Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Gumballhead, Brian Bannister, and Pat Neshek

Last night, The Common Man finished his dinner, put The Boy to bed, and came downstairs to find The Evil Dog had peed on the kitchen floor, despite having been walked not one hour before. Here was a situation that clearly called for a beer.

And so, The Common Man popped the top off of a Gumballhead, a wheat beer made by Three Floyds Brew Pub, in Munster, Indiana. The psychedelic foil label features a yellow creature (Google tells TCM it's a cat who may or may not also be the star of his own web comic) of some sort smoking a cigarette and sporting what appears to be a black eye. Written up the side of the bottle are the words, "It's not normal."

Since the retirement of world-class crazy man Turk Wendell, The Common Man can only think of two ball players who really resonate with this slogan as baseball's true odd ducks. Brian Bannister, the starter for the Kansas City Royals, is the son of former Major League pitcher Floyd Bannister (who won 134 games from 1977-1992), which could lead one to believe that the younger Bannister is old school and conservative, status quo loving legacy. Banny is a fan of sabermatricians around the blogosphere; he is a strong believer in Defense Independent Pitching stats, and is thoughtful in how he dissects his own performance. He has a Bachelors in Fine Arts degree from USC, is a photography enthusiast and supports artists working in the Scottsdale area. Just his mere presence makes the Royals almost watchable in non-Greinke outings. Bannister always has something interesting to say, such that it's no wonder that Banny has made a disciple out of no less a writer than Joe Posnanski.

Likewise, Twins reliever Pat Neshek has made tremendous fans online for being one of the first active players to really blog about his experiences in the minor and major leagues. His insight and his enthusiasm are both greatly appreciated by his readers, as Neshek serves as a proxy for their broken dreams of never having a chance to make the big leagues. Indeed, while you and The Common Man may never have even played high school ball, we always felt we knew and respected the game far more than those who played it. Neshek's baseball card and autograph collections, his openess in talking about both, and his genuine awe at being a Major Leaguer, is refreshing for fans like The Common Man, who feel like they finally have one of their own to root for. Neshek's delivery, the jerky, whip-like, side arm action that fools righty and lefty batters alike also is a reminder of just how different Neshek is from your average major leaguer.

There is, however, one central difference between Brian Bannister and Pat Neshek. Neshek has thrown 120 innings at the big league level, and is coming off of a major injury (Tommy John Surgery). By no means is his full recovery assured, no matter how much The Common Man wishes it so. Still, in those 120 innings, The Freakshow has struck out 142 batters, and walked just 37 (in a row?). He is overpowering, and has an incredibly filthy slider. It's no exaggeration to say that, if he's healthy, Pat Neshek is absolutely nasty. Brian Bannister, on the other hand, The Common Man is sad to say is just not a good major league pitcher. After an exceptionally positive start to his career (14-10, 3.95, low HR/9 and BB/9 rates from 2006-2007, very low BABIP), the American League (or Lady Luck) seems to have caught up to him. In 2008, his HR/9 jumped (as did his K/BB ratio, however), and his BABIP also rose by 60 points (to .316). It held relatively steady in 2009. In the last two years, Banny has gone just 16-28 with a 5.29 ERA. It's clear that Bannister simply isn't a serviceable starter on a competitive franchise, and that he's not part of the long term solution for the Royals. Though he'll probably make a hell of a pitching coach some day.

And so, The Common Man is forced to make Brian Bannister the official Gumballhead of Major League Baseball. For one thing, he's got a lot of knowledge in that head of his, and some gumballs are awfully big. But more importantly, just like Bannister is not a good pitcher (no matter how much we want him to be), Gumballhead is not a good beer. Now, in the interest of fairness, TCM is generally not a wheat beer fan anyway, but this brew seems particularly egregious. It's exceedingly light, to the point where you can't really taste the beer. Rather, you get a splash of water across the bow, before a sharp hoppiness washes over the whole of your mouth. That's followed almost immediately by the most lemony aftertaste that The Common Man can remember having from a beer. And that aftertaste doesn't dissipate either. It sticks with you. It haunts you. It keeps coming back, and just gets more strident and insistent sip after sip, like Yankees in their second at bats against young Banny. Eventually, the aftertaste starts teeing off on your taste buds, and you run for a palette cleanser. And this might be The Common Man's imagination, but there might be the faintest smell of stale urine. Frankly, life's too short to drink this beer, unless you've got no other choice on hand. Fortunately for Bannister, the Royals don't.

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