What Happened To The Bench Jockeys?

Leo Durocher The Lip wasn't quite as rough during his last managerial stop, but he was never mistaken for the Dalia Lama, even during his brief Astros tenure.

Leo Durocher
The Lip wasn’t quite as rough during his last managerial stop, but he was never mistaken for the Dalia Lama, even during his brief 1972-1973 Houston Astros tenure.

 

As a kid fan at Buff Stadium in the post WWII years, but only when my dad got his hands on the boss’s seats behind the Buffs dugout, I got an accelerated education on language and phrases that I just never heard much elsewhere – even in the blue collar culture of Houston’s east end, soap worked on tongues as well as hands.

The words and phrases I’m remembering here in technicolor and high quality sound were often to always concepts that were unavailable in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. In fact, my early childhood lapse of full knowledge on the use of hyphens in formal speech had misled me to believe that “Merriam Webster” probably was somebody’s mom – and that she probably frowned on using words, singularly or roped to each other as expressions, that most people would hear and take in as dirty words and insults.

I learned these words and phrases on one abrupt trip that Buffs manager Al Hollingsworth made onto the field to have a discussion with Frenchy Arceneaux, the home plate umpire. Because this is basically a G-rated column, I won’t reveal the actual words that Al used and expressed in a voice tone loud enough to cover the first ten rows of the immediate area grandstands, but you should be able to figure them out from some brief descriptions:

According to Manager Al, Umpire Frenchy was “the son of a not-so-nice ‘b-word’ lady – asserting also that he was blind as a bat (the night-flying kind). The Buffs manager proceeded to further suggest that the umpire may have also been hampered in his vision of a pitched ball he called strike three because “he had his eyes closed and his head buried in another part of his anatomy during the time the ball sailed low and outside to batter Larry Miggins for what should have been a bases loaded walk with two outs – instead of an outrageously called strike three that killed a vigorous Buffs rally.

Before Al the Manager could get too far beyond his attempt to further canonize Frenchy the Ump “with the other ‘b-word’ that typifies all babies born out of wedlock,” Arceneaux interrupted Hollingsworth long enough to impart his own opinion on the tone of this ‘discussion’. Frenchy raised his right hand and used it to first point at Al – then to the Buffs clubhouse down the left field line. But Frenchy couldn’t stop there. Even though his reasons were obvious to all who could both see and hear, Frenchie felt that Al deserved an explanation for his abrupt ejection from the game.

“This is for being that part of the body that we all sit down upon in this matter, Al,” Frenchy roared. “Besides, as you should know by now, you don’t get to argue balls and strikes in baseball! – What’s the matter with you? Do you have excrement in place as the organic executive in charge of your decision-making?”

Things were brutal back in the day. Bench jockeys was the phrase that best  described those players who excelled at playing with the minds of the other team’s players on the field. We even had it full scale in organized kid ball – and some of the kid team managers would coach third base when their club was batting in an attempt to rattle the other team’s pitcher with the things they said to their man at the plate: “C’mon, Joey, get ready to hit this kid! He’s got nothing but hits to give away with that stuff he’s throwing!” It often worked. And in the little baseball sub-culture of my limited experience, people seldom objected. You were expected to just tune it out and play through it, when it happened.

And here’s a great example from World Series history.

On September 13, 1934, star Detroit Tiger pitcher Schoolboy Rowe made a guest appearance on the Eddie Cantor national radio show. Rowe got so caught up in the enjoyment of things that he finally blurted out to his wife over over the air: “How am I doing Edna?”

It was a salutation that come back to haunt him once the Tigers hooked up with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1934 World Series.

The Tigers took on the Cardinals in Game Six at Detroit leading in the Series, 3 games to 2, and with Schoolboy Rowe going up against Paul Dean. Rowe would lose to the younger Dean, 4-3, surrendering 10 hits and enduring taunts of “How am I doing, Edna?” from Leo Durocher and the Cardinal bench for the bulk of the day – and worst of all – sending the Series to a Game Seven the following afternoon, October 9, 1934. Apparently the Cardinals had been listening to Rowe on the radio the night he made his affectionate plea to Edna at home.

Game Seven will always be recalled in Detroit as a Tiger nightmare. In the top of the 3rd inning, the Cardinals got to Tiger starter Elden Auker for four runs – and bringing Rowe back into action in this tense game of “no tomorrows” to hopefully stop the bleeding. It immediately rained more of the “How am I doing, Edna?” taunts as Rowe gave up two more of the final three runs scored by the Cardinals for a 7-run tab and, had it been boxing, a TKO win for the Cardinals. The Cardinals would go on to take Game Seven behind Dizzy Dean by 11-0, sending poor Schoolboy Rowe and his den of Tiger mates into a winter of discontent.

And it most probably sent Cardinals shortstop Leo Durocher home with a broad grin of happiness that he had been the leader of the pack in the “How a I doing, Edna?” taunt. “How am I doing, Edna – indeed!”

Were it possible, wouldn’t you love to hear Durocher’s self-congratulatory version of how he pulled off the “How am I doing, Edna?” heckle upon poor Schoolboy Rowe?

At any rate, where are these hecklers of the game in 2015? You see so much palsy-walsy stuff today between base-runners and fielders that it’s hard to imagine a lot of bitter stuff pouring from either dugout during most games.

Has the game simply lost most of its posterior-face people in the 21st century?

You tell me. I’d like to know.

Writer’s Note. In the original version of this column, please forgive me for incorrectly remembering the victim in the “How am I doing, Edna?” story as Elden Auker. I do know better. I forgot so well on a rush-to-publish day that I bypassed my usually tight fact check on anything questionable. I also want to credit and thank friend and legendary baseball man Tal Smith for e-mailing me of my most egregious error. Thanks for your understanding and support, dear readers.

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ppebaseball7

 

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