Monday, February 23, 2009

Baseball works blue

Spring training is in full swing, and if anything can salve the pain of yesterday's bludgeoning at the hands of Minnesota, it's another season of Cubs baseball. The picture from above is outdated, since it has a clean-shaven Zambrano, instead of one sporting the sort of mustache that invites a rake to the chest.

Thankfully, Zambrano is in Mesa, Arizona instead of the fictional island
of Val Verde with the same dozen mustachioed stuntmen who get killed by
Schwarzenegger over and over again in some sort of brutal samsara of
poor aim and bad editing. Or impaled on a pipe.

The Trib offers a decent and growing selection of Spring Training photos, although none have surfaced to rival last years' crop, such as this offering of Ryan Dempster and the now-departed Matt Murton.

Kilroy was here


Baseball has a lot going for it as a game testing skill, mental fortitude, and the ability of really fat guys to excel as athletes, which really irritates Europeans. In his 1867 Haney's Base Ball Book of Reference, baseball statistics pioneer Henry Chadwick (an Englishman who came up with such innovations as the box score, as well as inventing statistics such as batting average and ERA, which are still used today by stone-age luddites who only watch baseball highlights on newsreels where the action is comically sped-up) wrote about the virtues of the game:

But one of the strongest aids to the popularity of Base Ball, lays in the fact that it is a game-- and about the only one by-the-way-- which can be countenanced and patronized by the fairer sex. American ladies have heretofore been shut out of all the pleasures incident to games, in which contests are entered upon for the palm of superiority in courage, activity, nerve, and judgment and manly skill, by the low character of the surroundings of most of the sports and pastimes that men indulge in. In Base Ball, however, we have an exception in favor of the ladies, and one too, that they have not been slow to avail themselves of, as the presence of the fair sex by hundreds at the leading contests of the past five or six seasons fully testifies. If our National Pastime had no other recommendation than this alone would suffice to give it a popularity no other recreation could reach or compete with, in the estimation of Americans.

Of course, baseball's genteel image has reversed since then. A special instruction from 1897, for example, seeks to curb the problem of players cursing out spectators, especially in the presence of said ladies.

The 1897 instructions. Click to
read the full document.

The instructions contain examples of the "brutal language" heard on the fin-de-si├Ęcle diamond such as "you cock-sucking son of a bitch," you prick eating bastard,"I'll make you suck my ass," and the nearly unbeatable "I fucked your mother, your sister, your wife," which features the sort of serial commas found mainly in translation books for phrases such as "which way to the hotel, the museum, the jai-alai match" (unless I am the only person who owns translation books that inexplicably and continuously refer to semi-disreputable gambling venues).

I'm sure that jai-alai is just waiting for
a Black Sox -style match-fixing scandal,
which would destroy the sport for
hundreds of bestubbled undershirt


Of course, baseball could also be a holy pursuit. In 1903, Benjamin Purnell formed the House of David commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Purnell encouraged a lifestyle dedicated to vegetarianism, celibacy, and the type of unrestrained hair growth that consistently torments Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. More importantly, the House of David formed a barnstorming baseball team in the 1920s, taking on semi-professional and even Negro League teams and drawing a following of people who wanted to gape at their unorthodox grooming habits.

The House of David's style of long hair and bushy beards is all the
more astounding as it predates the invention of vans

The House of David Museum provides numerous fascinating photos of the team, as well as a video of their famous "pepper game" that involved throwing the ball around which is one step below Ricky Vaughn in defying the some fields' repressive "no pepper" policies. The commune also served as the site of an amusement park, featuring gardens, zoos, and a miniature train.

Everybody rides the trains: marketer's observation or
threat backed by the full-bearded vengeance of
bat-wielding cultists?

The Museum website, however, glosses over the 1926 arrest of Purnell on charges of fraud and indecency. Purnell demanded that members hand their possessions over to him, and he apparently had trouble following his own calls for celibacy, especially with the commune's younger members. As Philip Jenkins has written in Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and Religions in American Society (part of an astoundingly prolific catalogue), Purnell lived in "palatial splendor while his subjects starved." In 1927, the "lascivious prophet," as Jenkins calls him, faced charges of statutory rape involving perhaps twenty members of the commune in what was referred to at the time as the "trial of the century," which should be illegal to do in 1927 as all trials of the century should be labeled retroactively at midnight of the end of the century by a panel of third-rate comedians awkwardly reading stiff one-liners off of a teleprompter.


The House of David is, of course, best memorialized by drummer Buddy Rich, whose legendary ravings towards his evidently subpar backing band have been immortalized on the internet. He invokes the House in a heated exchange with a bearded trombonist:

Two fuckin' weeks to make up your mind whether you want a beard or you want a job. I'll not have this trouble with this band. This is not the goddamn House of David fuckin' baseball team. This is the Buddy Rich Band; young people...with faces! No more fuckin' beards. That's out! If you decide to do it, you're through. Right now! This is the last time I make this announcement. No more fucking beards.

He continues:

You keep your fuckin' mouth shut, get the fuckin' beard off, or get off the band, right now. Now what do you think of that? Now that's a definite suggestion. When you go to work tonight, if I catch the fuckin' beard on you, i'll throw you off the fuckin' bandstand, O.K.?

I got nothin' for you. I got a right hand to your
fuckin' brain if you want it.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But not at BYCTOM because this post was nothing but vulgar language
And statutory rape trials.

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