Sunday, May 21, 2006

I Wish I Had Said That

In high school, I took a little English, a little science, some hubcaps, and some wheel covers.

And now I am guilty of plagiarizing, for I have just lifted, word-for-word, a quote by that old Tigers pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Gates Brown.

There are so many things that sports people have said that I wished I had uttered.

“I was in New York once,” former Oakland A’s owner Charlie O. Finley said, “and an empty cab pulled up, and Bowie Kuhn got out.”

Rich.

Where are all the great quotes nowadays?

Does anyone roll a gem off their tongue anymore? Today’s yammerings are trash talk, thinly disguised, and passed off as “good copy.”

So when Pistons big mouth Rasheed Wallace says, after a playoff win by the opponents, “The sun even shines on a dog’s ass,” that’s not a quote – to me. That’s boorish chatter.

Good quotes contain wit, irony, self-effacing humor, and maybe a zing here and there. They’re bon mots, not a bozo’s moan.

“When a plane lands in Philadelphia, everyone gets on – nobody gets off,” legendary columnist Jim Murray once so devilishly observed about the City of Brotherly Love.

Or, this, about our neighbors across Lake Erie – Cleveland:

“The best thing about playing in Cleveland,” a former Indian player noted, “is that you don’t have to make road trips to…Cleveland.”

We have a man with the Tigers currently whose Quotation Quotient is quite high. He’s first base coach Andy Van Slyke, and he specialized in the self-effacing variety.

“They wanted me to play third base like Brooks [Robinson], and I did – like Mel Brooks.”

“Right now I have an Alka-Seltzer bat. When the pitchers see me come to the plate they say, ‘Oh, what a relief it is.’”

I asked Van Slyke a while back about his verbal artistry.

“You have a job to do, and the media has a job to do,” AVS told me. “And there’s no reason why you can’t have fun, to make both of your jobs easier.

“Besides, you’re not going to be great every night, so you might as well be ready to talk about why you weren’t great.”

Some great quotes are great for their simplicity – and brevity.

Joaquin Andujar, a pitcher with the Houston Astros at the time, was asked to describe the pennant race in one word.

“Youneverknow,” Andujar said.

Sarcasm can also be a nifty little tool.

“We didn’t block,” the first coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, John McKay, said, as a prelude to his punch line, delivered with so much deadpan it would make Bob Newhart look positively flamboyant. “But we made up for it by not tackling.”

True, I may not have said these and other beauties, but I did author one that was so devoid of intellect that it was mind-boggling.

I had left a drink glass – a wet drink glass – on our dresser, sans coaster. And my wife rightly called me on it.

“I forgot the dresser was wood,” I said – and I wasn’t trying to be funny.

Think about that one for a moment.

“I forgot the dresser was wood.”

Who says that, anyway?

Better yet, who would admit it?

Baseball, for whatever reason, has had a higher share of goofy raconteurs than its three major counterparts – football, basketball, and hockey. After all, we’re talking about a sport that gave us Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel – two men whose combined quirky quotes, if they were stacked one on top of the other, would stretch to the moon – a full moon – and back.

Berra-isms and Stengelese are too voluminous to sample here. Well, okay – just one each – even though that’s like giving you a sample of one noodle of a spaghetti dinner.

“Better cut it into six pieces,” Berra said about a pizza. “I don’t think I can eat eight.”

“I have just one rule about drinking in hotel bars,” Stengel declared to his players. “Don’t drink in the same one that I do.”

Sometimes memorable quotes are borne from a nice little setup. Or, in some cases, nice long setups.

Back to Stengel. In the 1950’s, when testifying before Congress about baseball and its possible links to organized crime, the Old Perfessor rambled on and on, giving a lengthy dissertation that had the honorable members of Capitol Hill shifting in their seats, stifling giggles, and looking at each other cross-eyed. Then, when Casey was finally done, Yankees player Mickey Mantle was up next.

“My feelings are about the same as Casey’s,” Mantle said, as the room roared.

And Mantle’s short, succinct “testimony” ended up being more famous than Stengel’s meandering diatribe. Then again, Mick was always good as a cleanup guy.

And what happens when the King of the Anti-Quote finally opens his mouth?

Duane Thomas, a troubled running back for the Dallas Cowboys, was very noticeably silent during the 1971 season, a passive/aggressive way of tormenting the media that he so strongly felt “dissed” him when he was a holdout in training camp.

The Cowboys played 14 regular season games, and two postseason contests, before reaching Super Bowl VI. And after every one of those contests, Thomas said not a word to the ink-stained wretches or the microphone-toters. He made Calvin Coolidge look loquacious.

But after the Super Bowl – a game the Cowboys won, thanks in large part to Thomas’ running – the TV people were told that Duane Thomas would actually speak to them. Positively giddy, the reporter assigned to the live interview couldn’t wait to get Thomas up to the television podium. For these were going to be Thomas’ first words to the media in six months. Well, word, as it turned out.

“Duane, congratulations on a great game. Your team really had the running game going today,” the reporter said – or words to that effect.

Thomas grinned a Cheshire grin.

“Evidently,” he said.

Then he stepped down from the podium – done talking again.

And you could probably have made an omelette from all the egg on that poor TV dude’s face.

In fact, I wished I had told my wife about Duane Thomas. Then she could have quoted him, in response to my, “I forgot the dresser was wood.”

“Evidently,” she could have said.

But she said a whole lot more than that.

And no, I can’t quote it.

1 comment:

Ozz said...

Van Slyke's wit is almost too good for a coach. His stuff has 'manager' written all over them!