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Baseball Notebook: Time travel made easier by Bacon grease

Sunday, June 01, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

If an informed citizen of 21st century wishes to impress with an explanation on time, space and the curveball, he traditionally begins at Einstein's. The theory. Not the bagel shop. (Although doesn't most good dialog in a Seinfeld world begin at a bagel shop? At least until the bars open.) The intertwining of holes, nooks and crannies in the universe in relation to place and George Steinbrenner's ego? Very heady stuff. Particularly for a man who obviously had to overcome an unrequited obsession for breakfast breads even as he was locking up Time's Man of the 20th Century with six decades to spare.

That makes The Guy In The Stands wonder if Kevin Bacon had been given that same 60-year head start, that perhaps we'd be here this morning pondering the size of his brain and wondering if the secrets of the atom really could be found by watching "Footloose" backwards. Look how the theory that bears his name has spread in only the few years since three students at Penn let us in on their dorm game based on the supposition that any actor who ever lived could be connected to Bacon through a chain of common movies. How different the world might be. Perhaps freshman physics students would today be dreading the final exam on "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" and wasting study time frittering away carefree hours playing games of e=mc2.

Food for thought as the Pirates prepare to play the Boston Red Sox this week for the first time since Pittsburg was h-less. As they prepare to "Turn Back the Clock" Tuesday to the 1903 World Series and the days of Honus and Exposition Park.

Black-and-white days. Baggy flannel days. Days when players moved in grainy, Keystone Kop starts and stops dependent on the hand of the flicker operator. Is The Daughter In The Stands ever going to be surprised Tuesday when she shows up to find not only no Sauerkraut Saul and no "Y-M-C-A" between innings, but no Uncle Pegleg, either.

Seems like such a long time ago. More than 2,000 players ago, coming two and three and five at a time for the two franchises. More than 30,000 games ago.

But is it really that long ago? Bob Hope, who turned 100 Thursday, wouldn't think so. Einstein would explain this phenomena with some starchy formula. But why bore you when The Kevin Bacon Degrees of Separation Model is so much more, well, fun.

Like one of those high-powered telescopes in the desert that can see back to before time (even before Keith Richards), it can take us from here to there in a matter of nine moves. Amazing, The Guy knows, but true. Time travel hasn't been so easy since "The Time Tunnel" went off the air.

Play along if you'd like. Ready?

Our game begins today in St. Louis, where Kevin Young (2003-1992) will be in uniform; Kevin Young, who played with ...

John Candelaria (1993, 1985-75), who played with ...

Willie Stargell (1982-62), who played with ...

Bob Friend (1965-51), who played with ...

Ralph Kiner (1953-46), who played with ...

Ken Heintzelman (1947-46, 1942-37), who played with ...

Pie Traynor (1937, 1935-20), who played with ...

Max Carey (1926-10), who played with ...

Deacon Phillippe (1911-00), who won Game 1 of the World Series I Chapter I that October afternoon back in aught-three and went on to pitch five complete games (winning three). It was a feat that reportedly so impressed owner Barney Dreyfuss he gave Phillippe a bonus and 10 shares of stock in the team even though the Pirates lost the Series to the Americans/Pilgrims/Red Sox, 5 games to 3.

This, of course, prompted cries of outrage from fellow owners who feared that they'd never in, oh, a hundred years be able to spend so lavishly as the Dreyfuss dynasty that had won three consecutive NL pennants.

Funny, isn't it, the impossible worlds time travel allows us to see?

And here you thought Kevin Bacon was finished as a meaningful contributor to society after "Hollow Man."

One more trip

In case you wondered, The Guy can link the modern Red Sox to their 1903 team in 10 moves. We'll work in reverse, beginning, fittingly, with Cy Young, who threw the first pitch in World Series history. Young (1901-08) played with ... Smoky Joe Wood (1908-15), who played with ... Herb Pennock (1915-17, 1919-22, '34), who played with ... Lefty Grove (1934-41), who played with ... Ted Williams (1939-60), who played with ... Bill Monboquette (1958-65), who played with ... Carl Yastrzemski (1961-83), who played with ...Wade Boggs (1982-92), who played with ... Mike Greenwell (1985-96), who played with ... Tim Wakefield (1995-03).

Guess the magic's back

The headline in the Post-Gazette April 21, 1995, declared "The magic's gone" in reporting the Pirates' release of Tim Wakefield. By that spring, his 8-1 record, his 2.15 ERA and his two NLCS wins vs. the Braves as a rookie in 1992 had the smell of fluke wafting from them. Another name to throw on the pile of one-year wonders next to Bobo Holloman and Dino Restelli. "He needs a change, and we need a change," Jim Leyland said. "This could be the best thing for him."

Who knew! Jim Leyland: A smoker, a joker and (hmm-grmmph!) a prophet.

Wakefield, who signed with the Red Sox six days later, returns to Pittsburgh for the first time this week requiring seven pages in the media guide to spell out a career that has put him on the same page with guys named Young, Clemens and Grove in franchise history. His Red Sox career stats going into his start vs. Toronto today:

Innings1518 2/310th
Games started19710th

Clean outta here

In the nine days since Bill Butler of the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws became what is believed to be the first groundskeeper ejected from a pro baseball game, you'd have thought he'd out-idoled Ruben and Clay. In a clean sweep, of course (ooh, sorry). BlueClaws media people estimate they've had "between 50 and 100" inquiries about the incident May 23 in which Butler was run for telling umpires (drum roll, please) that it was raining (for a ninth consecutive game), his field was wet as heck and he wasn't going to take it anymore.

"A few years from now, I'm sure a lot of people won't believe it," said Butler, 32, who aspires to a major-league job after 13 years in the minors. But for now, what did it get him?

Reached at his home Thursday, he was still waiting to hear from the South Atlantic League office about a possible fine. Of course, he's also received mentions on "SportsCenter", "The Best Damn Sports Show ..." and in Sports Illustrated.

And oh yeah, he also got one other thing out of all this. After being outside in the rain for nine consecutive games on the now-storied homestand, he also got -- you guessed it -- a cold.

How low can he go?

With the draft Tuesday, the name Matt Harrington is sure to be tossed around in more than a few major-league front offices. Harrington, you see, has become something of an urban legend in draft circles. But for all the wrong reasons.

His tale began in 2000, when the Rockies made the then-promising pitcher their No. 1 draft pick -- No. 7 overall -- out of Palmdale (Calif.) High School. They offered a $4 million signing bonus. Thanks, but no thanks. Oops! He slipped to the second round in 2001. The Padres offered a $1.2 million signing bonus. Sorry, doesn't cut it, dude. Double oops! He fell to the 13th round last year, a slot that brought with it a $25,000 offer from the Devil Rays. You gotta be kidding!

Anyone care to do the math on earnings lost? At last check, he was playing for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent Central League, where he is 0-1 with a 4.30 ERA ... and likely wondering if he should prepare a sign: Will Play For Food.

This 'n' that

Because Roger Clemens' next attempt at win No. 300 was pushed back to today in Detroit, the anticipated matchup between Clemens and Chicago's Kerry Wood -- the only two pitchers to strike out 20 batters in a game -- Saturday at Wrigley Field would seem to be off. ... Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman (2-7, 5.43 ERA), who starts for the Tigers today, was 19 months old when The Rocket debuted May 15, 1984. ... With eight innings of two-hit, shutout baseball in the Rockies' 8-0 win vs. the Dodgers Wednesday, Colorado pitcher Shawn Chacon is an unheard of 6-0 with a 2.61 ERA at Coors Field this season. ... Owners and GMs everywhere had to be smiling this week. Braves star Gary Sheffield fired hardball agent Scott Boras. ... Of even happier news, new Angels owner Arturo Moreno came through on a promise and lowered beer prices at Edison Field by 75 cents. ... The ball Barry Bonds hit for his 73rd home run will finally go up for auction June 25 from the ESPN Zone in New York and be aired by ESPN. Starting bid: $100,000. ...What's more amazing than John Franco coming back from "Tommy John" surgery at age 42 to pitch in the Mets' loss to Atlanta Friday? He came back just in time for John Franco Bobblehead Day at Shea this afternoon. ... Look for either high-schooler Delmon Young, brother of Detroit's Dmitri Young, or Southern University second baseman Rickie Weeks to go No. 1 in Tuesday's draft. ... And finally, after Reds pitcher John Riedling shut out the Braves for 6 2/3 innings on just five hits Monday, he explained his success thusly: "Babe Ruth is dead and Mark McGwire's retired, so I just throw strikes." How beautiful is that?

Shot and a jeer

Shot: The Brewers announced this week that for $36 they will guarantee a fan leaves Miller Park with a game-used ball if they don't snare a foul ball by more conventional means. The Guy thought their attendance figures just about guaranteed that already.

Jeer: With crowds averaging just over 25,000 around the majors -- a reported 4.6 percent decline from 2002 -- the always anticipated Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial beginning of the pennant races saw crowds average 34,219 for 30 dates Saturday and Sunday. Leading up to the big Memorial Day Monday ... when 12 teams were scheduled off. Nice timing.

Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com.

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