When Van Schley was growing up in New York City, he dreamed of being a major-league baseball player. He had to settle for his minor-league players, playing before 12,000,000 viewers on nationwide TV.
When he grew up, Van Schley became a respected artist. Praised by critics and museums for his concepts, Whacko Mod distingushed examples of which are:
During a flight on LOT Airlines from Warsaw to Paris, Schley photographed what was to be named "Airline Food," nine frames of Polish ham and heavy mustard.
Or pictures of an exhibition of owners of gas stations around the world from A to Z - Abraham D. Abraham to Osai Zuniga.
Or "World Run" a book of pictures (taken by partner Billy Adler) of Schley running the metric mile in Kypto, Rome, Berlin, London, Paris, New York, etc.
Or photos comparing the German Democratic Republic to the state of Arkansas. Pictures of "Chairman Mao's Exercises" with Mao's legs missing from the photos.
Or videotape projects on Running. Driving, Freeway, Dogs Jumping for the Stick. Dogs Having Dinner. Traffic Going by My Topanga House and 7-year-old Amy at the Special Doll Sale for ARCO and Texaco stations.
"For six months after I came back from Asia in 1967," says Schley, "I saw what everybody said were great photos and started taking pictures that people would think were bad photos."
So the exhibitions came, at the Museum of Modern Art, in Milan, London, Cologne and group shows in California, and so did the critical acclaim:
In "Europe-America, the Different Avant-Grades," Achille Bonito Oliva wrote:
"His photographic record catalogues the traces of a reality which by itself displays the sign-system of the absurd. The color-side faithfully captures the public edification of the paradox of social conventions . . . . the irony stems from the release of the photographic eye, which brings into focus the rhetoric of common throught."
Schley responds by paraphrasing author Fred Exley, "Let's cut the crap and talk baseball." So there he was two years ago, comfortably home in Topanga, wealthy by inheritance, a successful artist at 35, reading the Sporting News when his childhood dream struck him in a new form: "If I can't play, why not buy a team and have some fun?"
So for the past two years Van Schley has owned the Texas City Stars and most of the players on this year's Gray's Harbor Loggers, trying to adapt his art to minor league baseball. Bill Veeck with a Steven Martin sensibility. Scheley's nonbaseball-related art projects are now to be taken care of "between the World Series and spring training."
While aspiring major-league baseball players did their best on the field, Schley busied himself with his baseball/art/entertainment project. From Beeville to Victoria to Harlingen to Corpus in the Lone Star League in '77, from Walla Walla to Bend to Aberdeen in the Northwest League, Schley poured his ink, energy and checkbook into fun and games.
Designated Comedian Bill "Good Party" Murray from "Saturday Night Live" roamed the back alleys of Aberdeen and Hoaquim in search of a liquor license for a free beer inning, sand a Jose Feliciano-styled National Anthem, acted out skits with the players ("The Things We Did Last Summer," Channel 4 tonight 11:30. see TV Preview), and batte din a league game.
When one player told Murray that his parents had driven 2,000 miles to see a game, Mr. Good Party turned to Mom and Pop and said: "Hope you got good mileage."
Schley took a hand in solving some of the team's problems himself. When outfielder Rick Seid, the team's Designated Hebrew both years, wasn't doing so well at the bat and was feuding with his manager, Schley saw the problem immediately and explained to the manager, "When you're Jewish and in a slump, there is no light at the end of the tunnel."
One of Schley's more distinguished finds was Paul "Red" Shuttleworth, who taught poetry at the College of the Mainland and caught batting practice for the Texas City Stars two years ago. Shuttleworth joined the team because his old pal from San Francisco. "Dirty" Al Gallagher, was the manager. At the end of last sason, Murray was seen at the Plaza Hotl in New York City between rehearsals for "Saturday Night Live" reading Shuttleworth's poem, titled "A Poem Written While Breaking Team Curfew With Rod 'Stork' Wallace in Corpus Christi, Texas, After the Texas City Stars Won a Game," and subtitled, "For Al Gallagher and Bill Bryk, Who Owes Me a Bottle of Vodka For a Slider of His I Took Relatively Deep in By-God-Beevile, Texas":
What does it mean in this league when a shortstop has his best game in a whorehouse in Reymosa, Mexio?
I own the nothing of a swollen left hand. It's the nothing of a ant hill swarming over a knife, a child stabbed into the labyrinth
Stork, you got two hits, and you've got a right to eat the Coors can in your fist, but s- - - , stay off the 2 a.m. phone recitation of the team's motel balcony; don't get Gallagher down here t fine us.
When most baseball teams had special attractions like ball night, T-shirt night, bat day, Schley added to his list, Zodiac Night, Dangerous Fish Night and Crying Towel Night.
His uniforms, T-shirts and programs were designed by Hudson Marquez, a pioneering videophile and the man who conceived the Cadillac ranch in Amarillo, Texas, where Cadillacs are buried in the ground with their fins sticking out of the dirt.
For skit-writing Don Novello, who doubles as the Rev. Guido Sarducci and sometimes Lazlo Toth, showed up. Hollywood TV director Gary Weiss filmed "Things We did;" Houston painter John Alexander helped burn down the field after days at rain to make it playable.
Schley is but one of an as-yet-undiscovered underground network of overground people who are minor-league baseball addicts. One writes speeches for the president, another helps make policy for the World Bank, another writes and sings hit songs like "Margaritaville" - they own teams, want to own teams or follow teams day by day.
For the past two years Schley has driven about 10,000 miles, has accustomed himself to the idiom of minor-league baseball (hot, cute, snappy, weak, not to shabby, a case of the shorts), shagged fly balls before games and kicked in dugouts after losses - all for the national pastime. A batting average is not uncommon.
When he's not consumed with his team Schley relaxes at his 12-acre Topanga home with two dogs, one horse, five phones and three TV sets. "Never can have enough machines in the house."
He rides around L.A. in is his BMW, listening to Bob Marley, Willie Nelson and Led Zeppelin, talking about owning a team in a new basketball league and heading for Victoria in the great Northwest for next baseball season. "I heard the guys who now run the team discussing the relative merits of Monte Python. After all, baseball has substance, art has style and serendipity, and together they give you someting more than hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet."
On the last day of the season down at Joe's Deli in Aberdeen, Wash. and the team had just received the good news - the final two playoff games had been canceled because of rain and the Loggers were the champs. Murray screamed, "All hail the blue and white. Logger supremacy!"
Schley countered with: "Is sure beats last season, when the Stars lost the playoff because the owner of the Corpus Christi Seagulls tore down the stadium when he heard a tornado was predicted sometime during the week. Murray watched the trophy presentation in the dizzle, congratulated his "teammates," and observed, "I'm choked up. It's like being across the street from Elvis' mansion."