HE WAS ONE of the great -- perhaps the greatest -- names in baseball, and in addition to the name he had a pretty good right arm. Van Lingle Mungo. It was fun for the fans to say and fun for the writers to write. It was celebrated in a popular song in 1970 whose lyrics were simply a recitation of the names of men who once played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, with his being the keystone.
It is impossible to imagine baseball in the 1930s and 1940s without a name on the order of Van Lingle Mungo, just as it is impossible to imagine baseball of the 1970s and 1980s with one. (Now, such a person would be called "Van" and would likely have changed his last name to something like Munsey, on the advice of his agent.)
Van Lingle Mungo, who died Tuesday at the age of 73 in his home town of Pageland, S.C., was a pitcher who played mostly for the Dodgers. For five years in the early 1930s he was very good, winning 81 games with a blazing fast ball, and after that he was not so good, but he was, as the more restrained sportswriters put it, "colorful." That's an adjective that can cover a multitude of mistakes, which, by Mr. Mungo's own estimate, he paid for with some $15,000 in fines over his career.
But in the years following his initial triumphs, Van Lingle Mungo was something more important than a successful pitcher -- he was the living embodiment of the hope and renewal associated generally with spring and specifically with the coming of the baseball season:
1938:'Humble' Mungo Signs, Pledges Cooperation. Temperamental Pitching Star Agrees to Salary Reported to Be $15,000; Says He Want to 'Pitch for Brooklyn . . .'
1941:Mungo Again Ready to Go for Dodgers. Brooklyn Fireball Artist Says His Arm Is Good as New.
1945:New York, April 11 (AP) -- Van Lingle (The New) Mungo, a reformed and completely renovated citizen, is about to test his pitching arm against big league hitting and the New York Giants think he can succeed.
Honorably discharged from the Army last November after nine months' service, the 33-year- old right-hander hopes to reward his long-waiting boosters with solid performances instead of promises of greatness.
And the fact is that in that year he won 14 games and lost seven, a fine showing, before bowing out for good after a run-in with his manager, which led to a suspension, which . . . But enough of that; we were talking of hope and renewal, not the post-season letdown. Moreover, its time for spring training, which is an unmitigated good thing except it no longer includes any Brooklyn Dodgers or Van Lingle Mungos.