3746 words (14 minute read)

12                       Never Believe a Limping Dog

The centerfield entrance into AT&T Park is a unique nautical portal that yawns from a marina where fans can tie off their boats, then step ashore. Shore being the wooden landing that horseshoes that far part of the ball yard. Fans without their own sloops, yawls and speedboats may alight from the ubiquitous ferries.

Down the way, beside the entrance at the northeast corner of both the ball park and the China Basin park, a statue of Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey gazes across the cove named for him.

Lefty O’Doul Bridge spans the waterway that leads to McCovey Cove, to the rear of those rears in the rears of The Throwback Seats. Adjacent to the bridge, both a plaza and an entry gate are named for O’Doul.

Two other entrances are bedecked with over-size statues of two other Giant immortals. At the Park’s southeast entry, across King Street from Brucie’s Pop-top Tavern, a likeness of the first player from Dominican Republic to be inducted into Cooperstown, Juan Marichal, is posed in his trademark pitching motion with left leg raised high over his head.

Willie Mays Plaza anchors the southwest corner of the park and when Pac Bell was christened, it immediately became a favored location to meet up with friends before and after the games. Bat dusting the dirt behind him, the statue replicates Mays’ follow-through of the sweet swings of the Hall of Famer that launched 660 lifetime home runs.

Fanny Hill’s boss, Ken Sutherland, the news director at TV 20, had finally hopped aboard a streetcar that would drop him at Willie Mays Plaza within minutes. He would arrive early, and he was hungry. After burnishing his press badge to an usher, he would burn a path directly to Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ named for former Giant stalwart Orlando Cepeda. And what the heck, maybe hit a Gilroy Garlic Fries stand, as well.

It might seem odd that so many innings had passed before the two radio stars had shared word one. Small talk had arisen sort of second hand when Bumper returned with Kuni. That’s when Merrill Hodges had come to learn that both the Lead Dawg and his date, were media personalities. Upon hearing this third hand, Vin Hodges could easily picture the foxy Asian in front of a camera but turned real skeptical when it came to picturing Bumper on TV.

"No, he’s in radio," stated Dad.

"He’s got the face for it," remarked Vin.

When Bumper overheard this, he couldn’t stifle a broad smile. Then, he leaned down to tell Vin, "you need to learn to turn your microphone off before saying anything negative about anyone or anything, unless you want the world to know it, too."

Reflexively, Vin checked to see whether he had clicked off his Senheiser. Then, he remembered that he was on a commercial break. He turned in his seat. He looked more bashful than if he had seen his pudgy aunt, Mr. Hodges’ kid sister, in her birthday suit.

Bumper bopped him on the shoulder to say, "kidding, buddy. Hey, you know what? I was up top in this guy’s sky box. He said he had just seen Al Michaels walking out of the Dodger broadcast booth. I figure he was the dude that got to sit in with Vin Scully for this game. Just like them, maybe you and I partner up for an inning later. Whaddaya say?" Earlier he had heard the lad chastise Dad about not needing a color man. "I do a pitch perfect Tim McCarver." Bumper grinned again.

Young Vin Hodges picked up on the joke right away. His chest reflexively pushed out. "So, you’ve been listening."

"Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Whoops. Juan Uribe’s coming up. Flip your mic back on."

Vin Hodges decided right there, I’m gonna make him a tape. I want that hippie guy in the yellow and blue Elton John Flyers to give me a professional critique. Us pros need to stick together. (Tape. If you had twenty dollars for every half-inch of audio tape you might find in today’s typical radio station, you’d be dead broke)

Bumper hoped that the kid would allow him to critique him. Give him something to do, something positive. Help take the sting out of his own lowly disappointment.

Oomph. Beneath Bumper, Izzy Dean cried desperately for him to shift in his seat. No matter though, how blue his desperate cry, for only three nearby mates heard him. (Except maybe the mystery honcho who enforced the no cussing rule).

Next to Izzy, Sammy the Seat whispered (whispered? why?) "Tim McCarver. In all fairness, he proved to become a key player in that landmark trade that triggered Curt Flood’s lawsuit over baseball’s reserve clause."

"He was a footnote in the trade that Flood refused," Izzy drawled, disrespectfully. "You could almost call him the player to be named later."

"Negative, I say, negativo." It was The Pistol. "He accepted the trade to Philly and played okay. Heck, he went on to play ten more years with three other teams, before returning to the Phillies, where he retired. His really wasn’t what you’d call a stupendous career, but he was no slacker."

Huh, thought Sammy the Seat, has whippersnapper Johnny Pistola been boning up on baseball trivia? Watch this: "Stupendous, huh? A fine word, stupendous. One of only four in the English language that end in ’dous.’"

"That’s horrendous!" A giddy Izzy had tossed a knuckler and would have thrown up a high five but he had nothing to throw. Besides, none of his pals were equipped to high five him back.

"That’s two of four," answered Sammy. "Anybody else got one?"

Phil Sage had one. In fact he had two. That trivia question had long travelled the circuit. How else could Izzy get one right? Sammy had allotted a game-show pause before Phil shot out, "I’ll hazard a guess, even if it’s ’hazardous.’ If I’m right, wouldn’t that be ’tremendous’?"

"Now batting ... Juan Uribe"

No matter the attraction, Jewel Goldman was not the type of woman to run after anything. More cerebral. More thoughtful and patient. More canny and cunning. Nonetheless, she had made good time edging her way toward The Dawg seats. She massaged Kuni’s arm like a father walking down the aisle with his daughter, a gentle pat to the forearm. She knew Kuni well enough to joke to her, "c’mon, let’s go grab a hotdog. Kuni Noyori had never eaten meat in her life, unless it had once been able to swim.

When he heard about yet another hot dog, Bumper Morgan winced. Penny Platinum had overheard too, so she spun in her seat, startled Merrill Hodges half to death when she looked over his shoulder to playfully open her mouth wide as an airborne bass after a fly. "Hey, big boy. Aren’tcha just a weenie bit hungry?"

A confused Mr. Hodges quickly pulled up his collar and ironed out his posture. He shot the sleeves beneath his beige suit. No one before had called him, Big Boy. That was still true. Penny had smiled right past his taped glasses at Bumper.

Moments earlier, Kuni Noyori had asked the morning driver if he wouldn’t mind guarding her purse (her clutch purse which in no way matched the girth of Penny Platinum’s monster bag) before she hit the stairs to fall in line behind Jewel Goldman.

"No sushi within a San Francisco mile," I bet.

"You would lose."

"Let’s just get a drink,"" replied Kuni. I ate like a Sumo up in the booths. Moreover, I have to stick close to Bumper."

"No new developments, I assume."

"Bumper checked Frontier’s automated flight info. Cole’s plane arrived at the gate a while ago, so I expect to hear something one way or the other, real soon. As in eminently."

"Don’t fret, Honey. The two stations across the Bay are in his hip pocket. Here’s a Ghirardelli cart Let’s get you a cocoa." Cocoa, bemoaned Jewel. I need a Jack. "You can keep track of your Bumper from right here."

Fanny had smiled faintly when she walked past Kuni and Jewel, her full tray in perfect balance. Classy, classy, she whispered in muffled breath. Royalty. Media queens. She hung a right and headed down, sidled alongside Phil to apologize for having been so irritated, undone. "Fanny, you don’t tell me what’s up, how can I help?"

"What’s up is me. Full tray Phil, gotta head on down to stir my customers toward feeling ’verbose and jocose, but not lachrymose, bellicose or comatose.’"

"Whoa," whistled Phil Sage, "I definitely have to think about that. Shot down the ’d-o-u-s’ trivia like a missile on a Mig."

Fanny clearly knew what a Mig was but had to think about that "dous" thing. "I’m off, Phil, chat at ya on my way back up."

Bumper Morgan balanced Kuni’s bag as he leaned forward. The kid’s hands at the controls were as deft as his delivery. He saw too, that Vin could deftly slide one hand toward the wooden thingamajig that looked like a miniature easel, whenever he prompted dad to raise it off the stowed suitcase so he could thumb through his meticulously researched reminders, burnished in what seemed to be unreadable print on pastel cards, searching for a gem. The one he chose to start this inning, Vin had culled from his Greek correspondence class. In English, he quoted Alexander the Great: “’Strike Strong. Strike fast. Elst someone strikes first.’

"Alas, the Dodgers struck first and strongly, so I guess they are tonight’s ’elsts,’ whatever an ’elsts’ is. Eh-eh. ’Dem Bums lead the Giants 5 to 3."

Phil told his mates that he hoped everyone was quite done with the word trivia games. In a rare oversight, Phil didn’t immediately realize that his buddies couldn’t have heard the dose of "oses" that Fanny had dished him.

"Want a hot dog?" Merrill Hodges said he was beyond hungry, " so I’m going to head up for nachos. Want a dog, son, to go with your Sprite?"

"Nada to eat, Dad. Maybe a lemonade this time, por favor." The youngster had gone down south again without realizing it.

Phil had caught it. "Jugo de Limon, son. Limonada."

"Can I get you to fetch me a real beer?" Bumper had already risen to reach into his Wranglers for some dough. Bumper was no fan of Fanny’s Anchor Steams. “I have to stay put."

Mr. Hodges wasn’t the kind of guy to decline a favor request tendered from a seemingly nice guy, but it would be the first time for him to hold a beer or hold anything alcoholic since high school. An endless river of Bali-Hai wine that prom night on the asphalt volleyball court beside the gym, had induced vows of lifelong abstention in Dad.

Ringers, they are sometimes called. The elite who wear the rings. Ring Knockers is the derisive description given to those who always seem to be knocking their ring on something to draw attention. Used to be only members of the winning team of the World Series were awarded championship rings. Nowadays, it seems as though any player who was able to get out of bed three mornings in a row, won some kind of championship ring. Nonetheless, World Series championship rings were literally the gold standard. Besides players and coaches and the manager and most administrative employees, ball clubs generally award rings to select employees, say perhaps, the team trainer, the clubhouse manager, sales manager (gasp) and other corporate employees, especially those in the booth. Vin Scully, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow never won one on the diamond, but all three sport World Series championship rings.

Baseball players who reach the World Series also share in the Series revenue. The winners snatch substantially more than the players on the roster of the losing team. To a young unproven player, his share might well exceed his current annual salary. Managers and coaches are similarly rewarded. In addition, virtually all are awarded benchmark bonuses. The manager’s annual contract might be a million dollars, with incentives to earn more for winning the division title, reaching the World Series and a big chunk of dough should his team win the whole shooting match. A player has chances at his own rewards depending upon, for example, the amount of homers he hits, his batting average, winning a Gold Glove, a batting or pitching title or selection to the all-star team.

There also exist, media incentives. When Cole Kelly’s agent had left his message, "done deal," the deal had almost been taken from the oven. Like most media deals, it had been baked very much like a Michelin chef soufflé. The teensiest variation or misstep might put a knife to any contract or dessert.

Cole Kelly’s agent was confident that he had honed the few jagged edges off the deal the owner of the East Bay television stations had proposed. Cole Kelly was not yet privy to the final minor changes that his agent and the owner had agreed to. Last-minute "minor changes," to a proposed contract had queered many a media deal. Many a baseball deal too, ask Curt Flood. Cole had just reached the owner in his East Bay Danville home. Each presumably was anxious to solidify the ratings incentives in the deal that the agent had struck on Cole’s behalf.

Cole’s agent worked for elites. Over the years, he had sliced out enough contract percentages to allow him to shake in some fancy-dance circles in San Francisco’s social scene. Consequently, he had been in a typical rush to deliver to Cole Kelly his wonderful news. He was afraid to show up late for dinner again. Dinner was especially important that night. Following dinner at Max’s, he and his five guests would walk across the wide boulevard to Symphony Hall. Walk carefully too, for Friday nights, Van Ness becomes a speedway.

Now... "Hey, hustle it up, Bennet ’ol boy," the agent had egged on the dapper gent who perpetually lagged. Bennet was the TV 20 general manager, Thom Bennet. Fanny Hill’s Big Boss.

After Jewel ran down each of the media buyers for the agencies that handled Budweiser and Chevrolet to personally deliver details of her coup, she had called for a sales meeting in KFAN’s suite. Each member of her sales force had been instructed to escort his or her top clients to each game of the historic weekend series. The notion of working weekends did not thrill her salespeople but hey, a shot at witnessing history was not to be sneezed at. So, each was surprised that he or she had now been pulled away from a client. And, from the action.

Jewel lead off the meeting with the tease that a double surprise was bold and eminent. Actually, KFAN’s coup presented multifaceted benefits. First and foremost, the newly minted #1 anchor in the market had jumped ship. It would turn out to be a double torpedo attack. KFAN’s broadside had gouged six o’clock and eleven o’clock holes into its top competitor’s weekly prime time schedule. The coup had triggered a plethora of sales angles. Limiting the amount of commercials in the debut week of Victory Freedom’s newscasts would drive up demand and pricing. Other angles, too, like sponsorship packages for promotional appearances in the ensuing weeks. Now, salespeople were instructed to call or email clients over the weekend. Salespeople abhorred that idea but they felt whatever the opposite of "abhor" meant, when it came to getting their mitts on new wads of commission from Jewel’s coup. Special "Victory" packages and "Freedom" promotions would be forthcoming

Jewel Goldman was convinced more than Cheney and Rumsfeld had been convinced about weapons, that she had already sold a knockout, unique angle to Head Cheat. The new and unique angle was actually a newly arrived, unique person. Kuni Noyori.

Once he got his teeth into an on-air roll, Bumper Morgan could ramble on for what seemed an eternity. (Dawg owner Fast Eddie Mason was quick to draw attention to Bumper’s "eternities") Bumper had hopped into Vin’s dad’s seat, one hand clutching Kuni’s clutch, and the other trying fruitlessly to untangle Vin’s wires. He wanted to offer him breathing tips that had been a vital component to any shotgun top 40 deejay’s success. While Bumper tutored away, Vin Hodges suddenly raised up to question, "Really? You played Elvis Presley records when he was still alive?"

Bumper’s eyes rolled. "Yep, rolled 45s then. Spun the old 7-inch discs on green, felt-topped turntables. Seven-inchers with the big holes."

"I knew that," piped the protégé. "SPs, single plays, before LPs replaced them."

Vin Hodges was as up on radio minutiae as Kuni’s cousin Ming Lin was up on mahjong moves. He knew that phonograph records had relegated to history, the cylinders that for decades had been the chief way to listen to recorded music. Those stylish, furniture-quality console boxes had generally sported a horn or a cone to amplify the sound. More than ninety percent of those cylinders had been manufactured by the Thomas Edison Company.

In 1929, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) purchased Victor Talking Machine Company, the world’s leading maker of phonographs. The company’s tiffany was called the Victrola. The new company, named RCA-Victor, had dominated the phonograph record market once cylinder machines had morphed into phonograph machines that spun discs that subsequently came to be known as "records." Before long, the newfangled machines began to be called record players. Records measured 10 inches across and spun around the "stem" at 78 revolutions per minute to create substantially clearer fidelity than the cylinder could.

Vin also knew that, theoretically, the faster the record could revolve per minute (revolutions per minute, rpm) the clearer the sound. High speed clarity became the industry mantra. Technology soon offered finer fidelity with fewer revolutions so in 1949, RCA rolled out a 7-inch disc to spin at 45 rpm around a stem that had grown to the size of a silver dollar. The thinner 45s sounded taps for the chubby, 10-inch 78s.

Then came a twist that Vinny had never been clear on (not to be confused with the twist craze that shook the world in 1960 when Chubby Checker covered Hank Ballard’s rhythm and blue’s recording of "The Twist"). To create wider grooves which would yield cleaner sound, record companies almost always limited one song to each side of the 45: The hit "upside" and its "flipside."

Top 40 radio had come to the fore when stations began to target the ever-growing generation that would come to be called baby boomers. (too many of them went on to be called "yuppies," but that is an entirely different tune). These stations began to repeatedly hammer over and over, hit songs that had "charted." That is, records that reached, say, the top forty spots on the charts of magazines. Billboard Magazine charts were tied directly to sales, consequently charting in Billboard became the most sought after. Hence, Top 40 radio, where Fast Eddie Mason, Bumper Morgan and Rocky Ocean had cut their chops, hammering the hits, over and over, ’round and ’round.

As music and the world turned, the industry embraced a 33 rpm, 12 inch record. About forty percent more music could be pressed onto each side of the new 33s, more often called LPs, short for long player.

"That’s the long and short of it," drawled Bumper in conclusion.

Young Vin Hodges had previously learned loads of this but Bumper had filled in several heretofore (here he goes again, heretofore) historical points that he truly appreciated. Like any good broadcaster, he would steal and use as his own, what he had just learned.

Now, time to focus on the tallies of early returns on his poll. Polling was to cease at the completion of the next inning.

TV 20 news director Ken Sutherland stood in line for fries next to a guy wearing a stylish but wrinkled, khaki suit (with black shoes) who balanced a beer, a lemonade and what was once a full cup of Diet Coke inside the dimples of a stiff cardboard carton. The length of about 3 base lines away, Smoky’s replacement topped off Fanny Hill’s cupcake tray. Ken knew where Fanny’s station was located, but what he had come to say would have to wait till post game up in the box. And, he was hungry.

“Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.” It had come to her a few moments earlier when she was striving to harden up, but Fanny had forgotten where she had first heard that mush about the seeds. She decided to ask Phil. She fluffed her pony tail, cuffed her brow, rubbed a red eye, picked up her tray and trotted off.

"Steve Maraboli," that’s what Phil told her.

"Who’s he?

"I haven’t the faintest." Phil could clearly see the red that more than faintly tinged Fanny’s eyes. Tears. No doubting it. Tears water the seeds. What is that supposed to mean? What seeds? What type of trouble? How bad? He wanted to help. But how? What if she was wrong about whatever was eating at her? He hoped and hoped that Fanny might be overreacting.

Remember, he told himself, "never believe a limping dog... or the tears of a woman."

Next Chapter: 13                       Fanny’s Tears