November 2007

Video game records

Yes, this is a baseball blog, but I like to talk about other stuff, especially during the off-season.

That said, there was some recent chatter in the comments section about video games, and it reminded me…I still haven’t showed the new Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records.

A little context for those who are new-ish to this blog: I hold several world records on classic arcade video games, including Arkanoid. Some of you already know about my interest in video games because:

1) I blogged about it in 2005 (here and here).
2) Someone wrote it into my Wikipedia profile (which is in serious need of an update, in case anyone feels like taking that on).
3) I have a couple pics of my Arkanoid machine on my web site (here and here).

More context: If you’ve ever checked out my favorite links, you might remember a site called Twin Galaxies. Back in the early 1980s, there was an actual arcade in Iowa called Twin Galaxies. The owner–a supernice guy named Walter Day–started keeping track of high scores. Turned out he was the first person ever to do this, and because he did such a good job and was so passionate about it, he became THE go-to guy for high scores. Whenever one of the top video game magazines wanted to publish a list of high scores, they’d turn to him. Walter’s arcade eventually went out of business, but he kept documenting high scores and eventually launched the web site. Now he’s bigtime. He’s been featured in two recent documentaries (“The King of Kong” and “Chasing Ghosts“). He’s been working with the Guinness Book of World Records. He has his own book of world records, and this is it:


Walter inscribed my copy on Barry Bonds’ birthday. In case you can’t read it, it says: “To my great friend Zach Hample, may you never live your life on ‘Factory Settings!’ Walter Day Fairfield, Iowa 7/24/07”


Walter apparently loves to spell my name in different ways. He signed it to “Zach” (wrong) and lists me in the book as both “Zack” (correct!) and “Zachary” (also correct but antiquated).

Here’s a further look in the book, starting with the Table of Contents:


Here’s the Acknowledgments section:


And finally, here’s my profile:


NOTE: I didn’t write this profile. Walter did. I merely gave him a couple facts, like the year that the Argosy was founded. Stuff like that. I didn’t choose the words “erudite” and “predatory.” Anyway…

You should definitely buy the book if you’re serious about gaming. You truly won’t believe some of the scores that people have achieved. And finally, if you’ve seen “The King of Kong” or plan to, know that the filmmakers bent the truth (and flat-out omitted it at times) to make Twin Galaxies and Billy Mitchell look bad.

Offseason employment

Some of you know that my family runs a book store in New York City, and that I work there during the colder months. But I’ve never really talked about–or showed–the work that I do there.

Two quick things you should know…

1) The store is called Argosy.
2) My grandfather, Louis Cohen, started it in the 1920s.

I spend most of my time working with the autographs on the 6th floor. Usually I’ll gather 50 at a time, photograph them, catalog them, and put them on the store’s web site. The whole process can take up to a week, and as far as jobs go, it’s a LOT of fun.

Anyway, I want to share some of the best autographs that I worked with this week. First, let’s start with a few baseball items. There was a Hall of Fame postcard signed by Joe DiMaggio:


There was a limited edition print signed by five Hall of Famers (Whitey Ford, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Larry Doby, and Robin Roberts), four Brooklyn Dodgers (Carl Erskine, Joe Black, Ralph Branca, and Don Zimmer), and seven other former major leaguers (Rusty Staub, Earl Wilson, Joe Garagiola, Jim Lonborg, Lou Johnson, Frank Torre, and Chris Chambliss):


My favorite baseball item was a baseball itself, signed by 11 members of the 500 Home Run Club. There are seven signatures visible in the photo below. Can you identify all of them? The four you can’t see are Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Willie McCovey, and Harmon Killebrew.


Baseball aside, there was still lots of good stuff…like this book by Andy Warhol, who not only signed it but drew his famous Campbell’s Soup can:


More books? Check out this bold signature by Woody Allen:


Here’s one signed by Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel:


Speaking of presidents, there was a typed letter signed by Dwight Eisenhower…


…and a small card signed by Benjamin Harrison…


…and a hand-written letter signed by James Monroe in 1796 (which is framed with an engraved portrait and could be yours for the low-low price of $4,000):


The second-most expensive item ($2,500) I handled this week was a four-page hand-written letter by Andrew Carnegie. You can see his signature on the lower left, tilted sideways from this view:


The Illegible Autograph Award goes to Charles Dickens:


Any foodies out there? Check out this “Taste of the Town” brochure signed by Julia Child and a few other chefs:


Any fans of the Marx Brothers? Here’s a letter signed by Groucho:


I could keep going all day, but I have to end this somewhere…so if you want to see more of the Argosy’s autographs, all you have to do is click here.

Baseball dreams

I had two baseball dreams last night, and they both sucked.

In the first dream, a woman was interviewing me on the phone for some newspaper or magazine in Atlanta, and the interview was about video games. She knew I had a few records and asked me what kind of games I like. I told her about Arkanoid and Tetris. Then she asked me if I like “castle games,” and I said, “You mean, like, Legend of Zelda?” She said yeah, and I said that was one of my favorite games of all time. “But that’s as far as it went for me with Zelda,” I said. “I never got into the Adventures of Link or any of that Nintendo 64 crap. It’s all about the original 8-bit Nintendo.” The woman then told me that there was a group of female video game players in Atlanta who wanted to compete with me in a certain baseball video game. I told her I wasn’t interested, and when she asked why, I gave her a whole rant about why I never liked baseball video games. It went something like this: “I used to play baseball my whole life, right up into college. Swinging a real-life bat at a real-life ball traveling 90 miles per hour and hitting it 400 feet takes incredible focus, strength, and hand-eye coordination. Baseball video games take all that skill and condense it into the simple act of pressing a single button on a hand-held controller. It completely cheapens the experience of playing the sport, and I want no part of it.”

In the second dream, I was playing 3rd base for my college team, and everything kept going wrong. First of all, I was wearing sneakers instead of spikes, and I’d also forgotten to put on my belt. Before one of my at-bats, I tried to grab the belt out of my bag but didn’t have time to put it on and had to run up to the plate without it. Then I worked a pretty tough pitcher for a walk and no one on my team seemed to care. Before my second time up, I couldn’t find my bat, so I was scrambling around behind the backstop, checking out all the bats that were lying around. Eventually the umpire yelled, “I need a hitter in the box RIGHT NOW,” and my coach sent up another player to bat for me. At the very last second, I grabbed a bat that was way too heavy and raced up to the plate before my teammate had a chance to take my place. There was a new pitcher, and he was throwing BP fastballs and curveballs that didn’t break. I just wanted him to throw a strike so I could crush the ball, but before I knew it, the count was 3-0. I wanted to swing on 3-0 because I knew he was going to groove one, but the bases were empty, and I knew my coach would have a fit, so I took the pitch right down the middle to move the count to 3-1. The pitcher tried to snap off another curve, and it started flying right at my head. I ducked under it but didn’t get my bat out of the way, so the ball ended up hitting the barrel of the bat, which was behind me and over my head, still propped up on my shoulder, and the ball dribbled weakly to the pitcher who threw me out at first base before I’d even gotten out of the batters box. Everyone on my team, including the coach, was annoyed and critical. I told them it was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke, but they didn’t care. During the next half inning, I somehow forgot to take the field, and the game went on with our shortstop trying to cover the entire left side of the infield by himself. My coach didn’t seem to notice that I wasn’t out there, so I waited for him to look the other way, and then I raced out to my position. A couple minutes later, a right-handed batter on the other team ripped a one-hopper to my right, just inside the foul line. I took one step and dove and knocked it down. The ball began to trickle away from me, so I scampered after it and made an awkward, off-balance throw to first base from my knees. I didn’t get any velocity on the throw, and the ball bounced once on the infield grass and took a nice hop, and the first baseman stretched way out and caught it to beat the runner by half a step. The first base ump pumped his fist to signal “OUT!!!” and yet for some reason he yelled “SAFE!!!” He gave two different calls at the same time and confused everyone. Both coaches ran out to argue. The runner was clearly out, but the call stood as “safe,” and my coach scolded me for not making a stronger throw, and then he took me out of the game. I walked back to my team’s dugout, totally bummed out, and when I looked up, it turned out that I was in the other team’s dugout, and they were all looking at me like I was an alien. I decided to hang out with the pitchers for the rest of the game, on their bench down the left field foul line. At one point, one of the batters pulled a foul grounder in my direction, so I jumped off the bench and took a few steps toward the field and scooped it up. I got yelled at for interfering with the ball, even though it WAS a foul ball. My coach told me I should just stay seated and let the left fielder retrieve any balls that come his way. Later in the game, when I would’ve been on deck with two outs and runners on the corners, the batter drew a walk to keep the inning going. “Oh my GOD,” I said loudly, “I would’ve been up with the f*cking bases loaded.” It turned out my coach was standing right in front of me, and I hadn’t noticed. He whipped around and chewed me out for using bad language and for complaining about not being in the game. When the game ended, instead of shaking hands with the other team, we all bowed to each other since they were Japanese. I was late running in from the outfield bench, so the entire Japanese team made a separate bow just for me, which was thoroughly humiliating. At least I didn’t get injured, although I’m now mentally scarred.

Any thoughts?

Fan mail

Remember when I visited the Lexington Montessori School before Game 2 of the World Series? Well, look what I just got in the mail…one of the biggest thank-you “cards” you’ll ever see, signed by all the kids. (I put my Lansdowne Street ball in the photo just to show how big it really is.)


Bonds, A-Rod, and Israeli baseball

Yesterday wasn’t a “sad day for baseball.” It was a great day. Barry Bonds has been a disgrace to the game for years. The fact that he’s finally/officially been nailed is cause to celebrate. (And yet I was still sort of defending him late last night when I called into 1050 ESPN Radio and argued with host Brandon Tierney that Bonds’ stats should NOT be wiped out.)
As for A-Rod, I’m glad he’s staying in the Bronx. I love watching him play, and when Yankee fans continue to boo him, it’ll give me another reason to boo THEM. Also, having him play 81 games five miles from my apartment will make it a lot easier for me to catch one of his home runs.

Finally, I want to share a story and two pics that my friend Adam Hofstetter recently sent. (Adam is the guy who wrote me up on back in March.) Here goes…

When I was in Israel in August I went to a game between the Modi’in Miracle (manager: Art Shamsky) and the Tel Aviv Lightning, and I caught a foul ball. It wasn’t too difficult, as there are only about 100 people at a game and there are no real stands –it’s more like a high school ballfield than a stadium. My nephew, who was more interested in catching fouls than in watching the game, caught 4.

Here’s Adam with the ball:


Here’s the ball itself:



33 pounds of baseballs

I lugged 100 more baseballs over to my parents’ place the other night, and of course my girlfriend was there to document it.


100 baseballs = heavy
Distance to parents’ place = 0.3 miles
Free exercise = excellent
Tomorrow’s blog entry = more interesting


For those who care (and I realize there might not be too many of you), here are my final ball-snagging stats from the 2007 season…

2007 TOTALS:
• 41 games attended (including two without batting practice)
• 8 stadiums
• 316 balls
• 7.7 balls per game
• Most balls at one game: 21
• Fewest balls at one game: 1
• 10 games with at least 10 balls
• 13 game balls
• 3.2 games per game ball

• April — 35
• May — 56
• June — 41
• July — 25
• August — 41
• September — 113
• October — 5

• Thrown — 198
• Hit — 66
Glove trick — 38
• Found (aka “Easter eggs”) — 14

• Batting practice — 231
• Pregame (not during BP) — 46
• During games (including thrown balls) — 25
• After games — 14

• Shea — 108
• Yankee — 49
• Chase — 47
• Citizens Bank — 46
• Camden — 38
• Busch 15
• AT&T — 8
• Fenway — 5

• 14 games attended
• 108 balls
• 7.7 balls per game

• 9 games attended
• 49 balls
• 5.4 balls per game

• 3 games attended
• 47 balls
• 15.7 balls per game

• 5 games attended
• 46 balls
• 9.2 balls per game

• 4 games attended
• 38 balls
• 9.5 balls per game

• 2 games attended
• 15 balls
• 7.5 balls per game

• 2 games attended
• 8 balls
• 4 balls per game

• 2 games attended
• 5 balls
• 2.5 balls per game

• 23 games attended
• 157 balls
• 6.8 balls per game

• 18 games attended
• 159 balls
• 8.8 balls per game

• Most balls at one game: 21
• Most balls in two consecutive games: 35
• Most balls in three consecutive games: 47
• Most balls in one week: 56
• Most balls in one month: 113
• Most balls at one World Series game: 3
• Most balls outside a stadium in one game: 3
• Most balls outside a stadium in one season: 5
• Most foul balls during one game: 3 (tie)
• Most balls at one game before the gates opened: 7
• Most Easter eggs at one game: 5
• Most balls in one season outside of New York City: 159
• Highest one-day Competition Factor: 899,955 on 9/19/07 at Chase Field

• 100th consecutive game at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball — 4/6/07
• 100th lifetime game ball — foul ball by Nick Swisher on 4/23/07 at Camden Yards
• 600th lifetime ball outside of NYC — thrown by Ray King on 4/25/07 at Citizens Bank Park
• 3,000th ball — retrieved with the glove trick on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium
• 100th ball of the season — thrown by Antonio Alfonseca on 6/5/07 at Shea Stadium
• 3,100th ball — hit by Justin Morneau during the Home Run Derby
• 475th consecutive game with at least one ball — the All-Star Game
• 100th consecutive game outside of NYC with at least one ball — 8/29/07 at Camden Yards
• 200th ball of the season — thrown by Edwar Ramirez on a day I’d like to forget
• 10th game ball of the season — hit by Martin Prado on 9/10/07 at Shea Stadium
• 3,200th ball — handed to me by a friendly usher on 9/17/07 at Chase Field
• 70th lifetime game with 10 or more balls — 9/17/07 at Chase Field
• 700th lifetime ball outside of NYC — thrown by Brandon Medders on 9/18/07 at Chase Field
• 110th lifetime game ball — foul ball by Mike Pelfrey on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium
• 300th ball of the season — retrieved with the glove trick on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium

092407_lineup_2Mariners/Yankees lineup cards on 5/7/07 at Yankee Stadium
Nationals/Mets lineup cards on 9/24/07 at Shea Stadium
• 35 autographs (not counting the managers’ signatures on lineup cards or the two autographs I got for my Watch With Zack clients on 9/29/07 at Camden Yards) for an average of 0.85 autographs per game): Winston Abreu, Eliezer Alfonzo, Garrett Atkins, Rich Aurilia, Collin Balester, Ronnie Belliard, Eric Byrnes, Alberto Callaspo, Joba Chamberlain, Jeff Cirillo, Stephen Drew, Pedro Feliz, Kevin Frandsen, Dan Giese, Christian Guzman, Cole Hamels (twice), Raul Ibanez, Tim Lincecum (twice), Joe Maddon, Damaso Marte, Scott McClain, Patrick Misch, Matt Murton, Wily Mo Pena, Brian Schneider, Tim Redding, Jeff Salazar, Chris Snyder, Eugenio Velez, Tyler Walker, Bob Wickman, Dmitri Young, Barry Zito

• Catching the first home run of the Home Run Derby. CLICK HERE for the video.


• 3,277 balls
• 111 game balls
• 741 balls outside of NYC
• 21 game balls outside of NYC
• 42 major league stadiums with at least one ball
• 889 players and coaches who’ve thrown balls to me (including 90 new ones this year)
• 678 games attended (approximation)

• 496 total consecutive games with at least one ball
• 321 consecutive games at Shea Stadium with at least one ball
• 108 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least one ball
• 107 consecutive games outside of NYC with at least one ball
• 41 consecutive games at Yankee Stadium with at least two balls
• 10 consecutive seasons with at least 100 balls
• 9 consecutive seasons with at least one game ball
• 9 consecutive seasons with at least one game in which I caught two game balls
• 9 consecutive post-season games with at least one ball
• 5 consecutive Watch With Zack games with at least two balls
• 4 consecutive seasons with at least 200 balls
• 3 consecutive World Series games with at least one ball

• 1,572 major league
• 1,060 National League
• 523 American League
• 40 no-logo balls
• 27 from the 2005 All-Star Game
• 16 blue training balls
• 13 from the 2000 World Series
• 8 green training balls
• 5 from the 2000 All-Star Game
• 4 from “Serie de los Expos de Montreal
• 3 from the 2001 World Series
• 3 from the 2002 All-Star Game
• 2 from the 2006 All-Star Game
• 1 Arizona Fall League ball (snagged on 5/14/07 at Shea Stadium)

NOTE: I caught the World Series and All-Star Game balls in subsequent years during BP.

• 1990 —- 4
• 1991 —- 14
• 1992 —- 128 (9)
1993 —- 218 (14)
1994 —- 201 (6)
1995 —- 273 (8)
1996 —- 177 (5)
1997 —- 59
1998 —- 192
1999 —- 251 (7)
2000 —- 163 (6)
2001 —- 134 (5)
2002 —- 149 (5)
2003 —- 168 (4)
2004 —- 300 (10)
2005 —- 321 (10)
2006 —- 209 (9)
2007 —- 316 (13)

• Average season: 182 balls including 6.2 gamers

• 1990 —- n/a
• 1991 —- n/a
• 1992 —- n/a
• 1993 —- 25,061
• 1994 —- 25,044
• 1995 —- 21,111
• 1996 —- 19,675
• 1997 —- 21,409
• 1998 —- 26,949
• 1999 —- 30,116
• 2000 —- 29,524
• 2001 —- 26,678
• 2002 —- 34,421
• 2003 —- 28,407
• 2004 —- 28,094
• 2005 —- 34,075
• 2006 —- 36,885
• 2007 —- 42,117

• Average number of fans who get in my way every game: 28,637

The End.
Now it’s YOUR turn.
Leave a comment and share your final stats with everyone.

Sports Illustrated photo shoot

My last blog entry showed the article that appeared in Sports Illustrated for Kids. Here’s a look at some of the stuff that took place before, during, and after the photo shoot…

I knew that the photographer, Heinz Kluetmeier, wanted to recreate (and improve upon) the bathtub photo that was taken for People Magazine in 1999…so before he and his assistant arrived at my parents’ apartment (where I keep most of the balls), I cleaned the tub:


First, however, Heinz wanted to take some other pics, so I lined up the barrels and made myself a place to sit behind them and got him a ladder. I also changed into a more eye-catching red shirt:


The shoot was soon underway, and in case you’re wondering, I’m holding my 3,000th ball:


My girlfriend Jona was taking these pics, and she happened to get one right as Heinz’s flash went off (“’cause I’m amazing like that,” she says):


Heinz wanted a few shots of me with my parents, so I went and got ’em:


It was time for the tub. Heinz wanted to see what the old photo looked like, so I showed him the copy that I keep in my wallet:


Then it was time to move some baseballs into the bathroom. Each barrel holds 400 balls and therefore weighs about 133 pounds:


Heinz helped move the books and shampoo bottles off the edges of the tub:


I got in the tub. They asked if I was ready for them to dump the balls on me. Ummmmm, no:


The solution:


At first I felt like we were cheating by using pillows, but then I realized we weren’t using them to make the tub look fuller. My collection could’ve filled four tubs. This was just an issue of…my future children’s existence. Anyway, Heinz brought the ladder into the bathroom, and his assistant (whose name I have since shamefully forgotten) got the rest of the equipment:


I tried to get a free advertisement for my book by holding it up in the tub:


“Tilt the book a little more toward me,” said The Man who was perched precariously with one foot on the toilet and the other on the ladder:


We finished with the book and moved on to other poses:


By golly, the pose below is THE very pose that was used in the magazine. You can tell I’m holding the same balls here based on the “practice” stamp on the ball closest to the camera. Here’s a similar practice ball that I photographed a while back for my web site. This one is an old National League ball (with a black logo) while the one in the magazine is an old American League ball (light blue):


Ready for the embarrassing pic I was talking about? Ohboy. Here goes:


Yeah, thank God THAT didn’t appear in the mag, but hey, at least my right arm looks good. Here’s some more toplessness:


Jona took more pics (of my hideous farmer’s tan) after the guys left:


And that was pretty much it. Sayonara, balls.


Sports Illustrated for Kids


Last month I was interviewed and photographed for a feature story in Sports Illustrated for Kids called “Ultimate Sports Collections.”
Earlier today, when I finally saw the finished product, I was sooooo relieved. The photo could’ve been much worse. Just wait for my next entry and you’ll see what I’m talking about. My girlfriend Jona was there for the shoot, and she took a ton of pics with her own camera. I plan to post a bunch of them within the next few days, so you’ll get a sneak peek at all the setup and equipment and see some other shots that could have been used, including one that would’ve been totally embarrassing. Sports Illustrated for Kids has a circulation of 950,000. This blog’s daily traffic is slightly lower, so I don’t mind making a fool of myself here. Stay tuned…


(BTW, am I imagining things or does it look like I have man-boobs?)


1) I’ve been having dreams about the World Series…about being in Boston and hanging out behind the Green Monster and going for balls. I snagged a game home run AND a ground-rule double in one inning and then woke up and wanted to cry.

2) For those of you in New York, there’s a big historical baseball exhibit called The Glory Days. Someone from the museum got in touch with me a couple days ago and offered everyone who reads this blog a 2-for-1 discount on tickets. So if you want to go, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with her.

3) Did you hear? Major League Baseball is considering using instant replay on a very limited basis. What do YOU think about that? I’m torn. I could argue either way. Tradition versus accuracy. Blah blah.

4) If you’re a baseball collector, get your final stats ready. Don’t post them yet. Hang onto them for a bit and share them in the comments section when I post mine. My final stats from 2006 looked like this. And here are the ones from 2005.

5) Remember when the Devil Rays played a few “home games” last season at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex? I hear they’re gonna play there again in 2008, and I’m thinking about going…but I’m wondering if that stadium would count in my Major League total. What does everyone think? What if I had attended a few of the Expos’ regular-season games in Puerto Rico? Would THAT stadium have counted? What about Opening Day in Japan? Again, I’m torn, and I really want to hear everyone’s take on this.

6) I know Halloween is already a thing of the past, but I want to share two outrageously cute photos of baseball costumes. The first was sent to me by Gail (whom you might remember from 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium), and I’m legally required to point out that the photo is copyrighted and belongs to Avanti Press. Here it is:


The second is a screen shot that was sent by my friend Dan in Denver. He’s got season tickets at Coors Field, sits in the front row in straight-away left field, and scored a little face time for himself and his daughter, Emily, by turning her into a human baseball magnet during the World Series:


BTW, Dan has caught 34 home runs during games on a fly since 1999. Wow. I’ve only met him in person once, and that was at this year’s All-Star Game. If you check out that entry and scroll down to the six-part pic that shows fans from every division, you’ll see Dan representing the NL West.

That’s it for now. More soon…