February 2012 Archives

Getting in shape for the season

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            In my last column, I wrote about how the actual players were not the only ones who trained for the season.  I talked about the mascots and although I receive a great deal of mail after each column, this last column was on overload.

Among the people who wrote to me was Bob Perlberg.  He called attention to an Al Schact- like character named "Batting Stance Guy'." So, I did research on him.

Here's what I found out.  His act is called the "Least Marketable Act in America, but not really!  He has perfected the art of copying various Major League and Minor League stances in a humorous fashion.

He has mimicked players such as Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez. Eddie Murray, Evan Longoria and Andre Beltre to mention a few.  Teams look on him as a good luck charm and invite him into their locker rooms.

But over the years, Baseball Clowns have been a staple. When my friend, the late Stan Greeson was President of the Harlem Globetrotters, he pointed out that Reece "Goose"Tatum then the Clown Prince of Basketball before Meadowlark Lemon, would rather have played Baseball, his favorite sport other than Basketball.  In fact, before the Globetrotters, he had signed with the Memphis Red Sox in the old Negro Leagues. Although a talented first baseman, he made his mark by clowning around with opposing players and thus a legend was born.  They said he was so limber that he looked as if he had no joints.

In the Negro Leagues, even though they had great ballplayers and the games were always competitive, by it were the side attractions that brought in the crowds. The name of the game was fun!  As a result, entire teams such as the Indianapolis clowns although loaded with talent, not unlike Basketball's Globetrotters, used a menu of different antics to insure as few empty seats as possible.

Entertaining the fans at a ballpark with activities other than the game itself has long been a part of Baseball. Many years before the Philly Phanatic made his appearance, Baseball clowns were hired to entertain crowds before games and between innings. The owners wanted the fans to have a good time even if the home team was getting beat badly.

A mediocre player named "Germany" Schaefer back in 1912 was considered the first practitioner of the art form.  He made impromptu speeches to the spectators, wild imitation of Umpires' play calling and often walked the baselines as if they were tight ropes.

Any story about mascots, clowns and preparation for the game would be incomplete without talking about Jackie Price. His repertoire was multifaceted and varied. Unlike others who relied on comic routines to draw laughs, Price used his outstanding baseball skills to delight fans.

One of Price's most famous tricks was to hang upside down and take batting practice for 15 minutes or more. Batting either right, or left-handed Price could hit fastballs from opposing pitchers while being suspended by his ankles from the backstop or a pole.

In another trick, he would shoot a Baseball out of an air gun and then jumping into a Jeep and speeding into the outfield to catch the quickly descending orb.

Over the years, many of the Baseball Mascots have had Dance-offs and fights to the delight of the fans.  One that had a surprising ending was when the Triple-A Reno Aces, an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate played an exhibition with the University of Nevada. The Aces Mascot Archie and the U of N Mascot Wolfie danced on top of the dugout for the fans.  Wolfie started the dance atop the dugout; one misstep saw him finish the dance inside the dugout.

Sid Silver wrote how much he enjoyed working on The Chicken and the Cheerleaders Pilot bringing to mind that Chicken was always in trouble with opposing teams wherever he went. Not only did he have dance-offs and battles with the famous Barney of PBS fame, but also he was forever being attacked for his antics by opposing teams... sometimes en masse. In fact, he set the Unofficial Major League for ejection from games by Umpires.

Fred Gasser commented that there must be spring training for fans as well...Hmm? So I consulted my pal, Jerry Berger, the Budweiser man and together he helped me study fan seasonal preparation.

It all begins at the local Sports Bar where the veterans meet.  Since the season is young they start with a pitcher of beer, roughly 32-40 ounces.  Each one has to work up to more beer consumption as the season progresses.

When rookies join them, they are placed in the back tables away from the TV Sets until they prove they can earn the right to get up close with the veterans.  Their initiation is very simple. Immediately, to show their capability, they must chug-a-lug at least one pitcher.

When they pass that initiation, in order to get a place in the rotation, they must on the first day, in the course of a game be able to consume at least two more pitchers before the seventh inning... and those pitchers, have to be hoisted at least one with each hand. This will show if they are really serious on making the Sports Bar team.  It will also show what kind of shape they kept in during the off-season.

By the way, there are no "Shortstops" on the Sports Bar Team.  When a waitress, or Bartender acknowledges an order, it must be delivered to the fan requesting the call. Any derelict movement, or "Shortstop" by the Rookie, on the way to its appointed destination can result in immediate banishment to the Minors

That's the physical part, but the initiation also has a mental side.  They must be prepared to have an opinion and be ready to discuss various facets of the game.  For example, they must be capable of yelling at the manager, or the umpire on the screen when they disagree with a move, or a call. They cannot be shrinking violets.

As the season progresses, they are required to eat an ample quantity of Hot Dogs, (not like Nathans on the fourth of July), so many slabs of Pizza at each game and to show they really know their stuff, they can't forget Buffalo Chicken Wings.

Any fan that rests and starts drinking  from glasses instead of pitchers is usually sent to the dugout, or down the street to a Minor League Sports Bar. The veterans show no mercy!

If they are real fans and have finally made the team when entering the Sports Bar, they must display their team colors.  Like my friend Bob Klingensmith who would not be caught dead without his Pittsburgh Colors.

Caps, T-Shirts and Sweatshirts are okay.  A banner is not acceptable.  The veterans look on that as a cop-out. Since if the game were not going the rookie's way, the rookie would have the option of folding the banner and hiding it. Such a maneuver is considered "Bush League."

Also, a real fan has to be prepared to back up his statements and if his words are challenged he cannot be afraid to reach in his pocket, pulling out some crinkly green paper ... never coins and slapping down in front of his adversary.

 A true fan and believer is one that has perfected the single motion move during the off-season ... reaching into his pocket and without breaking stride, placing the instrument of his challenge in front of the disbeliever, or doubter.

The preferred off-season exercise is "Bending the Elbow."

So I say, "Play ball."... and oh yeah!  "Bottoms Up."



Spring training is for everyone

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The other day I needed to ask Barry Zito, the San Francisco Giants Cy Young Award Pitcher for a favor.  So when I had the opportunity to talk to his representative, Bill Hertz, Bill explained he was on his way to Arizona to meet Barry and would carry my message.  Barry, it seems, like all Major League Pitchers and Catchers had just started Spring Training.

That got me to thinking! So, I asked myself the question, are the only ones who go to Spring Training, Pitchers, Catchers, and position players?  I discovered the answer was a resounding "no".

Spring Training is not just for the aforementioned, but it is a time for the Umpires to review old rules, learn new ones and discuss new positions that might be more advantageous to making the right call.

It is also a time of levity and peace when each Spring, hope is eternal.  Every team hopes they have the right ingredients to last through a winning series that will culminate in a World Series Championship.  For a few, the jovial atmosphere surrounding the training camp will last throughout the season. They are in training as well.

 I'm talking about the mascots, the clowns, the assorted humans dressed up as various animals and grotesque figures who over the years have become an enjoyable part of the game.

This column is dedicated to them.  The hard working characters, both major and minor league dedicate themselves to entertaining the fans.  They add amusement to the afternoon/night's enjoyment. Before the season, they practice their gags, the acrobatic and gymnastic moves and prate falls.

In fact, over the years, in many instances they have become bigger than the game.  Quite a few times, teams would hire

 them to the game.  Not unlike the way, the BBAA (NBA), in the early days, used the Harlem Globetrotters as part of a doubleheader. The Globetrotters were always the featured game. Teams like the Celtics and Knicks played in the other game.

When I was in Armed Forces Radio back in the early fifties, I often hosted various entertainment groups.  The USO was one. They not only featured Bob Hope, great singers and many beautiful starlets, they often times brought along guys like Al Schact and Max Patkin.

My younger readers are probably wondering whom, or what I am talking about.  Please indulge me as I give you a little history.

Al Schact pitched for the Washington Senators from 1919 to 1921. He had a mediocre record (14-10).  However, he established himself a highly regarded third base coach.

 In this capacity, he started mimicking the antics of opposing pitchers and base runners In such a way; he not only helped to create havoc among the oppostion, but also became an entertainer to see where fans would come just to see what he was going to do.  As a result, he was crowned "The Clown Prince of Baseball". There have since been many imitations.

Max Patkin later became the self-proclaimed, "Clown Prince of Baseball". While pitching for a service team in Hawaii in 1944, Joe Dimaggio homered off this lanky right-hander.  Max threw his glove down then followed Joe around the bases.  The fans howled and a career was born.

Later in the 1940's Max was hired by Bill Veeck, the Barnum of baseball and a man I worked for, to be a coach for his St. Louis Browns.  His job, harass the opposing pitchers. He was a great success and although the team was terrible, the fans poured in to see what Max would do. He never failed to entertain.  When Veeck sold the team, Max who had a face seemingly made of rubber that could make a thousand different shapes decided to expand his horizons.

He was thin like Ichabod Crane and wore a baggy uniform with "?" on the back instead of a number. He always wore a hat that was askew. He played Minor League Stadiums throughout North America doing an estimated 4000 appearances.  His Hallmark when he had a cameo role as himself in the movie Bull Durham.

Both Al and Max plied their trade, going to Spring training each year with either their respective teams, or anyone of the other 15 teams in both leagues.

Then, one cannot forget my friend Teddy Giannoulas who as the San Diego Chicken built a mascoting empire.

Teddy was student at San Diego University when he was hired by a local station to hand out Easter Eggs to children at the world-famous San Diego Zoo.  He does pantomime, slapstick, gymnastic feats to music.  His fame became worldwide.

As President of Fox Sports, I was involved in the production of a TV Pilot created by Chris Beard, he of Gong and Laugh-in fame. We did a half hour program entitled the "Chicken and the Cheerleaders".

In addition to Teddy and the beautiful Rams Cheerleaders, it featured Art Metrano and ex- LA Ram footballer Fred Dryer in his first Television appearance. Fred went on to fame as the tough Police Sergeant "Hunter" in the show of the same name. The pilot was fast paced relying on quick skit comedy and blackouts. Unfortunately it never reached the air. I always loved it.

Teddy was so successful that when he re-designed the Chicken outfit, he announced a grand re-hatching and 47,000 people attended the event. His success has bred the current crop of mascots.

Among the most notable are the Milwaukee Brewers Sausages. Before the 7th inning, the P. A. Announcer says, "Sausages take your marks".  The four contestants answering the call enter the stadium through the left field fence. They are a familiar sight in a town known for its wieners and beer.  The crowd waits in anticipation.

They get set!  Guido, the Italian Sausage wears a Chef's Hat. Frankie Furter, the Hot Dog, wears a baseball Uniform. Bret Wurst is in Liederhausen and Stosh the Polish Kilbasa wears a Rugby Shirt. With announcer..."GO", they are off and running along the foul line to the infield. What takes place with these running 7' creatures to the delight of the crowd is right out of a Keystone Kops movie.  They stumble, they hit each other, the try to trip the competition. The result is hilarity at every game.

The Pirates have the great Pierogi Race.  It follows the same pattern as the Wieners in Milwaukee except they are introduced on the Center Field Cartoons on the Video Board. Like Milwaukee, they have four Pierogis...Cheese Chester with a yellow hat, Jalapeno Hannah has a green hat, Sauerkraut Saul is in red and Oliver Onion wears purple.  The Cartoons segue into the live mascots who enter from right field and race around the perimeter ending up at home plate.

Popular with the fans is a once a year home/home competition with the Wieners.

Today, there are so many mascots with unusual names and equally unusual costumes, all designed to capture the spirit of the team's location.

Not to be left out, every Friday Home Game in Kansas City, the Hot Dog Derby features three mascots wearing hats as condiments that supplement the taste of the Hot Dog.  One wears a red hat as Ketchup, yellow for Mustard, and green for relish. Mustard currently holds the title as champ. Toronto has the racing Chile Peppers that seems out of place for Mexican Food to be featured in Canada. And so it goes! Many teams have Mascots that wear in specially designed costumes such as the Philly Fanatic.

Baseball, once the National Pastime, is constantly seeking ways to enhance their product.  To its credit, Mascots have a definite role in the game.

It's springtime and soon the umpire will be yelling "Play Ball."


Kudos to the NCAA

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      You know!  I have been sitting around trying to figure out what I should write.  Suddenly, it hit me.  I found something about which I could praise the NCAA.  It's hard to believe because I have been shouting from every roof top I know that we have been getting away from the prime purpose of a college education. The operative word being EDUCATION!

Then all of a sudden, in a move that truly surprised me, they put the entire University of Connecticut Basketball team on academic probation. Wow!  What a wonderful, yet unheard of move in these days of big monies generated by inning teams. It's a known fact, when a team is victorious, the alumni puff out their chests and open their checkbooks.

Unfortunately, all too often the recipients although worthy athletically, are not worthy academically. As a result, professors, teachers and instructors of all types have to mind their "P," and "Q's" otherwise they might find themselves unemployed.  There are those sincere educators who are appalled at what they are required to do, when it is suggested, that Johnny Jones needs at least a 'C' average otherwise hd won't be available Friday night to sink that all important fould shot for good old "Jock" U.

Now, don't get me wrong! I am an old jock.  I had the good fortune to play basketball at the college level and for brief time, I even coached a University team. Nor very well I might add. However, ever since I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, it was drummed into my head that I had to get a college degree. My dad use to say, "The only thing you can start on a show string is a knot."

I was blessed with the best of both worlds.  Although we were poor, we didn't know we were poor. On my mother's side of the family, there were 8 kids.  All educators, or professionals of some sort.. law. Engineering, medicine etc; As my father and his six brothers, they were all involved in professional sports, two major leaguers, three footballers and a paraplegic brother (the smartest one), a bookie.

I was the first boy of my father's entire family to go to college. My mother was an immigrant who along with parents and siblings legally came to the United States. Getting an education is a precious gift not to be wasted on someone even if he gets to play pro ball at some level, might still end up as a bar tender.

Today, my grand son Sam is an exceptional athlete with good grades.  He is hoping to go to a fine school.  As he visited college campuses, he learned that the Ivy League Schools, in this case, Princeton, gave scholarships only for academics.

Only a handful of the recruited brutes of the courts, or the gridiron will ever grace the hollowed halls of sportsdom at the elite level.  If 3000 collegiate athletes graduated every year, perhaps 100 will get the call.



No more postcards

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                                    NO MORE POSTCARDS

I had this friend who for over forty years and wherever he went in his work, he would never forget .  It was always just a  Post Card. Nothing fancy, just a note on a simple card without a picture, or description as to where he was.  His words in a scrawled hand took care of that.  Sometimes, it was simply, I'm in Rome. Copenhagen, Madrid or Manila with so and so, just to say hello."

My friend traveled the world plying his trade and there were so many stops and adventures along the way that it was impossible to keep up with him. . I was fortunate to be with him on these jaunts many times. But today I know there will be no more Post Cards.

Yesterday, I asked Susan what I should write about.  Unfortunately when I heard that Angelo had passed away, the decision was easy.  I had no choice, but to share with all my readers my story about not only member of his sport's Hall of Fame, but also a great man.

Angelo Dundee whose real name was born Angelo Mirena in 1921. His older brother Joseph a local Philadelphia fighter took the surname of Dundee in order to hide from his father that he was Boxer.  Joe was 21 years older than Angelo and Angelo was the eighth of nine children.  His older brother Chris was the second of the clan to take the last name and Angelo followed his brothers.

His name, along with his brother Chris would provide the Boxing world with two Hall of Fame brothers.

Even at ninety, his death was too soon and unnecessary. How many times had he taken a plane over the years?  I can't count the number. As a matter of fact, I cannot even remember the times I boarded a plane to go to work and on a number of occasions, meet Angelo at the destination... Moscow. Nassau, Pesaro, London, or Scandinavia.  They all looked alike!

Angelo would sit in his seat and relax. He never moved around the cabin.  As I found out earlier this year, when you are younger and your Blood Pressure is much stronger and steadier, it was not a problem. However, earlier this year while traveling from Los Angeles to Miami, having remained seated for more than 5 hours, my legs had swollen to Piano Stool size.

Fortunately, I was traveling with my friend Dr. Michael Gurvey.  He immediately saw my problem.  I had edema throughout. It was frightening! Michael, however, lost no time, got me on a salt-free diet and elevated my legs. Upon returning , he had me get a complete workup to make sure there were no clots.

Angelo didn't do that until it was too late and he was loaded with Blood Clots.  Finally, one broke off and went into his lungs snuffing out a magnificent life.

 The tasks followed a set pattern. On Fight Nite, it was From the Hotel to the Arena to the Press Conference to Dinner... never deviating. In every city, Angie had his favorite steak place and he was always welcomed.

Over the years, Angelo was in the corner of at least 45 World Champions. Yet it was Ali and Ray Leonard that Angelo really came to the forefront. He may have achieved fame as a trainer, as well as a corner and cut man.  He was gentle man in a world of anger.  He was able to navigate without being a politician the rough seas of deception, chicanery and stealth while always being true to himself. 

Many will tell you of his exploits in the world of fisticuffs, but only the fighters and their families can tell of his kindness, generosity and philosophy.  As great as many of them, they also fell pretty hard.  Angie never forgot and was a soft touch and while plying his trade at the highest level, he instilled desire and pried into his charges.  He was both a physician and a psychiatrist helping to heal their wounds. After their careers were over, he still watched over them like a doting parent.

There is much more I could write, but I could not do him justice. Together, at least to me, he and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco were like "Batman and Robin."  So to really get an insight into Angelo read the book written by "Robin" (Ferdie), Tales of the 5th Street Gym.

Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.