This ain't baseball. This is a movie directed by Mel Brooks, with a screenply by Woody Allen, starring Gene Wilder as Bowie Kuhn, Carroll O'Connor as Charlie Finley and the Three Stooges as Ted Turner, George Steinbrenner and Brad Corbett. The thing is a smash, causing critics to predict the resurrection of vaudeville. Slapstick never had it so good.
No sooner do the giggles die down in New York, where the Yankees and Mets have given comic performances of surpassing skill, then the Red Sox do something outrageously hilarious, such as hit home runs halfway across Cape Cod.
It's hard to type this stuff with a straight face, but Turner, the Atlanta Braves' owner is now somewhere off Newport, R.I., steering his yacht, Courageous, through trials to select an entry for the America's Cup competition this fall. Finley is fussing with Kuhn again, having revealed publicly an illegal incentive plan for his team. Kuhn sighed heavily and asked an assistant, played by Marty Feldman, to say shame-shame to Charlie. And Corbett, what's he up to? Glad you asked.
Corbett is looking for his third manager in three days. He's the boss of the Texas Rangers, a comedian of such great natural skill that not even he knows how funny he is. Consider this: he fired Silly Martin in 1974, not long after Martin slapped the team's 60-year-old traveling secretary; last week, Corbett tried to hire Martin away from the Yankees.
Corbett didn't like the way Frank Lucchesi managed the Rangers. Heaven only knows why, but then plots have never been Woody Allen's strength. The Rangers were only four games out of first place in their division, and most people agreed that Lucchesi was a gentleman doing a decent job.
When Corbett failed to get Martin, he must have scratched his head and said, "What we need is a Billy Martin-type. Besides Martin, who else would kick a Little Leaguer who didn't move a runner from second to third with nobody out?"
Fade out, fade in tto Corbett announcing that Eddie Stanky, properly known as The Brat in his playing days in the '40s and '50s, would take over for Lucchesi.
That happened on Wednesday of this week. It surprised some people who thought Stanky, at 59, was content to coach the baseball team at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, his hometown. He'd coached there nine years now and word was the experience had cleansed from him whatever terrible forces moved his mediocre body to major league accomplishments. He even allowed himself to be called mellow, an adjective he once declared fit only for an overripe melon.
On the bench Wednesday night in Minnesota, Stanky watched the Rangers win, 10-8. "Yup, they sure looked good coming from behind," he said afterward. "I'm glad I came back up."
Not everyone was. If you were a short, weak, slow kid who loved baseball so much you'd play catch with your spaghetti-armed sister, then in the '40s and '50s Eddie Stanky was your man, because "intangibles" made him a big leaguer and everybody could have "intangibles," right? You couldn't buy a Stan Musial bubble gum card, but you could paper a wall with Stankys. And at least one kid, a Cardinal fan when The Brat became the team's manager in 1952, astonished collectors by offering a Bob Feller, say, straight up for a Stanky.
In seven seasons as a major league manager, Stanky never had a team higher than third place. He quit in 1968 to go home. As foolish as it sounded - The Brat on a college campus - it worked. It was nice to imagine Stanky at peace, working with dreamers (would he teach them to kick the ball out of an infielder's glove as he'd done to Phil Rizzuto in the World Series?)
But then Corbett came tempting him.
Stanky took the job.
For one day.
He quit yesterday.
Said he was homesick.
At 59, he was homesick.
Just goes to show you we do get smarter as we get older. Stanky's first career as a manager lasted 801 games, which means Stanky, at 59, is 900 games wiser than he used to be.
A happy ending to a good show.