Category Archives: Music

Poets Priests And Politicians


Sting turned sixty this month; one day before Dave Winfield did. I’m not sure how much they followed each others careers, but I followed both closely as a tween then teen. I got my first radio around 1980. It was a little portable AM thing, but it was mine. And some AM stations still played current music back then. I was aware of rock music before then. Some kids up the street would play the main riff from “Smoke On The Water” over and over again. But Zenyatta Mondatta had just come out and this was different. It was rock, but it wasn’t blues based. It had a reggae influence. The guitars just sounded… different. I’m not sure if MTV was around yet. We didn’t get cable. But Casey Kasem’s “America’s Top Ten” would show videos. So my brothers and I would watch “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and other hits of the day.

Yesterday I wrote about some creative baseball players. Today I wanted to mention some baseball poets, priests, and politicians. There have been other poets associated with baseball; including Marianne Moore, Donald Hall, and Carson Cistulli. But there is an active warrior-poet in the bigs. Pitcher Miguel Batista once wrote a serial killer thriller, but he also writes poetry. If you peruse that article, it mentions Fernando Perez as a possible major league poet.

I don’t know if Batter’s Box still does these, but they used to hand out Allan Travers Awards. Travers was a student at Saint Joseph’s in Philly who was recruited by the Tigers to take the mound against the A’s after Detroits players walked off the job in protest of a Ty Cobb suspension. He got shelled. Travers had a higher calling, though. He became a Catholic priest. St. Joe’s, incidentally, has made a greater contribution to sports, and it isn’t Delonte West or Jameer Nelson. From professor Sean Forman created Baseball Reference; one of the greatest achievements of Western Civ. The priesthood itself has made contributuions to understanding baseball. Fr’ Gabriel Costa is a sabermetrician. One wonders if West Pointers eschew bunts and work the count. Finally, former Oakland prospect Grant Desme retired to join a seminary about two years ago.

Many baseball folks got involved in politics. The most famous may be Jim Bunning. He was a Hall of Fame pitcher, not the best one in Cooperstown, but he made it. Along with Robin Roberts and others, he helped the Players Association become a force against the owners. Later, he became a Senator from Kentucky. Unfortunately, towards the end, he was suffering from dementia. What isn’t well known is that one of Bunning’s contempo pitchers also had a political career. Juan Marichal held a cabinet position in the Dominican Republic.

As for the police, there;s always Kevin Romine. Austin’s dad investigates auto theft in L.A.. Maybe he was the guy who found the Dude’s ’73 Torino.

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Media Play


I haven’t written much about baseball lately. Truth be told, I haven’t watched much since the Red Sox collapsed. Maybe I will write a post-mortem on their season, but what can I add that hasn’t already been said? I have been reading about the World Series and it does sound like a classic. Albert Pujols evoked memories of Reggie Jackson over the weekend with his three homer game that was likely the best one game hitting display ever in WS history. Then, on Monday nite, there was the biggest telephonic mixup since last week when Derek Lilliquist misheard TLR. (I have a tendency to think of Carson Daly and Total Request Live when I see Tony LaRussa’s initials.) I’m pulling for Texas to win. They’ve never done it before. They are the AL representative, and Saint Louis has one plenty of times; including five years ago. Bill Lee picked the L.A. Dodgers as the NL’s answer to the Yankees, but I picked Saint Louis when I was in high school and had a fling with the Mets. They were a team to respect, but not like. (I was glad to see Whitey Herzog get inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.)

There used to be a chain of stores called Media Play that sold books, DVDs and CDs. I liked it, but it went out of business around the time Saint Louis defeated Detroit. Today, I wanted to highlight three former baseball players that personify that store’s merchandise; an author, an actor, and a singer.

Before Jim Bouton, there was Jim Brosnan. Brosnan wrote two in-season diaries; The Long Season and Pennant Race. I have yet to read the latter, but I thought that the former was better than Ball Four once I finally read it. Plus, he didn’t have to have Leonard Schecter help him write it. Bouton’s book may have been more historic at the time he wrote it, but I didn’t read it until at least ten years after it came out. Brosnan was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of Eternals four years ago. If you ask me, that is a higher honor than getting a plaque in Cooperstown.

Chuck Connors was an Eisenhower-era Man. He played baseball and hoops and was also Lucas McCain on “The Rifleman.” I’m still in search of the elusive Center of the Entertainment Universe, but he might be it. Dennis Hopper appeared on that Western. And Hopper is The Center of The Hollywood Universe. Connors connects you to the NBA, major league baseball and the Pacific Cast League; which was still big back then. There’s also a football connection. Sid Gillman appeared on the show. He was one of the most influential coaches in football history; practically invented film study. His coaching tree is like a sequoia.

Last but not least, I checked out Dave Marsh’s New Book of Rock Lists the other day and came across Lee Maye. I had heard of The Rifleman even if the show was before my time, but I wasn’t familiar with Maye at all. Phill Millstein argues that this doo wopping outfielder was the best combination baseball player-musical artist. Check the link out.

I was on Monday Night Sports a month ago and he suggested that the reason some players of that era moonlighted in other entertainment fields was because sports salaries weren’t as high as they are now and they needed the money. He may have a point. Ironically, I was talking about Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax and their joint holdout. Chuck Connors helped act as an intermediary between the two pitchers and the Dodgers.

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Country And Westerns


George Jones was a hard drinking country singer. Don Imus used to use an excerpt from “The King Is Gone (And So Are You)” as bumper music.

Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter
That looks like Elvis
I soaked the label off a Flintstone Jelly Bean jar
I cleared us off a place on that
One little table that you left us
And pulled me up a big ole piece of floor

I pulled the head off Elvis
Filled Fred up to his pelvis
Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone
And so are you

There is a tragicomic story about how one time his wife wanted him to stop drinking. I might’ve been Tammy Wynette. He had a few of ‘em. The nearest liquor store was eight miles away, so George couldn’t walk there. She hid all the keys to all of their vehicles. George’s stash had run out and he was getting dry. He had one last resort: a riding mower. Those things top out at maybe 5 MPH, but he rode it all the way to the liquor store. It was probably a three-hour trip; longer if he was already drunk.

Jones would often blow off shows. Literally; a manager introduced him to cocaine. So he had another vice. This would lead him to financial ruin and Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings would help him out. Jennings had battled his own demons. He’d been arrested for coke possession.

If you were a boy when I was a boy, you remember Jennings; unless your parents wouldn’t let you watch The Dukes of Hazzard. He was The Balladeer. Jennings was part of the outlaw country scene and did a duet album with outlaw godfather Willie Nelson. They had a hit with “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” Before he was country, he was a rocker. Played with Buddy Holly. Would have died in the plane crash that took the life of Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. The Big Bopper was sick and asked Jennings if he could take Waylon’s seat on the plane. Jennings agreed. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up” and Jennings responded, also in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes”. This exchange of words would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.

My dad was a Glen Miller and Frank Sinatra type of guy, but he liked Buddy Holly. Holly was a like the Kurt Cobain of his day. He had a short career with an Everest-high peak. And he’d go on to influence Bob Dylan and the British Invasion bands who were soon to follow. Holly was no longer with the Crickets at the time of the crash, but they were his most famous backing band. Buddy Holly and the Crickets first single was “That’ll Be The Day.” This was a catchphrase that Ethan Edwards used in The Searchers. John Wayne played Edwards in the John Ford film. The director and actor would team up a few years later for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. (I prefer spaghetti westerns, but I cannot deny the greatness of the Ford and Wayne combo.)

Burt Bacharach wrote an eponymous tune inspired by the movie. A young man from Rockville, Connecticut named Gene Pitney recorded it. My mom was a couple of years younger than Pitney and they were in chorus together. He signed her yearbook. Pitney was also a sound engineer and songwriter. Like Buddy Holly, he was a master of the overdub, which was in its infancy at the time. He wrote “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson. He befriended the early Rolling Stones. He even dabbled in country music and collaborated with… George Jones.

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Bruin Station


It is now less than a week until Opening Day.  Some folks think that pitchers and catchers reporting should be a national holiday, but that day pales in comparison to Opening Day.  I’m excited and not just because the Red Sox are stacked.  Although, I’ve been blogging on and off since November of 2009, I haven’t written much about the games in and of themselves.  I thought about taking an approach similar to Free Darko where they comment on the stylishness of players.  I blathered on and on about Rabbit Maranville and his sons last year.  (Just look at the tab Maranvillains for numerous examples.)  But baseball, the most individualistic of team sports, doesn’t need a Mark Fidrych or a great Jim Edmonds catch to be exciting.

 

I came across a book at the Homer Babbidge Library at Uconn this winter.  It was called The Quality of Home Runs.  An anthropologist from an English university who is an ex-pat former college pitcher wrote it.  I skimmed it.  To get a library card from there as a non-student would cost $50.  But I did read a section where he talks about what makes a particular baseball game exciting.  There are three elements: tension, controversy and rivalry.  These, and the potential for them, can make a game exciting.

 

Max Marchi has a series at The Hardball Times about  exciting games.  He calls tension equilibrium.  Controversy could be a close umpires call or a questionable decision.  Usually that would be the manager who opens himself up for second guessing, but it can be a player.  Rivalry is self-explanatory.  It could be the Dodgers versus the Giants or the Red Sox versus the Yankees.  But it could be more subtle than that.  I plan to write more about this as the season goes on.

 

Bruin Station

 

Billy Beane and Ruben Amaro are two general managers who are former players.  Can you name another one?

 

Bill Walton was a sixth man for the Boston Celtics.  He also filled in for the Grateful Dead when they played in Egypt in 1978.   I don’t know the state of basketball in Egypt, but they’re pretty good at field hockey.  Professor Peter Piccione of the College of Charleston says that they also played an ancient precursor to baseball called sekar hemat.  And, of course, the immortal Sammy Khalifa played shortstop for the Pirates back during the 1980’s.

 

Dead bassist Phil Lesh went to El Cerrito High in suburban Oakland at the same time that Cornell Green was there.  Green played hoops at Utah State and was drafted by the Chicago Zephyrs, but he never played in the NBA.  He tried out as a defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys and had a lengthy NFL career.  Dallas had a thing for athletes of all stripes.  Witness the conversion of Bullet Bob Hayes from sprinter to wide receiver.

 

Was Dallas being innovative in their signing of non-football players because expansion and the AFL were draining the talent pool of football players?  Probably not.  There were plenty more college football players than there were pro jobs to go around.

 

Green was an early hoops to pigskin conversion.  He preceded Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Marcus Pollard; to name three.  There seems to be a fungibility of skills between tight ends, power forwards, and pitchers.

 

Green had an older brother named Elijah.  He was better known as Pumpsie and was the first black to play on the Red Sox.  Made his debut in 1959; a dozen years after Jackie Robinson was a rookie in Brooklyn.  Green played on some subpar Red Sox teams.  Those were dark days for the team.  Ted Williams would soon retire and 1967 was a ways off.  Gene Conley pitched for the team from 1961 to 1963.  One time, Pumpsie and Gene got drunk in New York and tried to catch a plane to Israel.

 

Conley was also a Boston Celtic as well as a Milwaukee Brave.  He is the only fellow to have a World Series ring and an NBA title to his name.  Red Auerbach was another guy who liked multi-sport athletes.  Bill Sharman was on the Brooklyn Dodgers; although he never played in a regular season game.  Hondo Havilcek tried out for the Cleveland Browns.

 

Another Red Sox pitcher of the era was Don Schwall.  He, too, was a basketball player in college.  But he never went pro.  He went on to pitch for the Atlanta Braves where he played with Rico “Beeg Boy” Carty.  Later in his career, Carty became a peripatetic designated hitter.  One of his stops was Toronto.

 

Danny Ainge was an infielder in Toronto before joining the Celtics and playing with Bird, McHale, Parish, Dennis Johnson, and, yes, Bill Walton.  He’s now the GM of the team.

 

This is awesome. Before he was a Celtic, Walton played for Helix High, UCLA, Portland, and the Clippers.  He won a ring in Portland.  One of his teammates was Herm Gilliam.  Gilliam played for the Cincinnati Royals before that.  Bob Cousy was the player-coach on that team.  Cousy and Conley were Celtics together.

 

What?  You thought that this was going to be about hockey?

 

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Orange WHIP


In The Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood Blues sang the old Spencer Davis Group hit “Gimme Some Lovin'” On the original, teenage Steve Winwood sang and played the Hammond B-3. Winwood would go on to Traffic and later Blind Faith. Blind Faith was a supergroup that included Winwood, Ric Grech from Family, and Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton from Cream. The bandmates were indeed in the “Presence of the Lord” for Clapton was still God at the time. This was before his music became wimpy.

Blind Faith had the half life of plutonium and only recorded one album. Slowhand was more interested in playing with Delaney, Bonnie & Friends, anyways. But constant infighting between Delaney and Bonnie fouled that band up. Out of the ashes came Derek and the Dominoes. Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon all played with Clapton in Delaney, Bonnie & Friends and they joined him again on Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. To complete the quintet, they called on Duane Allman.

Allman was the Sandy Koufax of guitar. He formed The Allman Brothers Band with his brother Gregg. Before that, he was a respected session musician. He played with all sorts of R&B cats down at Muscle Shoals. He played with Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge. Aretha Franklin covered The Band’s “The Weight” and Duane played guitar on that. Kids today don’t remember the Queen of Soul, do they? Aretha was in The Blues Brothers. She played Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s wife and sang “Think.”

I suppose I could have went with Blues Brothers 2000. Steve Winwood appears in that with Eric Clapton as part of the Louisiana Gator Boys. So does Franklin, still playing Mrs. Murphy. But I’ve never seen that flick.

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Fire Wayne Hagin Already!


3) “Oh, I suppose you could do better?” No, I couldn’t. I’d be a lousy announcer, for sure. But I don’t need to know how to make a movie to know that Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is a stinker. I don’t need to know how to play guitar to know Loverboy was a lousy band. I don’t need to know how to cook a really good burger in order to know when I’m eating a crummy one. (As it happens, I do know how to make a really good burger, but that’s another story.) In short, I know an overmatched broadcaster when I hear one, and Hagin fits the bill.

Loverboy was a lousy band? Get Lucky had an awful, unfortunate, cover but it had classics like “Take Me To The Top”, “Working For The Weekend”, and “When It’s Over.” Okay, maybe they weren’t AC/DC or Led Zep, but they had their moments. I can come to only one conclusion: Paul Lukas hates Canada.

Thanks to Can’t Stop the Bleeding for the link.

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More Cowbell


Foghat and Blue Oyster Cult are coming to Enfield, CT next Saturday nite. I won’t be around for this show, but I’ve seen both bands over the years. Foghat played Finnegan’s in San Angelo, TX my last nite at Goodfellow AFB. One of my brothers and I went to Toad’s Place in New Haven on the spur of the moment to see BOC. This was in the 90s and they had some dedicated fans. They sang along to stuff off a new album that maybe 400 people owned. This was well after the band’s salad days. Anyways, when I think Jurassic Rock, “Slow Ride” is one of the first tunes that comes to my mind.

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Jimmy Dean 1928-2010


I loved the song “Big Bad John” as a kid. Let’s see one of these modern guys do a song like that. Maybe Steve Earle could, but I doubt he’d be up to starting a sausage empire afterwards.

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More on Garth Brooks


Wish I knew about this project when I was composing my Astroturf post.

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