• In the 1920s, the New York Yankees had several power hitters, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Tony Lazzeri, who were called “Murderers’ Row” because they figuratively murdered pitchers by frequently hitting home runs. Waite Hoyt, a right-handed pitcher for the Yankees, once joked, “A Yankee pitcher never should hold out (not sign a contract in hopes of getting more money) because he might be traded, and then he would have to pitch against them.”
• Gaylord Perry was well aware that he had a reputation for throwing spitballs—he titled his autobiography Me and the Spitter and after winning 300 games he wore a T-shirt bearing the slogan “300 Wins is Nothing to Spit At.” Baseball manager Gene Mauch was also well aware of Mr. Perry’s reputation and once said, “He should be in the Hall of Fame, with a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to his plaque.”
• Gaylord Perry was a great pitcher but not a great hitter. In fact, Alvin Dark (manager for the San Francisco Giants) once predicted that an astronaut would land on the moon before Mr. Perry hit a home run. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon—and 17 minutes later Mr. Perry hit his very first major-league home run.
• Jay Johnstone played major-league baseball from 1966 to 1984 and made his mark as a clown. After a Dodger shortstop made a couple of fielding errors in one game, Mr. Johnstone put Band-Aids on his glove. While sitting in the dugout, Mr. Johnston often wore giant sunglasses, a space helmet, or a beanie. During one game, he and Dodger pitcher Jerry Reuss left the dugout, changed clothes, and joined the groundskeeping crew in manicuring the field at the end of the fifth inning. They were recognized, a TV cameraman broadcast their antics, and the fans gave them a standing ovation. However, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda gave both men $200 fines for being out of uniform and sent Mr. Johnstone in to pinch-hit—Mr. Johnstone hit a home run. Returning to the dugout, he told Mr. Lasorda, “Next time you need me, I’ll be in the groundskeepers’ room.”
• When Chamique Holdsclaw played as a first-year athlete for the Tennessee Lady Vols, her first road trip was to Hawaii, where they would play in the Kona Classic. Before they left for the airport, her teammates handed her a yellow broomstick and told her that it was a tradition for a first-year player to carry the “freshman pole” during their first road trip of the season. Not wanting to break tradition, Ms. Holdsclaw carried the broomstick through the airport and onto the airplane, where finally a coach told her that she was the victim of a practical joke. Actually, the practical joke started a new tradition. The Lady Vols won the Kona Classic (and Ms. Holdsclaw was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament), and in years afterward the freshman pole was carried on the first road trip of the season to bring the team good luck.
• Referee Dan Tehan of Cincinnati witnessed a practical joke pulled on a timekeeper at a University of Michigan basketball game in the first half of the 20th century. The timekeeper always made a grand show of getting his pistol out, pointing it toward the rafters, and pulling the trigger to announce that time had run out and the game had ended. This time, when the timekeeper pulled the trigger, a huge, dead bird fell within three feet of him. Before the game had started, a couple of Michigan football coaches had hidden the bird and a student in the rafters.
• Major-league umpire Eric Gregg was a heavy man, sometimes weighing 360 pounds, and of course he heard a lot of fat jokes while working. Once, he was told that in the fifth inning, his girlfriend would appear. This had him wondering because he didn’t have a girlfriend—he was very happily married. The mystery was indeed revealed in the fifth inning—when the Goodyear blimp arrived. On another occasion, he couldn’t find the baseball, so the Phillies’ Greg Gross told him, “Eric, if it was two scoops you’d find it in a second.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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