Ball joints

That's what they call the things which went out on my pickup, which caused the tires to wear horribly, and which cost $660 to replace today. Whoa. I wasn't quite ready for that total.

Oh well, I put it on the credit card so it doesn't matter anyway.

It took four hours to finish the job. I took along work and reading so I passed the time blissfully until three-and-a-half hours, anyway. The last half hour consisted of a failed attempt to get my emergency brake cable loose. It was frozen in place because I have never used it in 170,000 miles. During that time, I paced the drab, cold shop.

Driving home, the steering felt different. It was the first time I had the front wheels aligned since I bought the pickup new.

WINTER RETURNED today. Zero degrees this morning. High in the teens today. Last night, as the temperatures sank, the front windows on the prow of the house cracked and groaned loudly. No glass broke, anyway, but something about the colder temps always makes the prow groan, crack and creak. It actually interfered with my sleep.

The birds continue to eat me out of house and home. I think they go through three dollars worth of thistle per day. At least. I think I am going to put them on rations. Right now, they are telling all their friends and the crowd is just getting out of hand. Like a keg party, but for birds.

THE TWINS signed 40-year-old Ruben Sierra to a minor league contract. I like the signing. He has tormented the Twins for years. He may not hit for a high average, but when it matters, he has always been lethal. He is a switch hitter, which is nice.

I have been reading columnist George Will's Men at Work, a baseball book he wrote about fifteen years ago. It really is very good. It describes the tiny details of the game which occupy the minds of the players, managers and coaches, but which seldom are noticed by the fans.

For instance, every time Yogi Berra got on base, he would talk the ear of the defensive player nearest him--until there was a play called, say a hit and run, and then Yogi would go silent. The other teams caught on. Finally, the Yanks figured it out and told Yogi to shut up. That didn't work, so they told him to keep talking no matter what. That finally ended the spying.

Tony LaRussa actually has a scout watch his managerial moves as if the scout were from an opposing team to see if he is falling into any identifiable tendencies.

Gene Mauch noticed--get this--that a tendon in the neck of a certain opposing shortstop would stand out before a fastball and would be unnoticable before a curve. That is plausible--infielders know what pitch is coming next and react accordingly. Mauch was able to relay this info to his hitters, and they pounded the pitchers for that team mercilessly.

One problem which probably on the decline is the matter of ballplayers coming to the park drunk. Nowadays, teams wouldn't put up with that behavior. But in the old days, it was pretty common. Mickey Mantle once tottered around in the batter's box for three pitches before conking a 460-foot home run. His manager Ralph Houk knew Mantle was drunk and played him anyway just to make a fool out of him. After stroking the home run, Mantle barely made it around the bases without falling over.

Baseball is good for stories, and Will's book has quite a few good ones.