Retrosheet: Filling in the Blank Generation
Keep Johnny Carson in New York!
May 29, 1972 - The last time anyone would hear that embarrassing bullhorn-fueled burst of nonsense coming from the snarled lip of my crazed next door neighbor, Johnny H - "The Singing Cop" with his greasy metronomical hair curl dangling over his forehead, desperately trying to keep in time with an era long gone (quick, somebody grab his wrist and check his Vitalis signs!). He was still pleading from the window of his early '60s Cadillac (you know, the one with the disconcerting five-foot wooden poster that screamed out, "Keep Johnny in New York!" fully nailed onto the roof) while making his last rounds in trying to drum up support to keep The Tonight Show in New York, even though the show had left NYC for the mud-slinging Hollywood hells of Burbank earlier in the week.
You see, Johnny H was that rarest of cats, a hunky local celeb who thought he was Elvis' brother, an actor (his work on the pro-Cuba soap opera "La Tigressa" is still talked about in some circles. . .unfortunately, these circles are mostly in secret CANF meetings held in the backrooms of Cuban ciguarded bodegas), singer (his 1964 rockabilly side for Lordize Records has a twin guitar break that sounds like a spent Duane Eddy neck gnarling his way through the distorto district of Twangsville), ballplayer, and town policeman.
He clicked off the bullhorn and asked me if I needed a lift anywhere. I told him I was going to meet up with a couple of my friends as we were heading over to The Stadium for a Yankees-Tigers doubleheader. While being chauffeured across town in a dice-hanging, megaphone-blasting (he feared not the clunky monsters of "Target Earth!") Elvismobile would seem to be pretty un-hip, I was running late so I hopped in (naturally, I checked under the rumpled blanket in the back seat to see if Johnny H had gone through with that ill-advised Milton DeLugg kidnapping scheme he had been cooking up).
Johnny H dropped me off at my friend's house, which was located in the backroom of a rundown thread and scallop factory that his family owned. With the mesmerizing whir from the embroidery machines greeting me, I found my two pals already hoisting the moist--a case of Blatz beer and a fifth of Southern Comfort. So we killed some time yakking up baseball, needling down some choice Three Dog Night cuts (what, you were expecting Sir Doug Saldana or Wild Man Fischer?) and rummaging through his baseball card collection. As a companion piece to my growing fluency with Blatz, I started draining some rhythmic shots of Comfort (I now realize how easy it was for Tiny Tim to fall into that horrid three-jar-a-day habit he had of drinking straight-up Ragu Spaghetti Sauce!). I had never tasted that Southern Comfort peach-flavored bourbon liqueur befueur, but "Godfrey Jack Daniels" it went down smooth. Smooth enough that before I knew it, I was more than a half a bottle in and half a bottle out of it. And BP time at the stadium was quickly approaching.
As we were brown bagging it on our way to catch the bus heading to the Port of Authority in NYC, the dreaded woozies started to get to me. Once on the bus, sitting across from the old ladies with cauliflower rears and a crew of dolled-up guys that looked like they might end up sharing some scurvish bath water with Billy Murcia, the whole damned NJT tram started to spin. Fortunately, the ride into Manhattan takes only ten minutes and the P.A. was just ahead. Back then, one of the true tests of a teenager's worth (along with hot wiring cars, easing box-cars of their excess beer, and switching around loose tombstones in the cemetery) was getting in and out of the Port's upstairs bathroom without becoming a scarnation-instant junkie with an honorary degree from Synanon High. But I had to go so bad. . .cripes, it was almost like I was saving up my inner fluids for a YellowDiscipline.com money shot! Luckily, I had no problem making my way through the future residents of gurneyville. Hell, I was skipping over more people than a demoralized census taker. And I had a doubleheader to get to!
I threw up. Now, I had thrown up many times before, but always from something of a natural bent--like a gunnysack full of moldy White Caskets, my Uncle Al's exotic headcheese pizza with mutt dip, or those dastardly tainted Oreo cookies that were left too close to an open can of turpentine. My friends started dragging me down the steps to the subway, passed the seemingly mile long stretch of "Ulzana's Raid" posters, pulling me by a guy dealing a makeshift game of stuss that would have made the great Scarne look like a kid trying to dead deal from the bottom of his "Official 1965 Mr. Met Card Game" deck.
Finally, my friends helped me get my act together (which probably took longer than the mad scientists took in assembling George "The Stork" Theodore during a schematic-free, lightning-deprived weekend) and plopped me down in a subway car. Glancing around, I found that no one was sitting near me. Now either everybody thought I was part of the notorious Musante/Sheen Gang and was there to film "The Incident: Part II," or they felt that I had cornered the market on death-reek colognes with my disenchanting Eau de Parvo # 9.
Looking up, I noticed that the overhead poster ads were starting to morph together--the twin girls from the Wrigley's Doublemint Gum poster now had herpes and were begging for home owner loans at a UNICEF meeting under the stark graffiti tags of the infamous TRACY 168. It was as if a psychotic Ray Johnson baldly snuck into the car and collaged my dipsomanical mind. As we took off for Stadium in our improbable topsy-turvy subway car, I came to the conclusion that some of Professor Pepperwinkle's theories might actually have merit!
Ahh. . .The Yankee Stadium! Where every usher had gnarly fingers, green hair brought on by a slight case of Phytophthera Infestans, and liver spots the size of their off-duty PBA shields (by the way, did you know that in the '70s a strange phenomenon took over NYC, for a record eight-years running, the answer to every Rorschach test given in the city was "uhh. . .the liver spots on Roger Grimsby's face?"). These ushers were but mere trembling statistics, dressed up in their drab uniforms while still suffering greatly from the lasting effects of the Volunsteady Hand Act of 1919.
After one such Souse of Usher cleaned off our already clean seats with his whisk-ey broom, my buddies tried to get me to sit still and enjoy the game. Ooof. . .there I was, sulking lower than Jorge Cantu's batting helmet and taking up more aisle space than "Dancin' Harry" at some long-forgotten NBA playoff game. I was in such a bad state that I couldn't even stagger down to my old pal Michael Burke's dugout box seats and partake in his open endorsement of Neo-Mulhoolyism. My pals whisked me off to the inviolability of a Yankee Stadium bathroom, the last stall on the left (IT'S ONLY A GAME, IT'S ONLY A GAME. . .) to be exact, where I spent most of the doubleheader coxswayin' in the Ty-D-Bowl Man's boat.
Hell, I was so out of it, I kept waiting for Don Wert's (the only ballplayer that has his last name go directly across on a keyboard, except for that little-known shortstop Muzzy Asdfgh from the 1880s) name to be Shepparded in, even though he had been dealt away two years earlier. It should also be noted that terminal out patient, Ray Oyler, was no longer with the Tigers, having moved on to Seattle in the George Lauzerique (who, I imagine, is still waiting for a call back from the James Bond people) deal. Rumor has it that Oyler did rather well for himself after retiring from baseball, when he hooked up with the Milton Bradley Company and became their cover model for the board game, "Hangman."
Having sprinkled the infield with fleeing brain cells, I really don't remember much from the double-header. . .so there is but one place to turn.
The greatest memory retrieval system for pathetic burnout victims of the '70s, like you and me!
I now see that the Yankees swept both ends of the doubleheader and that Sparky Lyle saved both games (I do seem to remember hearing "Pomp and Circumstance" on and off that day, but I always figured it was just the overly triumphant guy in the stall next to me). Hey, I also see that in the first game, it was one of only seven career appearances for Detroit pitcher Bob Strampe, who headed off the mound and into the unforgiving pages of "The Baseball Encyclopedia" with his 11.57 ERA in tow. Thanks for playing along, Bob!
Speaking of "The Baseball Encyclopedia," I'm still amazed by the fact that when the space shuttle program had problems with their ablative shields randomly burning through, the Macmillan Publishing Company stepped in and allowed NASA to copy their top-secret, solidifying formula used in the making of the hard cardboard box cover that housed the original 1969 Baseball Encyclopedia. Bravo gentlemen, bravo. I find now that Eddie (looked like a CPA, hit like a DOA) Brinkman went 2-for-6 in the doubleheader. Dully impressed!
Huh? Hal Lanier, once a top executive swingman for Buhl In-dust-tries, went 1-for-4 in the twin bill with an RBI in each game! Discovering something like this is almost as shocking as the time I pulled a Gene Brabender baseball card and found out it WASN'T part of the Wacky Pack set!
Wow! I see that Billy Martin got tossed in the first round of the doubleheader. And how do you explain a Paul Jata batting third for the Tigers?. . .Then again, how do you explain Junket Rennet Custard, Cerebus the Aardvark, and the continuing success of Vincent Schiavelli? You can't, you just can't.
Not only did this day mark the final jaunt of Johnny H and my tale of the vomitous Yankee-Tiger double dip, it also was the day where the Yankees finally gave up on Bozo and shipped Rich (four errors in one game) McKinney out to AAA Syraexcuse. While this might pale next to the insane time/space coalescing kabob of Jack Kerouac, Mickey McDermott and Paul Gleason shacking up together in liver cadavering splendor, I still dig it. It's amazing that I can remember that Element Lad was Jan Arrah from the planet Trom, Baron Mikel Scicluna's finishing move involved a roll of dimes, and to have your dog-worn couch reapulstered at Gimbels, you had to call Murray Hill 7-7500! (that's Murray Hill 7-7500! ), but I can't remember a damn thing about the subusway ride home. (Boy, I sure hope David Smith's Retrodeclarativememory site gets off the ground!)
I do remember crawling toward my house and running into one of my ne'er-do-well druncles. He had one scantzy look at me and said, "Son. . .half of your well-being fell off a truck anyway." In case you were wondering whatever happened to Johnny H - "The Singing Cop" and his snazzy early-model Gibson Flying V guitar. . .Well, he was thrown off the town police force, dumped his va-va-vooming platinum blonde wife, went on to fake his own death by pretending to jump off the George Washington Bridge by leaving his cruddy Caddy running in the right lane, as he hopped into a waiting second car driven by his sexy 14-year-old blonde sweetheart/president of the "Johnny H Fan Club," opened a rock-and-roll hot dog stand in upstate N.Y., and, most disturbing, had his name changed to Aron. He died last year.
Oh well, as that great American thinker, Norton Nork, once mimed, "Not everything in life can be solved by hammering out a metallic State Farm logo."
Thanks to Johnny H. and Retrosheet for the ride.
Darren Viola, also known as Repoz, hung around Yankee Stadium in the 1960s and 1970s, various New York City punk clubs in the 1980s and 1990s as a DJ, and has been Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer's historian extraordinaire and collector of obscure references during the 2000s.