My Old Kentucky Homesite

The Revenge of Johnny Kucks

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/05/2009

I probably have ADD, although when it comes to staying on-task, I think of it more as “SUBTRACT.” In any case, even though I haven’t written it yet, I’m already bored with the story of how I happened to move to Kentucky. For three or four months before the fact, I’d been telling it to everyone I know. Repeatedly. So they’re sick and tired of it, too. Yeah, I promised I’d “explain how I happened to make the big move,” but the tale seems like a yawner. Suffice it to say that my wife got a great job here in Lexington, and – since my cat and I are both capable of doing whatever it is we do regardless of where we live – we tagged along. I can’t speak for Woody, but I hated my thirteen-hour drive trapped in that little box. Who can stay entertained for so long with nothing but a fuzzy mouse?

What I want to talk about today is spectator sports. I hate ‘em. That’s because I don’t see how my life is affected at all by whether my home team wins or loses – unless I happen to have a bet going. If I want to brag about something, I kind of feel like it should involve my own accomplishments, rather than those of some guys I don’t know and probably wouldn’t be pals with even if I did. It’s hard for me to imagine sitting down with a person wearing a number on his back, and having a discussion about Dickens, or Darwin, or Miles Davis’s fusion period, or 50s TV cereal commercials, or who’s funnier: Woody Allen or Mel Brooks, or which wines go least badly with Chinese food, or is it really possible for any news organization to be fair and unbiased, or … oh, any of a thousand other subjects that interest me. (In fact, I can think of only three subjects that don’t interest me: (1) sports, (2) Bob Dylan’s musical oeuvre, and (3) whether or not I should eat more fiber.)

Given my normal attitude about spectator sports, I was surprised to find that, deep down, I actually gave a rat’s ass about whether or not the Yankees won the World Series. I didn’t follow the team all year, and, in fact, I haven’t followed them since 1961, when I was twelve, and Mantle and Maris were trying to break Ruth’s record.  Even then, I didn’t much care whether or not the team won; I just liked the freedom of going to the ballpark “alone.” “Alone,” by the way, means: in a group of at least fifteen other rowdy twelve-year-old boys, without any evident parental supervision, although sometimes a stray dad would sneak into the pack.

On a game-going day, I’d grab my unused baseball glove (just in case a ball was hit directly into it, because there was no other way I would ever catch anything), join a gang of similarly accoutered friends, ride the bus up the Bronx’s Grand Concourse for about an hour to Yankee Stadium, pay my half a buck, and head for the bleachers, which were the hottest, most uncomfortable location in the world. Then I’d spend three or four hours eating ballpark hotdogs oozing with yellow mustard, drinking Yogi Berra’s Yoo-Hoo (which my mother made me take with me from home, in a thermos), and yelling whenever and whatever I pleased, even if a dad was around.  Some of us gambled for baseball cards between innings, but nobody ever wanted mine, because I carried only a few that I’d inherited from an older cousin. I had no current Mickey Mantles or Roger Marises, or even Moose Skowrons and Clete Boyers; my cards were a couple of years old and had players like Eli Grba (you read that right), Jerry Lumpe (pronounced “Lumpy”), and Johnny Kucks (feel free to provide your own junior-high-mentality joke).  During the action, I kept the most anally perfect scorecard I could, because it was clear to me that my scrawl would be the only permanent record of the game – even though I could never remember if the outfielder positions were counted 7 to 9 from right to left or left to right, and, hey, which side is right field, again? FYI: Mickey Mantle, whose uniform number was 7 but whose position number was 8, did not hit 61, but Roger Maris, whose uniform number was 9, and who, as right fielder, was in position number 7 or 9, did. But with an asterisk.

Anyway, before the playoffs began this year, I couldn’t have named more than four or five current Yankee players, mostly the ones, like Jeter and A-Rod, who had been in the news for sleeping with famous women. I’d never heard of anyone named Melky or Joba, and although I’ve known some people called “Swisher” (back when I still had that junior-high mentality), it was not a name I usually associated with baseball.

But there I was, sitting on my couch in Lexington, Kentucky, rooting through all the play-offs and the World Series for the Yankees. I yelled at the television whenever an umpire made a bad call against “us,” and high-fived the air when “we” scored runs or turned a neat double-play. Every four or five minutes, my wife would come into the living-room and ask, “Is that stupid thing over yet?” And then, “When did you all of sudden become a baseball fan? What’s next? Am I gonna hear you singing ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ (Please, not the whole thing!). Or wondering what you can take to fight irregularity?”

Not likely. (I’m nothing if not regular.) I’m certain that my fleeting obsession with the Bronx Bombers has a lot to do with my move from New York City (via Florida) to Kentucky. But I also fear that there’s something more pathetic, maybe even sinister, involved: a yearning for lost youth.

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4 Responses to “The Revenge of Johnny Kucks”

  1. Evie said

    I also fear that there’s something more pathetic, maybe even sinister, involved: a yearning for lost youth.

    Oh, geez, I hope that’s not it, because I experienced something similar this fall. My dad was an avid Yankee fan, something he passed down to his three children. My brother is an avid Yankee fan, something he passed down to his two children. My brother’s son is an avid Yankee fan, something he’s diligently passing down to his two children. As I grew up, though, I shed most of the Yankee fanaticism. I haven’t been an avid Yankee fan since the mid-70s, and I haven’t been a MLB fan since the ’94 strike. To bring us up to date quickly , I’ll skip ahead 15 years and note that I didn’t follow baseball all summer. When the Yankees got into the playoffs, I didn’t care whether or not they’d make it into the Series. Then, when they made it into the Series, I suddenly cared. In fact, the day after they won the series, I grabbed an old Yankee jersey out of my closet, threw it on over my actual office attire, and briefly wore it around the building and gloated – actually gloated – about the win! What was that about?

    I’m better now and have resumed my usual apathetic attitude about the Yankees and Major League Baseball.

    Until next fall, anyway…

  2. Evie:
    I grabbed an old Yankee jersey …
    Somehow, it seems treasonous to call an article of Yankee attire a “jersey.”

  3. Linwood said

    So you’re calling baseball a team sport? Soccer is a team sport, basketball is a team sport. Baseball is a one-plays-at-a-time sport while the rest of them sit and scratch crotches (presumably their own) in that bunker thingy (whatever it’s called, some kind of thinly veiled battle metaphor). Doesn’t New York have a soccer team you could support?

  4. Linwood:
    So by your definition, an activity can only be a team event when everyone’s running around at precisely the same time? A college couldn’t have a debating team unless all the members spoke simultaneously? A group can’t have a swimming team if all the participants don’t plunge into the water at a given cue? A political candidate doesn’t have a campaign team unless all the folks involved try to garner votes from the very same people at the very same venue at the very same hour? And how would a bowling team work? Or a tag team, for that matter?

    I think you Brits who pooh-pooh baseball are jealous that we Yanks so vastly improved cricket.

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