brewers baseball and things

it’s not always sunny in pittsburgh or new york either

9 Comments

I’m stuck in a classroom with desks facing a teacher wearing eyes that say”don’t do it.” It’s the late 1970’s and that teacher drills the word cooperation into us students or at least his or her notion of it.

I never learned much about geo-politics, but i did learn that the earth is a huge place. It seems natural that two won’t tango, that countries or ethnic groups, brothers, religions, mailman and dog won’t get along. Like it seems natural that mountains sprout up and divide land into two. And when mountains don’t sprout up, it seems natural to construct walls and keep warring peoples separated for 10 years, 10,000 years or however long it takes for the lover’s quarrel to mellow out.

A baseball clubhouse is not awarded this kind of space. It’s crowded with all types of personalities. They phone boothhave no choice. They’re stuck together from March to October.

We are inundated with countless examples of “team chemistry” as the intangible that “brought everyone together” and helped such and such team “win.” Some even argue it as a necessity. They pay veteran players to add a certain presence in the clubhouse. Yes there are teams that supposedly thrive in this lovey-dovey atmosphere. The Red Sox are the most recent example with their tugging of each other’s beards all season long.

The Giants were open-minded weirdos in 2010. The Cardinals once had a pet squirrel. The Angels used a rally monkey. The A’s had excess facial hair, and so on. I’d like to compile a huge list of these one day, but more interesting to me is the flip side of harmony and cooperation where dissonance and friction sits or rather, where it combusts.

I had a gym teacher in the 1970’s. His name was Leo Kroch. I know. That name is way too appropriate for a boys gym class. Anyway, when two kids started pushing each other, he stopped the world and ushered everyone to the locker room and made us form a circle. He pushed the two enemies into a makeshift ring and let them fight. He let it go a while until a winner was clearly evident. I think everyone felt better.

reggieI’m still learning about the mid 1970’s Yankees, filling in the pieces between what I already know; Reggie Jackson pissed off Billy Martin who in turn pissed off George Steinbrenner who fired Billy Martin. Thurman Munson then got pissed. The Yankees won the 1977 World Series and then won again in 1978. Everyone lived happily ever after. End of story.

I’m doing the same with the 1979 Pirates. That was the first World Series I participated in by filling out a homemade box score on construction paper. I learned the names Omar Moreno and Ed Ott.  The Pirates were a team lifted up by what appeared to be amazing team chemistry. Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” was released that same year. I don’t know if the R/B artists intended it for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it became the team’s theme song.

Pops

Pops

Beneath the surface, the Pirates were apparently more like a rehab clinic than a family with every ethnicity, personality and economic class shooting their mouth off. The daily clubhouse dissipation was not pleasant. Players emptied their bottles in each other’s faces like a back alley free for all.  They let all their prejudices hang out. And as a result, no lingering  grudges made it onto the field.  That’s what I’ve gathered anyway from various sources.  In many ways, they did justice to the Sledge song. They were a family, a healthy and honest family who didn’t necessarily like each other, but respected.

This volatile but very sane chemistry of the Pirates and maybe the Yankees before them was followed by the Phillies in 1980. Dallas Greene had been appointed interim manager to close out the 1979 season. After wining three consecutive NL East titles  the Phillies slipped into fourth place. Greene was hired to stay on board for 1980 and he was apparently a son of a bitch. That was either his style of managing or a tactic he decided to employ based on the climate of the Phillies clubhouse.

“Glory Days-The story of the 1980 Phillies” provides a nice capsule of a team chemistry that is more like the chemistry I struggled through in high school. It was loud and explosive.

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Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

9 thoughts on “it’s not always sunny in pittsburgh or new york either

  1. Culturally, it seems to me, things started to change drastically around the mid-’80’s. Suddenly, after-school fights could lead to three-strikes-and-your-out expulsions, kids started to wear bike helmets, and Baby on Board decals popped up on the first Toyota minivans. Ironically, even as capitalism was on its way to becoming the modern, kill-or-be-killed dogfight we’ve now grown accustomed to, Boomer parents set about undermining their children’s independence and ability to grow up solving their own problems and creating their own adventures. Every school hired a counselor, and no one played outside anymore. This led to the modern, neutered, nice guy, David Wright, incapable of shouting down the Wilpon’s and demanding justice for Mets fans. Leaders have been replaced by spread-sheets, committees, and vanilla pudding consensus.
    I won a ten dollar bet on the Pirates in the ’79 World Series. Hated those damned ’77-’78 Yankees, but I have to admit, they had balls.
    Cheers, Bill

    • Hey Bill. That’s excellent and much appreciated. It’s what I always hoped a blog would become.Your insights on what happened between Reggie and Wright answer a lot of questions I had while thinking about this. I don’t want to sweep it all together in one brush stroke and say it’s fear of death and doing just about everything to zip the tent up a little tighter, but it seems that way. Your examples of parents and counselors solving kid’s problems, the end of outdoor adventures, the bike helmets, baby on board decals all seem to scream a horrible irrational fear.

      The Brave New World and BNW Revisited we read comes true in these subtle forms that slip past our eyes. It’s a force that shows no signs of letting up. But there will always be a John the Savage experimenting with road kill barbecues in the shadows. He’s a catalyst getting me up and out when I too slip into the numb.

      Again, thanks for your contributions here. I feel like we should have written this as a joint project. Maybe we should do that some time in the future. Pick a topic and break it into sub topics with different writers wrestling an angle.

    • Bill, with all due respect, I’ve got to disagree with you, about David Wright. He’s not neutered. He whined and whined about the left center field fence being brought in at Corporate Criminal Executive Field because his home run total went way down, and he got his way. Wright isn’t neutered. He’s a spoiled brat just like most of them.

      I can’t imagine Stan Musial, who asked for a CUT IN HIS SALARY after what he judged to be a lousy season for him, whining about the fences at Sportsmans Park or wherever the Cardinals played before that. Can you imagine Musial doing that?????

      Other than that, I agree with most of your comments. (Although I don’t think that kids got over-protected, really, until the 1990s. Maybe in middle class areas and rich areas, but certainly not in the poor and lower middle class areas that I lived in during the 1980s, such as in Portland, Maine and, before that, in Scranton, Pennsylvania (Clarks Summit, Pensylvania, an upper middle class suburb of Scranton, MAYBE, but not Scranton, itself. But I didn’t live in Clarks Summit; I lived in Scranton, proper, and Pittston, just right between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre,), nor did I notice that in Pittston, Pennsylvania, Martinsburg, West Virginia or in New Paltz, New York. Nowadays, though, and probably starting in the 1990s, kids were and are definitely overprotected. And I doubt that it was like that in the city of Bridgeport in the 80s, either.)

      But most of the kids that I knew lived in crumby areas of Portland such as Grant Street (one of the streets that ran behind the YMCA), Park Avenue, near to the Expo, especially heading towards St. John Street, and up on The Hill. (That’s Munjoy Hill for those who don’t know Portland).

      Then again, you were a teacher at that time, so you knew a lot more kids than I did. But then again, I don’t really have a good idea of what the areas that you taught in were like; the inner-city of Portland was completely different.

      Other than that, I see the point that you were trying to make.

      Steven, very well written, and I AGREE with Mr. Krotch (giggle giggle what a name). He was definitely thinking with his brain and not his krotch. LET the kids fight. (Unless one kid is getting pummeled; then it obviously has to stop.) It lets them get it out of their system. Funny, because I’ve always had that theory, but I was never a teacher, but I WAS a camp counselor, so I know a little bit about being in charge of a bunch of kids.

      Did YOU get in a lot of fist fights when you were in school, Steven? I got into more than I can count, particularly in high school.

      And I always lost. BADLY. But I never backed down, even when I KNEW I didn’t have a chance.

      Glen

      • Hey Glen, yeh Mr. Kroch was a smart guy and memorable too. But most of our fights were reenactments of WWF heroes of that time; Jimmy Superfly Snuka, Baron Von Rashke, George the Animal Steel, the Junkyard Dog. There were so many of them. It took us 2 hours sometimes to get home from school. We turned nice suburban lawns into divet zones. Those poor fathers and their manicured lawns.

        So if there were fights, they were typically caused by accidental nut cruncher moves or fingers in the eye. I guess we saved the real fights for the basketball and football games. Thanks Glen.

  2. And everything’s coming up sledge too!

    • The splash down into water right after supercar turbo boosts skyward in that opening opera musical scene. It’s like all the dualism of the world melting and merging for an instant anyway.

      • By the way, do you know what happened to Leo Kroch? He got tired of people making fun of his name, so he had it legally changed.

        His name is now Jim Kroch.

  3. The Family was the good side of having Chuck Tanner as your manager, although I suspect they won in spite of and not because of Chuck. Check on baseball in Pittsburgh around 1985, and you get a picture of the bad side of having Tanner around.

    • I think you’re right W.k in that the Pirates would have won without Tanner. I get the sense from what players and Tanner himself said that Willie Stargell was more of the manager of that team than Tanner.

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