The Velvet Underground & Nico: The April Fool’s Version

Not long ago, an amusing fake album cover was making the rounds on Facebook. Back in April 1966, the Velvet Underground and Nico had recorded at least nine songs at Scepter Studios in New York, hoping to place the result as an album with Columbia Records. At least, that seems to have been the thinking—Columbia might have asked them to add some material and re-record some tracks, as they did when Verve Records signed them. Had Columbia signed the VU and issued those nine tracks as an album, the LP sleeve might have looked like this:


That’s not bad, and of course some of the same imagery from their Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia stage shows would show up on the back cover of their actual debut LP, released in early 1967:


But wouldn’t you agree that the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico, as released on Verve Records, was much better? For one thing, it was designed by Andy Warhol:


This is iconic, not just another above-average-for-the-time LP cover, in the manner of what Columbia was putting out on the Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel.

Also note that the fake LP has just nine songs, which would have made for rather short running time, even by 1966 standards. Presumably Columbia would have added “There She Goes Again,” a song the Velvets were already doing onstage in late 1965. Indeed, I’m not convinced the VU didn’t do that at Scepter, the song somehow not making it onto the legendary nine-song acetate (including versions and mixes that were different from the ones used on Verve’s Velvet Underground & Nico, and now officially available) made from those sessions.

Norman Dolph, who helped finance the Scepter sessions, remembers Columbia reacting more or less as follows: “There’s no way in the world any sane person would buy or want to listen or put anything behind this record. You’re out of your mind with this.” In the short term, their failure to get a deal with Columbia definitely hurt. Although they quickly signed with MGM subsidiary Verve, that label didn’t put out their debut album for almost a year, by which time some crucial momentum was lost. Verve never promoted the VU too effectively either, though it remains unknown whether Columbia or indeed any company could have promoted such an unusual and daringly experimental band with much success at the time.

Yet Columbia’s rejection ultimately did quite possibly make the album better. For one thing, maybe Columbia wouldn’t have used Warhol’s design. More importantly, the VU were able to add “There She Goes Again” to the Verve release. Even more crucially, at the insistence of Verve producer Tom Wilson, one more song was recorded for the LP about half a year later, in late 1966, in the hopes of coming up with a commercial track for Nico to sing. That was the classic “Sunday Morning,” though Lou Reed ended up taking the lead vocal, Nico only adding some faint backup vocals. That made a great LP even greater, though the delays were enormously frustrating to a band eager to make their imprint. The full story—time out for a commercial here—is in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.


For more information about this book, click here.

Seeing the fake album sleeve did make me think of other interesting fakes, or at least facsimiles of what might have been, that have circulated over the years. Here’s another, also on Columbia Records:


This is a legitimate vinyl LP release on Sundazed. In the mid-1960s, however, the Rising Sons—a supergroup before their time, with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, and (at different points) future Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy and future Byrds drummer Kevin Kelley—only managed to release one single, despite recording more than 20 tracks. This collector-oriented release creams off a dozen of them to simulate the album that might have come out at the time, had Columbia had its act together. Issued decades after the Rising Sons broke up, it used previously unpublished color photos to, in the words of Sundazed’s website, “present the Rising Sons’ self-titled debut LP as it might have looked and sounded had it appeared in 1966.”

There are numerous other examples of albums that could have come out, didn’t, and have had what-if covers constructed by bootleggers and official record labels. We’ll stop, however, with just this famous one:


That’s what the Beatles’ Let It Be album might have looked like, had it come out around spring 1969 as originally planned, using the title Get Back instead. They never really agreed on how and when to issue the record, or even what to put on it, which played its own large part in breaking up the group by spring 1970. But in playing around with ideas for the cover, at least they got a great photo out of it, deliberately staged at the same location (a stairwell at EMI Records’ headquarters) where they posed for the cover of their first album in early 1963. What a difference six years made:


A Tale of Two Ballparks

About a month ago, it was reported that the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s might share the Giants’ stadium, AT&T Park, for a while in the future. That might happen if the A’s build a new stadium in Oakland (not at all certain since ownership has looked at relocating to San Jose, the East Bay suburb of Fremont, and other options over the last few years) and need a temporary home in the meantime. Why not just keep playing at their current home (the Coliseum, now officially Coliseum) in Oakland, you ask? Well, would you want to play in a ballpark where sewage backs up in the clubhouse, as it did yesterday during a rainstorm canceling the A’s’ last exhibition game?

As a San Francisco resident, I’d kind of like having both teams in AT&T Park, at least for a year or two. That wouldn’t make my East Bay friends happy, as they’d have a lot farther to travel for games, and likely have to pay higher prices. But it would be convenient for me, and the tickets would likely be at least a little less expensive and more obtainable for the A’s games than the Giants contests, if unlikely to be a bargain. And I could wear my Giants/A’s hat, a giveaway years ago at one of their interleague series.


Though odd, two teams in the same city (or at least metropolitan area) sharing the same stadium isn’t unprecedented. The Giants and Yankees shared New York’s Polo Grounds from 1913-1922; the Yanks played in the Mets’ (now-extinct) Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975 while Yankee Stadium was being redone; the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns were both in Sportsman’s Park from 1920-53. The Braves (when they were in Boston) and Red Sox shared Fenway Park for part of 1914 and 1915. There may well be other instances of which I’m unaware.

As you’d expect, this has led to some unusual situations, even though games were scheduled, naturally, so that one of the teams was playing at home while the other was on the road. My favorite happened in 1944, when the St. Louis Browns, to the shock of everyone, won their only American League pennant. They were a legendarily inept team during most of their approximately half-century instance, but with World War II on, they had their window of opportunity to grab a flag, as many of the best major league players were in the military. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals won their third straight pennant, and suddenly the city would host the entire world series, all to be played in Sportsman’s Park.

Even the Browns, the best account of baseball during World War II.

Even the Browns, the best account of baseball during World War II.

As William B. Mead’s 1978 book Even the Browns: The Zany, True Story of Baseball in the Early Forties reports:

The first clash between managers Luke Sewell [of the Browns] and Billy Southworth [of the Cardinals] was over a place to sleep. With housing short in wartime, the Sewells and Southworths had shared an apartment all season. The closet was for men, with Sewell’s clothes at one end and Southworth’s at the other. The Browns and Cardinals were never in St. Louis at the same time. As Sewell would be leaving with the Browns, Mrs. Sewell would entrain for the family home in Akron, and into the Lindell Towers apartment would come the Southworths.

However admirable this display of interleague cooperation might have appeared during the season, it would never do for the opposing managers to sit in the same living room after a World Series game, sipping bourbon and chatting politely with their wives. Besides, Sewell wanted to invite his mother, and Mrs. Southworth could hardly be expected to put up with a mother-in-law from the wrong family and, indeed, the wrong league. To the relief of both couples, another resident of the building was out of town in October and graciously let the Southworths use his apartment.

The Giants and Yankees ended up playing not just one but two World Series against each other in the same ballpark in 1921 and 1922, the final years they were sharing the Polo Grounds. Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, or else they would have staged the entire series there a third straight year, as both teams won pennants again. Babe Ruth likely would have hit even more home runs than he did if the Yanks had stayed in the Polo Grounds, though as it was he didn’t do too badly, totaling 714 homers in his career.

Neither the Yankees nor the Mets made the postseason when they were sharing Shea, though the Yanks came close in 1974. I was only twelve then, but the one issue I remember flaring up as a result of the co-tenancy was with star Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer. The dimensions at Shea Stadium were different than Yankee Stadium, of course, and Murcer suddenly had a lot more trouble hitting balls in the seats. After averaging about 25 homers in 1969-73, his power plummeted, and he hit just ten—only two of them at Shea. As we would say now, the park probably “got into his head,” and I remember some national broadcasters making a big deal out of the power outage. Uncoincidentally, the following year he was traded to the Giants (now in San Francisco) for another superstar deemed to be underachieving, Bobby Bonds.

Bobby Murcer, thrilled to be out of Shea Stadium and playing in that other noted hitter's paradise, San Francisco's Candlestick Park.

Bobby Murcer, thrilled to be out of Shea Stadium and playing in that other noted hitter’s paradise, San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

As one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, AT&T will likely be as hard a place for Oakland hitters as the Coliseum—also one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors, in large part due to its sizable foul territory. As to whether we’ll see them calling AT&T home for a while, that remains as indefinite a proposition as the A’s even staying in Oakland, their ballpark situation having dragged on for years with no resolution in sight.

Hiking in the El Cerrito Hills

Just a few miles north of Berkeley, El Cerrito is not known as a destination point, even to San Francisco Bay Area residents. If it’s known for anything, it’s for being the hometown of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well as the location of Down Home Music, for many years one of the primary retailers and distributors of “roots” music.

Much of El Cerrito is indeed flat, suburban, and unremarkable. But go up the steep hills to the east, and if you know where to walk, there’s some good hiking and views, like this:

Motorycycle Hill

That’s Motorcycle Hill, where riders would indeed try to ascend the peak back in the 1920s. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture of Dudley Perkins winning the 1928 National Hill Climb there:


Photo on the Motorcycle Hill page of the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers site, at

Nowadays it’s a lot more peaceful, though on the other hand, back then, you didn’t have as much noise from the nearby highway and public transit trains. You can still hear some of it on the modest hike I took today, but it’s pretty peaceful for the most part. In part that’s because the community’s making a concerted effort to prevent development on this stretch of land, Madera Hillside Open Space:


Should it remain undeveloped, there will be uninterrupted parkland from here to Motorcycle Hill, save for one main artery (Potrero Avenue) running between them.

The trail going through Madera Hillside Open Space is accessible by public stairway near Madera Circle. Other nice spots on the walk include spots like these:


And this view of the bay. That’s little-known, seldom visited Brooks Island, with larger Angel Island behind it, the Marin Headlands in the distance, and the Golden Gate Bridge at the left:

Brooks Island

This being not-too-far-from Berkeley, it wasn’t a total surprise to come across this public artwork near the end of the walk:


On your drive down (you can bike here, but it’s almost as steep as it comes in the Bay Area, which is saying something), you might come across wildlife like this turkey, spotted on Portrero Avenue:


Cap off the day with lunch at fine eateries such as this, on El Cerrito’s main drag, San Pablo Avenue:


For more information about hikes in the El Cerrito hills, go to the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers site.

Inside Inside Llewyn Davis

I’m not a great guy to see music biopics with, as it’s kind of like seeing a courtroom drama with a lawyer. I’m always finding all the things they’re getting wrong about a musician or band’s career, much like real lawyers can tell you why a certain defense would never fly. So when I heard the Coen Brothers were doing a movie based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir (The Mayor of MacDougal Street, which is very good, though he didn’t finish it before his death), I was dubious. Would they really be either faithful to his story, or capture something of his spirit even if he was more a prototype for a fictional movie?


Well, I’m glad to report two surprises. One was that I liked the movie a lot, though it wasn’t perfect. The second is that, though the pre-release hype I came across (which went on for quite some time) did play up the Van Ronk connection, there really isn’t too much of Van Ronk in the movie’s story or main character. The Van Ronk book (co-written by Elijah Wald) continues to be cited as a source for the film in some media reports, which I find misleading.

Not a rival movie or biopic, but a 1964 album by Dave Van Ronk.

Not a rival movie or biopic, but a 1964 album by Dave Van Ronk.

Not that I’m too annoyed; the film probably wouldn’t have been as good if it had tried to re-create the story of Van Ronk, or another early-‘60s Greenwich Village folkie. But as far as much resemblance between Van Ronk and the movie’s protagonist, let’s be serious here. Van Ronk had a gravelly, bluesy voice that marked him as one of the earthiest and best performers in the scene. Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) sings rather unremarkable material that’s neither as bland as the most whitebread folk revival-ish stuff nor as cutting and keening as Van Ronk (or early Bob Dylan, who’s portrayed with a cameo near the very end). Some people like his tunes in the film; I found them neither here nor there, though they were close enough to the early-‘60s folk revival sound that they fit into the storyline okay. Van Ronk (along with his wife of the time, Terri Thal) was a respected part of the scene who did his part to help other musicians, including Dylan (who took his arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” from Van Ronk’s). Davis is on the margins, on the verge of dropping out of the profession altogether, and alienating everybody, from girlfriends and managers to family and folkies.

Inside Llewyn Davis is more a solid story of a troubled young man than it is a reflection of Van Ronk’s musical and personal life. I didn’t observe the Greenwich Village scene firsthand (I wasn’t even born yet, actually), but the settings in the film do seem reasonably accurate from what a fan like me can glean from the available history. And the film does use some archetypes that have at least some basis in real-life early-‘60s folkies, managers, clubowners, promoters, and well-meaning if unhip liberal academic benefactors. Here are a few that might escape viewers with a casual-to-nonexistent knowledge of the folk revival (which, I emphasize, is no impediment to appreciating the movie):

The wholesome fellow from the military who sleeps on “Jim & Jean”’s floor near the beginning seems to me based on Tom Paxton. Paxton, despite his rabid anti-war views, did serve in the military before his career took off, and has steered entirely clear of controversy since he rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter in the mid-1960s, though the “Troy Nelson” figure in the movie seems more All-American and whitebread.


You don’t have to be a genius to know that “Bud Grossman,” the Chicago clubowner/manager who tells Davis he doesn’t hear enough money in Llewyn’s music, is based in part on Albert Grossman. Grossman also ran a club in Chicago, the Gate of Horn. It was one of the most popular folk clubs in the US, in fact, and was instrumental to the career of early (if largely forgotten) folk revival performer Bob Gibson, as well as a teenaged Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, who learned a lot of his folk chops there before going on to accompany folk stars and co-found the Byrds. Grossman soon became the most powerful folk manager with Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, and others on his client roster. (Later he’d become a big force in rock too, managing Janis Joplin, the Band, and others.)

Getting back to “Bud Grossman,” his suggestion in the movie that Davis sing as part of a trio Grossman’s forming also has some grounding in real-life events. It took some time for Peter, Paul & Mary to solidify their personnel. Van Ronk was considered for one of the two male slots, though it’s hard to imagine him fitting into the smooth harmonies in which they specialized. So was Bob Gibson.

Though Davis is a solo act in the film, it’s clear he’s recorded and performed earlier as part of a duo with another guy, now dead. There were a good if not overwhelming number of male folk duos, like Bud & Travis, Barry & Barry (one of whom was Barry McGuire of later “Eve of Destruction” fame), and (for a while) Bob Gibson and Bob Camp. Gibson and Camp recorded a live album at the Gate of Horn, and Grossman had considered teaming them with a woman singer before Peter, Paul & Mary were finalized. “Bob Camp” later became Hamilton Camp, most known for writing and recording the original version of “Pride of Man,” later made famous in a rock version by Quicksilver Messenger Service.


The smooth, urbane Columbia Records executive in the scene where Davis stumbles into a part as a session musician for the novelty “Please Mr. Kennedy” is obviously based on John Hammond. The legendary producer had played a big role in the careers of jazz giants like Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, and Benny Goodman. He’d be the force behind signing Bob Dylan to a recording contract in late 1961, also producing Dylan’s earliest Columbia sessions. He became aware of Dylan through Bob’s participation (as harmonica player) in a session by another Columbia folk artist he was producing, Carolyn Hester. It’s not clear from the film whether Davis’s role in “Please Mr. Kennedy” will lead to a similar break, however.

The Carolyn Hester album, with Bob Dylan on harmonica, that was produced by Columbia Records' John Hammond, who'd soon sign Dylan.

The Carolyn Hester album, with Bob Dylan on harmonica, that was produced by Columbia Records’ John Hammond, who’d soon sign Dylan.

The ineffectual, elderly manager whom Davis accuses of failing to promote his career in an early scene rings true, as there were (and are) many such figures who don’t make their clients rich. One possible model is Harold Leventhal, who handled the career of Pete Seeger and the Weavers (and, later, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie). But he was respected, efficent, and successful, not the bumbler with the antiquated office portrayed in Inside Llewyn Davis. I’ve heard Folkways boss Moe Asch suggested as a model for this character too, but while Asch might have scraped at the financial margins of the record industry, I’d think he was much tougher and sharper.

The hapless, frumpy Appalachian-type folk singer Davis heckles at a club performance could be based in part on any number of musicians who started their career before the 1960s; played a particularly reverent, striving-to-be-authentic strain of folk music; and who are rarely noted today, in part because the over-reverence of their approach has made them more dated than early Dylan (or, for that matter, Van Ronk). Probably the highest-profile such musician, however, was Jean Ritchie, the dulcimer player from Kentucky who made her first records in the early 1950s, and is still alive at the age of 91. Ritchie’s music might strike some as prim, but it was livelier and more dignified than what little we hear of the woman in this scene.


The Irish singers are, naturally, based on the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, very popular Greenwich Village folk performers, and good friends of Bob Dylan.


Finally, we come to two of the highest-ranking supporting roles in the film, those of “Jim” and “Jean.” There was indeed a duo named Jim & Jean on the ‘60s New York folk scene, and their first album is indeed of the kind of innocuous, traditional-based folk they played in the movie:


But Jim & Jean were more musically interesting than the movie, or that LP, might have you believe. Jim Glover was a close early friend of Phil Ochs, with whom he was part of a folk duo, the Sundowners, before hooking up with Jean Ray. In 1966, Jim & Jean did a good early folk-rock album, Changes, with off-the-beaten-track compositions (some yet to be recorded by their authors) by Ochs, Dylan, David Blue, and Eric Andersen. After a poppier, more elaborately produced third album, they ended their career, though Jean Ray helped inspire two famous songs by Neil Young, “Cinammon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Full disclosure: I did the liner notes for a CD reissue combining their second and third LPs (for which I interviewed Jean Ray, who died in 2007), which can be read here.


Does Inside Llewyn Davis accurately capture these characters, even in caricature? I wouldn’t say so, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s a story set in the early-‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene, not a biopic, though some of the movie’s publicity seemed to be prepping viewers for one. It’s got gallows humor and tragedy that doesn’t descend into pathos, and is recommended whether you’re a folk fan or not. And if you are a folk fan and want to hear the real deal, here’s some more shameless self-promotion. Check out the new two-CD compilation Greenwich Village in the ‘60s on Warner Brothers Australia, which collects several dozen vintage recordings from the folk revival, for which I also did the liner notes:


A False Spring: The Braves in Embryo

In a recent post, I hailed Jim Bouton’s Ball Four as “the Sgt. Pepper of baseball books.” I’ve found most other baseball memoirs (and there are many) disappointing, even some of the most highly praised ones. If pressed to pick #2 on the list, however, I’d go for Pat Jordan’s A False Spring, published in 1975. Bouton probably agreed, as he called it “the best sports book I’ve ever read” on a back cover blurb.

False Spring

While Bouton’s diary shows some of the funniest (and, occasionally, some of the saddest) side of professional baseball, A False Spring is the largely grim underside. First off, you might be wondering who Pat Jordan is. He not only wasn’t a star (as Bouton was, if just for a couple years)—he never made the majors. But that actually makes him a more typical professional ballplayer than Bouton, and indeed the vast majority of baseball memoirists. Most players who make it to the minors never make it to the majors, and Jordan, despite getting a big bonus from the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, was a spectacular failure, only playing for three years and never rising above the class C league.

Most of his book, naturally, deals with his own struggles. There’s no better illustration of how talent doesn’t necessarily translate into success, in large part because, as Jordan admits with painful self-honesty, he lacked the maturity to effectively use his assets. He threw hard to pile up strikeouts at the expense of control, got into tiffs with managers and players, and quit the game altogether after a discouraging 1961 season in class D. In fact, he quit a few days before the season was over, putting the car in neutral so as not to wake the landlord when he and his new wife skipped out on their last month’s rent.

There’s lots more about his brief and checkered career in the book. Some overlooked aspects of his observations, however, are the idiosyncratic details he reveals about his teammates. Most of them, like Jordan, didn’t make the majors, but a good number of them did. Just like we’d never know some of the quirks of Don Mincher, Fred Talbot, Larry Dierker, Lou Piniella, Steve Hovley, Ray Oyler, and many others if not for Ball Four, so does A False Spring have quite a few odd tidbits about ballplayers who made the big time.

Pat Jordan's first book, The Suitors of Spring, collected profiles of various major and minor league players and coaches, mostly pitchers.

Pat Jordan’s first book, The Suitors of Spring, collected profiles of various major and minor league players and coaches, mostly pitchers.

One of the most famous of Jordan’s teammates was Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro. For many years he was the ace of the Atlanta Braves’ staff, yet back in 1959, he was a relief pitcher for their class D team in McCook, Nebraska, after getting a mere $500 bonus. Jordan on Niekro:

At first he appeared only in the last innings of hopelessly lost games. He was ineffective because he could not throw his knuckleball over the plate and preferred, instead, to deal up one of his other pitches, all of which were deficient. He seemed deficient. He was tall and blond and affected a deferential slouch. I dismissed him as a timid man. Years later I would realize that what I’d mistaken for timidity was actually a simple nature. Phil Niekro was the least complex man I’d ever met. He devoted his life to mastering a pitch. He had been taught that pitch by his father when he was six years old and had still not mastered it when he reached McCook…

It was at McCook that Niekro first surrendered to the whims of this pitch and shortly thereafter, where his first success began. It is a surrender a more complex man could never make, but one that eventually brought Niekro a success none of his teammates at McCook would ever approach.


Jordan’s roommate in McCook was Ron Hunt, a scrappy second baseman who would play for a dozen years in the majors for several teams (though not the Braves). He’s most known for his willingness to take first base by getting hit by a pitch. He still holds the post-1900 major league single-season record in that category, taking one for the team 50 times in 1971. But at McCook Hunt was something of a milk’n’cookies guy, warning Jordan their landlady would throw him out if he came in drunk again (though Pat wasn’t drunk—more about that in a minute). Once Hunt introduced Jordan to his visiting mom and dad; a few weeks later, to Pat’s incomprhension, Ron introduced his roommate to an entirely different mom and dad (it turned out both his biological parents had remarried).


When the landlady thought Jordan was drunk, he’d actually gotten into a fight with teammate Elrod Hendricks. Hendricks eventually became catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, and was part of three consecutive pennant-winning teams in 1969-71 (and a World Series champion in 1970). Back in 1959, he was charged with warming up a nervous Jordan in his first minor-league start. Impatient with Elrod’s lazy throwbacks and dilly-dallying stabs at his throws, Pat ran to the dugout to get another catcher. The next morning he was reading a newspaper on a bench when, to his shock, a smiling Hendricks pummeled him to the ground. Hendricks thought Jordan had made him look bad to the manager.

After a decade or so in the majors, ironically, Ellie later became bullpen coach for the Orioles for 28 years. Wonder how he reacted when catchers warmed up Orioles pitchers with less than wholehearted enthusiasm, or when he might have had to do the job himself.


The next season, one of Jordan’s teammates was Rico Carty, later a Braves outfielder (and batting champion in 1970), but then a scuffling catcher in C ball. The Dominican was beginning the difficult process of adjusting to US life, and Jordan invited him out for a couple beers, after which Rico fell asleep right at the counter. This was Davenport, Iowa, not the Deep South, but as Jordan wrote:

The next time I entered that bar the bartender complained about my friend. I apologized for his behavior, assured him that it wouldn’t happen again, that my friend was just awfully tired…

“‘That’s not the point,’ he said. “My customers don’t want no buck nigger in here. Not even awake. You understand?’

“‘Sure,’ I said, a little stunned. Then he asked for proof that I was 21 years old, and when I couldn’t produce any he said he was sorry but that I’d have to leave.”


Also in the Braves’ farm system, Jordan came across Tony Cloninger. Cloninger would have a fairly lengthy career in the bigs, though only one real star season, 1965, when he won 24 games for the Braves. He was something of an overworker, and:

“When his fastball disappeared a few years later, he refused to accept the fact. He simply threw harder—that is, with greater effort. I remember seeing him pitch against the Montreal Expos in 1969. His career was all but over then. He lasted three innings. After he was relieved he walked to the right field bullpen and began firing fastballs to his bullpen catacher. He threw for five innings, as if punishing himself would redeem his career…

“I talked to him after the game. He told me he needed just a few more wins to achieve his hundredth major league victory. Nothing would stop him from reaching that goal, he said, not even the sore arm he now suffered. He just pitched with it, he said, and didn’t tell his manager, because if he did his manager might drop him from the starting rotation.”

Cloninger did get his 100th win late that year, by the way—and, the next season, he’d pitch for the Reds in the World Series, though not too well, starting and losing game three to Elrod Hendricks’s Baltimore Orioles.


Jordan’s most fateful encounter with a teammate involved another future Hall of Famer. Eager to ingratiate himself with a manager, Pat offered to pitch batting practice one day in spring training in 1960 though his arm hurt. His catcher was Joe Torre, who angrily told him to “Put something on the damn ball!” When Joe turned his back Jordan threw the ball at his head, and they almost came to blows before the manager separated them. And that manager, Billy Smith, demoted Jordan to a lower classification after the incident—an incident that, in retrospect, the author felt saddled him with a reputation as a troublemaker.

There’s a happy ending of sorts, as dismal as Jordan’s career was. By the 1970s he was establishing himself as a top sportswriter, due in no small part to A False Spring. In 1996, he’d even write a story on that same Joe Torre, now manager of the New York Yankees, for The New York Times magazine; the pair had buried the hatchet, Joe having no problem with being interviewed by Jordan. And in 1997, at the age of 56, Pat pitched a scoreless inning for the Waterbury Spirit in the independent Northeast League, a comeback that formed the basis of a subsequent memoir, A Nice Tuesday.


San Francisco’s Pacific Overlook and Batteries to Bluff Trail

When visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, most tourists, and indeed San Francisco Bay Area residents, congregate around the area just to the east of its southern end. There are reasons for this: there’s parking, there are public bus stops, there are the best close-up views you can get on foot, and there’s access to the bridge-spanning pedestrian sidewalk. That leaves the Pacific Overlook on the bridge’s west side relatively untroubled, though it too has its share of stunning views, like this:

The view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Pacific Overlook.

The view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Pacific Overlook.

Until recently, this area was pretty scrubby and unvisitor-friendly. Now there’s a small parking area, a rack for bikes (my preferred way of transportation), and paths for visitors to scramble around for views. Best of all, there are relatively few people, even on gorgeous unseasonably summer-like days like yesterday. Real summer-like days, not the cold fog typical of San Francisco summer months; it was 70 degrees and clear. You can climb up on old, long disused batteries for the best views (the short but necessary ladders have thin rungs, bring appropriate shoes):

Climb the batteries for some of the best views from the Pacific Overlook.

Climb the batteries for some of the best views from the Pacific Overlook.

Take the path that ambles downward to the Golden Gate Bridge bike path for close-up views of the Marin Headlands across the water:

A disused hole-in-the-hill is on the paths from the batteries to the bridge.

A disused hole-in-the-hill is on the paths from the batteries to the bridge.

Also remarkably uncrowded is the Batteries to Bluff trail, which winds down along cliffside bluffs to little-known Marshall Beach:

Seldom visited Marshall Beach, reached by a spur near the bottom of the Batteries to Bluff trail.

Seldom visited Marshall Beach, reached by a spur near the bottom of the Batteries to Bluff trail.

The trail’s all up and down, but it’s only about three-quarters of a mile. At its western end, you can do the up-and-down to get back to the batteries, or walk along the easier path next to Lincoln Boulevard, though I prefer the Batteries to Bluff trail for the absence of traffic noise.

Part of the Batteries to Bluff Trail, viewed from its western end.

Part of the Batteries to Bluff Trail, viewed from its western end.

If you’re on bike, go back to the urban jungle of San Francisco through the Presidio, stopping off for a final look at the Marin Headlands at Immigrant Point Overlook on Washington Boulevard:

The Marin Headlands, as seen from the Immigration Point Overlook in San Francisco's Presidio.

The Marin Headlands, as seen from the Immigration Point Overlook in San Francisco’s Presidio.

Here I came across a young couple visiting from Brazil, also on bicycles. I guided them to the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge, near the lesser-used parking lot a little east of the bridge on Lincoln Boulevard, before going on my separate way. As a longtime resident, it’s tempting not to shout about it too loudly, but more visitors should take advantage of both the Presidio’s lovely main bike path (from Arguello Boulevard to Washington Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard) and the lesser-known views this area has to offer.

Click on the links in this sentence for more info on the Pacific Overlook, the Batteries to Bluff Trail, and the Immigration Point Overlook.

Hikers hang out on a rock near Marshall Beach, enjoying the unseasonably warm March weather.

Hikers hang out on a rock near Marshall Beach, enjoying the unseasonably warm March weather.

Rock’n’Roll Trivia, Part One: Name That Guy

I play a rock music trivia game with other music-nut friends in the Bay Area. It’s not one of those board games with question cards, though it started out that way. Instead, we make up our own questions, ranging from 1 (easiest) to 6 (hardest) depending on how we throw dice. Maybe I’ll post some used questions from time to time on this blog, though some of them lose something in the translation when you can’t declaim them in a grand tone of voice.

So to start, here are a couple of visual clues that might be harder than you think. Question #1: who’s the guy on the left in this picture?

Some of the incorrect guesses included Peter Noone (Herman of Herman & the Hermits), Elton John, Thomas Dolby, and Peter Asher (of Peter Asher). But it’s none of them. It’s Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. The girl is his younger sister, Barbara.

Prior to this (admittedly blurry) showing up recently, I’d never seen a photo of him dating from before 1962, with the exception of one baby picture. What really throws contestants (only one player got the correct answer) is that Jones doesn’t wear glasses in any of the pictures I’ve seen of him as an adult.

Many Stones fans don’t know, by the way, that Jones had two younger sisters, not just one. The older of those two sisters (born shortly after Brian), Pamela, died of leukemia just after her second birthday.

Here’s another visual clue. Who’s the guy on right, holding a banjo? He too would become very famous (and he’s not Brian Jones).


That’s Roger (then Jim) McGuinn, about three years before he’d co-found the Byrds with Gene Clark and David Crosby. Back in 1961, he was just a sideman to the whitebread folk revival group the Chad Mitchell Trio. By 1965 he’d be sounding and looking a lot different (and much for the better) as lead guitarist, and frequent lead singer, of the Byrds. That’s McGuinn with shades on the right:


McGuinn appears on another Chad Mitchell LP, this one from 1962. That’s him in the back on the left, if you can make him out. Seems like they were trying to hide him:


After McGuinn became a star with the Byrds, the Chad Mitchell Trio – now billing themselves as the Mitchell Trio, with another pre-star, John Denver, in their lineup – recorded a sort of protest against protest folk-rock, “The Sound of Protest (Has Begun to Pay),” with an obviously Byrds-like arrangement. Far from being a jibe at his having sold out, one feels the Chad Mitchell Trio might have been jealous of both his commercial success and his groundbreaking innovations as a vanguard folk-rocker. The Byrds are still revered as one of the greatest bands of all time. The Chad Mitchell Trio (or Mitchell Trio, as they were known after the departure of their leader), one of the tamer of the many wholesome folk groups to emerge in the wake of the Kingston Trio, are on the verge of being forgotten.

The Mitchell Trio, with John Denver on the left.

The Mitchell Trio, with John Denver on the left.

Arnold Earley: No Wins, One Loss, No Saves

I didn’t start looking at baseball cards until I was six years old in 1968, but going through those soon got me interested in gazing at some pre-’68 cards that were still lying around the house in older brothers’ collections. There were a lot from 1966, yet barely any from 1967. One of the few ’67 cards, however, still strikes me as one of the strangest of all time:


Seldom have I seen a photo, on a baseball card anyway, that looks less like a major league baseball player. Or what we think of major league players as looking like, anyway. He looks more like the guy whose job it was to yell at you not to splash too much at the local swim club.

Of all the guys to have played for at least parts of half a dozen seasons in the ‘60s, Earley had one of the most faceless careers. The stats on the back of the card are missing his final year, but he would indeed finish his career with a 12-20 record. His lifetime ERA was 4.48; he only started ten of the 223 games in which he pitched; and he never played a key role on any of his teams, racking up 14 saves and only once breaking the 100-inning barrier. His minor-league record wasn’t even any great shakes, as he lumbered his way to a 41-62 mark over nine years.


One of those lines in his career record jumps out at you, however. In 1965, he appeared in 57 games for the Boston Red Sox – the most games he ever logged in a single season. You’d think he couldn’t have avoided seeing some significant action, right? But in those 57 games, he recorded an 0-1 record, with no saves.

Think about it. All those games, and just one decision, even counting saves. And that decision was a negative one. Is that some kind of record for least-meaningful-result-per-appearance?

That depends on how you measure what’s most meaningful, I guess, but it’s certainly up there. It took some doing to scrape up the record for most games pitched with fewest won-loss decisions, but there was only one guy who exceeded 57 games. That was Trever Miller, who managed to appear in 76 games for the Houston Astros in 2007 without logging a single win or loss:

Miller’s “record,” however, is “tainted” by a solitary (one) save. So he got one positive marker that Earley lacked. The “record” for most appearances without a win, loss, or save belongs to Scott Aldred, who took the mound in 48 games for the 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays (when they still had “Devil” in their name). Let’s give an honorable mention, too, to Erik Plantenberg, who appeared in 61 games in his career over three seasons without a win or loss, though he managed a single save.

All these guys, however, were left-handed relief specialists who often pitched to very few batters: LOOGYs (left-handed one-out guys), in the modern parlance. Earley wasn’t, hurling 74 innings in 57 games, finishing 11 of them. He actually had the second-lowest ERA on the Sox staff, but must have been used in what are now called “low-leverage” situations almost exclusively, to put it mildly.

What’s yet more amazing, however, is that Earley very nearly went 0-0-0. In a Charlie Brown-like capper on this most futile of seasons, he was tagged with his one loss – the one decision of any sort he accumulated in 1965 – on the very last day of the season.

The Red Sox were losing 4-2 to the Yankees on Sunday, October 3 when Earley was called in to relieve Earl Wilson, finishing the third inning. In the bottom of the frame, the Sox tied the score 4-4 on a homer by future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. One has to think that Red Sox manager Billy Herman saw this as a golden opportunity to give Arnold his last-minute victory, avoiding going home with a stat line that made it look as if nothing had happened, 57 games or no 57 games.

What did happen, however, looked more like a Sunday Peanuts comic strip, with hard-luck king Charlie Brown on the mound. In the top of the fourth with two out and no one on, Earley gave up two singles, putting men on first and third. Elston Howard then lifted a flyball to right field, apparently getting Arnold out of the jam…but Tony Conigliaro muffed it, and both runners scored. That was also a lousy capper to the season for Conigliaro, who lead the American League in home runs that year at the age of 20, though he would not have the great career that many predicted:

Despite leading the American League in home runs in 1965, Tony Conigliaro had a far more ill-fated career even than Arnold Earley. After getting hit by a pitch in 1967, he almost lost vision in one eye, missed the entire 1968 season, and never got back to full health before retiring in 1971. A brief comeback attempt in 1975 was unsuccessful. After a stroke in 1982, he was in a coma for eight years before dying in 1990.

Despite leading the American League in home runs in 1965, Tony Conigliaro had a far more ill-fated career  than even Arnold Earley. After getting hit by a pitch in 1967, he suffered severe eye damage, missed the entire 1968 season, and never got back to full health before retiring in 1971. A brief comeback attempt in 1975 was unsuccessful. After a stroke in 1982, he was in a non-functional state for eight years before dying in 1990.

Earley stayed in a couple more innings, Billy Herman and the bench no doubt rooting for him to somehow hold on while they rallied to give him a chance for victory, or at least not to suffer a loss to blemish his goose egg-stat line. The score was still 6-4 with two out and no one on in the top of the sixth, only for Earley to give up a single, followed by an Elston Howard double that scored Tom Tresh all the way from first. Earley was taken out for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning. It’s likely he and the Red Sox couldn’t have pulled a win out of the hat even if Conigliaro hadn’t made that error, the Yankees ending up on top by an 11-5 score.

For his undistinguished service, Arnold earned a grand total of $12,500 in 1965. As low a salary as that was even in those days, the Red Sox got less bang for their buck than any team did for any player that year, at least as measured by dollars-per-decision.

Take another look at the back of his 1967 baseball card, this time focusing on the typically pithy text at the top:


“The lefty appeared in 13 games last season and figures to be a mainstay for Chicago in ’67.”

Not so. Earley didn’t appear in a single game for the Cubs that year, taking the mound just twice in the big leagues, for the Houston Astros. He was pounded, giving up four earned runs and five hits for a 27.00 ERA. He’d never pitch in the majors again. His record for the season: no wins, no losses, and no saves.


Biking on the Alameda Creek Trail

Like most residents of great metropolitan areas, there are lots of things I’ve always wanted to do in the region, but have never gotten around to checking out. One is bicycling the Alameda Creek trail, which runs twelve miles from the East Bay suburb of Fremont to the east side of the San Francisco Bay. It’s a relatively long way from the city of San Francisco, where I’m spoiled for choice on nearby hikes and bike routes with spectacular views.

The Alameda Creek Trail, one sunny afternoon in March.

The Alameda Creek Trail, one sunny afternoon in March.

The Alameda Creek trail isn’t that long a trip, actually. It’s about an hour from San Francisco by public transportation. But its pleasures are relatively modest compared to other, more celebrated jaunts. Still, with yet another summer-like day on this distressingly record-breakingly warm Bay Area winter, I headed out there a couple days ago on a 70-degree Friday to experience it for myself.

One advantage of biking the trail, especially for hill-disliking cyclists, is that it’s pretty flat the whole way. It’s also pretty uncrowded, at least on a weekday: seems like I only saw a few dozen bikers in a few hours, with only a few hikers, runners, and dogwalkers here and there. Disadvantages: some bumpiness (especially on the eastern part), traffic noise from nearby roads (again especially on the eastern portion), and a relative lack of the kind of stunning scenery you’ll get by going across the Golden Gate Bridge, to name just one more flamboyant alternative.

Come to the end of the twelve-mile trail, and you’ll find this:

The eastern end of the Alameda Creek trail.

The eastern end of the Alameda Creek trail.

No, it isn’t much, when you stack it up against more renowned views of the bay. But it’s peaceful, and when you’re surrounded by as much noise as you usually are in the Bay Area, it’s frankly a great relief to get to a place where you can’t hear any cars or hardly anything else, if only briefly.

The real attraction out here, and worth the extra three-to-five miles even though some (for the most part quite manageable) hills are involved, is the add-on Bayview Trail near the main trail’s western end. (Don’t worry, it’s hard to miss the signposted turn-off.) This takes you into Coyote Hills Regional Park, where you get views like this:


That’s the Dumbarton Bridge in the background. The southernmost of the five bridges in the San Francisco Bay, it’s kind of an ugly duckling in that company, but looks pretty cool when viewed from here. I also like the yellow algae or whatever it is (marine biologists feel free to submit corrections) covering some of the water, which you can see in richer colors at other vantage points:



Since the principal part of this ride is named the Alameda Creek trail, you’d expect most of it to be along an actual creek, looking something like this:


It’s drought time in California, though, and actually much of it looks like this:


I don’t know how normal or abnormal that is for this time of year (mid-March), but much of the creek’s more field than creek. Sometimes it’s all field. It does look prettier on the return to Fremont, especially when you get near the hills at the end of the eastern part:


In sum, if you don’t live in the area, this might be a bike ride worth making a special trip for if you want to get some good mileage in without much strain, or if (like me) you feel the urge to check one more Bay Area vista off your list. It’s not too high on the superlist of Bay Area trails, but that’s not such a bad thing. You can’t have a game of chess without the relatively undistinguished pawns as well as the kings and queens, and if the Alameda Creek Trail is filler when judged against the best outings in our metropolis, it’s still a worthy piece of the puzzle. Kind of like what Paul McCartney once said about a good-but-not great Beatles song (“Tell Me What You See”): “Not one of the better songs but they did a job, they were very handy for albums or B-sides. You need those kind of sides.” Or something like that.

The eastern trailhead of the Alameda Creek Trail isn’t much more than a mile from the Fremont BART station, though unfortunately the station-to-trail roads have a lot of traffic and aren’t the most low-key ways to start and end the endeavor. For maps and info, go to the Alameda Creek Trail page  and the Coyote Hills Park page of the East Bay Regional Park District site.

Leaving Your Megabank: Breaking Up’s Not Hard to Do

Most people aren’t sentimental in the least about their banks. It should be much easier to break up with your megabank than your girlfriend or boyfriend, and much less painful. Yet many socially responsible customers remain with megabanks even when far more attractive alternatives open in their town, although, to corrupt the title of Neil Sedaka’s sappy early-1960s teen idol smash, “Breaking Up’s Not Hard to Do.”

Don't take the title of Neil Sedaka's hit to heart.

Don’t take the title of Neil Sedaka’s hit to heart.

I’m not omitting myself from this category. While most of my funds have been in SRI (socially responsible investment) accounts for years, I kept a megabank checking account open for minimal everyday expenses, out of convenience and, I guess, laziness. A couple weeks ago I did finally close that big-bank account.

Here in San Francisco, we’re fortunate enough, unlike many cities, to have one bank specifically geared toward “bringing new resources to sustainable businesses and ultimately creating more sustainable communities.” This is New Resource Bank, founded in 2006. And yes, it does have only one branch, downtown near the Ferry Building/waterfront, which is not convenient to many San Franciscans living in residential neighborhoods miles away.

New Resource Bank

The most common reasons other acquaintances concerned about socially responsibility give for not closing their megabank accounts is that it’s convenient to have ATMs every few blocks, kind of like 7-11s of instant cash withdrawal. Additionally, if the socially responsible bank doesn’t have many ATMs, or certainly not one in your neighborhood, you might not want to pay fees every time you withdraw cash from a nearby ATM when you need money in a hurry.

But with New Resource, you get five free rebates on debit card fees per month (and unlimited debit fee rebates if you choose their “high-impact” checking account, which requires a significantly higher average daily balance to avoid service charges). As for their service charges, acknowledging that this is beyond the means of some, there aren’t any if you maintain an average daily balance of $5000 (or combined checking/saving balance of $10,000). There is a $20 monthly service fee if you don’t meet that balance. But if you have the means, the more socially and environmentally conscious directions in which your money goes seems worth the time and effort in doing a little more careful planning of your ATM withdrawals and account balance maintenance. Note too that New Resource is FDIC-insured, which covers amounts of $250,000 per depositor, if that is another concern over switching from megabank.

Maybe this shouldn’t be the most important factor in choosing your bank, but I also appreciate the no-nonsense, straightforward service when I have gone into New Resource’s one branch. Even though it took only 15 minutes or so to close my megabank account, the atmosphere in my ex-megabank – constant “how are you”s and “good morning”s, canned music, large infomercial screen – was so artificial I couldn’t wait to get out of there. (They nonetheless couldn’t wait to get me back, leaving a message aimed at getting me to reopen an account with them 24 hours later.) At New Resource, there are a few staff (I’ve never seen more than five) at desks; never any lines; and quick, polite execution of simple tasks without unnecessary false pleasantries. It’s all so much more adult, as if they know you’re smart enough to do what you came to do without any additional fuss.

Lest this seem like I’m being too much of a shill for New Resource, it can be pointed out there are other similar banks outside of San Francisco – though not, alas, to many. Across the bay in Oakland, One Pacificcoast Bank (sic) is “the first commercial bank in the US with a commitment to sustainable community development.” It must be said, however, that there aren’t nearly as many of these institutions in the US as one would hope, and if you’re nervous about putting your funds in an out-of-town bank, you might be out of luck. Green America’s Community Investing Guide (free online at lists come options, and credit unions generally are a much better choice for accounts than the big guns if your region doesn’t have a New Resource-like bank.