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Friday, 4 June 2010

From Interesting Losers


O Muse! Of the unsuccessful and unstoried St. Louis Browns lineup I sing

At first base the Brownies had Hank Arft -- no kidding --
At second who but the unmemorable Bobby Young
At short the scrawny yet not untalented Billy Hunter
At third a variety of persons including the unsung Fred Marsh
And the washed up Vern Stephens
Who hit the highest popups in the entire universe

In left field grazed the confused but impassive Dick Kokos
Whose visage lay inert in my mind until one minute ago
When I remembered that baseball card from around 1950
Which showed
A beautiful aerial view of Dick Kokos swinging
Or rather
The conclusion of his swing
Which seemed to involve Dick in a strange state of contortion
Whereby his bat having achieved a 360-degree arc
Came around and hit him in the back of the head

Meanwhile in center field there was the baby faced Polish hopeful
Johnny Groth
And in right the handsome and intense Jim Rivera who perfected the kamikaze slide
Not to forget the deep thighed Don Lenhardt
The insouciant George Schmees
Or the hometown minihero Korean War vet and last player ever to debut as a Brownie Jim Pisoni

And behind the plate the combative bespectacled undersized tough-as-nails Clint Courtney

Who made baserunners sliding into home wish they'd slid instead
Into hell

While coming off the bench with a long tale to tell the mightiest mite in baseball history
Eddie Gaedel


Interesting Losers (excerpt, revised): from At Malibu, 1975

St. Louis Browns in home dugout, Sportsmans Park: n.d., photographer unknown, via St. Louis Browns Historical Society & Fan Club
Eddie Gaedel, age 26, 3'7" tall, wearing St. Louis Browns home uniform # 1/8, in his only professional plate appearance, vs. Detroit Tigers, Sportsmans Park, August 18, 1951 (also in picture: umpire Ed Hurley, catcher Bob Swift): photo by Associated Press, 1951, image by Rmc. 2006


Curtis Roberts said...

Waking up to this was wonderful. I felt myself heading somewhere I didn't want to be and this brought me back to a (re)fresh(ed) and better start. Thank you. Reading the Eddie Gaedel saga (the lighter parts of it, including the "I don't want to be taken to your leader. I've already met him." remark, which should be carved in stone somewhere) has a smile on my face still.

TC said...

Thank you Curtis,

Anything in these parlous times for a note of relative cheer...

Poor Eddie. After this high point (!) things went not so well.

On the occasion to which you allude, Curtis, the showman Bill Veeck, who'd masterminded the original stunt with Eddie and the Browns, hired him once again, this time in Chicago, to descend on a sky ladder from a helicopter with three other "little people", dressed up as men from Mars, to land at second base at Comiskey Park; where they were summarily "captured" at raygun-point.

(That event became the anti-climax of my epic sequel, "Son of Interesting Losers".)

But Eddie fell to drink and within a very short time died of a heart attack, at 31.

One postscript I find touching, Bob Cain, the Detroit pitcher who'd issued a base on balls to Eddie on that famous one-and-only plate appearance, was one of the very few people to attend his funeral in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic stuff, Tom.

Bob Cain, the Detroit pitcher who'd issued a base on balls to Eddie on that famous one-and-only plate appearance, was one of the very few people to attend his funeral in Chicago.

You're right. That is strangely affecting...

TC said...

Eddie suffered the heart attack after being mugged in the street.


Said Bob Cain, about being the only baseball figure to pay last respects to the little guy: "I never even met him, but I felt obligated to go."

Anonymous said...

You know, the fellow sitting at the far left in the photo at the top of the page looks alarmingly like Don Knotts. Just saying....

TC said...


In the days before weight rooms and steroids, ballplayers actually resembled real humans.

Including, certainly, Don Knotts.

And that fellow's is only the second (or maybe third) largest tobacco chaw in the photo.

The guy by the post appears to have the largest one.

In those days there was a continuous spitting of brown juice on and around the playing field. Later on, hygiene dictated a shift to sunflower seeds. Now the players sit in the dugout chewing and spitting sunflower seeds.

Though there is, remarkably, one present player who appears to PRETEND to be chewing sunflower seeds, while not actually putting any sunflower seeds in his mouth, and then to PRETEND to be spitting them out.

The persistence of cultural mores in this area might stump even Margaret Mead.

(A telltale sign of inexperience, in the old days, was the swallowing of a tobacco chaw on the playing field; this typically only happened to players who were "green", that is, rookies; and of course, had they not been green before the swallowing, one imagines they were definitely so, after.)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tom, the "handsome and intense Jim Rivera," I remember him from the later part of his career, would be the late 50's, with Chicago White Sox. Yes, the kamikaze slide, and also the diving catches over the wall as picture here.

Don't see many suitcoats and ties at the ballpark anymore.

All this and in the stands, taking notes on the back of the score card, Margaret Mead ... thanks.

TC said...


Well, in my youthful secret heart (and open mind) the devotion was all White Sox -- after all, hometown, and worked at their games too -- so Jungle Jim was of course a great favorite. He must have shaved once in his life, right before the photo was taken for that baseball card. He was among Veeck's successful rescue projects, having at one point done time for what may have been a bad rap. Maybe he was too dashing and gregarious for his own good.

He is, gods be praised, still alive, by the way. One of a dwindling crew of Brownie survivors.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Back in the day when "ballplayers actually resembled humans." Yes, indeed, I remember when Jackie Jensen refused to fly and would bus everywhere when with the Red Sox. And the Jimmy Piersall story - how we loved these guys, who were flawed like us, ballplayers who worked construction or the farm or owned bars in the off season or at retirement. The Brooklyn Dodgers living in the neighborhood, walking the streets and talking to neighbors.

Somehow it doesn't seem like nostalgia when we talk of humanness ... it seems, in its way, like loss, like sorrow.

TC said...

That's exactly how it feels, Don.