Dickson: Playing for laughs, baseball’s classic clowns

From Paul Dickson at The National Pastime Museum on December 15, 2014:

Major League Baseball as it is played in the twenty-first century is different than the game that was played in the twentieth century.

For starters, it is nowhere near as funny.

In 1960 big league catcher and broadcaster Joe Garagiola published a bestselling book titled Baseball Is a Funny Game. The book was meant to be an antidote to those who, in the author’s words, were making the game “too serious and complicated.” Less than two years later serial team owner Bill Veeck published his irreverent memoir Veeck as in Wreck, which some still regard as the funniest baseball book ever written.

Garagiola and Veeck were two of many twentieth-century baseball figures—Yogi Berra, Dizzy Dean, Casey Stengel, Satchel Paige, Charlie Grimm, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Uecker, Lefty Gomez, Danny Ozark, and Babe Ruth, among others—who can still bring a smile when their names are mentioned. The smiles have nothing to do with their numbers or the box score but with their quips, quotes, and antics. Calling these characters funnymen, cut-ups, or comedians was not insulting but rather taken as a compliment.

Then there were the actual clowns: players, coaches, and managers who performed acts that were more burlesque than baseball. One of the first was Herman (Germany) Schaefer, who began his career as a second baseman with Detroit and turned himself into a gate attraction playing the goofball alternative to the no-nonsense Ty Cobb. On one occasion when umpire Tim Hurst was slow to call a game on account of rain, Schaefer appeared in a raincoat and rubber boots. He got the laugh, but for some time to come any ball at all near the plate was called a strike when Hurst was behind the plate. Given to odd props and disguises, Schaefer was probably the only player in the history of baseball to be tossed from a game when he appeared at the plate wearing a big black false moustache stuck to his upper lip.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/playing-laughs-baseballs-classic-clowns

Originally published: December 15, 2014. Last Updated: December 15, 2014.