Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Random '70s Flashbacks (Part II)

As promised, here are a few of my favorite '70's anecdotes--the decade I came of age in. To get in the proper nostaligc mode, feel free to put on an album by Zeppelin or Floyd.

Up until the 1970’s, players were discouraged from growing facial hair. Oakland owner Charles Finley opposed this trend by offering members of the Athletics $300 apiece to sport moustaches and beards. “I didn’t have any strong feelings against moustaches,” said Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. “Charlie did some good showmanship stuff. The game needed some showmanship.” Certain owners, such as George Steinbrenner, continued to resist the hair movement, ordering players to trim their locks under threat of suspension or fines. The Yankee proprietor once got into a theological debate with Lou Piniella over the topic. As the story goes, Piniella argued that Jesus Christ Himself would not be allowed to play on the team under current regulations. Steinbrenner supposedly led the outfielder to a pool behind the team’s hotel and countered: “If you can walk across that pool, you don’t have to cut your hair.”

During the mid-‘70’s, it was not unusual to witness periodic stampedes of thirsty patrons at the Astrodome. With gate receipts sagging during the ’74 slate, the Houston brass introduced “Foamer Nights,” which entitled fans at least eighteen years of age to free beer at specific intervals. The games took place on random Friday evenings and the suds ran generously any time an Astros’ player homered during an even minute (7:02, 7:04 and so on). A “designated strikeout” promotion was later added, in which a rival player (chosen before the game) could open the beer taps by whiffing during an even time slot. Dodger third baseman Ron Cey remembered being selected during a 1976 contest. “I was well aware of what they were doing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that imposed on a player coming into a city.” With a special light on the scoreboard glowing red and the crowd on its’ feet chanting wildly, Cey failed to quench the masses by blasting a 2-run double. “CEY LEAVES THE ASTROS FOAMING AT THE MOUTH” a newspaper headline read afterward. On another memorable “Foamer Night,” Willie MCovey pacified the crowd with a timely strikeout and was later greeted at his hotel by an intoxicated Astros’ fan who wanted to thank him in person. 

Cementing a long relationship with major league baseball, the Topps Company sponsored a bubble-blowing contest in 1975. With invitations extended to all twenty four teams, the Tigers and Pirates demonstrated their squareness by failing to show. Representatives from other clubs were given five packs of Bazooka gum apiece and afforded fifteen minutes to produce a serviceable gob. Some took it very seriously, especially Angels’ hurler Mickey Scott, who put Vaseline on his face to reduce abrasion, wrapped his neck in a towel and held up a windbreaker to shelter him from the elements. His monstrous 20-inch bubble was not enough to claim the $1,000 prize. Brewers’ infielder Kurt Bevacqua walked away with the cash and bragging rights. His victory was commemorated on a 1976 baseball card.
For the record, I still have the original card I pulled out of a wax pack that summer. There's no way anyone could have won a bubble-blowing contest using the gum inside Topps packs. It was so brittle it crumbled into tiny shards the second you bit down on it. I took special skill to reassemble those pieces into a chewable lump inside your mouth. By the time you did so, the gum had lost its cardboard flavor.

No comments:

Post a Comment