MORRIE GELMAN, having just watched the baseball World Series, succumbed to a little nostalgia about an unlikely band of sporting brothers.
ONCE WHEN I WAS INTERVIEWING producer Dan Curtis he made me take a vow. He was then executive producer-director of Herman Wouk‘s War and Remembrance, the 18-hour 1988 miniseries for ABC. It was a credit he wasn’t likely to mumble.
“Please, please,” he begged of me, “if you get to write my obit don’t put my Dark Shadowscredit in the lead.” He was referring to the 1966 daytime series featuring a vampire named Barnabas Collins. Curtis was series creator / producer of Dark Shadows which went on to become a tremendous cult favorite. Between gothic soap opera and World War II epic, Curtis had a clear choice.
I have a similar request.
Don’t remember me as just another mugg. Remember me, instead, please, as the manager of Daily Variety’s one and only softball team. Like the Boston Red and Chicago White soxs, we went many years without winning any championships. Unlike them, we never did.
The softball team was not my creation. Lane Maloney , in the ’80s working as an editorial assistant, came up with the idea. He went from desk to desk and proposed that a bunch of overage, overweight ink stained wretches form a team and play others in the entertainment business. It showed not only initiative but great imagination.
Somehow we got the funding for green softball jerseys and caps emblazoned with the Variety logo. We supplied our own balls, bats, gloves and Band-Aids. I personally was so unprepared that I dug out of a trunk the sneakers I wore while playing for the New York Post teams many years before.
Our first game, I remember, was against the stunt men and women, a formidable task. My sneakers were held together in many places with white adhesive tape.
Meeting at home plate with the lady who was the captain of the other team I made a feeble joke. “Seeing as I’m the oldest player on the field what will you give if we win?” She looked scornfully at me. “We all chip in and buy you a new pair of sneakers.”
Thoroughly squelched, I joined my teammates in being even more thoroughly thrashed by the superb athletes on the stunt team. The lady who put me down, as I recall, played second base and probably was better than anyone on our team.
We were also coed. Our most prominent femme was Cynthia Kirk our music critic. She wore a white T-shirt with big bold letters proclaiming her profane salute to the world.
We played against studio teams, production companies, even some series casts. I once got into a fight with some guys from 20th Century Fox and only my two young, stalwart sons saved me from a licking. Another occasion I tangled with Roger Cells, then The Hollywood Reporter’s film guy. After all, like Leo “the Lip” Durocher, a manager has to stick up for his team.
There was a memorable time when we couldn’t find any outside umpires. So I did the umpiring when The Hollywood Reporter was in the field and a sales guy for the Reporter did the same when we were in the field.
The game turned when one of our guys carrying the winning run was sliding in a close play at home. I called him safe. Only the undeniable fact that all of us reporters essentially are wimps allowed me to get away without a black eye and bloody nose that day.
The lineups changed over the years but some of the regulars included Peter Pryor (first base), Jack Sunkes (first base), Dale Pollock (2nd base), Tom Bierbaum (shortstop),Bob Butler (shortstop, 3rd base and outfield), Michael and Mark Silverman (when he was in town), Todd McCarthy, David Robb, Lane Maloney (outfield). I played 2nd base, 3rd base, shortstop (and sometimes pitched).
Occasionally, others from the paper would join us, including those in the composing room. Jim Harwood and even Bill Edwards, our legit critic, took brief turns in the outfield.
We also used ringers. So did other teams, I believe. Once when I was coaching the New York Post basketball team in a tough league against shipping lines such a Moore McCormick, our center was a former star for Bowling Green University and our sharp shooting guard used to shine for Brooklyn College.
Some of our ringers included my two sons, Adam and Daniel, as well as other relatives and friends of players. Our nemesis, of course, was The Hollywood Reporter. I know the Reporter used ringers. Still we held more than our own against the rival paper, in fact, winning more than losing.
Tom Pryor, our lord and master, was set against our playing. He didn’t want to see anyone losing work time because of injuries sustained during a softball game. It was his conviction somebody was bound to get hurt. How right he was.
In perhaps what was our last game (probably a loss to the Reporter), we suffered several sprains, charley horses, pulled muscles and even a broken arm. Not only the fight but spirit went out of Daily Variety softball.
I retired to being an observer, no longer a participant. Do I long for the expense paid trips to convention towns, the two-hour lunches at fancy French restaurants, the hob-knobbing with stars and high-placed executives? No way. More than anything, I want to go back to managing my green-clad co-worker warriors on the dusty fields of Rancho Park in the shadows of 20th Century Fox.
So with apologies to Gene Raskin, responsible for the real music and lyrics, let me sum up:
Those were the days, my friends. We thought they’d never end.
We’d play and drink beer afterwards forever and a day.
We’d live the game we choose.
We’d fight and often lose.
For we were young (relatively) and playing to have our way.
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.