In episode 9 of TWIB '77, Mel Allen and co. face the fears of expansion team balks, Walnut Hands, and CLOWNS.
If you're hoping for an explanation for what you just saw, too bad! This scene is never shown or mentioned again. I have to live with having seen this and now you do, too!
After the upsetting opening credits, the focus shifts to the NL East, where the Pirates have taken over first place from the Cubs. This is largely due to the hot, hot bat of Dave Parker, who the local fans celebrate with a COBRA CORNER in the right field stands. There is also the power of pirate puns. "In days of old Pirates used to rattle swords," Mel Allen informs us, "but today’s baseball buccaneers are rattling their bats and punishing pitchers." The Bucs sweep three straight from the Reds in series at at Three Rivers Stadium to edge into first place. "The Reds got the word, and so did the rest of the National League East, as the plundering Bucs storm toward a title." Arrh, shiver me mizzenmast! Batten down the hinges! Four more years!
Then, TWIB makes its inaugural trip to San Diego, where, Allen tells us, "the Padres have been doing a lot of housecleaning." This is demonstrated by a girl in a Padres jersey and matching short-shorts sweeping a broom at the umpire’s feet for some reason, then giving him a kiss on the cheek. I thought the 1970s were when feminism flowered, but I guess the movement skipped San Diego. What would Maude say if she saw this?!
With this weird chauvinism behind, we move to a feature on "young Dave Winfield, who made his first all star game this year." Not only that, but Winfield’s two-run single in the 8th inning of the proved to be the margin of victory in the NL's 7-5 victory. "How bout those stats, Dave?" Allen asks, and Winfield rattles off his numbers rather quickly (21 HRs, 71 RBIs), all while looking pretty nonchalant about being awesome.
TWIB makes a few allusions to Winfield "finally living up to his potential," a notion that would particularly hound him in New York (when he wasn't being investigated by a convicted felon at the behest of his owner). Winfield buys into this label somewhat by saying, "I feel good within myself I’m becoming the ballplayer I wanted to be." Allen reminds us that Winfield was also drafted by the NFL and NBA, but chose to go pro in baseball. If a player like that ever emerged again, I can't imagine baseball would be his first choice.
The Padres are not particularly good in 1977, but as is his wont, Allen puts a positive spin on things, touting offseason acquisition George Hendry, "who’s been driving the big runs home" and "big Dave Kingman will soon be doing the same." This is rather optimistic, since King Kong hasn't been hitting too well since he was acquired in a blockbuster trade with a team whose name escapes me. "And then there’s Mike Ivey," Allen notes, "who adds more punch to the potent Padre attack." This "punch" is a sharp grounder that takes a bad hop off a second baseman's face. Technically punch, yes, but very unsporting punch, I'd say.
TWIB also highlights a few relatively routine plays, and, of course, speed (stolen base by Bill Almond). Even Allen can't sugarcoat everything, however, as he admits "their future has been clouded" by an arm injury to ace Randy Jones, last year's surprise Cy Young Award winner. The bullpen, headed by recent acquisition Rollie Fingers, has picked up the pace to the best of its ability in his absence. I think that's what TWIB says, anyway, but it's hard to tell, since the tape for this episode cuts out momentarily just at the end of the San Diego segment. The source tape, I mean. iTunes (the means by which I acquired these episodes) does not run on tape, although if it did, it couldn't look any worse than the latest version of iTunes, amirite guys? Apple jokes!
Next up, the Royals, the hottest team in baseball at the moment. They've won 25 of their last 34 and 8 straight at week's end, a team record. "They started slowly in the race, but they’ve picked up ground without breathing too hard," Allen says. This is a perfect Mel Allen-ism, in that it sounds great and folksy coming out of his mouth and appears completely nonsensical when written down.
The first player credited with the Royals' turnaround? Why, "speedy Fred Patek", of course. The pint-sized shortstop shows his superstar qualities with a good play in the infield and by beating out a bunt, signs of a true legend. Only after Patek gets his due are we treated to footage of second fiddles like George Brett and Hal McRae.
Kansas City's prodigious home run power is described by Allen thusly: "Famous Amos Otis finds the range, and so does John Mayberry make merry!" the Royals biggest surprise at the plate is Al Cowens, who’s hitting over .300 with 14 HRs and 64 RBIs. He does not get the rhyming treatment, however. "Al Cowens is powen-ding the ball," maybe? Man, this is harder than it looks.
KC's staying power will be tested by big games coming up against the White Sox, who still lead the AL West at the moment; seven games in two weeks, in fact. "A battle Royale destined to bring out the best in the west!" Allen predicts.
"And that includes the revived Texas Rangers," he continues in a spirited segue, "moving up under new manager BIlly Hunter." Hunter had been an Orioles coach since 1964 before he was as hired as the Rangers' eventual manager this season. I believe the point of this segment is to show that he was super motivated to beat that team that made him employable as a major league manager, or something.
In a three-game set in Baltimore, Texas takes the first two, setting up an epic pitching duel in the finale. Jim Palmer throws 11 shutout innings (!), but his opponent, Gaylord Perry, also blanks the opposition. "At 38, Perry is still a master on the mound," Allen tells us, followed by a shot of a suspiciously breaking ball for swinging strike three. Perry already looks fairly unathletic in this scene, but somehow he will be able to gut (heh) his way through the bug leagues until 1983. Better living through chemistry!
Mike Hargrove drives in the only run of the game on an RBI single in the 13th, and the Rangers hang on in the bottom half to win the game and complete a sweep in Baltimore. "Manager Hunter had swept three from his old team with an old Oriole trademark, strong pitching and defense." I think the Orioles of old managed to score the occasional run, too, but what do I know?
After a break, we are treated to an extended feature on catching, which TWIB deems more important than ever. I think they mean there's more really good catchers than ever, but whatevs. Things have come a long way from days of old, when, according to Johnny Bench, the catcher "was always the fat kid or the kid who was picked last." Yeah, I remember when I used to catch in Little League...hey, wait a minute!
But in 1977, no fat kids need apply! According to Allen, "One thing that’s changed in the last few years is a new mitt, allowing the catcher to catch with one hand and stay healthy." Bench pioneered the one-hand technique, and he gives us a very good reason why he did so. "If you look at most old timers, you’ll see their knuckles all look like a bag of walnuts." By keeping his throwing hand behind his back, he kept it away from the dangers of backswings and foul tips, thus keeping him off the DL. Remember, only you can prevent the dreaded effects of Walnut Hands.
Bench also explains and demonstrates his throwing technique, saying "I try to throw at the pitcher’s chest" His Yankee counterpart, Thurman Munson, explains his own different throwing method, one he adopted after he hurt his arm. "I think you oughta just release the ball as quickly as you can as accurately as you can." Munson shows us how he plants on his back foot, pivots on it, and throws as quickly as he can. Which one is better? Whichever one works best for you? That's what we call democracy, kids.
"Munson and Bench, baseball’s backstop beauties!" Allen says. Amazingly, he does not follow this up with a wolf whistle.
After another break, we start in with this week's weird plays--which, again, do not include any explanation of clowns chasing kids on the base paths. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS, PUSH IT OUT OF YOUR MIND OOPS YOU CAN'T. First, a few doozies from the All Star Game. Pete Rose nearly collides with an unidentified Cardinal at Yankee Stadium's third base fence trying to catch a foul ball, then crumbles to the ground next to the tarp. "Even all stars can be human, Pete!" Allen observes. Or they can be turtles, which is kind of what Pete looks like here.
Then, George Foster and Dave Parker nearly collide in the outfield. Foster wisely gives deference to the big man.
In what might be the best piece of video from this episode, and possibly this series, a Mariners pitcher (so dreadful TWIB doesn't bother to identify him) drops the ball at beginning of his delivery, Mike Pelfrey style. As he looks around blindly for the ball, some saracstic jerk behind home plate rises to his feet, giving him a standing ovation for his incompetence.
As an expansion team, Seattle is susceptible to this kind of embarrassment. Or completely new kinds, as we see a wild pitch bounce off a Mariner catcher’s shinguards (again, unnamed), the watch as he stumbles and falls in pursuit of it, several times. TWIB cuts the clip before wesee if he ever catches up to the ball, but does it matter?
This seems to be the work for anonymous buffoonery. In a Braves-Cubs tilt at Wrigley Field, an unnamed Atlanta runner tries to steal second base, but the throw beats him by a mile. So, he just slides to the right of the bag and stands there, staring at the Cubs shortstop, as if saying, "So are we gonna do this or what?" Maybe he got the idea from watching Ken Reitz's standoff with Bill Buckner?
Then, we see a nameless miscreant of a different sort. Reds first baseman Dan Driessen goes for high pop foul near the stands. Just as he is about to catch it, a lady in front row holds umbrella over his head and the ball bounces off the thing. It’s unclear if this lady had her umbrella over the field or not, or if she intended to interfere. Regardless, the scene has the conspiratorial feel of a clip from JFK. Watch as the ball bounces back and to the left, back and to the left...We're through the looking glass, people.
Driessen complains loudly to the nearest umpire that he was interfered with, to no avail. I can’t read lips, but it appears that the umpire more or less tells him to stop snitchin’. "At times like that, it seem the authorities are no help at all," Allen sighs.
From here, it’s on to the week’s not-terrible plays. From an Indians-Red Sox game, we see a grounder bounce off of the first base bag, but just in time for pitcher to catch it and tag out the runner. We also a fantastic play by Duane Kuiper, as he snags a bouncer up the middle and flips to the shortstop on the run to facilitate a force out at first. But this segment is most notable because the Indians’ blod clot uniforms are too garish for this era’s cameras. Remember that video is still relatively new at this juncture of cinematic history, and it has yet to adapt to such colors. In each of these scenes, the intense reds bleed into the surrounding pixels, branding them with their particularly 1977 brand of yeesh.
We are also treated to some dirt-eating grabs from Brewers Glenn Secada, Red Sox Denny Doyle, and another diving catch from Fred Lynn. The sweetest play of all, however, comes from Milwaukee’s Von Joshua as he makes his own sliding catch in centerfield. His is the best because while executing it, he wears a truly dope pair of shades.
The best footage of this week, however, comes from Shea Stadium, where an Old Timer’s game gathers together Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio. "For one moment, center field was large enough to hold them all!" Allen marvels. The Shea crowd gives them all a huge ovation, another indication of the more ecumenical notion of fanhood we saw on display last week during the All Star Game. Or maybe seeing so much awesome on the field at the same time transcends the bounds of fandom.
Also of note this week, Carl Yastrzemski surpasses Ted Williams on Red Sox all time hit list. "He could be the first Red Socker to collect 3000 hits!" Allen notes, while also using a phrase for a Boston player I’d never heard before. Red Socker?! Come to think of it, there is no good pronoun for "guy who plays for the Red Sox," is there? And the team’s only been around for 113 years now. Put that one up there with jet packs and hoverboards on the pile of Problems We Should Have Solved By Now.
This week’s Gillette Special goes to Pete Rose, who has surpassed Frankie Frisch’s mark for hits by a switch hitter, 2,884. This provides Mel Allen ample opportunity to both pat Charlie Hustle on the back and do his weekly hard sell on MLB’s behalf.
Nice going Pete! You know, Sparky Anderson once said Pete Rose is the Cincinnati Reds. And in a sense, Pete Rose is also baseball, an active example of what this game is all about. Congratulations, Pete! So long, everybody!