Fly the W

When I moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2000, I learned that Phil Rizzuto was not the baseball announcer who had coined the phrase, “Holy cow!” I also learned that there was a controversy about this, and that, as a fan of the New York Yankees and a native New Yorker—and worse, someone unaware of any controversy—I was on the wrong side of said dispute. Born wrong.

No, I was informed, the recently departed Harry Caray was the first to use the phrase on-air and was the announcer with whom “Holy Cow!” should always be associated. Not the beloved Yankees announcer.
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A Letter from Jackie Robinson

[This is one of my favorite posts from 2015. A sports story that is not about sports.]

On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who would go on to some success and much controversy, threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. No-hitters are headline news but not usually career- or even season-defining.

If you are a baseball fan, you may know why Dock Ellis’ no-hitter is remembered, 45 years later. If you are not, please keep reading, as this is not a post that is only about baseball.
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All but the Grand Slam

Some flash fiction-comedy follows.

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“Metaphors was as rare for me as things I can’t find anywhere.”—Pop Hinks.

Pop was describing a time when he was stretching, reaching, striving for an easy analogy, a way to convey the idea that one thing led him to thinking about another, second, thing. It eluded his thinking brain like a bird that had flown away from his grasp, though. The whole thing was a moment and a bird and Pop himself. Just those three things and they were themselves complete and entirely themselves.
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A Missing Ingredient

Forty-five years ago today, Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who would go on to some success and much controversy, threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. No-hitters are headline news but not usually career- or even season-defining.

If you are a baseball fan, you may know why Dock Ellis’ no-hitter is remembered, 45 years later. If you are not, please keep reading, as this is not a post about baseball.
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The Legend of Pop Hinks: A Legend

“Metaphors was as rare for me as things I can’t find anywhere.”—Pop Hinks.

Pop was describing a time when he was stretching, reaching, striving for an easy analogy, yet it eluded his thinking brain like a bird that had flown away from his grasp. It was a moment and a bird and Pop. Just those three things and they were themselves complete and entirely themselves.

The bird alighted and then flew away just past his gripping fingers, but it was still close enough for him to catch a thought about a moment in which he could envision, or so he said, a time when he caught that bird. A starling, he said it was.

Metaphors, analogies, similes could be similarly elusive but in a literal sense. “Slippy eels,” Pop Hinks took to calling them.

He was a blues player, one of the greatest slide guitarists on the north side of Kansas City, but the Kansas side, where there were no blues players. It was long a source of frustration for him that he regularly was ranked the third-greatest slide player even though he was the only one. He did not play with a slide, which may have presented most of his trouble.

Pop Hinks also played professional baseball in that far-long-ago era of the 1930s. He starred in a semipro league that was an imitation of the Negro Leagues, but one that starred white players only.

His baseball days were filled with long nights of transcendent sadness spent daydreaming on the bench about playing baseball, and sometimes his daydreams coincided with the game he was watching and not participating in. His blues nights were spent waiting in the backrooms of the seedless bars he did not play in, waiting eagerly to hear the one name he most wanted to hear called to the stage: his own. He never heard it and it was even more rarely called.

He could never find, not till his dying day, which has not yet come, he could never find the analogy that would match his baseball love with his blues love. One song, “A Grand-Slam,” he never played. Another, “The Walk Off,” was never requested. Yet another, “The One-Four-Five,” describing a little-seen play in which a pitcher fields a hit and inexplicably throws to an out-of-position second baseman who throws to third to catch a confused runner off base, was never written, although we debut it below.

It is difficult, Pop Hinks would say, to find a metaphor that covers all analogies, communicates something about real-life situations like love and baseball and the blues to fit most listeners. There are few walk-off homers in life or art or the blues. But if you asked him about those long-ago nights in Kansas City, he would shake his head and say, “I can take you there. But I’ll have to charge.”

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The Magnificent Glass Pelican (MGP) is a live half-hour radio comedy show that my friends and I have written, produced, and acted in for over two decades. Lately, it has been an improvised half-hour, produced by us and scripted live on-air. The current season is our 23rd consecutive or so.

Each Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. (tomorrow), the MGP half-hour is broadcast on 88.7 FM WFNP (“The Edge”) in the Rosendale-New Paltz, New York, area or is streaming live here: The MGP on WFNP. This is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and the broadcasts are not archived, so if you can check us out live tomorrow, thank you.

“Pop Hinks” was a monologue I wrote 15-20 years or so ago, when I had not yet started thinking. Sean Marrinan plays Pop Hinks, and that is Sean with the impressive beard on his face. John Burdick plays the guitar. I wrote the words.

“The One Four Five,” written by John Burdick:

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[Historical note: Before the Brooklyn Dodgers brought Jackie Robinson to the major leagues, white team owners maintained a ban on playing black baseball players, so the black community built a professional baseball league for itself. It was called the Negro Leagues and it existed from the late 1800s till the 1950s, when Major League baseball started integrating. I hate explaining jokes, but there might be readers who may not know this, who might think something called the Negro Leagues was a weird joke. In reality, it was not a joke, which is a sad fact for America. In the joke, which I have now killed utterly dead, I am picturing a world in which white America, upon seeing the success of the Negro Leagues, would create a baseball league to steal black America’s thunder, even while professional baseball was in fact all-white.]

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 21 asks, “The World Series starts tonight! In your own life, what would be the equivalent of a walk-off home run? (For the baseball-averse, that’s a last-minute, back-against-the-wall play that guarantees a dramatic victory.)”

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Chicago’s Cult of Harry: Harry Caray at 100

When I moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2000, I learned that Phil Rizzuto was not the baseball announcer who had coined the phrase, “Holy cow!” I also learned that there was a controversy about this, and that, as a Yankee fan and native New Yorker—and worse, someone unaware of a controversy—I was on the wrong side of said dispute. Born wrong.

No, I was informed, the recently departed Harry Caray was the first to use the phrase on-air and was the announcer with whom it should be associated. Not the beloved Yankees announcer. For Cubs fans, a long-simmering resentment against all things New York became easy to openly express after a “Seinfeld” episode featuring a Phil Rizzuto keychain that exclaimed “Holy cow!” when its head was squeezed unfairly cemented in popular culture the notion that the saying was Rizzuto’s.

Upon learning that I was from New York and a sports fan, one new friend—in our very first conversation—brought up the issue. “You know who used to say ‘Holy cow,’ right?” As an astute observer of humankind and its many denizens, I picked up that there was only one answer and if I said “The ‘Scooter'” I would be inciting conversational violence. But I was not certain what the correct answer was. From my lofty, ivory tower, New York post, I was oh-so dimly aware that Harry Caray, the voice of several Midwest baseball teams over several decades, who had passed away just two seasons before, had been in a feud with my beloved Yankees announcer. Or that Cubs fans were in a feud. I also “knew” that it was possible that both used a really common euphemistic exclamation, Caray in the broadcast booth and Rizzuto on the field and later in the booth.

When I am confronted with a statement that is either false, uninformed, or ill-informed, but I do not see the value in debating the merits of facts, I will respond to such statements with a nod and say something like, “That is an idea.” Period. No emphasis on any syllable. Or even more aggressively passive-aggressively, “That is a sentence.” As if I am attempting an escape from a hostage-taking situation. I shared my theory about how both iconic baseball figures may have come up with the expression independently, since it is a common euphemistic exclamation, with my new Midwestern friend. He replied with a nod and said, with no emphasis on any syllable, “That is an idea.”

Harry Christopher Carabina was born in St. Louis, Missouri, 100 years ago today, March 1, 1914. For over fifty years he was a mostly regional, sometimes national, baseball and college football announcer. At some point in his career, he realized that as an announcer, he was not only the eyes of the fan in the broadcast booth, he was the fans’ voice, too. He wasn’t their representative, he was one of them, one lucky enough to be paid to watch a game he loved to watch. Thus, even though he had been an official broadcaster for teams that Cubs fans naturally detest—the White Sox and the Cardinals—when he became the voice of the Cubs in 1981, he was embraced as if he had always secretly been a Cubs fan. WGN, the station that broadcast the Cubs, was also one of the first “superstations,” which made him a nationally famous quirky regional personality. (Upstate New York, where I am from, did not have WGN, so Harry Caray was as much a rumor to me as Phil Rizzuto, heard on the non-national non-superstation WPIX, was to my Iowa friend.)

By the late 1990s, Will Ferrell started performing his Harry Caray impression on “Saturday Night Live,” and many other performers followed suit, but really, they are performing an impression of Will Ferrell’s Harry Caray impression. From my lofty ivory tower New York perch, I only knew Ferrell was poking fun at an elderly and much-loved baseball broadcaster, one much like my own beloved ‘Scooter’ Rizzuto. I did not understand why the impression continued after Caray’s death in 1998, but again, I was living in New York.

Former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster is noted for his pretty funny impression of Will Ferrell’s Harry Caray:

Because it is almost the same distance to every major metropolis with a major league sports team, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I lived, is one of the luckiest cities in the country for a sports fan. “Local” television broadcasts include the Cubs, the White Sox, the Cardinals; and the Bears, the Vikings, the Rams. I became a Cubs fan in part, I believe, because of all the day games that they play and that I could listen to while at my job writing instruction manuals. In August 2001, my “That is a sentence” friend and I drove to Chicago for a memorable day: a Friday afternoon loss game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals and dinner at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, a day that made me feel like I was finally a Midwesterner. The meal was terrific, and the Harry Caray name is now more associated with the seven establishments bearing his name and caricature (see the photo at the top of this post) than with the memorable broadcaster himself.

Which is too bad. Harry Carabina, born in desperate poverty in St. Louis, authored one of the unique success stories in baseball, in broadcasting, in America, when he invented Harry Caray. The success of those restaurants some sixteen years after his death, the fact that comedians still get gentle laughs at his memory, his long career, all stem from one man’s brilliant and rare talent at becoming beloved.

A last word from Harry Caray himself, from the last day of the 1991 season: