BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: Take “The Human Target” Out To The Ballgame

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Comic Book universes are huge and diverse, going through countless genres and containing both nitty-gritty realism and utterly fantastic science fiction or fantasy. And yet, they all take place in the same universe, no matter how different they seem. You can get a idea of just how crazy this is by looking at Marvel’s movie/TV empire, where Daredevil and Guardians of the Galaxy are both taking place in the same universe despite the fact that one of them is about a guy beating up mob bosses (and the occasional ninja) while the other one has both a talking raccoon and a talking tree.

However, as a result of this, sometimes characters get lost in the shuffle. They are technically part of the universe, but they rarely interact with it. Maybe it’s because their adventures are on the more mature side, maybe they are stuck in another dimension that the usual heroes don’t go to so often, or maybe, they aren’t seen because that’s just the way they want it…

Such is the case of Christopher Chance, AKA the Human Target. He’s not a completely unknown character- he’s been the subject of two short-lived shows based on his comics (the most notable being a two-season FOX series starring Mark Valley and James Earle Haley), but he’s firmly in the D-list of DC Comics. And those were both pretty different from the comics and had little indication of taking place in a world of DC Comics. In fact, when it was announced that the Human Target would be coming to Arrow, some people were surprised to find out that he even was a DC character. That’s probably because he doesn’t interact with the rest of the DC Universe all that much. Or maybe he does, but we just don’t know it.

Because, you see, the Human Target is a master of disguise. He becomes the would-be assassination victim using heavy prosthetic-work and a knack for copying voices and body language. And in this installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture, Christopher Chance figuratively steps up to the plate:

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.29.36 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 10.30.43 AMGO BELOW THE JUMP FOR MORE:

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(Blogathon ’16) The Author of @OldHossRadbourn: Three Catches

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

I would have enjoyed seeing Game 6 of the 1947 World Series.  It was yet another Dodgers/Yankees affair, when both the event and the outcome seemed inevitable.  It had been a hell of a Series, including a stunner in Game 4: the Yanks’ Bill Bevens pitched a ten-walk no-hitter into the ninth when, with two outs and two runners on in a 2-1 game, Cookie Lavagetto smacked a game-winning double to right — the last hit of his career! — that Tommy Henrich could not reach. Game to the Dodgers.

By Game 6 the Yanks were up 3 games to 2 with Allie Reynolds, in his first year in the Bronx, on the mound. He had nothing, and was done in the third.  Relief ace Joe Page also got lit, though the Yankees slowly crept back. Down 8-5 in the 6th, Joe DiMaggio came up to bat with 2 on and 2 out. He crushed Joe Hatten’s pitch to left center. Left fielder Al Gionfriddo raced toward the visitors’ bullpen, over 400 feet from home plate, and managed to jjuusstt make the catch. DiMaggio, sure he’d just lost at least a double, did something extremely rare: he showed emotion, and kicked a patch of dirt between first and second. Inning over.  The Yankees would go on to lose 8-6.

This catch has been on my mind after a recent bit of baseball reading.  What stands out after looking at three works — Roger Kahn’s The Era 1947-1957; David Halberstam’s Summer of ‘49; and Richard Ben Cramer’s Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, — is how differently they portray this one catch, DiMaggio’s reaction, and the man himself.

I have mixed feelings about Kahn.  I’m the father of a special needs son, and reading his description in The Boys of Summer of Carl Erskine raising a “Mongoloid” is a nice reminder that, despite Kahn’s desire, the glory days of the past have no place in my present.  But, goddammit, the man can tell a story.  He describes the catch over several pages, focusing on Gionfriddo’s reaction, including (according to Gionfriddo) comments made by DiMaggio about the man who stole his hit: “…[he] never gave up and he made the greatest catch that anybody ever made in the whole history of baseball.”

It’s not hard to imagine DiMaggio, even then aware of his aura, describe the catch this way.  Only the greatest catch of all time denies the Yankee Clipper his glory.  DiMaggio would return to this topic years later: asked to evaluate Willie Mays’ catch off Vic Wertz in the ‘54 Series (a catch, one scribe noted, that would “have left any other park than the Polo Grounds, including Yellowstone”), DiMaggio invoked his past, telling Kahn “…Mays had plenty of room. Running back, all he had to worry about was the ball. On my drive, Gionfriddo had to worry about the ball and those iron gates. He had to worry about running out of room, about getting hurt. With all that, I say he made the greater catch.”

DiMaggio, as Kahn portrays him, is aware of his image, proud of it, and ceaselessly builds on it. Not so in Cramer, who describes the catch as follows:

As DiMaggio rounded first, he could see the outfielder Al Gionfriddo dancing a spirited tarantella — unsure where to run, which way to turn, how to get under the ball. Joe was digging for second base when Gionfriddo, in an act of God, stumbled under the ball, stuck his glove over the wire fence and — Cazzo! Figlio di putana! — stole the home run away from DiMaggio.

This . . . well, this is different.  It’s not a good catch.  It’s a lucky grab by a fool who stumbled to just the right place to become a part of history.  The tone here is also different.  Cramer’s DiMaggio is a miserable figure, aloof and alone, proud only of his legacy, and a prisoner of it.  After the game, in the locker room, came the following:

“The Catch” might not have burned Joe up, if Gionfriddo hadn’t been out of position, clueless in that outfield, and a busher in the first place . . . after the game, he didn’t answer questions, and told the photographers: no pictures. The next day, when one cameraman asked Joe to autograph a picture of that home run theft, DiMaggio snarled him away: “Whyn’cha get the other guy? He made the catch.”

Two takes, two tones.  There’s overlap, sure, but Cramer’s DiMaggio comes across again and again as just a colossal son of a bitch.  This version of DiMaggio will not compliment the bush-league Gionfriddo on his catch. It’s unlikely he saw it as superior to Mays’.

And then there’s Halberstam, who has a pretty significant deviation:

During the 1947 World Series, in a rare burst of emotion, he kicked the ground near second base after a Brooklyn player named Al Gionfriddo made a spectacular catch, robbing him of a three-run home run. The net day while he was dressing, a photographer who had taken a picture of him kicking the ground asked him to sign a blowup of it. At first DiMaggio demurred and suggested that the photographer get Gionfriddo’s signature. “He’s the guy who made the play,” DiMaggio said. But the photographer persisted, and so reluctantly DiMaggio signed it. Then he turned to a small group of reporters sitting by him. “Don’t write this in the paper,” he said. “but the truth is, if he had been playing me right, he would have made it look easy.”

Again a different take.  This is a bad catch once again – DiMaggio would have effortlessly made it – but this time, you’ll note, he signs the photo.  This DiMaggio is graceful.  Halberstam is writing about a man in his early thirties, but it’s hard not to see the silver-haired, immaculately dressed gentleman of DiMaggio’s later years leaning over to reporters with a conspiratorial wink and telling them how he really felt about that catch.  The legend is strong here.

Does any of this matter?  I don’t know.  We have one catch, three stories, and three somewhat different men featured in each.  I am reminded, however, of what is so fascinating and frustrating about history: at the end of the day, I have no idea what DiMaggio thought about that catch.  I know what our authors thought of it, and of the man himself.  Cramer gives us a DiMaggio fierce in his misanthropy, alone with nothing except the memory of his greatness.  I’m not sure Kahn or Halberstam get us closer to the truth.  Kahn, like all old men, wants us to remember an era better than our own, when giants walked the land.  So, too does Halberstam, though he understands baseball – as Bill James reminds us – perhaps the least of these three authors.   In the end we’re left with three sources describing a catch made under an October sky, a man so shrouded by a legacy that his thoughts are lost, the mentalités of three historians imposed upon the past, and the recession of an event from history to myth.

The Author of @OldHossRadbourn is the individual behind the @OldHossRadbourn Twitter account.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

(Blogathon ’16) CLASSIC CONTINUUM- BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: COSMIC SLAM

This piece from the blog’s archives is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Originally posted Nov. 19, 2013

I’m coming to you from the Auxiliary Headquarters of the Continuum… AKA a Living Room instead of my usual Family Room or Bedroom writing area, due to the great Wi-Fi Crisis of 2013. The reason I have braved such perils is simple: Cosmic Slam. The sequel to Shortstop Squad, and another great epic from the folks at Ultimate Sports Entertainment (AKA “Ultimate Sports Force”). Just as Shortstop Squad brought us late-90s shortstops fighting monsters and aliens, Cosmic Slam does the same with late 1990s sluggers. Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, David Justice and Mark McGwire all grace the cover, and Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and Frank Thomas all show up in the story as well.

It also involves Bagwell complaining about missing a fishing trip, Sosa making a corked bat joke, Greg Maddux‘s fastball being insulted, and of course, the making of a baseball bat out of the body of your defeated foes.

No, I’m not joking about the last one. Seriously, that really happens.

So, place your tongue firmly in cheek and go below the jump for Cosmic Slam.

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(Blogathon ’16) CLASSIC CONTINUUM- Bizarre Baseball Culture’s “SHORTSTOP SQUAD”

This piece from the blog’s archives is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

Originally published October 25, 2013

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

In the last years of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st, there existed a company called “Ultimate Sports Force”. It is gone now, existing only in old websites and undeleted news items, but in it’s day, it was a staple advertisement in things like Sports Illustrated for Kids.

What was “Ultimate Sports Force”, you ask?

Ultimate Sports Force was a comic company that made books in which professional athletes were superheroes, that’s what! They had licenses with MLB, NBA, NFL and others, and they made comics that involved them saving the world. And then, like a shooting star across the sky, they were gone.

But, oh, man, the stuff they left behind. I’ve come into possession of many of their great products, and while their quality varies from “surprisingly good” to “OH-DEAR-GOD-KILL-IT-WITH-FIRE”, they all represent a special point in our history, a time when we could think of our sports heroes as actual superheroes, and not individuals who got into arguments, used PEDs, had tumultuous love lives, politics we disagree with or other flaws. No, Ultimate Sports Force was the last Golden Age before we all became so jaded.

Perhaps the crown jewel of Ultimate Sports Force’s non-team-affiliated content was Shortstop Squad. Truly a marvel of the Bizarre Baseball Culture arts, it paid tribute to those that went before and followed in their traditions, as Cal Ripken led his team of Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez against a fish-monster that basically is meant to be fish-Godzilla.

You may think I’m being sarcastic, and you are probably right, but, well, this is SHORTSTOP SQUAD, so your logic is irrelevant.

After all, just LOOK at this cover:

SHORTSTOPSQUADcover

Your mind is now blown.

So, let’s get started with Shortstop Squad #1 from 1999… after the jump, of course:

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(Blogathon ’16) Ron Kaplan- Read All About It: Blogs That Will Keep You Up on Baseball Books

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

It’s been often said that baseball is one of the most literary of sports. I think it’s safe to say without the benefit of, you know, actual facts, that there have been more books on the national pastime than any other sport.

I launched my Baseball Bookshelf with the idea of providing a wide array of news about the genre, including original pieces plus links to reviews; interviews with creators, not just of words, but art, music, film; and other pertinent items.

But lest you think this is the only game in town, here are some other great places to find out what’s good in the world of baseball lit:

  • John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, often writes about books on his blog, Our Game, especially those that deal with the early years.
  • The Society for American Baseball Research has lots of information about books. Sadly, their Bibliography Committee is no longer around, but the newsletters are still somewhere on the site, which can be a bit intimidating to navigate. Some pages of their site can be accessed for free; others are members-only. But it’s well worth the $65 fee since SABR includes several wonderful titles each year as part of its premiums. The most recent: An assessment of baseball through the hit animated TV series, The Simpsons.
  • The National Pastime Museum recently concluded its series on “The Baseball Book That Changed My Life,” with essays from an assortment of authors and scholars.
  • Spitball: The Literary Magazine has lots of news and reviews about books.
  • Gregg Kersey posts his original reviews about baseball books.
  • James Bailey’s site is still up and although he doesn’t add to it as often as in past years, you can still find a good chunk of material.
  • Baseballbookreview.com is another defunct site that can still be an asset.
  • The Baseball Almanac includes several dozen reviews on this page.

Of course, you can simply do a web search for “baseball book reviews,” but these are among the sites that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Ron Kaplan runs Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf and the author of 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die. A signed copy will be given to one lucky donor to the GoFundMe page.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

(Blogathon ’16) CONTINUUM CLASSIC: 2007 AAA BASEBALL HEROES

This piece from the blog’s archives is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

Originally published June 19, 2013.

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

I warned you. I told you it was coming. You could have gone away, but, no, you had to go and actually come here and read this installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture. This is a very special Bizarre Baseball Culture, as, for the first time, it’s something that I actually have in my very small personal collection of comic books. You see, in 2007, each Triple-A baseball team had a day celebrating superheroes, and as a giveaway, there was this comic:

2007GiveawayComic copyAnd, as you can probably guess, I was at that game and got the giveaway. And so, it sat in a drawer for almost seven years, ignored. Until today. Yes, true believers, tremble and prepare yourself for the 2007 edition of Triple-A Baseball Heroes, featuring the superheroes of Marvel Comics.

Now, a few notes before we get going here:

  • All of the images in this post were scanned by yours truly, and any problems with the quality of the images are my fault.
  • All characters and logos in the comic are property of their respective owners (such as Marvel Comics or Minor League Baseball). The excerpts from this comic used in this post are being used under fair use doctrine and are meant merely to support and enhance the opinions and facts stated in said post.
  • Click on any of the images to make them bigger.
  • To the best of my knowledge, the only way to get this comic nowadays is to find it on eBay or have gone to the games that had them released.

Now, go below the jump for the rest of the post:

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The 50th BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: DC’s greatest heroes and villains… PLAY BASEBALL? (BLOGATHON ’16)

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

What more can be said about DC Super-Stars #10 that has not already been said? Larry Granillo has looked at it, so did internet-based comics fan extraordinaire Chris Sims, a comic book blog ran a whole series on it, SI Kids actually pulled up WPA for the game, and probably plenty of others have also done a look at it.

But… if there is something better suited for the 50th installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture, this site’s signature series, I don’t know what it is. So buckle up, because here we go with DC Super-Stars #10 from 1976… “The Great Super-Star Game!”

superstargamecoverGO BELOW THE JUMP FOR MORE:

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