RIP Pumpsie Green

Most people these days think of Boston (and the Northeast as a whole) as a modern Athens, the standard bearer for progressive, liberal thinking. But it wasn’t always so. The City of Boston in the 1950’s and 60’s was a hotbed of racial tensions, with frequent rioting over such issues as forced busing and integration. While Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Boston Red Sox (owned by avowed racist Tom Yawkey) didn’t add a player of color until 1959. That player’s name was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.

Green was born October 27, 1933 in the small town of Boley, Oklahoma. As a youth, he excelled at sports, as did his brother Cornell, who wound up playing 13 seasons as a Defensive Back for the Dallas Cowboys. After playing college ball at Contra Costa, Pumpsie turned pro in 1954, and toiled in the minor leagues for five years before finally being called up by Boston. He made his Major League debut on July 21, 1959 as a pinch runner, and continued to play for the Sox, mostly as a second baseman, until being traded to the New York Mets for Felix Mantilla in 1963. Green played a few more seasons in the minors before hanging up his spikes in 1965. After his career ended, he worked as a high school baseball coach and truant officer in Berkeley, California, where he settled with his wife Marie.

His career stats aren’t exactly Hall of Fame material – a lifetime .246 average with 13 home runs and 74 RBI in just 344 games – but as the first black player for the Red Sox, he broke the ground for future stars like George “Boomer” Scott, Jim Rice, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and so many others. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green died today at the ripe old age 85. He may never be a Hall of Famer, but his contribution to the game of baseball was important, and his name will live on. Job well done, Pumpsie. Rest in peace.

Love That Dirty Water: BOSTON RED SOX WIN 2018 WORLD SERIES!!

108 regular season wins… playoff victories against bitter rivals the Yankees and defending champs the Astros… a historic 18 inning loss in Game 3… and finally, the Boston Red Sox seal the deal to become the 2018 World Series Champions! And best of all, they did it before midnight!!

No one thought this team was anything special at first. Their new manager, Alex Cora, had no experience running a team on his own. They didn’t sign free agent slugger J.D. Martinez until late in spring training. There were questions about David Price, the bullpen looked shaky, superstar Dustin Pedroia was unable to come back from knee surgery, Jackie Bradley couldn’t hit, Rafael Devers couldn’t field. They lost their first game to the Tampa Bay Rays, and I had low expectations about them.

Then something magical happened. The team won nine in a row, then another eight-game streak, and they never looked back. They added Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce, and Ian Kinsler late in the season, none of them marquee names, but solid, working-class pros who did their jobs. Ace Chris Sale was injured for much of the season’s final two months, but Price and Eovaldi stepped up. The bullpen was still shaky, but the big bats of Martinez and Mookie Betts and stellar defense of Bradley and Andrew Benintendi helped carry the team.

The Sox won a team-best 108 games during the regular season, and hated rivals the New York Yankees were their first playoff opponents. They won the first game, lost the second, clobbered the Yanks 16-1 in the third, then scored the victory in the fourth. Next up were 2017 World Series champs the Houston Astros, Cora’s former team. Though the Astros managed a Game 2 win, there wasn’t much doubt the Sox were gonna pull it off, and they did, with Jackie Bradley named ALCS MVP.

Next stop: LA. The Dodgers were more than up to the challenge, including that monumental 18-inning game they won with a walk-off by Max Muncy. But these Red Sox were not to be denied, as David Price dominated as both starter and reliever, earning tonight’s win. Sale came on in the ninth to shut LA down (striking out the hated ex-Oriole Manny Machado) and WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS once again!!

Journeyman Pearce was named Series MVP, and congratulations are in order for Alex Cora, who changed the clubhouse culture and molded the team into a cohesive unit. Cora’s the first manager born outside the continental U.S. (he’s Puerto Rican) to win the World Series, and part of his contract stated the team would send relief packages to his hurricane-torn country. A classy guy, and sports fans everywhere salute you, Alex!

Now warm up those Duck Boats, ’cause it’s Victory Parade Time! Congrats, Red Sox… we ALL love that Dirty Water!!:

Base-Brawl: William Bendix in KILL THE UMPIRE (Columbia 1950)

Ahh, spring is in the air, that magical time of year, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of… baseball!! That’s right, Dear Readers, Opening Day is upon us once again, and what better way to celebrate the return of America’s National Pastime than taking a look back at KILL THE UMPIRE, a 1950 comedy conceived in the warped mind of former animator Frank Tashlin and directed by ex-Warners vet Lloyd Bacon.

Big lug William Bendix stars as Bill Johnson, an ex-major leaguer whose passion for the game keeps him from holding a regular job because he keeps playing hooky to go to the ballpark. Bill hates only one thing more than missing a game – umpires! But when his exasperated wife threatens to leave him, his ex-ump father-in-law suggests he go to umpire school to save his marriage. Bill balks at first, but then reluctantly agrees, not wishing to lose his spouse. He does everything in his power to get ejected out of the school, including donning a pair of thick “Coke-bottle’ glasses, but eventually comes around. Bill and his roomie Roscoe are sent to the Texas League, where he finds Texans hate umpires even more than he does, at one point getting knocked out by a tossed cowboy boot! Some gamblers attempt to bribe Bill, but he causes them to lose by having their team forfeit, causing a Texas-sized riot at the old ball game! Fans want Bill’s head on a platter, and it all culminates in a wild chase with Bendix in drag, pursued by an angry mob and angrier gamblers. But as you probably can guess by now, all’s well that ends well.

Tashlin’s loony screenplay features many of his trademark cartoony sight gags, like Bendix wearing an over-inflated chest protector, then getting his spikes stuck in a wooden floor, with hilarious results. The chase is a riot too, with our hero being dragged water-skiing style on a piece of fence behind an ambulance. Tashlin strikes the right balance of situation comedy and slapstick hijinks, aided by Bacon’s deft direction. Bacon was adept at any type movie, but got his start with Chaplin and Mack Sennett; his comedy bona fides include GOLD DUST GERTIE, THE IRISH IN US , A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER, and MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND.

“This ballpark has sho’ gone crazy!”

William Bendix plays it broad as baseball nut Bill. He was no stranger to baseball pictures, having starred two years earlier in THE BABE RUTH STORY. No stranger to comedy, either: Bendix starred in radio’s THE LIFE OF RILEY sitcom, later bringing it to television (in fact, his RILEY TV costar Tom D’Andrea plays roommate Roscoe). It’s nice to see Una Merkel get a substantial part here as Bendix’s beleaguered wife. Ray Collins , of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and TV’s PERRY MASON, plays father-in-law Jonah. Three Stooges fans will get a kick out of seeing many Columbia Short Subject Players in small roles: Murray Alper, Stanley Blystone, Vernon Dent, Dudley Dickerson (“This house has sho’ gone crazy!”), Emil Sitka, Dick Wessel, and Jean Willes appear, and the familiar strains of “Three Blind Mice” play over the opening credits! You’ll also find Familiar Faces like William Frawley , Billy Gray, Frank Hagney, Alan Hale Jr. , and others in the mix.

Some may find KILL THE UMPIRE a bit dated, but it’s still got plenty of laughs in it to make it worth your time. And it’s available on YouTube for your convenience! Makes a good pre-game warm-up…. now let’s Play Ball!

Oh, and one other thing…. Let’s Go Red Sox!!

Let Us Now Praise Number 34, Big Papi

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For many of us, October doesn’t just mean Halloween and all things horror, it also means playoff baseball. Unfortunately, my Boston Red Sox were eliminated last night by the Cleveland Indians. Fenway Park has locked its gates for the winter, but the Boys of Summer will return next April. Only there will be something missing in 2017. There will be no more Big Papi.

David Ortiz has decided to call it a career after nineteen glorious seasons as the best Designated Hitter in baseball. The 40-year-old slugger gave us his all, but the wear and tear on his body told him to make this season his last. And what a tremendous final season it was: .315 Batting Average, 38 Home Runs, 127 RBI, and he led the American League in OPS (1.021), Doubles (48), Slugging Percentage (.620), and Intentional Walks (15). Not bad for an old geezer, and Papi will definitely be in the MVP conversation this offseason!

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Ortiz was claimed off the scrap heap by Boston in 2003 after a few unsuccessful years in Minnesota. He spent his first couple of months riding the bench until replacing the immortal Jeremy Giambi in June as the full-time DH. Papi helped lead the team to the ALCS, where we fell to the hated Yankees (curse you, Aaron Boone!). But the next season brought a new attitude, as the band of self-proclaimed “Idiots” charged into the postseason, beating their New York rivals in a grueling seven-game series, and sweeping the vaunted St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years! The Curse of the Bambino was broken at last, and Big Papi played a huge part in it (.409 avg, 5 HRs, 23 RBI in the playoffs).

One of my fondest Fenway memories was attending Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. I was supposed to be at Game 3, which was rained out, but the tickets would be honored for Game 5… if necessary. The Yankees had a 3-0 edge, and Ortiz’s walk-off home run in Game 4 made it necessary, so my friends and I drove back up to Boston for the game, and I talked with Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy outside the park, who told me in his infinite baseball wisdom we had to win tonight, because “There’s no tomorrow”. The Fenway Faithful crowd was like a living, breathing organism, ear-splittingly deafening, the entire stadium itself seemed to rock as if an earthquake were occurring. Our Ace, Pedro Martinez, was on the mound, up against crafty right-hander Mike Mussina. The game was back and forth, tied up 4-4 in the 14th inning, when David Ortiz stepped into the batter’s box, two outs, two men on. Big Papi blasted a single to right-center, scoring Johnny Damon, and the crowd went absolutely berserk! Papi was a hero for the second night in a row, and it was truly one of the greatest nights of my life.

Another memory, this time much more somber. The annual Patriots Day game, on April 15, 2013, was a victory for the Sox over Tampa Bay, but the celebration was short as terrorists set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, leaving four dead and hundreds wounded. All New Englanders were glued to our television sets as the perpetrators were caught, but the city of Boston was still on edge. When the Red Sox returned from a road trip on the 20th, a tribute to the fallen and the heroes who put their own lives in harm’s way to protect the wounded, was capped off by a stirring, inspirational, heartfelt speech from Number 34, who had recently become an American citizen:

The Sox went on to win the series that year, their third in ten years. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be this year, and Red Sox fans are deprived of seeing our hero cap off his career with ring #4. But we’ve still got plenty of wonderful memories, and hope to have more in five years, when Big Papi is eligible for the Hall of Fame. He’ll be the first DH elected to the Hall, and if he doesn’t get in the Fenway Faithful will rise up in revolt! That’s how we roll in Beantown!

David Ortiz isn’t just a baseball icon around these parts. He’s heavily involved in charities, like The Jimmy Fund, the team’s pet charity that helps fund pediatric cancer patients at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and his David Ortiz Foundation gives aid to sick children across New England and his home in the Dominican Republic. Ortiz won’t be taking the field next season, and baseball in Boston won’t be the same, but his charitable work will continue. Thanks for helping break The Curse, for your clubhouse leadership, your philanthropy, and for giving me a night I’ll never forget. Enjoy your retirement, Big Papi… you’ve more than earned it!!

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz gestures as he crosses the plate after hitting a two-run homer against the Miami Marlins in the first inning of an interleague baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A Grand Slam: Abbott & Costello’s “WHO’S ON FIRST?”

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This week’s baseball theme wouldn’t be complete without Bud Abbott and Lou Costello doing their classic “Who’s On First?”. The skit originated in burlesque in various permutations, until the team turned it into a baseball routine and ran away with it. They first performed it before a national audience on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938, and it was an immediate smash. Abbott & Costello never did it the same way twice, riffing on the routine like a jam band. Enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956, here’s the boys doing “Who’s On First?” from their 1950’s television show:

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