Curtis Dahlgren
On the spirit of the Age: Books, baseball, and humor
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By Curtis Dahlgren
March 22, 2018

"I was so skinny that until I was 23, I never cast a shadow." – Lefty Gomez, Yankee pitcher (1908-1989)

I CAN TELL THERE'S A GOD by the way He keeps dropping books into my lap like manna from heaven. Someone said the Great American Novel has already been written – and rejected – and most of the good books in my library had been rejected by public libraries. I recently mentioned my 1948 "Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases" and this week I bought "The Best of Baseball Digest," 2006, edited by John Kuenster (Ivan Dee, pub.). It has almost 500 pages and I had to pay a whole buck for it. A short and timely review:


Lefty Gomez was 6'2" and 150 pounds or less. He made it to the Hall of Fame. I can kind of "relate" because in ninth grade I was 4'11" and 89 pounds(one pound short of a 90 pound weakling). But I played shortstop in an adult hardball league when I was 16 years old – at 5'1" and 103 pounds. I kept growing until age 21 and almost made it to 150 pounds (I could cast a shadow, but it was a short one). In nine summers I played every position except pitcher.

Never the class clown (not on purpose anyway), in my thirties I was the utility player whose job was to keep the team loose. I helped them win 11 games in a row from the bench. Lefty Gomez kept the Yanks loose from both sides of the foul lines. I used to think Bob Uecker was the funniest guy to play in the majors, and then maybe Jim Piersall, but Gomez may have tops. He tells a story about when he was a rookie in the minor leagues:

"I watched all the good hitters as they went to the plate. Came my turn to bat, I swaggered toward the box. I pulled at my cap, then spit on my hands and wiped them on my pants. Then I lifted one leg and swung the bat to knock the dirt out of my cleats. I missed my shoe, cracked my ankle, and spent the next few days in the hospital."

I can relate to some of that. In 1959, my first year in the league, I attempted to get on base by bunting. I had a quick first step, but I dropped the bat right in front of myself, fell over it, and landed on my face. The good news is, the ball went foul! We didn't win a single game that year, but we were "loose." We even had a player whose nickname was Charlie Brown.

Oh for the days when kids didn't take themselves so seriously! Even the late night "comics" take them too seriously. Some time I should review another book in my library that's titled, I think, "When Comedy Was King" (that was back in the Gomez era). Anyway, Lefty made the majors at 18, and a smarty-pants journalist asked him if he knew who Albert Einstein was, and he says:"Sure. He's an inventor like me."

The reporter asked him what he ever invented, and Lefty says:

"The revolving fish bowl. It keeps turning so the fish can see everything in the room without swimming all the time and wearing themselves out."

When our astronauts set foot on the moon, NASA was puzzled by an unidentified white object. Lefty says he knew immediately what it was:

"That's the ball Jimmie Foxx hit off me in 1937."

He was pitching against Foxx with the bases loaded one time and shook off every pitch the catcher gave him. The catcher calls timeout, goes out to the mound, and asks Lefty what he wants to throw. Lefty says:

"Nothing. Let's wait awhile. Maybe he'll get a phone call."

That was 60 years before cell phones, but you have to wonder; people text while driving and everything; one of these days you'll see a player hit a triple and pull out his cell phone to text his girl friend, "Did you see that one?" Back in my day I saw a guy hit a double and then pull out his comb to comb his hair. I picked him off second base.

But back to Lefty and baseball's heyday. After Mark Fidrych came into the majors, Gomez was once asked if he had ever talked to the ball. "Lots of times," he said. "I said Go foul, go foul, you #*!^#*!." As laid back as Lefty was, he was still human.

He told about starting the second game of the World Series as a young man of about 19. He calmly and methodically beat the Cubs (of course) 5 to 2. After the game he showered, got dressed, and got in his car. A couple miles from the stadium, he says to himself "Hey, I just won a game in the World Series!" He started to shake all over so hard that he pulled over to rest for ten minutes.

Baseball is a great team sport, but it's also one-on-one between batter and pitcher (the Japanese love that, like martial arts, and it helped pacify one of our former enemies). There must be a lesson in there, somewhere.

There's a fine line between being too focused and being too loose, and sometimes the line between being crazy and being a genius gets a bit blurred. Gomez set a record for nicknames: El Goofy and "the Gay Caballero" (in the finest sense of the word) among others. You could call him the Splendid Kidder or the Splendid Spitter (apologies to Ted Williams). An umpire told Lefty the batter thought he was throwing the spitter, and Lefty says, "Tell him to hit the dry side." But the goof got the girl; he married a Broadway star.

CONCLUSION? If libraries keep throwing out the best books, we in Wisconsin are so blessed to still have Bob Uecker around – and still working! Just one Ueckerism:

"When I came up to bat with three men on and two outs in the ninth, I looked in the other team's dugout and they were already in street clothes."

I think Bob says he hit a home run off Sandy Koufax one time."On any given day" anything can happen in sports. As an aside, I had the rare experience of seeing Koufax get knocked out of the box after giving up a grand slam with no one out in the first inning. This was a late September night in Milwaukee, and there must have been a wind coming in off Lake Michigan that made Sandy's arthritis kick in (I can relate to that too).

P.S. A funny personal story: I went to a doctor's appointment in Marquette, Michigan one time. I knew the time and the place, but had left the doctor's name at home. When I got to the clinic I told the receptionist I wanted to go to Dr. Gomez' office. She looked at me funny and asked me what his specialty was. When I said 'Dermatology,' she said, "Oh you mean Dr. Herzog." You always think of the perfect line later, but I should have said:

"Oh sorry. You'll have to excuse me, but I'm a little bit dislexic."

PPS:
I didn't actually ask for permission to quote the Baseball Digest book, but I figure that if the public library had already thrown it out, the stuff must be in the public domain (IT IS NOW). Finally a word of advice for modern Lefties and Liberals:

LIGHTEN UP A LITTLE AND YOU'LL LIVE LONGER!

Personally, my daily "morning" book says:

"Let us lift our eyes above the narrow little circle of our own horizon in life to the Great Works of God."

Sometimes all He can do is laugh, you know.

[Sorry about all the alliteration.] {[:(])

© Curtis Dahlgren

 

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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)

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