Posts Tagged ‘Southern California’

The Début of Gilmore Field

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Boosted by cheers from Hollywood stars supporting the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, Gilmore Field débuted as a ballpark on May 3, 1939.  Among the famous fans:  Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, and Rudy Vallee.  “Glamour was furnished in the person of beautiful Gail Patrick, star of the cinema and wife of Bob Cobb, the restaurateur, and one of the sponsors of the home team,” reported Read Kendall in the Los Angeles Times.  Garbed in a red and white sports outfit, her black hair flowing from  beneath a red baseball cap, Miss Patrick threw the first ball.  “Comedian Joe E. Brown essayed to catch it and Jane Withers, juvenile screen actress, did her best to try and hit it.  But the pitches were wild and their stint was finally halted to allow the game to get under way after all the ceremonies had been completed.”

The Seattle Rainiers beat the home team 8-5.  Seattle hurler got pounded for 14 hits, but the Stars couldn’t overcome the deficit, although a ninth inning rally provided a glimmer of hope.  Down 8-3, the Stars scored two runs and had the bases loaded with two outs when left fielder George Puccinelli flied out to Seattle centerfielder Bill Lawrence.

Babe Herman—in the waning years of a career that saw stints with the Dodgers, the Reds, the Cubs, the Pirates, and the Tigers—batted .317 in ’39, which was his first of six seasons with the Stars.  His batting average stayed above .300 in each season.  Herman’s performance in Gilmore Field’s first game was not indicative—he went 0 for 5.  Ernie Orsatti, in his last season of playing professional baseball, knocked out a hit and scored a run when he pinch hit for pitcher Jimmie Crandall in the major leagues—all with the Cardinals—and five seasons in the minor leagues.  A native of Los Angeles, Orsatti finished his career after the ’39 season:  he also played for the Columbus Red Birds that year.  Orsatti’s career batting average was .306.

Wayne Osborne, Bill Fleming, and Lou Tost took the mound for the Stars.  Osborne got the recorded loss.  Their battery mate, Cliff Dapper, was the only .300 hitter for the Stars in ’39.  He did not, however, play in the Stars’ first game at Gilmore Field.

1939 was the second season for the Stars, a team previously known as the San Francisco Missions, the only Pacific Coast League team without its own ballpark.  While owner Herbert Fleishhacker transported the team to the environs of southern California, his newly hired team president, Don Francisco, sought Gilmore Field as the site for planting the Stars’ flag.

“Plans were announced to convert Gilmore Stadium, owned by oilman Earl Gilmore and used primarily for football and midget car racing, into a home for the team, which had been rechristened the Stars,” wrote Dennis Snelling in his 2012 book The Greatest Minor League:  A History of the Pacific Coast League, 1903-1957.  “However, as spring training approached, Don Francisco deemed it woefully inadequate.”

Hence, Francisco struck a deal with the Los Angeles Angels to use Wrigley Field for 1938, which also saw the unveiling of the Rainiers’ home field, Sick Stadium, named after owner Emil Sick.

Gilmore Field was demolished in 1951.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 11, 2016.

Matthau, Madison, and Buttermaker

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

In the 1976 movie The Bad News Bears, Walter Matthau plays Morris Buttermaker, a former minor league ballplayer with the unenviable task of managing a team consisting of loudmouth Little Leaguers.  Matthau’s rumpled persona matches the Buttermaker character like lox matches cream cheese.  Perfectly.

Buttermaker’s Bears squad, though initially pitiful, nearly beat the Yankees in the North Valley League of southern California, thanks to star pitcher Amanda—a daughter of an ex-girlfriend of Buttermaker—and Kelly Leak, a star athlete who looks and acts like he’s auditioning to be the next James Dean.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “The movie comes by most of its comedy fairly easily.  Matthau is, of course, an engaging performer, and the role’s a good one for him as he sits in the dugout, hung over and bleary-eyed, watching his Bears come out of the first inning 26 runs behind.  The kids are good, too; [director Michael] Ritchie sees them in a fairly tough and unsentimental way, and lets them use the sort of dialog we’d like to think 12-year-olds aren’t familiar with.”

Contrary to the myth of A-list stars isolating themselves while not filming, Matthau engaged with the kids’ families on set.  In a 2005 Tampa Bay Times article, Keith Niebuhr quoted Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who played the Bears catcher.  “As far as the adults, Walter Matthau (coach Morris Buttermaker) was in a class by himself.  As great as he was around the kids, he was even better around the moms.  Behind the field, the tree-lined area between the field and the concession stand, the mothers would camp out there.  And during off time, Walter would come out with Jack Lemmon occasionally and do an old vaudeville routine, which would keep the mothers in stitches.

In The Odd Couple, Matthau translates his portrayal of New York City sports writer Oscar Madison from the stage to the screen.  Matched with Art Carney in the play, written by Neil Simon, Matthau received plaudits in Walter Kerr’s New York Times review.  “He is a gamut-runner, from grim, to game to simple hysteria and when he finally does have his long overdue nervous breakdown, with his voice sinking into his throat like the sun in the western seat he is magnificent,” wrote Kerr.  Additionally, the noted critic praises, “But perhaps our man is best of all when he is merely intimating contempt in his sneering dark eyes, with a baseball cap peaked backwards on his untidy head and his face curled in scorn until it looks like the catcher’s mitt.”

Carney portrays television news writer Felix Ungar, Oscar’s friend, who suffers from a martial rift, which sends him into an emotional tailspin.  Finding refuge at Oscar’s apartment, Felix exemplifies domestication that Martha Stewart would envy.  When Felix’s dedication to cleanliness borders on obsessive, frustration overwhelms Oscar.  In a monologue bathed in a combination of pathos and hilarity, Oscar confesses, “I can’t take it anymore, Felix, I’m cracking up.  Everything you do irritates me.  And when you’re not here, the things I know you’re gonna do when you come in irritate me.  You leave me little notes on my pillow.  Told you 158 times I can’t stand little notes on my pillow.  ‘We’re all out of Corn Flakes.  F. U.  Took me three hours to figure out F. U. was Felix Ungar!”

In the movie, Matthau plays against Lemmon, his co-star in several films, including Grumpy Old MenThe Fortune Cookie, and The Odd Couple II.  All’s well that ends well—at the end of The Odd Couple, Felix exorcises his marital ghosts and spends time with the attractive Pigeon sisters while Oscar, in an example of Felix’s habits rubbing off, admonishes his poker buddies to keep the poker table clean.

Matthau passed away in 2008.  Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times revealed the reality behind the actor.  Citing Lemmon, Downey wrote, “Fact is, says the actor whose finicky Felix Unger played opposite Oscar, they were an odder couple than some realized, for the Matthau he knew was a fragile figure, susceptible to ailments of all kinds, with a pinch of hypochondria thrown in, who would cringe and bruise if a stranger made the mistake of slapping him on the back.

“Lemmon says: ‘He was Felix.'”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 28, 2015.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training

Friday, November 11th, 2016

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training gives the underdogs from southern California’s North Valley League a shot at the Houston Toros—a bigger, stronger, and faster team.  Where else could the climactic game take place but the Astrodome—the post-modern Eighth Wonder of the World.

With Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau from the 1976 movie The Bad News Bears absent in this 1977 sequel, the Bears need a pitcher, a coach, and a way to get to Houston.  Timmy Lupus, the team’s worst player, cannot travel with the team because he broke a leg while skateboarding.

Enter Carmen Ronzonni, a friend of Kelly Leak—the Bears’ star player.  Employing a maintenance worker bordering on mute, the Bears construct a scheme to have him masquerade as the coach with basic sentences to greet the parents.  After the parents drop off the kids, Kelly et al. take a van to Houston.  During the Bears’ voyage, the audience hears Looking Good, a song performed by James Rolleston, with lyrics by Norman Gimbel and music by Craig Safan.

A subplot reveals Kelly’s other reason for traveling to Houston—his long gone father.  Kelly confronts him at a factory.  Initially, Michael Leak agrees to be a figurehead so the team can have a legitimate coach, something they hadn’t considered.  But his status too changes; the Bears realize he can help them in their game against the Toros.  Kelly’s already strained relationship with his father continues to fracture during a tense moment in a practice where the father eclipses the son as the team’s leader.

Right before the game at the Astrodome, Tanner, the wise-cracking shortstop, gives a locker room speech mirroring the climactic “Win One for the Gipper” speech in Knute Rockne, All-American, a movie he saw late at night while the rest of the team was asleep in the hotel room.  Tanner’s speech could easily be titled “Win One for the Looper” in a nod to Lupus.

The four-inning game between the Toros and the Bears takes place between the games of a doubleheader at the Astrodome.  Only one problem, though.  The powers that be call the game on account of time.  Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno of the Houston Astros appear in the dugout.  When they find out that the game ended prematurely, Watson exclaims, “Come on, let the kids play!”

Inspired, Michael Leak takes the field and shouts, “Let them play!  Let them play!”  Kelly joins him in the chant, signaling a new relationship between the two Leaks.  The Bears follow suit, as does the Astrodome crowd.  Meanwhile, Tanner refuses to leave the field, evading the two suited gentlemen trying to capture him.

Caving under the pressure, the decision makers resume the game.  Carmen slams an inside-the-park grand slam for a Bears victory.  The Bad News Bears in Japan followed, marking the end of this 1970s baseball movie trilogy.

Boston Globe film critic Bruce McCabe wrote, “The film is perhaps most successful when it stops trying to figure out exactly what it’s supposed to be and goes for a certain kind of laugh.  One such moment is when a loony groundskeeper is conned by the kids into pretending to be their manager.  Another is when the van, filled with adolescent and preadolescent boys, backs up on a freeway to give a ride to a comely young hitch-hiker who has decided she’d rather not be a passenger.”

A version of this article originally appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 1, 2014.

Ebbets Field: More Than A Stadium

Friday, October 28th, 2016

A baseball shrine débuted in 1913, one in a string of ballparks ushering in a new era for the National Pastime.  Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and Chicago offered modern facilities for the fans.    In Brooklyn, a new stadium became a second home for borough residents from Canarsie to Coney Island.  Ebbets Field.  Home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season, Ebbets Field’s days were numbered.  Their spirit amputated, Dodger fans mourned the loss represented by the soulless void of a silent Ebbets Field.

Obsolete and vacant as a once gloried dominion of baseball excellence, Ebbets Field no longer served a valuable function.  What began as the innovative brainchild of then owner Charles Ebbets in 1913 aged into an archaic edifice.  Once a nucleic fixture for Brooklyn, Ebbets Field balanced on the precipice of ignominy.  Its storied life ended in 1960 with demolition that placed an arctic exclamation point on the end of an already frosty sentence—the Brooklyn Dodgers are no more.

If fans run their fingers over the memories, they feel scars that never fully healed and, consequently, trigger a bittersweet though palpable aura.  Bitter for the abandonment.  Sweet for the memories.

Vividly, they recall Jackie Robinson’s fiery, pigeon-toed style of running, Carl Furillo’s master of baseball caroms off Ebbets Field’s idiosyncratic right field wall, and Roy Campanella’s powerful swaths of National League pitching.

But the memories are more than homages to a great baseball team that patrolled the verdant pasture at 55 Sullivan Place, an address that no longer appears on Brooklyn’s Post Office rolls.  For those who saw the Dodgers play in the Jackie Robinson era, the memories reveal a depth of love betrayed in Shakespearean proportions.

Walter O’Malley’s decision to move the Dodgers a continent away from Brooklyn, a felonious act in the hearts and minds of the Dodger faithful, anchored in a sweetheart deal—the power brokers of Los Angeles gave O’Malley the real estate of Chavez Ravine in an exchange for the environs of the city’s Wrigley Field.  Not since Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island for 60 guilders on behalf of the Dutch had a land deal bared incalculable value for the land’s new settlers.

Dodger Stadium eclipsed Ebbets Field in look, feel, and modernity.  Its wavy outfield roof, capacity for approximately 56,000, and seat colors evoking a southern California warmth—yellow, light orange, turquoise, and sky blue—did not look anything like Charles Ebbets’s brick-faced structure that was a breakthrough for pre-World War I baseball, but a relic for the Space Age.  O’Malley’s new facility represented the post-World War II era, when migration to newly created suburbs forced travel by car, thereby creating a need for parking spaces at stadium.  Ebbets Field was a ballpark sandwiched into one city block with a capacity hovering around 36,000 and approximately 700 parking spaces.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2013.

Barry Williams, Greg Brady, and 4222 Clinton Way

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

RemingtonGrowing Up Brady, by Barry Williams with Chris Kreski, exposed life behind the scenes of The Brady Bunch; it was, for Baby Boomers who saw the show’s original broadcast and Generation Xers who feasted on reruns, a fascinating, revealing, and titillating look at one of television’s most famous shows.

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The Green Hornet and Batman

Friday, February 13th, 2015

In the superhero multiverse, Batman and the Green Hornet parallel each other.

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Everything’s Archie (Part 1 of 2)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

America’s favorite teenager turns 73 this month.  Debuting in Pep #22 (December 1941), Archie Andrews has entertained generations with his antics, his schemes, and his struggle to decide between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.  He also gave us a sound indicative of the bubble gum rock genre in the 1960s, a decade with an abundance of musical options.

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The Day the Lone Ranger Lost His Mask

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

As dawn anticipated breaking over southern California on the morning of August 30, 1979, a man two weeks shy of his sixty-fifth birthday covered his thinning hair with a cowboy hat.  Besides the hairline, age was not a serious opponent.  He was still fit and trim with a jaw that looked like it was carved out of granite.

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“Let Them Play!”

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Baseball is a beautiful game, largely because it has no clock determining its end.  An NFL team has 45 seconds to execute an offensive play.  An NBA team, 24 seconds.  But baseball has no time limit.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training illustrated this point with the help of an inspirational chant, a defiant kid, and Bob Watson.

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Corporate History Done The Disney Way

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Happy anniversary, Disneyland!

Disneyland debuted on July 18, 1955 when its gates opened to the public for the first time.

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