Wednesday October 6th, 2010

To mark the start of the baseball postseason, I've put together this postseason quiz, which is both a short test about baseball in October and an homage to pitcher-poet Dan Quisenberry, whose nickname might well have been Postseason Quiz, given how often his Royals made the playoffs -- four times in six seasons -- in the days when such a thing was still possible in Kansas City.

Quisenberry died of brain cancer on the day before October in 1998 and is now interred at Mount Moriah Cemetery, where one of his fellow residents is Walter Cronkite. Despite its landlocked location in Kansas City, Mount Moriah has a vaguely nautical theme, the sidearm pitcher and the CBS newsman joined for all eternity there: Submariner and anchor.

It was Quisenberry who said of eternity: "I have seen the future and it's much like the present, only longer." So here's to the Quiz. And now to the quiz:

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BUNTING AND BUNTING?

Bunting is the act of hitting a baseball a very short distance without swinging the bat, so that the ball rolls briefly then stops abruptly, as when Roger Angell perfectly described Tony Fernandez in a batting cage "laying each bunt down like a necktie on a bed."

Bunting, on the other hand, is a red-white-and-blue decoration that enlivens baseball stadiums during October -- and at the All-Star Game, and on Opening Day. Two years ago, a Mets fan and three Yankee fans were arrested at their teams' home openers for trying to steal bunting from Shea and Yankee Stadiums, respectively. Stealing and bunting are a part of the game. Stealing bunting, without the "and", is a Class A misdemeanor.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BUNNING AND BUNNING?

Bunning, as a proper noun, refers to Hall of Fame righthander Jim Bunning, who played 17 seasons in the big leagues but never pitched in the postseason. He came agonizingly close, of course, in 1964, when his Phillies had a 6 ½ -game lead over the Cardinals with 12 games to play but then lost 10 games in a row down the stretch. Phils manager Gene Mauch started Bunning three times in the seven days from Sept. 24 to Sept. 30. Bunning, not surprisingly, lost all three games, and the Phillies finished the season a game behind St. Louis.

Bunning, as a verb, is the act of placing a hot dog in a bun. Bunning dogs was my first job in baseball, which I performed at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota, the last place the Twins played outdoor home games before Target Field opened this season. People often ask me if the Twins will play this postseason in a blizzard. It's certainly a possibility. The last time the Twins were in the World Series, in 1991, they won Game 7 in Minneapolis on October 27. Four days later, on Halloween, a single storm dropped 28.4 inches of snow on the Twin Cities. This year's World Series Game 5 is scheduled for the American League champion's stadium on November 1.

WOULD THAT BE BASEBALL'S MOST MEMORABLE SNOWSTORM?

No. On May 7, 1993, in the bottom of the fifth inning of an Angels-A's game in Anaheim, Oakland reliever Storm Davis was called in from the bullpen to replace Kelly Downs. The first batter Davis faced was Angels first baseman J.T. Snow. Snow flew out to center field.

A year later, on June 9, 1994, Davis was pitching for the Tigers against the Angels in Anaheim. In the bottom of the eighth inning, with a 6-4 lead, one out and nobody on, Davis and Snow met again. This time Snow singled sharply to left, and Davis was promptly pulled from the game. Within two months, Davis would retire. The Snow-Storm epic would end, after two at-bats, in a draw.

CAN WE HAVE A STUDY BREAK?

You certainly may. Pencils down. Stretch your fingers and contemplate this: "Study break" is a pure, perfect anagram of "Dusty Baker," which is to say "Study" becomes "Dusty" and "break" becomes "Baker."

WHO IS DUSTY BAKER?

Dusty Baker is the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, who made the postseason for the first time since 1995, touching off a gleeful celebration in the Reds' clubhouse, where owner Bob Castellini passed out cigars to players as if he were the proud father of a brand new baby. Which he was, in a manner of speaking.

The birth of a child is one of the few occasions in life more joyous than a baseball celebration. Still, the Cincinnati Health Department received a handful of complaints that the Reds owner and various players were puffing on stogies in the ballpark, violating Ohio's statewide smoking ban.

What health officials failed to recognize is that baseball celebrations are beyond the law -- the laws of man and the laws of physics. These are the best things about October: The hogpiles, the dogpiles, the pigpiles -- those human heaps of spikes and sunflower shells and other sharp objects from which players almost always emerge unscathed.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DAN QUISENBERRY?

Baseball celebrations, with their champagne shampoos, make me think of Quisenberry's poem about Dick Howser. The former Royals manager was afflicted by brain cancer before Quiz was, turning Howser into "a man/who no longer talked of winning/but hinted at life beyond champagne."

As I await these baseball playoffs -- and the birth of a child, due the day of Game 7 of the ALCS, possibly at Target Field in Minneapolis -- I'm thinking of congratulatory cigars of every kind, and of celebrations above baseball. I'm thinking of champagne, but also of a life beyond it.

I'm thinking of the late Dan Quisenberry, who wrote, in a poem called Baseball Cards:

Glory years catch action shots Arm whips and body contortions A human catapult The backs of those cards Cite numbers That tell stories of saves, wins, flags, records Handshakes, butt slaps, celebration mobs You can't see The cost of winning Lines on my forehead under the hat Trench lines between my eyes You don't see my wife, daughter and son Left behind

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