BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: Take “The Human Target” Out To The Ballgame

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Comic Book universes are huge and diverse, going through countless genres and containing both nitty-gritty realism and utterly fantastic science fiction or fantasy. And yet, they all take place in the same universe, no matter how different they seem. You can get a idea of just how crazy this is by looking at Marvel’s movie/TV empire, where Daredevil and Guardians of the Galaxy are both taking place in the same universe despite the fact that one of them is about a guy beating up mob bosses (and the occasional ninja) while the other one has both a talking raccoon and a talking tree.

However, as a result of this, sometimes characters get lost in the shuffle. They are technically part of the universe, but they rarely interact with it. Maybe it’s because their adventures are on the more mature side, maybe they are stuck in another dimension that the usual heroes don’t go to so often, or maybe, they aren’t seen because that’s just the way they want it…

Such is the case of Christopher Chance, AKA the Human Target. He’s not a completely unknown character- he’s been the subject of two short-lived shows based on his comics (the most notable being a two-season FOX series starring Mark Valley and James Earle Haley), but he’s firmly in the D-list of DC Comics. And those were both pretty different from the comics and had little indication of taking place in a world of DC Comics. In fact, when it was announced that the Human Target would be coming to Arrow, some people were surprised to find out that he even was a DC character. That’s probably because he doesn’t interact with the rest of the DC Universe all that much. Or maybe he does, but we just don’t know it.

Because, you see, the Human Target is a master of disguise. He becomes the would-be assassination victim using heavy prosthetic-work and a knack for copying voices and body language. And in this installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture, Christopher Chance figuratively steps up to the plate:

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.29.36 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.30.43 AMGO BELOW THE JUMP FOR MORE:

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Chris Colabello: Too Real For Hollywood

So, there is this guy. He’s a ballplayer. Not a particularly great or notable one, but still a ballplayer. He’s so desperate to keep playing that after college he moves to the land of his ancestors: Italy. He plays baseball there, is pretty good. Falls in love with a local. Marries her, they spend their days split between Massachusetts and Italy. They have a son.

That son follows in his father’s footsteps, growing up and playing baseball on two continents. Trials and tribulations- of his own making and of fate’s- seem to keep him from reaching his true potential, and after college he, like his father, finds his baseball career seemingly at an end. Except instead of across the sea, the son stays near home: Independent Ball. The last hope or only shot of the truly baseball-desperate. Pitiful salaries, long bus rides, no fame… only dreams.

He spends seven years there, occasionally leaving to represent Italia, the land where he grew up and where his mother was born. Most would quit, or at least consider other options. This guy doesn’t. He keeps going, and finally, when he’s in his late 20s, he’s doing so well he cannot be ignored. A major league organization signs him, and at age 28 he begins his first Minor League season, nearly four years older than his average teammate.

And he is a revelation, as he becomes one of the best hitters on a team with some of the farm system’s best prospects. The next year, in AAA, he does it again and is named MVP in the league, becoming a fan favorite in a Upstate New York town in a season that began with him pacing his ancestral home to it’s best showing in the history of the World Baseball Classic.

Except…. it’s not the end. He was called up. He doesn’t do all that well in his first stint in the show, but it’s a dream that he had scraped and clawed for so long, finally achieved. That offseason, with no guarantees of a roster spot the next season, he is offered a big money deal from a team in Korea. He could make more money than he ever has. He refuses, as it would mean shutting the door, perhaps permanently, on his Major League dreams.

At first, it seems he made the right decision. He gets a roster spot and starts the year on a historic tear, breaking the team RBI record for April that had been set by a legendary man. He hits a home run in front of his parents as they are interviewed on television, a birthday gift to his mother.

But then… it falls apart. April proves the exception, and in late May he is sent down to AAA… even as the program-covers that greet fans at the Major League ballpark bear his face. He goes back and forth like a yo-yo, but ultimately he spends more time in AAA than he does in the show.

For some, this would be the end. Those gasps of major league greatness would be all there would be. Not for him. The next year, after a good start in AAA, he goes to a third country: Canada. He never recaptures that April, and he doesn’t play every game… but he doesn’t need to. He’s another bat in a lineup of big bats. He has a career year, and he is a mainstay in the starting lineup during the postseason, where he hits two home runs.

It seems, perhaps, that he has finally arrived. But then, the next season, he starts on a slump. Some wonder if he might again get sent down. And then, late in April, the slump becomes the least of his worries.

He’s suspended for 80 games for using a Performance Enhancing Drug. An old one. East German. And suddenly, a story that seemed too extraordinary for Hollywood becomes one that is too real for Hollywood.

It’s the story of Chris Colabello, son of Lou Colabello. His has been a story of near-biblical persistence and long odds. A story that brought him from Italy and Massachusetts, through New Britain and Rochester and Minneapolis and Buffalo, and finally to Toronto. That he suddenly is caught using a Cold War-era PED in some ways casts a shroud of doubt on all of it.

There is, of course, no way of knowing if that is the case. It seems unlikely that he would have been using such a obvious and classic steroid for so long without getting caught. After all, this is a player who would have been subject not just to the MLB tests of the past few years, but also tests in the minors and in overseas competitions.

Perhaps he was using something else this whole time.

Perhaps it was just a mistake. It could have been a accident or (for the more conspiracy-prone) an act of malice by a trainer or pharmacist.

Or maybe, having finally truly tasted the highest heights of his profession, Chris Colabello thought he needed to do anything and everything he could to stay there, or perhaps even go higher. And perhaps, like Icarus, he got too close to the sun.

I don’t know. Nobody, aside perhaps from Colabello himself, knows.

And perhaps that is why his suspension is so unsettling to myself and many other baseball fans, particularly fans of the Twins and Blue Jays. An icon of hard work and perseverance, suddenly found to have been taking the easy way out. Over a decade of work, seemingly thrown away.

What this means… I’m not sure I’ll ever know. I’m not sure if we’ll ever know.

Perhaps it just means that Chris Colabello, like all of us… is human.

Alex Rodriguez is not a popular guy

So, we all know Alex Rodriguez isn’t very popular in the MLB office, but how unpopular he was amongst his fellow players hasn’t been very clear until now. Oh, there had been “sources” about how disgusted they were, and some players have outright talked about their feelings on A-Rod. But now, Jeff Passan and Tim Brown have written an article over at YAHOO! in which they reveal that other players are so sick of Rodriguez that they would have him kicked out of the union completely.

This is unprecedented. While he can’t be kicked out of the union due to legal matters, this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time something like this has actually been bandied about at all. Even the replacement players like Kevin Millar, Shane Spencer and Brendan Donnelly were merely cut out from the MLBPA’s marketing deals (making them, for example, not available in video games), not kicked out of the union.

Of course, this won’t end with Rodriguez getting kicked out of the union, and he’s not being cut from any marketing deals either, but it does show something: while the union itself may have said it wasn’t happy with suspension of Rodriguez, the union members seem to wish the union could just leave him out to dry.

Biogenesis Day Live-Blog

It’s (maybe) Biogenesis Day! So, I’ll be doing a running live-blog of thoughts, news, and pitiful attempts to be funny. Well, mostly. I might miss an hour or two due to an appointment. So, go below the jump for it, I’ll be adding more and more as the day goes on.

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The Spectrum of Braun Tweets

In the hours since the Ryan Braun news broke, you could see a wide variety of responses. Here are the types I found… I am not including examples as a way to protect the innocent and/or guilty. In addition, many tweets may be crosses between the below.

The Purely Informational Tweet: Tells us what’s happening, how people are reacting, give us further details, etc.

The “He had it coming” Tweet: Self-explanatory.

The “He should apologize” Tweet: He should apologize to his teammates, he should apologize to that sample-collector, he should apologize to the arbitrator, he should apologize to the fans, he should apologize to his family, he should apologize to those who defended him, he should apologize to Matt Kemp for winning the 2011 MVP Award instead of him, etc.

The “Not Enough” Tweet: Suggesting that Braun got off easy. Other suggestions can range anywhere from 100 games to some who suggest expunging Braun from the record books, banning him for life and then shooting him on a rocket towards the heart of the Sun. Only slightly exaggerating.

The “Who Cares?” Tweet: Somebody either says they don’t care about PED use anymore or don’t see what the big deal is because the Brewers are already out of playoff contention.

The “A-Rod’s Next” Tweet: Self-explanatory.

The “Tie this into another event” Tweet: Ranging from the rather apt comparison of the reaction to Braun’s suspension to the reaction to the suspension of the NFL’s Von MIller to the rather silly, such as saying that this means that the Royal Baby won’t be named “Ryan”.

The “Get off your high horses” Tweet: Again, self-explanatory, usually aimed either at sportswriters or MLB itself.

The “MLB is just as bad” Tweet: Focuses on the fact that some of the methods that MLB has used in these investigation are rather suspect morally or ethically. In extreme cases this may appear to be an attack on MLB instead of a condemnation of both MLB and Braun.

The “Anti-Semitic” Tweet: I haven’t seen any, but given the fact that this is Twitter and some real scumbags are on it, I’m sure they exist.

The “Woah” Tweets: People are so stunned at this development that they just can say “wow” or “woah” or something similar.

Any types I’m missing?

Here we go again….

Well, I wouldn’t say this came out of nowhere, but I don’t think I was expecting to see this today. You?

Bizarre Baseball Culture: Dash Dartwell’s PED use for justice

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Steroids and other performance-enhancers are, to sports, a plague. They provide some players an unfair advantage, threaten the integrity of records, and could also endanger the long-term health of the user. The great struggle of 21st century sports has, in many ways, been the struggle against PEDs.

But, as today’s installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture shows, the the view that PEDs are bad goes against human nature and human fantasy. The human experience, the human dream, has always been about becoming better. It is one reason why, for example, that larger-than-life heroes have been popular since ancient times.

So it is perhaps not surprising that fictional superhumans (who by their nature are better than human) have often gone hand-in-hand with PEDs (which by their very nature make the user better than the average human). Steve Rogers, for example, became Captain America after being given a Super-Soldier Serum by the American government. Bane, the villain who once broke Batman’s back and appeared in less-steroidy form in The Dark Knight Rises, got his great strength from a drug known simply as “Venom”. Even Popeye, with his spinach, could be said to be using some type of performance enhancers.

But few stories actually have an athlete using a PED… but I have found at least one, featuring the obscure hero Dash Dartwell (sometimes called “The Human Meteor”), a college athlete who has gotten “Metabo-tablets” from a biochemistry professor that make him superhuman until the pill’s effect wears off.

Amazing Man Comics #22, the issue from May 1941 which contains this story (it starts on page 41), can be found here. Go below the jump for the rest of this installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture.

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The PED Double Standard

As you all definitely know, baseball was hit by a steroid scandal yesterday.

You may have also heard that such a thing struck the NFL, where news again surfaced that Ray Lewis had used a type of “deer-antler spray” that contained a type of illegal hormone for muscle growth. I say “again” because this actually isn’t news, it had first been reported in 2011.

Of course, you probably never heard that, because use of PEDs in the NFL is usually overlooked, or just dismissed, or, in some cases, openly rewarded. Yesterday, for example, Ray Lewis simply said that he’d “never tested positive” and then that was it. ESPN did cover it, but it was nowhere near the level of what would have happened if, say, the same thing had happened to a MLB player the day before the World Series were to start.

(Also, they don’t test for the PED that Lewis is accused of, since the NFL doesn’t have blood tests, so Lewis’ denial, while technically true, isn’t exactly a declaration of innocence.)

It doesn’t stop there (go below the jump):

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