It’s the All Star Break and I’m not really sure if I will watch the HR derby tonight even though A’s favorite/clandestine in the baseball world Matt Chapman is competing. I have unadulterated “pachyderm pride,” I just don’t care too much about one of my guys winning a home run contest. That being said, I did enjoy watching the old black and white 1960 episodes of Home Run Derby as a kid with Mickey Mantle, Duke Snyder and Willie Mays so perhaps I will tune in tonight just out of curiosity. These kind of things can be tricky, of course, because by my estimation if I’m not entertained within the first 5 minutes than I will give up all together and move on to another activity. There was just something cool about guys from the 60’s hitting dingers in an empty, creepy stadium rather than into a mosh pit of “ooohing” and “ahhhing” fans biting and clawing at each other for something they unrealistically think they can sell on ebay to put their kids through college. Plus, you know, Cleveland. Yuck.
I was reading random blogs when I was thrust into a magical internet wormhole, stumbling upon whentoppshadballs.blogspot.com and a write-up on the anomaly known as Mark Williams. I have always been intrigued by the more eccentric side of baseball and it’s players, and here is what I found: Mark Westley Williams is a former professional baseball outfielder. He played in three games for the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball in 1977, going 0-for-2 with 1 RBI. Born in Elmira, NY the last of three children for Virgina and David Williams. Retired in 1977 after losing interest in baseball after finding out that he suffered from anti-social disorder and allergic to egoistic inflation. Later attended West Point Military Academy, and Elmira College receiving a masters degree. Now can be found hiking numerous trials in upstate New York under trail name “Let Me Be!”
Harry was one of those flower children from the 60’s who hitch-hiked to Height and Ashbury from an Iowa cornfield and never left. The pull of drugs, sex, music and the radical politics of the time were an overwhelming factor for someone who loved people and having a good time. He met a girl named Darlene who was 19, had long blonde hair and was so with it that she could quote Karl Marx and roll a doobie at the same time. Harry and Darlene were on and off for about 5 years until she split with a Hells Angel from Lodi. This turn of event was an eye-opener for Harry and he realized that sub-cultures consummating into capitalistic entities do what they normally do–die off. Charles Manson hadn’t helped matters much with his shenanigans in Los Angeles and the hippies of the 60’s that had survived drugs and prison were blossoming into tax-paying citizens and looking for something else to do. So was Harry.
Harry eventually moved to the much cheaper Oakland side of the Bay and got a square job working at a Co-op grocery store. He also started going to baseball games at the Oakland Coliseum in the 70’s and the timing was perfect to mold him into a life long A’s fan. The A’s won 3 straight World Series and had great players like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. He liked that these guys were brash, outspoken and had long hair and afros. These were his guys.
Harry is now 67 and lives in Petaluma, California in his “Château Relaxo.” I recently sent him to check out the A’s and the Royals during a Spring Training game in Mesa. Here is his report:
Mesa is an uncultured bubble community with no sense of inspiration–it is flat, hot, dusty and the only thing to do is eat, get drunk or cook meth. I checked into my hotel and decided to eat at “Connie’s” the diner next door. Now I know why I never see dead animals on the roads, they’re all in the restaurants. Talk about the heat. The damn pool water gets as hot as the outside temps. I met a sweet Mexican girl named Lola who was going to the game the next day. We drank rum, listened to the Eagles and talked for most of the night. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and promised to buy me a beer if she saw me the next day. You’d be surprised how easy it is to find someone like me in a crowd of only 5,000 people.
The next day I was a tad bit hung over, yet giddy as I took a couple of puffs off the pipe and downed a few beers in the parking lot. My Prius was gasping for air. Hohokam stadium is a smallish park that seats about 10,000 and has a majestic view of the sky. I live in a part of California that is so lush with greenery and downcast that anything wide open and infinite like this is a bit strange, yet it was pleasant. I have been an A’s fan for the better part of 40 years and had never been to Spring Training. Bucket list.
The vibe and weather were very relaxing and the mixture of baseball, sun and the night before had me falling into a sort of meditative slumber, and then I would jolt awake during every crack of the bat. I imagine it would have been quite hilarious from an outsiders perspective. Around the 4th inning I felt someone shaking me from behind. It was Lola. We went and had a few beers while walking around the stadium. She was a beautiful brown-skinned girl from the 70’s that came from a traditional Catholic family and didn’t look a lick like her age. She had strength, wisdom and a beautiful smile.
Oh, yeah. The A’s won 6-4 as my favorite player Stephen Vogt went yard twice. This vacation was turning out to be quite nice. That is all from my Spring Training report. Harry over and out.
The following is an excerpt from Bruce Markusen’s amazing and vital book, “A baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s.
Reggie Jackson reported to spring training in 1972 replete with a fully grown mustache, the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache reach a fuller bloom. In addition, Jackson bragged to teammates that he would not only wear the mustache, possibly a full beard, come Opening Day.
Such pronouncements would have hardly created a ripple in later years, when players would freely make bold fashion statements with mustaches and goatees, and routinely wear previously disdained accessories like earrings. But this was 1972, still a conservative time within the sport, in stark contrast to the rebellious attitudes of younger generations throughout the country. Given that no major league player had been documented wearing a mustache in the regular season since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A’s in 1914, Jackson’s pronouncements made major news in 1972.
In the post Schang era, several players had donned mustaches during spring training, yet, in each case the player had shaved off the mustache by Opening Day, either by his own volition or because of a mandate from the team. After all, there existed an unwritten rule within the conservative sport, one that strongly frowned upon facial hair. In addition, several teams had more recently instituted their own formal policies (most notably the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960’s), policies that forbade their players from sporting facial hair.
Baseball’s conservative grooming standards , which had been in place for over 50 years, were now being threatened by one of the game’s most visible players. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s mustachioed look quickly garnered the attention of owner Charlie O. Finley and manager Dick Williams. “The story as I remember it,” says outfielder Mike Hegan, “was that Reggie came into spring training…with a mustache, and Charlie didn’t like it. So he told Dick to tell Reggie to shave it off. And Dick told Reggie to shave it off, and Reggie told Dick what to do. This got to be a real sticking point, and so I guess Charlie and Dick had a meeting and they said ‘well, Reggie’s an individual so maybe we can try some reverse psychology here.’ Charlie told a few other guys to start growing a mustache. Then (Finley figured that if) a couple of other guys did it, Reggie would shave his off, and you know, everything would be OK.
According to Sal Bando, Finley wanted to avoid having a direct confrontation with Jackson over the mustache. For one of the few times in his tenure as the A’s owner, Finley showed a preference for a subtle, more indirect approach. “Finley, to my knowledge,”says Bando, “did not want to go tell Reggie to shave it. So he thought it would be better to have us all grow mustaches. That way Reggie wouldn’t be an ‘individual’ anymore.”
Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles and Bob Locker followed Reggie’s lead, each sprouting their own mustache. Instead of making Jackson feel less individualistic, thus prompting him to adopt his previously clean-shaven look, the strategy had a reverse and unexpected affect on Charles Finley.
“Well, as it turned out, guys started growin’ ’em, and Charlie began to like it,” says Mike Hegan in recalling the origins of baseball’s “Mustache Gang.” Finley offered a cash incentive to any player who had successfully grown a mustache by Father’s Day. “So then we all had to grow mustaches,” says Hegan, “and that’s how all that started.” By the time we got to the (regular) season, almost everybody had mustaches.” Even the manager, Dick Williams, known for his military brush-cut and clan shaven look during his days in Boston, would join the facial brigade by growing a patchy, scraggly mustache of his own. Baseball’s long standing hairless trend had officially come to an end.
Alvin Dark was fired by owner Charles O. Finley in 1967 and here he was taking his grief, again, in 1974. The Oakland ball-club had just lost to the Sox, 3-2, and Charlie O. was throwing a tantrum of epic proportion in the manger’s office. Dark knew that the players had heard some of the one-sided conversation and hoped that his embarrassment would light a fire under their asses.
“I’m playing to win!” screamed Charlie, veins protruding from his neck and eyes popped out as if he was being squeezed by an anaconda. This was, after all, the jungle.
“If you don’t start playing aggressive baseball I’ll kick your fucking ass out of here!” “We won the World Series two years in a row without you and we can win again without you!”
Al understood what was going on– Charlie was from Chicago and hated losing to the Sox more than getting a root canal or a coat that wasn’t plaid. Dark was a Christian so he didn’t raise his voice or even curse. He just sat there, eyes staring directly ahead in an omnipresent out-of-body experience that lasted about 30 seconds until he snapped out of it.
“We’re not wrestling with the mysteries of the universe here, Charlie, it’s just a goddamn….”
Dark stopped himself in mid-sentence and privately scolded himself for the blaspheme.
Mr. Alvin Dark walked the parking lot of the Coliseum alone, the primordial universe spread before him. He slowly lowered himself into a green ’74 Mercury Cougar and started flipping through radio stations with impunity. Thoughts began to develop and unfold as he forgave Charlie for his paradigm of curmudgeon behavior. The song “Thankful for what you’ve got” poured out of the speakers as Dark thought, ” It’s not that the celebration becomes less fun as we get older, it’s more purposeful. Our intentions adjust with the weight of responsibilities and existential dread….and the slow erosion of joint cartilage.”
Dark put key to ignition and foot to pedal as he drove away, leaving an empty parking lot…and the primordial stars to themselves.
Charles O. Finley. Genius. Rabble-Rouser. Inventor. Millionaire. Cheapskate. Many things have been said about the man who was the principal owner of the Oakland Athletics during their World Series championships of 1972, 1973 and 1974, yet one thing is missing in this man’s resume– The Hall of Fame.
Dad’s goal was to work in the Texas State Dept. of Education.
Regarding Charlie’s 1975 TIME magazine cover shoot–
7.) What mistake was made on the 1974 World Series trophy?