Archive for September 2015

Portrait of a Legend: The Hardy Boys

Roy and Mitch Hardy clutched the grips of their motorcycles and stared in horror at the oncoming car. It was careening from side to side on the narrow road. “He’ll hit us! We’d better climb this hillside- and fast!” Roy exclaimed, as the boys brought their motorcycles to a screeching halt and leaped off. “On the double!” Mitch cried out as they started up the steep embankment. To their amazement, the reckless driver suddenly pulled his car hard to the right and turned into a side road on two wheels. The boys expected the car to turn over, but it held the dusty ground and sped off out of sight. So began the short teenage sleuthing career of the two future Big Sky Hall of Famers, Roy and Mitch Hardy, as catalogued in their autobiographical work, The Tower Treasure, published under the pseudonym, Franklin Dixon. The brothers’ father, Fenton Hardy, was a police detective in Pasadena, California until an unfortunate event involving two water buffalo, a stack of chocolate chip pancakes and the Mayor of Bakersfield forced him to resign in disgrace and move back to his home town of Troy Mills, Iowa. There he opened a private investigation firm and his two sons dreamed of following in his footsteps. They soon realized that baseball was way more lucrative and slightly less likely to get you shot (apologies to the estate of Kevin Fonda), but they never fully relinquished the dream Roy was the elder of the two. A sinker ball artist, the peak of his career came after his trade to Pittsburgh during that incredible Season 7. Amidst the league-wide offensive outburst, highlighted by his teammate Dan Thompson’s 80 HRs, he managed an incredible line of 30-5 with a 2.35 ERA, and headlined the staff of one of the league’s all-time great teams. The trade to Pittsburgh was a result of Roy’s insatiable curiosity. In fact, he was traded three times in his career and the impetus for each trade can be traced to Roy’s amateur sleuthing. As the initial draft choice of the Philadelphia Bell Busters in the Big Sky expansion draft, Roy soon discovered something rotten in the City of Brotherly Love. Allegations of the Liberty Bell being a fake and rampant drug use among the Philadelphia Eagle cheerleaders saw Roy shipped out of town in Season 2 and banished to the nowhere town of Milwaukee to play for the Butter Girls. Roy actually solved minor crimes in the off-season, while combining with one of the truly great pitchers in league history, Rube Daniels, during the season. It was his association with Rube that led to him getting traded to Pittsburgh. Rube’s brother, Hayseed Daniels, was serving a 15 year sentence for grand larceny and felony assault. Roy would later say that a throw away comment Rube said about the incident sparked his curiosity. Never the one to let a mystery pass, Roy dug deeper into the incident. His investigation led to the arrests of the rest of Daniels’ siblings, brothers Hick, Yokel and Bumpkin and his sister, Cosmopolitan. It turns out that they were operating a theft and smuggling ring involving maple syrup and garlic flavored cheez-whiz. Rube barely avoided indictment when the police surprisingly dropped the investigation of him the day before the open of Season 7. Less than two months later, Roy was in Pittsburgh. His three seasons in Pittsburgh were marked by both statistical dominance, including both of his Cy Young awards, and a running feud with megastar Dan Thompson. At first Thompson got along great with the star pitcher. It was not long, though, before Thompson referred to Roy as “that nosy little bitch.” It was Roy that uncovered the scandal involving Thompson, the three daughters of the Pride’s owners and a Jello sponsorship. After a two year odyssey involving several tons of fruit flavored gelatin, the scandal eventually led to Thompson’s move to Toledo, but it also led to Roy’s move to New Orleans. The Big Easy and Roy Hardy were not a good match, as his natural inquisitiveness forced him to flee the city in fear of his life after one season. Scarred by his near death experience at the hands of a Voodoo priestess, Roy landed in Los Angeles, where he kept to himself and caused no trouble during his last two seasons before retiring. Mitch Hardy was also a first round draft choice in the initial Big Sky expansion draft, but he landed in the ill-fated city of Burlington, a franchise that moved after one season to Detroit. It was in the Motor City that Mitch spent most of his career. Unlike his brother, Mitch had a much quieter extra-curricular life, but this was in appearance only. Documents that surfaced after his untimely death show that Mitch worked hand in hand with the FBI to investigate and expose several high profile cases involving members of the Detroit Mafia, Ford Motor Company executives and drug-crazed Andorran ex-pats. The case that sparked the most interest at the time was the unusual incident that involved the former Mayor of Bakersfield, California and the second in command of the most prominent Detroit crime family. Yes, the same Mayor of Bakersfield that caused Fenton Hardy to resign in disgrace. It retrospect it seems obvious that Mitch would be involved, especially when we consider the ongoing feud that would later erupt between him and the owner of the Toledo Black Sheep. The case itself centered around a bizarre cult that worshipped Southeast Asian bovids. The cult erupted into the public awareness when they took hostages at a Lansing, Michigan IHOP and eventually killed themselves in an orgy of breakfast foods. The investigation led to the exposure of the former Mayor as some sort of high priest that had married the Mafia lieutenant to several water buffalo in a polygamist wedding. Apparently, Mitch went undercover in the cult but was exposed when it was revealed he had an allergy to Swedish pancakes. Mitch’s proclivity for mysteries did not become public knowledge till after his retirement. It was then that the Big Sky league formed the notorious commission to look into the “Cartel Connection”, the band of Big Sky superstars that were allegedly using HGH and importing cocaine from Central America. Roy Hardy was also initially tabbed for the commission also, but at that point he was in hiding “from the horde of zombies looking for me.” The commission investigated the affair for several seasons. During Season 20, Mitch Hardy had a high-profile quarrel with the owner of the Toledo Black Sheep. Allegations that certain members of the Toledo team were not just members of the ‘Cartel’ but also leaders of the group, had surfaced the previous season. The Toledo owner, long rumored to hold blackmail evidence involving several high ranking members of the Big Sky league and the US Government, objected strenuously. Only two seasons previous, Toledo and its owner and team were subject to the infamous scandal involving the bribing of players during the Season 14 World Series. Now, with this, the owner felt his franchise was again the target of malignant, unfounded rumors. In a fantastic televised interview, he went on the attack against the commissioners and even specifically called out Mitch Hardy, casting aspersions on not just him, but also fabricating allegations of contract murder by Fenton Hardy. Mitch did not take this lying down and he released all the information that the commission had gathered during the previous two seasons. Damning evidence against several Hall of Fame players and more than a little evidence of collusion involving several Big Sky owners was laid open to the public. Hardy was quickly ejected from the commission and the remaining commissioners called the released information fabrications of a warped mind and the investigation was quickly ended with no repercussions to anyone involved. Mitch Hardy died during Season 28 under suspicious circumstances. He was attending the wedding of his sister’s daughter in Ohio, when a large explosion blew up the hotel room where he was staying. Authorities quickly dismissed the death as accidental, saying there was a gas leak that was ignited when Mitch Hardy fell into a drug induced coma and one of the underage prostitutes he was with lit a cigarette. Oddly, there were no other bodies found in the wreckage and no drug paraphernalia were ever found. Detective Richard Lawson, a former Police Captain on the Toledo police force, claimed that everything except Mitch Hardy’s body must have been incinerated in the explosion. As his last act, Mitch apparently wrote an email to his now reclusive brother, Roy. It ended poignantly. Mitch Hardy’s last words to anyone were “Why did I ever sign in Vancouver?”

Portrait of a Legend: Dan Thompson

The wind blew in off the lake in rural Michigan, rustling the grass of the newly renovated ball field. High school baseball players and their overaggressive parents crowded the field and the stands. One of the teens, a blond slugger licked his lips as he watched the flags in the outfield stretched taut by the wind blowing out over the fence. How far was he going to hit it today?

Meanwhile, half a town away, Dan Thompson was sneaking into a 2nd story bedroom of a lithesome teenage girl. She happened to be the girlfriend of the aforementioned slugger. The slugger struck out in his first at-bat. Dan Thompson did not.

So begins the legend of Dan Thompson. We all remember him as the first Big Sky mega-star. Clean cut, full of boyish charm all we saw was the power and the speed. All we remember is the 80 HR’s and 217 RBI’s in a single season, the career .300 average, the 749 career HR’s. What nobody remembers is his incredibly lethal game outside the game. Up to now, the hidden legacy of Dan Thompson has been kept secret by the players in the locker room and the few reporters who were privy to what was really happening.

First, there is the anecdotal evidence of the high school slugger mentioned above. From a rival high school, the young man named Michael Lownds has been lost to baseball history. But at the time he was the hot prospect in the district. He was the slugger with the bright future and Dan Thompson was the plugger hustling out the infield hit. But after that afternoon when Dan Thompson snuck into the girlfriend’s room, their futures went rapidly the other direction. Lownds crashed out of baseball after one fruitless year in the minors, battling depression and drug addiction. Thompson discovered a penchant for the home run and never looked back on his way to the Majors.

When the Big Sky league formed, he was the first pick, a young man just entering his prime with all the promise in the world. But what is often forgotten these days is that he was not the clear cut star of those early years. In Boston there was another Hall of Famer, Alex Yamamoto. Yamamoto has been overlooked a bit in history, but for the first five seasons he was at least Thompson’s equal. From Seasons 2-5, they each won two AL MVPs.

Hall of Famer Brian Fujiwara, an early teammate of Thompson and a childhood friend of Yamamoto knew them both really well. “Alex worked so hard at his craft. He studied, he worked out. He was the consummate professional. Dan just made everything seem so effortless. He’d show up on game day with that “look” and he would just crush the ball. He was so much fun to play with. As long as you kept your wife at home.”

Yamamoto would have been wise to listen to his friend’s advice. According to a few eyewitnesses who were afraid to come forth at the time, at the all-star game in Season 6, Thompson and Yamamoto’s wife, a legendary pornographic actress from Japan, met and disappeared for an evening. Yamamoto, who up to that point was having his best season ever, faded in the second half of the season, while Thompson took off, slugging an unheard of 40 HR’s post-break, setting the table for his historic Season 7. Nine months after that all-star game, Yamamoto’s wife gave birth to their only son. A surprisingly blonde-haired son. Yamamoto continued to make all-star games for 4 of the next 5 seasons, but he was never the same player. Again, Dan Thompson stole the mojo of his biggest rival.

Anecdotes and rumors circulate about more of Thompson’s conquests, but nothing substantiated until his trade to Toledo. Stories suggest that the trade to Toledo was precipitated by an incident involving the three daughters of the Pride’s General Manager, but there is no evidence. What is more factually based is that Thompson did not take the trade well.

“Toledo? Seriously? What a crappy franchise and an ugly city,” he famously was quoted right after learning about the deal. “There are zero hot chicks in that dump,” he not so famously told one of his teammates.

He was outstanding his first season in Toledo, winning the NL MVP. Curiously, he was vastly superior on the road that year, hitting almost .380 with an unreal 1.250 OPS.

Reportedly, that offseason, he did apparently find at least one attractive woman in Toledo, the wife of Toledo’s owner. Whispers say that it was her influence that encouraged him to sign the contract extension that he later claimed was his biggest regret of his career. Here is where his legendary prowess let him down. Some will tell you that he did steal the mojo of the Toledo owner that offseason, but, it was the owner of Black Sheep, so that mojo was not anything positive.

Two seasons later, Thompson was in St Louis, an organization with no control of the locker room, where an aging Thompson spent more time trying to get into women’s beds than he did playing baseball. He never again reached the stratospheric heights of his prime. He personally blamed it on his “cursed time in Toledo,” but in truth it probably had more to do with age and “reputation.”

Dan Thompson, the sexual vampire, would retire after a stint back with the Pride, his original franchise. When asked to look back on his career, he gave only a single quote. “At least I never played in Vancouver.”

All Time Leaders

Hits
1. Luther Aldred 3031
2. Alfonzo Cruz 3004
3. Ugueth Moya 2830
4. Orlando Lee 2736
5. Alan Vickers 2643

Home Runs
1. Alfonzo Cruz 811
2. Dan Thompson 749
3. Ugueth Moya 686
4. Jerome Duran 633
5. Ivan Mantalban 602

OPS
1. Rusty Laker 1.021
2. Dan Thompson 1.020
3. Ugueth Moya .989
4. Matty Bennet .984
5. Emil Wilkinson .975

Wins
1. Fernando Neruda 352
2. Geronimo Flores 310
3. Esteban Cubillan 275
4. Frank Dehart 263
5. Shawn Radlosky 257

Strikeouts
1. Fernando Neruda 5038
2. Geronimo Flores 3866
3. Frank Dehart 3356
4. Esteban Cubillan 2955
5. Shawn Radlosky 2871

Saves
1. Jesus Torrealba 694
2. Hal Wagner 636
3. Charles Hall 575
4. Cole Alexander 488
5. Augie Martin 478