You may have micro-fingernailalgia

Why is it that drug companies bother to advertise prescription drugs on television? I mean, if you need a prescription, what’s the point? Big Pharma will tell you that they are merely trying to increase the general population’s awareness of undiagnosed medical conditions and to encourage folks to see their doctors. That’s very thoughtful of Big Pharma, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with trying to increase sales (sarcasm font).

Based on the depth and breadth of the prescription commercials that I see, every other person in the country must have an “undiagnosed medical condition,” and the power of that suggestion is enormous. It’s like when someone tells you that he has poison ivy and regularly scratches his arm. It doesn’t take long before you feel itchy, too. After an evening of television viewing, I am convinced that I have half the conditions listed in the Physicians’ Desk Reference. Never mind that by taking the medication for micro-fingernailalgia (MFA) for example, I might develop any one of about 12,549 side effects including, but not limited to, headaches, toothaches, backaches, heartaches, constipation, loose stool, loose change, and loose morals. But I don’t want micro-fingernailalgia—I want to throw a Frisbee in the park and meet other, nice looking people who are walking their dogs and hugging each other and who also suffer from micro-fingernailalgia. So I run to my doctor, bursting into the office, yelling, “Doc, make me a happy, micro-fingernailalgia-free Frisbee thrower! Give me some Nailzoperen!” (Pronounced “nail-zoh-perin” with the accent on the “zoh.”)

It must work like this or we wouldn’t see so darn many of these irritating commercials.

Now, if you now think you have micro-fingernailalgia (MFA) you have definitely watched too many of these ads because I just made up that condition, although if any R&D people from Pfizer read this, you might hear that “scientists” have discovered a new ailment in another year or two. Furthermore, television ads for prescription drugs are legal in the United States and in New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. Make of that what you will.

Of course, drug commercials on TV have been around almost as long as TV has. Here’s one for the sleep aid, Sominex, and if you’re my age, I bet you can sing the jingle without first viewing the following video, one that features the Lennon Sisters in their pajamas singing along with Mitch Miller’s bouncing ball.

They didn’t worry about mentioning the side effects back then, because the lawyers hadn’t taken over the world yet, and besides, the Sominex ad was probably followed by a cigarette ad, and sucking on three packs of Lucky Strikes a day was bound to kill you before any of the Sominex side effects.

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Saying goodbye to an old friend

Last Friday—Good Friday, ironically enough—David Stinson, a fellow baseball writer, and I said goodbye to an old friend. Even though this was a place and not a person, friend seems to be the correct term. We were always happy to be around it and we shared many warm memories, two qualities you would want in any friend, which in this case was Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland. The former home of the Suns since 1981, it hosted minor league baseball teams on and off since 1930 when it was built, but now, Municipal Stadium is being demolished to make way for an indoor sports complex.

When we arrived, the demolition had not proceeded very far. Oh, the beer garden was completely gone as was the deck on which the Scoreboard Cowboy resided, and the third base bleacher seats had already been salvaged—only the metal framework remained—but the grandstand and the diamond were still there. Truth be told, the place has long been a dump, but a dump containing so many treasures. It was like that friend whose house smells strongly of last night’s dinner, some of which has spotted his only necktie that’s as rumpled as his shirt. You see him ensconced in his old, Mohair chair, ashtray to one side, books and papers scattered about, but the things he has seen and the stories he can tell!

This is the place where our older daughter, Becky, saw her first professional game, although “saw” may be a stretch, as she was about 18 months old and in a baby carriage, but she was there. Seventeen years later, she was working as a promo girl and dancing on top of the dugouts and tipping us off as to who would win the condiment race.

Our younger daughter, Sarah and her friend Jessa were named “Fans of the Game” one night (I kind of forget, but I think Becky had something to do with this!) which meant that they got to sit on a couch on top of the Suns’ dugout. Only they spent the night wandering around the ballpark visiting with friends while my old friend Al and I enjoyed the game in seats that were as close and as comfortable as we would ever have.

My wife, Martha, and I spent many “date nights” in this place.

This is where we would renew friendships suspended in the fall, and analyze the state of the ballclub with Tom and Perry.

Becky and I played catch in the outfield one Father’s Day.

Father’s Day catch on the field, 2006

I took part in Bryce Harper’s first press conference in the stadium’s offices when he was assigned to Hagerstown as he began his professional journey up to the Washington Nationals.

We could always count on seeing the Sun’s mascot Woolie B. with his perpetual grin showing off his snaggle tooth. There was Jay Jay before him, and Scuffy Duck before Jay Jay.

And Big Tony whose talent as a concessionaire and whose enthusiasm as a cheerleader was unmatched anywhere in minor league baseball.

It was the place where young men, most of whom you never heard of, dared to pursue a dream; or saw it vanish. I should get out all the old scorecards, but it is too soon for that.

There was the hope of all those Opening Days, and the melancholy of the last day of the season. I tried to make a point to always go to the latter in order to soak up as much summer as possible, keeping score, noting the time of the sunset, even what songs were played between innings. I had to make it last until the following spring.

The old, Mohair chair is still there, but an unsmoked pipe rests in the ashtray. Soon, that will be gone, too. Within a month, according to Adam, the man in charge of taking down Municipal Stadium, there will be nothing left but the stories.

Good Friday was a beautiful day, a perfect day for baseball in Hagerstown, but there was no game; we were attending a funeral.

So long, old friend, and thanks.
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Interviewed by a Yankee Fan!

I was recently contacted by Paul Semendinger, an educator, who happens to be a big baseball fan in general and a New York Yankees fan in particular. He keeps up with the stream of baseball books constantly being published and he asked to interview me for his blog, Start Spreading the News. (If that titled doesn’t say “Yankee fan,” I don’t know what does, lol!) It was an honor to be asked and a pleasure to participate. His questions regarding the state of baseball were intelligent and insightful, and I got to talk about Boots Poffenberger, the connection between baseball and religion, and the general state of the game.

Please visit his page and read the interview at https://startspreadingthenews.blog/start-spreading-the-news/ag040722

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Hollywood Victory is an excellent read

While I will sometimes base a post in this space on a particular book, I rarely post a book review per se. This post regarding Christian Blauvelt’s Hollywood Victory is an exception, because many readers of this blog not only enjoy old movies, they also enjoy the history of World War II as well.

Liberally illustrated, Hollywood Victory traces Hollywood’s reaction to and involvement in World War II. Studios such as Walt Disney’s produced propaganda films, while others produced documentaries. Production people and screen writers and technicians contributed their talents. Some stars criss-crossed the country selling war bonds. Carol Lombard, a.k.a. Mrs. Clark Gable, was an early casualty of the war when the plane in which she was flying after making an appearance at a bond rally in Indianapolis crashed, killing all passengers on board on January 16, 1942 just 40 days after Pearl Harbor. The grief stricken Gable joined the Army Air Forces in August of that year. Jimmy Stewart was already a member of the Army Air Force, having enlisted as a private in March, 1941. By the time the war was over, he was a colonel and had flown 20 bombing missions over Germany. Bob Hope was paid $10 a day for his work with the USO. Bette Davis and John Garfield established the Hollywood Canteen, a club that was free to enlisted men and in which one might find Hedy Lamarrr waiting tables.

Blauvelt discusses the relevant movies and why Hollywood suddenly became interested in an African-American audience.

Full of interesting tidbits, perhaps the most interesting is that only one movie dealt with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder: Courage of Lassie, in which it is Lassie herself who suffers the after-effects of having experienced war.

The book also contains interesting tidbits about the war. Something I had never read anywhere else was that the United States government had struck 500,000 Purple Hearts in anticipation of the tremendous number of casualties expected as a result of the impending invasion of Japan. They were never used, but every Purple Heart issued since 1945 has come from that stockpile.

There is no point in my relating any more facts from this book, because if you’ve read this far, you will want to read Hollywood Victory for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

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Dear MLB: Who Cares?

The collective bargaining agreement that existed between the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball expired December 2, 2021. The two parties have been unable to come to any agreement in the 85 days between then and today, although they didn’t start negotiations until the middle of January. In any case, if no agreement is reached by 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, MLB will begin to cancel regular season games, spring training having already been delayed.

Who cares?

Not me, anymore.

My “fandom” has been well-documented and dates back to 1964 when I was seven, but MLB has trifled with my affections once too often. It thinks it is the game of baseball, but it is not. It is a corporation whose business is baseball, but it is most decidedly not the game. The game may be found in backyards and local diamonds and high school fields and at the nation’s colleges. This last, the college game, is rising in popularity and is doing so for one simple reason—it is entertaining. Meanwhile, professional baseball is becoming much less so. In its quest for perfection by experimenting with electronic strike zones and promoting lengthy replays; in its quest for pitchers who do nothing but strike out batters and batters who do nothing but hit home runs—or strike out—major league baseball has been reduced to a robotic sameness.

Of course, the quality of play in college is not nearly as good as it is even in the low minor leagues, but that contributes to its unpredictability. Consider the series played on Opening Weekend, February 12-14 this year in Austin, Texas between the #1 ranked University of Texas and Rice University. It featured a Texas infielder, Skyler Messinger, swinging at a pitch that hit him in the brim of his helmet. Except for the fact that this was strike three, he walked away none the worse for wear. Such oddball plays happen with much more frequency in college ball.

By no means, however, is college ball some poorly played exhibition. The UT/Rice series also featured two mammoth home runs by Longhorn first baseman, Ivan Melendez. The first was blasted over the batter’s eye in center; the second was launched over the scoreboard in left center. Each one traveled more than 450’. (Highlights of this game may be seen here. Melendez’ first homer comes at about the 5:00 minute mark, while homer #2 occurs at 8:22.) Those homers were baseball at its finest regardless of the level.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this series against the unranked Rice Owls, is that it drew the largest Opening Weekend crowd in the history of Texas baseball. MLB take note of that. And of this: 2021 National Champion Mississippi State has sold 13,000 season tickets for 2022. (The Bulldogs’ Dudy Noble Field has 15,000 seats.)

If the college game features less skill, it more than compensates by featuring more fun. The fans are more enthusiastic and engage in a variety of celebrations and superstitions. The players are also much more apt to do something such as what you’ll see in this video announcing the new uniforms that Liberty University (just down the road from me in Lynchburg) will be wearing. This video alone should be enough to turn you into a college baseball fan:

I’ll still root for my beloved Orioles, but whether they start the season in April or in May or in 2023, just doesn’t matter anymore. What I can’t wait for is the last weekend in March when LSU visits the University of Florida. That will be fun that I can count on.

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Those dance masters were a persistent bunch

Yet another mention of the concern over dirty dancing appeared in the January 17, 2022 edition of the Winchester Star‘s “Out of the Past” feature. The following is dated January 12, 1922:

The “jazz” dance is slowly but surely being discarded, according to a statement issued by Fenton Bott, director of dance reform of the American National Association of Masters of Dancing.

The association began two years ago, to work for cleaner dancing. Bott said, “We feel and hope that the crest of the wave of disgusting wriggling “jazz” has been reached, and reports to us from every part of the country show clean dancing crusaders being started everywhere. All exaggerated movements, especially of the upper parts of the body, are in very bad taste in social dancing and are never found with true refinement and culture.”

Of course, we know that the Masters of Dancing failed, and by a wide margin. In fact, that “wave” of “disgusting wriggling ‘jazz,” the crest of which they claim had been reached, was just beginning to swell. At that very moment in history, the Charleston and a dance called “the breakaway” were being fused up in Harlem to become what we now know as the Lindy Hop, so named by Shorty George Snowden in 1929. The video below, from that same year, is the first known recording of the Lindy Hop on film. In fact, the guy in the third couple shown is Shorty George.

According to an article in the September 30, 2012 edition of the Philadelphia Dance History Journal, the National Association of Masters of Dancing was formed in 1883 in Boston. (Of course.) In fact, multiple dance associations were springing up in response to the “sorry state” of American dancing in which less formal steps were crowding out the formal European steps. The two-step, for example, which was overtaking the waltz in popularity was dubbed “the idiot waltz.” In any case, these associations not only appointed themselves as the guardians of morality on the dance floor, they also saw an opportunity to promote their own dances and hence, sell more lessons. Some things in the dance world haven’t changed. If you’re a dancer, you’ll enjoy the article and I encourage you to click on the link and read it.

As it turns out, the American National Association of Masters of Dancing still exists and after having merged with an international association, now simply goes by “Dance Masters of America.” You can visit their website, which provides a brief history of the organization here. The site has a tab for teacher training, competitions, their convention, and others, but I do not see any information on “bad taste in social dancing.” Guess they gave up on that.

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Does this guy belong in the Hall of Fame, too?

Back in early December, after the voting for baseball’s Hall of Fame was announced, I made the case that Gil Hodges’ election was problematic in that if he could get in, then there are a number of very good players who are every bit Hodges’ equal, and who, therefore, should also be enshrined in Cooperstown. I opined that Hodges was admitted because he played on the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers team of the 1950s, and I compared his lifetime statistics to another, very similar first baseman, Boog Powell. Another comparison has come to mind as well. His accomplishments appear below, after a review of Hodges’:

Hodges played 18 seasons and was an eight-time All-Star. He received MVP votes in nine different seasons with a top finish of 7th. His Career Shares MVP score as calculated by baseball-reference.com is .65, which ranks 402. He made seven post-season appearances and was part of two World Series winners.

He won three Gold Gloves, but never topped his league in any fielding category in any season. Twice he led the league in sacrifice flys, twice in games played, and once in strike outs.

For his career, he hit 370 home runs and tallied 1,274 RBI. His career slash line was .273/.359/.487.

Compare Player also played 18 seasons and was a seven time All-Star. He was an MVP twice and received MVP votes in five other seasons. His Career Shares MVP score as calculated by baseball-reference.com is 2.31, which ranks 77. He made only one post-season appearance.

He won five Gold Gloves and led the league in putouts or assists four times while playing center field. He twice led the league in homers, RBI, and slugging percentage, while leading the league once in runs, walks and OPS.

For his career, he slugged 398 homers and tallied 1,266 RBI. His career slash line was .265/.346/.469.

Our Compare Player’s 8th most similar batter as calculated by baseball-reference.com is Gil Hodges. Interestingly, his 3rd most similar batter is Hodges’ teammate, Hall of Famer, Duke Snider.

Our Compare Player played for a succession of terrible Atlanta Braves teams, about which there will soon be a book written*, but which has not been celebrated in any way shape or form in the way Hodges’ Brooklyn team has been celebrated, even mythologized.

Our Compare Player is Dale Murphy. Hall of Famer? Given the new standards of Hall of Fame entrance, I would say that he is.

* I’m taking this opportunity to plug a future project of my own, as there will be a book written on those terrible Braves team. Not on the team exactly, but on the ground crew. Four guys who served on the ground crew in the 1970s and 1980s decided that it was time to write a book and they invited me to serve as the organizer and narrator of their wonderful tales. They treasure the memories they made and the bond that they formed and I am honored to have received that invitation. By the way, they all agreed that Dale Murphy is truly a great guy. The book is currently in the editing stage, but you will certainly hear more when we get closer to publication.

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The Christmas Rush Is Rushier than Ever

I have written before about the difficulty of keeping pace with the changes that the modern world has generated. I got another reminder of that recently when I realized that Amazon seems to be delivering packages in our neighborhood all day and half the night. If those trucks become any more ubiquitous—and if corporatism embeds itself any further in our culture—I expect to see eight tiny Amazon vans pulling Santa’s sleigh next year.

[At the risk of starting yet another sentence with “When I was a boy,”] When I was a boy, Christmas shopping meant going downtown to a department store. In Baltimore where I grew up, that meant Stewart’s or Hochschild Kohn or Hutzler’s. For you youngsters out there, a department store was something akin to Walmart only with class. Each department had a manager who made sure that the sales clerks tended to your needs. They were all well-dressed (as opposed to the current times when half the sales staff at any store appear to have assembled their wardrobe from the dumpster behind the Good Will.) The department stores themselves, located in the city as they were, also rose into the city skyline; therefore, one floor might contain ladies fashions, another men’s, a third televisions and radios—you get the idea. If you needed stocking stuffers or wrapping paper or cigars for Uncle Gilbert and candy for Aunt Vida, then you shopped at what was known as a “five and dime.” Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, Newberry’s, McCrory’s were something like Dollar General. Only with class. And a lunch counter.

Then along came shopping centers, which were essentially uncovered malls. They didn’t rise, but rather spread out across all that suburban space. About 15 years later came the malls, but you still couldn’t shop on a Sunday because of something called the “Blue Laws,” which set aside Sunday as a day to go to church. The problem was that malls that see no traffic for a day don’t make money, so laws were passed that allowed for shopping on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. You know what happened after that.

Then, somewhere along the line, merchants and advertisers brewed up Black Friday, the recipe for which included mercantile greed and consumer gluttony. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like cold-cocking the guy in front of you at the toy store because he got a hold of the last Cabbage Patch Kid.

After that came Amazon. No need to get dressed, fight the cold, or mingle with the crowds. That’s perfect for the modern world which would rather stare into a computer screen than get out of the house and mingle with other people who share the same mission, i.e. finding gifts for their loved ones. Even the United States Post Office makes Sunday deliveries now.

Watching It’s a Wonderful Life makes one wonder if Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and the rest of Bedford Falls is even celebrating Christmas at all because the way they celebrate seems so foreign to the way we do it today. I am here to tell you, however, that what you see in that movie is really how we used to do it.

Even at Christmas—maybe especially at Christmas—it’s hard to keep pace with the world the way it is today.

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Dynamic doofuses in goofy Gotham

I have become hooked on an old serial broadcast by TCM on Saturday mornings. The 1949 New Adventures of Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is highly entertaining and not because it is any good. It is riveting in its idiocy, and each week I can’t wait to see what goofiness has transpired in Gotham City since last Saturday.

All kinds of errors abound in this serial, including errors in editing. During one episode, a car full of criminals speeds down a two-lane, concrete highway from the right of the screen. Rather than pan the camera, a cutaway shot is used to show us that they have sped past, only now the criminals are tooling along a one-lane asphalt road. It’s as if the Director of Photography collected shots of cars speeding towards us on one day and cars speeding away from us on a different day. And on a different road.

There are noticeable errors in the props. Consider the photo below. The prop department couldn’t take the extra 13 seconds to stack the boxes with This side up and the arrow actually pointing up? They also didn’t bother to construct a closet in the Bat Cave. In Episode 10, Batman and Robin are seen retrieving their outfits from the second drawer of a file cabinet. Those capes must be permanent press because they’re never wrinkled.

Most of all, there are noticeable errors in reality. Robin drives a convertible alongside a speeding train in order for Batman to jump aboard. The top is up, however, so, defying physics and the owner’s manual, Robin lowers the top while the convertible is at top speed. Everywhere but in Gotham City, this would convert your ragtop into a notop.

Speaking of Batman’s car, the Batmobile had not been conceived in 1949 so the Caped Crusaders cruise around in Bruce Wayne’s car, a 1949 Mercury. The female lead, photographer Vicki Vale, asks Batman, “Does Bruce Wayne know you’re driving his car?” Not very observant, that Vicki. Or anyone else for that matter.

I can’t slip out of my coat when the car warms up, but the Dynamic Duo manage to change clothes in that Mercury. How do they do that? But then, how can Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson see the Bat signal flashed against the sky in broad daylight? When they do, they enter the Bat Cave through a grandfather clock in Bruce’s study. A grandfather clock?

Batman and Robin are constantly overestimating their abilities. Batman will jump on three villains at once, ignoring the odds—and reality—and, of course, he ends up unconscious in a soon to be blown up house or some such predicament. That man has sustained more concussions than a Whack-a-Mole, which may explain why he doesn’t just whip out a pistol or a stun gun or mace or a telescopic baseball bat and save himself a beating. But then, I guess you have no room for that stuff when you are carrying a full-sized acetylene torch, which Batman pulls frm his utility belt and cuts his way through a steel door.

Naturally, the hoodlums all working for “The Wizard” never stick around to make sure that the poison gas actually kills Batman behind that steel door because these knuckleheads are dumber than the plot. You’d think after the third or fourth resurrection, someone would rummage around in the remnants of the blown up cabin or burning outhouse or whatever, to look for a cape or a bat ear or something. I blame The Wizard for hiring second rate henchmen. He may have invented a “remote control machine,” but he doesn’t appear to be much when it comes to judging criminal talent. I guess good help was hard to find back then, too.

The production of this serial is so slipshod that in Episode 8, “Robin Meets the Wizard,” Batman says to his sidekick as they’re driving along with a Geiger counter tracking radioactive money (don’t ask), “Sounds like it’s getting louder.” To which Robin replies, “I guess we’re getting louder.” This makes no sense until you realize that actor Johnny Duncan meant to say, “I guess we’re getting closer.” I’m thinking that the sound editor had already given up by this point.

Not me. I’m not giving up. I can’t wait for the next idiotic . . . I mean thrilling chapter of New Adventures of Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Postscript

You can catch all the action on YouTube by clicking here.

Actor Robert Lowery, who plays Batman, sounds quite a bit like Adam West. Or vice-versa.

My favorite side note is that Johnny Duncan, the actor who portrays Robin, was such a good swing dancer, that he landed a part in a Benny Goodman movie, The Gang’s All Here, which was the beginning of his acting career. He appears, often uncredited, in a variety of swing movies including Kay Keyser’s Swing Fever, but also shows up in other films throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s and up to 1960 when he had a bit part in Spartacus. This goes to prove that it pays to learn to dance.

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The curious case of two first basemen

Consider the case of the following two first basemen.

Player A played 18 seasons and was an eight-time All-Star. He received MVP votes in nine different seasons with a top finish of 7th. His Career Shares MVP score as calculated by baseball-reference.com is .65, which ranks 402. He made seven post-season appearances and was part of two World Series winners.

He won three Gold Gloves, but never topped his league in any fielding category in any season. Twice he led the league in sacrifice flys, twice in games played, and once in strike outs.

For his career, he hit 370 home runs and tallied 1,274 RBI. His career slash line was .273/.359/.487.

Player B is Player A’s 7th most comparable hitter according to baseball-reference.com

Player B played 17 seasons and was a four-time All-Star. He received MVP votes in five different seasons, winning the award once and finishing 2nd and 3rd in two other seasons. His 1.95 MVP Career Shares ranks 107th. He made five post-season appearances and was part of three league championships and two World Series winners.

He never topped his league in any fielding category in any season. Once, he led the league in slugging percentage.

For his career, he hit 339 home runs and knocked in 1,187. His career slash line was .266/.361/.462.

Player A is Player B’s 9th most comparable hitter according to baseball-reference.com

Player A played the majority of his career in the late 1940s through the 1950s. Player B played the majority of his career in the 1960s through the mid-‘70s.

Is there that much difference between these two players that one should be in the Hall of Fame and the other should not?

Player A is Gil Hodges. Player B is Boog Powell.

The only discernible difference that I see between these two players is Hodges played on the Brooklyn Dodgers, the most romanticized team in baseball history, about which multiple books have been written, and many of those are coming-of-age baseball love stories. Boog Powell played 14 of his 17 seasons in Baltimore, where people named their kids after a certain third baseman.

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