Baseball as Life Strikes Again

October 18, 2018

Pecan-Park-Eagle-W - 1_edited-1

If you read the comment codicils of clarification to MLB Rule 3:16 on fan interference (see last night’s game time post in The Pecan Park Eagle entitled fan interference call revisited  ~ you will see that its necessary appended language addresses the issue as to where the ball-pursuing fielder’s total right to have exclusive contact with the ball ends, and another region begins.

The fielder’s ball pursuit rights are total on the field of play, but, “No interference (call) shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He (the fielder) does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”

The facts contained in last night’s play by Betts on Altuve’s stolen homer speak loudly and clearly in support of the fact that any contact between the Red Sox fielder and the hands, gloves and arms of the fans occurred a conservative 2 to 3 feet inside the stands from the yellow rail line that makes any ball that either hits or passes over it a HR at that exact moment in time ~ no matter where it then goes from the percussive consequences of contact between people and objects on the seating interior side of the yellow line.

The best video is even more convincing, if possible, of the fact that Betts is reaching over the line and into the stands in his attempt to catch the ball. He was definitely in that “at his own risk” region. It was never a case of him looking up to catch a descending fly ball when, suddenly, crazed fans reached over the line and knocked the ball from his grasp. See the photo again below and please also read the script beneath it that we also included last night:

“No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk.”
__________
Note the man on the left. His left hand is holding the yellow rail that marks the spot where the field of play ends and the stands begin. Then not eth deeper stands site to where the ball is landing. The NY “out” call should’ve been a HR for Altuve.

If you read some of the other direct reports from Astros players and their reactions to the call, they boil down to a state of outrage ~ and worse, in my opinion. It was outrage over an unjust deficit that fueled their emotional state from the first inning forward ~ and certainly not a state of mind they needed in the crucial game that Game Four turned out to be. ~ And all because some anonymous joker(s) in the NY replay review crew either lacked an understanding of the rule or the guts to enforce it accordingly.

I liked Gary Sheffield’s comments as a member of the TV pre and post game broadcast crew. To paraphrase here, Sheffield put it this way: “Why aren’t we given the names of these people in the replay booth. The field umpires have been taking responsibility and blame for their calls on the field forever. Why are we allowing these people in the replay decisions to get away with sloughing off explanations or revealing who the are?”

Sheffield didn’t say the following, but he had to have been thinking something like it. ~ Why was someone who either did not look closely at the visual evidence logically ~ and/or else ~ did not understand the importance of how the rule changes once it goes beyond a railing in this kind of case?

Oh, well! ~ Baseball as Life strikes again!

How often in life do we get to experience the sting of disappointment and unfairness ~ and still find the energy to pick ourselves up and keep moving in the right direction ~ in spite of our frustration and disappointment?

Well, here we are again, Astros fans ~ at the same baseball street corner we mostly all visited together last as Astros fans, for sure, in 1979, 1980, 1986, 1998, 2004, 2005, and 2016.

In spite of my emphatic call of yesterday that Game Four was to be a “must-win” situation for the Astros, I will now take Game Five with Mr. Verlander on the mound as our connection to the hope that miracles still happen. After all, the Red Sox just won three in a row over the Astros. ~ Let’s get behind Justin for a big win in Game Five ~ and hope the baseball gods will then aid Cole and Keuchel to pitch us to cool and calm victories in Games Six and Seven at Fenway Park this coming Saturday and Sunday.

Let’s get it now, people! ~ Some of us don’t have another 25 to 30 years to wait for a second Houston Astros World Series ring.

Go Astros! ~ Take Game Four!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Fan Interference Call Revisited

October 18, 2018

“No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk.”
__________
Note the man on the lower far right. His left hand is holding the yellow rail that marks the spot where the field of play ends and the stands begin. Then note the deeper stands site to where the ball is landing near his palm up right hand. The NY “out” call should’ve been ruled a HR for Altuve. Fielder Betts was in the fans area at his own risk. (Bottom of 1st, ALCS Game 4, 2018)

 

“Rule 3.16 Comment: There is a difference between a ball which has been thrown or batted into the stands, touching a spectator thereby being out of play even though it rebounds onto the field and a spectator going onto the field or reaching over, under or through a barrier and touching a ball in play or touching or otherwise interfering with a player. In the latter case it is clearly intentional and shall be dealt with as intentional interference as in Rule 3.15. Batter and runners shall be placed where in the umpire’s judgment they would have been had the interference not occurred.

“No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Astros Win in Game 4 a Must

October 17, 2018

 

Charley Morton’s Salt?
When he reigns, zeroes pour.

 

It’s the early morning after ALCS Game Three and the collapse of the Astros at home in almost every imaginable way yesterday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

What do you get when your now proclaimed closer comes into a game with the boys trailing 3-2 going into the 8th? You get two base runners; then you get two more by the HBP route; then you get a home run; and what’s the damage to the score as a result? The Red Sox get one run forced in by the second hit batter; then they get four more runs on a grand slam by Jackie Bradley, Jr. ~ and the famous shaking head words of closer Roberto Osuna that we’ve all heard before from countless others and shall surely continue to hear in every corner of baseball every time a pitcher ~ especially an alleged star ~ has a meltdown at a critical moment in the game.

“It was just one of those things! One of those bells that now and then rings! Just one of those things! And, hey! You know what? That is just one of those things. It’s pretty near the same thing the Astros did to the Red Sox in Game One with a 4-run spot in the 9th, converting a 3-2 Astros lead into a what appeared to be a 7-2 final score romp. This time, the Sox pasted their 5-run spot to their own 3-2 late lead ~ killing again hometown hope ~ and making this final score another blow-away mark of 8-2, visitors.

Charlie Morton needs to be on and the Astros need to win Game Four tonight. It’s not a mathematically “must win” situation, but the closest thing to it on the probability scale. An Astros loss tonight would mean that the Astros would then have to win all three of the possible games they have left with the Red Sox to take the AL pennant and advance to the World Series. And that would set up the following scenario:

If Boston wins Game 4 tonight, they lead Houston, 3 wins to 1, needing one more win.

Thursday @ MMP, Game 5: Astros must win behind Justin Verlander;

Friday: travel day

Saturday @ Fenway, Game 6: Astros must win behind a more relaxed Gerrit Cole;

Sunday @ Fenway, Game 7: Astros must win behind either the presumed starter, Dallas Keuchel, or possibly Lance McCullers, Jr. This one has several ways of getting ugly, now and next year, especially, if manager Hinch decides to not risk Keuchel and his “bad early run giveaway” syndrome with everything on the line. ~ And how much security is there that McCullers might come out with another night of low-in-the-dirt pitches that only get stopped by the backstop of the stadium.

Let’s hope Morton and the Astros can take Game Four ~ and we sure wouldn’t mind if one of the Astros big run-scoring innings could also come early for a change. a 5-run spot of their own in the first inning should be something of a support cushion to Morton that helped the situation. Our Astros starters have had to pitch all year in the hope that the Astros would get enough runs after they had been lifted to win the game. With a little more early run support, this team might have had two to three “20-game winners.”

At any rate, the next 24 hours will provide us with the real-time answers as to how dead or alive the Astros really are. Let’s hope for the best.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

How Astros-Analytics Improves Good Pitchers

October 16, 2018

“I never had any analytics training, but I still nailed ’em!”
~ Liam McCurdy

 

Going into Game Three of the ALCS battle between the Astros and Red Sox, national writer Dave Sheinin wrote this best article I’ve seen, so far, on how the Astros use analytics to help their good pitchers ~ the ones that are both open and physically/mentally able to use this kind of re-directional/or more specific mechanical change or movement emphasis coaching to improve their pitching performance records and game score results from “good” to “excellent”.

The more I read of Sheinin’s October 15th article in The Washington Post, the more I realized that I had not read anyone else attempt to explain this process, if at all, until now. Then, when I read a few of the coverage comments that readers left at the digital version of this story, that I was not alone. Most baseball people apparently don’t really understand how analytics is not simply a tool for selecting players from the same potentials group categories. It’s also a dynamic process for fine-tuning or tweaking some people into even higher levels of achievement that exist for them.

Thank you, Bill Hickman, for advising me of this exciting piece. I’ll be watching Game Three of the ALCS now with an even better and more realistic perception of what I’m seeing from the Astros pitching staff.

Here’s the link. Please read it for yourself at the earliest opportunity:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2018/10/15/magic-dust-spin-rates-buy-in-how-astros-make-good-pitchers-even-better/?utm_term=.77c5176065f0

And GO, ASTROS! ~ Let’s go get ’em in Game 3!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Game 2: Bouncing Balls and Ice Water Veins

October 15, 2018

Game 2: Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s 3-RBI double in the 3rd bounced off the fence above the 310 sign and was headed back toward home as Marwin Gonzalez flew into pursuit mode.

Game 2: Next the ball makes a carom bounce off the side wall as Marwin observes from below.

Game 2: Now the ball makes a rapid descent landing on its way to a bounce roll as Marwin continues the chase.

Game 2: Marwin finally catches up to the crazy bouncing ball and makes a beeline throw home, but too late. All 3 Boston runners have scored on the biggest hit of the game and Boston now leads 5-4. It is a lead they did not surrender.

 

The Boston Red Sox squared the ALCS at Fenway last night at 1-1 by scoring a 7-5 win over the Houston Astros. In so doing, they became the first team in 2018 to score five runs on Astros starter Gerrit Cole. Jackie Bradley, Jr. recorded the decisive blow with a two-out, bases-loaded double in the third inning that pulled the Sox from 2-4 down to 5-4 up. It was a lead they would never relinquish and it would hold up as the biggest bounce-of-the-ball difference-maker of the night, although ball bounces would also aid Mookie Betts and his involvement twice in the other two runs the Red Sox would score in this Sunday eve Game Two donnybrook. In the 7th, Betts would advance two bases to score from 2nd on separate passed balls charged to Astros catcher Martin Maldonado. Each PB was vastly aided by wild hard throws in the dirt by pitcher Lance McCullers that simply got through the catcher. Either way you divide the blame, Betts’ scamper home made it 6-4 Boston. Betts also doubled home Rafael Devers in the eighth to make it 7-4 Sox.  The Astros score once more in the 9th on back to back doubles by Springer and Altuve, but a long drive to left by Bregman fell about three feet short of another tally and six feet shy of miraculous two-out tie. It was an end-of-game fly ball out instead.

The Only Cure for Baptism Under Fire in Baseball is Ice Water in Your Veins

Yesterday, we neglected to mention the ice-water factor as a key big game ingredient. No matter how good a player you are, you have to play with the heart of someone who also has ice water running through your veins. What happened with Cole yesterday wasn’t his fault. It just happened, no doubt, from him being on the biggest stage of his life for the first time, something he’s always wanted, and even the reason he asked Pittsburgh to work out a deal last winter that sent him to Houston. The young man wanted to win his own World Series title ring with a club that still has an excellent chance of repeating.

Remember the old wisdom: “Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.”

Of course, Cole was nervous. And once all that adrenaline kicks in, it affects almost everything athletically we normally are able to do. That throwing error Cole made on the easy throw to first base is the perfect example. After the game, Cole admitted as much. His heart was almost beating like a tom-tom inside his jersey.

I’m betting he will be his old ice water self the next time. Whether he gets there by prayer or meditation or focus on baseball mechanics only, it’s that important. And even then, sometimes it just hits people differently, but in my own experience ~ and my experience working with people who have blown job interviews over nervousness, the worst cases are the ones involving people who think too much.

If you’ve ever played football, you may have been one of those people who felt nervous until the kick off. Then, once you made physical conflict on the field and dug into playing one rapidly finishing play after another, the nervousness went away. That’s because football doesn’t give you time beyond the physical action to do any extra analytical thinking. On the other hand, the start of a baseball game isn’t the end of thinking. That mental part is just beginning, especially for pitchers, the only player on the field who is guaranteed to be in involved in every play.

My advice? Stay grounded in the moment. Focus on the mechanics of your position. Know what the probable play is going to be if the ball is hit to you. Allow your manager and coaches to do the analytical stuff. Just do your job. Know where the cut off man is, if need be, and make sure you hit him, if said need arises.

OK, Astros, you can still end the need for a return to Boston with a three-game sweep at home. ~ Go get ’em!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

ALCS Game One and Old Man Mo

October 14, 2018

THAT “4” SPOT IN THE 9TH SURE FELT GOOD!

BUT YOU HAD TO BE AN ASTROS FAN TO FEEL THE JOY OF THE COFFIN NAIL THAT WAS GURRIEL’S 9TH INNING 3-RUN HOMER. ~ THE RED SOX FANS UNDERSTANDABLY WERE STRUCK BY A POLAR SIDE SADNESS TO HOUSTON’S LATE 7-2 ROMP IN GAME 1 OF THE ALCS AT FENWAY PARK IN BOSTON.

MANY OF THE RED SOX FANS SIMPLY DID WHAT FANS DO ANYWHERE WHEN HOPE ABANDONS LATE. ~ THEY DIDN’T STAY TO WATCH THE BOTTOM OF THE 9TH.

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Whatever you do, Astro fans, don’t leave early. ~ Inhale the joy of Game One’s outcome, but take nothing for granted. We’re now up 1-0 in games won, but it’s still a pennant that goes to whichever of these teams wins four games first.  Let’s try to remember too ~ the Astros players cannot leave early when the going gets tough, so neither should we abandon them at any rough time they may face the rest of the way.

To win it all in consecutive years, a club has to have great talent, a hunger for the opportunity, possibly some history of redeemable credit at the downtown Destiny Savings and Investment Bank Group, mostly venial and few major debts to the Fate & Company Immediate Fix Outcome Loan Association, a whole lot of good rolls on the timing, spacing, speed, and inches factors that go into making up the “bounce of the ball” outcomes that occur with every play, decision, and human factor moment in the game, ~ and a sometimes impossible thing to describe that we all know as momentum ~or “Old Man Mo.”

Baseball Momentum is mental ~ and it isn’t restricted to what happens on the field of players. It includes the reaction of the fans, maybe most often begins with fans (hence, the “home field advantage”) as the invisible electricity factor that sets in motion the interaction between players, teams, umpires, and fans to what is happening ~ and not happening ~ on the field during the game ~ at any moment during those precious 27-outs-per-each-team crisis that we call the “game.”

Break or kill that momentum ebb and flow current at any point that appears to be the last straw for the home team and you just may have witnessed the end of the mental support game before the home team club even takes their final at bats. The top of the 9th inning in Game One of 2018 ALCS gave us our most recent example of how this works.

Going into the top of the 9th, the great Red Sox fans were already down from the tough game and the 3-2 lead that the Astros held over all things Boston in the final scheduled inning. Then Josh Reddick bashed a prodigious homer to deep center field to make it 4-2 Astros.

And things grew even more quiet.

A couple of walks later, Yuli Gurriel dunked that opposite field home run down the right field line to make it 7-2, Astros, and Fenway suddenly found itself swept in a tomb-like silence.

The Red Sox fans not only grew quiet. They started leaving in droves. The game for early departing Red Sox fan souls was over without their club even getting their final three outs. Their game was over. It was time to leave early and beat the crowd. ~ (Know that one?)

And maybe, problematically, they were right. The odds were against the Red Sox coming back from 7-2, and that turned out to be the final score.

Nevertheless, I am reminded of my favorite day in the history of baseball rallies to support why we, as fans, should never give up. The date was October 3, 1951. The New York Giants were coming to bat in the bottom of the 9th in a playoff game that found them trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers by 4-1. The winner of this game at the Polo Grounds was going to the World Series to face the New York Yankees. And, given the odds against a Giants comeback, why should the home team fans even stick around to watch the 3 last outs?

Stick around, Astros fans. We need three more wins against Boston ~ and they only come one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time, one hit, walk, HBP, catcher’s interference or error at a time, one run at a time, and one out in the field at a time.

Til the last out of each game actually is registered, let’s try to keep the momentum current going ~ and the positive energy thoughts about our Astros freely overflowing.

The closer we all stay to “see the ball / hit the ball” in our baseball meditations too, so much the better.

Go Astros in Game Two at Fenway tonight!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Love of The Game

October 13, 2018

10/12/18 @ Irma’s Cafe
Michael and Patricia Velez; plus,
Michelin Tranquil, Patricia’s mom.

 

Love of the Game

Once in a while, if you’re lucky, you get to meet someone who personifies Love of the Game as their second reason for breathing, after taking care of love for family. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet one of those rarefied jewels of humanity. And I shall always be grateful for the opportunity.

On Friday, thanks to an invitation from Dr. Sue Hepler, my old friend and colleague from our graduate school days at Tulane in New Orleans ~ and half century Houstonian since those early times, I must add ~ I had lunch at the wonderful Irma’s Mexican Restaurant north of Minute Maid Park at 22 Chenevert with Sue and her friends, Michael and Patricia Velez, and Pat’s mother, Michelin Tranquil. All are originally from Brooklyn, New York, but now live in Houston.

Michael Velez, 32, has never stopped playing baseball since childhood, growing up in Brooklyn as an ardent Mets fan. He has continued to play baseball somewhere every year since. He spent this past season playing right field and some center field for a club called Los Indios of the locally based, but curiously (to me) named Mexican League at various municipal field sites in the Houston area.

Now, at age 32, and in apparently full recognition of the fact that passing age “30” doesn’t exactly add luster to the baseball playing resume’ of anyone, Michael would like to move up the baseball ladder with some organization that’s active in the Houston baseball arena, if at all possible. And yes, Michael is very aware that Yuli Gurriel of the Astros made the Houston-move-up step at around the same advanced age, but that his case was based upon a baseball record of having been one of the big professional stars in Cuba before his arrival in Houston.

Michael Velez is grounded in reality. He knows that the Gurriel prospective doesn’t exist for him at the same level in the same way. He’s just hoping that someone with Houston baseball connections will learn about him and give him a tryout for their 2019 team. I have never seen him play and don’t even know his season or career stats. It’s a little hard to do a good job of baseball research in detail while you’re jabbing a fork continuously into a beef fajita salad.

All I know for sure is ~ if Michael Velez’s playing ability is anything close to the grades I give him for character, intellect, social communication skill, and apparent physical fitness, he’s definitely worth any fair baseball-minded consideration. He may be a great scout, coach, manager or front office candidate in training too ~ even if he’s not yet thinking that far into the future. I don’t know his thoughts, nor am I able to speak for him. I wasn’t there at lunch to take or build his resume’. I just was impressed by him.

If you are attending this coming Monday’s SABR meeting, Michael Velez will be there as my guest for you to meet. We should be arriving by 6:30 PM.

If you are not a member of SABR, or simply will not be there, you may contact Michael Velez about baseball 2019 job possibilities by phone, or e-mail, as listed here:

Phone: 510-688-0215

E-Mail: mvp100@tutanota.com

10/12/18: Lunch at Irma’s Cafe
Drs. Sue Hepler and Bill McCurdy
Old friends and colleagues from their Tulane University Days

Now let’s go, Astros! ~ Beat those Red Sox tonight! ~ And that deep level wish springs directly from my personal Love of the Game!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Anticipation

October 12, 2018

 

an·tic·i·pa·tion
anˌtisəˈpāSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: anticipation; plural noun: anticipations
  1. the action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction.
    “her eyes sparkled with anticipation
    synonyms: expectancyexpectationexcitementsuspense, awaiting the start of the Astros@Red Sox first game of the 2018 ALCS (numerous other synonymous examples extend from the last entry, but they are far too numerous for fair balanced mention in one published volume on this subject. Come on, Saturday Night, hurry up and get here!)

 

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No other sport arouses the wire-walking brand of anticipation that baseball inspires. I say that in full awareness that anticipation is an essential dynamic to the enjoyment of our pursuit in all matters of desirability. If we desire it, we are going to enjoy the mental trip to whatever that goal is by building thoughts and feelings about how great its going to be just to get there.

Anticipation. It takes time to anticipate anything you have to work hard to get. It took Houston 57 years to taste what winning a World Series could be like ~ and some of us first timer “since 1962” fans are still learning. We had no idea that the wonderful feeling of being fans of the 2017 World Champions could last this long, or simply make us hungry for more, but, for many of us, it sure as heck did.

Pass the ketchup, Pappy! ~ Now we are anticipating that the Astros are fixing to serve us up some more chicken fried steak ~ and we want to make sure that good old red tomato condiment is ready to come out of the bottle by the time our down home cooking banquet meal arrives at our table sometime around the 1st of November.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Maxwell Kates: Wayne, Shuster & Baseball

October 11, 2018

Wayne, Shuster & Baseball

By Maxwell Kates

On September 15, 2018, the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario hosted a program called “Wayne and Shuster: Celebrating Canadian Comedy.” For nearly half a century, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster fronted one of the most successful comedy acts in Canadian history . Their brand has been described as ‘literary humour,’ spoofs and satires which fused classic literature, especially Shakespeare, with popular culture of the day. Hamlet met Archie Bunker to become “All in the Royal Family.” Macbeth as a modern murder mystery became “The Hassle at the Castle.” Meanwhile, the film revival of Baroness Orczy’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel” begat “The Brown Pumpernickel.”

Wayne and Shuster was also about building their vision of Canada. Both hailed from immigrant Jewish families at a time Canada consisted of two solitudes. Quebec was largely francophone and staunchly Catholic while the rest of the country was predominantly anglophone and British. Wayne and Shuster envisioned a progressive, multicultural Canada which included everyone regardless of geographic or ethnic identity. Johnny Wayne once remarked that “my job is to make the guy in Saskatoon feel special.” Their humour was often seasoned with ethnocultural references, particularly their own background. This has been interpreted to encourage other Canadians to explore and take pride in their own identity at a time many Jewish comedians in the United States saw no place for their heritage in their acts.

Wayne and Shuster, Opening Credits

Here is one example where Wayne and Shuster used Yiddish to augment their scripts. In 1978, they fused “Pygmalion” and “Saturday Night Fever” to write “Saturday Night Feeble.” Shuster portrayed disco impressario Manjack Wolf while Wayne played octogenerian school guard John Fafolta. For what it’s worth, Fafolta is the Yiddish word for ‘all washed up,’ as in laundry. Fafolta suddenly became “the world’s first 84 year old sex symbol” and his dance craze, inspired by the Hustle, was called ‘the Shlep.’ By the end of the episode, the Shlep’s parade had passed and Fafolta went back to being a crossing guard – but not before the Variety headline screamed “John Fafolta all washed up.”

John Fafolta, All Washed Up

Frank Shuster was born in Toronto on September 5, 1916, and was raised in the Ontario communities of Niagara Falls and Windsor. Meanwhile, his partner in comedy was born Lou Weingarten on May 28, 1918, also in Toronto. Frank’s family owned and operated a theatre which inspired him towards character acting. Lou, meanwhile, was naturally funny. A classmate of Lou’s, the late Murray Green, shared his recollections of the budding comedy star:

“Louie used to bring a jar of flies to Hebrew school, line them up on the table, and place bets. When the rabbi saw what Louie was doing, he’d chase after him with a ruler. But Louie would outsmart the rabbi every time. The rabbi looked everywhere to find Louie and whip him. He checked the sanctuary, he checked the janitor’s closet, but he never found him. He never checked the girls’ toilets and that’s exactly where Louie hid.”

Louie on a Horse, Age 2

Frank and Lou met as Boy Scouts and performed in revues both at Harbord Collegiate and the University of Toronto. Their first break in show business came in 1941 when they hosted a local radio program called Javex Wife Preservers. Although the program lasted less than one year, they were later hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). After serving in the military during the Second World War, Frank and Lou (now known as Johnny Wayne) returned to the CBC. They worked first in radio, moving to television in 1954. A year later, they aired “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga.” Their interpretation of “Julius Caesar” as a Mickey Spillane novel cast Wayne as detective Flavius Maximus opposite Shuster as the shifty Senator Brutus. In a most memorable scene, Sylvia Lennick playing Caesar’s widow Calpurnia pleaded with Flavius, “I told him, Julie don’t go!”

In 1958, Wayne and Shuster made their first of 67 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Three years later, they substituted for Jack Benny as a network summer replacement with “Holiday Lodge.” When offered to take their act to Hollywood on a permanent basis, Johnny and Frank declined. Instead, they chose to remain in Canada for the balance of their professional careers and to raise their families.

Wayne and Shuster Always Get Their Ed, 1963

Sports figured prominently in Wayne and Shuster’s sketches as an easy way to reach a large cross-section of the Canadian audience. Although Shuster’s passion was golf and Wayne’s favourite sports were football and hockey, baseball did figure prominently in their repertoire. What you are about to read is an appreciation of Wayne and Shuster’s work, with an emphasis on their baseball sketches and references.

For their first appearance on Ed Sullivan, Wayne and Shuster introduced a sketch called “Shakespearean Baseball.” An adaptation of “Casey at the Bat” recited in iambic pentameter, “Shakespearean Baseball” stars Shuster as the unnamed manager of the Stratford team opposite Wayne as “the noblest catcher of them all,” the Mighty Yogi. Mired in a slump, Yogi is hitless in his last ten games, batting an anemic .208. His manager expressed dismay by lamenting “to think he led the league in RBIs / Now he reads the record book and cries.”

The Original Shakespearean Baseball, 1958

Yogi introduces himself by parodying Hamlet with the monologue, “Oh, what a rogue and bush league slob am I!” Shakespeare references and puns abound throughout the script; the basemen are “Sam the 1st, Bill the 2nd, and Richard the 3rd.” When inspecting a bat, Yogi channels his inner Macbeth by asking “Is this a Slugger I see before me?” And when Yogi learns the game is being televised, he qualms, “TV or not TV, that is not the question!”

The sketch reaches its climactic scene in the bottom of the 9th. Stratford is down by a run with one away. As Macduff strides to the plate, Yogi cheers, “Lay on Macduff! And watch out for that breaking stuff!” But Macduff’s “very palpable hit” is ruled foul. Yogi challenges the umpire, played by Paul Kligman, arguing “so fair a foul I have not seen” followed by “get thee a pair of glasses, get thee to an optometrist!” With “two out, damn spot,” it is Yogi’s time at bat. Unlike the Ernest Thayer poem where the Mighty Casey strikes out, the Mighty Yogi gets beaned. Yogi enters a dramatic monologue in a semiconscious state. Again he paraphrases Hamlet with “alas, poor Durocher, I knew him well, a man of infinite lip.” Then he says “’tis a tale told by an umpire, full of sound and fury, signifying 1-nothing” before slipping on a baseball, knocking himself out. The manager ends the sketch by lamenting “no longer would Stratford see Yogi play ball, I’m trading the bum to Montreal.”

Pitchers, Catchers, Shortstops, Lend Me Your Ears, 1971

Shuster probably meant the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate in the International League that was the rival of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1969, the emergence of the Montreal Expos as a major league team brought baseball to an entirely different level in Canadian popular culture. Two years later, Wayne and Shuster decided to reprise “Shakespearean Baseball.” With Yogi Berra long since retired, the Mighty Yogi was replaced by the Mighty Rocky. Meanwhile, Roy Wordsworth played a red haired shortstop named Rusty as a nod to Le Grand Orange.

That same year, 1971, Wayne and Shuster spoofed “Citizen Kane” with “Citizen Wayne.” Shuster plays a reporter who interviews Citizen Wayne late in life. Wayne offers the reporter a guided tour of his estate, showing off his marble from Carrara his bamboo from Ceylon. When asked where the carpet is from, Citizen Wayne replies “Houston. It is Astroturf.”

The first Commonwealth pennant, 1973

Although the Montreal Expos fell short of winning their first National League East division title in 1973, they were still the best major league team in the British Commonwealth. All right, they were the only team in the Commonwealth. But seriously – folks – the disappointing Expos did not prevent Wayne and Shuster from pitting them against the Chelsea Grouse, a fictional British team, in “The First Commonwealth Pennant.” According to the Sherbrooke (Quebec) Record, “bowler hatted home run hitters drink tea between strikeouts and show how reserved British ball players can be under stress.” Wayne and Shuster play the Honourable Quentin Jellicoe and Sir Basil Baskerville in an episode partially filmed on location at Montreal’s Jarry Park.

The Expos were no longer the only team in the Commonwealth by 1977 when the American League expanded to Toronto. To celebrate the new Blue Jays, Wayne and Shuster released a third version of “Shakespearean Baseball.” This time, Wayne played the Mighty Thurman, as in Munson, while teammates included starting pitcher Catfish and relief ace Sparky. This time, the Mighty Thurman sang his own lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which included “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack / If they don’t sell me beer, I’ll never go back.” Paradoxically, while the Blue Jays were partially owned by a brewer, Labatt’s, city by-laws made it was illegal to sell beer at Exhibition Stadium. The venue was derided as ‘Prohibition Stadium’ until the ban was lifted in 1982.

Shakespearean Baseball, 1977

At the end of the 1970s, Wayne and Shuster performed an operetta entitled “Everybody’s a Comic.” Written by Stan Daniels, the song demonstrated how often people foisted jokes on them because they were comedians. In one vignette, Shuster attends a Blue Jays game with fellow performer Tom Harvey. The score is 2-0. When Wayne asks which team is winning, Tom replies “Two.”

By the 1980s, comedy tastes had changed. Humour was becoming edgier and more aggressive, interpreted by the likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and later, Eddie Murphy. Consequently, Wayne and Shuster’s brand of humour was panned by the critics as archaic and out of fashion. A monthly series was now reduced to a few special presentations each television season. As part of their 1987 “Super Special,” Wayne and Shuster performed a sketch arguing that baseball players were more concerned about making money than winning games. The average major league salary at that time was $400,000. Shuster played the manager of the Toronto Tycoons while Wayne was one of the players. After Wayne is asked to move his red Mercedes, as it was blocking home plate, Shuster bans accountants, computers, and calculators from the dugout. Wayne retorts by protesting that “We’re not just ballplayers, we’re also multimillion dollar corporations.” The episode ends as Wayne and Shuster film a commercial for Finster Light Ale in the middle of the game. (NB. Finster is the Yiddish word for ‘dark,’ so the beer they were advertising was, in essence, ‘dark light.’)

Once Upon A Giant, 1988

Wayne and Shuster filmed a television movie for children in 1988 called “Once Upon A Giant.” Shuster was cast as Humphrey the physician while Wayne played Lester the jester. Lester and Humphrey were incarcerated for interfering with the wedding of Princess Marigold and the evil Prince Malocchio (“the evil eye” in Italian). While imprisoned, they are visited by Angelica the Good Witch. Played by Carol Robinson, Angelica described her mission in life as seeking out the disillusioned and downtrodden and helping them. Lester whispers in Humphrey’s ear, “Where was she when the Blue Jays needed her?”

Unlike anything in “Shakesperean Baseball,” this line refers to an actual event in baseball history. Late in the 1987 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were embroiled in a pennant race with the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the Milwaukee Brewers. With one week to play, the Blue Jays (96-59) held a three game lead over 2nd place Detroit (93-62). That’s when the Blue Jays lost all seven of their last games, including four one-run decisions to the archrival Tigers. Readers of the Toronto Star may remember a photograph of an avuncular spectator wearing full Blue Jays regalia at the sudden death series at Tiger Stadium in Detroit amid the caption “Go Jays!” That spectator was Johnny Wayne.

Frank Shuster with Wayne Sons Brian, Jamie, and Michael

Wayne and Shuster aired their final ‘Super Special’ in 1989. A year later, on July 19, Johnny Wayne died, age 72. Frank Shuster passed away on January 13, 2002, age 85. Regrettably, Wayne and Shuster are virtually unknown to an entire generation of Canadians, although the online network Encore+ is trying to change that by broadcasting vintage episodes every week on YouTube. In addition, Wayne’s sons Brian and Michael are frequent contributors to “The Wayne and Shuster Appreciation Society,” a Facebook page which was started by Bob Badgely.

The legacy of Wayne and Shuster’s humour continues on both sides of the 49th parallel. Frank Shuster’s daughter Rosalind was once married to Lorne Lipowitz. After changing his surname to Michaels, Lorne founded “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. Wayne and Shuster influenced Canadian television series such as SCTV and Kids in the Hall, along with comedians such as Mike Myers (Wayne‘s World?) and Russell Peters. In a 1992 episode of Seinfeld, Jerry was booked on a flight from St. Louis to New York in first class while Elaine was seated in economy. This was a parody of an episode of “The Carol Burnett Show” but Carol likely got the idea from Wayne and Shuster.

Well, I see by the clock on the wall that my time is up. Well if it weren’t, where’s the sketch?

Wayne and Shuster, Closing Credits, 1980

Special thanks to Brian Wayne for his contributions to this article

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

The Changing Appetite of Ballpark Fans

October 9, 2018

Babe McCurdy also served as the mascot of the UH Mad Dog Defense during the 1979-80 football seasons that the #1 jersey was first sold to Cougar fans. (Omaha World-Herald, Prior to the 1980 Cotton Bowl Game that Houston won over Nebraska.)

 

As a fan whose personal ballpark experience only goes back to being 9 years old in the east end and those times our dad took us to Buff Stadium to get hooked on the 1947 Texas League and Dixie Series Champion Houston Buffs at Buff Stadium, I will have to start with a broad shot statement: It was both a whole lot the same, but a whole lot different in the post-World War II minor league game days.

Of course, we cheered in Houston. The Buffs had a great ball club in 1947 and we were stirred to clap hands, cheer and release an occasional rally yell any time the Buffs needed to hear from us. Stirred on by Miss Lou Mahan and the magic of her musical organ themes, with every song selected to fit the mood or merit of the particular game situation, Mahan kept us on our toes in soaring good spirit. The old “Happy Days Are Here Again” melody became the virtual theme for Buff walk off hits in the bottom of the ninth.

What we didn’t have “back in the day” were electronic reminders to “make noise” when the game situation merited. We had that base covered without the assistance of automation. We also didn’t have the Buff uniform paraphernalia that could have outfitted us with Houston official game jerseys and the names and numbers for favorite players like Hal Epps and Solly Hemus. ~ Even the big league club fans were denied the use of those sacred adornments in that long ago time and place. If we got out of the ballpark with a souvenir pennant in 1947, we had to have been one of those kids with a daddy who had money to burn.  And that wasn’t my brother or me ~ or anyone else we knew.

In brief, the ballpark back then was a place for the game, hot dogs, soft drinks and beer ~ or plain old peanuts and Cracker Jack ~ and maybe a team pennant and a souvenir ash tray with the word “souvenir” printed onto the object . The ballpark wasn’t a place for souvenirs, buying things on something called a “credit card” ~ and baseball wasn’t an event that rested in the hands of owners with much awareness or skill in the area of “revenue stream creation.”

Then What Happened?

We all know what happened next!

After World War II, the success of credit lending to veterans for housing opened the door on the bigger question: What else can we sell to people on credit that they don’t have all the cash they need to buy now? And why can’t we simply issue credit cards to people which allow them the convenience of either not using cash ~ or the option of paying interest on a slower repayment over time?

Easy credit opened the door ~ and long before QVC, television became the far superior salesman of everything. Technology kept cranking out more things and opportunities we didn’t want to miss. Marketing psychology sharpened seller awareness to the power of fan identity through baseball cards as a clue to something even more addictive. ~ Allow the fans to be the baseball card by selling them the exact name and number jersey of their favorite baseball heroes in sizes in caps and jerseys in sizes that fit their heads and bodies.

Bada Boom!

The big sale of game jerseys led owners to a simple conclusion: “We need more than one home and one away jersey. We need a wardrobe of always changing apparel that fans shall shall want to purchase ~ just to stay up-to-date with the latest team fashion or club accomplishment.

Diversified fan products were off the ground and soaring into a multi-million dollar per year industry. And winning big and was now simply an extension of the proven fact.

The more a team wins, the more it has to sell the following season.

Win Big / Diversify the Items of Celebration

If “affection” is ever classified as an addiction, give MLB and their hard-core fans for putting it there. After a 2018 Houston season of 5 or 6 games made into sellouts by the bonus gift of a 2017 World Series Replica Ring with each game ticket purchased, we have now moved to the playoffs in which different caps and jerseys are for sale at the Minute Maid Park store for each Astros club advancement up the World Series food chain.

Does this mean that a second straight Astros World Series victory will spur the creation of new replica ring nights at the ballpark next year? ~ Is the Pope Catholic? ~ Does the sun always rise in the east?

Today’s Astros Affection Addicts (today’s AAAs) are really no different from who we were back in 1947. They’ve simply had stronger, more powerfully sophisticated forces working on them than we ever saw in those early times. Knowing me, I would have been among the first to have bought a Buffs jersey had that option been available to me back in 1947.

Wearing the Real Thing

Bill McCurdy 1979
(in a tee shirt, not the real thing #1 UH jersey)

As a matter of possibility, we well may have introduced the first sale of an authentic jersey from any sports team to the general public right here in Houston. We might just as easily have been one of the fairly simultaneous waves of change hitting the market place beaches of America with new revenue streams of thought that came to many of us at the same time. Fans want to wear the real thing.

Inadvertently, even as we may have been the first city in the United States to successfully introduced the first of any official jersey for sale to fans at any collegiate or professional sport team level back in 1979. Lord knows, there was was nothing new about our desire to own and wear the real thing. I personally had been wanting such a real thing jersey since my early summer baseball days at Buff Stadium. By 1979, I simply had awakened to the same Walter Mitty fan wish to also dress in the real thing stuff put in use by my undergraduate school alma mater, the University of Houston Cougars.

Only thing for sure is ~ by 1979 ~ the idea of official jersey sale to fans ~ for all reasons summarized earlier here ~ was a marketing hunger ~ a supply and demand idea, whose time had come. By 1981, replica jerseys from everywhere were ~ well ~ everywhere. And many of those new places previously were aware of what he had done at UH.

I thought it would have been cool for UH to build a little tradition by retiring UH football jersey #1 from use by players and making it available for sale to Cougar fans. I presented the suggestion in writing to then UH Director of Marketing Sonny Yates and it was swiftly approved by then UH Athletic Director Cedric Dempsey.

The suggestion sold a lot of jerseys in the two seasons I worked as a volunteer at the UH Athletic program (1979-80), but Dempsey then left to go elsewhere, as UH stepping-stone “leaders” so often do and, by 1981, the #1 was simply and unceremoniously assigned to the jersey of an incoming Cougar football player.

A Perfect Example of How Things Are

In a Houston Chronicle article by Maggie Gordon after the Astros ALDS 11-3 clincher over the Indians she wrote the following about an Astros fan and his immediate aspirations following the game: “I had faith in my team; I knew it,” Sal Rodriguez said shortly after the game ended, as he and a group of friends pushed along in a newly formed line to the Team Store, to purchase fresh merchandise now that the Astros are officially Divisional Champions.”

Now it’s 3 wins in the pan and only 8 more victories to go ~ one game ~ and one new celebratory cap at a time!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle