Archive for the ‘History’ Category

An Early Hispanic Texas League Star

October 22, 2018

Leo “Najo” Alaniz
Early 20th Century
Mexican-American Baseball Pioneer

The best quick study of Leo Alaniz’s family history and life-in-baseball story is available on Wikipedia. A deeper treatment is most probably available in “Baseball’s First Mexican-American Star: The Amazing Story of Leo Najo“, written in 2008 by Noe Torres. 

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Excerpt from Wikipedia ….

Early Life

Leo Najo was born Leonardo Alanis on February 17, 1899 in the small town of La Lajilla, located in the municipality of Doctor Coss in Nuevo LeónMexico. When Najo was 10, his mother moved the family to the nearby town of Mission, Texas, where she purchased a small tavern and operated it successfully for many years afterward. Najo lived in Mission for the rest of his life. The family’s financial stability allowed the youth to spend much of his time playing the relatively new game of baseball, which was very popular along the Texas-Mexico border at the start of the 20th century.[3]

In the early 1920s, Najo and several other young men in Mission formed a town semi-pro team, the Mission 30-30s, named after the Winchester Model 1894 rifle, which was popularly known as the 30-30 rifle. The 30-30s became a baseball institution in Mission, existing until the mid-1960s. A number of famous South Texans besides Najo played on the 30-30s team, including future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and future U.S. Congressman Kika de la Garza.[3]

Because playing semi-pro ball in Mission was only bringing in about $6 per week, Najo also played for other South Texas teams, including the Milmo Bank team of Laredo, Texas. Najo also played with some of the very earliest organized teams in Mexico, including the Cuauhtemoc Brewery team of Monterrey in 1922. The Cuauhtemocs are viewed by baseball historians as an important early Mexican franchise and a forerunner of the highly successful Sultanes de Monterrey in the modern Mexican League.[4]

It was during Najo’s early, semi-pro playing days that he began using “Najo” as his playing name. Relatives believe the name derived from the Spanish word for rabbit, “conejo”, given to Najo by fans because of his fast base running.[3]

Because of his natural speed and catching ability, Najo mostly played center field, although he often played the other outfield positions and, rarely, the infield. In addition to being an above-average hitter (.321 lifetime batting average), Najo excelled at drawing walks and stealing bases, and he was often the team’s leadoff hitter. In his twenties, he stood 5-foot-9 and weighed 144 pounds.[3]

The Transition to Professional Baseball

During the early 1920s, Najo’s Milmo Bank team occasionally traveled to San Antonio, Texas for games against semi-pro teams there. During one of these visits, Najo was “discovered” by a scout with the San Antonio Bears of the Class A Texas League. He was signed in December 1923 and played his first pro game on April 16, 1924 at San Antonio’s League Park, leading off and playing right field for the Bears against the Galveston Sand Crabs. By his participation in that game, he became one of the first Mexicans to play U.S. professional baseball. Baseball historians also believe Najo was the first Mexican to play in the Texas League, which was established in 1888.[3]

Later in 1924, forced to reduce their roster, the San Antonio Bears “lent” Najo to the Class D Tyler, Texas Trojans, where he led the team to the championship of the East Texas League, finishing third in the league in batting and earning a .992 fielding average. Najo received recognition for his fast base running and acrobatic catches in the outfield.[3]

Najo played almost the entire 1925 season on loan from San Antonio to the Class C Okmulgee, Oklahoma Drillers of the Western Association. He played in 142 games, mostly at center field, hit 34 home runs, made 213 hits, and compiled a .381 batting average. After the season, league president J. Warren Seabough told the Chicago Daily Tribune, “Leo Najo … is one of the greatest players of all time in the Western Association.”[3]

The White Sox Tryout Experience

Following Najo’s success with the Okmulgee Drillers, the Chicago White Sox drafted him in the winter of 1925, and thus he became, most historians agree, the first Mexican player ever taken by a major league team. A November 8, 1925 Washington Post article refers to Najo as “one of the greatest baseball players of all time.”[3]

He appeared in a number of spring training games for the White Sox in 1926, seven years before Mel Almada officially became the first Mexican player to earn a regular roster spot in the U.S. major leagues. According to newspaper accounts of the day, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, watched Najo play in exhibition games in 1926. Decades later, in 1973, another baseball commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, attended Najo’s induction into the Salón de la Fama del Beisbol Profesional de México in Monterrey.[3]

Najo’s spring training statistics indicate that he played well enough to make the major league team. However, on the final day of spring training, Najo was released to the San Antonio Bears. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported, “The Sox squad was cut down by one today when Najo … was shipped to the San Antonio club to which he has been released outright. There are others tonight awaiting the signal to move.”[3]

Although the exact reason for his dismissal remains a mystery, Najo’s family suspects that the decision was due, at least in part, to racial prejudice among the major league players and team officials. The White Sox attempted to portray Najo, who was of dark complexion and spoke limited English, as a native American (“Chief Najo”) due to prevailing racism against Mexicans. Najo family members say that, although he remained upbeat and dedicated to his love of baseball, racial prejudice did adversely affect his career.[3]

Minor League Record of Leo “Najo” Alaniz

400px-Najo-stats

A Link to the Full Wikipedia Article

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Najo

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Link to 2008 Biography by Noe Torres

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What an amazing life ~ by a talented man ~ and one flying under the general awareness radar all these years from the kind of recognition that he deserves for the playing opportunity cause of so-called “browns” in organized baseball.

Most of us will never live long enough to see the welcome day that is now coming. It is a day that will take the rainbow all the way out of the mix for those who need to use biological discrimination as leverage for personal or smaller group power by one racial group over all others.

Cocoa America. ~ The Day is Coming. ~ It is already well on the way.

And, thank you, ~ Jackie Robinson, Leo “Najo” Alaniz (or Alanis), and all others who have contributed to the coming of Cocoa MLB.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Serendipity in Astrodome Scoreboard Film Link

October 21, 2018

Chester Charge ~
Led the Momentum Storm of Support for the Houston Astros at their brand new 1965 Astrodome home.

None of who grew up with it will ever forget the gigantic animated scoreboard at the Astrodome that wrote the soundtrack to our game experience inside the great sports hall. As naive as we all were back in the 1960s to the changes that were coming our way via the computer, the Internet and social media over the course of the later 20th and early 21st centuries, it was impressive enough to us earlier ones that we had this little electronic cast of supportive animated characters that had come to life to boom and spread adrenalin-loaded smiles ~ and a winning attitude ~ to the faces and spirits of all Astro fans in the place ~ on any given game day.

No wonder the Astrodome so quickly came to be advertised and known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” It did ~ because it was ~ in 1965 ~ the most out-of-mind-and-body human way to experience a baseball game that the world had ever seen.

It also is a little serendipitous that I write these particular thoughts this morning. It was only yesterday that our good friend and wonderful Pecan Park Eagle article contributor, Maxwell Kates, sent me this link to a YouTube film that held so many of those wonderful animated moments. I knew immediately that I had to share it with al of you. It’s only 10-15 minutes in length, but that’s enough time to get a really good “inside the dome” look at that era, even as to how formally so many of the fans dressed back in the day.

My biggest surprise was a little more personal.

Laura Foster, UH Cheerleader, 1965
Married former UH football player Richard Kirtley in 1967
(I was in the wedding party ~ The Pecan Park Eagle.)

Suddenly I found myself looking at Laura Foster, a good friend, and the widow of another good friend and fraternity brother from an earlier period at UH, the late Dick Kirtley. In the clip, Laura was leading a rally for Cougar support on the sidelines as a UH Cheerleader. I was a member of the Richard and Laura Foster Kirtley wedding party in Friendswood during the summer of 1967.

A double-thanks, Max, for sending us this link. It’s especially important to me and some special people in my life, and we all thank you very much.

Plus, it’s simply a great ride through the precious-to-Houston early period of the Astrodome. And for that treasure, we wish to extend our thanks to people like Wayne Chandler, Tal Smith, Jimmy Wynn, and Larry Dierker. You are all special members of our baseball legacy gift from Judge Roy Hofheinz and the rest of the baseball gods.

Here’s the YouTube Link. And make sure you turn on the sound and expand the picture to “full screen” for the best way to experience this particular little travel back into another era of Houston baseball time.

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

ALCS Done ~ And Some Canine Fun

October 20, 2018

 

“Wish I Were With You Tonight!” ~ Babe McCurdy (1979) *

 

* Wish you were here tonight too, Babe!

As things played out in the ALCS 2018 Pennant Series over the past week, the Houston Astros lost to the better team over that period of time, the Boston Red Sox.

Here’s how our younger dog, a Poodle named Hope, and three of their neighborhood buds reacted this morning a short while after we asked our older dog, a Dachshund named Pluto, to break the news to his sister and the rest of them about Game 5’s bitter end last night to the Astros’ dream of repeating as World Champions in 2018.

“Yes, Pluto, the loss to Boston means the Astros won’t be going back to the World Series this year. Could you please help us find a way to break the news to your sister, Hope, and to your neighborhood buds who haven’t heard?”

 

“Mom and Dad! Help! Pluto’s teasing me! He says the Astros’ loss to the Red Sox means they are gone ~ and that, if they are gone, I’m gone too ~ because Dad always said that our hope goes wherever the Astros go!” ~ Hope McCurdy

 

“I’ll never be the same. And playing ball won’t be any fun either ~ not now, not for a long time. or maybe not even for forever ~ or even as late as next season ~ whichever comes first!” ~ Phideaux Faraday

 

“I tried to warn the young Houston couple who took me home from the shelter last winter in my native Chicago not to do it, if they were baseball fans, but they didn’t get my drift. My peeing all over their car tires was supposed to be a warning!” ~ Tinker E. Chance

 

“Bow! Wow! (All other words fail).” ~ Perry Mason

 

All is not lost, all of you human and canine caretakers of the game. Today was another day and tomorrow is yet another. Each one is taking us closer to spring training 2019 and the start of the next baseball season. In the meanwhile, we shall all just have to catch a piggy back ride on the fortunes and fates of the Red Sox and the one NL team, Dodgers or Brewers, that survives to face them in the 2018 World Series.

Our canine friends bear the real burden here. They are the ones left to keep looking for clearer ways to communicate with humans about their own thoughts and needs. All I know is ~ any canine custodian who doesn’t understand that big tongue slapping kiss in the face at the least expected times probably shouldn’t even be sharing quarters with a real live heathy, ready-to-love-you dog.

Either way, that’s probably something each Astros player could probably use right now from their own special animal ~ a great big tongue-splashing kiss in the face from their own dogs and these words from us fans:

Thank you, Astros, for another beautiful season of all out effort and baseball excitement. We love you! We still support you! And we shall never abandon you! Not if we are real Astro fans, and neither shall we ever leave you to face serious disappointment alone! ~ It’s like the old song says, “Our Love is Here To Stay!”

(And that’s as close as I shall ever come to a great big sloppy canine tongue love-kiss in the face for the great game of baseball. ~ I don’t kiss ballplayers on the mouth.)

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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.”
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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

 

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