Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unpublished excerpt from "When Baseball Met Hollywood"

Last year I worked on a proposed book on the marriage of West Coast baseball and Hollywood. Whether this work will ever see the light of day via the regular publishing process is a mystery. But why let it sit forlornly on my computer. I will run pieces sporadically. Enjoy!

Long Distance Call

What did the average group of unchaperoned teen boys do for fun on a lazy Saturday afternoon in a typical All-American suburb of the early 1960’s? If you were watching Leave It to Beaver in June of 1962, then you know that the excitement of making a phone call without parental permission was high on the list of thrills. Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and cohorts found themselves in this enviable position in the episode “Long Distance Call.”

Jerry Mathers, as “The Beaver,” was nearing fourteen years old when “Long Distance Call” was taped. It’s late period Beaver all the way – Mathers’ scamp days were well behind him towards the end of season five. Now firmly entrenched in teen hood, his scratchy voice and awkwardness is impossible to ignore. Yet, even in the throes of puberty, Beaver is treated like a younger child. He declines to join his parents on a weekend visit to the dreaded Graysons, surely a cheek-pinching, “look how tall you are,” older couple. Wally will also be absent from the house, as he is helping out the editor of the school newspaper. Beaver displays a growing worldliness, as he correctly guesses his older brother is in it because the editor is most certainly a girl. Even Wally comments on how much his little brother has grown.

Gilbert Bates and Alan Boothby, Beaver’s pals, come over to hang out. June Cleaver lays down the law for her baby boy. No roughhousing and, should the television be turned on, the volume must be held to a reasonable level. Where does that leave three energetic young boys? You can almost see the light bulb over Gilbert’s head as he stumbles on an inspiration. What could be more fun than making phone calls? Indeed, what could be more fun? The squat, tow-headed Gilbert proceeds to demonstrate.

First, the meat market. Gilbert asks the butcher, get ready for it, if he has pigs’ feet. Sure he does. If you think Gilbert is going to say something like, “put on your shoes and no one will notice,” well you are a shrewd wit. Next the grocery store. The pudgy prankster places an order, capping with a request for a large “amata.” “What’s ‘amata’?” Well, you know how that goes. Even Beaver feels he’s too mature for this brand of juvenile humor.

When that bout of merriment falls flat, the idea of calling someone famous gets discussed. Who should it be – Pat Boone, or John Glenn? Tough choice, but then the boys notice the headline of the newspaper. Don Drysdale hit a home run to defeat the Giants at Dodger Stadium. That’s the guy! A long distance call to Dodger Stadium is in order. How much long distance? Hard to say, as the mythical Mayfield is in a state unknown. Also unknown is the game in which Drysdale hit the game winning blast, He hit no home runs in 1962 and, though he hit five the year before, none came against the rival San Franciscans.

Now that the target has been chosen, the finances must be accounted for. Alan has 75 cents, Gilbert a quarter and Beaver can pitch in .35. That’s got to be enough to call Los Angeles from wherever USA. Wally barges in right before the deed is done, resulting in the telephoning trio pasting angelic grins on their faces until he leaves. Beaver is uneasy about it, a funny feeling playing around in his gut. Yet, they persist.

Gilbert gets through to Dodger Stadium and asks for Big D. He says that Gilbert, Beaver and Alan are calling. No, they aren’t a law firm, he tells the operator. She patches them through to the clubhouse, where Drsydale is showering. So they wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, the Dodger right-hander picks up and chats amiably with the three fans. Beaver, tongue-tied, can only asks Drysdale one question – “Do you spit in your glove?” Drysdale displays his best “aw

shucks” attitude. Beaver also asks Drysdale that if he ever makes it out to Dodger Stadium, would the future Hall of Famer autograph his glove. Sure, the pitcher responds, what model is it? Beaver replies that it’s a Warren Spahn mitt, perhaps indicating that Mayfield may be in Wisconsin, a Mayfield existing just northwest of the home of the Milwaukee Braves.

Drysdale, ever the responsible adult, does warn the boys that this call may cost them more than they think. They aren’t worried, but once they hang up an unsettling feeling arises. They call the operator. Now the crisis, the kind of disaster that could fill 30 minutes of 1962 sitcom time. Don Drysdale’s hygiene habits that caused the longer delay had cost the boys $9.35! Plus tax! Beaver wants the money that every committed before the call was made. Just like a PBS pledge drive, the obligations are hard to collect. Alan won’t pay .75, if Gilbert pays only .25. Why did they wait for the shower to end?

The boys run outside when the adults return and conference. Say nothing to anyone and wait until the bill comes. That will buy some time. Remember “Don’t say nothin’.” Easier said than done because when Kenny, a schoolmate, flaunts an autographed picture of Speed Brophy the race driver, Gilbert wants to, nay, has to, talk about Drysdale – and he does. Kenny is skeptical of Gilbert, who must have a track record of deceit, but when Beaver backs up the story, Kenny is convinced. After all, Beaver would never lie. He’s a hall monitor!

Kenny’s father happens to be a reporter for the local paper. Now the secret will be out in a big way. Wally notices that Beaver seems to be sleeping poorly, clearly weighed down by the horrible secret he is keeping from his father Ward. Beaver asks if dad ever got really mad at Wally. Wally relays how mad Ward got when Wally charged a buck’s worth of gas when he and Lumpy ran out. Ward was less peeved about the money than that Wally didn’t tell him. Beaver is clearly shaken up and comes clean to Wally. Wally doesn’t believe him. Clearly, the status of a hall monitor means nothing to a man of the world like Wally Cleaver.

When the paper arrives, the bad news is there in black and white. “Local Boys Talk to Famous Ballplayer” is the headline in the second section. Clearly a slow news day. Ward sighs. He is not pleased. Gilbert and Alan arrive. Mr. Bates relays through his son that Mr. Cleaver could do to Gilbert whatever he saw fit. Same for Alan. It is odd that both boys’ parents would leave punishment of their children to another father. Who knows what Ward is capable of? The mischievous boys are remorseful. Alan desperately suggest that Drysdale contributes some money to the call. That doesn’t help matters.

Ward goes pretty easy on the boys, ordering them to work in his garden one hour a day for a week, a short sentence on the Cleaver chain gang. Was it all worth it? The glory of talking to one of the preeminent ballplayers of his time in return for the slight punishment of yard work. Beaver cuts to the core of the matter. Talking to Don Drysdale was just not worth having your dad think “you’re a little sneak.” Another lesson is learned. Admit your mistakes. Oh, if Beaver had only lived in a time of unlimited minutes. Paradise!

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