After the Cardinals tied it for a second straight inning last night, I went to bed. I didn’t need to know what I already knew: There would be a seventh game.
I didn’t need to see Ron Washington standing on the steps of the dugout, imploring Cardinal hitters to do something stupid and hand him the World Series.
I didn’t want to see the requisite camera shots of Tony LaRussa looking like he knew he’d win. Baseball’s version of Benjamin Button is annoying enough in the regular season, let alone the playoffs, where he always seems to have this misplaced sense of destiny.
And, as The Missus noted after her second drink of the night, “They can stop showing me that skinny blonde bitch in the Cardinals hat who is praying in the stands.”
The Rangers hold a special place in my heart, though, and I’m sure I’ll be watching Game 7. Not so much for the baseball, but because of writer Mike Shropshire.
Perhaps the funniest baseball book I’ve ever read (and that takes in a lot of territory) comes from Shropshire.
“Seasons in Hell” and I got together in a chance meeting when the local library was closing and it was a buck a bag for books. While The Missus raided the cooking section, I cleaned the shelves in the sports area. “Seasons in Hell” landed in one of the bags and the rest is history.
Shropshire’s book covered the Rangers from 1973 to 1975. The team was managed in that time span by Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, one a hall of famer and the other who probably should be. The team had stars like Jim Bibby, Ferguson Jenkins and MVP Jeff Burroughs. Pheenom David Clyde was on the roster as well and Bob Short was calling the shots from the administrative level.
On paper, they should have been a force.
On the pages of Shropshire’s book, they were a hysterical mess.
Between his binges of press-box alcoholism, Shropshire managed to crank out daily coverage of a team that lost 105 games in 1973, teased fans with a second place finish the following year and then finished with a sub .500 record in 1975.
Yet, it is his recalling of the characters of the day and the weirdness of the franchise is epic.
He noted that Jim Bibby had a dick of “equine proportions” and that Owner Bob Short’s biggest quandary was trying to figure out a way to make it a gate attraction.
He talked about “Hot Pants Night,” in which the team wasn’t going to give away the clothing item but rather ask women to show up wearing them. Women would then compete for a trophy that confirmed for the winner that “she and only she the best-looking ass in North Texas.”
He followed the meteoric rise and fall of David Clyde, an 18-year-old Texas boy who was driven like a rented mule and burned out before his 20th birthday. His name still serves as the cautionary tale for abusing young talent.
However, my favorite story came as a result of Herzog’s displeasure with the ass-kicking the Rangers were receiving in Milwaukee:
“It started yesterday, when they were beating up on us with 17 runs. I knew something was up and figured the third base coach was stealing… signs,” said Herzog, speaking rapidly and making wild, pointing gestures, like in an old film of Mussolini making a speech. “But today, in the first game, I figured it out. I got some binoculars and looked out there in centerfield where they keep that little asshole in the costume.
“And that’s when I saw the other guy and that’s when I was positive. He had binoculars too, picking up our signs… Either they were getting our pitches or this is the greatest hitting team of all time.”
Herzog’s rant about Bernie Brewer, sitting in his barrel chalet, stealing signs is a classic. For those of you not familiar with old County Stadium, when a Brewers player would hit a homer, Bernie would slide down the barrel into a mug on this giant chalet mounted above the centerfield bleachers. He would then release a set of balloons.
While it ended up not being proven, the Milwaukee answer in Shropshire’s book was a classic:
“Some guy in the Brewers’ clubhouse took me aside and said that the Bernie, in real life, was the son of some team employee. ‘The kid… and please don’t print this… but his blender doesn’t go all the way to puree if you know what I mean. Steal signs? Hell. It’s all he can do to release those goddamn balloons.'”
Shropshire eventually moved on from the Rangers, and sports writing in general, but his recall of the events of those seasons will always be for me the epitome of Ranger baseball.
Still, I’ll be watching tonight to see what happens in Game 7 to this might oak that grew from a guy with a huge dick, some stupid promotions and a rant about a little asshole in a costume.