Category Archives: Sports Psychology

What Does a Bad News Bear Say to an Overweight Panda?


On the 40th anniversary of “The Bad News Bears,” I tracked down once-chubby catcher Mike Engelberg for his observations on the “Fat Panda” controversy with overweight Boston Red Sox star Pablo Sandoval.

You can read my interview at The Hall of Very Good baseball blog.

In the classic movie, Engelberg got melted chocolate all over his uniform and the ball. 12-year-old actor Gary Cavagnaro wound up losing 70 pounds and gave up his movie career. The producers didn’t think a skinny catcher would be “funny” in the sequel.

Cavagnaro, now a 52-year-old sales manager for a multinational electronics company (we all have to grow up), is a fascinating guy!

P.S. I recently defended the besieged Sandoval in a WBUR column, “We Are All Fat Panda.”

P.P.S. The awesome 1977 Mike Engelberg baseball card at the top of this post was designed by the Dick Allen Hall of Fame blog.



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Filed under Bad News Bears, Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports, Sports Psychology

Are we bad luck charms for the 2015 Boston Red Sox?


Consider this: Every time that Erik and I have posed with the Dustin Pedroia height chart at Fenway Park, he has gone on the disabled list. Mere minutes after this photograph was taken, the Sox second baseman pulled his hamstring.

Granted, this has only happened once, but I wonder if we might be bad karma for the 2015 last-place Red Sox?

I say this despite once having the following riveting conversation with Pedroia in a hotel lobby:

Me: “Hey, good game tonight!”

Pedroia: (Making direct eye contact) “Thanks.”

That historic moment was documented on CNN if you’d like to learn more.


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Filed under Red Sox Schlock, Sports Psychology

Fan Mail Can Go Both Ways – A Note From My “Pen Pal” Dan Quisenberry

I was a Red Sox fan growing up, but how could I NOT love Dan Quisenberry, the guy who led the league in saves throwing underhand!

I was a Red Sox fan growing up, but how could I NOT love Kansas City Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, the guy who led the league in saves throwing underhand!

Handwritten letters are endangered species.

About the only places they live on are birthday cards, thank you notes and summer camp letters, which kids are forced to write because nostalgia keeps their parents signing those checkbooks (another endangered medium).

On the occasion of one of my favorite childhood baseball players, Dan Quisenberry, missing out on the Baseball Hall of Fame, I just wrote a column for The Atlantic reminiscing about the thrill of receiving a two-page letter from him in 1981. (“How Athletes Ensure Immortality: Not all greats make the Hall of Fame. Not all Hall of Famers are remembered. But a player who forges personal connections with fans with live on.”)

You can read the story here, but I’d also like to share the full text of the letter for the benefit of the world’s Kansas City Royals fans — or anyone who still cherishes the power of handwritten letters.

The idea of a professional athlete, let alone the American League’s best closer, taking the time to write a two-page letter to a kid he thought was “creative,” is unfathomable to me as a jaded adult. Sadly, Quisenberry died of brain cancer at age 45 — younger than the age that many of the kids watching him pitch would be now.

Here’s Dan’s letter for you to read for yourself:

Dan Quisenberry Letter - Page 1 of 2 (Double click to enlarge)

Dan Quisenberry Letter – Page 1 of 2 (Double click to enlarge)

** Continue reading

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Filed under Dan Quisenberry, Sports, Sports Psychology, Submarine Pitchers

Baseball Records of Another Kind — When the Spaceman Was the Posterboy For Stereo Speakers

Just stumbled across this advertising masterpiece in my 1975 Boston Red Sox souvenir program, the same precious archive that stores the Bob Montgomery denim leisure suit from Jordan Marsh.

Spaceman Stereos

Spaceman Stereos

Strangely, I never knew the real origins of Bill Lee’s “Spaceman” nickname. But it’s the “cool guy” hat (reminiscent of Rudy from Fat Albert) and the turntable that make me smile.

Bill Lee has long been a media darling for saying what’s on his mind, demonstrated on this autographed baseball below:

Staying (Kinda) Classy -- Red Sox legend Bill Lee sometimes autographs baseballs "Yankees Suck Pond H2O."

Former Red Sox star Bill Lee sometimes autographs baseballs “Yankees Suck Pond H2O.”

I caught up with Lee recently for an Atlantic Magazine story on the waning Red Sox-Yankees T-Shirt War.

This quote from our conversation has nothing to do with stereo speakers or 1970s fashion, but it sums up life:

“Without rivalries, there is no game,” Lee adds. “You have to respect your opponent, but when your opponent is down, you must step on them and never let them get up. You want to make sure the enemy isn’t still breathing.”

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Filed under advertising, Fashion, Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports, Sports Psychology

Who Sucks Now? An Inside Peek at the Red Sox-Yankees T-Shirt Wars

CLASSY AND CONFIDENT: Yankees Captain Derek Jeter humors Red Sox fans at Fenway Park. (Photo courtesy of Sully’s Brand)

I grew up with a homemade “Official Yankees Hater” poster in my childhood bedroom.

But I never understood Red Sox fans who hate Derek Jeter, who probably has taken the brunt of the mockery on Boston’s raunchy souvenir t-shirts over the years.

Turns out that these kind of crass souvenirs don’t sell well in Boston anymore, but they are selling like hotcakes in the Bronx.

I explore the fascinating reasons why in The Atlantic:

Bronx t-shirt vendor “Bald” Vinny Milano shows off his wares after a Yankees-A’s game. (Double click to read the story)

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Filed under Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports Psychology, Yankee Stadium

Kerry Rules, Yankees Suck?

Did John Kerry lose the 2004 presidential election over improper messaging?

From the right-hand corner of the political button display in my office: The Fred Flintstone presidential campaign shares equal time with Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon (notice the name of his running mate?).

But my most curious political souvenir comes from the streets outside Boston’s Fleet Center at the 2004 Democratic National Convention: Kerry Rules, Yankees Suck.

Strangely, there is no punctuation. There should be one if not two exclamation points.

Given that Red Sox fans have been known to inexplicably chant “Yankees Suck!” at Celtics, Bruins and Patriots games, as well as at concerts, it’s not so surprising it would surface on the national political stage — regardless if the voters in the 44 non-New England states ever got the joke.

Now that the Red Sox unfortunately do suck, it will be fascinating to see what happens to the “Yankees Suck!” cheer.

Here’s betting that the bitterness and resentment outside Fenway Park gets much much worse.  Ironically, scapegoating the Bronx Bombers just made a cameo in the Scott Brown / Elizabeth Warren U.S. Senate race.

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Filed under Asinine Baseball Analogies, Red Sox, Sports Psychology, Yankee Stadium

Wish it were a Cubs fan in 1986…

Like all NY Post coverage of landmark events, this Khadafy farewell is an instant collector's item. (Click pic for more info)

There are now doubts as to who actually killed Moammar Gaddafi, but the accuracy and brilliance of the subhead cannot be challenged.

Two more thoughts on the drama:

1. Khadaffy (we’re using the different spellings to take advantage of SEO options) died like a villain in a Carl Hiaasen novel. As his killers (who could be as mean as Gadaffy) put it, he lived his last moments like a rat in a sewer pipe.

2. A damn shame that President Ronald Reagan didn’t take Khaddaffy out in his reprisal strike after the Berlin disco bombing. Then the Libyan dictator would have been offed by a Chicago Cubs fan.

For more “Culture Schlock” Libya coverage, see Khadaffy’s earlier vow not to surrender “like a woman.”

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Middle East, Sports Psychology

Did God knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs?

All-Star Theologian Adrian Gonzalez

Although my athletic career has recently shown vibrant signs of promise with the Warrior Dash, I honestly never had much interest from the scouts in either Little League Baseball (singles hitter, no speed) or JV High School football (second-string offensive line).

But I do remember one thing.  When we were laughing on the bus after a horrible football loss, the coach went ballistic. How dare we not treat losing the game like we had lost our family dog?

I wonder what would have happened if any of us players pulled the Calvinism/predestination card. Our football coaches had very long memories that extended into gym class.

Enter Red Sox All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who lived up to his preseason hype by hitting .338 with 27 homers and 117 RBIs.  After the Sox elevated the art of choking to a new level this month by blowing a 9 game Wild Card lead in just 30 days — going a historically horrendous 7-20 for the month — Gonzalez just shrugged his shoulders and said “Amen.”

Here’s how he was quoted by the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham:

“It’s definitely something that didn’t plan for. We were wholly confident that we would make the playoffs but it didn’t happen,” he said. “We didn’t do a better job with the lead. I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward… God didn’t have it in the cards for us.”

And here’s what he said (perhaps in a different interview) according to the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy:

“God has a plan,’’ he said. “And it wasn’t God’s plan for us to be in the playoffs.’’

Either way, Gonzalez has given CCD teachers and rabbis preparing their Yom Kippur sermons plenty to talk about.

But my gym teachers would have killed him.

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Filed under God and the Red Sox, Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports Psychology

Fallen Idol: Barry Bonds/Paula Abdul comedy act is a major league drag

(In honor of the end of the Barry Bonds trial, I’m posting this vintage column on another outrageous, but overlooked chapter of the Steroids Era.)

Comic Relief: Barry Bonds dressed as American Idol judge Paula Abdul during a Giants Spring Training skit.

Culture Schlock – By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph
March 16, 2006

Forget Paula Abdul. Barry Bonds is already on his way to a career as a
cheap Jose Canseco impersonator.

With 708 career home runs, the steroids-disgraced Bonds is only seven
dingers short of passing Babe Ruth and 48 from topping Hank Aaron as
the greatest power hitter of all time. Yet, he’d be doing us all a
favor if he immediately fulfilled his true destiny – joining the next
cast of VH1’s “The Surreal Life.”

After writing his best-selling steroids confessional, “Juiced,”
Canseco shocked his fans by prancing around as a lingerie model on the
washed-up celebrity show. As a pre-emptive strike before this month’s
release of “Game of Shadows,” the steroids expose by San Francisco
Chronicle reporters, Bonds allegedly put on a dress to divert our

I say “allegedly” because every written account of the Giants’ spring
training spoof of “American Idol” mentions Bonds wore a skirt or a
sleeveless dress.” Yet, the pictures all look like he ripped apart an
oversized Giants t-shirt and wrapped it around his torso like a halter

A man with Bonds’ power and resources could have hired Abdul’s
personal designer to craft him something more stylish and authentic.
As the Associated Press put it, “Paula Abdul probably could hit a
fastball about as well as Barry Bonds could impersonate Paula Abdul.”

Of course, the current furor surrounding Bonds has nothing to do with
fashion. Major League Baseball is about to knowingly allow the
“Cheaters Never Win” doctrine to be shattered forever.

Yes, steroid-infused frauds Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa already
tarnished the Roger Maris legacy with their phony home run race in
1998. And fellow fraud Jason Giambi was named Most Valuable Player in
2000. But those records at the time were only sullied by rumors and
innuendo. The evidence from the congressional hearings is now so
overwhelming that baseball officials can’t play stupid anymore.

Who’s refusing to take off their blindfolds and call a cheater a
cheater? Plenty of people are still bidding on Barry Bonds items on
eBay. Plenty of apologists on talk radio keep stressing how steroids
only enhance results for talented athletes – and how Bonds was already
one of the greatest hitters and fielders in the game before he took
any drugs.

More baffling: The Topps Company still proudly hails Barry as their
spokesperson for baseball cards. In 2005, Topps issued special cards
celebrating each one of Bonds’ first 660 home runs with the date,
place and pitcher who gave up the blast. The new 2006 cards continue
with homers 661-708, with plans to issue additional cards this year as

Hopefully, there’ll be no need.

Ironically, Topps is now pushing a “Topps of the Class” promotion to
reward students for earning good grades in school. Students who bring
their report cards to participating hobby stores are given free
baseball cards as promised by their slogan “Work Hard, Get Cards.” No
word if academic cheaters are eligible, too.

Richard Maris, Roger’s youngest son, told the Orlando Sentinel last
week that he believes his father’s single season home run record of 61
is still the legitimate record. Not Bonds’ 73.

“The only enhancement Dad used (in 1961) was cigarettes,” Maris said.
“He smoked Camels, and I doubt they helped him hit any more home

According to allegations in “Game of Shadows,” what helped Bonds hit
more homers include human growth hormone, women’s fertility drugs and
a bovine steroid used to beef up cattle.

Maybe I’m a loser, but I’d rather hit all singles and be ninth in the
batting order than inject myself with women’s fertility drugs. Yikes!
No wonder Bonds felt an urge to put on a dress.

For the record, columnist Darren Garnick doesn’t inject himself with
bovine enhancement drugs either. “Culture Schlock” runs every
Thursday in Encore.

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Filed under Paula Abdul Impersonators, Sports, Sports Psychology

How to use a baseball bat as a persuasive political tool

As Republican Deputy Whip, John Cornyn was in charge of convincing fellow Senators to vote the party line. Where do the baseball bats come in? You'll have to ask him.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the man in charge of directing the Republican national strategy in the midterm elections, has a Texas superiority complex and a horse fetish.  You can see it in the cowboy-themed decorations in his Senate office — and you can hear it in his totally serious 2008 campaign video dubbing himself “Big Bad John.”

The reverse “1824” reflection you see in the glass is a Texas Revolution battle flag from the days when the Lone Star State fought Mexico to become an independent nation.  Cornyn is underneath the superimposed number “4.”  He’s the one NOT wearing the dress.

Taken by itself, the baseball bat pose below seems quirky and offbeat.  However, in the tough guy context of the rest of his office (wild horses, Marlboro men, Chuck Norris, cowboy hats and Texas battle slogans), this picture reminds me of the baseball scene in “The Untouchables” movie.

Or maybe this is just the 2003 Republican Senate Softball Team.


In the scene, gangster Al Capone is giving a speech to his thugs about how baseball is a metaphor for life. His obsequious well-dressed goons reflexively laugh at every “joke” he makes.  They are in a fancy dining room at some kind of banquet:

Capone: “A man becomes preeminent, he’s expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms, enthusiasms… What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team.”

Thugs: “Teamwork!”

Capone: “Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on!”

Thugs: (laughter)

Capone: “If his team don’t field, what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I’m goin’ out there for myself. But… I get nowhere unless the team wins!”

Thugs: “Team! Team!”

(Without hesitation, Capone proceeds to beat one of the men to death with his baseball bat. Presumably, the victim was not a team player. Perhaps a Wade Boggs type who would rather swing away than sacrifice the runner home.)

Watch the scene for yourself:

Now watch it in Italian and focus on the phenomenal musical score and cinematography…

Lastly, here’s a San Francisco Giants parody ad of the scene featuring superstar pitcher Tim Lincecum:

We’ll see how Sen. Capone’s Texas Rangers do against the fearless Lincecum’s Giants!

Big Bad John was just ranked #9 in our Senate Vanity Index, the first algebraic equation in history to accurately measure and compare political egos!

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Filed under Ego Walls, Election 2010, politics, Sports, Sports Psychology, Using Good things for Evil, Vanity Index