Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis’

Bowling, Tim Matheson, and “Dreamer”

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

“You just dream about something, that’s all it’s ever gonna be.  Just a dream.”

So says Harold Nuttingham in the 1979 film Dreamer, a post-Watergate, feel-good movie with a down-to-earth vibe.

Nottingham dreams of being a bowling champion—hence, his nickname “Dreamer”—but he can’t even get a PBA membership until he storms an executive meeting, proves his credentials, and demands inclusion in bowling’s upper echelon.  His statement about dreams targets father figure Harry White, a former PBA bowler who never quite reached the level of excellence that Dreamer envisions—and is capable of achieving.  Dreamer’s words nudge Harry towards buying an option for them on an 18-lane establishment with a coffee shop and a bar in Peoria.

Dreamer’s car broke down in Alton, Illinois two years before, creating an opportunity for him to work at the Bowl Haven, where he practices his game; Harry runs the pro shop.  Repairing the bowling racks is among Dreamer’s duties.  Tragically, Harry dies of a heart attack late at night, while bowling; he had a heart condition, so the news is not surprising to Dreamer.

Tim Matheson plays Dreamer, Jack Warden plays Harry, and Susan Blakely plays Dreamer’s girlfriend—Karen Lee, who also works at the bowling alley, as a cashier.  “Debra Winger rocked her audition, but the studio decided on Susan,” explains Matheson.

Bowling icon Dick Weber plays Johnny Watkin, Dreamer’s opponent in the film’s climactic match.  Matheson reveals, “Dick Weber was instrumental in helping me with my bowling.  He showed me ways to patch up my thumb until my calluses healed.  We also worked on creating a style that was interesting visually and looked real.

“I was in a bowling league in Burbank.  At the Grand Central Bowl in Glendale, I kept score for bowlers.  You could make 10 bucks a night, which was a decent amount of money.  So, I was very comfortable in that world.  For the movie, we bowled in an old alley in St. Louis.  I averaged around 165-170.  My highest was 199.  One day, we’re shooting a sequence and I’m keeping score consecutively with the takes.  My score was 224.

“Dick told us about the tricks that bowlers used.  They soaked balls in solvent that would soften the ball, so when you went to the tournament, it would react with more torque.  If you threw a ball with spin, it spun more.  Now, there are rules preventing this from happening.

“Jack Warden was one of the great storytellers of all time.  He told us that he auditioned for John Houseman, who was directing King Lear.  He was just beginning acting, but he had a blue-collar job during the day.  He didn’t have time to change for the audition, so he went in his coveralls.  Houseman said, ‘What part do you think you’ll audition for?’  Jack responded, ‘How about this Lear guy?’

“He was full of bravado and always gave advice if you asked about a scene.  He was a great acting coach, just gold.  He was a gem.  Susan was such a pro.  So wonderful to work with.  Sexy and intense and all the good things you’ll hope for in a partner that you play so many scenes with.”

It is convenient to compare Dreamer to Rocky, which premiered during the Christmas season of 1976; the elements are there—underdog taking on the champion, mentor tutoring the underdog, love interest.  This would, however, overlook the density of emotional resonance that Rocky evoked.  Where Rocky Balboa wanted to go the distance with Apollo Creed because no fighter had accomplished that seemingly impossible task, Dreamer has unwavering confidence that he belongs in the pantheon of bowling champions, if only he gets the opportunity to prove it.

Typical for Hollywood, Dreamer concludes with the upstart winning in dramatic fashion, dethroning Watkin by one pin in the 10th frame for a final score of 245-244.  Dreamer may not have had the edge of The HustlerRocky, or The Sporting Life, but it follows the template for Hollywood’s sports films.  We want the underdog to win because they remind us of ourselves.  Who wouldn’t rather play for the Miami Sharks rather than the Dallas Knights in Any Given Sunday?  Who wouldn’t rather play with Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Roger Dorn on the Cleveland Indians rather than the New York Yankees in Major League?  These types of films fulfill the need to hope, allowing us to live vicariously, whether the hero is a bowler, a rugby player, or a major league pitcher.

To the extent that Dreamer has a villain, it’s the PBA, which looks askance, at least initially, at Dreamer’s qualifications.  Though not explored in depth, the confrontation between Dreamer and the PBA’s powers that be, including Watkin, represents a frustration at bureaucracy that was felt 100 years before Dreamer hit movie theaters and will be evident 100 years hence, in whatever medium audiences use to consume visual entertainment.

After the climactic game between Dreamer and Watkin, the last shot of the film shows Dreamer and Karen Lee packing up their car and listing their itinerary of bowling tournaments.  As they pull away, we see that the building behind them is the Harry White Memorial Bowl.

Taking Matheson’s portrayal of Eric “Otter” Stratton of Animal House as the archetype of a slightly arrogant character brimming with confidence, one can find levels of that personality in several of his subsequent roles, including:

  • Larry Sizemore (Burn Notice)
  • Al Donnelly (Black Sheep)
  • John Hoynes (The West Wing)
  • Harry Stadlin (Just in Time)
  • Alan Stanwyk (Fletch)

Alan Stanwyk is devious when he sets up Fletch to be the dead body in a burning car, thereby allowing him to escape to South America undetected.  John Hoynes is a political manipulator along the lines of LBJ—a Senate Majority Leader from Texas who lost the Democratic nomination to an underdog from New England and settled, uncomfortably, for being Vice President.

And yet, there is an underlying likability to these characters—they do not, in any way, exude nastiness.  Dreamer, neither, though his single-mindedness about pursuing a professional bowling career excludes Karen Lee, whom he considers to be a distraction during competitions.  This, of course, is reconciled after Harry’s death, which prompts Dreamer to realize that Karen Lee is not an appendage to his career, but a necessity to his life.

The Bowl Haven still stands today, a 24-lane escape for Altonians looking to knock down some pins.  Those of a certain age may remember the summer of 1978, when the Bowl Haven closed down for shooting.   Once owned by the Netzhammer family and built in the late 1950s, the Bowl Haven enjoys continuity to the past with Bill Netzhammer, the original owners’ son, managing the lanes that Dreamer once practiced upon.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 4, 2017.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Bruins Fan Scorned

Friday, May 5th, 2017

For fans of the Boston Bruins, there are two types of hockey players—Bobby Orr and everyone else.  A product of Ontario—Parry Sound in Georgian Bay, to be precise—Orr ignited his hockey destiny the moment he laced up his first pair of skates.  Bostonians, fiercely loyal, welcomed Orr in 1966 with a storm of applause, adoration, and acclaim.  Hockey writers, too, noted Orr’s excellence with the Calder Memorial Trophy—the award for the “most proficient in his his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Orr, he of the destructible knees and indestructible fortitude, soon became a legend.  When #4 took the ice, the Boston Garden shook with promise of victory; in his first season, Orr helped lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers.  It resulted in a loss; nevertheless, the Bruins won hockey’s greatest honor twice during the Orr era, which ended after the 1975-76 season.  Orr shot the winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues to capture the Stanley Cup for the 1969-70 season.

After two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Orr retired after the 1978-79 season with 264 career goals, 624 career assists, and a collection of trophies marking excellence.  Orr’s boyish grin off the ice and steely exterior on it imprinted the kid from Parry Sound with a stamp reading “legend” in hockey annals.

When a legend gets injured, fans worry.

When a legend gets disparaged, fans defend.

When a legend gets mistreated on the field of play, fans react.  Violently, sometimes.  Such was the case on January 24, 1974 in a Bruins-Blackhawks game.  With less than a minute to go, defenseman Bill White stuck out his stick, tripped Orr, and began a wave of protest not seen since the nation’s forefathers dumped tea into Boston Harbor.  White’s action was purposeful, as clear as a cloudless sky on a spring day at Fenway Park.  At least it was, according to the Boston Garden crowd.

Orr, in a protest that could be heard in the parking lot, confronted referee Wally Harris, who acted promptly—he ejected Orr from the game for a 10-minute misconduct penalty.  White received no penalty.  Bruins fans, in turn, showed their displeasure by throwing garbage onto the ice—it took a little more than 30 minutes to clean the ice, cool tempers, and resume the game.  “I’ve been through a few things like that,” said Blackhawks centerman Stan Mikita, whose views were documented in the media, including, of course, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe.  “But never as bad as this.  I never thought it would happen in Boston.  But it shows how people can get when the big man (Orr) gets flattened.  They want blood.”

Chicago sportswriter Bob Verdi posed a whiff of indictment against Orr in the Tribune.  “On the particular play, White dropped to the ice and knocked the puck away from Orr with a reaching stick sweep,” wrote Verdi.  “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick.  There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives.  Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”

Alas, the Boston press felt differently about the penalty.  A Globe editorial stated, “Television reruns of the play made it clear what ignited the violence, but surely no one can believe that it was worth endangering the physical safety of the men on both teams or the officials to vent that fury.”

If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick.  There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives.  Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”

If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct penalty amounts to time served—the outstanding time will not be carried over, either to the next game on the schedule or the next game against the opponent.

The Blackhawks beat the Bruins 2-1.  But it was not the score that exhausted the crowd wearing Bruins paraphernalia to indicate their chosen team of worship, a trait designed by geography during one’s formative years, except in occasional instances.  It was treachery against a favorite son responsible, in Jupiterian fashion, for two Stanley Cups—treachery that pierced the hearts of college students in Cambridge; of cultured millionaires on Beacon Hill; of nature lovers in Boston Common; of civil servants at the Massachusetts State House; of gardeners in Brookline; of contractors in South Boston; of cab rivers ushering passengers to and from an airport named Logan; and of MBTA subway conductors.

A victory unites Bostonians of every stripe in society.  A betrayal, even more so.

 

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 24, 2017.

What If the Dodgers Had Stayed in Brooklyn?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

What if the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn?  Further, what if migration in the modern era had never taken place, thereby forcing expansion in Kansas City, San Francisco, and other MLB cities.

My paradigm assumes the following:

  • Tampa, Toronto, Arizona, and Montreal do not have teams
  • A’s, Braves, Browns, Dodgers, and Senators stay in their original locations
  • The Giants move to Minneapolis after the 1957 season.
  • Team names reflect the location’s history and lore
    • Grizzly Bears:  California’s state animal
    • Conquistadors:  Group claiming Oakland for Spain’s king in the 1770s
    • Loggers:  Washington state’s rich logging history
    • Gold:  Northern California’s gold rush in the mid-19th century
    • Mountaineers:  Georgia’s magnificent mountains
    • Astronauts:  Houston’s fame as the home of NASA
    • Express:  Colorado’s key role in America’s railroad history

Expansion teams have their inaugural years in parentheses.

1961-1965

American League

Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
St. Louis Browns
San Francisco Gold (1961)
Washington Senators

National League

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
Minnesota Giants
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals

1966-1975

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (1966)
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians
Georgia Mountaineers (1966)
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators

American League West

Chicago White Sox
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals (1966)
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
San Francisco Gold (1961)
St. Louis Browns
Texas Rangers (1966)

National League East

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
Denver Express (1966)
Houston Astronauts (1966)
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates

National League West

Chicago Cubs
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
Minnesota Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres (1966)
Seattle Loggers (1966)

1976-Present

American League East

Baltimore Orioles (1966)
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Athletics
Washington Senators

American League Central

Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Georgia Mountaineers (1966)
St. Louis Browns

American League West

Kansas City Royals (1966)
Los Angeles Angels (1961)
Oakland Conquistadors (1976)
San Francisco Gold (1961)
Texas Rangers (1976)

National League East

Boston Braves
Brooklyn Dodgers
Miami Marlins (1976)
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates

National League Central

Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astronauts (1966)
Milwaukee Brewers (1961)
St. Louis Cardinals

National League West

Denver Express (1966)
Los Angeles Grizzly Bears (1961)
Minnesota Giants
San Diego Padres (1966)
Seattle Loggers (1966)

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 14, 2016.

Ed Walsh, the White Sox, and Comiskey Park’s First Game

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Chicago welcomed an addition to its iconography on July 1, 1910.  Comiskey Park, that structure serving as a second home for baseball fans on the Windy City’s south side, débuted in an era of new stadia—Fenway Park in 1912, Ebbets Field in 1913, Weeghman Park (later rechristened Wrigley Field) in 1914.

It was about time that White Sox fans received a reward for their dedication to the team, according to I. E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune.  “For years the loyal rooters who have done so much to make this the greatest baseball city in the world have contented themselves as uncomplainingly as they could with accommodations inadequate to their needs while watching the fans of other and smaller cities rewarded, with far less reason, by modern steel and concrete edifices, each designed to surpass all its predecessors,” wrote Sanborn.

The White Sox opened this epoch of its history with a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Browns.  Sanborn estimated the crowd at 28,000.

Comiskey Park saw one World Series champion team—the White Sox beat the Giants in 1917.  There were two other opportunities:  1919 and 1959.  The former, of course, has an ominous aura because of the “Black Sox” scandal that resulted in eight players being kicked out of baseball with the force of a sonic boom, otherwise known as Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s newly minted commissioner and a former federal judge.

Accused of purposed losing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for payoffs from gamblers, the eight players were acquitted in court.  Landis argued that the integrity of the game superseded the legal process result.

In 1959, the “Go Go Sox” compiled a 94-60 record to stand atop the American League.  The Dodgers defeated the White Sox in six games; it was the National League champions’ second year in Los Angeles.

What began in 1910 lasted 80 years—Comiskey Park finished its service as the home of the White Sox in 1990.  It was demolished the next year, which saw U.S. Cellular Filed become the team’s new site.

Ed Walsh got the loss for Comiskey Park’s opener, went 18-20 for the season, and led the American League in losses.  His career statistics earned him a place in White Sox lore:

  • 1.82 Earned Run Average
  • Led American League in Earned Run Average
    • 1.60 in 1907
    • 1.27 in 1910 (led major leagues)
  • Led major leagues in wins
    • 40-15 in 1908
  • Led major leagues in games started
    • 46 in 1907
    • 49 in 1908
    • 41 in 1912
  • Led major leagues in complete games
    • 37 in 1907
    • 42 in 1908
  • Led American League in shutouts
    • 10 in 1906 (led major leagues)
    • 11 in 1908 (led major leagues)
    • 8 in 1909
  • Led American League in strikeouts
    • 269 in 1908
    • 255 in 1911
  • 195-126 career win-loss record

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Walsh in 1946.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 26, 2016.

10 Things I Love About Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Friday, April 14th, 2017

It is the birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner, the resting place of Edgar Allen Poe, and the place where a stadium constructed during the nostalgia-soaked 1980s defines the paradigm for retro ballparks.

Baltimore.

Petco Park, PNC Park, and several others, indeed, have Oriole Park at Camden Yards in their DNA.  It began the erasure of the circular goliaths built in the 1960s for multiple sports, changing the game of ballpark architecture for urban planners, government officials, and fans.  Shea Stadium hosted the Jets and the Mets.  Going to the “Vet” for a sports fan meant either a Phillies game or an Eagles game.  Memorial Stadium gave Baltimore a home for the Orioles and the Colts.

Oriole Park ushered in a back to the future approach to creating a space where baseball can flourish.

  1. The statues of Oriole icons are amazingly detailed.  When observing Jim Palmer’s left leg extended just before releasing the ball, you almost think the statue will come to life.  Brooks Robinson stands in a slight crouch, waiting for a line drive or ground ball.  Earl Weaver, hands in back pockets, appears ready for another argument with an umpire.
  2. The Baltimore Sun has an electric sign past center field with its shortened name—The Sun.  When there’s a hit, the “h” flashes.  An error prompts the “e” to flash.
  3. Baseball-themed plaques dot Eutaw Street outside the outfield perimeter, marking the spots where balls have landed.  One plaque sits on the exterior of a restaurant—Ken Griffey, Jr. knocked that dinger during Home Run Derby of the 1993 All-Star Game.
  4. A statue of Babe Ruth stands outside an entrance, reminding entrants that, while the Bambino found pitching success in Boston and earned legend status with home runs in New York, he is a Baltimorean.
  5. Cal Ripken, Jr. made baseball history at Oriole Park in 1995, when he eclipsed Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games.
  6. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at Oriole Park when he visited Baltimore on his 1995 trip.  The NBC television show Homicide features Frank Pembleton, played by Andre Braugher, watching the Pope’s visit on television.
  7. On April 6, 1992, President George H. W. Bush threw out the first pitch for the first game at Oriole Park.  It was a fitting moment for the former first baseman for Yale.
  8. Baltimore’s rich train legacy permeates the ballpark.  Beyond right field, the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Warehouse stands as a testament to the city’s transportation past, occupied present by team offices.  Camden Yards is the site of the B&O’s rail yard in days of yore.
  9. DaveThe West Wing, and The Wire contain scenes at Oriole Park—the first two offerings focus on fictional presidents throwing out the first ball.  In an episode of House of Cards, the fictional vice president, Frank Underwood throws out the first ball; Kevin Spacey, an Orioles fan, plays the devious Underwood in the series.
  10. Baltimore’s communal feeling surrounds Oriole Park.  Its aura is one of friendliness.  Its history, one of the richest in baseball.  Major League Baseball planted a flag in Baltimore when the St. Louis Browns moved after the 1953 season, but it was not the first MLB team for the city.  Dating back to 1882, Baltimore had a major league presence.  When a game takes place at Oriole Park, it continues a legacy ignited by John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, and Wee Willie Keeler; bolstered by Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Jim Palmer; and cemented by Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, and Earl Weaver.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 25, 2016.

 

Mickey, Whitey, and the Class of 1974

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

During the summer of 1974, excitement charged the air.  We watched with wonder when Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the Twin Towers, with dismay when President Nixon resigned because of the Watergate scandal, and with awe when the Universal Product Code débuted to signify a touchstone in the computer age.

For baseball fans, the Baseball Hall of Fame induction marked the summer.  In this particular instance, two Yankee icons, polar opposites in their upbringing but thick as thieves in their friendship, ascended to Cooperstown.  Mickey Charles Mantle and Edward Charles Ford.  The Mick and Whitey.

Mantle—the Yankee demigod with 536 home runs—thanked his father in his induction speech.  “He had the foresight to realize that someday in baseball that left-handed hitters were going to hit against right-handed pitchers and right-handed hitters are going to hit against left-handed pitchers; and he thought me, he and his father, to switch-hit at a real young age, when I first started to learn how to play ball,” explained the Oklahoma native.  “And my dad always told me if I could hit both ways when I got ready to go to the major leagues, that I would have a better chance of playing.”

With overwhelming power, Mantle compiled dazzling statistics:

  • Led the major leagues in runs scored (five times)
  • Led the major leagues in walks (five times)
  • Led the American League in home runs (four times)
  • 2,401 games played
  • 9,907 plate appearances

Mantle’s aplomb came with a cost—strikeouts.  #7 led the American League in strikeouts five times and the major leagues three times.

Like Mantle, Ford spent his entire career in a Yankee uniform.  Where Mantle came from the Dust Bowl, Ford came from the city.  Queens, specifically.  After achieving a 9-1 record in his rookie season of 1950, Ford lost two seasons to military service.  He returned in 1953 without skipping a beat, ending the season with an 18-6 record.

Mantle and Ford played together on the World Series championship teams of 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962.

Joining the pinstriped legends were—as a result of the Veterans Committee’s votes—Jim Bottomley, Jocko Conlan, and Sam Thompson.

Bottomley, a first baseman, played for the Cardinals, the Reds, and the Browns in his 16-year career (1922-1937).  He was not, to be sure, a power hitter—his career home run total was 219.  But he sprinkled 2,313 hits, resulting in a .310 lifetime batting average.  Bottomley led the National League in RBI twice, in hits once, and in doubles twice.

Conlan was the fourth Hall of Famer from the umpiring brethren.  In his 25-year career, Conlan umpired five World Series, six All-Star games, and three tie-breaking playoffs.  Conlan’s page on the Hall of Fame web site states, “He wore a fashionable polka dot bow tie and was the last NL umpire to wear a chest protector over his clothes.  Besides his attire, Conlan was known for his ability to combine his cheerful personality with a stern sense of authority.”

Sam Thompson was a right fielder for the Detroit Wolverines and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1885 to 1898.  In 1906, Thompson played eight games with the Detroit Tigers.  Thompson finished his career with a .331 batting average—he led the major leagues in RBI three times, in slugging percentage twice, and in doubles twice.  Thompson also led the American League in hits three times—in one of those years, he led the major leagues.

The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues okayed the inclusion of center fielder Cool Papa Bell, who played for:

  • St. Louis Stars
  • Kansas City Monarchs
  • Homestead Grays
  • Pittsburgh Crawfords
  • Memphis Red Sox
  • Chicago American Giants

In Mexico, Bell played for:

  • Monterrey Industriales
  • Torreon Algodoneros
  • Veracruz Azules
  • Tampico Alidjadores

Bell’s speed was legendary; speed inspired his nickname.  Ken Mandel of MLB.com wrote, “While still a knuckle balling prospect in 1922, he earned his moniker by whiffing Oscar Charleston with the game on the line.  His manager, Bill Gatewood, mused about how ‘cool’ his young player was under pressure and added the ‘Papa’ because it sounded better, though perhaps it was a testament to how the 19-year-old performed like a grizzled veteran.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 24, 2016.

Buster Keaton, Yankee Stadium, and “The Cameraman”

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Silent film star Buster Keaton earned the nickname “The Great Stone Face” because of his superhuman ability to maintain composure while disaster reigned around him; the quadrant of presidential faces on Mount Rushmore had more animation.  AP’s 1966 obituary of Keaton stated, “Unlike Mr. Chaplin, he was never sentimental and he never resorted to maudlin pathos.  He turned a granite face to the wildly comic and nightmarish cries that befell him—and he always prevailed over impending doom.”

In his 1928 silent film The Cameraman, Keaton plays the title role—an aspiring cameraman at MGM with a crush on the secretary to the executive in charge of newsreels.

An extended scene features Keaton miming a baseball game at Yankee Stadium after learning that the Yankees are in St. Louis on a road trip.  In one part, Keaton imitates a batter getting knocked down, shouting at the pitcher, and hitting an inside-the-park home run capped by a headfirst slide into home plate.  Keaton’s sprint around the bases provided the opportunity to showcase the grandeur of Yankee Stadium, which is arguably more imposing without a game; its emptiness reinforces its size.  Keaton’s baseball fandom, legendary in the filmmaking community, undoubtedly inspired the Yankee Stadium scene.

In a striking bit of coincidence, The Cameraman premiered during the Yankees’ Midwestern road trip of September 15-30, which began with the Bronx Bombers taking on the St. Louis Browns, followed by the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, and the Detroit Tigers.

Keaton, a comedy legend, followed an exacting blueprint to obtain laughs.  Though comedy is a craft and not a science, it comes pretty close to the latter.  In the September 16, 1928 edition of the New York Herald Tribune, the article “Buster Keaton On the Timing Of the Laugh” explains that The Cameraman is the “feature at the Capitol this week” before launching into Keaton’s detailed explanation of comedy.  Of particular importance is the insight regarding the beginning of the story.

“For instance, in the opening scenes of ‘The Cameraman’ I’m picked up alone in front of the New York City Hall,” states Keaton.  “I get a customer for a tintype picture, and, just as I’m about to snap the camera—this is carefully indicated by timed pauses—in rushes a crowd and upsets the works.  This, then, is topped by confetti and the disclosure that a famous character is coming along.  In rush the newsreel cameramen and I get tangled up in their camera tripods.  Between each development we had to figure just where a laugh might come in and how long a pause was necessary to take care of this.”

The Cameraman is a highlight in Keaton’s impressive body of work.  A downward trajectory ensued.  “After the success of The Cameraman, Keaton begged MGM for his own independent unit, but the studio refused,” wrote Lisle Foote in her 2014 book Buster Keaton’s Crew:  The Team Behind His Silent Films.  “His films became less and less funny, and even [director Edward] Sedgwick couldn’t stop the slide in quality.  The changes in comedies with the coming of sound, Keaton’s personal troubles, and the difficulties of working within a large and bureaucratic studio all contributed to the decline of Keaton’s films.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 5, 2016.

Hilltop Park’s First Game

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Yankee history—a farrago of excellence, myth, and icons—began, in fact, in Baltimore.

After two seasons in the city abutting Chesapeake Bay—1901 and 1902—the Orioles departed for New York City, a result of Frank Farrell and Bill Devery buying the defunct operations for $18,000.  New York’s team became the Highlanders—later, the Yankees.  Baltimore, in turn, lacked a major league ball club until 1954, when the St. Louis Browns moved there; once again, the city boasted a team known as the Orioles.

Washington Heights in upper Manhattan hosted the Highlanders at the new stadium called American League Park; its location earned the label Hilltop Park.  On April 30, 1903, the Highlanders inaugurated their new home with a 6-2 victory over the Washington Senators.  Ban Johnson, the American League’s president, threw out the first ball.

Building the field was not, in any way, an endeavor easily accomplished.  “It wasn’t very impressive,” recounted Marty Appel in his 2012 chronicle Pinstripe Empire:  The New York Yankees form Before the Babe to After the Boss.  “It would be a haul for fans to get to this field, and they would expect something worthy of the journey, worthy of a paid admission.  The new team had to give them a product that felt big-time.  And the clock was ticking.”

Indeed, fans attending the Highlanders-Senators contest saw a field requiring attention.  “Although the stands have not yet been completed, the occupants of the half-finished structures seemed to be perfectly satisfied with the seating arrangements,” reported the New York Times.  “While the big gathering was not over demonstrative [sic], the absence of fault finding was in itself an assurance to the management that the patrons fully appreciated the difficulties which beset the new club and due credit was given to the almost herculean efforts of the officials who had accomplished so much in such a brief time.

“The diamond, newly sodded and rolled to perfection, was the only spot in the big field which could not be improved.”

Lacking the benefits of mass transit to the environs of the ballpark, fans nonetheless journeyed for a formidable turnout.  “When the game was called there were fully fifteen thousand people present, a remarkable number, considering that the rapid transit road will not be completed this season, and that the spectators had to come on surface lines,” stated the New York Herald Tribune.  The Times reported the attendance as 16,243.

Wee Willie Keeler scored three runs for New York’s nascent squad.  Highlanders hurler Jack Chesbro held the Zeusian power of Ed Delahanty in check by not allowing a hit for the Senators slugger; Delahanty led the American League in 1902 with a .376 batting average, in addition to leading the major leagues in doubles, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

The Highlanders left seven players on base.  The Senators, nine.  Elapsed time for the game stood at ninety minutes.

In their first season, the Highlanders drew more than 211,000 fans to place 7th of 8th in the American League.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 30, 2016.

 

When the Braves Left Boston

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Until 1953, New Englanders split their major league loyalties between two teams—the Braves and the Red Sox.  With a Beantown pedigree predating the National League’s formation in 1876, the former trekked to the land of beer and bratwurst—Milwaukee—while the latter, consequently, provides a single major league outlet from Boston to Bangor.

St. Patrick’s Day, an unofficial holiday for Irish folks, especially in heavily clover-laden metropolises, brought the luck of the Irish to Bostonians in 1953.  Bad luck.  Readers of the March 17th edition of the Boston Globe absorbed the words of Joseph F. Dinneen, Jr., who chronicled a last-ditch effort to keep Braves owner Lou Perini in the environs of Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and Beacon Hill.  From the powerful came the pleas—Governor Christian Herter, Mayor John Hynes, and the Boston Chamber of Commerce.  Braves fans, of course, chimed in.

“Treated like an orphan son until news of the threatened transfer broke last weekend, the Braves suddenly became the prodigal son everyone wanted to return home—to Boston,” wrote Dinneen.

The Chamber of Commerce’s attempt sourced in dollars and cents, naturally.  If the Braves stayed, ticket sales would increase.  Or so the theory went.  Herter and Hynes joined forces, outlining a strategy for Perini to sell the team so it could remain in Boston.  Dinneen recounted the politicos’ missive sent by telegram, which stated, “Removal of the Braves’ franchise from Boston will have a disturbing and far-reaching effect on the city.  We appeal to you to reconsider the proposed removal, at least for 1953, so that other arrangements may be worked out and so that an opportunity may be provided other interests to purchase and retain the franchise in Boston.”

The Braves’ autumnal annum in Boston had numbers supporting Perini’s bottom line reasoning for the move to Milwaukee—the team finished last in National League attendance; a 64-89 record was not sufficient to draw the crowds necessary to sustain operations.

Russell Lynch, sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, ignited Perini’s transplant to the Midwest, which was facilitated, in no small part, by the Braves’ AAA team being in Milwaukee—the Brewers.  Perini had vetoed attempts by Bill Veeck to buy the minor league franchise, including one deal that would have resulted in Veeck clearing Milwaukee for the St. Louis Browns by moving the Brewers to Toledo; ultimately, the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Orioles.

Inspired, Lynch began a back-and-forth series of telegrams with Perini about blocking Milwaukee from becoming a major league city.  In the Globe, Roger Birtwell wrote, “Next Mr. Lynch turned to his typewriter and batted out a few columns.  The Milwaukee Journal has 350,000 readers each afternoon and half a million on Sunday.  Lynch informed them and their neighbors that Perini—the villain—was keeping major league ball out of Milwaukee.”

Perini, in turn, came to a fork in the road.  Keeping the status quo risked heightening the ire of Milwaukeeans and Bostonians alike—the former because their grasp of being a major league city exceeded their reach and the latter because the Braves continued to drain money by underperforming in the National League.

“We had made up our mind that, regardless if we had won the pennant we would go to Milwaukee next year,” said Perini, quoted in the Globe by Clif Keane.  Veeck’s maneuvers, however, ignited the transition’s rapidity.  Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley said, “I’m sorry it happened.  I’m not at all happy about it.  If it hadn’t been for that other thing (Veeck) it never would have come to this.”  After the 1957 season, O’Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium, initially constructed for the Brewers, became the Braves’ new home.  Meanwhile, Perini paid the American Association $50,000 for compensation in moving the Brewers from Milwaukee to Toledo, where the team changed its name to Mud Hens.

Braves field became the habitat for ghosts of Boston baseball milestones, including the 1914 “Miracle Braves,” a brief name change to Bees in the 1930s, and Babe Ruth hitting his last three home runs in one game.  A 2012 article by Patrick L. Kennedy on Boston University’s web site states that BU purchased the property for $430,000 in 1953; it was the home stadium for the AFL’s Boston Patriots from 1960 to 1962.  Renamed Nickerson Field, the facility hosts the BU men’s and women’s varsity soccer and lacrosse teams.  While the right field pavilion endures for Nickerson’s seating, Kennedy explains that BU demolished the grandstands and the left field pavilion—three dormitories and Walter Brown Arena occupy the space.  Additionally, the university’s police department inhabits the gatehouse and the Braves front office.

After the 1965 season, the Braves abdicated Milwaukee for Atlanta.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 18, 2016.

“Ball Four Goes Hollywood”

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

When Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four hit bookshelves in 1970, it exploded myths, revealed secrets, and offered tales of baseball, theretofore kept protected from the public.  If reporters knew about Mickey Mantle’s alcohol problem, for example, they didn’t cover it.  Womanizing, drug use, and clubhouse conflicts were other Ball Four topics, once forbidden from baseball scholarship.

It infuriated Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, betrayed long-observed rules of the locker room, and relieved reporters of the pressure to keep quiet on what they saw, heard, and learned.

And the public ate it up, shooting Ball Four to the best-seller list.

A right-handed pitcher, Bouton broke into the major leagues with the New York Yankees in 1962, ending the season at 7-7.  His next two seasons showed terrific promise:

  • 21-7 in 1963
  • 18-13 in 1964
  • 2 wins in the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals

Thereafter, not so much.  Bouton spent seven seasons in pinstripes, then played for the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros in 1969.  He stayed with Houston in 1970, his last season, presumably.  A comeback with the Atlanta Braves in 1978 resulted in a 1-3 record; his career was over.

Bouton finished his career with a 3.57 Earned Run Average, 720 strikeouts, and a 62-63 record.  In Ball Four, co-authored with sports writer Leonard Shecter, Bouton captured his season with the Seattle Pilots, in addition to a sprinkling of tales about Mantle et al. during his tenure in the south Bronx.

In 1976, CBS aired an eponymous television series based on Ball Four.  The Tiffany Network, so called because of its quality programming, revolutionized television in the 1970s.  M*A*S*H combined comedy and pathos in its tales of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.  Authored by a MASH surgeon named Richard Hornberger, whose pen name was Richard Hooker, the 1968 novel M*A*S*H was, in a sense, like Bouton’s Ball Four.  Readers learned a first-hand perspective of war’s horrors beyond anything digested before in books, films, or television shows.  A 1970 film followed, starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Robert Duvall; the television series began in 1972, ran for 11 seasons, and racked up Emmy Award with the dependability of Cookie Monster devouring cookies.

All in the Family incorporated the Vietnam War, Watergate, and civil rights into dialogue that balanced humor, intelligence, and topicality.  Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor, became a lovable bigot who saw his sure-fire patriotism threatened by the zeitgeist personified by his daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Mike Stivic.

Mary Tyler Moore, starring the actress famed for playing housewife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show a decade prior, featured the comedic tales of Mary Richards, a single professional woman working as a television news producer in Minneapolis.  Before Mary showed she could “turn the world on with a smile,” as the show’s theme song indicated, it was rare to see a single woman as the central character of a television show.

Ball Four did not fall under the umbrella of groundbreaking television shows, despite its literary lineage.  Five episodes aired, starring Jim Bouton as Jim Barton of the Washington Americans, a fictional baseball team.  It was, to be sure, a thinly veiled portrayal.  To the dismay, worry, and scorn of his teammates, Barton takes notes for an upcoming series of articles in Sports Illustrated.  In her review of Ball Four for Sports Illustrated, Melissa Ludtke wrote, “The mediocrity of the opening show is particularly unfortunate because Bouton had hoped to give a true portrayal of his baseball experiences in the series.  Pill-popping, religion and women sports-writers in the locker room and homosexuality are some of the issues that he would like to cover.”

Bouton co-created the television series with Marvin Kitman and Vic Ziegel.  Harry Chapin performed the theme song, offering wistful lyrics with his trademark guitar playing as a soft complement.  Ben Davidson, a former professional football player who made Goliath seem like one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs, played Rhino, the Americans’ catcher.  As a defensive end, Davidson tore through offenses in the AFL and the NFL from 1961 to 1971; he played with the Portland Storm of the WFL in 1974.

Hollywood became a second calling for Davidson, who became a household name in the infamous “Less Filling, Tastes Great” television commercials of the 1970s and the 1980s for Miller Lite.  Bob Uecker, Mickey Spillane, and John Madden were among the other sports personalities in these humorous commercials.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 8, 2016.