Spangle, WA (AP)- On a cold, crisp Wednesday morning at Liberty High School in Spangle, WA—a morning that reminded some of Barack Obama’s campaign announcement in Illinois four years prior—Vince Grippi stepped up to the microphone, his voice bellowing over the capacity crowd….
“Today,” said Grippi, “We stand before you to make the announcement we've all been waiting for….Because today, right here at the great high school that we drive by five or six times a week but have never stopped at before....We declare to each and every one of you that we are free at last! Thank god almighty, we are free at last!”
And, as the capacity crowd roared with approval, Mr. Grippi's Press Secretary, Brian Floyd, helped Mr. Grippi remove the corduroy blazer that Floyd reportedly gave him (as a Christmas gift) last week....
“Because today, citizens of Spangle," Grippi cried, "I’m here to tell you that you no longer have to abide by the petty, meaningless, Leftist ideology of mainstream newspapers and media. Because today, dear citizens of Spangle, we will make history!.... Because today, we leave our full-time jobs in pursuit of the University of California, Irvine Hall of Fame!”
Moments after Grippi’s shocking announcement, Press Secretary and chief campain strategist Brian Floyd issued the following statement:
For years now, Vince Grippi has represented all that is right with print media and college sports. And we at Cougcenter.com have been there to support him. And sure, maybe our interactions have occasionally devolved into mindless pandering—like our occasional behind the scenes e-mails and “Thinking of you” Hallmark cards we send to Vince on Valentine's Day, Father's Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, and Lent; Our quiet, intimate interludes in the press box and on the sidelines during practice; our Secret Santa Gift exchanges, as well as other pleasantries that I am not authorized to speak of....That being said, all of us at Cougcenter.com have supported Vince and Vince has supported us. It’s really that simple.
However, our campaign would be remiss not to point out that we all knew that one day we would all leave our day jobs in order to rally behind Vince's vision for a bigger, better direction. And today IS that day…Because when we are done, Vince Grippi will find his rightful home in the University of California, Irvine (Anteater) Hall of Fame!
Although this announcement was shocking and disorienting to many citizens of Spangle (particularly the elderly), members of the media have seen such tactics by Mr.Grippi before. However, staff of the Sports Information Department at UC Irvine had not. When contacted directly, staff claimed that they had no idea that the Grippi for Hall of Fame campaign even existed, or that it was even possible to mount a campaign for Hall of Fame Membership at the University.
“Usually this sort of honor is bestowed upon people by members of the Department, following a careful review of their contributions on and off the field,” said a staff member of the UC Irvine Sports Information Department, who was not authorized to speak on the matter. “Or at least when we go through the HOF candidates, they tend to be standouts on the field of play. After all, It's the Hall of FAME, right?"
After taking a few moments to compose himself, the staffer continued:
"Quite frankly, we usually don’t get solicited by our former athletes. Occasionally we get such solicitations from a family member when the candidate is deceased, something like that. So, this is unusual. In fact, I think its fair to say that, today, UC Irvine has lost it's innocence."
Other sources contacted by the AP late Tuesday were not so surprised. In fact, several were willing and ready to support a Grippi Hall of Fame bid.
One such person was David Landers, perhaps known best as “Squiggy”on the 70’s sitcom Laverne and Shirley.
When contacted at a local eatery near his home Tuesday night, Landers provided immediate support for the Grippi HOF campaign. “When Laverne and Shirley got cancelled, I was really in a rut. But, one day Lenny—whose real name is Michael McKeon—came up to me following a 72 hour bender outside of Fullerton and told me of this amazing bullpen catcher that I should go talk to…… And I was like, “Hello???"….Like, what do you mean by a “bullpen catcher?” And McKeon just said, “You gotta go meet Grippi, you’ve got to go meet Grippi! I'm telling you, David, he’s like a real life Big Ragu!”
“So, I drove out to Irvine to go meet this Grippi guy. And to this day, I look back and can only tell you that our exchange represented a life changing experience for me. Not only did the guy sport really cool polyester pants with elastic waistbands, but he actually wore his catching gear to class…”
“Seriously think about that for a moment. Can you imagine a guy showing up to class replete with shin guards and a chest protector?”
“And from that day forward, I just became obsessed with all things Grippi. In fact, I was so inspired, I quit my acting career and promptly became a professional baseball scout…….”
When pressed for details as to what would actually make Grippi a Hall-of-Famer, Landers stammered a bit. Then, after a long pause, he suggested that the Hall is for things "greater than what you see on the field" and that sometimes it's simply the right thing to do to elect a player of limited skills and abilities in favor of other qualities. After all, said Landers, "Barry Bonds isn't in the MLB Hall-of-Fame. And where the hell is Pete Rose?? The MLB doesn't even have their HR King or Hit King in their Hall-of-Fame so it is hardly a stretch to suggest Grippi is H-O-F material!"
When informed that Rose is serving a lifetime ban for betting on baseball, and Bonds isn't yet eligible for the HOF so he hasn't had the opportunity to appear on the ballot, Landers blurted "So what!? Those are just minor details, it doesn't really matter. Those guys are total jerks. I saw Rose once spit in a kid's face when asked for an autograph. And Bonds, he's so mean he once shot a man FOR SNORING! But what matters is the whole package if you will, and Grippi, he's everything you look for. And I think he once hit a home run, in an ACTUAL GAME!? Good enough for me."
Then the AP produced the actual scouting report Landers filed on none other than Vincent Grippi, a report he turned into the then-California Angels in the late'70's. It read:
Strengths: Can catch the ball when thrown directly at him and not too fast. Handles the bullpen duties well. Understands the importance of keeping the pitchers hydrated and loose with deep tissue massages and consistently re-supplying the sunflower seeds and chewing gum bins. Also seems big on sun screen and the dangers of too much exposure to ultraviolet rays, and avoids the sun at all costs. Always a good choice to retrieve phone numbers of females in the stands in exchange for signed baseballs from members of pitching staff. Seems to call a good simulated game in the bullpen but haven't witnessed nearly enough playing time to evaluate, far too small a sample size. Handles the rake real well around the pitching mound and home plate, one of the best manicured bullpens I have seen in the NCAA. When given a chance to play, kept his composure and didn't argue with umps after striking out. Not real friendly but get sense there is something behind the eyes that indicates a strong character and right-wing fundamentals that this country was founded upon.
Defense: Arm strength a 1 on scale of 1-8. Never saw him actually make a throw to 2nd base that wasn't on at least two hops. Doesn't move well to his left or right (or even gets out of his crouch much at all). Blocks balls well directly in front of him but only when they bounced up and hit him squarely in the chest. Very limited mobility, above average motility.
Offense: MINUS-MINUS bat speed. Not even a 1 on scale of 1-8. Very limited with the bat, with poor pitch recognition and inability to hit anything that isn't straight and over the heart of the plate. Poor speed and extremely slow out of the box (timed at 9 seconds from home to first). Might run into a weakly thrown batting practice fastball or guess lucky on a hanging breaking ball. Considered to possess "change-up bat speed". Seems smart on the basepaths, as he alertly took second on weak ground ball thrown into stands by charging shortstop. Did have an extra base hit when outfielders collided on a harmless blooper into shallow left-center field.
Final Analysis: DO NOT DRAFT. Might be able to sign low-minors free agent contract and have him hang around the bullpen (and/or drive the team bus?). Body type is clearly built for comfort, not speed. Might not age well and will be even slower with added weight. But Grippi is definitely the kind of guy you can lose with; he carries the potential to pass on strong character fundamentals to the more talented, yet lower-character individuals in the minor league system.
When told that scouting report hardly reflects that of a legit Hall-of-Fame candidate and that his analyses seemed a bit fishy, Landers quickly checked his cell phone and said "I have to take this..." while exiting the room, which was all the more puzzling considering that his phone never actually rang. Landers then returned several minutes later only to say "This interview is over, I have no further comment" before hurriedly leaving the restaurant without paying his bill.
Later, Matt Sinatro, a former career bullpen catcher with the Seattle Mariners and a close personal associate of Landers, was reached in his Bay Area home. He said, "What David said about Vince's inspiration to all of us is completely true. Words can't describe the type of athlete and persona that Grippi represented for many of us Italians in Southern California, not to mention Vegas. It's true that I never actually met him, but I knew "OF" him. He was kind of this underrated, overweight, and, you know, generally under-talented version of Joe DiMaggio...But, the thing with Vince was...I mean, you just went near the guy and dreams came true. And so I say to all of you who know Vince contemporaneously: It's about high time that you make HIS dreams come true!”
When contacted early Wednesday, the SID offices at UC Irvine were already flooded with calls advocating for the Grippi candidacy. And, although requests for an interview with the SID were not granted by press-time, sources at the WSUFootballblog.com were able to secure copies of Grippi’s career stats. They are as follows, (by courtesy of Sports Information Director Fumi Kimura):
4 seasons, 19 games played. 5-for-22, .227 batting average. 1 HR.
When contacted by the AP late on Wednesday, the Grippi campaign was resolute that Grippi's career statistics were noteworthy in spite of the fact that his numbers indicate otherwise. In fact, one member of the Cougcenter.com editorial board responded to formal questioning regarding Grippi's HOF bid as follows:
"As many readers of Cougcenter.com know, our site has become the recognized leader in sports statistics. And truly, whether you look at indices such as OPS--adjusted for efficiency, Slugging Percentage--adjusted for efficiency, or Batting Average--adjusted for efficiency, Grippi's numbers speak for themselves. After all, the guy hit .500 in 1977(2-for-4)! Truly, not only are we legendary, we are Hall of Fame legendary."
A week later, the Grippi campaign was in full swing, as evidence by a fully-funded Amtrak tour up and down the west coast. Fans flocked to each station, hoisting signs that read "Yes We Can!" in places like Grants Pass, Oregon and "Si Se Peude" in locales such as Corning, California.
Several onlookers commented that they hadn't seen such enthusiasm about an individual or social movement since John F Kennedy's campaign in 1960...
At each stop, Grippi typically sauntered off the rear of the train, traversed a track or two and then sat on a stool to deliver his "stump speech" to a largely transfixed audience. When asked why he preferred to "sit" on the stump instead of stand on it, Grippi was typically succinct:
"Generally, we've always felt that standing on the stump was akin to talking down to people, and that is not the message we're providing in this campaign. Instead, we want people to really feel both the humility and the cerebralness of our campaign, and nothing says humility or deep introspection more than a man sitting quietly and vulnerably on a stool in front of them. Plus, Kim always told me that we do our best thinking sitting down. And so we thought we'd take those quiet, personal moments and make them a real fixture of our campaign."
Following that statement, Grippi grabbed ahold of the rail of the train and climbed aboard for yet another stop down the road.
Where the train was headed, nobody knew. But what was clear on this cold, quiet night, was that the train was moving forward, toward new directions, new possibilities, and a host of dreams yet fulfilled in 2012 and beyond. But one thing was clear to this reporter, as the train rattled out of sight while local youths waved and chased after it down the tracks - Next stop, GREATNESS!