It’s time for another installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture, where we look at some of the weirdest uses of the National Pastime in the history of pop culture (no matter how low or high-brow). This time, continuing the series of unusual old comic book adventures that featured baseball, we have the story of Doll Man and the “Baseball Bandits.”
Read more after the jump.
You are probably thinking, “Who is Doll Man?” And I will give you the answer. Doll Man is in reality Darrel Dane, a chemist who discovered a formula that allowed him to shrink to the size of, well, a doll. There have been plenty of superheroes who have had similar powers to this: DC has long had the Atom, while Marvel usually features heroes such as Ant-Man and the Wasp (the only two founding Avengers who were not included in the recent movie). However, Doll Man was the first with these powers. Also noteworthy is that he was created in 1939 by Will Eisner, one of the great cartoonists in history and amongst the first to truly treat comics as a actual way of telling a story, as opposed to keeping kids amused for a few minutes. Since 1987, the comic book equivalent of the Oscars has been called the Eisner Awards.Eisner ceased to actually write Doll Man after the first few stories, but still, it’s an interesting tidbit.
Over time, Doll Man became just another superhero amongst the many of the golden age. Eventually his publisher, Quality Comics, was purchased by DC, and Doll Man apparently continues to show up every now and then in the DC Universe. However, his Golden Age appearances were never renewed, hence why they are available online.
So anyway, the story of the Baseball Bandits, from the Summer 1947 issue of Doll Man Quarterly (#13), can be found here. Penciled and inked by Al Bryant (there is no info on who wrote it), it starts at page 36.
We start the tale of “The Baseball Bandits” with this image:
Yes, we start the story with Doll Man strapped to a bomb being thrown to the plate. No matter what, Doll Man is going to be a world of hurt. He’ll either get blown to smithereens, or crushed by a baseball bat… or both. How will he escape? How did he get into this predicament!?!
Actually, I don’t know, because this is just a teaser. This scene technically doesn’t even show up in the story. Still, quite the image, huh? It certainly would make me want to turn the page.
Instead, our story starts in prison. If you, like me, were hoping for a Longest Yard style story where Doll Man was framed for a crime he didn’t commit (perhaps he was accused of murdering Barbie or deserting G.I. Joe’s unit) only to then join the prison team, you are going to be disappointed. Instead, we see the prison team led by a criminal called Spade Solenko winning a game, and then have this conversation post-game:
You fools, by letting the prisoners play baseball, you have taught them the meaning of teamwork! The same thing that helps them turn double-plays could help them knock over a bank!
And so, with the true meaning of teamwork in mind, Spade then leads a prison escape, utilizing baseball, teamwork, and the incompetence of the prison guards. There are few people as incompetent as comic book prison guards. They have to be, otherwise Batman would spend his days hanging out in the Batcave watching Zorro movies and prank-calling Aquaman.
Anyway, the escape. Here it is.
Step one is to hit a home run that has a message for Spade’s attorney:
Y’know, you’d think that somebody would notice a shifty-looking lawyer hanging out just outside a prison, but, hey, I’ve never been to prison, so I don’t know. Maybe this type of thing happens all the time.
Step two of the escape: Begin to escape (the unknown author leaves out how they got out of their cells, so I’ll just assume it involved little hammer-picks and a poster of Rita Hayworth), make sure the alarm goes off.
So Spade escapes. But step two of the plan (making sure the alarm went off) got the attention of Darrel Dane, out for a drive that night with his girlfriend (coincidentally right by the prison).
One problem: the attorney left Spade a bullet-proof car right outside the prison waiting for him. So he and his gang are already hightailing it away when Doll Man arrives. Doll Man then, oh-so-conveniently, spouts off baseball-related banter as he punches some of the bandits:
Nevermind that there would be no way that Doll Man would know that these were baseball-playing bandits, and thus there would have been no way of knowing how ironic his quips would be… maybe Doll Man just wanted to use some baseball lingo during beatdowns?
It continues though, because the crooks, realizing that Doll Man’s greatest strength (he can become very small) is also his greatest weakness, just kind of grab him and throw him out the window. Don’t worry though, because he falls into a bush that breaks his fall. He then thinks more stuff about baseball that, again, he probably shouldn’t be thinking, given the fact he has no idea yet that these villains have a baseball gimmick.
Yeah, very clever wordplay, Darrel… but you still shouldn’t have any idea that these guys play baseball. At least it makes sense that he’d know who Spade was though, since Spade Sorlenko is clearly a hardened criminal, one who a devoted crime fighter as the Doll Man would know inside and out. Right, right!?!
A) Newspapers used to have reading rooms?
B) So he seemed to know who Spade Sorlenko was, but didn’t know what he was in the slammer for? Dane must be easily distracted to know of the name of this criminal but not what he had done.
Dane discovers that Sorlenko is best known for embezzling money from a bank. The bank president testified against him, and so he ended up being thrown in jail for fifty years. Clearly, this means something, Dane realizes that this means that Spade will want to have his vengeance. Vengeance that comes in the form of…
Doll Man arrives just after this, and, after grabbing the gun of one of the crooks, threatens them with it while talking about how the home team was about to be retired… permanently! To prove it, he shoots one of the goons in the shoulder, only to then be told that the other one had done… THE HIDDEN BALL TRICK!
What is the “hidden ball trick”, you ask? Well, you see, if the pitcher remains off the… oh, you mean the criminal’s trick? It just means he had another gun on him hidden up his sleeve. So they capture Doll Man, and, instead of just shooting him, they decide to put him in a overly-complicated death trap, as is required by union rules.
This particular death trap is basically a version of baseball death-bocce. I can say with relative certainty that those words have never been typed anywhere before. First they tie up Doll Man onto the bat and then, well, let’s let the criminals explain how it works:
So what is the next big play for the baseball bandits? Should they get out while the going is good and head for Mexico? Or maybe try some crimes that don’t fit in with either their old grudges or their baseball stick. Nope, instead they realize that there is a big game that day, featuring the great (fictional) ballplayer Hy Terris. There will be 80 thousand people in the stands. Imagine the box office holdings! Why, if they could steal them, they’d be rich!
(By the way, there has never been a “real” baseball stadium with a capacity of 80,000 or more, although there have been stadiums like the LA Coliseum that have hosted MLB clubs.)
Thankfully, Darrel Dane is at the ballpark, and sees Slugger (the only other guy in Spade’s gang that gets a name) there. And, well, you get where this is going:
And those guys who do get away? Well, they run right into the players leaving the field after the game. And the players are not in a good mood about the crooks trying to take their paychecks.
Well, sort of.
You see, the bases had been loaded in the ninth with two outs and Terriss coming to the plate when Doll Man had to leave the stands to go stop the crooks (why the villains would wait until the ninth to steal the proceeds and not earlier in the game is not explained). So what happened in the game? Well…
So, there it is. It’s a better story than some of the things I’ve covered so far for this feature. In fact, the idea of trying to steal the revenue from a ballgame is somewhat inspired (apparently the same plot was used in the movie The Town), and there are some good uses art-wise of Doll Man’s powers (him holding a giant handgun, for example). Still, it’s hardly anything special, and has several inconsistencies (how does Doll Man know that they are baseball bandits when he first meets them?) that bring it down.
Previous installments of Bizarre Baseball Culture:
Prologue: “Rockets on the Mound” (short story)