Posts Tagged ‘culture’

A Buff Stadium Pictorial

April 13, 2011

Houston Sports Museum (on site of old Buff Stadium)

Buffalo/Buff Stadium was located on what is now the site of Finger Furniture Store on the Gulf Freeway at Cullen Boulevard. This ballpark was the home of the minor league Houston Buffs from 1928 through 1961. Technically, it was renamed by Cardinals/Buff owner August Busch in his own family image in 1953, but few of us old-time Buff fans ever made the emotional change to the full acceptance of its new identity as Busch Stadium from 1953 through 1961.

The mural featured above, plus a nice display of memorabilia from the era of the Buffs is on display at the Houston Sports Museum located in the Finger store. In fact, the original site of home plate is commemorated in place on the floor there. Drop inside sometime and take a look at the place and its collection of materials on Houston’s professional sports history.

Buff Stadium Home Plate Site at Houston Sports Museum.

First Opening Day, Buff Stadium, April 11, 1928.

Buff Stadium, 1928: Check out the buffalos on the left field wall.

Game Day, 1930s & 1940s.

Field of Dreams, From Early On.

Night Ball Lighted Buff Stadium through the Great Depression.

Lights Awakened Summer Nights of the 1950s too.

Note the circles above the front entrance to Buff Stadium.

Those eighty 36″ metal circles were medallions that each featured a buffalo silhouette. There were a total of eighty spread along the exterior walls of the ballpark and, when they tore old Buff Stadium down in 1963, they fell like a clanging steel rain upon the concrete surface below. Those that survived were sold for four dollars a piece to the few persons who showed up to watch Houston go through an everyday act of work for that era. It was called “tearing down the past to make room for the future.”

One of the survivors. Close to all my memories. Close to all in my heart.

Houston has changed. We still aren’t perfect and never will be, but we now live a more invested idea of preserving and restoring the past. If we were not that way, many of us would not be so upset today that Houston has been denied the opportunity of keeping one of the space shuttles as an artifact of our deep history with NASA and the space program. Those forces of community outrage weren’t so strong on the day they tore Buff Stadium down and threw out the Buffs as our historic baseball identity.

Sometimes our best energies are spent on researching and discerning the truth about our various local histories, whether its our legacy from baseball or space exploration. Good research and reporting live  at the heart of historic restoration and preservation – and each serves the end of any honest museum and hall of historic commemoration that is ever built on any deserving subject.

That statement will either mean everything to you or it won’t matter at all. Find your category and move on from there.

My Favorite Western Ever: Shane

April 10, 2011

Westerns. They don’t make ’em like they used to, but last year’s remake of “True Grit” came close.

I can count my favorite movies from this genre on the fingers of one hand. That movie-digital palm would include Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Chuck Connors, Jean Simmons, and Charles Bickford in “The Big Country” from 1958; John Wayne, Jeffery Hunter, Ward Bond, and Natalie Wood in “The Searchers” from 1956; Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Walter Brennan in “Gunfight at the OK Corral” from 1958; John Wayne (again), Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, and Walter Brennan (again) in “Red River” from 1948; and lastly, my all-time, by-a-landslide -favorite-for-its-narrative-theme-and-dialogue-detail, I pick Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon de Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, and all the others who made 1953’s “Shane” my greatest western of all time.

The narrative themes were all present and accounted for – and clear as day: (1) the west is big; (2) cowboys and farmers can’t always be friends when it comes to their different ideas on how all this big land should be used; (3) farmers aren’t always the greatest conversationalist; (2) farmer’s wives get bored out there on the plains; (4) straggling ex-gunfighters who suddenly drift into the farm as temporary workers can look pretty good to a bored housewife; (5) even the ten-year old son of the stoic farmer sees the drifter worker as an intriguing role model, based on his demonstrated ability for shooting a gun; (6) now run all these little intrigues smack dab into the side of the fact that the area’s main cattle baron is aiming to run this farmer and all other “sod-busters” off the plains just as soon as possible by whatever means it takes.

An old gunfighter is sort like baseball’s modern designated hitter. Even though he’s aging, and wants to quit, sure as fire, people keep coming up with money and reasons for him to step up to the plate one more time and take a few final whacks. It doesn’t take long for Alan Ladd as “Shane” to find himself in that spot. In the old west, “DH” stood for “designated hero. or hellion,” depending on your point of view.

Wouldn’t you just know it? The farmers have to do their Saturday shopping for supplies at the same little combination store and saloon where the cowboys also like to drink the weekend away. Talk about a setup for a gunfight. You’d almost think the scriptwriter had some “this can’t be good” outcomes in mind when they designed the little combo market and joy juice joint they named “Grafton’s.”

Sure enough. The first time in the store, and all dressed up in a sodbuster blue jean outfit, Shane goes through the swinging door that separates the store from the bar, but not to buy a drink of alcohol. Shane is going in there to buy a “sody pop” to go for the kid they call “Joey.”

Big mistake. Cowboy Ben Johnson leads a big several round laugh track worthy belittlement of Shane for walking into a man’s saloon and ordering a soft drink. Man! It’s a good thing Shane didn’t ask the bartender at Grafton’s if he had any Coke Zero! Ordering plain old root beer was bad enough.

Still, not wanting to start a war, Shane keeps himself in check, leaving the impression with one and all, including little Joey, that the big mouth of Ben Johnson was wide enough to “put the run on another sodbuster.”

While Shane sits on his bruised ego for a week, a lot happens. Ranch King Ryker takes the Shane backdown as a sign that he is safe to make things worse for the sodbusters, He accelerates the random destruction of their crops and property. A different Shane goes to market with the farmers the next Saturday. He’s still dressed in work jeans, but his mind is all guns-and-fists guy.

Returning to the bar, Ben Johnson walks over to resume his round of insults. “What are you doing here, Shane?” Johnson asks. “Did you think we was going to let you come in here and drink with the men?”

Shane is cool.

“I came in here to buy you a drink,” Shane answers, as he takes a drink and throws it on Johnson’s shirt, right before he punches him to the floor with a hard right cross.  A big fight breaks out between the farmers and the cowboys, with the sod-busters getting the best of the bout at fist’s end.

Farmers are fickle. The previous Saturday, they left Grafton’s in fear that they had not done enough. This time they left fearing that they had done too much. And they were probably right, if you want to measure things by the short-term reaction from rancher Ryker.

Ryker first reacts as though he were the George Steinbrenner of the Plains. Sensing Shane as new competitive trouble, he tries to buy him,, but the old old DH turns him down. As a first result of rejection, the burning of sodbuster crops and homes picks up.

Then Ryker gets serious.

He hires another still active DH, the serpentine gunfighter known as “Jack Wilson,” played so beautifully evil in his ways by a young Jack Palance. Well, sir, I got to tell you. Old Jack Wilson promptly goes out of his way to kill a blow-hard Alabama farmer named “Stonewall,” played by Elisha Cook, Jr., after the poor misguided farmer had the nerve to go to town alone, except for one buddy, to shop for supplies during the week. Wilson baits Stonewall into drawing his gun and then shoots the fear-frozen farmer to death in the muddy soil of a rainy day on the only street in town.

The news of Stonewall’s death is all that Shane needs to release the soul of his inner killer. He first has to knock out dull farmer Heflin to earn the title shot, but he then rides back to town in the dark wearing his own DH buckskins and his trusty Colt .45. Little Joey and his dog follow Shane to town on foot and they get there just in time to hear this encounter between their hero and Mr. Wilson.

Shane is standing at the bar, but he turns around to speak to the man sitting alone at a table by the far wall.

“So you’re Jack Wilson,” Shane says, “I’ve heard about you.”

“What have you heard, Shane?” asks a smiling sinister Wilson, as he stands and drops his hands by his sides.”

“I’ve heard that you’re a no-good, low down,  rotten Yankee liar!” Shane answers.

“Prove it!” Wilson demands, as he prepares to draw fire.

‘KER-BLOOEY!” answers the Colt .45 of DH Shane – and its out of the park!

Jack Wilson is blown away for good.

Unfortunately, Shane also has to shoot Ryker and his little brother before he can escape Grafton’s Saloon with his own life, but he is also hit by a cheap shot from above by the brother that would likely have been fatal too, had it not been for a “look out, Shane” warning yell from little Joey.

Injured, but restored, it is time for Shane to go, and he knows it. Ignoring the pleas of little Joey to stay because “mama’s got things for you to do,” Shane advises Joey to mind his parents and “grow up straight and strong.” Then Shane rides off into the high country, with little Joey still calling, “Come back Shane,” until the hero disappears.

Whatever Mama needed, it now will have to be provided by the sodbuster she married. Shane has taken his DH/gunfighter mystique powers and vanished over the mountain.

If they ever made a finer western than “Shane,” I just never saw it.

Home Opener 2011: Morning After

April 9, 2011

Home Opening Day, Minute Maid Park, Houston, April 8, 2011

The place was packed. The weather was nice. The company was friendly. The food was ballpark. The new giant HD scoreboard was beautiful. And the home season was underway.

But we lost, 4-3. The Florida Marlins spoiled a beautiful seven-inning outing by Astros starter Wandy Rodriquez with two solo-shot homers off relievers Wilton Lopez and Jeff Fulchino in the eighth and ninth innings and the deed was done.

Michel Bourn: Stranded in the Jungle of Failed Clutch.

With the Astros trailing, 3-2, going into the bottom of the eighth, Michael Bourn led off with a single to left to fire home hope. Bourn then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Angel Sanchez and next stole third with Hunter Pence at bat.


Unfortunately, Pence then fanned on a 3-2 slider in the dirt and Carlos Lee popped to first on the first pitch his way to end the inning.

The Marlins expanded their lead to 4-2 with a two-out  solo homer by Chris Coghlan off Jeff Fulchino in the top of the ninth. Brett Wallace then pulled Houston back to a 4-3 deficit by homering to left as the lead-0ff man to face new Marlins hurler Leo Nunez in the last of the ninth. Two outs later, J.R. Towles kept things going with a single to left, Earlier in the game, Towles had given the Astros a 1-0 lead with a solo shot homer of his own. This time he would be replaced with a speedier pinch runner in the form of Jason Bourgeois. With lefty Jeff Inglett next pinch-hitting for pitcher Fulchino and down to his last strike, the Astros sent Bourgeois in an attempted steal. A Florida pitch out diagnosed the move and gunned down the play to end the game.

Florida had won the game, 4-3. The Astros now hang at 1-6 with the long season still mostly in front of us. To me, the critical point in this game was the eighth inning failure of the club to get Bourn home from third base with only one out. A Bourn homecoming at that point would have tied the game at 3-3 and changed the face of everything that remained out there to happen next.

Who knows? All we know now is – there’s another game to be played later today. Maybe Game Two of the series will turn in our favor.

The new screen is awesome, but I can no longer read the batting averages next to each name in the lineup.

The new HD video screen is awesome, indeed, but I had a very hard squinting time reading the batting averages next to each name in the lineup as they appear in the photo shown here. Maybe it’s just me and my need for a new prescription, but I still wish the numbers could have shown up bigger – even if it were just on the full stat display that appears for the man at bat.

Of course, I don’t really expect the Astros, or anyone else, to account for all the issues facing those of us with age appropriate mobility needs and failing  sensory function problems. If I did, I would have expected the club to provide me with helicopter service to my Opening Day seats and a loaner oxygen mask and air tank for my use while I was there.

I enjoyed Opening Day. I simply would have enjoyed it more, had we won. Maybe today will turn out a different story ending.

“Seems Like Yesterday” Goes Beyond Nostalgia

April 7, 2011


Weiner’s: They used to be all over town.


Weiner’s Department Stores used to be as ubiquitous in Houston as bluebonnets in a Texas spring. As a cheap place for family clothing back in the 1950s, they were only beaten by the Robert Hall Clothing line as an economical choice for Houstonians living on a tight budget. And speaking of such, I found this YouTube preservation of some popular Robert Hall commercial jingles as I was researching this subject. To my own state of complete unsurprise, I remembered the lines of most advertising lyrics you will hear at this site from a half century go. It was clear through the brainwashed minds of brains like my own that the “Mad Men” of early media advertising learned that they could play and condition our buying patterns like that well-known drum.

Here’s the link for a mental “jangle” into the radio past.

.Mading’s Drug Stores were another business you found everywhere too. Back in the day that people bought groceries at a grocery store, and drugs at a drug store, and clothing at a clothing store, Mading’s seemed prosperous enough in the Houston economy. It’s enclosed telephone booth (the kind that Superman once used to change clothes from his Clark Kent disguise) also was the nearest place from home for a private phone call to my girl friend. It cost me a nickel, but that was a coin that rolled a long way for a good cause.

As younger kids, we used to pull that oldest telephone “joke” in the world on Mading’s, which sold cigars.  cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, of course. After all, it was a drug store and it sold these items back in the time that those then everyday household items were not counted as addictive substances. And, of course, our calls had nothing to do with the promulgation of public health. We were just being “wiseacres,” as my dad dubbed us, once he disapprovingly discovered what we were doing.

What we were doing was this simple and this stupid: We would call up Mading’s Drugs and ask for the tobacco department. From there, this exchange would take place:

Mading’s: “Tobacco here.”

Wiseacres: “Do you have Prince Albert in cans?”

Mading’s: “Yes we do.”

Wiseacres: “Well, you’d better let him out before he smothers.”

(Hang up.)

How stupid could we get? How about this one: “Hello, Mrs. Stalin. Is Joe home?”

Fortunately, the cure for some forms of stupidity is maturity. It’s just not always guaranteed for everyone in every instance. And all the while we were growing up, even in this seemingly permanent world of predictable brand names and stores, and safe, clean telephone humor, the world even then was changing all around us.

Today I’m just grateful for every new day that comes along. I no longer count on any brand name or service being around forever, but I am amazed that not a single new Internet company has yet picked up on the business response that could make them bigger than Twitter or Facebook ever dreamed of becoming. And it was something that brick and mortar stores of the 1950s did pretty darn well. Now, in 2011, it’s almost totally slipped out of sight – and especially in Internet business.

That’s simply this: paying close and concerned attention to customer needs after you’ve taken their money. Today’s Internet services do a hawkish job of getting people to sign up for this and that; then they take their money by credit card; then they leave them flat on questions of delivery, honesty in advertising, and technical support. Based on my own experience, very few Internet customer support programs include a genuinely workable phone option on customer questions and many of these even seem designed to discourage customers from ever asking for customer support more than once.

If it’s ever going to “seem like yesterday” again on the business trust side, America needs more businesses that care about the quality and value of their goods and services as they remain dedicated to preserving a good relationship with customers beyond the point of sale. If those business conditions cannot be restored, then I predict we are wasting our time trying to restore our national manufacturing economy to its former might.

Seems like yesterday? Prove it. Bring back the human response to customer support.



The Ghost of Abner Doubleday

April 6, 2011

Abner Doubleday the Mystic appears to have been far more interested in Hinduism than he ever was in baseball. In fact, we have plenty of history that ties him to the former and nothing really credible at all that connects him to the latter.

Abner Doubleday did a lot of things in his life, but, as all informed students of the game now fully understand, inventing baseball wasn’t one of them. As a distinguished officer in the Union Army during the Civil War, it was actually Doubleday who ordered the first return cannon-shot on the Confederates who came and fired the first preemptive volley on the American forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

Much later, Abner Doubleday served with the post-war occupation army in Galveston, Texas, when he took over in November 1866 as Major General of the Union forces stationed in the island city. He also served in Galveston as Assistant Director of the Freedman’s Bureau until August 1, 1867. During this time, on April 21, 1867, the 31st anniversary of the The Battle of San Jacinto for Texas Independence, the occasion was celebrated at the Battlegrounds with a game of base ball won by the Houston Stonewalls over the Galveston Robert E. Lees by a score of 35-2.

Although it’s always been rumored that the Galveston club included some Union soldier-players, it’s hard to see how these men could bring themselves to either play, or be accepted by, a team calling themselves the “Robert E. Lees.” If they did, it was a public relations move to top all others in the post-war South. Of course, if the Union boys did play a part in that 35-2 smothering that Galveston took from Houston that day, it may have set things back a step or too as well.

At any rate, there is no surviving evidence that Abner Doubleday even knew about the San Jacinto Day game of 1867, let alone, actually attended or participated.

After the war, Doubleday was living in San Francisco in 1870 when he applied for a patent to build the first railed street car service in the United States. When Doubleday was reassigned by the Army Recruiting Service from the bay area, he sold his cable car rights to the people who actually built the first such service in San Francisco.

On the spiritual side, Doubleday became active in the American Theosophical Society after a later move to New Jersey. In 1878, he became the group’s leader after the two founders moved to India for further study. The group held that their purpose was to explore and find the root threads that connect all religions, but they were heavily influenced, as was Doubleday too, apparently, by a lot of beliefs that come from Hinduism.

Doubleday understood and believed in both karma and reincarnation. If that were the case, it’s too bad he wasn’t also, at least, an avid baseball fan. Karma would have helped him understand the Chicago Cubs. Reincarnation (which, as I understand things, is about “keep doing things until you get it right”) could have helped him understand all of the Brooklyn Dodger World Series matches with the New York Yankees.

Oh well. Count me among those who don’t mind that baseball made a temporary mistake in naming Doubleday and Cooperstown as the inventor and birthplace of baseball. What a beautiful setting that place really is. If baseball was not invented there, as the experts and evidence now shows that it was not, I’m just one of those who agree that it should have been.

Baseball: A Matter of Time

April 5, 2011


"Hitting is timing. The pitcher's job is to upset the hitter's timing." - Warren Spahn.


For a game that isn’t governed by the clock, baseball is endlessly effected from start to finish by the way players handle the timing of just about everything thing they do. Even batters work beyond the wisdom of Mr. Spahn to upset the timing of pitchers too. A good hitter may sometimes take a certain hittable pitch for a strike in a non-critical situation in the hope that his decision will make its way into the pitcher’s book on what to throw the batter at a later time. When that strategy works and the batter then delivers with a key hit, we must fairly conclude that batter, indeed, has upset the pitcher’s  timing on when and where and to whom he throws that last hit-bound pitch.

Mr. Spahn’s statement, of course, comes up on every pitch. If a batter is thinking fastball, up and in, and the pitcher throws him a curve, low and away, or a change-up that left the hand looking just like a fastball at its release point, the chances are strong that the batter’s timing will be way off any chance of hitting the actual pitch delivered.

A pitcher who can do that sort of thing often enough will keep the batter’s club off the ball’s sweet spot marriage of objects often enough to make pitching look like a piece of cake or a walk in the park. In the old days, when pitchers like Spahnie were allowed to finish what they started, one of the great joys was watching the innings roll by as a succession of pop flies, easy grounders, and occasional strike outs. Warren Spahn was on his game, upsetting the timing of the batters he faced, and well on his way to winning again.

Beyond the pitcher-batter cat-and-mouse game on timing, look at all the other ways it comes up in baseball. Take base runners, for example. Good base stealers aren’t all speed, although no one can deny the importance of fast feet. Quickness enters into the picture too, along with a runner’s ability to note facts like how much of a lead he can get off a certain pitcher, how the catcher watches and throws, how many precise steps are open to him on a lead from any base, how’s the running soil he has to travel. All these considerations and other go into the runner’s timing on an attempted steal – and they are probably 90% of the timing differential between safe and out.

On defense, fielder positioning is absolutely key to the timing on all “make-the-0ut” plays. “In or out” and “left or right” are the cross-hair choices on where each fielder is going to play every pitch in every game situation. Connie Mack, the fifty year manager of the old Philadelphia A’s, was an obsessive proponent of these micromanagement points throughout each game. If Mack did not think a fielder was handling that function, he would be up on the dugout steps, signaling the changes he wanted from a fielder with a rolled-up scorecard.

The less range possessed by a fielder, the more important ii is that he starts out standing nearest the spot of greatest batted ball probability. The timing on a Carlos Lee catch, for example, is helped a lot by how easy it is for him to be where he needs to be when the ball comes down from the sky. Because of his limited foot speed, the balls that Lee cannot reach often make him appear to have no range at all. I’m not here t argue that point, just to note that the better you are at anticipating the flight plan of the batted ball, the easier its going to be to cover your range deficiencies.

Now, Joe DiMaggio, for example, was noted for his graceful timing on long run catches. That quality, I think, goes back to Joe D’s uncanny ability to position himself in personal range to the space he would need to cover over the area where the ball was most likely to fly. Things like moving a couple of steps left on right-handed batters hitting against a fastball pitcher were second nature to the great DiMaggio. His shifts got a lot more subtle and complex than simply that one single example – and on every pitch too.

Timing is everything, but on defense, it starts with positioning.

Corner infielders position themselves to defend against all kinds of hitting possibilities on balls hit though the infield. Late in a close game, they may defend against the extra base hit down the line to the potential sacrifice of their positioning on bunts or singles slapped through the wider holes that now exist between their spots and the middle infielders. The middle infielders make their own positioning adjustments too. Play for the double play? Get the out at first? Defend against the hit? All these questions and more go into the positioning decisions that will influence an infielder’s timing on the play that actually unfolds.

And the whole time this is all happening, the pitcher and catcher are quietly thinking: “What can we do on the next pitch to upset the timing on what this guy at bat thinks is going to happen next?”

Speaking of timing, the Houston Astros play their 2011 home opening game this coming Friday night, April 8th. It can’t come soon enough. In fact, it may already be coming too late to spill unadulterated springtime hope all over us longterm Houston fans. As with timing in the actual playing of the game, positioning is critical to the instillation of fresh season hope – and starting off the new year 0 and 3 in Philadelphia isn’t exactly expansive to the range needed for reaching anything close to great expectations for a 2011 playoff berth in Houston.




Those Saturday Serial Days

April 4, 2011

Batman (The Original) 1943

For me, it all started with original Batman serial in 1943. At age five, I could walk about six blocks each Saturday from out little rental duplex on Pecore Street, cross Studewood Avenue by myself, and then make my way straight into the old Studewood Theatre for the weekly showing of “Batman” and transfixation into another world – the world of Gotham City and the original caped crusader’s war on crime and evil.

All I had to do was see that little winged bat introduction logo featured here as I simultaneously tuned my ears to the slow-droning classical-like musical introduction and my voyage to this other land of cliff-hanging action would begin in earnest. For about fifteen minutes each Saturday, for fifteen weeks in a row, the battle between good and evil would play out before the believing eyes and ears of all the faithful who came to cheer Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, as they chased down the bad guys and fought with all their might to protect America and our “American way of life.”

Since the original “Batman” was made during World War II, the arch villain here was a Japanese gentleman named “Dr. Daka,” played by American actor J. Carrol Naish, who portrayed the “bad guy” role  with his eyes taped into an Asian slant in the most offensive way by 21st century standards. As little kids, we didn’t care. All we cared about was that Batman existed to protect us from all harm. The fact that the fight scenes often pushed Batman’s eyes away from the viewing slots in his hooded mask, making it easier for the bad guys to knock him out, was lost upon us back then. We just knew that our hero would always find a way to prevail in the end. I had to see the serial again as an adult to see how all the sight line imperfections of our hero’s costume would have made finding the quickest way to the bathroom difficult enough – and actually fighting almost impossible.

Other serials came our way as WWII ended. After my family moved to Pecan Park in the East End in 1945, all my Saturday movie fare attentions shifted to the Avalon Theatre on 75th, just north of the Lawndale intersection.

All serials followed this course: (1) much fist-fighting and car chasing; (2) a lot of gun-shooting with no concern for bystander safety; (3) little attention to technical details. For example, one rocket ship had an adjustment spot on the flight lever that was marked as “take off;” (4) There was a good chance that one of the principle bad guys was going to be played by an actor named Roy Barcroft; (4) fpr 11 to 14 weeks, the serial hero, and/or his girl friend, would be left hanging near certain death at the end of each mid-story chapter; and, (5) in the end, the bad guys would be vanquished, destroyed, wiped out, and killed in ways that they each major villain so richly deserved.

Here are a few of my other favorite serials from back in the day:

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945)

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945). Roy Barcroft stars as a man from Mars who comes to Earth to learn more about jet engine technology. The Martians want to take over our planet, but they don’t know how to build a plane or a rocket ship that can take off again once it lands the first time. The science deficiency of the Martians is pretty fishy. These are the same Martians who already have invented a little box called ” the distance eliminator,” a device that allows them to understand and speak any language to which they are exposed. – And these same brilliant beings don’t how to build an aircraft that can take off again once it lands?

In the end, the Purple Monster’s plans for world domination literally blow him to smithereens.

Serial Social Note: Linda Stirling plays the hero’s girl friend, a role she often plays in these duels between good and evil.

The Crimson Ghost (1946)

The Crimson Ghost (1946). Linda Stirling returns as the hero’s girl friend and Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore appears as an absolute two-dimensional psychopath who will do whatever the evil Crimson Ghost tells him to do if it serves their goal of building a nuclear bomb they can use to take over the world. In the end, of course, the evil professor who scares the cra-zap out of people with his blatant grabs for power is destroyed – as is the socially irredeemable “Ash,” played by the aforementioned Clayton Moore.

King of the Rocket Men (1949)

King of the Rocket Men (1949). Tris Coffin did a great job as the “Rocket Man.” Saving the world from communism and the evil people who wanted to destroy freedom-loving nations  with the atomic bomb was as ongoing struggle for all the big and little superheroes of the late 1940s.

As kids, we loved how quick and easy it was Rocket Man to find and reach all the crime scenes that kept popping up over the fifteen week course of this serial. We also could not quite figure out how Rocket Man was able to use his rocket-firing flight suit without burning the part of his anatomy that is so critical to sitting down for dinner at the end of the day,

The best answer we could logically discern? Aluminum underwear.

As I’ve sort of written in my other earlier brushes with the movie serials memory, these little open-ended stories were part of the suspension bridge that threaded the childhood years for many of us who grew up in the years following World War II. What we derived from this exposure, for better or worse, is a much longer subject for another day, but I now only look back on it in my own life as a time of joy.

Life was was simpler then. Or so it seemed.

When Do We Start Being Real Fans?

April 3, 2011

Very Young Houston Buff

Don’t let the worried look fool you. I wasn’t quite old enough in the adjacent picture to care what happened with the Houston Buffs the night before, but I can’t imagine what else might have been on my young worried mind when this ancient photo of me was taken. In fact, I chose to use this photo this morning because the expression pretty well characterizes in my most personal way of showing disappointment how a real fan reacts to the loss of his team.

When the Astros dropped that Opening Day beauty in the ninth inning at Philadelphia by 5-4 on Friday, the expression seen here is exactly how I felt about it. The outside of me may have also have looked the same, but there was no one else at home to see me at three o’clock on an end of the work week afternoon – and I sure wasn’t looking in any mirrors.

I did call a friend to vent my frustration. I told him that Friday’s Opening Day “disappointer” (to dabble in Dubya’s creative use of language) was exactly the reason I held off caring all spring about the outcome of games until the regular season started. There’s no need to take a roller coaster ride on the W/L line until the games actually matter.

Then a game like Friday follows – and it’s now been followed by the Wandy Waste that took the mound in our behalf on Saturday.

Am I disappointed? You bet I am. Should I be surprised? I shouldn’t be. Will I continue to care? Yes, I can’t help but care. For better or worse, this is my team – our Houston team. Maybe that’s not a particularly smart way to be, but we’re talking here about what it takes to be a real fan. The subject has nothing to do with intellect. In fact, as an IQ test, most fans would probably fail if our decisions to follow our clubs in spite of the facts was the test of our otherwise sometimes useful brains.

As fans, and especially in the spring, we tend to allow our wishes to fill the cup of good hope with the fluidity of optimism until it overflows and covers all the major  shortcomings of our clubs. I think we do that because real fans are constantly trying to protect themselves from the hard  emotional pain of reality that our teams may sometimes have a bad year, a bad decade, or even a bad century or so, where they don’t play so well. Still, we always know that caring about what happens to our teams is essential to the status of being a real fan – and to accomplish that end, we have to protect ourselves from disappointment with the harsher side of reality as much as possible.

Unfortunately, Friday’s game for Astros fans was probably the last kind of reality-dose that we needed this early in the season. In spite of all our cliche “blow it out your ear” capacities for writing off an Opening Day loss as simply a sad start to a long season that overflows also with hope for rallies and turnarounds down the road, the way the Astros lost Friday turned and twisted the knife on our worst fears: Starter Brett Myers pitches well enough to win and our power-challenged line-up manages to punch out enough singles and one triple by the speedy Michael Bourn to give the Astros a 4-0 lead over one of the best clubs in baseball and a game we should have squeezed dry into the win column, but, oh no. Closer Brandon Lyons comes into the 9th and gives it all away on three runs from six singles and it’s back to the ugly fear we all harbor: We may be good enough to hang tight in some games, but we eventually will get blown away by a lack of power hitting and a relief staff that cannot hold leads.

Nothing happened on Saturday to assuage those fears. In fact, all Saturday did was open the door on the other bigger, even more abysmal fear that we do not want to acknowledge – and that’s simply this: Sometimes, and maybe too often, the starter will just get blasted and the Astros will be out of it from the git-go.

So, in the middle of all this actual “help, the season has started” angst, what’s the answer to our question: When do we start being real fans?

Well, I think it’s more of a process than a date certain. We just ooze our way into becoming real fans, day by day, as we risk more caring about the outcome of our club’s games and daily goings-on. When are we there? I’d day it’s when our “happily or unhappily ever after” capacity for caring binds us individually into supporting our team over time, through thick and thin – and  even when excessive losing pushes us full bore into a dedicated pattern of reality-avoidance – and also onto a belief level that dictates that we will never give up – ever – even if our club has not won a World Series since 1908.

Speaking of Toys in the Attic

April 2, 2011


Our Hearts Connected Through the Joy of Baseball.


How long has it been since you’ve smelled the leather of a really old baseball glove? First dry? Then, with lubricating oil applied?

Do you remember how it felt to take a soft leather glove, or hard leather one too, if you were ever lucky enough to be breaking in a new glove, and, just to feel better about the formation or preservation of a glove “pocket,” you stuck an old baseball in it and then fastened it shut overnight with the aid of some very large rubber bands – or even string?

Those were the days, my friend.

Mix in the sandlot textures of the following day. You take that pampered baby glove and ball out to the sandlot, awaiting the inevitable summer morning assembly of players who will soon come clattering through their front screen door homes to join you on Eagle Field – or wherever it was you happened to play.

Not a mental care in the world stirred to spoil the ascending light and feel of an early June day in the Houston East End. Standing on the sandlot turf, banging around the weathered soil in the naked home plate area, picking up the sweet scent of freshly cut grass from the twilight hours of the night before, there are no thoughts about income taxes, the price of gasoline, the competitive industries of the Chinese government, the threat of terrorism, or the dangers of  stranger predation.

We were just were there. Prepped only for joy in non intellectual terms. We were baseballers. All day baseballers. Just make room for the game and watch us go at it.


Speaking of Toys in the Attic ...


The stuff of those days included our personal items, like old gloves, an occasional baseball board or pinball game, and maybe even a baseball book or two. We weren’t exactly library hounds in those days, but we were literate – and we saw reading as something beyond an activity forced upon us by schools. Reading could take us to worlds that were otherwise beyond our reach. And that little book in the photo at left is just such an example. “Teenage Baseball Stories” was one of the first books I ever owned about baseball. What’s pictured here is the actual book That I’ve had since I was very young – along side an exact copy of the pinball baseball game I used to play in my room during the awful “heat of the day” polio threat hours during which we were kept back from playing ball outside in the summer of 1950. The featured glove in the photo is also a latter-day flea market find, but a pretty accurate version of the same glove that Dad gave me to use on the sandlot a few thousand summers ago.

Sadly, the original glove got discarded years ago. Dad gave. And Dad took away. He seemed to have a compulsive need to throw away or give away anything that was not currently in use by the family. So, after I got a little job and earned enough money to buy a new Rawlings Playmaker, the old glove that resembled the one in our picture here just quietly disappeared.

Back then, the preservation of these old artifacts wasn’t all that important to me either. In fact, all I had, or didn’t have, was extraneous to the joy of the sandlot and my comfortable fit into the  kid culture that thrived in Houston, and all over America, I presume, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

We sometimes had our differences, and we sometimes duked it out over bad blood issues, but, other than the time our kids from Japonica-Myrtle got into a brief pipe gun war with the Kernel Street kids over control of Eagle Field, we most often settled things in less threatening ways and moved on. My dad put a fast end to the pipe gun war, making us work things out through a game of baseball, which we easily won.

There was just something more tactile and definite about the way we lived in the East End of Houston back in the years that immediately followed World War II. For one thing, many of our fathers were coming back from the second great war and getting started on their own treks into the “American Way of Life.”

Baseball was still America’s Pastime back then too. The NFL would need television to put it on the sports map – and hardly anyone we knew had ever heard anything about the NBA. That was a game for girls shooting two-handed push-em-up or underhand-lob shots.

Segregation and bigotry still ruled Houston in those post WWII days, but even that level of mandated ignorance had little power over the modeling influence that the new back major leaguers were building in the minds of even some of us southern white kids. My big league all star team from that era included: Robin Roberts (R) and Warren Spahn (L); Roy Campanella, c; Stan Musial, 1b; Jackie Robinson, 2b; George Kell, 3b; Phil Rizzuto, ss; Ted Williams, lf; Duke Snider, cf; and Ralph Kiner, rf. – Ralph was no right fielder, but I had to put him somewhere. The “Pirate Prince of Punch”  or the “Bucco Baron of Blast” was too good for his era to leave out.

Bob Boyd would become the first black athlete to integrate a Houston sports team when he joined the Houston Buffs in May 1954. From that active point forward, Houston would be on its way to shedding away the kinds of earlier stupidity, but these changes would also signal the start of organized kid sports programs and movement toward a culture in which both parents worked and single mom families became common.

The days of summer ease and kid life on the sandlot were drawing to a close. They slipped through our fingers quietly, before we even saw it coming and read the implications for lost spontaneity to the generations that came after us. Sometime, by the late 1950s in some places and by the early 1960s in others, the sandlot slipped silently away as an American institution.

Too bad. Their loss is greater than those who have missed the sandlot will ever imagine. All we have left are our ancient memories and a few toys in the attic that our parents could not find in time to discard.


Cubs Curse and The Stockholm Syndrome

March 31, 2011

This photo was taken at Minute Maid Park in 2009. Now it's 103 years and counting since the last Chicago Cubs team won a World Series in 1908 - and sixty-six years since the Cubs last played in a World Series back in 1945.

They keep on losing, but still they come. 2011 will be no different. The Chicago Cubs shall continue to take their lumps at Wrigley Field and all the other arenas of major league combat, but still their fans will come to watch and obnoxiously cheer them on, showing up in full Cubs regalia here at our place in Houston and elsewhere.

Why do they do it? What’s it all about? When they reasonably know from an experience that exceeds the lifetimes of .999999 of all Cubs fans, and we are talking about “losing” here, how do the fans of the Cubs continue to muster even the spring hope of winning? We Cubs outsiders probably never will understand it completely, if at all.

The closest condition I can point to as a fit as an explanation for Cubs fans and their ongoing support for their team in spite of all evidence to the contrary that winning is probable is the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome” from psychology. So, what’s the “Stockholm Syndrome?”

in 1973, four Swedes were held captive in a Stockholm bank vault while their violent robber captors held off a siege from police with threats of violence toward their innocent hostages. Later interviews with all four hostages confirmed that each hostage had become identified with their captors during the siege, Some had even contributed to their captors later legal defenses in court. Psychologically, this reaction was viewed as a mental defense by the hostages against getting hurt by their captors during the siege. In a childlike way, the hostages had identified with their captors to try to build a bond that would keep the armed robbers from harming them under fire. They weren’t simply acting. Their minds were being taken over by a belief system that allowed them to justify their support for the bad guys.

This condition, if you will, of course, derived its name from where it was first noted in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. This “Stockholm Syndrome” has since been identified in several other subsequent situations involving hostages who survived by forming a supportive bond with their captors. Pretty crazy sounding stuff, I know, but remember: We’re talking abnormal psychology here, folks, the kind of stuff that happens to people under long-term threatening situations in which victims are held captive in ways we would all hate as a thought about it ever happening to us.

So, how does the “Stockholm Syndrome” fit as an explanation for Cubs fans? I think it works like this: After one hundred and three years of removal from their last World Series title, the whole Cubs culture is now held hostage by the reality that “losing is a way of life.” Admit it or not, Cubs fans expect to lose – and the fate of losing has now even taken on status as adorable veneration. Whether it’s a memory of the Billy Goat Curse or the Steve Bartman Reach, Cubs fans take it all in stride as integral parts of their destiny to go down in disaster in the final reel of each passing season. They may pretend to believe in winning a World Series as a possibility, but everything in their collective conscious and unconscious experience tells them that losing is always their inevitable rest stop.

Cubs fans cannot even play the card that’s available to most other fans from the original sixteen franchises, other than the St. Louis Browns. Cubs fans cannot even brag that their 90-year old great-grandfathers remember their last Cubs World Series champion. All the great-grandpa Cub fans from 1908 have been in the ground or smoked into urns for years now. And, if there is a survivor from 1908, it’s not likely that he holds on to any memories of relevant import.

“Tinker to Evers to who?”

“That’s right, Grandpa! Who’s on first!”

Yes, I think the “Stockholm Syndrome” is a cap that fits the Cubs Nation well. They are a culture totally dedicated by experience and expectation to the reality of losing as a way of life for their kind. I guess we could stop short and just call it a bad case of “1908-itits” that affects our North Chicago brethren and their WGN convert-level class, but that descriptor doesn’t carry the issue far enough.

“Itis” is a medical suffix that usually gets attached to any condition arising from acute irritation. And that doesn’t fit the affliction that blankets the Cubs den. Their condition is chronic. And it stopped being merely irritating about a thousand baseball blood baths ago. Cubs fans had to either die from losing or start adoring its inevitability. Like the people who got vault-stuffed in Stockholm, Cubs fans chose the latter – to start adoring their captor – and their’s was named “Loser.”