King of the Hill

Perhaps all baseball fans believe that the players they watched as children or teens were the best of all time. Certainly books like Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer and David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 spotlight the halcyon days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox.

Although my favorite players during my formative years were Ernie Banks and Nellie Fox, I had few chances to see them play at Wrigley or Comiskey because I grew up in Wisconsin, not Illinois. I did, however, have ample opportunities to watch the Milwaukee Braves play at County Stadium, and therefore I can nominate from personal observation my candidate for the greatest of his time and my time and perhaps for all time.

No, it’s not Henry Aaron, although Hammering Hank was the best right-handed hitter I ever saw in that stadium for he was a formidable slugger with power to all fields and also a skilled hitter who frequently batted over .300. The Braves at that time were loaded with All-Star performers, consistently finishing near or at the top of the National League standings behind the bats of Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Del Crandall, and Johnny Logan, and the strong right arms of Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl.

By now it should be obvious that I am saving the very best for last: Warren Spahn, the Hall of Fame hurler who won more games than any left-hander in Major League Baseball history.

The statistics speak volumes (5,243 innings pitched, 363 wins, 63 shutouts), especially when one considers the caliber of batters he faced regularly from 1946 to the early 1960s such as Banks, Ralph Kiner, Duke Snyder, Johnny Mize, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Dick Groat, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Gil Hodges, Ted Kluszewski, Richie Ashburn, and Frank Robinson.

And the numbers would be even more impressive had not Spahn spent 1943, 1944, and 1945 serving his country during WWII. Lest we forget, the same could be said for Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams who didn’t wait but also served during those three years, not long after the memorable 1941 campaign when Joltin’ Joe hit safely in 56 consecutive games and Williams became the last player to complete a regular season with a batting average over .400. For decades followers of the national pastime have been speculating whether any hitter will surpass those notable achievements.

Fans may debate the prospect of any southpaw or right-hander in this century winning 363 games, but we can be absolutely certain that no Major League pitcher will ever again throw 382 complete games, win 20 or more games 13 times, and go 23-7 at the age of 42 with one of those 7 defeats being a 16-inning marathon in which he will throw over 200 pitches.

During the summers of my youth, it was my privilege to behold from a grand stand the once and future King of the Hill, Warren Edward Spahn.



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An Ancient Dance Ritual

Since I gave a distinctive name to a rock band, Collywobbles, exactly a month ago, it behooves me to create a dance craze that befits their style of playing real oldies. It is a simple matter to eliminate the dances already taken like the Bunny Hop, Bristol Stomp, Stroll, Twist, Swim, Frug,  Cool Jerk, Loco-Motion, Majestic, Hustle, Monkey, Nitty Gritty, Pony, and Hitch Hike.

Because many of the people who remember these dances are over the age of 55, the Collywobbles need to invent a dance for those who still think young but whose arches are sprung. So roll out the barrel and let’s have a drum kit roll for …The Ramshackle.

Here are some sample lyrics:


If you like the oldies and are one too,

We’ve got the dance just for you.

Get out on the floor before your bones crackle

Wobble out there and let’s Ramshackle.

Lean over thus, like your joints are cracking,

Keep in time with your upper plate clacking.

Meno gals, a skirt that hobbles will do the trick:

Hide spider veins from every Tom and Dick.

The gimpy guys, swing your canes like a toy,

Now you’re doing it like a hobbledehoy.

Now pitch to the left and start to stumble,

Then twitch to the right before you tumble.

Bend forward now, not that limbo act,

Get ready to shout, “Oh, my back!”

Wiggle your hips, do it with verve,

Now you’ve pinched your sciatic nerve.

Stick out your double chins as you creep

Not too far or you’ll end up in a heap.

This is the hottest dance, believe me, dad,

You can use that solar-powered heating pad.

The Mouse is old and so is the Moose,

Shake it out here with your best masseuse.

Flimsy is in and so is shabby,

Suck in your cheeks and try to look crabby.

Don’t crumple now, lest we cackle,

Now you’re doing the real Ramshackle.

Keep moving those digits, those rheumatoid toes,

You can even double up on the ortho hose.

Even if you’re an Xer and like to step it,

Do the Ramshackle when you’re feeling decrepit.

We’re all rambling wrecks and rickety racks,

Just trying to laugh off those panic attacks.


Of course, it might be fitting if The Collywobbles themselves were born in the 1950s. Then they could collapse after performing their hit number at concerts, rise as one, and offer this coda: “We don’t collapse, forget the rumors. We don’t fall down, we go—Boomers!”






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For Whom the Bell Withers

The best part of “The Golf Specialist” occurs near the end when the sheriff presents the wanted sheet listing all the crimes J. Effingham Bellweather (W.C. Fields) has supposedly committed.  According to the poster, Bellweather is wanted for Bigamy, Passing as the Prince of Wales, Eating spaghetti in public, Using hard words in a speakeasy, Trumping partner’s ace, Spitting in the Gulf Stream, Jumping board bill in seventeen lunatic asylums, Failure to play installments on a strait-jacket, Possessing a skunk, and Revealing the facts of life to an Indian.

Few, if any, of these charges would be considered transgressions worthy of imprisonment today. But what about the other offenses the audience sees but which the eyes of the law do not? Here are the charges any citizen viewing this 1930 short could bring against Bellweather: lifting the muff off the shapely derriere of another man’s wife while both of them are looking other way; trying to take a bank from a child by force; stepping on a pie on a public green; irreparably damaging golf clubs; berating his caddy and calling him a sissy; littering a golf green with tissue paper; causing an officer of the law to shoot a bird out of season,  thus being responsible for said bird to plucked clean of feathers during its descent; stiffing a sea captain out of a $40 charter fee; littering a hotel lobby with remains of a $40 dun; asking the age of a under-aged towhead; admitting he can be cruel if he needs to be; kicking a stuffed dog out of a lobby;  pocketing a golf ball that happens to roll his way;  twisting both ends of a false mustache in frustration; misidentifying a mutt for a dromedary;  stooping way over for some ripping yarns; muttering “I’m sorry you had to see this” to the person next to him instead of those watching from afar.







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Rhymes Like Old Times

One of the constants in song lyrics over the years is the search for end rhymes that both sound right and make sense. Every now and then a lyricist employs an old saying like “let’s cut a rug” because it goes so well with “urge to hug.” Listeners of all ages interpret the quaint phrase as an invitation to dance rather than taking it literally by grabbing a scissors and visiting the nearest Carpetland for a rec room redo. Very likely the awkwardness of finding a matching rhyme for the phrase “trip the light fantastic” kept songwriters from becoming too quaint.

Rock bands choose their lyrics and their names with care, selecting one that is distinctive and perhaps also matches their style of music. Many groups have picked pleasant names like Randy and the Rainbows, The Sunshine Company, The New Beats, and the Beach Boys. Some bands select gritty names like The Cramps, Born Losers, and Born Ruffians.

While listening to the May 23, 1943 episode of The Great Gildersleeve, I thought I discovered one of the more unique names for a group when Gildy (Harold Peary) described a complaint with the little-used term collywobbles.  “No Matter What Shape” a person’s stomach is in became a hit for the T-Bones in the mid-1960s so why not “The Collywobbles” in this century? Gladys Knight already had the Pips. How about the Gastric Distress? The Grip? The Spasms? The Aching Backs? The Torn ACLs?

For about five years I still preferred The Collywobbles until I read an advertisement in a magazine just this month for a product designed to ease the discomfort some women experience in their intimate relations. Just as David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” described the ingredients for the perfect country & western song, I believe I found the perfect name for a female rock band in that ad: The Conjugated Estrogens.

This post might create another group among women reading it: The Rising Hackles.


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Hit and Miss

      Following up on my February salute to Yogi Berra for his highly productive season in 1950, a few sluggers are certainly on a pace to average about one strikeout per game in 2017. Kris Bryant, one of the most likeable players in Major League Baseball for his enthusiastic approach to playing the national pastime, deserved to be named NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and Most Valuable Player in 2016. In those two seasons Bryant hit 65 home runs and struck out 353 times. Mike Trout, the American League golden boy with 2012 ROY honors and two MVP awards to his credit, had 168 homers and 784 strikeouts through the end of 2016. In 19 seasons Berra homered 358 times and fanned 414 times. Even more remarkable are the statistics for Yogi’s teammate, Joe DiMaggio: 13 seasons, .325 batting average, 361 home runs, 369 strikeouts. (Statistics exclude postseason appearances.)  Fans who say, “Who cares? An out is an out” need only look at the Cubs highlights for the game versus the Milwaukee Brewers on April 8, 2017. By making contact and hitting the ball somewhere, on the ground or in the air, the Cubs scored 11 runs on 17 hits with no home runs or triples and every starter got at least one hit. Texas Leaguers and swinging bunts look like line shots in the box score.

Berra would likely counter the suggestion that pitchers in this century are better than they were when he played by pointing out that the Pinstripers weren’t just facing batting practice hurlers. The Yanks won 103 games in 1954, yet finished a distant second to the Cleveland Indians who won 111 games largely due to the strong arms of three Hall of Famers: Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon. Mike Garcia, the fourth starter for the Indians, did not make it into the Hall of Fame, yet he was probably Cleveland’s most effective pitcher in 1954 with a record of 19-8 and an E.R.A. of 2.64, best in the American League.

For those who argue that pitching is better now than it was decades ago because training programs make today’s starting pitchers stronger and more durable, remind them of the statistics of two other Hall of Famers.  Lefty Warren Spahn, who pitched over 5,200 innings, won 20 or more games 13 times, threw 382 complete games, and won 23 games in 1963 at the age of 42 and would have recorded 24 victories that season had not one of his 7 defeats occurred because his teammates failed to score a run in a 16-inning marathon in which the gallant Spahnie threw over 200 pitches.  In 1965, the year Spahn retired, right-hander Ferguson Jenkins began his HOF career.  Fergie, a power pitcher who recorded 3,192 strikeouts in his 19-year career, pitched over 4,500 innings, threw 267 complete games, and won 20 or more games in six consecutive seasons for the Chicago Cubs. In 1971, the year Jenkins won the Cy Young Award, he threw 30 complete games, which equals the total of complete games recorded by all of the Chicago Cubs pitchers in the last 11 years (2006 through 2016).


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Count ’em Out

One of the most popular rhyming phrases used by sportscasters and sports writers during the month of March is “One and done.” The expression is used most frequently to describe basketball players who leave college after one year of eligibility for a lucrative career in the National Basketball Association, though it has also been applied to teams who make the NCAA tournament and are eliminated after losing the first game.

The snide who reside in press boxes or courtside might even use those words when teams underperform. For instance, this year “one and then undone” could apply to the Duke Blue Devils who were devilishly done in by allowing 65 points in the second half against South Carolina on March 19th. In one way, however, it may be good training for any Duke players who leave before graduation because NBA teams regularly give up over 100 points a game.

The rim rhymers and post poets who move on to “Two and through” and “Three and flee” could give some hope to the downtrodden who have been tearing up their bracket sheets and pulling out their hair by inserting some catchy lines into their patter that might trickle down to the players by exhorting them to defend their end of the court by becoming a “pain in the lane.” Picture cheering sections encouraging players with “Leap and keep,” “Steal and deal,” “Block and rock,”  “Learn the burn,” “Take and break,” “Peel and wheel,” “Feed and lead,” “Get it back– then attack,” and then  “Pass it and cash it.”

Although players earning double doubles in assists and steals may not impress NBA scouts, they do double the pleasure of coaches wanting to reach the Final Four. College athletes with eyes dazzled by the prize would be advised to fix their gaze on the goal and adopt a motto even Abe Lincoln would favor: “Four and score.”



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Smoke Gets in Your Lungs

The recent full-page ad in several magazines which presented a brand of e-vapor inhalation stuck me as being most peculiar. Barely discernible through the  foggy cloud of a woman blowing smoke toward a microphone in what really could be called Smokey Joe’s Café are a big XL in red letters and the words “Full on vapor”[N.B. vapor, not flavor] and the phrase “XL draw XL taste XL experience.” Those are the only words promoting the experience. Below the photo is a boxed warning in easy-to-read lettering: “Warning: This product is not intended for use by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or persons with or at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or taking medicine for depression or asthma. Nicotine is addictive and habit-forming, and is very toxic by inhalation. Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea, and stomach pain. Inhalation of this product may aggravate existing respiratory conditions.”

How many adults on this planet do not suffer from one of the conditions described in the box?  Surely this is unique way of promoting a product by listing many more deleterious effects of using it than advantages to purchasing it.  Even in the 1950s, when concerns about smoking began to appear, tobacco manufacturers concentrated on the virtues of their brand, e.g., “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Sometimes the advertisers answered singing questions such as “What have Viceroys got that other filter tip cigarettes haven’t got?” with “20,000 tiny filters to filter, filter, filter your smoke so the rich, rich flavor comes through.” We knew the pitch was a smokescreen, but at least it was a positive one.

Today even the smokeless tobacco options feature happy young men and women playing games inside or outdoors accompanied by cheery phrases “When good times become great times” and “A pinch better”  and “Mint masters,”  the only caveat being “This product may cause gum disease and tooth loss.”

What would happen if other companies followed the e-vaporators on the downer trail by inserting more discouraging than positive language in their ad campaigns?

Right below that colorful come-on extolling the virtues of a 10-night cultural cruise to the fascinating island nation of Cuba spotlighting the quaint villages and natural parks would be the wording; “Warning: Any deviation from guided tours will likely result in prolonged captivity in durance vile. Visitors donning false beards and furtively running though jungles muttering anti-communist slogans may be subjected to target practice. Tourists with a history of asthma or respiratory problems are advised not to attempt to smuggle one of the 1950s American automobiles out of the country because smugglers in the past have been stuffed four at a time into trunks of vehicles best known as 1955 Chevy Hell Airs.”

The invitation to “Make Outside Your Kind of Beautiful” certainly seems appealing when teamed with a tall patio fireplace and pristine stones under an open wooden canopy, complemented by lit candles placed on an onyx table while a young couple sipping wine enjoy a tranquil evening. The company that creates “the setting for moments that last a lifetime” might add “Warning: Our products not for use in any climate that is subject to winds over 5 MPH, rain, sleet, or snow. Any leaves, branches, or deceased animals should be removed immediately or patio stones may be discolored permanently. Unlike model holding glass of wine in photo, purchasers of this product are advised to dump contents of liquids in the faces of seated companions rather than drop on stones or throw in fireplace.”

The upwardly mobile yearning for high-end watches are encouraged to “Begin their own tradition” because “You never actually own a Patek Phillipe, you merely take care of it for the next generation.” There is plenty of space below the Diamond Ribbon model for this warning: “The tradition begun may be one of making payments in perpetuity, which is why banks may own more of timepiece than purchaser. Those not meeting payments may be taken care of ways that may prove harmful to breathing.”

Even a clean ad showing a barebacked man apparently about to try on a yellow Hermes coat with the simple wording “Objects for Life” would need a warning along these lines: “Exposing skin to the sun without adequate sunscreen will result in melanoma spots larger than the white circles on the jacket shown. Sunscreen might attract hordes of yellow jackets.”

Anyone who has marveled at the sleek lines of modern chairs seen in glossy home magazines and revered by interior decorators would agree that the Knoll line is modern always because modern always works. The warning by the sharply-angled red chairs that resemble aircraft wings would be succinct: “Sitting in these chairs is not recommended for people with arthritis, rheumatism, sciatic conditions, limited vision, and irascible temperament.”

“The only refrigerator that gives you the chills” pitch might give some readers the willies and the urge to give Jenn the Air. The wide-open obsidian interior displaying well-lit, perfectly ripe food in a state of freshness can best be achieved in a photographic studio and has never appeared in any home for longer than thirty minutes. Such beauty is a joy that won’t last forever because buyers would have to be cautioned “Finding yourself transfixed in front of the beauties of the obsidian interior will likely lead to wheezing, sneezing, pneumonia, and consumer remorse.”

Duck hunters who want to “dominate the skies” are encouraged to buy and use Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 like the rugged, drenched hunter kneeling on wave-splashed rocks. “When you chase an obsession to extremes, this is what you take with you.” The one-inch space at the bottom of the ad would leave room for this warning: “What you may bring back with you is hypothermia, frost-bitten fingers, and hopes dashed upon the midnight rocks.”

Benelli’s catch phrase, “Simply perfect,” should inspire the providers of noxious vaping products to replace the smokescreen and persiflage in their ads with a stark skull and crossbones, the simply perfect symbol for piracy and death.




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