Blind Mumbling

A compilation of writings that never got anyone excited.

Name:
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.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I TRY TO WATCH SOCCER

I read on the OpEd page that they’re playing the World Bucket or Saucer or Bowl or whatever they call the big soccer game to choose the best soccerers. From what I read I should be ashamed of myself for not caring.

The letter writer explained that I must be wrong because all the fans in France and Tierra del Fuego and other such places love soccer so much that they kill people over it. Years ago there was a popular song, "Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong." Add in the Uraguayans and all the others, and soccer would win a yes or no vote everywhere but in Ohio.

I was worried that to keep up with the French I’d have to learn to eat snails or surrender to somebody, but I finally decided to do my duty and tune into a game on TV. There’s all kinds of stuff on cable. I was sorely tempted to watch either a guy who talks to dead people or a rerun of Green Acres. But I was on a mission, so I surfed over to a soccer game.

They were showing the warm-ups. About a half-hour later I realized that what I was watching was the game! They’d fooled me by not scoring. Gosh, those guys can run! I’ll bet they really could get going if they didn’t bother to kick the ball all the time.

I think the reason they kept kicking was so some of the guys could get close to each side of the field so they could hear what people yelled at them. The fans were yelling in Korean or German or one of those languages that all sound alike, so I don’t know what they were saying, but they seemed very sincere.

So the players sincerely kicked and ran the ball in one direction. Then they’d kick and run in the opposite direction. Then kick and run back in the first direction. Then kick and run . . . .

Well, I dozed off . I woke with a start when the announcer got stabbed. At least I guess that’s what happened because he gave this long, drawn-out wail. I thought they might show him being carried out. When they just went back to kicking and running, I nodded off again. When I next woke up, it was over. I would have looked up the game in the newspaper the next day if I could’ve remembered who played.

I plan to watch another soccer thing the next time they hold one of those World Whatevers. Gotta keep up with the French.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

LA LAWLESS

The LA DA leads the league
In losing front page trials.
The stars aren’t major anymore,
But they leave court all smiles.

They couldn’t get O.J.’s glove to fit.
They whiffed on Bobby Blake.
Now, Michael isn’t guilty.
(Tho he certainly is a flake.)

Star defendents always win
Those trials out there in Hollywood,
But put in different venues
They might not fare so good.

In New York, Russ Crowe threw a phone;
Chris Slater groped a gal.
By now they surely must be wishing
They’d done their deeds in Cal.

In LA they’d be off the hook.
It really makes us chuckle.
Who’d that DA last convict?
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle?

Friday, January 13, 2006

SWIFTBOATING THE BABE

By Dr. Charles T. Gregory (Guest Blogger)
Professor of Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology, Mountebank University

On Election Day morning, Bob was sitting at my kitchen table, scribbling furiously on a sheet of foolscap, drinking my coffee, and complaining that I didn’t have any doughnuts. He's like that sometimes. We'll be talking and suddenly he gets an idea about something he wants to write. Until he puts it down on paper, he's lost to everything else. Except doughnuts, of course.

I, as you would expect, was devoting my thoughts to the election. I believe an intelligent, informed electorate is the backbone of democracy and that voting is both a privilege and a duty. Had it not been threatening rain, I probably would have walked over to the polling place to cast my precious ballot for what's-his-name. Or maybe the other guy.

Bob looked up from his writing. "Doc? Why do they call this kind of paper ‘foolscap?’"

"Originally, it was called ‘fool scrap,’" I explained, "taking its name from people asking, ‘Where’s that fool scrap of paper I was writing on yesterday?’"

Bob made a disappointed face and scratched out something on his paper.

I certainly understood his annoyance. I well remember the agonies I experienced in searching for the perfect word or phrase while writing A History of Balls of the Base Variety, my magnum opus. How many times had I become so frustrated in my search that only a large lunch and long nap could free my muse and convince me that what I’d already written was good enough?

Just then, my neighbor C.C. walked in without knocking as he usually does. "Wowee!" he exulted. "What a beautiful day!"

"Did you bring doughnuts?" Bob asked.

C.C. shook his head. "I was wonderin’ if you guys were ready to go vote."

I told him it looked like rain and I was on the verge of a cold. "There’s not a cloud in the sky," C.C. said.

"Actually, it might be the flu."

"And the temperature is above sixty," he added.

C.C., who is himself above sixty, never seems to know when to let a subject drop. One time Bob complained that C.C. went "on and on ad nauseum." C.C. told him, "Maybe I do beat a dead hearse to death, but you go on odd gymnasium yourself. I’ve heard about you going to Cleveland as a kid so often my butt’s sore from ridin’ the bus!" When C.C. gets started, we just try to change the subject.

"The next time I go to Cleveland," I said, changing the subject, "I think I’ll visit the Rock Museum."

"I’ve got plenty of good rocks in my backyard," C.C. said.

"Hey, C.C., do you know why they call this kind of paper ‘foolscap?’" Bob asked, changing the subject.

"Sure." C.C. answered confidently, "In school, the teachers used to fold up sheets of it to make dunce caps for the dummies. Uh -- anyway, that's what I was told. You ready to go vote, Bob?"

Bob put down his pencil. "Back in October, I got so sick and tired of all those attack ads on TV that I vowed I would never vote for anybody who put out one of those poison pieces. Yesterday I checked. The only person I can vote for is that fellow running unopposed for county surveyor."

"Well, are you going to vote for him?" C.C. asked.

"No, I don’t like his stand on foreign aid."

"I for one think those ads were terrific," C.C. said. "Otherwise, how would we know that the bums in charge of the country for the last couple of years are such selfish, devious, lying, two-timing, hypocritical scallawags?"

"But," Bob said, "according to the ads, the people running against them are also selfish, devious, lying, two-timing, hypocritical scallawags."

C.C. shrugged. "No system’s perfect," he said.

"I was reading something George Will wrote about elections," I began learnedly.

"What’s a baseball writer know about politics?" C.C. asked.

"I think he writes a column about Washington or something in the off-season," Bob said. "A humor column, I think."

"Is he funny?" C.C. wanted to know.

"Well, he's no Mark Russell," I said.

"Russell was a great center with Celtics," C.C. said, "but I never thought he was all that funny."

"I'll tell you what’s weird," Bob said. "Guys like us gripe about politics, but the only elections we really get excited about are the ones for the Baseball Hall of Fame. I mean, Doc is still upset that they ignored Gil Hodges last year. C.C., you’re always complaining about Pete Rose."

"Don't forget how you go on and on about Hank Majeski," I said.

"Exactly," Bob said. He picked up the piece of foolscap he’d been writing on. "Imagine, if you will, that the Hall of Fame was just opening this year and they were holding a national election for the first player to be elected. Here’s what ---"

"Wait a minute," C.C. said. "Is this some fool crap you’re writing?"

"Fool crap? Another derivation heard from," I muttered.

Bob set his paper down. "I -- uh -- thought it might make an interesting subject for my column."

"That’d be a first," C.C. said sitting down at the table, his expression bemused. "I don't get it. They keep publishing your weird scribblin’s. What? Do you have photos of one of the editors in fragance grandee with a barcalounger? They always send back my articles, like the one I wrote on Charley Maxwell."

"Maybe they sent it back because you spelled ‘Maxwell’ with two x’es," Bob said. "Anyway, get the picture. Imagine it’s the election for the first player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. You turn on your television and you see pinstripes on a white background. They are expanding. The camera pulls back and we realize we're looking at Babe Ruth’s belly. A voice like that guy who used to imitate God for NFL Films says, ‘How many hot dogs and how much soda pop can this belly hold? And how much extra have you Yankee fans paid for your hot dogs and sodas to make up for the freebies this man consumed? Do you really want this glutton who cost you money enshrined in your Hall of Fame? One year, he stuffed himself with so many hot dogs and sodas he missed half the season!’ An insinuating female voice: ‘If it was hot dogs and sodas.’ Back to the voice of God: ‘His appetites were out of control!’ And at the bottom of the screen: ‘Paid for by the Ty Cobb for the Hall of Fame Committee.’"

C.C. stared at him. "This is an ad on television?"

"Well, not a real ad," Bob said. "It's imaginary. You have to imagine they're holding the first --"

"-- election for the Hall of Fame," C.C. completed. "What I don't get is why they’re sayin’ rotten things about Babe Ruth."

"It's like those attack political ads," Bob explained. "Only about baseball."

"I see," C.C. said, the light dawning -- sort of. "Hey! How about this? Babe Ruth is pulling the petals off a flower and suddenly there’s this big nuclear explosion."

"That's sort of -- uh -- sort of --" Bob looked down at his paper. "Here's one. We could show pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover, and Babe Ruth. And the voice says, ‘He told us he was better than an American President!’"

I couldn't let that pass. "What Ruth really said, Bob, was that he had a better year than Hoover."

"Hey!" C.C. erupted, making a TV screen in the air with his hands, "‘He'll call his shot, but he won't talk about Whitewater!’ Or better yet, ‘Babe Ruth wants to cut Medicare!’"

Bob slowly rolled his piece of foolscap into a ball. I felt it was time to change the subject. "Who are you planning to vote for in the real election, C.C.?"

I was soon sorry I asked. C.C. started at the top of the national elections giving both his choices and his reasons. He finally ended with his candidate for county surveyor whose stand on foreign aid he admired. I noticed that for the final ten minutes of the recitation, Bob not only didn't move -- he didn't even blink.

I couldn't think of anything to say.

At last, Bob took his wadded up piece of foolscap and made a one-handed push shot for the sink. Two! Then he stood up.

"Well, Doc," he said, "let’s get going."

C.C. was elated. "So you guys are going to vote after all?"

"Oh yes, in self defence," I said. "You convinced us."

As we walked out the door, C.C. was saying, "About that other TV thing. How about ‘The Babe was not only soft on crime, he even stole some bases himself'?’"

"We can stop on the way for doughnuts," Bob said dreamily.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My First Act Was the Worst

When Bill asked me to try out for the Little Theater production he was going to direct, I’d been in two high school plays and one in college. All told, I’d spoken nearly a hundred lines on stage. Compared to the other guys at tryouts, I was a Barrymore.

Despite my vast experience, Bill didn’t put me in the lead. The male lead in the play called for a handsome, witty, urbane doctor type, but he was also in his fifties – more than twice my age. Brett, the actor in the second best male part, had to be tall, very athletic, and a real hero type. I was shorter than our actresses.

Fortunately, I was perfect for Brett’s friend, the third male part, who was described in detail as "Brett’s Friend."

The play was about how the doctor brings a girl named Miranda home from a fishing trip. He won’t tell his fiancee why he has the girl staying with him , but naturally she has her suspicions. The audience discovers at the end of Act One that the mysterious Miranda is a mermaid. This supposedly produces a great deal of merriment in Act Two until Miranda and Brett swim off together.

On opening night an hour before curtain up, the men’s tuxedos arrived. Someone had to show me how the detachable collar worked. I didn’t know it was to be attached at the nape of my neck to a button on the back of the shirt. I was more concerned with the jacket which seemed to have shrunk and was now a size smaller than when I’d been fitted. I was sure I'd only gained a couple of pounds.

As the curtain opened, the three men were standing on stage discussing Miranda. The Doctor was very evasive, never revealing she was a mermaid but lavish with cute references to the ocean and fish. It was sophisticated as all hell. After a few minutes, he offered Brett and me champagne.

So far, so good. We’d worried about the Doctor. This was his first play. He looked and sounded the part, but he was also the stiffest actor I’ve ever seen. I often wondered how he managed to speak his lines because that board up his butt must have gone clear to his throat.

The scene in which the doctor poured champagne was a struggle. He couldn’t multi-task. If he poured, he couldn’t speak; if he spoke, he couldn’t pour. Bill finally solved the problem by having him move on particular syllables. "MIR- (pour champagne into glass) anda is a WON- (lift bottle) derful PER- (pour next glass) son. I’M (lift bottle) sure you WILL (pour third glass) agree, MEN (lift bottle)." After going over it a hundred times, the Doctor had it down pat and had even learned to turn his head and speak directly to Brett while he said "anda is a WON".

Five minutes into opening night, the Doctor lifted the champagne bottle. He poured nicely as he said, "MIR," but then came – "is a personal – oh! I mean, he’s – that is, SHE’S a bonder – uh – what I’m trying to say is, Miranda is a wonderful." Through all this, his eyes were on Brett. As he was fumbling and repeating, our champagne – actually ginger ale – was bubbling out of the bottle, overflowing the glass, spreading across the table, and puddling up on the floor. By the time he got to my glass – the third – the bottle was empty.

A few moments later, I set down my empty glass and splashed off stage to get Miranda. Naturally, as a mermaid, she had no feet, just a tail, but at this point in the play, only the doctor knew that. She kept her lower half wrapped in a blankett. I was to carry her on stage and place her on a chair. When I got to her in the wings, I saw she had changed from the gray blanket she used in rehearsals to a fuzzy, red-orange wrap. "This will look better," she said.

I carried her on stage and put her in a chair. As I stepped away, I looked down. The entire front of my tuxedo was covered with red-orange lint. The blanket had shed all over me. A few moments later, things got worse.

Trapped on stage, I tried to wipe some of the red-orange lint off. That put too much strain on my detachable collar which suddenly de-tached at the front. The button in back held, but the ends of the collar, like white wings, extended out over each of my shoulders. I tried to reach up to fix it, but the tuxedo was too tight. I couldn’t raise my arms. For the next twenty minutes I paraded my wings around the stage while the other actors pretended that there was nothing unusual about how I looked. I’m sure the lint on my tuxedo was no redder than my face.

At last, I got my cue to exit. In the wing, the stage manager tried desperately to wipe off some of the red-orange lint while the make-up lady tied my collar together. I still had one more entrance in Act One.

At the end of the first act, Miranda was to be left alone on stage. Finally she’d open her blanket and reveal her fish tail to the audience which was expected to gasp and suddenly understand all the ocean and fish references they'd’been hearing. Then she would hear me coming and recover her tail. Our stage didn’t have an actual curtain. When the act ended, we would put out the lights, but the exit signs cast enough glow that dim figures could still be seen on stage. Because Miranda couldn’t walk with her fish tail, I’d carry her off as the lights went out.

The girl playing Miranda was more a singer than an actress. To take advantage of that, the director had her sing "Danny Boy" while she opened her blanket. She finished the first verse, and I was starting to enter when the stage manager stopped me. "She hasn’t opened her blanket yet!" he whispered.

Miranda sang the second verse without showing her tail. "How many verses are there to that song?" the stage manager asked. Miranda launched into a third verse.

The make-up lady came running up to me. She was carrying Miranda’s fish tail!

Obviously, our Miranda had been more interested in singing than in showing her tail. I went out and carried our unrevealed mermaid off stage. "I forgot it," she whispered. "What do we do now?"

Somehow we got through Act Two. We ad-libbed a scene so Miranda could show her tail. The audience even applauded us at curtain call. Several relatives told us we were wonderful. Bill’s mother said we were ready for Broadway.