Blind Mumbling

A compilation of writings that never got anyone excited.

Location: N. Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, United States

Former teacher, co-editor of Total Football and the author of more than 20 books and over 200 articles, most about sports history. His credits include Pro Football: When the Grass Was Real, The Hidden Game of Football (with John Thorn and Pete Palmer), Baseball Between the Lies, The Importance of Napoleon, and the Battle of Stalingrad. He is presently Executive Director of the Pro Football Researchers Association.

Monday, June 27, 2005


By the summer before fourth grade, I had developed an unsavory reputation for not cussing. All the other guys cussed – had so for a year or two – but not me. I didn’t mind too much when Billy called me "the kid who never says (bleep)," but then Mickey said, "You think you’re better than anyone else." The second worst thing to happen to a fourth grader is to have his friends think he thinks he’s better than they are. Even if he really does think so, he can’t let it show. I knew I had to do something about my vocabulary.

I did not not-cuss for purity of motive. No one in my family ever cussed. I had no role models, and I was afraid I’d screw it up. The first worst thing to happen to a fourth grader is to screw up something all his friends can do right.

I decided to study the subject of how to cuss by observing my friends at their cussing. Normally, one doesn’t really hear the cusswords; they’re just punctuation. I started listening.

It turned out there were four categories of cusswords. The least-used was the biblical taking-the-Lord’s-name-in-vain. That only counted as cussing with us when one added a "damn" after "God." It didn’t count to say somrthing like, "God! I’m hungry!"

The second group of cusswords was anatomical references. These had endless synonyms – so many that often one slipped in when there was no intention of cussing. I’d be sitting in class listening to Miss Lake going on about long division and find the kid next to me giggling. Later he’d whisper to me that she’d said a word that up until that moment I’d thought was an ordinary noun.

Miss Lake wasn’t foulmouthed; there were just too many synonyms. The danger for me was that I might spout a blue streak of synonyms and no one would realize I was cussing. The anatomicals were additionally difficult because I was unfamiliar with the female parts that made up about half of the possible choices. I thought it safer to avoid the anatomicals.

The third category was bodily functions. Truthfully, mentioning these always seemed a bit childish and no more cussing than "tinkle" or "big boom-boom" or "number two."

And that left the biggie – the acme of cussing – a term so loaded that even today it is often referred to in its bowderlized form – the "F-word." If I was to overcome my no-cussing reputation, I’d have to go to the fourth category. But that made me very uneasy because I didn’t know what was actually involved in real life F-wording. I knew that it was done with a boy and a girl, and I had a good guess what they did it with, but I had no idea how. And I sure wasn’t going to reveal my ignorance by asking someone. I’d just have to bluff.

Eventually I decided the mechanics didn’t matter. I didn’t have to understand how an engine works to drive a car, did I? Of course, I would have been a more confident fourth grader had I actually known how to drive a car, but the principle still held.

For more than a week I practiced whenever I was alone. Sometimes I stood in front of a mirror with my eyes half-closed, looking tough. Sometimes I started with my back to the mirror, then whirled around and let fly cusses. I searched for the perfect cuss-phrase to begin my cussing. I settled on "I don’t give a F-word," as my opening cuss. It had insouciance, disdain, and concealed my ignorance of the F-word’s intricacies.

We were playing baseball in the school yard when I hit a pop-foul. A big kid standing out in the street caught the ball. Instead of throwing it back, he began tossing it in the air and catching it. As the pop-foul hitter, it was my job to go recover the ball. I walked over with my hand out. The big kid ignored my entreaties. When he said he might keep the ball forever, I blistered him with my first real, out-loud cuss.

"I F-word what your F-word!" I yelled. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew I had screwed up.

"What?" he asked incredulously.

I wasn’t going to backpedal. "I said I F-word what your F-word! You F-word."

The kid laughed but he tossed me the ball. When I got back to home plate, Billy asked what I’d said. With new confidence, I explained, "I told him to give me the F-wording ball."

"I’ll be F-worded!" Billy said.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Each season, new programs are proposed for prime time television. Some succeed; some fail. Many never get any farther than rejected pilots. Here are descriptions of ten TV pilots that very nearly made it to network nightly schedules in years long past. Below that are the titles of the shows. Can you match shows and titles?

1. __ Two part program about covering your grass with fertilizer.
2. __ Classic story about Texas family’s many love affairs.
3. __ Unoriginal, unappealing, unwatchable science fiction.
4. __ Sunday night primetime show made up of a variety of boxing matches.
5. __ Sitcom about a bar run by a popular singer-actress.
6. __ An uptight army nurse runs a dessert bakery.
7. __ Sitcom proving extra weight means extra smart.
8. __ Story of two breweries built in a nasty part of town.
9. __ Waitress keeps insisting that a small person sit down and relax.
10 __ Woman goes to a ball in a new city each week.

a. Star Dreck, b. Chers, c. Dallies, d. Fatter Knows Best, e. Lawn & Odor,
f. Houlihan’s Pieland, g. Alice Rests a Runt, h. The John L. Sullivan Show,
i. Have Gown Will Travel, j. Heel Street Brews

Happily, all was not lost. The titles were later used in part for other successful TV series.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Runaway Bride, Runaway Bride,
Where did you go? Where did you hide?
Our zealous media is never too busy
To get caught up in a new tizzy --
Let themselves be sidetracked -- over
Runaway Bride, Spontaneous Rover.

Runaway Bride, Runaway Bride,
You said you’d marry but, darn, you lied.
No one knew where you were rushing.
Latenight TV hosts were gushing
Clever mots designed to hurt you.
Runaway Bride. You’ve lost your virtue!

Runaway Bride, Runaway Bride,
Maybe you should be certified.
When he found out what your fate was,
That’s when your poor would-be mate was
Mortified. It’s all your fault,
Runaway Bride, Skitterish Colt.

Runaway Bride, Runaway Bride,
Some of us laughed. Some of us cried.
You had your flash while we stood by
That’s 15 minutes! Now goodbye,
Farewell, Godspeed, so long, adieu,
Runaway Bride, Runaway . . . who?

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Third grade in Wheeling, West Virginia, during World War II had its good and bad points.

The biggest good point was the battleships. Our classroom windows faced the Ohio River, and once or twice a week we all rushed to the windows and watched the spanking new battleships they built up in Pittsburgh sail down to the war. Bristling with a couple of real guns mounted menacingly on their decks, they thrilled us in rhythmic tan and green camouflage or stern warship gray. All us third graders cheered and waved. "Yay! Here comes another battleship, Tojo!"

I was the only kid who knew they weren’t really battleships because for Christmas my Uncle Alfie gave me one of those military recognition books with silouettes of all the American airplanes, tanks and ships. I was pretty sure we were cheering LSTs, those big Landing-Ship-Tank barges with huge doors in front. Newsreels showed them pulling up on a beach and vomiting tanks onto invaded islands. I told the teacher, but she didn’t understand the difference.

I explained, "Battleships don’t float up on beaches."

"But they all battle," she said.

The worst part of third grade was Churchschool. Every Wednesday morning, all the kids from third through sixth grade at George Washington Elementary were sent out to get religious instruction. All but three kids walked half a block to a big protestant church. The three who didn’t were catholic and walked four and a half blocks to Sacred Heart Grade School.

I was one of the three. The other two were my cousin Patty and a fifth grader who hated having to socialize with third graders. He always walked ahead of us.

Every Wednesday came up raining, snowing, or blistering hot, but four and a half blocks wasn’t out of my hiking range. As far as I was concerned, the walk to Sacred Heart was the only good part of Churchschool. I would have liked it to be longer – say, long enough that when we got there we’d have to immediately turn around and come back.

At Sacred Heart, we went straight to a classroom where I swear all the kids were bigger than I was. I’ve forgotten the name of the nun in charge -- I think it’s Freudian – but she was bigger than everybody.

Sister Whatever always made it clear that we three "public school pupils" were interrupting an important classroom lesson about some saint. There were four rows of desks, but the front of each first desk was just a pulldown seat. She always placed each of us up front on pulldown seats so that her regular students could watch us squirm. We couldn’t even rest our elbows.

She used the Socratic Method to teach. She asked questions. I may be wrong but I think Socrates tried to elicit wisdom with his questions. Sister Whatever wanted to elicit mortification. I can’t remember exactly what she asked but the questions were always about people I’d never heard of -- How many jugs did Rachel take from the well? What did Esau have for lunch? Which of Joseph’s brothers rode a camel named Humpy? And like that.

When Sister called on one of her regular students, the kid would stand up and rattle off the answer easy as pie. When she called on one of us public school heathen, we’d stand up and shrug. We’d never heard of Rachel or the rest. After each of us had failed a couple of times, Sister would deplore the inadequacies of a public school rducation. She could deplore that for five minutes without taking a deep breath.

After the first couple Churchschools, I’d go back to Washington Elementary contemplating my eventual consignment to hell for attending a public school. But after a while, I began to wonder just how important it really was to know Esau’s lunch menu. Was I better off knowing how many brothers Joseph had a kazillion years ago or better off knowing an LST from a battleship?

I also discovered that while I was being humiliated at Sacred Heart, all the protestant kids were up at their church eating cookies, singing hymns and watching movies.

In March of 1944, after a crisis of faith, I converted to protestanism. I became either a Lutheran or a Methodist. I forget which, but the cookies were usually chocolate chip.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Democrat leaders beg, "Chill, Dr. Dean,
Please do not upset our Republican brothers
With nasty allusions and slurs that are mean.
A more tactful tongue would be our Dean druthers.
If you dare continue your bitter oration,
You may get swift-boated like candidate Kerry,
Dredge up more character assassination –-"
Hey! Who’s that guy yelling, "Give ‘em hell, Harry?"

"If we’re nicer to Right Wingers, then who knows, sir?
They may say we hate our country less often.
Our next lost election may not be much closer,
But maybe the poisonous blowback might soften.
Someday the Neos may grant us some crumbs
If they find our liberal leanings less scary.
We must stop suggesting they’re all thugs and bums –-"
Hey, shut up that guy yelling, "Give ‘em hell, Harry!"

"So let us be kinder and be gentler too.
Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes.
Avoid confrontation, no negative view.
Republican leaders aren’t all rats and snakes.
Sure, compromise may seem like surrender,
But politics can’t be all thrust and parry.
What’s spent on offense blows back on the spender –-"
Hey! Throw out that guy yelling, "Give ‘em hell, Harry!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

This Just In (March, 1775)


Philadelphia (Colonial Press) - Virginian Patrick Henry found himself with few allies today after uttering words that some Tory leaders criticized as "out of control." Colonial leaders backed away from Henry, insisting that his statements before the Virginia legislature were too extreme to represent their views.

"I don’t think it was helpful to suggest we have no liberty," fellow Virginian G. Washington told reporters. "As Englishmen, we have more liberty than citizens of other countries, like the French. Perhaps Mr. Henry might have said something like ‘Let me retain the liberty already granted.’"

John Hancock of New York counseled. "We certainly our not asking to be given more liberty than other Englishmen. I could never sign my name to a declaration such as Henry’s."

Massachusetts leader John Adams pointed out, "It’s not an either-or thing. One need not go directly from some minor infringement on our liberties all the way to death. There are countless possibilities for negotiation in between. I’m sure George III will prove reasonable once he hears our case."

Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, one of the leaders charged with representing the colonists in their negotiations with England, suggested that extreme views such as Henry’s make it difficult for him when he speaks before Parliament. "Hopefully, the next time Mr. Patrick feels his oratory about to take flight, he will sleep on it." Mr. Franklin then related a short anecdote about the benefits of retiring and rising early.

Despite their critcisms, Colonial leaders were cool to Tory suggestions that Henry be banned from making extreme statements. One leader who preferred to remain anonymous said, "We don’t want to limit Henry’s freedom of speech, just amend it."

Sunday, June 12, 2005


How things turn out for you each day
Depends on the option you choose.
Opt wisely you’re shouting "Hip-Hip-Hooray!"
Pick badly -- you’re singing the blues.

Sometimes patience should be your guide.
Just wait for a sunnier day.
Had Titanic sailed on a warm summer tide,
That berg would have melted away.

When Custer turned left instead of going right,
It made his famed stand be his last.
Life is a matter of "ifs," "buts" and "mights"
So never make choices too fast.

Had Lincoln decided to skip that ol’ play,
Stay home with his wifey instead,
The newspaper headline on the next day
Would not have pronounced him dead.

Had Hauptmann retained Perry Mason,
He would have been cleared. Here is why.
Ol’ Perry’d have won the case on
A confession by some other guy.

Had helium filled up the Hindenberg’s tanks,
It wouldn’t have gone down in hot flame.
The tragic choice of hydrogen ranks
As the worst gas-up we can name.

Mankind’s goofs could set minds to boggling --
So many tragic paradoxes!
(I’m pleased to get this chance at blogging.
I usually lecture on old soapboxes.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


[Previously published in Oldetyme Baseball News]
Guest Blogger Dr. Charles T. Gregory
Professor of Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology, Mountebank University

In baseball lore, Fred Merkle has been castigated as a "Bonehead" ever since 1908 when he failed to touch second base. I even included a few chapters on the incident in A History of Balls of the Base Variety. I was particularly pleased with the chapter in which I related the phrase "get to second base" to American interpersonal relationships and suggested that Merkle’s failure to accomplish that at the Polo Grounds may have stemmed in part from his high school years when he took an unusually chaste young lady to the prom.

Everyone remembers the situation at the Polo Grounds on that fateful September 23: the Cubs and Giants tied in the last of the ninth with two out, Harry "Moose" McCormick on third, Merkle on first. Suddenly Al Bridwell singled, apparently winning the game for New York. But, instead of running to second base, young Merkle headed for the centerfield clubhouse. Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers called for the ball, but Joe McGinnity, who was coaching for the Giants, intercepted and heaved it into the stands. Eventually a ball was retrieved (though many said it was not the one that Bridwell had hit) and Merkle was called out at second. By then, everything was so tumultuous that play could not be resumed, and the game was declared a draw. A few weeks later, when the Giants and Cubs tied in the final standings, the game was replayed. And when the Cubs won, they had the pennant and young Merkle was blamed for the Giants’ failure.

Only of late, new evidence has come to light to indicate history has been in error for more than 90 years. It wasn’t "Bonehead" Merkle at all; it was "Bonehead" McGinnity.

The new facts are contained in a slender volume entitled Memoirs of a Peanut Vender by Leonard Mercedes Skiff recently rediscovered in the Gatesboro (New York) Public Library. For many years, this privately printed book, apparently the only surviving copy, had been mis-filed under "Agriculture." It was only when a Gatesboro broccoli salesman who was considering a career change happened to pick it off a dusty shelf that Memoirs of a Peanut Vendor was discovered to include Mr. Skiff’s remembrance of that famous game in 1908, during which he by chance had a unique ringside seat.

In Chapter Seven (pp. 45-51), Skiff explains that he was hawking his peanuts in the stands along the first base side when a dissatisfied customer, after biting into a sour peanut, hurled the almost full bag at Skiff’s head. The bag richocheted off Skiff’s cranium onto the field of play and landed near first base. Skiff asserts that this occurred just after Merkle’s single.

Feeling responsible for the bag of peanuts on the field and recognizing the possibility of an ankle injury should a player happen to step on it, Skiff climbed over the railing and onto the field to retrieve the danger-laden peanuts. Just as he neared first base, he heard the burly McGinnity lean in from his coaching box and snarl at Merkle, "Listen, you stupid rookie, you do exactly what I tell you or I’ll fix your wagon!"

While these words might seem harsh, it will be remembered by baseball historians that 19-year-old Merkle was only a recent addition to the team and the hefty McGinnity was a disciple of Giants’ manager John McGraw, a mentor renowned for treating his players as automatons.

The game situation was so tense at that moment that no one had halted play despite the presence of the conscientious peanut vender on the field. Indeed, says Skiff, no one seemed to notice he was there. Just as he picked up the hazardous bag of peanuts, Bridwell made his hit. Merkle headed properly for second base, Skiff insists.

It was at that moment that McGinnity made the fatal error that was ultimately to cost the Giants the pennant. He forgot that his duty was to coach Merkle from first to second and instead turned his attention to McCormick, who was trotting in from third with what seemed to be the winning run. In fact, says Skiff, he began shouting directions across the diamond to McCormick. That baserunner, a lumbering fellow, was universally called "Moose" by friend and foe alike. But for some reason, McGinnity used the gentleman’s proper name in bellowing his orders: "Home! Harry. Home!"

According to Skiff, Merkle heard McGinnity yelling and turned short of second. "His face took on a quizzical expression," Skiff wrote. "I understood instantly what was going through his young mind. As a newcomer to the club, he no doubt knew McCormick only as ‘Moose.’ Moreover, given McGinnity’s earlier threat, he had to expect that any instructions coming from that direction were meant for him. And, with the noise of the crowd, it seemed to him that McGinnity was yelling, ‘Home! Hurry home!’

"But surely McGinnity could not have wanted him to head for home plate, for at that base the only run necessary for victory was being scored by another. There was only one other ‘home’ possible. Obediently, the quick-witted Merkle headed for the Giants’ ‘home’ at the Polo Grounds -- the centerfield clubhouse."

Skiff goes on to theorize that the reason McGinnity fought so hard for control of the baseball was his realization that his coaching error might cost the Giants the game. Furthermore, Skiff praises Merkle for his refusal to reveal the old veterans’ mistake so that McGinnity "might live out his days in honor and never be subjected to the ridicule and scorn mistakenly heaped on the young first baseman by those who did not know the true story."

Friday, June 03, 2005


Information is power! Quick, name the Seven Dwarfs!

She swam over and kissed him passionately. When he backstroked away, she thought he was being chased by a shark.

Those who can – do. Those who can’t – become sports reporters. Those who once could do but can’t anymore – become color men for TV games.

I favor doing unto others as I would have them do unto me, and if I did unto others as the Religious Right does unto others, I would have others beat the hell out of me.

There’s nothing wrong about sex between a man and a sheep so long as they are both consenting adults. Sadly, some sheep are real whores and cannot sustain a lasting relationship. They’ll break your heart!

The truth shall make you free – if you’ve got a good lawyer.

Mary had a little lamb, along with some mashed potatoes, diced carrots, and a light green salad.

Thus far I’ve had no luck in my ambition to become a porn star. Nevertheless, I still go to all the auditions.

If buffaloes had carried guns in the1800s, one of them might have been called "Bill Cody" Buffalo.

Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn’t like. You didn’t know him, did you?