Sunday, January 28, 2007

Federer Is Betterer (tough break, Fernando Gonzalez)

By the time that most of us learned that it was somebody named "Fernando Gonzalez" who was playing Roger Federer in the championship of the Aussie Open, it was nearly too late to run down to the basement, unstack the six boxes, open the bottom box, begin thumbing through the cards rapidly and then happily extracting the card we had hoped was where we thought it was.

Exactly ... right there with the other Pittsburgh Pirate cards ... right there between DOUG FROBEL and CECILIO GUANTE -- which, when you think about it, was rare because most of the cards down in the basement aren't catalogued by team and certainly most aren't in alphbetical order.

But, there it was ... the 1974 Topps card of Fernando Gonzalez -- and he looked just as we had imagined him only less than 24 hours earlier when we first heard Dick Enberg say the name, "Fernando Gonzalez."

You remember that card ... #649 in the series of approx. 660.
Fernando Gonzalez is posing in Shea Stadium, the scoreboard in RCF in the background ... just as we remembered it.
Fernando Gonzalez is wearing his familiar #37 (with a circled #21 on his left sleeve ... the reminder of Roberto Clemente) and he's wearing the brown-mustard Pirates cap with the black bill ... just as we remembered it.

Who can forget Fernando Gonzalez's thick eyebrows ... the the quality moustache ... the undershirt sleeves which, back then, extended to the middle of the forearm, but ended just shy of the wrists?
Then, there's the data on the back of the card, the fun facts which informed us that Fernando Gonzalez "Led Eastern League in Hits, Doubles & Batting, 1972, & was voted loop's Most Valuable Player" ... and, of course, the cartoon in the lower right corner of the cardback in which the animated ballpayer is holding a flag with a maple leaf on it and the cartoon tagline is: "FERNANDO PLAYED BASEBALL IN CANADA IN 1970."

The '70s were a great time for a lot of us ... y'know, back in the days when we used the term "loop" to mean "league" -- a time when we learned that Fernando Gonzalez was an Eastern League MVP in '72, although neither we nor our friends knew the abbreviation of that '72 team -- "Sh'brooke" -- or where Sh'brooke was located.


What we DID know is that we felt disinclined to trade a Fernando Gonzalez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a Nate Colbert of the San Diego Padres and a Wayne Twitchell of the Philadelphia Phillies to Todd for his Cesar Cedeno of the Houston Astros.

If it means that we have to buy 30 more packs of Topps to get Cedeno, then that's what we'll do.

The Pirates, however, felt differently. They actually included Fernando Gonzalez as a throw-in to the deal when they shipped steady Nelson Briles to the K.C. Royals for journeyman utility player Ed Kirkpatrick and up-and-coming utility player Kurt Bevacqua.

What a mistake. It matters not that the '74 Bucs won the NL East flag -- Nellie Briles was a hero. He was outstanding for the Cardinals in their World Series seasons of '67 and '68 and then very reliable for the Pirates, particularly in Game 5 of the '71 Series when, with the series knotted, 2-games apiece, he hurled a 2-hit shutout.

Most of us remember that Nellie Briles also sang the national anthem in that series (either before Game 3 or Game 5, we can't recall which) -- and that's what left us so saddened when Nellie passed away (from an apparent heart attack) at the age of 61 two Februarys ago.

Jeez, Nelson Briles was ... hey! Wasn't this supposed to be about Fernando Gonzalez?

Damn straight -- and imagine our surprise when we found Fernando Gonzalez's 1978 Topps card (#433) tucked behind the '74 Topps card in the aforementioned box in the aformentioned basement.

On that card, Fernando Gonzalez is decked out in the late-'70s Pirates garb which we loved so much -- the black-with-yellow-stripes, stovepipe ballcap and the true yellow (not mustard yellow) shirt.

The back of that card reveals that the 13 triples that Fernado Gonzalez had at Salem in '71 led the league, although there is no record or mention of "Shitbrooke," although his Eastern League "Player of the Year" honor is mentioned.

We could spend all day splitting hairs as to the differences between "Most Valuable Player" and "Player of the Year," but, we need to focus on the fact that Fernando Gonzalez was beginning to break through during the '77 season, but then the Pirates waived him early in '78 and the Padres signed him and, hey ... now that ya mention it, there may be a Fernando Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres card in the box of ... STOP!

Since this Planet never fully (or even remotely) integrated any scanner/cut n' paste/PhotoShop magic to accompany the text, this is not helping John Q. Public when he stumbles into this site and seeks deep background on Fernando Gonzalez when it comes time to sizing up Roger Federer's opponent.

One man's Fernando Gonzalez, however, may not necessarily be another man's Fernando Gonzalez -- something that we experienced last month in the work entitled "Too Much Tim Blackwell" (whereupon we discussed former MLB catcher Tim Blackwell, former Southern Miss. tailback Tim Blackwell and current Missouri-K.C. b-baller Tim Blackwell).

THIS Fernando Gonzalez -- so they say -- was attempting to become the first Chilean to win the Aussie Open.

Needless to say, the 1974 Topps baseball card of Fernando Gonzalez might've fared better against the hardcourt stylings of Federer than this Fernando Gonzalez.

The Chilean had his chances in the first set, but he failed to capitalize. It was kinda weird waking up (by chance) at 3:30 a.m. and watching that first set (before dozing off) and then awaking at 6 a.m. (by design) to see the final game of the straight-set victory.

Most people will process what Rogeer Federer has done in the past three years or so and then play the terrifically-repetitive and nonsensical game of "Who's More-Dominant At His Sport -- Federer or Woods?"

Such comparisons are immaterial -- and it's not worth escaping to another dimension to determine whether Federer could swing a golf club worth a damn or whether Tiger could swing a racquet worth a damn.

So, since there is no "Superstars" competition on ABC Sports (and, therefore, no means by which Lynn Swann can ALMOST upset Kyle Rote, Jr. by winning the obstacle course by hurdling that baby high bar which most guys dive over), the only way to sort out "Federer vs. Woods" is to use the Japan Triathlon System.

Three events which do not involve tennis or golf is the only way to settle the dispute. What we need is the system which the Japanese created to separate the weak from the less-weak.

What we need is: 1) Karaoke 2) Sudoku and 3) Oragami.

These are the activities which we have imported from the Japanese which will put the artistic and creative talents of Federer and Woods to the ultimate test.

After all, what else is there? Basketball dunking? Skeet shooting? Alpine skiing?

Hmmmm ... now that we've given it a little more thought -- taking into consideration the watered-down talent pool in each sport -- maybe Federer and Woods playing each other in their respective sports isn't such a bad idea.

It can't be any worse than wasting time watching this Fernando Gonzalez perform no better, really, than the other Fernando Gonzalez ...

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