You could smile at clowns of yore

Originally published June 29, 1997, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe

Remember when baseball was a just a game? Remember when players and fans alike had fun following a simple sport that helped define this country’s character?

The dilemma of the Cordero family is merely the latest example of how baseball has so lost its way that it can now steal our whole summer in June. But, instead of getting bummed­out by these bums, let’s assemble an All Star Team of some of the funniest people to ever play. And, for expert guidance, we turn to “The Monster,” Dick Radatz, who was, hands­down, the greatest relief pitcher of his era.

“I’ve done it by position,” Radatz said yesterday. “First Base: Dick Stuart or Norm Cash. Stuart played for the Red Sox when Johnny Pesky was manager. When John told us one day there were going to be fines for violating curfew ­­ 500 bucks for first offense, 1,000 for a second ­­ Stuart sat in the back of the clubhouse, and when Pesky asked if there were any questions, Stuart said, `John is this tax­deductible?’

“Once, Norm Cash is up at Tiger Stadium and he breaks his bat. All kinds of Superballs spill out, so the umpire grabs the bat. Norm tells the umpire that it’s actually his son’s bat.

“Second Base: Billy Gardner. His nickname was `Slick,’ because he had great hands. He told George Scott the reason he was so quick was his dad used to drive golf balls at him from 10 yards away and it was either catch the golf ball or die.

“Third Base: Kenny Hunt. His son was Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on TV. Kenny told me, `It’s not bad enough that I’m a major league third baseman and my 12­year­old kid makes
20 grand a year more than I do. He has better hands.’

“Shortstop: You have to have Eddie Pellagrini, who played here 200 years ago, or Ray Oyler of the Tigers. Ray used to use Hank Aguirre, a pitcher, as his puppet. Aguirre was 6­foot­4, and Ray would stand behind him in the dugout screaming obscenities at opposing players and when they’d look over, all they’d see was Hank, not Ray.

“Outfield,” Radatz continued. “Gates Brown. Gates loved to eat and wouldn’t sit in the dugout. He’d fill his uniform with food and go sit in the bullpen and eat all during a game. And he’d have all the fixings on his burgers and dogs, too.

“One day, Mayo Smith, his manager, calls him in about the second inning to pinch hit but Gates hasn’t finished eating. So he stuffs the hot dogs into his jersey and goes up to hit. Remember the scene in `The Natural’ where Hobbs is bleeding when he’s at bat? Well, Gates is up there at the plate with this huge mustard stain on his jersey and ketchup leaking through his pants. And he hits a home run!

“Gary Geiger. He played for the Sox. A very funny kid. Nickname was `Onions,’ because he’d tell pitchers, `I’m gonna make you cry, kid.’ Mantle was funny, too.

“Catcher: Bob Uecker. Everyone knows him. And Yogi. Once, we’re at one of Mickey Mantle’s golf tournaments and Yogi shows up late and Mantle asks him what happened. Yogi says he had to go to a funeral for his cousin’s sister’s brother. Mantle says, `That’s a waste of time.’ And Yogi tells him, `Mickey, if you don’t go to theirs, they won’t come to yours.’

“Pitchers: Dennis Bennett, played here. Used to carry a gun. Don’t ask me why. One night we’re at the Commodore Hotel in New York. Walls are paper­thin and I’m next to Bennett’s room. He comes in late, and I hear his roommate, Lee Thomas, say, `Turn out the light.’ Bennett says, `You turn it out.’ Thomas says, `No. You do it.’ Next thing I hear, Bennett says, `OK.’ And then I hear bang­bang­bang. He shot the light out.

“Frank Sullivan. Sparky Lyle. Gary Bell. Bill Lee. They were all funny. Pitchers are funny. Tiant was the funniest of them all, and if you could have understood him he would have put Richard Pryor out of business.

“We had a lot more fun than players today have for a very simple reason,” Dick Radatz explained. “We had no other agenda. We would have played for nothing. Today, it’s the rare exception when a player is doing it for fun, rather than money. It’s a shame, too, because they’re killing the sport. They have almost succeeded in turning a game into strictly business.”

By the way, want to know how truly great Dick Radatz was? Over his career, he faced Mickey Mantle 63 times and struck him out 47 times. Mantle only got one hit off him, ever, a home run.

Imagine! These clowns today couldn’t carry Radatz’s resin bag and they get paid millions and perform without a smile. And too many of them are losers who don’t know how to laugh. Or play.