THE NATION'S NEWS MEDIA have rushed to the aid of the millions of baseball fans who are traumatized by the strike.
Some newspapers are printing old box scores and stories about games that were played 30 or 40 years ago. Other papers are printing fictional accounts of games that would have been played if the strike hadn't occurred. Some TV stations are broadcasting minor league games or highlights of recent games.
Psychiatrists are being interviewed for advice on how the fans can endure the psychological shock of not being able to watch their favorite athletes scratch their groins, spit, walk to the water cooler and pat each other on their bottoms.
I've wanted to do my part. But I haven't been able to think of what I can contribute. I don't have any old box scores, and my memories of the Cubs would just make us even more depressed.
So I've decided to reprint my all-time great slob baseball team.
This team was first put together about 10 years ago when I became bored listening to pious jocks who were members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes talk about the importance of being virtuous, clean-living, honest and true, and shunning strong drink, painted women and sinful thoughts.
My reaction was: Baloney! Some of the greatest players in baseball history have been men whose personal habits would make a nun faint.
So with the help of Bill Veeck and baseball historian George Vass, I put together this-all-time team of depraved guys who could trounce any collection of goodie-goodies.
LEFT FIELD: On the diamond, Babe Ruth could do it all -- the greatest slugger, a great pitcher, a fine fielder. And off the field, he could do it all, too. As Veeck said: "He was a drunk, a braggart, a glutton, a brawler, a prodigious love. Ruth went to Hollywood once to appear in a movie. The status symbol among movie stars that year was whether they had gone to bed with Ruth. He gave dozens and dozens of them status." Yet, he had enough strength left over to play for 21 years, hit 714 homers, bat .342 and win 93 games as a pitcher. If he hadn't spent all that time playing baseball, you have to wonder what kinds of records he would gave set in his other activities.
CENTER FIELD: Ty Cobb was the all-time batting king: .367 for 23 years. As for goodness, decency and sportsmanship, George Vass said: "Cobb was the meanest, most hate-filled man ever to play the game. And his temperament became no better off the field. He would get in knife fights. He once got cut up but still played the next day." It's a pity he's not around today. There'd be bleeding Sox fans all over Chicago.
RIGHTFIELD: Paul Waner was always sipping from a Coke bottle in the dugout. One day, while he was batting, a new batboy snuck a long swig. The kid woke up with a crashing hangover. Between snorts from the Coke bottle, Waner hit .333 over 19 years.
FIRST BASE: Hack Wilson usually played in the outfield, but I'd put him at first base because he wouldn't have as far to stagger to the dugout.
Veeck recalls: "I walked into the locker room one morning and Wilson was soaking in a tub with three 50-pound blocks of ice. They were trying to get him sober enough to play. He was in terrible shape, but he played and hit three homers.
"Another time, jumped into the stands and beat up a fan. He later said he wasn't really mad at the fan, but he wanted to get arrested so he could take his hangover out of the hot sun."
Wilson stills holds the National League record for home runs (56), runs batted in (196) and beer steins. All of his favorite Chicago bars provided him special one-gallon steins. Well, you do lose a lot of body fluids during a hot game.
SECOND BASE: Rogers Hornsby has the National League's highest lifetime average (.358). He did not smoke, drink and seldom brawled. So what's he doing on this team? Horses and women. Every team needs versatility.
SHORTSTOP: One of the greatest fielders was Rabbit Maranville. Veeck says: "He once staggered out of the team hotel and got in a fight with a cabbie. He lost. So he picked a fight with the next cabbie and lost. He fought three more of them, and they all beat hell out of him. So I asked him what he was doing. He said: 'I'm trying to find one I can whip.' Maranville played until he was 42. Had he led a clean life, he would have probably lasted until he was 41.
THIRD BASE: Those who knew Jimmie Foxx (534 homers, .325 average) were never sure if he was sliding into a base or just falling over. Veeck says: "He once started a restaurant and showed up for the grand opening four days late."
CATCHER: The cops in Queens once phoned Veeck at 3 a.m. They had Rollie Hemsley, the great catcher, in jail for drinking and brawling. Veeck got him out, took him back to the hotel and put him to bed. Three hours later, the police in Brooklyn called and said they had Hemsley. Veeck got him out again, took him to the ballpark, and he played a fine game. But if Veeck had minded his own business, Hemsley might have set a record by being arrested in every borough in New York in one day.
PITCHER: The fans marveled at how relaxed Grover Cleveland Alexander was when he was called in from the bullpen during a crucial moment of a World Series against the Yankees. He was so relaxed he was staggering. But he struck the man out, whether he knew it or not.
Our other pitcher would be the legendary Rube Waddell, who loved pitching, Fishing and drinking. When he died, they found him in a gin-filled bathtub with three drunken trout.
MANAGER: Who else but Billy Martin? He drinks, snarls, lies, bullies, throws dirt on umpires and punches out marshmallow salesmen in bars. With these leadership qualities, it's no surprise that he's the greatest manager in baseball.
I hope these men serve as an inspiration to aspiring young ballplayers. Remember, lads, even if you're not much of an athlete, you can still make this kind of team.