Tail of the Weak 2.13
Updated: Jan 24
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
Baseball is a dream that you never really give up on. Baseball is precious. Baseball is timeless. Baseball is forever.
– From the poem, Baseball Is by Greg Hall ©
It is the backyard – the inner city street – the farm pasture – the dirt road.
It is life – win or lose – heart and soul – past and present.
It springs forth each year with new life – meanders slowly and pleasantly through the long days of summer – and bids a majestic farewell as the early chill of winter kisses our cheeks.
It is baseball – the national pastime – and it's here again!
It was always the Yankees playing some other American League team in black and white on CBS's Game of the Week, hosted by Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, every Saturday of the baseball season in the early Sixties. As kids, we aspired after Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and even Yogi Berra.
We played the game on hot summer days in the backyard pasture of James Cocke's big white house on Mount Pleasant Road in Waycross, Georgia, taking breaks from the burning heat underneath the pine tree-shaded shelter and drinking cool well water from the spicket.
A detour in 1966 to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida brought me into the only organized baseball I ever played as first baseman for the Little League Cubs.
My team, coached by a couple of MacDill airmen, wore grey flannel uniforms with red piping; and we made it all the way to the championship game against the Yankees. Our pitcher and cleanup hitter was a tall, athletic African-American kid named Nate Hines; and I batted right behind him.
My older brother, Gary, came to every game religiously and, like the sportswriter he was to become years later, kept a scorecard and statistics from each game in a little wire-bound notebook. His statistics bore out the highs and the lows that every baseball player endures throughout the season.
My high was leading the Cubs' offense in Runs Batted In. My low was a ground ball that trickled through my legs during the championship game, preceding by twenty years the error that the Red Sox of Boston's Bill Buckner made allowing the New York Mets to go on and win the 1986 World Series.
There were no professional baseball teams in the South until '66, the year the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, bringing with them the future Home Run King of Baseball, Henry Aaron, with an infamous pat on the back from Waycross boy, Britt Gaston and buddy, Cliff Courtenay, as he headed for third after crushing #715.
Brother Gary and I would sit in the car during Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights listening to Braves radio announcers Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson and shouting in religious fervor at the crack of the bat.
Memories abound from my many trips to Atlanta with friends and family as we cheered the Braves on in Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field. I still own Joe Torre's and Rico Carty's autographs from '67 and saw Hall of Famer John Smoltz pitch his tomahawk-choppin' behind off during the 14 consecutive division title run of the 90s.
Walking through the parking lot to the stadium gates before a Braves game in '94, I recognized a face in the throng belonging to Don Schlitz, the award-winning songwriter of “The Gambler”, “Forever and Ever, Amen”, and “When You Say Nothing at All”. I shook his hand, we chatted briefly, and I asked him what his secret was. His reply was, “Go Braves!”
It's no wonder baseball, being the tradition that it is, has worked itself into the hearts and minds of musicians everywhere. There's the celebrated diamond classic, John Fogerty's “Centerfield” and the obvious “Glory Days” from Bruce Springsteen.
Then there's the not-so-obvious tribute to Hall of Fame pitcher, Jim Hunter, from Bob Dylan's The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, titled “Catfish”. Steve Goodman was a huge Cubs fan and a remarkable songsmith responsible for Arlo Guthrie's hit, “City of New Orleans”, and the singalong made famous by David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name”, aka “The Perfect Country and Western Song”, aka “You Don't Have to Call Me Darlin', Darlin'”, cowritten with one John Prine.
Steve Goodman, born in Chicago, used to visit with Cub players on the diamond and in the clubhouse. He wrote several Cubs songs, including the depressing “A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request” in '81, having been diagnosed with leukemia 13 years earlier.
In '84, he wrote the happy “Go, Cubs, Go”, which became the official victory song for the team. Steve Goodman passed away, at the age of 36, on September 20, 1984, four days before his beloved Cubbies clinched the National League Eastern Division title. Some of his ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field in 1988.
I've often heard talk about the gods of baseball when players are winning or losing. In a Game 7 for the ages, on November 2, 2016, the jinx-ridden Chicago Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years—and I have to think that it was not because the gods of baseball were smiling—but rather, it was a Goodman—singin' at the top of his lungs.
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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