December 28, 2012
"White Christmas" at the Ballpark
It's Christmas week. The time of fruitcakes, Rickey Henderson, Ralphie shooting his eye out, and, of course, White Christmas. The classic holiday movie has been a staple of family Christmases for nearly sixty years, bringing Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye into living rooms since 1954. For a movie dealing with the return of World War II veterans, vaudeville music, and snow-covered celebrations, the baseball ties are bigger than you might expect.
The world was reminded recently that Bing Crosby, the man who most famously sang the film's title song, was a partial owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates at one time. In fact, it was a long-forgotten recording stored in Crosby's wine cellar that gave us the only known full-length recording of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series—the famous Bill Mazeroski series-clinching home run.
What may have been forgotten, however, is that Danny Kaye, Crosby's partner in the movie, was also a big baseball fan. In 1977, Kaye and his business partner Lester Smith were part of the initial ownership of the Seattle Mariners (among a group of six). That didn't come about accidentally. As early as 1975, Kaye and Smith were stumping for teams to move to the Pacific Northwest. They initially tried to woo the Chicago White Sox by making a pitch at the 1975 Winter Meetings. When that fell through, the pair turned their eye to the San Francisco Giants. "We are willing to buy the Giants, but baseball will have to do something about the Candlestick Park lease," Smith told the press less than two weeks after the Winter Meetings. The goal was to have a team in Seattle for the 1976 season, but nothing materialized that quickly.
Eventually, the pair joined up in the Mariners ownership group. Five years later, prior to the 1981 season, the Mariners were sold to George Argyros for $13 million. Kaye and three of the original six owners held onto an 8% share following the sale (ie, 2% each), but they sold that two years later for $1 million. Baseball ownership may have been a bit more difficult than they expected.
Kaye's baseball fandom went far beyond his business dealings. Having grown up "twenty minutes from Ebbets Field" where the American League was "the hidden enemy", Kaye was a lifelong Dodgers fan. His life as an entertainer intersected with the Dodgers in this fantastic 1962 song that found its way on the airwaves.
The song is called "D-O-D-G-E-R-S (Oh Really? No, O'Malley)" and can be a bit of a pain to find these days. It's a true joy to listen to—especially when Kaye gets to the "Miller/Hiller/Haller Halleluah Twist" in the ninth inning. Too bad Kaye was never able to sneak it into any of his movies.