in the NHL. The stereotype of the “Chicken Swede” was largely correct: they didn’t play a physical game and could be neutralized and even dominated with hard hitting. The few who came to the NHL didn’t last long, and it wasn’t until the great Sámi-Swedish defenseman Borje Salming—once viewed as too violent to play for the Swedes, but too soft for the NHL—broke the mold, coming to North America and both adapting to the physical game, but also bringing an aspect of elegance that hadn’t been seen on the continent. Bobby Hull realized quickly that this was a game-changer. He told the New York Times in 1998 about the early Swedes “I assured them that it would be us changing our style, not them… I was always appreciative of the skill that Anders [Hedberg] and Ulf [Nilsson] had. I predicted what would happen.” The Swedes changed the North American game, but also adapted to its differences. Over time the former “Chicken Swede” would turn into players known for toughness and durability—Ulf Samuelsson, Tomas Holmstrom, Peter Forsberg, Elias Abrahamsson, and the Oduya brothers certainly weren’t afraid to go into the corners.

The first European-trained NHL captain to take his team to a Stanley Cup Final? Swedish. First to win the Cup? Swedish. First two European-trained Stanley Cup winning players? Swedish. First two European-trained Conn Smythe Trophy winners? Swedish.

And with this well-rounded game and pedigree of recent success, Sweden should be expected to be a powerhouse in the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.

Starting from the back, The King is still reigning, as Henrik Lundqvist will get the nod in goal. Lundqvist is consistently one of the top goalies in the world, and holds an Olympic record having had a stretch of over 172 consecutive minutes played without allowing a goal. In addition to a 2006 Olympic Gold, he also won the 2002 World Inline Hockey Championships with Sweden. His backups will be Jacob Markström and Jhonas Enroth.

The defense is young, but not inexperienced in the way the Finns are. Anton Strålman and Niklas Hjalmarsson lead the way as the only two 1980s-born blueliners. Erik Karlsson is certainly expected to be a top performer: of the five tournaments where he has represented Sweden, he has been named the Best Defenseman in three of them and has won a pair of Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best. Expect more of the same from him at the World Cup.

22-year old Hampus Lindholm is the baby of the bunch, but this could be the perfect opportunity for him to step out of the shadows as Sweden’s next big thing; he has only played for the Tre Kronor once before, winning a Silver at the 2012 U18 World Juniors. Rounding out a solid group of blueliners are former #2 draft pick Victor Hedman, Mattias Ekholm, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The Swedish forwards were dealt a blow the week before the tournament as captain Henrik Zetterberg announced he would be unable to play due to injury, replaced by Mikael Backlund. Although losing Zetterberg’s experience is big, Backlund is no slouch. He put up 8 points in 10 games to help Sweden to a World Championships Bronze in 2014 and had his first 40-point NHL season this past year for Calgary. And of course any possible loss in leadership will be more than covered by the likes of Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and the duo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

If there ever is a perfect time for a player to shine at the 2016 World Cup, it is for Nicklas Bäckström. You may recall that he missed the 2014 Olympic Gold Medal Game following a positive drug test for a cold medicine, a game which Sweden later lost. While Bäckström was cleared of a doping violation and allowed to keep his Silver, this is a perfect opportunity to atone for his mistake and change the color of that medal.

Expect Filip Forsberg to be among the tournament leaders in scoring. With back-to-back 60-point seasons in the NHL, plus a point-per-game average in international play, this 22-year old should be among the world’s elite for a long time. Of the remaining seven forwards—Loui Eriksson, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hörnqvist, Marcus Krüger, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Carl Söderberg-- five played for Sweden at either the 2014 Olympics or the 2013 World Juniors. And the lone one who didn’t appear on those teams—Hörnqvist—just won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh and worked his way from being the Mr. Irrelevant pick in 2005 to being a 50-point scorer in each of the past three seasons.

Outside of Lundqvist, the Swedish roster lacks star power, but it has so many solid players that they don’t need it. As much as I’d like to see the Finns and Americans battling for a championship, I see a Canada vs. Sweden final coming in a few weeks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto typically tries to hide the fact he’s part Swedish due to his family having inhabited Finland for about 500 years. Despite this, he enjoys several Swedish punk bands, has Umeå’s coat of arms on his goalie helmet, and buys too much stuff at Ikea. He lives in Texas with a wife who would leave him for Peter Forsberg.

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Team USA: Unpredictability rules the day
By Drew Pelto AKA *censored*

If there’s one thing to expect from American hockey it’s that nothing can be expected.

Since the United States won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996, they have only a pair of Olympic Silver medals, two World Championship Bronze medals, and a semifinal appearance in the World Cup’s second edition in 2004 to show for their efforts.

Granted, the excuses come easy for the Worlds: America’s top players are typically still active in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the tournament isn’t taken as seriously in North America as it is in Europe. Of course on the other hand, Canada deals with the same issues and has won the last two Golds—plus they have ten members of the Triple Gold Club to the whole zero members from the United States.

Unfortunately, the Americans are on a downward trend in hockey. Even on the youth development side, the American juniors have only medalled in five of the past ten World Junior Championships (compared to Russia’s nine, Canada’s seven, and Sweden’s six). While they had a surge of a pair of Gold medals in 2010 and 2013, they were bounced in the Quarterfinals in two of the last three years.

But perhaps the World Cup is the perfect time to start a turnaround for the Stars and Stripes.

Unlike the super-young Finnish squad and the older Team Europe, the Americans have a team full of players in their athletic prime. Kyle Palmieri—a late replacement for the injured Ryan Callahan—is the team’s youngest player at 25, while David Backes is the oldest at only 32 (for those keeping score at home, the entire team is younger than me: Backes has me by a week).

Starting from the back end, the American goaltending is strong, led by a pair of two-time Vezina Trophy finalists, Jonathan Quick and Ben Bishop. At 6’7”, Bishop is the tallest goalie in the tournament with Finland’s Mikko Koskinen. Third goalie Cory Schneider is more than capable as well: he is an NHL All-Star, Jennings Trophy winner, AHL Bastien Award winner for top goalie, the 2004 USA Hockey Goalie of the Year, and won a U18 Gold in 2003. Had he not made the American squad, Schneider could potentially have played for Team Europe: he holds dual citizenship with Switzerland.

Moving up to the blueline, only three of the Americans’ seven defensemen were part of the 2014 Olympic team that finished in a lackluster fourth place. This influx of new blood certainly could help a team facing a tough placement in Group A with the Canadians, Czechs, and Team Europe. Dustin Byfuglien is making his first international appearance. As a solid player at both ends of the ice and a physical presence in the corners, he could also see some time at forward as he has seven seasons of at least 15 goals to his credit in the NHL. The trio of Matt Niskanen, Erik Johnson and his not-brother Jack Johnson were not part of the 2014 team but have significant international experience. Niskanen had three points in nine games at the 2009 World Championships, while Johnson and Johnson are multi-medalists for various American teams between 2004 and 2013.

Returning from the 2014 Olympics are John Carlson, Ryan Suter, and Ryan McDonagh. Expect to see a very well balanced group at the back end for the US. None of these seven are seen as a one-dimensional stay-at-home type who lacks speed to join a rush, or strictly an offensive weapon that is a liability in his own zone.

Moving up to the front lines, ten forwards return from 2014 with Patrick Kane as the clear offensive powerhouse. It’s scary to think that at 27, the Buffalo native is just now entering his prime and already has three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Calder, a Hart, a Art Ross, a Lindsay, an Olympic Silver, a U18 Gold, and a U20 Bronze. That Art Ross Trophy came just this past year, won by a seventeen-point margin ahead of the second-place finisher.

The remaining returning players include Backes, Ryan Kesler, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler, and the 2014 Olympic “I’m-not-a-hero” hero in shootout master T.J. Oshie. While the team was viewed in 2014 as underachievers, the experience gained will only help them. In addition to the experience, the returning group has some excellent leadership skills. Pavelski, Backes, Wheeler, and Pacioretty are captains of their respective NHL teams, while Parise, Kesler, Kane, and Stepan are alternates.

The three newcomers to the team are hardly so: although they didn’t play in the 2014 Olympics, Justin Abdelkader, Brandon Dubinsky, and Kyle Palmieri have worn the Red, White, and Blue in international play throughout their careers.

Dubinsky is the least experienced, but has appeared in a pair of World Championships, including putting up ten points in six games in 2010. The second-leading scorer in the tournament, he was the lone bright spot on a team that ended up playing in the relegation group (the roster included such luminaries as Christian Hanson, Mike Lundin, Eric Nystrom, and Taylor Chorney).

Abdelkader is as close as the Detroit Red Wings have had to an enforcer over the past decade but is more than just a physical player, putting up 40 points in each of the past two seasons. On the international stage, he won a U20 Bronze in 2007 and also played in the 2012 and 2014 World Championships. Palmieri is the most decorated of the trio with a U20 Gold in 2010, U17 Silver in 2008, and Bronzes in the 2008 U18 and 2011 U20.

Behind the bench. John Tortorella gets his turn through the revolving door. This may be the biggest problem that the United States faces. There have been ten international events from the 2010 Olympics to the 2016 World Cup. "Torts" is the eighth different head coach to lead the American team, while Finland is only on their fourth. How much does this lack of continuity play into the disappointing finishes? Again though, Canada defies this as an excuse as they too are on their eighth (though Mike Babcock has at least been bench boss for two previous Olympics).

Is Tortorella the answer? We’ll see, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Aside from the 2004 Stanley Cup team, he has led several groups of underachievers, typically culminating in high finishes in the regular season followed by playoff flops—if they even make it at all. He could be effective in short bursts such as this three-to-five game World Cup tournament, but I certainly have my doubts.

I’m not as set on the Americans’ finish as I was with the Finns and the Swedes. If you’re a fan of the Stars and Stripes, hope for a semi-final appearance. But don’t be too disappointed if they bow out after the opening trio of games.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto once shared a broadcast booth with a seventeen-year old Kyle Palmieri when both were in the NAHL—Palmieri as an injured player for the USNTDP U-18 squad, Drew as a broadcaster. He now lives in Texas where he avoids microphones at all costs unless he also has a guitar. 

Let's Go To Cleveland

Let’s Go to Cleveland

An ill-fated, yet still enjoyable, voyage to World Series Game Seven

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, November 2016

(Part One)

I’ve written a lot here about Cleveland.

For two decades I spent at least part of the year in the city’s eastern suburbs. From November 1985 to August 2002, I lived in Painesville, and then spent the time through December 2005 bouncing from my college in Boston back to Painesville, Mentor-On-The-Lake, and Fairport Harbor. So needless to say, that explains my Browns, Cavs, and Indians fandom despite living in Texas.

I missed the Cavs’ victory parade. I gave consideration to flying up, but doing so would have eaten up the vacation time that I wanted to use for a drive to Michigan and Minnesota a month later. I stayed in Texas, took a single day off, and watched on TV. As the Indians began their push toward the World Series, I figured I should look into a trip up in the event that we got a second victory parade. To my surprise, it was financially doable.

A swing and a drive...

I didn’t book everything right away. After all, this was still when the ALCS was at a 2-0 Tribe lead. There was plenty of time to blow everything. And knowing Cleveland, it was bound to happen. But I checked a variety of dates – anywhere from the next day to two weeks down the line, and the prices remained the same.

The ALCS came to a positive close despite Trevor Bauer’s finger blowing up. The World Series rolled on with Cleveland wins, and with the series sitting at 3-1, I knew it was time to finalize. A Game Five loss made me fearful though. The previous fifth starter who was now the number three due to injuries, followed by the ace Corey Kluber on three days rest for only the third time in his career (with the previous two being the only pre-World-Series loss for the Indians and a hard-fought win three days prior) made me think maybe this wouldn’t work out. This isn’t hindsight: I have co-workers who can vouch for me calling it.

As I sat down to watch Game Six, I asked my wife if she would mind if I went up for Game Seven. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to get inside the ballpark, but I wanted to at least be there, win or lose. I could visit my dad, see some old friends, pick up some Cleveland-specific items (Stadium Mustard, anyone?) and probably watch the game from outside the ballpark or in a nearby bar.

She approved. And as the Indians began getting shelled in Game Six – as I had predicted – I booked a flight, hotel, and car for the following day. I was headed home.

I had everything timed out to where I would miss only the first couple of innings: fly in, land at about 6:30, get my rental car by 7:30, park at the Brookpark train station, ride downtown, and get to the Stadium by 8:30, missing maybe the first two innings at most. I planned to meet up with my high school friends Ari, Brandon, Quinn, Brian, and Ben and watch the game with them on Gateway Plaza in between Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena.

Sprinting around second...

I got to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport at about 6 am, just me, a carry-on with a couple days of clothes, and my computer. This was about as minimalist as a trip gets that isn’t booked on Spirit Airlines. Dressed in my Indians jersey and hat, I did have some fears about what could happen when I connected in O’Hare – until United offered me the chance to change to an earlier departure, routed through Newark, that would also put me into Cleveland an hour earlier, all at no extra cost. I made the change and headed through security with every agent along the way talking to me about the game.

This was perfect. No having to deal with grief from fans in Chicago, maybe have time to check in to my hotel across town, and even ride downtown with Brian and Quinn instead of having to take the train.

The flight to Newark was uneventful, aside from the fact I got to share a flight with several members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The real fun began once I arrived in Newark. Checking the departure board to find my next gate, I saw the one-word bane of travelers everywhere: DELAYED.

Our plane was coming from Mexico, got delayed upon departure, and then would have to go through U.S. Customs checks and all that fun stuff before getting to us. Fortunately I encountered a number of Tribe fans at the gate, so we had a lot of talks about what we were expecting (not good; Cleveland fans have come to expect the worst), what the Tribe needed to win (power from the lefties to take advantage of the wind blowing out to right), and where we were watching (most at home, some at a local bar—one guy had actually gone to Game Six, slept two for hours, flew a red-eye that morning to Newark to put on a business presentation, and now was flying back to Cleveland to watch the game with his family).

Needless to say, my plans of getting checked in and riding in with Quinn were out at this point.

Finally after getting picked for a bonus extra sweep from TSA, we pulled away from the gate at 5:30 after expecting to be in Cleveland at 5:45. Things were looking good though: I was seated between an Indians fan and a Cubs fan who had tickets to the game. The plane got us there quickly and I would be able to make it for first pitch; I could see the Cleveland suburbs out the window, we were circling for our final approach… and circling… and circling… and circling...

At third, being waved around, here comes the relay...

Holding pattern for half an hour.

Apparently every private plane in the universe was ahead of us to land. Burke Lakefront Airport, where most of those flights would go, has only about 200 parking spots for planes, all of which were full by the early afternoon.

Finally at 7 pm local time we were on the ground. Had I kept my original plans through O’Hare I would have gotten in earlier. This was the first sign that the fickle middle finger of fate was flashing my direction. To make matters worse, once we landed we were at one of the furthest gates away from the place I needed to get to. I ran as fast as I could (not very: I’m a goalie after all) and got to the rental car shuttle, picked up my car, and took off to the RTA station, parking what felt like half a mile away. It was 8 pm. My original guess of missing two innings would prove accurate.

A thirty-minute train ride, a five-block walk-run through downtown, and finally I got to Gateway Plaza...

He slides...

...just in time to see the top of the third end as Kyle Schwarber was thrown out in an ill-advised attempt to turn a single into a double.

The roar of the fans on the Plaza was deafening.

I was home.

(Part Two)

I had finally arrived and only missed two and a half innings. No matter what happened with the game, this would be a good trip to take. I could stock up on Stadium Mustard and Malley’s hot fudge, I could eat at Melt and The B-Spot, and of course visit my dad and go through some old family photos. Hopefully a parade would be involved at some point.

“It is designed to break your heart…”

But enough about the coming days. For now, baseball was all that mattered. I was at Game Seven of the World Series. Maybe I wasn’t inside, but I could see inside and was surrounded by thousands of fans that were just as excited, just as loud, and just as hopeful as those inside the fence. I was there as much as anyone else was.

I strolled through the crowd after texting my friends that I was there and trying to get to them. As I walked through the packed crowd a hand reached out and grabbed me.

It was Quinn. Ari and Brandon – neither of whom I had seen in four and eleven years, respectively – greeted me with a “PELTO! Alright, he’s here, we can start winning now.”

They weren’t too far off. It was a 1-0 game at this point. I had heard about it on the train that Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run. The Tribe half of the third started off with a Coco Crisp double, the cheers drowning out Tom Hamilton’s call as we watched it live on the big screens. A bunt moved him over, and then Carlos Santana tied it up with a single.

Maybe for once, I wasn’t the jinx, but rather the good luck charm…

“The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again…”

If I was, it didn’t appear to last long. The fears I had of Corey Kluber not being at his best following three days rest proved accurate. The Cubs got a single, a hit-by-pitch on a 0-2 count, fielder’s choice, and sac fly for a 2-1 lead, made 3-1 by a Contreras double. A one-two-three bottom of the fourth started the nail biting as the Plaza crowd got quieter.

Kluber’s night ended after one pitch in the fifth, as Javier Baez hit one halfway to Bratenahl. Andrew Miller, the stopper throughout the playoffs, developed a leak as a rare walk led to run number five with Kris Bryant being driven in by Anthony Rizzo. After a pair of outs to lead off the fifth, we discussed leaving and watching the rest from over at The Greenhouse.

In Boston, Terry Francona had Kevin Youkilis, The Greek God of Walks. In Cleveland, he had Carlos Santana who has finished top-three in the AL in walks in each of the last six seasons. True to that, he kept the inning alive with a free pass. Kyle Hendricks’ night ended, and in came the switch of Jon Lester on the mound and David Ross behind the plate. Perhaps this would be a good time to exploit Ross’ defensive deficiencies and Lester’s unwillingness to throw to first. While Santana isn’t a speedster, that combination doesn’t need raw speed so much as smart baserunning or a little luck. Maybe a little of all of those things.

“…and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings…”

It all came to fruition on a tapper in front of the plate. Ross fielded it… and threw it away, allowing Santana and Jason Kipnis to get into scoring position with Frankie Lindor coming to the plate. Lindor didn’t even need to put the bat on the ball: a wild pitch brought both plateward, and suddenly it was back to a two-run deficit.

But Andrew Miller’s sudden ineffectiveness reared its ugly head again in the sixth, as the normally offensively anemic David Ross atoned for his glove and arm issues with a solo home run. Disgust ran through the crowd: how does your best pitcher give up—not just a hit, but a home run— to a guy who had hit .200 since Mitt Romney had been considered a hot political commodity?

A quiet sixth. A silent seventh. Cody Allen was his normally solid self, but the bats just couldn’t get going. At the start of the eighth, my feet were killing me. I told the guys I was going to go have a seat on the cement edge of the berm behind us.

But again with two outs in the eighth, a baserunner. Baseball-Reference put the Cubs’ chances of winning at 94% at the time of the single. As Aroldis Chapman entered the game, we felt that you might as well put that to 100%.

I couldn’t see the screens from my seat, only hear a bit when the crowd was quiet. With a full count on Brandon Guyer, suddenly the crowd on the Plaza went nuts. A double off of possibly the most dominant arm in the game cut the deficit back to two. I told them that if I move from my spot, they need to just shove me back down. Even fans I didn’t know were getting into the act. Maybe my possible good luck was back.

I tried hard not to entertain even the thought that this would be a nice time for Rajai Davis to break his playoff slump with a game-tying home run. It just seemed so unlikely that even thinking about it would ensure it wouldn’t happen. Seeing as he was 3 for 32 in the playoffs to this point and hadn’t gone yard since August 30, all we could really hope for was maybe a single to put runners at the corners and see if Coco could do something again.

I couldn’t hear Hammy’s radio call. The “Let’s Go Tribe” chants on the Plaza and from the stadium were just too loud at this point. I still couldn’t see the screens from my seat.

All I knew was that suddenly, there was bedlam.

Screaming. Hugs. High-fives. Jumping around crazier than the last Dropkick Murphys pit I was in.

And fireworks.

Davis had done it and we were tied. I didn’t even see it until the next morning. But I experienced it, and that was far more memorable than if I had seen it from anywhere else.

The entire tone had changed on the Plaza. A once-moribund crowd that was being openly taunted by bellicose Cubs fans without response now seemed ready to take on all comers. Cleveland Against The World suddenly felt like more than just a saying: it was something we could actually accomplish.

“…and then as soon as the chill rains come…”

The weather started changing in the bottom of the ninth as a light drizzle began to fall and the wind picked up. Cody Allen seemed to be affected by it, pitches not quite hitting their location, followed by Yan Gomes’ throw to second going into the outfield on Jason Heyward’s steal of second and subsequent advancement to third. But Bryan Shaw entered, got out of the inning, and the rain let off for a moment.

Bottom nine. Top of the order. A rattled Chapman. This was our time…

With one out, Jason Kipnis came to the plate. A Chicago native, he had dreamed of this moment – but almost certainly for the opposition.

Contact. A fly ball to right. The wind helping it…

Just foul. Kipnis struck out eventually, followed by a Lindor flyout as the rains came again. Time to bring out the tarp as we went toward the overhang of Quicken Loans Arena.

After the tarp came off, Bryan Shaw came back out, a move I immediately questioned. While the rain delay wasn’t long by most standards, typically when a pitcher – especially a reliever – sits for that long, he’s gotten some run support. Clearly this wasn’t the case and with a couple pitchers ready out in the bullpen, this would have been a good time to turn to one of them.

My fears were proven correct: when the dust settled, two runs were in and the bases were loaded with one out. Trevor Bauer put out the flames but the damage was done. The Indians were down to their last chance.

Carl Edwards got a pair of quick outs before Brandon Guyer worked a two-out walk. Other than their first run of the game, every Tribe run had come with two outs. The magic couldn’t run out just yet. The chanting willed them on. It was all we had left. As Guyer advanced to second on the first pitch to Rajai Davis, we hoped that just maybe that bat had one more home run in it. Or a double. Even just a single would at least keep it alive.

Line drive, base hit. 8-7 game. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. There still was a nervous excitement on the Plaza, the hope that never dies when you’re a Cleveland fan. The metaphorical “Next Year” finally came for us with the Cavs in June. Could it finally come for the Indians in November?

This would have been Coco Crisp’s spot to bat, a chance to continue his playoff heroics, but he had been removed an inning prior to improve the outfield arms in the event of a fly ball when Heyward was at third with one out. A new Chicago pitcher enters. An 0-1 count to Michael Martinez. A tapper to third…

“…it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”

Silence on the Plaza.

A few hundred feet away, several thousand Cubs fans celebrated. Another several thousand Clevelanders cursed their fellow Tribe fans who valued money over fandom and sold their tickets to the alien scourge from the Windy City.

The dream season was over. And once again, we sit and we wait for that near-mythical Next Year to come.

Let the countdown begin to 2017.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto may or may not have cried while writing this. He currently lives in Texas but wants to move back to Ohio with his wife and two cats soon.

On Graphing Etiquette

On Graphing Etiquette: a list disguised as an essay

By Drew Pelto

Written for Texas Graphing Chronicles, August 2017

I spent some time thinking about this and have said for a while I'd write on it. I actually wrote this in 2014 and never posted it until I came across it while cleaning out my inbox. So, here goes...

Sharing Info

Sharing information is a fine line. On one hand, you need to protect your locations in some cases. If a place gets oversaturated with people, the players will find a different way to go. But on the other hand, there's a good chance someone once had to tell you where to go. I know it happened with me early on. For me, I'll tell someone some basic info, but I'm not going to spoon-feed them and walk them through every step. If someone asks a specific question, I'll tell them what I know. For example, if someone asks me what hotel a team stays at, I'll tell them if I know. Or I might tell them how to find such things. But I don't just throw info out like free candy at a parade. Ask and you (probably) shall receive. But if you don't ask, don't expect to be told either.


Unfortunately a lot of the hobby involves a sort of "hurry up and wait" mentality. It can be easy to give up quickly, but some of my best autographs are because I waited patiently. In the average pre-game session for baseball, I'm in the ballpark waiting for 2 and a half hours. There is a LOT of downtime in there.


If there's a line, get in it. This is what annoyed me about Jose Bautista signing in 2014, and also was a cardinal sin a few people thought I was committing. I moved to stretch my legs a bit and I was accused of being a line jumper. 99 times out of 100 if there's a line and you wait in it, even if people get moved around a little, if you respect others and their spot, they'll respect you and your spot. Don't jump past the line, or lean over the top of it, or run through it. The signer will get to you. Wait your turn.

Helping Others

You were new once too. Help others out as long as it doesn't hurt yourself or others to do so. Got an extra pen? Let someone use it. Know who a player is that someone needs? Point him out. See someone using a Sharpie on an official ball? Let them know why they shouldn't. Obviously you don't want to be a know-it-all prick because frankly, we're all still learning. But help educate others. The hobby will be a better place for it.

Please and Thank You

For the love of rump roast, BE POLITE. Thank a player for signing. Request nicely that he sign. Obviously you don't need a "Good morrow dear sir, could I bother you for your signature upon my cardboard photograph?" but a please and thank you go a long way.

Know the Players

Admit it, you're guilty of this on occasion. I am too. Very few people know who every player is, except perhaps Boston legend Eddie O'Keefe. I swear, you could wake Eddie up at 3 am on a random Tuesday and ask him who that player is walking out from a Starbucks in rural Wyoming and he would ask why the hell you woke him up for former Vikings punter Bucky Scribner. But you aren't Eddie, nor am I. But it's good to have a reasonable idea of who you want, who you're getting, and at the very least who's on the team. To quote the late Ron "Puckhound" Saar, "If you don't know who he is, then you don't want his autograph too badly."


We're all in this together. It's not a competition: he who gets the most autographs does not win anything. So be polite. Wait your turn, don't shove your way in and hold your photo or card book right over someone else's (this portion dedicated in particular to one graphing family in the DFW area who is slowly helping to ruin the hobby one game at a time). When you get yours, get out of the way. If you have other items you want signed, go to the back of the line. If you can't get out of the way, at least be willing to help pass others' items to the front. And if you're in the back, don't push forward. It's no fun and quite a hazard actually being at the front, with the weight of 2-5 people pressing you into a brick wall.


While it's tempting to not want to give up your spot, movement is your best friend. Be in a location where you can get around easily. That way you have less chance of getting trapped in a crowd, less chance of blocking others, and less chance of missing someone signing in another spot because you couldn't get to it. I'm usually not a big mover. I'll pick a general area and stay in it whether over the dugout or down the line or by the photo pit. But if you feel like running around in 100-degree heat, more power to you. Also if a player signs and you don't need him, get out of the way so those who do want him can get him. And on the other hand, if someone moved out of the way for you, let them back into their spot.


The unwritten rule of autographing is put into writing: let the kids go first. Now I'm not saying to give up your spot in a line or crowd to let a throng of kids in, but don't shove them out of the way, and if a player says he'll sign for kids only, then let them in. Don't be all petty and block them just because the guy won't sign for a big gazorp like you. If there's a kid near you, make sure the player knows. The player usually will appreciate that you're making sure the kid gets his and might just be more likely to sign for you. Exception: kids who are obviously helping out dealers. In that case, all bets are off.

Get to Know Those Around You

George Carlin once said that if everyone in the world lined up and shook hands and introduced themselves, that could end war. Because once someone says we need to bomb a certain group, the people would answer "What?! Hell no we can't bomb the Chinese, I know them!" Like I said, we're all in this together. Get to know the people around you. Who knows, they might be more likely to let you in on a hot tip about where to get someone, or hook you up with extra stuff on players you don't have, or assist you in getting a player to sign. You might even find you have stuff in common outside of autographs, or find you know someone in common. There's actually a grapher down here who knows a guy I that know from my days in Boston.

Have Fun

Because really now, isn't that the point? If you aren't having fun, then why are you doing it?

Feel Free To Take A Knee

Feel Free to Take a Knee

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, September 2017

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

While the exact right to protest is not specifically named, it is largely covered under the right to peaceably assemble. After all, an assembly of one is still an assembly. As long as the protest remains peaceful as is delineated, there should be no issue.

And this is why I fail to understand why people are responding so vociferously to protesting during the national anthem.

There's no rioting. There's no destruction. There's no violence. It doesn't make a sound. It isn't disruptive. But yet, we have seen the response from the disturbed masses.

You complained over rioting in Los Angeles in 1991. In Ferguson. In Baltimore. You complained about the Black Lives Matter movement. You complained about players' use of the "Hands up, don't shoot" pose when coming onto the field. You cited Martin Luther King Jr. and how he favored non-violent protest over racial issues while conveniently ignoring that he pointed out that "A riot is the language of the unheard." Well, it seems there are plenty who aren't being heard due to an even larger number who are unwilling to listen.

Protests aren’t there to make you feel good and comfortable. They’re there to make you think. You can either be reactionary and let your baser instincts to demonize those with whom you disagree take over, or you can use it as a moment to stop, to think, to try to understand WHY this protest is happening. This isn’t about hating America, and those who choose to believe it is are only fooling themselves.

Let us also realize that the idea of taking a knee was promoted by a Green Beret. Nate Boyer never played a regular season snap in the NFL, but he was a long snapper for four seasons with the University of Texas and in the Seattle Seahawks’ camp and preseason in 2015. Boyer spent six years in the military from 2004-2010. After witnessing Colin Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem—which was done as a protest against law enforcement’s treatment of civilians of color—Boyer wrote an open letter that didn’t exactly condemn Kaepernick’s actions, but instead tried to understand, express his disagreement with it, and eventually offer an alternative. The two met, talked things out, and Kaepernick accepted his idea. It was later picked up by several other NFL players, as we have seen. If you want to call a Green Beret’s idea to both honor and draw attention to an issue somehow unpatriotic, I think a lot of people would highly disagree with that assertion.

The most tone-deaf responses that I have seen this week have come from the NASCAR world, where owners Richard Childress and Richard Petty said they would fire any employee who chose to kneel.

Let’s go back: the point of the protests is to draw attention to law enforcement’s treatment of civilians of color. Most of those who have taken a knee have been those same people in the victimized group. Between the top three levels of NASCAR (the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the "minor-league" Xfinity Series, and the Camping World Truck Series), there are 99 full-time drivers listed on NASCAR’s official website. Of them, only Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. of the Xfinity series is of a racial minority. The last black driver before Wallace, Bill Lester, competed in 145 races from 1999 through 2007. When asked about the owners’ responses to the protests, Lester pointed out to CNN's Brooke Baldwin:

“[W]hen I came over (to NASCAR), believe me, I was not really embraced. I have been booed, and it was surprising to me because I think that I did a great job behind the wheel… I’ve never made disparaging remarks or offended anybody to my knowledge… When you’re getting booed loud and clear for nothing that you think you deserve, it makes you sit back and take pause.”

So with this being a protest rooted on the grounds of a racial cause, why exactly are we asking for opinions on the protests from those involved in this sport?

I can't even agree with the idea that sports are not the time or place for a protest. In your eyes, what is the appropriate time and place? Is it in a place and time where you can choose to ignore it? That accomplishes nothing. And besides, if sports isn't the time or place, then why did it allow the Department of Defense and National guard to pump in several million dollars over the last decade to use players as unwitting tools for recruitment? While it is in vogue to bash Roger Goodell for many things – and rightfully so in most cases – at least he is giving multiple sides an opportunity to be seen and heard on this issue and I commend him for that. Sports is not a propaganda tool. If it chooses to allow one side to speak for its cause, it can, it should, and clearly it does allow for multiple sides to do so.

As a white American from a relatively high socio-economic background, I do consider myself privileged. Sure, my grandfather was an immigrant who never finished high school, worked fifty years underground in copper mines and another twenty farming raspberries, coming over from Finland in 1909 without even having shoes on his feet, but the advantages from something so trivial as skin color are surprising to one who has never had to fight against it. I was lucky to have gone to private high schools my whole life, and also fortunate that my graduating class actually reflected the racial makeup of the Cleveland metro area quite well. I have friends from many different backgrounds: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, straight, gay, bisexual, rich, poor, Christian, atheist, Jewish, Muslim. I may not ever fully understand the plight of minorities that still exists today. But I am willing to listen. I am willing to learn from them and their experiences. I am willing to try to understand where they are coming from. As Dale Hansen stated after everything with Michael Sam, “I don’t understand his world, but I do understand that he is part of mine.”

It is possible to protest while also being respectful of others. Protests are not meant to be an attack, but rather to draw attention to a perceived injustice. Those who do not want to recognize that are often the ones with the most vehement, vitriolic responses. Those who willfully misunderstand a problem are truly the most ignorant walking among us. You can disagree. That is the beauty of the free world. But you should at least make an effort to discern. No one can ever advance in a positive direction by being unwilling to listen, to learn, to understand.

“You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone/For the times they are a-changin’,” warbled Bob Dylan more than fifty years ago. If you are taking a reactionary stance to the protests, please ask yourself why. Are you truly trying to understand your fellow people? Are you willing to adapt to changing times? Or will you choose to drown in your own ignorance?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is a Cleveland native who lives in Texas and has family members who fought in World War Two and Korea, including a great-uncle who was killed in 1944 and is buried in the American War Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. He stands, but he stands by those who choose to kneel.

Chief Wahoo: A No-Win Situation

Chief Wahoo: A No-Win Situation

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, February 2018

The tomahawk finally fell: The famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) Cleveland Indians logo known as Chief Wahoo will ride off into the sunset after the 2018 season.

Many of you may know I grew up on the outskirts of the Cleveland area, Painesville to be exact: close enough for Browns games to get blacked out if there wasn’t a sellout, but far enough that it made traveling to and from the Stadium a not-so-fun experience along the Shoreway. Couple that with parents who were afraid that we might fall off the earth by going west of Euclid, and suddenly it makes sense why I only got to one to three ballgames per season as a kid, and only one Browns game ever.

Other than having the name Indians—which did not appear on their jerseys until Wahoo was adopted—the only Indian imagery used by the club early on was first a red profiled Indian head, similar to the logo presently used by the Washington Redskins in the NFL, in 1928. It then moved to a sleeve patch in 1929-1938 on home jerseys, depicting a solemn, profiled Indian head in a feathered headdress. These early uses were fairly solemn, dignified depictions. While some may argue that the use of any human group as a logo is out of line, I believe many would agree that this depiction was at least made respectfully.

The earliest form of the smiling Indian caricature, originally in a brown tone rather than bright red, was adopted on the sleeve of the uniform in 1947, residing there until the bright red version replaced it in 1951. It moved to a more prominent chest display in 1963 before being demoted back to sleeve duty in 1970. In 1972 the logo was nowhere to be found, returning to even less prominence in 1973 as part of a full-body Chief in a baseball uniform, about to step into a swing. This appeared on the sleeve through 1978. The head-only version found itself on the sleeve again in 1979, residing only there through 1985.

In 1985, the logo moved to the hat for the first time since brief uses in 1954-1957, and again in 1962. It remained the preferred hat logo from 1985 through 2010, after which the current Block C made its first appearance on the team’s primary road hats in an odd dual-logo timeshare. Over the past few seasons, Block C has made more home appearances as well.

From its debut in 1947 through its final on-field uses in 2018, the logo has only been in a prime, non-sleeve spot for 46 of 72 years, and was split with another logo fairly evenly or even in a lesser role for eight of those 46.

Chief Wahoo for me and many others will always be associated with some of the best and worst seasons in team history. It was on the players’ heads for four World Series appearances and its early variation was on their sleeve for the last Championship in 1948. It also was on their forehead for a 105-loss 1991 season, a 101-loss 1987 season, and hanging out on the sleeves of 102-loss teams in 1985 and 1972—teams that were so bad that there was even a series of movies made about their badness. Many fans my age and older – and even some younger – will rebuke its removal due to it being a tradition.

But can you really claim “tradition” for something that only has been in prominent placement for half of its existence, and for barely one-third of the time the team had the Indians name?

If anything, a variation on a Block C logo is rooted more in tradition than Wahoo. Since their entry into the American League in 1901, the Cleveland Baseball Club—whether the Blues, the Naps, or the Indians—has had a single letter C as a main and prominent hat and/or jersey-front logo for 76 of its first 85 years. It has been used again as a hat logo as of 2008, and at least half the time since 2011. So it has been a part for 84 of 118 seasons. Now THAT is tradition!

Claims of Indigenous Americans either being highly opposed to or highly in favor of the logos are questionable at best. Polls on the topic are plagued by small sample sizes, resulting in anything from less than ten percent favoring removal according to a Sports Illustrated study in 2002 to 67% wanting removal according to a study from the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Studies at CSU-San Bernardino in 2014. Both studies asked fewer than 500 out of a group of 5 million. Most respondents didn’t care one way or another.

It would appear that most appreciate being honored, but that’s what is missing in Chief Wahoo: honor. Take Florida State: nicknamed the Seminoles, they have become very careful in their imagery, with their use of it actually being publicly lauded by the Seminole tribe—and they rarely make public statements like this. The University has made sure to be inclusive of the tribe in major events and to meet with them to keep all imagery authentic. They are not just being honored: they are full participants.

The long-propagated story is that the team was named to honor Louis Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot Nation who is believed to have been the first Indigenous American to play professional baseball, patrolling the Cleveland Spiders’ outfield from 1897-1899. Before alcohol derailed his promising career, he was a .338 hitter his first season with three home runs in an era of limited power numbers: when future Hall of Famer Amos Rusie publicly boasted that he would strike out Sockalexis every time he came to the plate, Louis instead knocked a curveball for that third home run of the season. Unsubstantiated claims indicate the team got its name from a young girl who cited Sockalexis in a team-naming contest, but articles announcing the Indians’ new name in 1915 made absolutely zero mention of him. If the team was truly being named in his honor, that would seem like a perfect time to mention it. Joe Posnanski has done some excellent writing and research on the dubious Sockalexis claims; I will defer to him if you want to look into it more.

More than anything, I am shocked by how much vitriol over the change has come from outside of Cleveland, from people who aren’t even Indians fans.  Where was your outrage when the Mariners went from the trident M, to the yellow S in 1987, to the compass in 1993? Or when the White Sox went from the batter logo to the black and white Olde English script SOX in 1991? Where was it when the Brewers went from the glove logo to the interlocking MB in 1994? Or the Angels going from the haloed A, to the interlocking CA in 1992, to the light blue winged-A Anaheim Angels, back to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim monstrosity? Okay, there was some significant backlash there, but that was mostly over Disneyfication and then the ridiculously long name (I want to see them just go all-out and call them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of the State of California of the United States of America of the Continent of North America of the Western Hemisphere of the planet Earth of the Solar System of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy of the Local Group of the Virgo Supercluster of the Laniakea Supercluster of the Observable Universe). If not then… why now?

Indigenous Americans may not be fully opposed, nor fully in favor, and they have plenty of bigger problems than a sports team logo: they’re just like any other person in that regard. But in most controversies involving marketing and branding, a smart businessman will likely err on the side of caution and make a change. View it as a rebranding.

Admittedly, I still wear Wahoo. It’s been the main logo for most of my life. I’ve had the same Indians hat since 2006 with him on it. My jerseys all have him on the sleeve patch. I even have a t-shirt with the late-1940s logo on it. But what’s most important to me is the first part of the team’s name: Cleveland. I care about the city and the players more than what they use as their name. You could put them in neon green, hot pink, electric blue, and ultraviolet and call them the Cleveland Totally Rad Awesomeness and I’ll be first in line to buy a hat and jersey. Spiders, Blues, Naps, Indians, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s about the place it represents and the players representing it first and foremost.

If the Cleveland Indians wish to perpetuate a tenuous claim that the team was named for Louis Sockalexis, perhaps they should meet with his Penobscot Nation and develop a logo that truly honors them. If not them, perhaps the Erie or Seneca who originally lived in Northeast Ohio. I do agree with critics who say that the current Block C logo is bland, but there are options to spruce it up and combine it with Indigenous imagery. As Florida State has shown, there are plenty of ways to utilize it in a respectful and accurate way. 

Chief Wahoo is neither respectful nor accurate. It’s time to move on to something better.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is Cleveland AF. Ironically he currently lives in Texas as a photo editor, autograph collector, and musician with his wife, two cats, and a journalism degree which he does not use. He requests that anyone angry enough over the change to stop collecting Indians cards to send their items to him; he will cover postage costs.

Dark Sky, Dark Water, A Dark Night

Dark Sky, Dark Water, A Dark Night

25 years since the deaths of Cleveland pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum: original March 2013, this edition March 2018

I’m 33 years old– 34 a month from tomorrow (mark your calendars). Many days I feel every day of it.

And other times, 25 years seems like yesterday.

On the morning of March 23, 1993, I woke up, had a waffle with cinnamon sugar (looking back, it’s amazing that my mom thought that was perfectly fine, but my favorite Frosted Flakes were deemed too high in sugar), and prepared to enter another day of the hell called third grade. Sitting on the couch in our eastern Cleveland suburb, Dan Patrick delivered the morning’s sports news. Baseball season was only a few weeks away: I had just started my first Little League practices as a second baseman and outfielder for the Pirates. My Cleveland Indians were still in the middle of a lengthy rebuild. But on this day, they were the lead story.

As Steve Olin’s photo popped up on the screen, I was mystified. One of my favorite players was the lead story? Wow, awesome! And then the words came:

“Three members of the Cleveland Indians were involved in a one-boat accident at 7:30 last night...”

And then it became clear: Olin was one of the three. I only recall a few pieces here and there after that. Olin was killed instantly. Free agent signing Tim Crews died hours later from injuries sustained in the crash. Bobby Ojeda was alive, barely: hospitalized in critical condition from head injuries.

At eight years old, I hadn’t experienced much death – only my 88-year old grandfather, an aunt who had cancer, and another aunt who was killed in a car/train accident (self inflicted, though I was too young to know it at the time). Death was something that only happened to the aged, the sick, the frail. It wasn’t supposed to happen to athletes in the middle of their careers.

And yet, here it was right in front of me as this fan favorite, a submarine-tossing closer and a big piece of the future for the Tribe, was gone in an instant. Major League Baseball held a moment of silence at every ballpark. It was the first death of a player during a season since the 1979 plane crash that took the life of Thurman Munson in Northeast Ohio. The Indians wore a commemorative patch on their jerseys recognizing Olin and Crews. The Dodgers, the last team for whom Crews appeared in a game, also honored him with a sleeve emblem.

The Indians had an off day on March 22. Tim Crews lived near the team’s Spring Training facility in Winter Haven and invited the players, coaches, and staff over. Many had already made plans with family, but three members– Olin, Ojeda, and strength coach Fernando Montes– went out. As they got ready to go out and hit the lake for some late fishing, the group realized they left a few items back up at the house. Plus Crews’ friend Perry Brigmond would be there any minute to head out with them. Montes lost the game of rock-paper-scissors, and off he went back to the house while the three pitchers launched the boat to take a couple laps around the lake. Minutes later, Montes returned with Brigmond. They flashed the lights of the truck the took, signalling Crews to come pick them up.

A wide turn.

A dull thud.

An engine sputtering to a stop as an eerie silence overtook the scene.

Voices came asking if they were alright.

“No,” responded a lone voice, that of Ojeda. “We need help.”

Moments later Montes and Brigmond were helping to pull three severely injured bodies from Little Lake Nellie. EMS arrived five minutes later. Ojeda, conscious the entire time but about to go into shock and ensuing kidney failure from a loss of two pints of blood, pleaded for them to help Olin and Crews first. He didn’t know Olin was already gone, killed on impact.

Olin had always told his wife Patti that he wanted the Garth Brooks song “The Dance” played at his funeral. It was his favorite song, and the video for it showed people who died following their dreams. Steve was living his: baseball, a family, and a love of fast cars and fast boats.

The deaths of Olin and Crews didn’t just affect their families. It heavily weighed on Ojeda, the lone survivor of the crash. It even derailed the career of another young pitcher who wasn’t even there that day.

*     *     *     *     *

Bobby Ojeda was the lucky one, though luck seems to be a misnomer for someone who got the top of his head sheared off. Slouched just slightly in his seat on Crews’ boat, a half-inch was just enough to keep him from joining his teammates. It took months before he was even willing to throw a ball with his physical therapist, which took him just as long to visit.

How many near-misses could a man have? Ojeda had already survived driving off a bridge on a mountain bike as a kid. He and his dad barely avoided shots from some crazy guy who just decided to fire off fifteen rounds at them in California– while they were on a boat, no less. And there was the time as a teenager that he tried to light a charcoal grill with gasoline and the can went up in flames in his hand. Or the time he was riding in a Corvette that managed to end up wrapped around a telephone pole. Or when an ambulance plowed through the trunk and into the back seat of another car he was riding in. Or when he sliced his finger off with hedge trimmers as a Mets pitcher. Or all the times he drove around his neighborhood on his Harley, still dressed in the suit he wore out from the ballpark.

In April 1993, on opening weekend only weeks after the accident, Bobby Ojeda packed a bag – money, some clothes, wine, cigarettes, and a bottle of sleeping pills – grabbed his passport, and flew to Sweden. He no longer called himself a ballplayer when asked, just a former ballplayer as he checked into the nicest hotel he could find, bag in hand...

*     *     *     *     *

Meanwhile, Kevin Wickander wasn’t even at the party that day. He wanted to go, but had already told his wife and kids he would take them to Disney World. But Olin was his best friend through their years in the minors, the best man at his wedding, his chief competitor in the annual bullpen gum chewing contest: he was completely distraught by Olin’s death. The two had always been there for each other. But this was a time where Wick couldn’t be there for his friend.

Wickander made sure the team kept Olin’s locker the exact way it had been before his death: obsessively so. A month into the season, the loss of his best friend still heavy in his mind, the Indians sent Wickander to the Cincinnati Reds, hoping to give him a new start. The big lefty never regained his form. After a couple of brief stints in Detroit and Milwaukee, including a 1995 season that turned a few heads, he was out of baseball. Having had drug and alcohol problems early in his career, and now dealing with the end of a baseball career and the loss of Olin, Wick ended up back on drugs.

In March of 1993, Kevin Wickander wore #53.  Ten years later, he wore #170677.

Turning to crime to feed an addiction to methamphetamine, he ended up on probation and was eventually arrested and sent to prison on theft-related charges. Released in 2005, he has been clean ever since and is believed to be living near Phoenix, avoiding the spotlight and reminders of his baseball career. He says his most prized possessions are his college baseball championship ring, his wedding ring, and a watch of Steve’s that his widow Patti gave to him at the funeral. Days before his final arrest in an odd moment of prescience, he gave them to his father to store for him. Even after losing his career, his wife, his home, three arrests, and a four-year prison sentence, he still says that March 22, 1993 was the worst day of his life.

*     *     *     *     *

A few smokes. A few drinks. Gazing out across the landscape. Water. Boats. There’s no escaping the damn things, is there? A glance at the pills. A few more smokes. A few more drinks. More thoughts about those pills. Maybe there was an escape after all…

Then suddenly, no. Not like this. Not here, 7,000 miles from home. Not now. Bobby had been through hell multiple times – accidents, near-death experiences, pain since age 12 in the arm that took him to the pinnacle of his sport. At 4 am it hit him: this was no time to give up, to let the fates decide when it was over. Not on anything but his terms.

He spoke to the widows every day, offering any help they could use. No Bobby, there’s only one thing they needed: to see a return to the mound. The boating accident claimed two lives: damned if they would let it claim a third.

In May, a quiet return to Cleveland for plastic surgery. No interviews, no reading newspapers. No updates. Weeks later, throwing for the first time since shoulder surgery. Not outside: in a hospital basement, surrounded by pipes, bricks, dust, dim lighting. June 25, a uniform and a media visit. July, a stay with psychologists in Baltimore. In August, a near-silent pregame activation from the Disabled List in order to avoid the potential crush of media trying to get their hooks into the season’s biggest comeback story.

On August 7, a young pitcher named Julian Tavarez made his major league debut. After allowing five runs in three innings, manager Mike Hargrove went to the bullpen for a lefty. Bobby Ojeda made his return to the mound to a standing ovation from the Camden Yards crowd. He would only pitch in nine games that season, then in two with the 1994 Yankees. But he had made it, truly surviving a gruesome accident that could have sapped anyone’s will to continue.

*     *     *     *     *

For the next seven years, the Indians never had a day off during Spring Training, wanting to keep something like this from happening again. Two weeks after the accident, the Yankees crushed the Tribe 9-1 on Opening Day. They finished sixth of the seven AL East teams, going 76-86. Eric Plunk, Jeremy Hernandez, Derek Lilliquist, and Jerry DiPoto stepped into the roles vacated in the bullpen, but the Tribe still had the fourth worst ERA in the American League. I went to four games that season, all of which the Indians lost: some bullpen help probably would have changed two of those. The team played their last game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and prepared for a move to the new downtown ballpark in the Gateway neighborhood. On November 4, a month after the conclusion of the 1993 season, one final tragedy: another young pitcher, Cliff Young, was killed in a car accident in his home state of Texas.

Now, twenty-five years later, Ojeda refuses to talk about the accident.

Twenty-five years later, Fernando Montes refuses to play rock-paper-scissors.

Twenty-five years later, Patti Olin refuses to visit Little Lake Nellie.

When asked about the accident by USA Today writers, Brigmond declined, saying “That’s all behind me.”

Patti went back to Oregon, remarried, divorced.

Laurie crews still lives in Florida, still on the same ranch next to Little Lake Nellie.

Other than John Farrell returning to it in his second Tribe stint, Crews’ 52 jersey went unworn until 1997. Aside from Dave Winfield taking it in 1995, no Indian wore Olin’s 31 until 2000. Since then, both have been worn in near-perpetual continuity.

*     *     *     *     *

Nearly two and a half years after Olin and Crews’ deaths, a Jeff Huson pop-up landed in the glove of 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Jim Thome, and on September 8, 1995, the Cleveland Indians clinched their first playoff berth since 1954.

As Kenny Lofton raised the Division Champions banner in center field, tears of happiness, of relief, and primarily of remembrance.

“The Dance” played over the Jacobs Field speakers.

“Our lives are better left to chance,

I could have missed the pain,

But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan and tries not to think too much about how Game Seven of the 1997 World Series would have gone with Jose Mesa in the starting rotation or middle relief, and Crews and Olin pitching the 8th and 9th.

The CL: Alternate MLB History

The Continental League: An Alternate MLB History

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, March 2018

Sixty years ago, New York had the Yankees and only the Yankees. The Dodgers and Giants had left for the West Coast following the 1957 season, and suddenly New York, the country’s largest city and premier media market was left with only one team.  Sure, it was the league’s premier team, but there still was a void felt in the city outside of the Bronx.

Mayor Robert Wagner put a committee together in an attempt to move a National League team over to New York: overtures made to the Reds, Phillies, and Pirates clearly failed, and the league showed no interest in expanding past its eight teams.

Enter New York City attorney William Shea, leader of the committee. Shea wasn’t known as being some great legal mind who would find a loophole in a law or argue a case incredibly well, but he was trusted by many people as a man who could formulate and enact a plan very quickly and quietly. After overtures to existing franchises and a push for expansion both failed, it was time for the nuclear option: Shea was going to challenge Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, and push to build his own major league. He even employed one of baseball’s most innovative minds, Branch Rickey, as the new League’s president; appearing on CBS’ What’s My Line in 1959, Rickey called the upcoming Continental League “as inevitable as tomorrow morning.” They already had ownership groups ready in eight cities, and proclaimed that they would be ready to play by April 18, 1961.

To make a long story short, the National League rethought their position, offered teams to New York and Houston, while the American League countered with Minneapolis and Los Angeles, and with three of its eight cities now having teams, “tomorrow morning” suddenly was no more. Shea dropped his idea and by the middle of 1960 the Continental League had completely disbanded.

Major League Baseball never faced a real rival league’s challenge in the way that the NFL did from the AFL, the NBA from the ABA, or the NHL from the WHA.

But what if they had? And what if the leagues had held their ground... and lost the case? Let’s re-imagine...

* * * * *

1958 marked the first filings by Shea against Major League Baseball, its individual American and National Leagues, and each member club in an effort to challenge their antitrust exemption. The defendants, believing precedent to be on their side, hold their ground and fight the challenge.

The Continental League presses forth, announcing they will place teams in New York, Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Dallas, Buffalo, and Toronto. Suddenly the largest market in the United States has a second team, as does Canada’s largest market, plus six other growing cities looking for their first big league club in any sport.

Meanwhile, a growing number of players issue a challenge of their own, playing the 1960 season without a contract in an effort to invoke the reserve clause. While they were under contract for 1959, a team may reserve them for 1960. But if they have no 1960 contract, nothing can be used to make them stay on that team for 1961, thus essentially rendering them free agents at the same time that the new Continental League was to begin play. With so many new markets, higher pay became a distinct possibility.  Rickey, not wanting to potentially raid and ruin the farm systems he is credited with creating, did not allow CL teams to sign minor league players from MLB clubs unless they were at least 25 years old, had played less than 150 games at the MLB level (or 50 as a pitcher), and had spent the entire 1960 season in the minors. These players were entered into a draft conducted in December of 1960.

Several released veteran players moved to the new league as well, including Don Newcombe, Larry Doby, Enos Slaughter, Mickey Vernon, Mike Garcia, Andy Pafko, Gus Zernial, Chico Carrasquel, Stan Lopata, Jim Baxes, Carl Furillo, Del Rice, Bobby Thomson, Ray Boone, Mickey McDermott, and Roy Smalley. Mexican slugger Hector Espino considered offers, as did Ted Williams, but both refused the CL’s overtures.

The CL played its first two seasons outside the auspices of Major League Baseball as the battle continued over its claims of legitimacy. The teams spent Spring Training in Texas as the CL landscape looked like this…


Atlanta Eagles Ponce De Leon Park (6,800) Galveston, TX

Buffalo Bisons War Memorial Stadium (46,000) Austin, TX

Denver Bears Bears Stadium (34,000) Laredo, TX

Houston Colts Colt Stadium (33,000+1M mosquitos) Waco, TX

Minnesota Twins Metropolitan Stadium (30,000) Beaumont, TX

New York Mets Polo Grounds (55,000) Corpus Christi, TX

Texas Rangers LaGrave Field (13,000) Tyler, TX

Toronto Huskies Exhibition Stadium (30,000) San Antonio, TX

Atlanta and Texas both promised to have 30,000+ seat stadiums ready by 1963 or face immediate relocation. True to their word, the construction of Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium and Arlington’s Turnpike Stadium got hurried along and both were ready in time for Opening Day of 1963 (NOTE: The current lengthy construction of the I-30 to TX-360 interchange just a mile up the road from Turnpike Stadium makes me think this would be unlikely, but let’s just go with it).

Soon after, New York completed brand new Shea Stadium and the Colts moved into the new Harris County Domed Stadium. In an effort to prevent teams from excessively chasing money in bigger media markets, the CL instituted broadcast revenue sharing from all of its club’s TV and radio deals. That way New York wouldn’t have as much of a monetary advantage over somewhere like Denver, and no one had a reason to go running for Los Angeles.

In 1962, the Shea case was decided: Congress would revoke the antitrust exemption if the Continental League was not permitted to enter as a full major league. Reluctantly, MLB accepts the decision in an effort to avoid further legal entanglements. The CL’s final major-but-not-Major season will be played in 1963, and they will be permitted entry into World Series play in 1964. The 1964 World Series is played as a round-robin, neutral site format with each league champion facing each other twice and the top two teams meeting for a three-game championship series. The American and National Leagues dominated until the miracle of the 1969 New York Metropolitans who took out the Baltimore Orioles and – spoiler alert – the Seattle Braves.

With players challenging the reserve clause to move to the CL, the clause was largely ignored from that point onward and the Free Agency era was born. The new Amateur Draft begins in 1965 consisting of teams from all three leagues. The All-Star Game becomes an All-Star Series: AL vs. CL in late May, CL vs. NL in mid June, and AL vs. NL in early July.

This was leaving the National League sweating. With the AL’s Yankees and the CL’s Metropolitans, they suddenly were left as the only Major League not in New York. Sure, they had the West Coast all to themselves, but for how long?  Acting quickly, the disaffected Milwaukee Braves assist in controlling the Pacific, as they announce a move to Seattle for the 1966 season. The 1964 announcement gives the city two years to upgrade Sicks’ Stadium, and if that fails, they set up a deal with San Diego as a fallback plan.

The Continental League, strong but still struggling to compete with the well-established AL and NL, announce in 1966 a new innovation: the Designated Hitter, a player to bat in the spot of the pitcher. They also announce an intent to expand out to become the first ten-team league by 1970, hinting at a westward push to compete with the NL further.

In 1967 it was no secret that Charlie Finley wanted to get the A’s out of Kansas City. Rumors were constantly bandied about – many true – that he had contacted Los Angeles without luck, had attempted to get into the CL’s Dallas market early on, and had agreements in place to move to Louisville and Oakland – both of which were voted down by the rest of the AL. Likewise, Milwaukee was still up in arms over the loss of the Braves. Led by local car dealer Allan Huber Selig, a group of Milwaukee investors purchase…

The Chicago White Sox. The Southsiders had been stuck in the doldrums of losing season after losing season, and could never stand up to the Cubs in terms of popularity. It stung for the AL to lose out on the Chicago market, but the Milwaukee fans were at least supportive.

Suddenly, Finley had it made: he could live in his adopted hometown of Chicago AND keep his team close by AND get out of Kansas City. Barely five minutes after the ink dried on Selig’s signature, Finley was on the phone, ready to move the A’s to Chicago. The AL, not wanting to miss out on the Chicago market, bought into the idea – perhaps a new team could energize a moribund fan base as well. The Milwaukee White Sox and the Chicago Athletics were all set to open the 1968 season in their new homes.

With a new market open for its hinted-at expansion, the Continental League began stabbing westward with an announcement that the first of its new teams for 1970 will be the Kansas City Royals. They also added a second Canadian team on the Pacific Coast as the Vancouver Grizzlies could take advantage of a strengthening Canadian dollar, and provide a direct marketing rival to the NL’s Seattle Braves just across the border.

Not wanting to be left behind in the 100th season of professional baseball, the National League announces an expansion of their own into the second ten-team league and the second to enter Canada – the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos are announced as their own entrants into new markets in 1971 – thus gaining a stronger hold on the West Coast, exploring a burgeoning Canadian market, and keeping a coastal balance.

Throughout this time, the American League had largely limited itself to the Great Lakes and East Coast. It was time to turn their attention toward a largely-unexplored South. Beginning play in the 1972 season, the Miami Marlins and Delta Blues (playing out of New Orleans) would put Major League baseball at 30 teams – nearly doubling it from its original 16-team AL/NL setup. Each league split into two five-team divisions. The All-Star Series returned to a single All-Star Game, with East vs. West and a year later, the American League also adopted the CL’s Designated Hitter concept, while the NL remained the sole league making pitchers bat.

As an aside, each Expansion Draft was conducted only within its individual league. However, pre-deadline trading was now opened across all three leagues instead of only to a brief window each offseason.

In 1973, the American League became the final league to gain a West Coast foothold, as the Washington Senators packed up and moved to become a second Bay Area team, the Oakland Mariners. Meanwhile, the Delta experiment was disastrous: Tad Gormley Stadium was old and constructed more for long field games like football, track and field, and soccer. The weather in New Orleans didn’t help things either as rain delays were common and games that did get played were often unbearably humid. The Blues packed up and moved to Anaheim to become the Angels and the 1970s MLB landscape looked like this…


East: Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Miami Marlins, New York Yankees

West: Chicago Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Anaheim Angels, Milwaukee White Sox, Oakland Mariners


East: Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates

West: Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Braves, St. Louis Cardinals


East: Atlanta Eagles, Buffalo Bisons, Minnesota Twins, New York Metropolitans, Toronto Huskies

West: Denver Bears, Houston Colts, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Vancouver Grizzlies

By 1980 though, there were problems. The Canadian dollar was coming off a strong decade – great news for the teams in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, but economic issues in 1970s America were coming to a head. With divisions being spread across two, sometimes even three time zones, combined with a decade filled with energy crises, something had to be done to make travel more affordable. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the Pirates were growing rapidly dissatisfied with their lease on Three Rivers Stadium.

With New Orleans having a new dome that wanted a second tenant, the Pirates became the first National League team to move southward and the oldest team to leave a long-tenured home. The New Orleans Pirates joined the Saints and gave the city a second sport after the Jazz’s exodus two years prior. Somewhere, fans of the 1899 Louisville Colonels were laughing.

To reduce travel costs with the country mired in a year-and-a-half long recession, MLB floated the idea of interleague play in 1982, instituting it in 1983. This reduced as much of a need for cross-country travel, allowing for more Philadelphia-to-New York type trips instead of lengthy trips to Seattle multiple times a season.

Meanwhile, the honeymoon of the strong Canadian dollar was over. As the currency fell in the 1980s and with a geographic rival south of the border being in a better financial situation, the Vancouver Grizzlies brought baseball back to Washington, DC in 1985. The Beltway Rivermen were born, playing in the CL East, while the Minnesota Twins went to the West.

Weather problems allowed a few other cities to get a brief taste of Major League Baseball as well. Damage from Hurricane Andrew forced the Miami Marlins to play the end of their 1992 season in the Suncoast Dome in Tampa, drawing surprisingly well. Eventually in 2005, the New Orleans Pirates finished their season in San Antonio’s Alamodome following damage from Hurricane Katrina.

The lengthy 1994-95 labor dispute caused MLB to worry about more future rival leagues popping up if they lost more time in the future due to unrest. Several cities explored possibilities of creating a league if MLB remained on strike following the 1994 World Series cancellation. Seeing that interest, MLB announced further expansion, and a fourth league. The International League would split off in 1997 while adding in two more expansion teams. This created a 32-team league with four sub-leagues containing two divisions. With Pittsburgh pining for a replacement for the Pirates and Tampa’s strong showing as the Marlins’ temporary home, the Pittsburgh Pythons and Tampa Rays were introduced. The Rays went to the National League, the Pythons to the International League, and the Major Leagues were realigned for the first time.

The former AAA International League adopted the American Association name, and these two leagues plus the Pacific Coast League realign their teams. In the interest of balance, the IL does not use the designated hitter. The Expansion Draft now takes place across all four leagues. The World Series is now between the four league champions: Each Division winner plays a best-of-five series, followed by a best-of-seven 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format based on regular season records of the LCS winners, and finally a best-of-seven series of those winners. The All-Star Extravaganza is now a series of three-inning games over two days (Tuesday AL vs. CL, IL vs. NL, CL vs. IL; Wednesday AL vs. NL, AL vs. IL, CL vs. NL). 

With baseball growing internationally, an exploratory committee is formed in 1999 to look into possibly forming or aiding already-existing developmental leagues in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Oceania, as well as a MLB-sanctioned worldwide tournament due to questions over its feasibility as an Olympic sport. In 2002, the CL gets the first group of expansion, bringing in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Charlotte’s Carolina Infantry.

The final non-expansion movement came in 2004. With the Montreal Expos being in an ownership crisis causing interest to wane locally, the team becomes the first to enter the Caribbean, moving to become the Senadores de San Juan, playing at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. In 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Maria, the Senadores finished the season in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Ballpark.

In 2007, San Antonio’s support of the 2005 Pirates paid off as they were granted an expansion team in the AL, the Caballeros. The AL East added the Kentucky Colonels. Following the success of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Major League Baseball creates developmental leagues centered primarily in Brazil, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, the Philippines, Israel, Spain, Australia, and the Dominican Republic, and develops working agreements with professional leagues in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Mexico.

Five years later, the NL brought in the Memphis Pharaohs and the Las Vegas Aces.  With a rebounding Canadian dollar, the International League continued living up to its namesake: in 2017, baseball returned to two cities north of the border as the Vancouver Mounties and Montreal Owls debuted.

And so here we are: Opening Day 2018, 60 years after the initial announcement of the Continental League.  As I’m sure you well know, ESPN and ESPN2 will each carry a quadruple-header of games today, headlined by the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Colts hosting the Oakland Mariners. Over on The Ocho, Los Senadores de San Juan play their first home game since Hurricane Maria, hosting the Memphis Phar...

* * * * * 

Oh, right. Back to reality. Play ball!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: You may say Drew Pelto is a dreamer; however, he is the only one. He wants to find a way to simulate this whole thing but hasn’t found a suitable program to do so. He lives just across the freeway from the former location of the aforementioned Turnpike Stadium with his wife and two cats, but is a gigantic Cleveland Indians fan. He’ll see you this summer at the National.

A Preview of the 2018 National

A Preview of the 2018 National

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, February 2018

Five months out isn’t too early for a preview of the National Sports Collectors Convention, is it?

Let’s hit it Q&A style...

WHO? You, me, and every other sports collector

WHAT? The 39th National Sports Collectors Convention

WHERE? International Exposition Center (IX Center), Cleveland, Ohio, USA

WHEN? August 1-5, 2018, 10 am to 6 pm most days

HOW (MUCH)? TBA; likely $20 per day, or VIP Packages from $99 to $299

WHY? Read on…

Q: Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up a sec. Why should we trust you when it comes to advice about the National when you hardly ever post here outside the Articles section? I’m gonna need to see some credentials…

A: Because despite my lack of involvement here, I’m quite familiar with the show, especially in Cleveland. I went to the entire week of the National in 2014, 2004, and 2001, as well as a single day in 1997. Aside from a kind of weak showing in 2004 (which may have been more because I had almost no spending money for it, rather than it actually being a weak showing), it has never failed to impress me on the sheer magnitude of the event: you won’t find more collectors in one place at one time ever. If I remember correctly, the 2014 show was the third most-attended National ever with somewhere around 45,000 collectors visiting the IX Center: well short of the record 100,000 at the 1991 Anaheim show, but much better than the 25,000 at the 1999 Atlanta show.

Q: Alright, fair enough, you got some chops. So, tell me then, as a first-timer, what should I expect at the show?

A: If you haven’t ever been to a National, nothing I say can really do it justice until you see it for yourself. One of SCF’s members – Stuart, AKA BSEBALLCOMMISH75 who attends nearly every year – says his favorite thing to do is to walk in about ten feet ahead of a first-timer, then turn back and see their expression upon entering. Take the biggest show you’ve been to and double it. Now double it again. Maybe one or two more times. It’s massive. The size of the hall hits you first, followed by the fact that not only is it huge, but it’s covered end to end in nothing but sports collectibles of all kinds. Cards, autographs, art, jerseys, hats, books, magazines, videos, unopened packs, unopened boxes, unopened cases, ticket stubs, stadium seats, game-used items, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, auto racing, boxing, wrestling, non-sports, with release dates ranging from the 1800s to this past week, you’ll find it all there somewhere. Entering for the first time even still shocks me now despite having attended four of them already. The National has typically 22 aisles at the I-X Center. The Cleveland 2018 floor plan has space for 515 booths at 10’x15’ each.

And that doesn’t include designated “pavilion” areas. The corporate pavilion contains gigantic areas for Panini, Topps, Upper Deck, Leaf, SGC, Blowout Cards, Heritage Auctions, Dave & Adam’s, Beckett, PSA, and more (14 spaces that are at least 40’x50’, 17 that are at least 20’x25’). The autograph pavilion is run by Tristar and has all the show’s autograph guests (though occasionally Panini, Topps, and Upper Deck may bring in their own). The case breakers pavilion has some of the country’s top case breakers doing live breaks. There’s even a VIP lounge with tables and chairs if you need a place to kick back and relax for a bit. Of course, there are also some tables and chairs and benches near the food court too, in case you don’t want to stray too far; but if you want to avoid the hoi polloi and bought a VIP pass, head for the lounge.

It’s what I imagine attending a World’s Fair would have been like back when they actually meant something.

Q: I’m sure every organizer post-Expo 67 needs some aloe vera after that burn!

A: Wow, in your face, HemisFair 68! Also, that wasn’t a question.

Q: You're right, sorry. I’m surprised no one has ever made a documentary or something of the sort on this. Or have they?

A: While it’s not a true documentary, nearly every year Bill Simmons goes to the show, often taking video, photos, doing a big write-up… basically Bill Simmons does Bill Simmons things because he’s Bill Simmons.




Q: Are you required to mention him a number of times in an article?

A: My contract says five. So, Bill Simmons.

Oh yeah, as mentioned in the articles above and revisiting my earlier World’s Fair motif, there’s a giant indoor Ferris wheel. It was finished in 1992, 125 feet high, and used to be the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel (as of 2012, the indoor record belongs to the Alem wheel in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan). It was so big they had to cut a hole in the roof (the ceiling is 77 feet) and enclose it with glass, so at the very top on a clear day, you can see all the way to Downtown Cleveland, which is ten miles away. It costs a couple bucks to ride. Totally worth it.

Q: How did this building end up in as random a spot as Brook Park, Ohio? Or is it Cleveland now?

A: Cleveland did a land swap deal and now owns the land it’s on. The IX Center itself was originally a B-29 plant in World War Two, then made tanks during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It also has served as a high school temporarily. Allegedly it has at least three basement levels including a giant pool for testing the watertightness of various tank designs and allegedly tunnels to the airport, the NASA Lewis Research Center, and maybe elsewhere. It’s unconfirmed as to whether these tunnels currently exist, or ever existed. Fun idea at least.

Q: Huh, underground alien base?

A: Who knows?

Q: What other events will be going on besides the show?

A: The great thing about the National is that there’s not just a big memorabilia show. Some collectors may set up trading events in the conference rooms of local hotels. Browns’ Training Camp will be underway. The Indians play at home against the Angels. The Lake County Captains, Akron Rubber Ducks, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, and Lake Erie Crushers will all be playing at home. If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, the Toledo Mud Hens, Columbus Clippers, and Pittsburgh Pirates all will play at home and are within two hours of Cleveland. Got money to burn? Panini and Upper Deck offer VIP parties for their biggest spenders. Plus there’s all the greatness of the city itself.

Q: Wait, seriously? You mean this city – whose main river caught fire five times, had a mayor’s wife refuse an invitation to the White House because it conflicted with her bowling night, had that mayor's hair catch fire in a way unrelated to the river, and finally went bankrupt under another mayor who later went onto claim he was once abducted by a UFO – is a great one? HA!

A: Look, it was a bowling LEAGUE night for her, and a soon-to-be-scandal-ridden Nixon White House. And yes, it's great. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is downtown. One of the world’s greatest orchestras will be in the middle of their outdoor concert season. There’s a Polka Hall of Fame in Euclid, thus ending our musical awesomeness streak at two. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a short drive away. The excellent Metroparks system (and that’s both the Cleveland Metroparks and the Lake Metroparks), including the zoo with its indoor rainforest. Cedar Point is an hour or so away for the roller coaster enthusiasts. For shopping, there are tons of malls in the area. You can see a great baseball museum that is housed in the remnants of League Park. There's the house where A Christmas Story was filmed, over in the Tremont neighborhood. And the food… Melt has everything imaginable on a grilled cheese sandwich. Iron Chef Michael Symon has his restaurants Lola, Mabel’s BBQ, B-Spot Burgers, and maybe Sherla’s Chicken and Oysters will even be open by then too. Hot Sauce Williams is the go-to spot for barbecue and especially a Polish Boy. Hit up Sokolowski’s for an Eastern European feast. Slyman’s Deli for incredible corned beef. Have your desserts at Malley’s Chocolates and East Coast Frozen Custard.

Q: Wow. You had me at grilled cheese.

A: Works every time...

And if you aren’t totally sportsed out, there are several card shops in the area. Cards and Games in Painesville in the former Puritan Bakery (it still smells like stale flour when you walk in), Sports N’ More in Mentor-on-the-Lake, C-Town Sports at the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor, Over The Fence in Eastlake, Brooklyn Sportscards in Brooklyn (obviously), B&B Sports Cards out in Fairview Park, and All-Star Collectibles and Action Sports Cards in Parma.

Q: PAR-ma?!

A: Haha. Ghoulardi. Good one. Stay sick, turn blue!

Q: So how does one go about getting to this?

A: Cleveland Hopkins Airport (CLE) is right next to the IX Center. You’ll see the Center while taxiing in. Canton-Akron Regional (CAK) is less than an hour away. Other options within two hours include Detroit (DTW), Toledo (TOL), Columbus (CMH), and Pittsburgh (PIT).

Amtrak runs into downtown. It's the best way to travel anywhere if you don’t have to be at your destination on time, so plan accordingly. Greyhound runs into downtown as well. I love Greyhound personally, but only for trips of under 10 hours. You'll also need to get to a car rental spot from any of these too, so be prepared.

This year, I’m driving it which will be different, but provides a ton of autographing opportunities. In 1997 and 2001, I lived near Cleveland, while in 2004 and 2014 I flew in from Boston and Texas, respectively. My friend Arron is coming along (some of you may know him as elmesero5 on a few boards), and he and I are going to hit a ton of ballgames on the way up, while we’re there, and on the way back; if you’re reading this and graph any of these ballparks, please let me know! We’d love any intel we can get, and would love to hang out with other collectors when we’re there.

FRIDAY, 7/27: AA Tennessee (Cubs) at Birmingham (White Sox)

SATURDAY, 7/28: A Rome (Braves) at Lexington (Royals)

SUNDAY, 7/29: A Asheville (Rockies) at West Virginia (Pirates)

MONDAY, 7/30: AAA Indianapolis (Pirates) at Columbus (Indians)

TUESDAY, 7/31: A Great Lakes (Dodgers) at Lake County (Indians), and AAA Louisville (Reds) at Toledo (Tigers)

WEDNESDAY, 8/1: Off day

THURSDAY, 8/2: AA Bowie (Baltimore) at Akron (Indians)

FRIDAY, 8/3: MLB Angels at Indians

SATURDAY, 8/4: A Bowling Green (Rays) at Lake County (Indians)

SUNDAY, 8/5: A Lansing (Blue Jays) at Fort Wayne (San Diego)

MONDAY, 8/6: A Beloit (A’s) at Cedar Rapids (Twins), AAA Las Vegas (Mets) at Iowa (Cubs)

TUESDAY, 8/7: AAA Las Vegas (Mets) at Iowa (Cubs)

WEDNESDAY, 8/8: Arrive back in Texas

All games are subject to change, void where prohibited, contents packed by weight not volume, ceci n’est pas une pipe.

Q: Are there hotel deals?

A: The National has sponsor hotels, though those will go quickly and tend to be a bit higher-end. I opted to get on Hotwire and find a good rate that way. So Arron and I are staying in Macedonia (as in the town in Summit County, NOT the country with Skopje as its capital). $460 for the week, which isn’t bad at all. If you fly in, rent a car for sure. Your hotel may offer transportation to the IX Center, but don’t count on it.

Q: I hear there’s a VIP Bag. What’s in the VIP bag?

A: Lots of freebies from card companies and other sponsors. You’ll get small promo sets from Topps, Upper Deck, Panini, and Leaf, plus maybe some coupons, magazines, and of course your program and autograph tickets. Get the VIP pass and you’ll get all of that. Get the SuperVIP pass, and you’ll get TWO of everything.

Q: What’s the best day to buy?

A: Buy anything you have to have as soon as you see it. But wait until Saturday or Sunday to do some bargain hunting. Personally, I plan to quickly visit tables Wednesday and early Thursday and mark down some to check more extensively later. I’ll spend time searching the ones I wrote down on Thursday and Friday, and probably do most of my buying late Friday and Saturday.

Q: If you want autographs, is the All-Access upgrade worth it?

A: From what I can tell, YES. I stood hours in autograph lines in 2014. I saw people with it who could have looped the line 10 times if they wanted to (fortunately even if you have 50 items to get signed, as long as you have 50 tickets you can do them all at once and not have to take one item and one ticket at one trip). It’s worth an extra $100 to have significantly less of a wait.

Q: What percentage of collectibles are modern and what percentage are vintage?

A: I feel like there’s more vintage, but not immensely so. I’d guess about 60/40. It’s all about demand and vintage will ALWAYS be in demand. If you’re only needing modern stuff, you’ll find plenty of tables with it. Singles, boxes, cases, high-end, low-end, old, new, graded, raw, someone will have something you need. In most cases, several will have it.

Q: What should I bring with me?

A: That all depends on what you’re looking to do…

Are you mostly getting autographs? Have something to get signed and you’re all set. TriStar supplies all the pens that you might need – I saw blue and black Sharpies, silver and gold paint pens, blue and black ballpoints, and even blue Staedtler. If you’re super-specific about what you want it signed with, then bring that, but for the most part it’s covered just fine.

Are you looking to fill needs for a set or a player collection? Simply bring a want list, a box to put your cards in after you pay for them, and a bag for easy carrying. Maybe some sleeves and toploaders. A foldable stool might be a good idea as well. I’ll also have a 1600-count box in the car to put everything in at the end of the day.

Are you looking to sell? Don’t bring too much: dealers usually don’t do much buying the first few days, and even when they do it’s likely to be higher-end stuff. So don’t come in with a couple gigantic boxes of commons.

No matter what, comfortable shoes, a bag (messenger or backpack), some small snacks, and money. You can have a good experience on any amount, but the more the better. Think of what you’d want to get, look for approximate prices to expect. Then double it because you’ll find things you want that you didn’t even think of. But know your limits and only bring what you are comfortable with leaving at a table. Snacks like a sandwich, some almonds or carrot sticks, and a bottle of water are good to have in your bag since food can be a bit expensive inside, and there are no restaurants near the grounds. Hand sanitizer and breath mints are a good idea too.


Have the floor plan handy. There will be a map of it in the program, also on the National website so you can print a copy or two ahead of time. Mark on it what booths you want to visit again.

Visit the manufacturer booths, even just to see what they are all about for the next year's offerings. You never know what freebies they may have stashed behind the table. Some even have their own autograph guests during the week.

If you are going for the autograph guests, be sure to keep an eye on the time. Lines can get long and if you wait too long to jump in, you may miss who you are interested in.

Plan on at least two days if you can: it’s hard to see everything in one day. If you’re limited to a single day, I would recommend Saturday: get there as soon as the doors open, leave at the last possible moment.

Talk to anyone and everyone – even on your hotel shuttle! You never know who might be able to help you with your collection. Be friendly to the dealers, the staff, and to everyone really. It can go a long way. Keep an eye on SCF and other sites in the time leading up to the show. Don’s annual National thread is a good way to find people who are going and connect with them beforehand. They may be able to help you if they come across something you need – or if you come across something they need. Networking is important at a huge event like this.

So, I hope that helps you out. And of course, I look forward to seeing all the members of SCF who come in for the show.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is clearly bat-shit insane, as displayed via interviewing himself for this column, his love for Cleveland, and for his probably-unsustainable schedule of ‘graphing on the trip. He lives in Texas with his wife, two cats, and several thousand autographs.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL: First happening in 1980, the National Sports Collectors Convention is an annual gathering of collectors, dealers and any other groups interested in collecting trading cards, autographs and other related memorabilia. For more information, visit

East Meets West In Grand Prairie

East Meets West in Grand Prairie
The Chinese National Baseball Team takes the field in North Texas
By Drew Pelto
Written for Broken Bat Media, June 2018

Containing three of the 50 largest cities in the United States among its 9,000 square miles, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country. Dallas sits to the east, Fort Worth to the west, with Arlington, Plano, Denton, Irving, Carrollton, Lewisville, and more scattered about.

The east side meets the west side in Grand Prairie, home to the American Association's Texas AirHogs. The independent minor league baseball team often gets lost in the shadows of some bigger counterparts: the major league Rangers play five miles down the interstate in Arlington, right next to the NFL's Cowboys and a short drive from the WNBA's Dallas Wings; the NHL Stars and NBA Mavericks play just the other way in Dallas; Frisco has the Ranger-affiliated RoughRiders, G-League basketball's Texas Legends, and FC Dallas of the MLS; and Allen and North Richland Hills have minor and junior level hockey. 

Typically the American Association has some strict roster limits, including when and how many players can be added and dropped, how many can be veterans versus rookies, and of course how many can be on a team at a time (typically 22). Most teams have only two, three, or rarely four coaches.

But the AirHogs have nearly that many pitchers alone-- 19 in fact. Their staff list contains twelve coaches. When it comes to position players, there are a more-typical two catchers, seven infielders, and five outfielders, plus another three on the inactive or disabled lists. That's 36 players.  Whereas many players in the American Association have their previous team listed as another independent minor league squad, a college, or an affiliated minor league team, only a true international baseball afficionado will recognize the teams on the AirHogs' roster: Jiangsu Pegasus, Shanghai Golden Eagles, and the Sichuan Dragons.

In Grand Prairie, East is meeting West in more ways than just geographically: The entire Chinese National Baseball team is on their roster.

A month into the season, it's been a slow start. The AirHogs are permitted to have 22 players activated per game out of those 36. So lineups are constantly in flux to make sure everyone gets a share of playing time. As of June 17, the AirHogs are mired in last place in the AA South with a 5-23 record. Only one victory has been by more than one run, and they've allowed ten or more runs six times.

The season hasn't been without its bright spots though: outfielder Dillon Thomas leads the team with a .313 average, 5 homers, and 20 RBI, and infielder Chu Fujia has led his countrymen with a .269 average.  Meng Weiqiang has struggled at the plate, going 5 for 54, but he has a decent excuse: he's basically pulling an Ohtani, both pitching and playing the outfield and DH. He has two of the AirHogs wins and his 3.24 ERA is best in the starting rotation-- even better than former MLB first round draft pick Tyler Matzek.

Of the twelve coaches, four have significant big league experience, which is also a rarity at this level. Many coaches and managers played in the minors or had short major league careers like Brent Clevlen or George Tsamis. The AirHogs have former Mariners and Phillies skipper John McLaren at the helm, who managed Team China at the World Baseball Classic in 2017 and 2013 alongside AirHogs' hitting coach Jimmy Johnson and assistant coach Yi Sheng. Pitching Coach Larry Hardy threw for the Padres and Astros in the 1970s, followed by over twenty years coaching in the Blue Jays, Giants, and Rangers organizations, serving as an umpire observer for Major League Baseball, and even a stint as a coach for the Republican Congressional Baseball Team for their annual game in Washington. Bullpen Coach Kevin Joseph pitched for the Cardinals and their affiliates. And the longest tenured of them all is Garth Iorg, who spent 1978-1987 with the Blue Jays as an infielder, followed by coaching and managerial stints in the Blue Jays and Brewers organizations, as well as with the German National Team.

Regardless of the results, it's been fun getting to see the interactions between players and coaches of different backgrounds. Kevin Joseph actually speaks some Chinese himself; after he signed some cards for me before a game, he had a brief conversation with a player who looked at me and asked him something.

"He wants to see the cards," Kevin said.

So I showed Kevin's cards to the player and said slowly "That was him playing fifteen years ago," which got a wide-eyed "Whoa!" and a laugh from the player.

Some expressions are universal, just like the game of baseball.

How To Resurrect A Career With One Swing

How To Resurrect a Career With One Swing

By Drew Pelto

Written for SportsCardForum, September 2019

Thirty-five years ago today, the greatest Cleveland Indians career ever began and ended.

No one, not even Jamie Quirk himself, likely expected him to be a member of the 1984 Cleveland Indians. Starting the season with veteran Ron Hassey and rookie Jerry Willard behind the plate, the Tribe seemed well-stocked at catcher. Even in AAA, prospect Chris Bando, former Yankee Juan Espino, and utility man Kevin Rhomberg were ready if the call came that they would be needed at the MLB level. Midway through the season, Hassey was shipped out to the Cubs in the Rick Sutcliffe-for-Joe Carter deal leaving Bando and Willard, while former Blue Jay Geno Petralli was signed and put in AAA.

Meanwhile, Quirk’s career looked to be potentially coming to an end. He had mostly been a utility man through the first nine seasons of his career, passing up a scholarship to play quarterback at Notre Dame after being drafted in the first round by the Royals in 1972. Notable players picked after him include Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Gary Carter. After struggling to crack the lineup as a shortstop, he converted to catcher in 1979. The Cardinals released him at the end of the 1983 season, and he remained in St. Louis as a coach and bullpen catcher for the early part of the 1984 season. But when Carlton Fisk went down injured in July, the White Sox signed him to serve as insurance behind Marc Hill and Joel Skinner. Quirk only pinch-hit and played an inning at third base. Once Fisk was back to health, Jamie went to AAA Denver, and then went back home to Kansas City at the conclusion of the season.

The Indians were well out of contention late in the 1984 season. 30 games behind the eventual World Series winning Detroit Tigers, they were playing for pride and maybe to be the spoiler for a tightly-contested West Division.  In the middle of the month, Bando was unable to continue catching due to a bruised leg. Needing someone to back up Willard in the event of injury, the Tribe turned to Quirk, purchasing his contract from the White Sox for an undisclosed sum. It was mostly viewed as just a precaution: no one really expected the career .245 hitter to play ahead of the 24-year old rookie unless there was an injury or a game going to extra innings.

The season ended for the Tribe at home with four games against the Minnesota Twins, who trailed Quirk’s former Kansas City mates by a game and a half. Trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth in the series’ opening game, Pat Tabler finally got the Indians on the board: a double followed by Willard driving him in with a single.  Willard was lifted for pinch runner Tony Bernazard, which would only mean one thing: Quirk was going to catch the ninth.

Or more. Bando, able to hit but not catch, pinch-hit for Mike Fischlin, walked, and was lifted for a pinch-runner. Brett Butler bunted them over, and a ground out and single later, we had a tie game. Not only was Jamie Quirk going to actually catch an inning, but he would be due up third in the bottom of the ninth. Ernie Camacho worked his typical inning, teetering on a tightrope and barely avoiding trouble from a pair of walks, much to Pat Corrales’ constant consternation. But he got rookie Kirby Puckett and future Indian Ron Washington both to fly out to keep it tied for the Tribe. After a pair of strikeouts to George Vukovich and Pat Tabler, Quirk came to the plate.

Through nine seasons, Jamie Quirk had 14 career home runs in 909 at-bats. He wasn’t quite at Tyner Zone level (mostly since his OBP was also low), but he wasn’t exactly the guy you’d fear at this point in the game. He was more of the “okay, let’s get this guy out and go to extras” type of batter.

Closer Ron Davis was rated on Twins Daily’s list of worst Twins of all-time. He had just suffered his thirteenth blown save of the season moments before in the bottom of the 8th, less than a week after picking up two saves against the Tribe in the Metrodome. Davis delivered a first pitch strike, followed by a curve out of the zone to even the count at 1-1.

Quirk recalled later that he wasn’t going to take a cut at a curve with anything less than two strikes. So when the 1-1 pitch came as a fastball, Jamie turned on it, just tucking it inside the right field foul pole for an improbable Cleveland walkoff victory.

Reports differ as to the distance, of which no publicly-accessible video currently exists. Some say it was the longest home run of Quirk’s career. Some say it went into the upper deck. I choose to believe it left the Stadium entirely, bounced off the big Chief Wahoo over Gate D, and rolled into Lake Erie.

Meanwhile, the shell-shocked Twins dropped all four games to the Tribe: the next night in a 11-10 walkoff from Butler’s bases-loaded one-out single (Davis’ MLB record 14th blown save that season), then 6-4 and 7-4 respectively on the weekend. The Royals won the West by three games over both the Angels and Twins before getting swept by the Tigers in the ALCS.

Jamie Quirk never played another game for the Indians. There is no photographic evidence of him having played for them. He remains the only player (as far as I can find) to hit a walkoff home run in the only inning he ever played for a team. The Indians released him two weeks later, and the Royals brought him in for Spring Training the following year, resurrecting a career that appeared to be DOA after the 1983 season. He went on to be part of a pair of World Series winners with the 1985 Royals and 1989 A’s, though he did not play in either. He has since served as a major league coach and minor league manager and is currently Minor League Catching Coordinator for the Marlins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: At five months of age, Drew Pelto hit only one less home run for the 1984 Indians than Jamie Quirk. He lives in Arlington, TX and at press time, has hit as many this season as the Rangers’ Patrick Wisdom.

Tales Of A Little League Washout

Tales of a Little League Washout

By Drew Pelto

Written as a series for SportsCardForum, February-March 2020

One of my previous articles several months ago touched on the effect that the 1994 Major League Baseball Strike had on youth baseball, and it led to me thinking back to my playing days, short though they were.  I never got as far in baseball as plenty of members here did. I’m sure we have a few who may have briefly played pro ball (the autograph groups I run on Facebook actually have Mason McReaken, who pitched for the 2018 Danville Braves and has a 2019 Topps Pro Debut card, as a very active member, along with former Major Leaguers Billy Sample, Fritz Peterson, and Shawn Hare watching from the periphery). Some of you probably played in college, or at least into high school. I was done by age twelve.

But every ballplayer has a story somewhere in them, even just memories of Little League, sandlots, backyards, or pickup games where everyone plays every position with ghost-runners to fill in for a lack of players; where third base is that tree stump over there, a ball hit into the wood pile is a ground rule double, and I cannot stress this enough, the ladder against the garage is IN PLAY, KYLE.

Besides, it’s my column, I’ll write whatever I want.

*     *     *     *     *

Part I: Pirate Pedigree

My earliest baseball memories come from the age of five or so. A plastic bat, a plastic ball, and either a tee or my dad tossing underhand to me in my mismatched Detroit Tigers jacket and Cleveland Indians Cory Snyder signature hat: this is what happens when you grow up in Ohio to Michigan-native parents and grandparents. Summers were spent with a week in Upper Michigan in my grandparents’ backyard, as my 87-year old grandfather watched my dad toss pitches to me and I’d whack them toward his raspberry patch.

Grandpa Pelto was the family’s first ballplayer.  He was born in Finland, a country that eventually developed their own version of the sport, pesapallo (literally “nest ball;” look it up sometime, it’s weird and fascinating and I don’t pretend to even remotely understand it), but the early 1900s had nothing. They wouldn’t even have a league for their top sport of hockey until the 1920s. When he was six years old, July 4, 1909, Grandpa arrived in America with his mother, two older sisters, and a younger brother. His father had been here for four years at that point, working as a copper miner and farmer and saving to eventually bring the family over, buy a house, and have some farm animals of his own. Even during the Great Depression, Grandpa had a car and a record player, both of which helped win my grandmother over, herself a daughter of Finnish immigrant miners and farmers. They even were the rare family to have fresh butter daily in those years, thanks to owning and tending to a couple of cows.

Almost as soon as his feet hit the ground in America, Grandpa was playing baseball. Back then, every town had its own amateur adult team, represented in places like the Wisconsin-Michigan League, with names like the Marquette Undertakers, the Calumet Aristocrats, and the Hancock Patriots. Grandpa teamed up with the neighborhood boys in Boston Location, Michigan, calling themselves the Boston Pirates. That name stuck once youth teams were organized and lasted several decades. Grandma’s brother, my great-uncle Edsel, would later become one of their top high school age players as a pitcher and first baseman, even getting an invite to a camp run by Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio after their return from World War II.

I don’t know much about Grandpa’s time playing, but it didn’t last long. By the time he was 15, the first World War broke out and he found himself leaving school and working full time in the copper mines: first as an errand boy, then as a trammer, then as a timberman and assistant carpenter. He remained a fan for life though, catching the Milwaukee Braves and Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, and Toronto Blue Jays any time he could when they could be picked up on the radio or later the TV. He was on the long end of 81 when I was born and died just shy of 89. But I remember him watching in that summer of 1989, and in his aged, weary, Finnish-accented voice telling this five-year-old how “Dere was dis little kirl down ta road, she play Little League, she hit tat pall way out to da trees dere. You konna let da kirls peat you?” before I’d go up and try to crush a plastic ball over his flowers, past the neat rows of raspberry plants, and into the precisely-planted jack pine trees. And a year after his death, as I watched a 1992 Blue Jays-Rangers game on a black and white TV, rabbit ear antennas pointed north toward CKPR in Thunder Bay, Grandma reminisced about how Grandpa always watched the Jays any time he could, since they had the clearest signal in the Copper Country.

In 1987, a Finnish magazine interviewed him on the life of Finnish immigrants in America. He told the interviewer how one day when he was approaching retirement in his early sixties, several younger miners were trying to toss rocks over the top of a 100-foot high building near one of the mines – probably a rockhouse or one that encased the steam hoists. None had come close to clearing it. Grandpa said he saw them, walked over, picked up a rock, and threw, clearing it on his first try. The ballplayer in him always lived on.

I have his old mitt, a Smoky Burgess catcher’s model that he used to catch my dad in once he was playing. My dad played organized Little League ball in the 1950s and 60s, and as luck would have it, played on a team called the Pirates as well. The problem, though, was two-fold: my dad is left-handed, and as an adult got to about 5’8”. Throughout high school he was known as “pikku,” Finnish for “little.”  That didn’t matter to the coaches though: he often ended up at second base and shortstop, and also pitched a lot. He made a few area all-star teams up north and got a photo in the paper with his next-door neighbor, Major League journeyman and fellow lefty hurler George Brunet.

Clearly his playing career didn’t last long either, thanks to those genetic restrictions of shortness and left-handedness. He was pretty well limited to adult league softball teams from college onward. When playing softball while finishing his Masters’ at Michigan State, he and his team were looking forward to getting to play against a team from the prison down in Jackson, as reports said the Tigers might sign a guy doing time who had shown some adeptness for the game. Unfortunately, the game was rained out, and by the time it was rescheduled, Ron LeFlore had been paroled, signed, and sent to the Clinton Pilots. But just the same, he was a fan for life. My dad’s favorite player was Braves’ Hall of Fame lefty Warren Spahn, and so it made for a fun coincidence that I shared Spahn’s April 23 birthday.

Dad was typically a Tigers fan when my parents lived in lower Michigan and Iowa, gradually making the transition to being an Indians fan after moving to Ohio. Anytime he had to travel for work, he would try to catch a game, getting to see Steve Carlton pitch for the Phillies at Wrigley, the original fountains when Kauffmann was still called Royals Stadium, and plenty of Cedar Rapids Reds games before Eric Davis, Paul O’Neill, Kal Daniels, and Chris Sabo became household names on the 1990 World Champion Cincinnati Reds.

So thirty years later, as a right-hander it would seem all I’d have to do is not suck to have my family’s longest baseball career. It turned out that was easier said than done.

*     *     *     *     *

Part II: Organized Beginnings

For my first few years, my only baseball mitt was a toy, faux-leather fielders glove. Despite its stiffness I was able to learn to catch and field plastic ball grounders on the cement driveway reasonably well. Finally at either Christmas 1990 or my birthday in 1991, I got a real one: a Spalding 42-547 Frank Viola model. We missed the 1991 T-Ball sign ups by two days, but finally in the summer of 1992 I was on the field, number 11 for the Leonbruno Insurance T-Ball team at age 8.

Painesville at that time had a weird age divide for baseball: T-Ball was age 6-8; Major League was age 9-12, Senior League was 13-15, and Big League was 16-18, with similar age brackets for girls’ softball.  They’ve gotten smarter since then and now have it set to T-Ball at age 4-5, Coach Pitch 6-7, Minor 8-9, Major 10-12, Junior 13-14, and Senior 15-16. It’s a major shock going from hitting off a tee to facing a kid throwing over 60 mph from only 45 feet away. For those who are not mathematically inclined, that’s requiring the same reaction time as facing 80 mph or more from MLB distance. It’s much better to have a coach or machine pitch step in between, followed by facing pitching from those who are your actual peers. There’s a huge gap, both physically and mentally, between a 9 year-old hitter entering the batter’s box for the first time and a 12-year old pitcher who has been doing it for two to three years prior.

Learning to field with a cheap glove that could barely close using a smooth plastic ball on hard cement made fielding with a real glove, real ball, and slower dirt field a breeze. Our T-Ball team had something like 15 players; everyone had a spot in the batting order with 11 fielders at a time and you’d often change positions almost every inning with only a few exceptions, like the left-handed kid always playing at first and the amazing fielder always playing at shortstop. Often you’d end up with two to four players on the bench when your team was in the field. I typically ended up playing second, rover, and pitcher, with the occasional inning at first or left-center. I remember my first game against the Painesville Firefighters taking a line-drive off my arm from their biggest player, known simply as Big T. Seriously, we were the same age – he may have even been younger – and I think he had a foot and 100 pounds on me. That single debut play ended up being a parable for my baseball career: “Hey this kid’s got some potential – oooh, wow, that ended badly.”

We went 4-12 that year: it took us until our fourth game to win a game or for me to even get a hit—in which I accidentally did what was done to me weeks earlier, lining one off a kid who would go on to be a teammate of mine in Little League a few years later. That win came against a team my family had tried to get me on since it was coached by a neighbor, so it was fun to beat them. I even had the walk-off game-winning RBI via a ground out. Despite the inauspicious start, I had fun, and that’s what T-Ball is supposed to be about. I got my name in the paper three times that year which I thought was the coolest thing ever, and I couldn’t wait to get to play real baseball the next year.

In the offseason, my dad built a target on the back of our garage out of some 2-by-4s, painting it with leftover house paint to match, and outlining a rulebook-accurate strike zone on it. I could throw tennis balls off of it and work on fielding some more, and even try my hand at pitching and know what was a strike versus a ball without a catcher or umpire being needed.

I’ve been told that when the Painesville Little League established itself in the 1960s, it had three divisions (American, National, and Eastern) with eight teams each; each team had 15 players, and played 21 games. By the time the 90s hit, it was scaled back to two divisions with ten teams each; each team typically had 12-13 players, and played 18 games. Painesville City and Fairport Harbor kids were put in the American Division, while Painesville Township, Concord, and Leroy kids went to the National Division.

Little League was the first time I’d ever had to go to tryouts for a sport—mostly since it was only the second year I ever played anything.  We all were guaranteed a spot on a team; it was just a question of which team and how much playing time you’d get. It took place in early March in the gym of the local high school with the coaches all watching us throw, then bat with lobbed tennis balls, field, even pitch a little, and then draft us. I remember having a good day out there; granted, a tennis ball shoots off an aluminum bat like crazy, so my offensive skills probably appeared much better than they actually were.

I don’t know what round I was drafted in, but a couple weeks later, we got a call about my team and first practice: I ended up the third generation of Pelto to be on a team called the Pirates.

Immediately the “Hey this kid’s pretty good… err, wait, no” struck again. In my number 3 jersey I fielded anything hit at me, and mostly played second base and the corner outfield spots. At the plate, I went 0-for-16 with 16 strikeouts. I did at least walk 18 times, stole a few bases, scored a few runs, and managed a couple RBI from a walk and a hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded. I even started a few games at second, rare for a nine-year-old. Our first baseman didn’t trust me early on. One game he ran over to pick off every grounder headed toward me, until eventually he missed one and I had to eat it since no one was covering first. Coach gave him an earful.

I often questioned that first baseman’s brain power. Besides the selfishness and distrust in fielding, in one game he got easily thrown out trying to advance on a ball that the opposing first baseman dropped and had roll about 10 feet from him, with our first base coach screaming “NO NO NO” as he took off running, thinking he had heard “GO GO GO.” He led the team mashing six homers: it would have been seven but he failed to touch first base on one, making it nothing more than an over-the-fence fly out. Later in that game, our shortstop hit a home run and literally jumped on each base with both feet—I'm not sure if he was trying to show the first baseman how it was done or making sure the umpire was aware that he touched each base. Maybe both.

Our coach actually knew what he was doing, and even though his son was on the team, he didn’t treat the team as being his kid’s starring stage with the rest of us as his lesser supporting cast. He even got kicked out of a game for questioning the strike zone of the umpire, which honestly was terrible: that umpire was not asked to return the next season. 

Most Little Leagues have a rule that siblings get put on the same team. Not ours: while we did have two brothers on our team that year and the following year, we also had a player whose younger brother played for the Dodgers, and another whose younger brother was a Cardinal.  Of course, the best trio of brothers ever to come through the league all ended up on the same squad over a ten-year span: just coincidence that they won the division every year, I’m sure. Of that trio, the youngest one ended up pitching in the Reds organization for six years and tossed a no-hitter for Sussex County in the CanAm League, while the other two brothers seemed to hit about .750 every year with 92 homers while pitching 38 no-hitters and throwing out 120% of would-be base stealers.

At the very least, I suppose didn’t look terrible: there were five of us nine-year-olds on the team, we all were sub-.200 hitters that first year, and at least three of us went 0-for-season. I could field, I could get on base, so I had something to build upon going into season number two.

As another March rolled around, we got a call from a new coach, which I expected: our previous coach’s son aged out so we knew he likely wouldn’t return. But aside from that, it was the same Pirates team, same teammates for the most part, and as the snow melted away practices started anew. We had two catchers going into the season, and one day at practice we had one of them pitch, so the coach asked the other one to get behind the plate. He kind of hemmed and hawed about it, so I said if he didn’t want to, I’d do it. I always wanted to catch but never had the chance until that moment.

A month later, on my tenth birthday, I was the starting opening day catcher.

I looked ridiculous. I got my number 3 back again, but the catching gear was all one-size fits all, which meant it didn’t. Again, I was always small for my age anyway, so wearing catching gear that was probably adult size wasn’t exactly optimal. I’d crouch and the chest protector would balloon out between the bottom of the mask and the top of my thighs. The tops of the shin guards went to mid-thigh. Fortunately I had some shin guards that I got at a garage sale that fit much better—so much so that for the next three years, every other catcher on my teams asked to borrow them on days when I was playing elsewhere in the field.

I remember sitting in the dugout getting the gear on to warm up our occasionally-catching pitcher on opening day when the other catcher came in. He sits down and says “Man, you stole my position.”  I shrugged and said “Guess you should have done what coach said then, huh?” He didn’t have an answer for that, but he got over it quickly too. We ended up having a three-man split behind the plate that year. He got his time, I got mine, as did the one who was pitching in practice that day. In the last game, being well out of playoff contention, all the 12-year olds who were aging out got to play any position they wanted to. One shortstop/pitcher caught a couple innings, one outfielder pitched three innings, the pitcher/catcher played first, and the other two just chose to stay with their more normal positions.

Our coach knew a guy who used to catch in the Indians organization back in the 70s and brought him in to help coach a game when the assistant coach was out of town. He offered me one piece of advice I never forgot: shin guards seem to be able to be used on either leg, but they’re not. Make sure the buckles are on the outside of the leg. He once saw another catcher on one of his teams run to back up first base, catch the shin guard buckles on each other because he had them on the inside, and fall flat on his face, knocking out a couple teeth.

Our coach this year was again a player parent that had no delusions of grandeur about his son, who hit about as well as I did my first year. The kid even took a fastball off the helmet from the league’s hardest throwing pitcher (who clearly had limited control as he had hit me both that year and the year before). What I liked though was that he gave us all chances to prove ourselves at almost anything we wanted to try on the field. I played every position except first and third that season, even pitching 11 innings, entirely in relief: no wins, no losses, and one save thanks to a game being too dark to finish. Once I got brought into a bases loaded, no out jam in the first inning of a game (our starter walked the first four hitters) and got out of it only allowing one hit that drove in two.

I was still close to useless at the plate. I did manage to make fair contact in my second game of the season, grounding out, but I still was mostly a strikeout-or-walk hitter.  Midseason against the Dodgers, I finally got my first hit, off the aforementioned brother of my previous year’s teammate. This was no cheapie either, but rather a lined shot up the middle into center. It was the first time where making contact felt like it was supposed to. Every other ground out, fly out, foul ball, I could feel it in my hands, the reverberation of the aluminum as the shockwaves enter your phalanges and metacarpals and make you step out of the box and shake them out. With that hit, nothing. I swung, heard the ping of contact, saw the ball flying, and took off toward first with a sigh of relief. It was the only hit I managed all year; I had a bunt single taken away weeks later by an umpire who called a ball that was touched by the third baseman on the foul line as foul, striking out on the next pitch.

That summer of 1994 killed baseball for a bunch of us. My family flew up North that summer for the first time, having typically driven. The weather in the Upper Peninsula was unusually dreary that week, with fog and some rain, but just clear enough that my dad and I could still throw the ball around outside the motel a couple times. But that poor weather where baseball started for my family seemed like an omen of a coming delay: weeks later, I watched from my other grandmother’s house in Lower Michigan as the major leaguers went on strike, leaving us in the lurch as to whether we would ever see the pros play again.

*     *     *     *     *

Part III: Ending Before It Started

Drew’s Note: Originally I intended this series to conclude on March 25, the day before MLB Opening Day 2020. Instead, we have no baseball to watch, much like where this series left off during the 1994 strike. But this time, there’s no playing ball ourselves to make up for it. I certainly didn’t see that coming when Part I was posted up...

I ran into our coach at a card show with my dad the next January at the local community college. The major leaguers were still on strike, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t keep on playing. Coach said he wasn’t sure yet what was going to happen except that he was planning to still be leading us. Apparently a lot of the previous year’s players hadn’t signed up to return both for us and one other team; even his own son was questionable in his interest. There should have been about seven or eight of us who would be eligible to return next season. I later learned only three of us came back. The league at least kept us updated: there was talk of combining the two teams for a while, but leaving it at 9 teams would be tough on scheduling. A few weeks later, I heard from my third coach in three years. The league held a dispersal draft of the Pirates’ and Giants’ players. The Cardinals’ coach remembered seeing me as a catcher against them, so they snapped me up to go behind the plate.

It felt weird when I was told that: I was usually the kid who was last picked at recess, mostly due to it being a popularity contest, and I was not. But here I was: actually wanted!

Our new coaches were different: both player parents, and this time with the “my son is awesome” mentality that pervades far too many Little League dads. One of them, his kid could play well. Good fielder, a rare switch hitter, played second, first, catcher, and pitcher. The other played first base and pitched, had a below-average bat, and would likely have been a bench guy if he hadn’t been a lefty and the coach’s kid. Instead he was on the Division All-Star Team at least twice.

I also got glasses in the offseason, which is a killer for a catcher. If I had a wild pitch or passed ball, I used to whip off the mask and helmet combo and chase it down. Ditto on a pop-up. But now if I did this, I’d lose the glasses with it. My parents wouldn’t let me get contacts, so my choices were either never lose the mask, play without glasses, or not catch anymore. Good luck getting the third option to happen: that was my favorite and best position. I played a few games without them which was fine as long as the pitcher’s control was good and the batter didn’t send one straight up. For the most part, I just had to deal with not losing the mask. My jersey number switched to 1, which felt weird. But we didn’t have a number 3 jersey and I was sick the day of number selection, so my choices were 1, 50, 51, or 52. Gross. In a moment of irony, I actually now wear 52 as a floorball goalie.

Overall, our team was a disaster. We had only one twelve-year-old on the team in this 9-12 league, plus a coach in only his first season, so it should have been clear that we would struggle. Our lone home run was hit by a kid I had previously played T-Ball with: blooping one down the line, landing fair, and rolling toward the fence where the inattentive right fielder couldn’t find it until it was too late and he beat the first baseman’s throw home. It was one of three hits on the season for him. We finished 2-16, and the one thing that kept us out of last was the fact we had a huge comeback on the eventual 1-17 Mets. They were up on us 13-2 in the fourth inning of a game. About to get mercy ruled, we needed two runs in our half of the inning to keep it alive, with me leading off. I walked and came around to score, so we were off to a nice start.

As I waited on deck for what would have been my third plate appearance of the inning, we finally made the third out. 12 runs had crossed the plate and we had even left the bases loaded. With time running out due to the second game needing to get underway on our field, we took home a 14-13 victory. I don’t remember our other win that year at all, but I do remember one we could have won…

It’s not often that Little League games go 9 innings. Typically six, some can end after as few as four for darkness or mercy rules. But we had battled the Jets for seven innings one night, having to call the game due to darkness. With the tie, we picked up where we left off a few weeks later. I had started the game in left field, being lifted in the fifth for a substitution. Little League rules allow a starter to return to the same spot in the batting order, and when we got to the ninth down a run, my original spot in the order was coming around again. And with two outs and a runner on first and the light hitter who replaced me coming up, Coach told me to grab a bat.

That’s right: a guy who would go on to hit .100 on the season pinch-hitting, solely since that’s slightly higher than the guy who finished with a .000 mark.

The first pitch was in the dirt for a ball, the second pitch caught the inside corner to go 1-1. Coach put on the steal sign; I swung, missed, and the throw to second was in time, out number three, and the weight was off my shoulders… until the second baseman dropped the ball on the tag. So the umpire comes back, says the count is 1-1. I took the next pitch on the outside corner for a strike, which he called strike two. The other team complains, and he says “Oh, correction, you’re right, that’s strike three,” and the game is over as I stood there stunned at the plate. Had he correctly said the count was 1-2, my approach would have gone a different way.

That third season felt different. Part of the problem was that I was a league veteran who never knew any of my teammates outside of practices and games. It’s one thing to know no one your first year; but totally different when it’s your third. I went to a private school and only one of my classmates played as a member of the Dodgers. Whereas most of my teammates and even our opponents all knew a lot of each other from school, I never did, so I was always a bit of an outsider. Even my former Pirates teammates were almost nowhere to be seen that season. I only remember seeing one as he came to the plate while I was catching: oddly enough, it was that catcher that I passed on the opening day depth chart. He ended up catching and playing third for the Chiefs.

Baseball was losing my interest as a player, even somewhat as a fan. The strike eventually ended during that season, and my beloved Indians even went to the World Series. But it was the first season that my favorite player, Cory Snyder, was out of the game, exiled to AAA with the Red Sox and Padres organizations. I barely bought any 1995 cards at all after having most of the 1992 Topps, 1993 Donruss, and 1994 Topps sets. And I just wasn’t improving as a player at all. Sure going from .000 to .045 to .100 is an improvement, but not at the level I had hoped. I enjoyed pitching in the 1994 season, but when I told our coach that I used to pitch a bit with the Pirates his answer was an uninterested “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” It would seem that going 2-16 should have been a perfect time to maybe try us at other positions, experiment with what the players wanted to try, and work on future development.

Reluctantly, I played a fourth season, and it was clear that my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I was relegated mostly to outfield play that season, with less behind the plate, and almost none at short and second. And somehow getting among the last choices of jerseys despite being among the vets, I was stuck wearing 51. A new kid on the team had his dad complain to the coach midway through the season that he used to catch in his previous league and should be catching on this team. And he did, at which point I was relegated almost solely to outfield duty. I asked my parents if they could let the coaches know I used to pitch since they didn’t listen to me. They wouldn’t do it.

Even in early season practices, they closely watched four potential pitchers. Two others of us asked if we could try pitching. They didn’t even bother watching us throw for more than two pitches each. We were getting blown out in a game, 11-0 in the third, and as I sat on the bench I thought I might finally get to get back on the mound. Coach called “Andy, you’re pitching,” and as I grabbed my glove he said “No, not you, the other Andy,” putting in a backup outfielder who could barely get the ball from the mound to the plate while I sat there stewing.

Coaches trusted my opinion though as a veteran of the league. A few times on the bench, I was actually asked my thoughts on some strategic decisions: whether to bunt, or steal, or even in changing pitchers. I may never have had the skill, but at least mentally I was as sharp as anyone.

I don’t remember what our record was that final season: I didn’t really care at that point. I know we placed third in the Division which put us in the playoffs. I remember winning our playoff game against the second-place Dodgers, then losing to the annually-stacked Browns. And I remember I didn’t start a single one of our last four games.  I actually hit .150 that year, but being 12 and barely able to make contact meant that I may as well just forget it at this point: being a great glove guy means nothing if you don’t have a bat. 1996 was my last year of organized baseball. My playing interests moved on to soccer and basketball in middle school and hockey and indoor soccer in high school and college.

Clearly I was destined to be a big fish in a small pond when it came to the game. When we’d play anything baseball-like in gym class or after school, I was a masher at the plate and could field well at any position. I’d be the only one whacking home runs. In the Emerson College Wiffleball League, I was a .400 hitter, a Cy Young nominee, and an All-Star. In our summer lob-pitched pickup baseball games in college, I hit close to .500 as a slap-hitting second baseman. But in organized, competitive baseball, I was little more than a roster filler.

Few of us in Painesville’s history ever made it very far in the sport. Katherine Gurley, who eventually was on the US Womens’ National Baseball Team, rolled through the American Division with the Red Sox while I avoided having to face her playing in the National; I previously alluded to Jamie Walczak and his time in the Reds’ org; and aside from that we only had a handful of eventual minor leaguers across the entire county, none of whom played at the same time I did. Even if you go back through all of baseball history, there was just Marvin Hawley, who pitched seven innings for the Boston Beaneaters as a 19-year-old; Ed Andrews, who led the National League in stolen bases in 1886; and Tommy Atkins’ 15 games in 1910 for the Philadelphia A’s among Lake County natives making it into the majors.

I thought about playing league softball for a while, but the few people I know who play around here take it far too seriously. I’m at a point where I just want to have fun playing and no one cares about taking home a championship, but we also aren't getting killed 15-2 every game. My current place of employment had a team for a while, but when they started bringing in ringers to preserve their undefeated status instead of actual employees who wanted to play, I knew it wasn’t for me. One member of my department who is a reasonably good athlete played a few games as a substitute – they stuck him at catcher, batted him last, and he told me he didn’t even know half the team because they didn’t work here.

I think getting away from playing actually got me back to being more of a fan. Baseball was no longer something that I was actively failing at and hating about myself, but something I could just watch and appreciate from the outside. And I could appreciate it at any level: majors, minors, I’ll even watch college softball and the Little League World Series on TV. I got back into buying cards again after college when there was the craze of searching for Alex Gordon's mistakenly-printed cards in 2006 Topps, and now doing a lot of autograph collecting. But I’m perfectly happy only playing baseball, softball, or wiffleball in pickup games. And that's something I haven’t even done in eight years.

I don’t know any of my teammates now; I could name maybe two-thirds of them by full name, and haven’t talked to any since that final season. Once in a while I look some of them up on Facebook, but I doubt any of them would remember me. My old coach with the Cardinals and I have both commented on the same posts in a Facebook group dedicated to Painesville’s past and until I mentioned something in a post on the local league I didn’t think he even recalled me playing for him.

Through four seasons I managed to hit .077 – that’s six hits, all singles, in 78 at-bats. I did at least draw about 70 walks and a few hit-by-pitches. The positions I played most were, in order, catcher, second base, left field, shortstop, right field, pitcher, and center field.

That Frank Viola model mitt served me well for fifteen years. It broke a lace in a pickup game in the summer of 2005 and is now sitting in a Rubbermaid bin in my apartment, along with a Rawlings first baseman’s mitt and a Wilson fielders glove that I bought on an emergency basis that summer. If I was still playing, I’d fix the lacing and still use it: it did its job well and still fits.  I may actually need to fix it up: my wife and I have a friend who loves her hometown Kansas City Royals, but she never learned to catch or throw a baseball. Her youngest daughter wants to play baseball too. Provided we don’t all succumb to COVID-19, she wants me to teach her once the weather cools down after yet another 100+ degree Texas summer that’s approaching rapidly.

The line of Pelto boys playing for the Pirates likely will end with me: I turn 36 next month and my wife and I don’t plan on having any kids. Even if we do, it seems plenty of Little League teams don’t use MLB names these days: one of our local leagues has teams like the Owls, Knights, Warriors, and Express. In the latter years of my time living in Painesville, all the teams had sponsor names only: Bertone’s Sunoco beats Falcone’s Convenient Mart 7-5. It’s all about travel teams now, to the point that anything else is wrongfully viewed as a waste of time and money.

But shouldn’t fun, recreation, and learning the game be enough of an incentive to play at any level?

Coaching parents, if there’s one thing I can impart to you it’s that your child is not the next Willie Mays. Also, there are another 14 players on that team besides him. You are there to coach ALL of them and to make sure they’re learning and enjoying their time playing the sport. Remember what I said about the lack of Painesville natives in pro ball? There’s a good chance your town is no better. Take a moment and read Hal Lebovitz’s August 23, 1964 article “Did You Ever Cut A Boy?” It’s about football, but it applies to every sport quite well.

Non-coaching parents, stay involved. Encourage your kids to play on any team they can and in any sport they want to try. Watch the practices and games. Work on skills outside of practice. Teach them to play anywhere and everywhere on the field: we had a few kids who only played one or two positions, whereas I played everywhere except third base at some point. You never know if messing around in the backyard as a catcher might come in handy someday for your second baseman. Equip them well, but don’t go overboard with top-of-the-line gear. But also remember that you aren’t the coach: let the coach do his job. More than anything, make sure your kids are enjoying it and that they’re playing because they want to play. Your kids are more likely to end up like me than like Mike Trout. Make sure they can look back on their time in their favorite sports as a positive. Read another Lebovitz column, May 29, 1972’s “Whose Game Is It?”

Those columns from the late Hal Lebovitz can be read in the book The Best of Hal Lebovitz: Great Sportswriting from Six Decades in Cleveland. They’re the first two in the book and among the most important writing he did in his career. And you can read those two (and more) free via Google Books.

Former players, it’s your turn. Take that trip down memory lane. What’s your history? The good, the bad, the mundane, let’s hear your stories in the comments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto may have been terrible between the foul lines, but he will destroy you at 2000/2001 MLB Showdown. He currently lives in Arlington, TX with his wife and two cats who play defense rivalling that of Dick Stuart.

What Baseball Means To Me

What Baseball Means To Me
By Drew Pelto
Written for a series on Nine Inning Know It All, April 2020

Baseball is about so many things. Strategy. History. Diversity. The smell of freshly-cut grass on a local park diamond and the stale cigarette smoke of an old ballpark. It’s about the feel of flipping through vintage cards, of a ball hitting a mitt, of sitting on hard, hot bleachers. Stadium Mustard on a Kahn’s footlong – only Clevelanders will understand. It’s about adaptation – whether it’s adapting the game to be played in your back yard instead of a three-acre space, or adapting to a new position because your knees can’t handle it behind the plate anymore, or adapting the entire gestalt of the sport into a simple card-and-dice format (I’ve been playing a lot of MLB Showdown during isolation).

For me baseball is about family connection. The sport has been a part of my family from the first moment my ancestors came to a new country.

On July 4, 1909, my grandfather arrived in his new home of Boston in Upper Michigan’s Copper Country, following a six-week journey from Tervola, Finland with his mother, two older sisters, and a younger brother. Northern Finland had little in the way of sports: pesäpallo wouldn’t be invented for another fifteen years, hockey wouldn’t appear on a wide basis for another twenty, and eukonkanto didn’t have a championship until 1992.

But weeks after arrival, my grandfather turned into the biggest baseball fan you could find. The neighborhood boys, many from immigrant families like his own coming from Finland, Italy, Germany, Croatia, Quebec, Ireland, and England, created their own team. Their creation of the Boston Pirates lasted as an amateur baseball organization well into the 1950s. Baseball as a player didn’t last long for him: by the time he was 15, Grandpa was working in the copper mines due to a lack of workers in the World War. But he was a fan for life, watching the Pirates and catching major league games on the radio and eventually TV whenever he could pick up games from Detroit, Chicago, or the future Milwaukee Braves and Toronto Blue Jays.

On my grandmother’s side of the family, baseball wasn’t quite as big as it was for my grandfather, but her oldest brother played on those same Boston Pirates in the 1940s as a top first baseman and pitcher. When Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio hosted a camp in Florida for returning soldiers and other young prospects to be seen by scouts, a group of businesses in the Copper Country paid for him and a teammate to travel down and participate in it.

Needless to say, my father followed in Grandpa’s footsteps. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a pitcher, outfielder, and middle infielder for the local Little League on the Pirates as well – total coincidence. But like my grandfather, that didn’t last long. Being a lefty and only about 5’7″ severely limited where he could play. Aside from Little League and some company softball teams, he too was limited mostly to being a fan.

I didn’t make it any further than they did: I could play almost any position in Little League, but couldn’t hit a beach ball. After four years mostly as a catcher and middle infielder, my .077 average was enough to tell me I should hang up the spikes and stick to weekend lob-pitch pickup games and eventually the Emerson College Wiffleball League, where I was a Cy Young finalist. However, I too ended up as a Pirate coincidentally.

I never met my grandfather much. They moved from Boston to Laurium and finally to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it New Allouez. I was seven when he died, and we only got up to see him once a year for a week. But I remember him watching in the summer of 1989, and in his aged, weary, Finnish-accented voice telling this five-year-old how “Dere was dis little kirl down ta road, she play Little League, she hit tat pall way out to da trees dere. You konna let da kirls peat you?” before I’d go up and try to crush a plastic ball over his flowers, past the neat rows of raspberry plants, and into the precisely-planted jack pine trees. And a year after his death, as I watched a 1992 Blue Jays-Rangers game on a black and white TV, rabbit ear antennas pointed north toward CKPR in Thunder Bay, Grandma reminisced about how Grandpa always watched the Jays any time he could, since they had the clearest signal in the Copper Country. In the offseason, Major League pitcher George Brunet lived next door.

I turned six years old in 1990 and later that year I went to my first two ballgames. By this point, my family had relocated. My grandparents were still in Upper Michigan: unless he got to a game in an early 1920s trip to Chicago, my grandfather died without ever attending a Major League game. My dad had moved down to Lower Michigan, then onto Iowa, and finally Ohio where I spent most of my life. Dad used to try to get to a ballgame in any Big League city he visited. He saw Kaufman when it was still Royals Stadium; another favorite in Steve Carlton pitching against the Cubs at Wrigley; and a 1966 game at Yankee Stadium when he saw New York and Washington when visiting his sister. In Iowa, he and my mom often attended Cedar Rapids Reds games, getting to watch some big prospects for the Reds including Eric Davis, Paul O’Neill, and Chris Sabo.

It was while living in Ohio where I became a fan, cursed with cheering for some terrible Indians teams. I don’t know how I ended up a fan of his, but Cory Snyder was my favorite player from the moment I first saw a game. Even now, coming up on 36, I have a huge collection of Snyder cards – over 200 different ones, plus a game-used bat, and a few autographs. In 1990, I went to my first game, seeing the Indians beat the Tigers 12-4. A month later, we saw Dave Stieb finally complete a no-hitter after two failed attempts in 1988, beating the Tribe 3-0.

I got started as a serious collector in 1991. My dad had been a card collector too, 35 years before, having nearly-complete sets from 1957 all the way up to about 1964; at some point though, he gave them all to a friend. I had a few cards before then, but nothing major; just some that I had gotten as random gifts. But one day with some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, I went with my dad to K-Mart and paid $1.49 for a rack pack of 1991 Donruss cards. That first pack of cards had a card of our lone star in Cleveland in Sandy Alomar Jr., plus Dave Stieb, and Cory Snyder. Needless to say, I was hooked. Nearly 30 years later, I’m still at it.

The Indians lost every game from the Stieb no-no all the way up to the final game we saw at the old Stadium where they blew a 7-2 lead to the Yankees, dropping it 14-8. Fortunately our first game at the all-new Jacobs Field featured Albert Belle cranking a walk-off grand slam off Lee Smith.

I’ve been to far more games in Texas now, along with a game each in Montreal, Minnesota, Boston, St. Louis, and Detroit. But for me, the two stadia in Cleveland will always bring a sense of home and a sense of connection to my family. I don’t get back to Cleveland much more often than every couple of years, but my dad and I always try to get to a game together, typically the A-level Lake County Captains as they’re a fifteen minute drive for him.

In 2014, I made it up for the National Sports Collectors Convention, and as I stopped by my dad’s house, he handed me a box. Just before my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility in the early 90s, we went through her house to make sure there wasn’t anything left that we wanted. And somehow, surviving 20+ years in the attic, we came across two bags of 1962 and 1963 Topps cards from my dad’s collection as a kid. He was giving them to me. Since then, I’ve mailed off about 40 or so to players to sign; only two never came back to me.

There are a lot of things I don’t have in common with my predecessors. My grandfather was a union copper miner who never took a day off for fifty years. My dad is a Reagan-era Republican with a masters degree in electrical engineering. I border on being an anarchist with a nearly useless journalism degree. But the one thing we all could always agree on was baseball.

TGC: The Series Finale

TCG: The Series Finale
By Drew Pelto
Written for Texas Graphing Chronicles, October 2020

NOTE: This was the "farewell address" for my old Texas Graphing Chronicles blog.

After seven and a half years of writing, nearly 250 posts, and over 67,000 views, I believe this will be the final post I make on this blog.  When I started it in 2013, I was excited to have a place to write every few days about my doings in the autograph world: the good/bad/ugly of in-person outings, TTM successes and failures, interview profiles of other collector friends, and really anything else that came to mind. I was about to return to a hobby I greatly enjoyed in a way that I hadn't been able to do since 2005 and I wanted to go all-in.

In that first year I was typically putting up multiple posts a week. For the last couple of years, it's been one a month. In 2015 and 2016 I was getting hundreds of reads per post within hours of posting. My latest one got 8 in six days. I'll be shocked if even fifty read this in a month. Print-only media is dying. Blogging isn't what it used to be, at least not on a larger platform without loads of links and non-text content. Microblogging, sub-300-character tweets, images, and videos have taken control, as we are first-hand witnesses to a Mooreheadian paradox of our attention spans growing shorter but our lives growing longer. To quote my wife's favorite musician Kacey Musgraves, "Mary Mary quite contrary, we're so bored until we're buried." We as a culture have grown tired of any information that's larger than bite-sized and not entertaining enough. It's why the insultpolitik of Donald Trump & Co. is effective now after it spent decades failing: it's memorable, quick, to the point, and provokes immediate visceral reaction. Riding it to victory proves that the end justifies the means in American culture. Talking about the important things – policies, plans, ideas – at length gets boring and forgotten even though it's the meat of the future.

It's easier to have daily (or near-daily) updates elsewhere. So that's what I'm going to do.

Over the last few years especially while leading a Facebook group, I've had to endure doxxing, accusations of playing favorites, threats of litigation, use of my life and views outside the hobby as ammunition against me, threats of violence, and more "fuck you, Stalin" type of messages in my inbox than you can possibly imagine. I even had someone make ridiculous accusations of me showing up at his friend's job and getting him fired via a sexual assault claim – either a case of recklessly mistaking my identity for someone else or an attempt at a completely fabricated hatchet job against me. It has gotten to a point where especially over the last two months I have had to ask myself numerous times if it is really worth waking up and wondering what sort of crap I'm going to end up taking from people. And all of this over a personal autograph collection!

I've hit a point where I can't make fair criticism and raise concerns without fear of overly-strong retribution. I'm even sitting here wondering who's going to take offense to this as I write it. Welcome to journalism in a post-Trump world.

Trying to put yourself out there to be a force for positive feels great until it turns on you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Trying to constantly fight against me-first negativity and unethicality in our hobby has led me to bordering upon paranoia about deciphering the meaning behind people's actions and words. I don't particularly enjoy that. I always joked I'd have a heart attack by 40 but this week has made me think it might not be a joke. The victories in this pro-hobbyist battle are largely Pyrrhic.

It's weird to call Twitter and YouTube positive places but in the autograph hobby they are so far. None of them have the cobwebs of a mostly-text blog. Disagreements I've had with people on YouTube have remained remarkably civil discussions of opinion; via Twitter I'm trying to avoid and unfollow accounts that are not 100% about the hobby; whereas the Facebook flareups I've seen and been involved in get out of hand quickly, and if I lay the hammer down from a position of authority I'm automatically the bad guy. Enough already! I've been banned from groups and accept that I probably deserved it when it happens. Many people I've dealt with while working with similar situations from the other side refuse to ever make that concession. The old "They hate us 'cause they ain't us" line is a load of crap: they probably hate you because you're an ass.

I've tried to be a positive in the autograph hobby. I want to keep out those who would do it harm, reduce the number of those who act solely with self in mind, and educate newcomers wherever possible. My favorite phrase is "The overall health of the hobby is more important than the size of your collection." And I truly believe that: the size of your collection won't matter if the hobby is dead or at least unattainable for most.

And the number of positive comments I got from people about the effort I put in for so long following my decision to step down from the Facebook group is evidence to me that at least my intentions have been understood and appreciated. In fact, I have not had a single negative one put to me directly from it, and that means a lot in something that has largely been a thankless job for four years. You're never going to please everyone, so all you can really focus on are those who are important to you and those who appreciate your efforts.

If a hobby is getting to where it's not as fun for you anymore, you have to ask why you're trying to preserve it for others at such a cost to yourself. I already lost all enjoyment in my previous sports broadcasting career, something that has just now started to come back after leaving it for most of a decade. I haven't hit the point I did when I left it, but I want to stop any potential skid before it hits that crash point: I don't want to have my preferred avocation completely ruined for me too.

Every collecting world seems to hit a point of unsustainable growth. How many booms and busts can you name? You had the sports card boom of the 80s and early 90s where every product had cards and every town had multiple card shops, followed by its bust in the late 90s as overproduction brought about a diluted market; Beanie Babies had their boom in the late 90s that went bust just as fast; comic books, antiques, stamps, coins, toy fads... Even each of these areas has their own internal mini-booms and busts – Kevin Maas, anyone? Cards are seeing a crazy boom again as well: is it reaching critical mass?

We're seeing a huge bubble happen in the autograph world in terms of participation. When I came down to DFW in 2013, Rangers games had a dedicated group of maybe 20-30 collectors at the average game. I knew most of them by name quickly and we helped each other out. The last game I was at, there had to have been over a hundred, and the only ones I recognized were a few I didn't like much. When I went to an Angels-Indians game in 2018, I didn't bother graphing and I'm glad I didn't: watching from a distance, the group was ten-deep all the way down the fence. The minor leagues are getting overrun by prospectors. People who had never TTMed before or hadn't in years are getting back into it during pandemic boredom. Players are getting swamped with mail to where many excellent free signers have stopped (Rick Reuschel) or are charging fees (Jerry Browne and Tom Brunansky), and many who already charged small fees are raising those (Bob Grich). While it has brought a few tough signers out of the woodwork (Harold Baines), is it worth the cost of losing so many others? A comment from a person helping to go through five years of Dave Stieb's mail mentioned that he has gotten numerous requests of 8 or more cards, some with lazily copied letters with another player's name crossed off and his written in, return envelopes with no postage (perhaps even no envelope at all), and even one person that requested a heap of both cards and index cards with specific inscriptions requested on each with no compensation – and sent it twice. Billy Sample said he now tends to get an average of five requests a day whereas a decade ago, it was maybe five a week.

You may not care since you already got Reuschel, Browne, Brunansky, and Grich, or you're okay with paying for the latter trio, but what about a newcomer to to the hobby? What about a kid who loves baseball history but whose $10 a week allowance would take him almost a month to get Grich? They no longer have that ability. And someday you might end up in their shoes and miss out on someone who stops because it's gotten to be too voluminous, or whose fee is through the roof. This is why I think fighting to limit hobby greed is such an important enterprise. The hobby should be accessible to all who want to participate. Think before you act out of self-interest.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who care about the monetary profit more than the hobby enjoyment, and those types will be its downfall. Collectors who go in with profit in mind first tend to have a problem with self-control when it comes to milking their newfound cash cow, much to the hobby's detriment. It's the same with riding any other boom to (or past) its bust point.

Even non-monetary gains: do you really need 20 cards a year signed by Rick Reuschel, Frank Tanana, Danny Darwin, Charlie Hough, and Tom Foley? I've sent to Tanana twice in my life. I probably have another 50 cards of him sitting here. I have no desire or need to mail out even 1/10th of them. I gave four to a friend to mail off. If someone else wanted a few, I'd give to them too.

I know I'm not going to reach every collector with my reasoning, nor am I trying to be the autograph police, nor do I think I'm going to somehow spark a worldwide change (no matter how many times people try to strawman that those delusions of grandeur are somehow my goals). All I've ever wanted to do is whatever is within my grasp to help keep the hobby civilized and thriving. Think globally but act locally; be the change you want to see in the world; we not me; you know the clichés.

So, I'm scaling back. I'm focusing on my own collection and on continuing to practice those ethics myself. And that's going to mean less public involvement and leadership. If you get anything out of this (besides off my lawn), I hope it's heeding my request to exert self-control. Take those ten cards you want to send and pare it back to four.

Thanks for reading Texas Graphing Chronicles. As the great Hal Lebovitz used to sign off: "Stay well, and see you somewhere, I hope."

Talkin’ Tribe: A 2021 Outlook 

Talkin’ Tribe: A 2021 Outlook Following A Blockbuster Trade
by Drew Pelto
Written for Nine Inning Know-It-All, January 2021

And just like that, he was gone. Again.

When you’re a fan of a small-market team in a sport without a salary cap, it’s a sentiment you come to know all too well. As a Tribe fan since 1991, I’ve seen the team lose the likes of Albert Belle, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Chuck Finley, Juan Gonzalez, Bartolo Colon, Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana twice, Edwin Encarnacion, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, and Mike Clevinger either as high-priced free agents or in trades right before free agency.

And now, we can add Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to that list. It must be nice to be a fan of a team that can just throw money at a problem and if it fails, write it off and keep repeating until it works. Last time the Indians tried that, it got them to the playoffs repeatedly in the late 90s, but ultimately left a financial pit and an empty farm system that took four managers, three GMs, and fifteen years to rebuild into a consistent contender at least briefly.

When you’re a fan of a small-market team in a sport without a salary cap, you get a brief championship window: enjoy the hell out of it because it won’t be open for long. After spending Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in Cleveland hoping to see a parade the next day, I watched Game Three of the 2017 ALDS with my wife’s family here in Texas. The Tribe led the series at that point 2-0. When Greg Bird homered in the seventh inning, I told them that was the end of the Tribe’s window. They thought I was crazy. But the team has yet to win a playoff game since: three straight losses to the Yankees, followed by a three-game ALDS sweep by the 2018 Astros, and a two-game Wild Card sweep by the 2020 Yankees.

And yet in 2021, hope springs eternal with an asterisk. After a World Series appearance four years ago, only Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez remain on the team. But smart drafting and decent trading has built a roster that might have seen that closed window get propped back open.

When I look back to the 1995 and 1997 Indians World Series teams, what strikes me is a lack of pitching. The lineup could pound anyone not named the Atlanta Braves, but they’d have to win slugfests. The 2021 Indians are built the other way around: pitching heavy and hope to eke out a lower-scoring win.

Carlos Carrasco’s isn’t a huge loss. Smart teams trade from a position of strength and Cleveland is sitting on an incredible pile of starting pitching. It’s why Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, and Mike Clevinger have all been expendable. The Indians currently have four solid young starting pitchers. Shane Bieber is coming off a Cy Young Award, the pitching Triple Crown, and the 2019 All-Star Game MVP Award. This ace in the making won’t even turn 26 until early in the 2021 season. Same goes for Zach Plesac (29 starts, 12-8, 3.32 over the past two seasons) and Aaron Civale (22 starts, 7-10, 3.69). And Triston McKenzie won’t even turn 24 until August (6 starts, 2 relief appearances, 2-1, 3.24 late last season). The number five starter spot can easily be filled for cheaper than Carrasco’s $12M– maybe even from in-house with Logan Allen, Adam Plutko, or Cal Quantrill.

The bullpen is likely to undergo some tweaks. Thankfully, Brad Hand has worn out his welcome in Cleveland; despite leading the league with 16 saves last season and an ERA in the low twos, he was incredibly ineffective in non-save situations, blew five of them in 2019, single-handedly cost his team Game Two of the 2020 Wild Card, and was largely responsible for taking a 2018 ALCS Game Three from close and winnable to a blowout and hopeless. James Karinchak will likely step in as the new closer with Emmanuel Clase and Nick Wittgren in setup roles. Depending on that fifth starter spot, either Quantrill, Plutko, or Allen could hold middle-to-long relief roles. Plus, they still have Phil Maton, Cam Hill, and Kyle Nelson ready for short-to-middle roles.

Moving on to offense, let’s start in the places where there will be changes: most obviously on the middle infield. Trading Francisco Lindor hurts: he would probably get listed as one of my five favorite Indians of all-time. But Lindor has been slipping. In 2016, he was a .300 hitter with 15 homers and the Platinum Glove Award. Over the next three seasons, his batting average dipped below .280 despite a rise to 30 homers. 2020 saw the worst dip yet: .258 with 8 homers (this translates to about 20 in a full season) and a serious drop in Range Factor since that 2016 season (4.37 to 3.67). I can’t justify spending $17.5M on that: maybe the Mets can get him right again.

Also gone are Lindor’s Gold Glove double play partner Cesar Hernandez and on-base guru at first base, Carlos Santana. Hernandez got over six million last season and the front office is questioning if that price is worth bringing him back. Meanwhile first base is another place of strength, or at least versatility: it’s a power position and therefore not a place to spend multiple millions on a .199 hitter who was two points away from being in the Tyner Zone (for the uninformed, the Tyner Zone is when your OBP is higher than your SLG, named for Jason Tyner who spent two seasons there and missed it for his career by only nine points).

Two of those spots were filled via Lindor’s trade however: Amed Rosario has mostly played shortstop for the Mets, but there has been talk of shifting him elsewhere: second base and the outfield are the most obvious candidates and I believe you’ll likely see him as the Opening Day second baseman. From the Mets fans I follow on Twitter, the general consensus over the last year has been that he’s still a good player, has a lot ahead of him having just turned 25 with four seasons of experience under his belt, but he may benefit from a change in scenery.

Andres Gimenez is believed to be the real gem of the trade. At 22 years old, he just made his debut last season, hitting .263 with a good glove at multiple positions. Both players have speed: Gimenez was 8/9 on stolen base attempts last season, Rosario has seasons of 19 and 24 thefts. Neither appears to have Lindor’s power potential, but both should provide more offense than Hernandez, or certainly Santana’s 2020 numbers.

First base has options: Jake Bauers, Bobby Bradley, and Josh Naylor all are possibilities, but all three come with questions. Bauers has holes in his swing that trucks are known to drive through: did his time in the minor league camp in 2020 help that? Naylor has a nice bat, but is an absolute unit at 5’11” 250 pounds: how’s his mobility in the field? Is Bradley Major League-ready? He got some limited action last season, but hit .178 with one homer and 20 whiffs to four walks. My personal preference: Naylor.

Third base is the one steady spot on the infield with Jose Ramirez. It’s weird to call a three-time MVP candidate and two-time All-Star grossly underappreciated, but here we are. Averaging 25 homers a season and hitting .280 should be enough to get recognition as one of the top players at his position and yet maybe it’s just me trying not to overrate Tribe players, but it seems like he’s always lived in Lindor’s shadow. I expect to see a breakout 2021 for him– same play, but more recognition.

Let’s move to the outfield. I make zero effort to hide my love for Oscar Mercado. I have tried to push for a hashtag to trend about being #MoistForMercado every time he does something great; sadly, it has not taken off.  2020 wasn’t the best for Mercado, hitting .128 after a .269 season with 15 HR in 2019. However, he was also being yo-yoed between the big club and the minor league camp and lost his starting job, making it hard to get into a groove. I believe he can bounce back; you may see him as the starting center fielder with Delino DeShields currently a free agent.

Jordan Luplow also took a step backward in 2020, reverting to numbers similar to his time as a Pirate after the best season of his career in 2019. He may be another case where he just needs to be comfortable and get into a groove. Seeing as he only played 29 games out of 60, that can be tough. I have hopes, but I also would keep a short leash.

The third starting outfield spot is pretty well open: Bradley Zimmer, Daniel Johnson, and either Bauers or Naylor could take it. You might also see a re-signing of Deshields or Tyler Naquin. Outfield is definitely this team’s weakest spot; and I don’t like it. Fortunately, they have some financial flexibility right now: trades and free agent signings are all possibilities to help bolster that.

Behind the plate, Roberto Perez has the catcher’s spot-on lockdown. What he lacks in offense (.212 career average, but .239 with 24 HR once he became an everyday player) he makes up for by being the best defensive catcher in baseball over the last two seasons. He handles the pitching staff well, he’s thrown out 41% of could-be base stealers over the last two seasons, and is consistently named as the best at blocking balls in the dirt. You can afford a loss of offense when you have that level of defense. Austin Hedges likely has the backup spot locked up as well: he has a similar lack of offense with solid defense.

I’ve covered the outfield bench pretty well; infield bench and DH both seem pretty well set too. Yu Chang has a spot as a reserve infielder locked up: he can play all the non-first spots well, and while his bat leaves much to be desired, that’s a trait you’re seeing all over this team. It’s passable at least. This team has enough versatility that only one reserve is necessary: multiple players can play first base, and the other four infielders can each play every non-first position effectively. Franmil Reyes is THE big bat in the lineup at DH with some spot-playing in the corner outfield spots.

Overall, this is going to be a rebuilding season but it could be a fast rebuild. The Indians have youth on their side: Roberto Perez is their oldest player and he just turned 32 in December. If they come together quickly, you could see a team that runs the Central for years to come. However, there are four other teams out there– one with similar young star power in the White Sox– who have things to say about that. This is an organization looking at a lot of change: roster rebuilding, a name change in a year, and with their stadium lease running out after the 2023 season… could a new home follow?

Cleveland has the pitching to win the pennant, but their offense is bargain basement. I have faith in the readiness of their recent young acquisitions and predict a somewhat optimistic third place finish for the team in 2021. But whether they finish closer to second or fourth will be an effective barometer on what will happen as to whether the rebuild is a quick one that props the same window of opportunity back open, or just the beginning of an extensive remodel.

Standing Up, Standing Out

Standing Up, Standing Out

by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

Written for SportsCardForum, June 2021

I always liked Carl Nassib as a player. In a sport of mountains of men, even he stood out at 6'7" 275 while running a 4.8 in the 40. He went from a walk-on bit player for two years in college to leading the nation in sacks as a senior and winning four major awards.

My Browns took him in the third round of the 2016 Draft and while he didn't pan out to what we hoped, well, who really did on the team in those years? It was disappointing to see the team waive him in 2018, but with a lot of my fellow Browns fans, when you play for our team, you're one of us for life. So it's been good to see he still has a role in the NFL now as a rotational defensive end.

His admission this week that put himself out as the only openly gay player in the National Football League certainly came as a surprise, but a positive one. It's an action that takes courage.

I have always considered myself a supporter of the LGBTQA+ community. I grew up in the Unitarian Universalist church. We were the first religion to approve the blessing of same-sex unions, dating back to the Association's 1984 General Assembly, and have championed equal rights for that community since the 1970s. So I knew many openly gay and lesbian people all throughout my formative years.

The detractors are right on one thing: exposure to the LGBTQA+ community certainly does affect children.

It makes kids realize that those people are people too, just like them. They are mothers, fathers, siblings, sons, daughters, our family, our friends, and are in all walks of life. Many professions, many hobbies, many interests. And it makes someone coming of age who might be struggling with their own attractions realize that they aren't alone.

In my high school years, I often was babysitter for a lesbian couple's three children. My closest male friend in every level of school from pre-kindergarten through college has later come out as gay, including the future best man at my wedding. I had friends in my high school and college years who eventually came out as trans-- one male-to-female, and one female-to-male.

Having gay and lesbian friends, family, and role models didn't lead me down some road of immorality. It didn't turn me gay or trans myself. All it did was give me the perspective that they have the right to live their life any way they feel is right as long as it doesn't harm anyone else: just as much as I do.

After ten years of marriage, my wife opened up to me and to many others in our life that after spending her whole life closeted that she is bisexual. In the following years, she has become much more open with who she is and who she has been her whole life. She is much happier. We have had a polyamorous relationship with an incredible woman for the last two years and I love them both dearly.

And yet, there are still people who have played important roles in her life who would rather cut her off than accept her for who she is. I wish instead that they all could have had the reaction that her mother had: "Okay, that's great; hey, what do you want for dinner tonight?" Frankly, I hope everyone in a similar situation receives that sort of a response.

The world is improving for people with orientations that differ from the majority. But I've seen first-hand that it's still not easy. And it likely won't ever be easy in my lifetime.

So you have my highest respect, Carl Nassib. And frankly I like you more now than when you were with my team.

In the world of professional men's sports where homosexuality is still viewed as a gigantic stigma, it takes a lot of courage to open up and admit who you are. It's hard to keep hidden; but it's harder to open up. And as Carl said in his video, representation and visibility are important.

Hopefully this is another step toward a human existence where these stories are no longer big news, but rather just viewed as some ordinary, everyday piece of who we are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto is a writer, podcaster, musician, and card collector in North Texas. He is a Cory Snyder Supercollector, though this man-crush is of the asexual variety. 

Do Better, Indians (No, That's Not Better) 

Do Better, Indians (No, That's Not Better)
by Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*
Written for SportsCardForum, October 2021

Three and a half years ago, I wrote an article in favor of removing the Chief Wahoo logo from the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe had announced the 2018 season would be their final usage of it, but also said at the time the Indians name would remain.

And now, today, the name is officially gone along with it. I get it; and once again, I don't mind it. As my previous article said, I'm going to support the Cleveland baseballers no matter what their name is. If you're freaking out over the name change then it makes me wonder how big a fan you were to begin with. Did you boycott Pepsi when they changed to blue cans in 1997? Did you lose it when the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards? If not, then why freak out over this one?

But at the same time, the Guardians' name and logo are just... bland.

I like the fact that they made a nod toward Cleveland history with the name. But the Art Deco bridge it's named for is a bit of Cleveland minutiae to which even the most die-hard local might not get the reference. I lived in Northeast Ohio from 1985 to 2005. The first time I ever drove over that bridge? 2014, almost a decade after I left-- and only because I took a wrong turn trying to pick up I-71 leaving Downtown while very tired after the Panini VIP Party at the National at about 1 am.

Even if the name is kind of boring, the logos are just bad. If your name is Art Deco inspired, use some Art Deco imagery. The wings on the baseball look out of place. The text is the same as the current script, just with the first two letters removed and five new ones stuck on. Hmm, maybe that's why they did it: Dolan was too cheap to pay for a new name and he could just recycle pieces of the old one.

If I made a depth chart of names I liked, it would go something like this.

1: Cleveland Cyclones. Why was this not pitched (no pun intended) by more people? First off, you get alliteration: though two different C sounds, the block C can mean either the city or the team. Second, Cyclones are scary: ever been in one? I've only been near one and that's more than enough. Third, it has history related to Cleveland baseball as there was once a pitcher for the old Cleveland Spiders known as the Cyclone before it was deemed too long as a nickname. He was pretty good too, he has an award named after him, but you'd know him better as Denton True "Cy" Young. Because, wouldn't you want a pitching staff composed of Cy clones? It references a former player while also not being as sleepy sounding as the old Cleveland Naps moniker. Cleveland Cyclones. This was a massive missed opportunity.

2: Cleveland (something that actually honors Louis Sockalexis). Let's forget about the trite story of how some little girl said they should honor the great Native player. There is no evidence of that ever having happened. Sockalexis was largely forgotten within a few years of his career ending. You can find very few references made to him from then until well into the 1940s. No matter how hard people want to cling to the story, there is no evidence from the time of the name's adoption that mentions Sockalexis: American society at large was still trying to force Natives to be more white. The name was not adopted to honor him; if anything, uses of it even in his day as an informal reference to the club were disrespectful and based around the idea of Natives as savages. So to claim the name was created to actually honor him, put your money where your mouth in: meet with the Penobscot tribe of which Sockalexis was a part. Meet with the Erie tribe who once inhabited the lands of Northeast Ohio. Ask how they can be accurately depicted and honored. Find a name that comes from a word of their language. You could keep the theme while being respectful, much in the same way that Florida State University regularly meets with Seminole leaders. But that would require a significant degree of humility from team ownership.

3: Cleveland Blues. Cleveland baseball clubs went by the Blues moniker from 1879-1884, 1887-1888, and 1901. Blues played into the creation of Rhythm & Blues, which Leo Mintz renamed Rock and Roll at his Cleveland-area Record Rendezvous stores (before a corrupt glory-hog disc jockey took all the credit). The city has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a case could be made that the electric eels were the very first punk band-- and they hailed from Cleveland. It's something musical to point out the city's mark on it, while also keeping to a baseball tradition. Of course the MLB's Toronto Blue Jays and the NHL's St. Louis Blues may want a word with team ownership about this.

4: Cleveland Buckeyes. Surprising winners of the 1945 Negro League World Series, upsetting a Homestead Grays squad that had won back -to-back World Series and featured future Hall of Famers Jud Wilson, Ray Brown, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, and Cool Papa Bell. It's the state tree and the state candy (even if it started out as nothing more than an accidentally-deformed peanut butter ball). The name for a baseball team actually predates The Ohio State University adopting it for sports-- which it did in 1950. But that still could be a point of legal contention.

5: Cleveland Generals. Okay, hear me out. I heard calls for the Naps name to be resurrected, which I didn't like. Sure, it would reference a former leader much like the Browns reference Paul Brown because before the Indians, they were the Naps, named for future Hall of Fame player-manager Napoleon Lajoie. But as I said above, Naps sounds like they're going to lie down for a rest. So, how about another Napoleon? Napoleon Bonaparte was a famous French general. Cleveland Naps, to Cleveland Napoleons, to Cleveland Bonapartes, to Cleveland Generals. Yeah, not even the girl at the Dairy Queen counter has grasped at this many straws. Never mind, move on.

6-Pentultimate: Anything else, Guardians included, except...

Last: Cleveland Spiders. Look, I actually like the Spiders name. It's different, and spiders have a sneakiness about them which is perfect for a sport rife with cheating. It clearly has loads of history in Cleveland baseball as the name from 1889 to 1899. They had six Hall of Famers. But the 1899 squad is enough to ruin the name for me. That year, the team's owners also bought the St. Louis Perfectos (now Cardinals, no relation to Mr. Telles) and in an epic conflict of interest took all of Cleveland's top players, shipped them to St. Louis for the Perfectos' worst, and treated the Spiders like a sideshow. They finished 35 games out of 11th place in the 12-team National League with a 20-134 record. Teams refused to play in Cleveland due to the dismal crowds. The pitcher for their final game was 18-year-old Eddie Kolb, a counter boy at a cigar shop in the Cincinnati hotel where the Spiders stayed. The kid told the manager he would give him a box of cigars if he could pitch the final game of the season. He went on to allow 19 runs (9 earned) on 18 hits across eight innings, with five walks, and one strikeout. He somehow got a hit as well in their 19-3 loss. The identity of the hapless Cincinnati Red who struck out is not known.

Hmm, Cleveland Kolbs? Okay, that one might be worse.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto, a lifelong Cleveland sports fan after living there for 10 years, lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. If you are considering trashing all your Cleveland cards, apparel, and other items in protest of the name change, he humbly asks that you mail them to him instead.