Surviving Greatness: Wally Pipp & Billy Taylor

A rare few have had the misfortune to be established and very good at what they do, only to be suddenly eclipsed by a wunderkind and relegated to oblivion through no fault of their own. In fact, if these poor souls are remembered at all, it's often only because of the greatness of those who supplanted them. One might call this the Salieri-Mozart dynamic, a most extreme case explored in the movie Amadeus. It's a kind of halo-effect in reverse, as in, "Oh yeah, I remember him...... he's the guy who was replaced by....... (insert famous name)." It was this way with Wally Pipp in baseball, for example. He was a very good first baseman - not quite a star, but good enough to be a regular with the Yankees from 1915-25, before and after Babe Ruth joined them. One fateful day during the 1925 season, he begged out of the line-up with a headache and was replaced by a kid named Lou Gehrig. Baseball fans all know the rest, the phenom absolutely tore it up and Pipp never played another game at first base for the Yanks, as Gehrig embarked on his incredible streak of playing 2,130 consecutive games. He was a charter member of "Murderer's Row", eventually became "The Iron Horse" and of course had a mythical career, the stuff glory is made of. He's likely the greatest first baseman of all time, certainly the most famous and best-loved one. His play and statistics established all this, but Gehrig's untimely death from the disease now named after him - and his stirring speech to more [...]

I Hear A Sym-Phony

I'm never sure how far these posts travel or who sees them, so I want to avoid any misunderstanding by clarifying a couple of things in advance. In the following, I poke fun mostly at symphony musicians and eventually the French, a little bit. This is all in the spirit of parody as in my last two posts, which took the piss out of my own, namely jazz bands. I have the utmost respect for symphonic musicians, in fact my grandfather Tom Burry played tympani with the T.S.O. for about 40 years. Besides, having been around orchestral players many times, I know their sense of humour about themselves and their profession may be even more pointed and satirical than mine. As for the French....well, who can resist taking them down a notch or two once in a while?                                                        *** A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless to ensure his continued safety, not to mention survival) suggested that at the rate I was going with the funny-name bands, I would soon have an entire Symphony Orchestra on my hands. "What a horribly delicious idea," I thought, while also noting that some things are best left buried. Deeply. In the end though, I couldn't resist the challenge, thinking, "How hard could it be to come up with 95 cringe-worthy, groan-inducing musical pun-names?" Well, three days later, with the completely unexpected help of my long-suffering wife Anna (who I thought would put the kibosh more [...]

Wilbur, Beware

As the heat-wave continues, and just to show that yesterday's otomatopoeic big band was (unfortunately) no mere passing fancy, no random accident, here's a progressive-bop unit from the late-40s. The band is fronted by a wild singer named Frieda Bagg, who would later go on to influence Betty Carter. Because it's a ten-piece outfit, she calls it Frieda Bagg and The Decadents. Here's the personnel: Trumpet - Bendt Valver (He's Swedish of course and suffers from severe diabetes, otherwise known as Stockholm Sweetnin' Syndrome.) Trombone - Woody Slidemore Alto Sax - Kent Zwing Tenor Sax - Randy Changes Baritone Sax - Roland Thunder (Roland is in high demand, so occasionally Fillmore Cork subs in for him.) Vibes - Otis Mantle Piano - Thelonious Galintown (Very interesting girl pianist, but she suffers from a bad case of halitosis. When the smell gets to be too much, the band sends for Wiley Komper.) Guitar - Al Woodshed (Sometimes, his brother Otto guests.) Bass - Happy Walker (Once in a while, Wilbur B. Ware replaces him.) Drums - Hy Hatchik (When Hy gets too high, the expatriate German drummer Ole Baumdropper "fills in" for him.) They play an interesting book of charts written by such way-out arrangers as Izzy Deff, Tony Scribbler, Les Meeter and Wilbur Nout. Their manager/payroll secretary is Lotta Graaft and the infrequently used roadie is Howie Schlepps. Arturo Versees handles their European bookings, which are understandably rare. As boppers, a lot of them are more [...]

‘Dis Band Should Disband!

In the wilting heat of these dog days I thought we could use a little comic diversion, so here's one of the games jazz guys play on the road when things get boring, which is often enough. The idea is to make up an imaginary band of musicians whose names are onomatopoeic - yes, I realize that's an awfully big word for a bass player. You know, puns for the instruments they play - and how they play them - usually pretty badly to make it more fun. (It helps if you sound out the names below, but don't do this in public or people will think you're an even bigger drooling idiot than you really are.) Here then, is a bad big band of choice names compiled over the years, say Duke O'Bore and his Prairie Stink-o-Pators:   Trumpets: On lead trumpet we have Blair Lowder of course. The not very sure-lipped jazz trumpet soloist is Manny Clams. The section is rounded out by the mistake-prone Willie Cack and Kenny Maykit, who has very limited range, so his parts are often doubled by Betty Won't. Trombones: The lead trombonist is the slippery Russian, Slide Uptopitch. On second 'bone is a veteran of all the name bands who's never been a leader himself, Cy DeMann. The weak-chopped third trombonist is Cuffs Knightley. Bass trombone is handled by Stan Torian, who hails from Armenia and blows like, the lowest. Reeds: As usual, the sax section is a mixed bag of old hacks and overanxious youngbloods. On lead alto is the aging and slightly deaf veteran Otto Retire, backed by Reed Baddeley more [...]

No Walk In the Park

The following article could be seen as a rant or attack on Jays' catcher J.P. Arencibia, but is not really intended as such. It's just that his struggles this year and his attitude about these bring up some larger issues about baseball - what's important in it, how it should be played and so on - that I wanted to comment on. Before going any further though, I want to make two things clear: 1) I don't dislike Arencibia at all. In fact, so far in his still young career I've generally liked him in a personal, subjective way, been pulling for him as a fan. I don't know the man, but he seems to be an outgoing, humorous, friendly sort, the kind of person who gets involved with the community where he plays, tries to do some good, is popular with his teammates and fans. In short, he seems to be a good guy and Lord knows we need more of those. 2) Believe it or not, this article was not provoked by the recent war of words between Arencibia and Sportsnet commentators Gregg Zaun and Dick Hayhurst. I've been intending to write about Arencibia for some time now, I just haven't found the time. However, the recent outburst makes this post more timely and has some relevance to what I wanted to say, so I'll certainly comment on it.   *** Most would agree that at the very core of baseball lies the constant battle between pitcher and batter. There are other aspects of the game like base-running, fielding, strategy and so on, but these all stem from this central confrontation - more [...]

Doubling Up

Generally, the ballplayers who hold single-season records in various hitting categories are famous, and rightly so. Take for example home runs, maybe the most glamorous of these categories. For a long time the single-season record was the 60 home runs hit in 1927 by Babe Ruth, still the most famous ballplayer who ever lived. Just for good measure, The Bambino also holds the all-time seasonal records for total bases, slugging average and extra-base hits. Then along came Roger Maris in 1961, breaking Babe's record with 61 dingers, earning himself great fame, an asterisk, largely unsympathetic press, clumps of hair falling out and a near nervous breakdown for his trouble. That record stood till the needle-jumpers came along in the late 1990s. Mark McGwire broke the Maris record with 70 homers in 1998, only to be eclipsed three years later when Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. Their PED use has tarnished these records somewhat, but those two (and Sammy Sosa) are still famous and infamous at the same time. With RBIs, it's Hack Wilson with 191 in 1930 with the Cubs, a record that hasn't been nearly approached and Wilson is famous for this alone. Miguel Cabrera has an outside chance of challenging this with 85 so far, but he'll have to get awfully hot in the second half to do it, it's not likely. He may have a shot at breaking Lou Gehrig's American League record of 184, set in 1931. There aren't many players more famous than Gehrig and he was maybe the greatest RBI guy of all time, more [...]