A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bob Uecker

In 1948, the Cleveland Indians won it all by defeating the Boston Braves 4 games to 2. It was a good year to be from the land under Lake Erie. However, since that time, it wasn’t that good for baseball. Sure, the 1990s saw a lot of good teams from northern Ohio, but the reality is that they weren’t good enough in 1995 and 1997, and for that, they dismantled their team, shipped out aging veterans, and gradually pinned hope and lost patience with rookies that either didn’t materialize or became too expensive to keep. As a result, there were good years for baseball; in that, 2007 stood out for being the year of the midges (gotta love those bugs, eh Joba?). Nevertheless, they just weren’t enough to seal the deal after mounting a 3 games to 1 lead over the Red Sox who eventually bulldozed over them to get to a World Series with a hot Colorado Rockies team that folded after a prolonged dormancy.
Nevertheless, it was in 1989 that the Indians retooled and became great. They hadn’t won a division series since 1954 and were suffering out the Curse of Rocky Colavito, a concept known only to people west of the Alleghenies and east of Toledo, and needed to get better quickly. It took the dastardly actions of a stripper trying to move the team to Miami to bring together Willie Mays Hayes, Ricky Vaughn, Roger Dorn, Jake Taylor, Eddie Harris, and Pedro Cerrano in an effort to beat up on a Yankees team that was led by Clue Heyward in bashing all opponents that stood in their way.
And once again, it seems like we live in an era of Yankees baseball that finds ways to make all things improbable come to life. Marco Scutaro screwed up a routine throw to first and proved that his defense will “truly” win games by putting another runner on base so that Hideki Okajima could blow his first decision in over 2 years when he walked home a runner in the 8th inning. No post sleep miracles and the Red Sox season is back to .500 as Andy Pettite and John Lackey take the mound for Game 3 while a now PG-13 rated David Ortiz lashes out to reporters that, "You guys wait 'til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What's up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That's a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me." However, tonight, he takes the bat to try to come out of the 2 game slump that has reporters wondering if his bat will wake up, if someone will find his real birth certificate, or if he will be exposed as a steroids mirage. This is baseball. All heroes (except Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, and Cal Ripken) are subject to being suspect to PED usage.
So if “Harry Doyle” could call this game, we might have a chance. Sure, it would take some convincing to make Mr. Baseball believe, but in the end Bob Uecker would cheer us on and inspire us with his mighty voice to be as great as he was. In 7 seasons, he did hit 14 homeruns in over 700 at bats and despite a batting average of .146 in his final year, a number that would be WELL BELOW the Mendoza Line, he did hit .200 for his career.
Nevertheless, not everyone is meant to be a baseball player forever. Take Marvelous Marv Throneberry who was so bad in 1962 and 1963 that he couldn’t even keep a place with the Mets. After getting 2 hits in his first 14 at bats of 1963, the Mets even ejected him into the cold streets of Flushing, New York, to find a new way of life. At least Uecker found the radio, and with that, he found the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. He also made it to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010 for his performance at Wrestlemania III, but those honors are just small potatoes when we compare them to what it means to be the “star” of the Major League movies. While not the greatest baseball films of all time, they still sum up what the game means in ways that are actually funny, which is not the same thing as Matt Leblanc playing 2nd fiddle to a monkey in Ed or whatever Angels in the Outfield is supposed to be.
No, here was a baseball movie that has truly stood the test of time even if Wesley Snipes served time. Here was a movie where President Palmer cut his teeth acting by playing a baseball player that believed in voodoo until Jobu couldn’t help him hit a curveball. Here was a movie where we stretched our imaginations to believe that Charlie Sheen was a convict, a womanizer, and a four-eyed relief pitcher extraordinaire. Here was the power of love for middle-aged couples lured into a date night flick with the promise that seeing Renee Russo and Tom Berenger rekindle their lost love would spurn bedroom antics for people that were too old to be contemplating breeding. Here was Corbin Bernsen as a star, which for those of us who were tuned out of American pop culture from 1989-1996, it still seems hard to believe despite what the Seinfeld reruns tell us.
But somehow, it came together and it worked. It really did, and it was a great movie – even after I’ve seen it 50 plus times (and I don’t even own it on DVD!). And for that, it is baseball history with players sporting haircuts that should have stayed in the eighties (and so their names will remain). And it should be preserved despite its stupidity, cheesiness, and mass dumb-downed audience appeal. In that, it works, and for all of these reasons, it will always mean more than Field of Dreams and the Natural put together.
Now, Randy Quaid and the rest of the pile of sludge that was Major League 2… that’s a completely different story.

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