August 17, 2010
The Unknown Comics
Today I’m going to tell you about my favorite baseball character and a few of his cohorts. None of them ever wore a major-league uniform, but they’ve all washed a lot of them.
They are the custodians of the major-league clubhouses, and once upon a time they were among the most carefree and careless of people in the world. That was when the clubhouses were small, not the luxury palaces all the modern stadia have brought to the major leagues, and when the "clubbies," as they're known, were as flaky as the cereal they’d have available before day games.
Herman Levy, however, was the strangest of them all. By the time he got to San Diego, this son of a street sweeper in Lower Manhattan was in his 60s. He’d been a go-fer when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, running errands for general manager Buzzie Bavasi when he ran that club.
Well, one day the attendant for a smaller parking lot near Ebbets Field was out sick, so they asked Herman Levy if he’d take care of it, charging $1 per car. Sure enough, there is a big crowd that day and Herman is raking in the bucks.
When the lot was full, he brought the money into Bavasi, who took a look at it and noticed it seemed like a lot. He counted it out.
“Herman,” he said, “you have $250 here. That lot has space for only 200 cars.”
Turns out that our friend Herman Levy had parked cars in every available spot, even the aisles so that when the game ended it took more than a couple of hours before they could get all the automobiles out of the lot.
Levy was always trying to do something nice for someone. In those early days of the San Diego Padres, the Atlanta Braves were in town and Levy went out and bought 35 individual enchilada dinners for them. He’d be giving them some authentic Mexican food.
Around the seventh inning of the game, he took his 35 individual enchilada dinners and put them in the oven to warm them so that when the game ended, they’d be ready for the players and coaches.
They were ready all right when the players came in. Levy went to over and found 35 individual enchilada dinners wrapped in melted cellophane, as he had failed to unwrap them before putting them in the oven.
Food stories often come up when you talk about the keepers of the clubhouse. Back in the early days of the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds made a trip to New York, which was always something teams looked forward to because after the game there would often be some really good pizza served in the clubhouse.
On this day, Mickey, the longtime aide to Shea Stadium visiting clubhouse manager Herbie Norman, sent out for his pizza in the sixth inning and it got there long before the ninth inning rolled around. No sweat, until the game went into extra innings.
To the 10th, 11th, 12th it went. Now the pizza was getting cold, but Mickey figured he had a way to keep it warm.
Sure enough, the game went 13 innings and the players came in and were greeted by warm pizza. They were having a good time munching on that post-game fare, right up until someone wondered how it had stayed so warm.
"I put in the dryer,” Mickey answered, as players began spitting out what was in their mouth, knowing that these dryers were used for the dirty uniforms, jock straps, and socks.
But let’s get back to Herman Levy. There was this one time when he noticed that the big mustard jar in the home clubhouse at what was then called San Diego Stadium was dirty with dried mustard stuck around the top. He figured it was time to clean it, but didn't know how to do so since it was full.
Herman Levy being Herman Levy, he emptied the jar into a big pot and put it in the freezer.
He made that mustard jar look really clean and sparkling, but soon discovered that it is very hard to get a pot of frozen mustard back into the jar.
They don’t make ‘em like Herman Levy anymore.
Take the day there was a rare rainstorm in Phoenix during spring training. With no game, some of the Padres’ players wanted to go to a movie and asked Herman if he knew where a theater was located.
“Sure, about eight blocks down the street,” Herman said.
“Are you sure?” they asked, knowing Herman Levy.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said. “You can walk.”
And so off they went, walking to the movie. By now it was a nice afternoon as the rain had stopped. And sure enough, when they got there, there was a movie. Pretty good picture playing, too.
The only trouble was that it was a drive-in theater.
Sometimes the clubbies were able to outwit the players. Bernie Stowe, a Cincinnati legend in the Reds’ clubhouse, could not wait for rookies to come on the scene, because he and some of the veteran players had a trick for them.
Stowe had this aluminum animal cage and he would bring it out for a rookie. In it was a mongoose, something none of them had ever seen. Sure enough, the young player would go up and the mongoose's head would be peeking out from inside the covered area.
As the veteran players gathered around, Stowe would tell the rookie, “It’s in there. Get closer, you can see it."
Uncertain at first, when some of the veterans would tell him that it was harmless and pretty neat, he’d lean closer and closer.
That’s when Bernie Stowe would spring the trap, the cage bursting open as the harmless tail was launched into the face of the petrified rookie who thought for sure he was being attacked by a mongoose, screaming and jumping backward.