Those who strived, for the fans

It’s not likely you were able to watch Hod Eller pitch. He was a pitcher for the Moline Plowboys in the old Illinois-Indiana-Iowa league before being picked up by the Cincinnati Reds in 1916. Hod pitched for Cincinnati for five years, putting together a 60/40 win-loss record.

Likewise, I doubt you were in a position to follow the at-bat accomplishments of Ivey Wingo. In 1917, Wingo led the National League in at-bats per strikeout; a dexterity I’ve tried to emulate with little success.

Life’s batter box can be humbling for those who can’t hit a curve.

Then there’s Eppa Rixey, that hard-throwing left-hander for the Phillies. He was with them for 21 years — 1912 to 1933. Eppa had 251 career losses — a left-hander record that still stands.

Eppa shook off the losses by maintaining a sense of humor, writing poetry, and teaching Latin during the offseason at a high school in Virginia.

Which brings me to Ty Tyson. In 1927, Ty called the first radio play-by-play for the Detroit Tigers. He kept at it, calling the action from Navin stadium until 1937. Navin stadium was what they called Tiger stadium before it was called Briggs.

Hod, Ivey, Eppa, and Ty — all had good fans.

It’s my understanding that, on Father’s Day in 1965, Ernie Harwell swung over to Ty’s place, picked him up, and drove him out to the ballpark. There, Ernie had old Ty to do the play by play for an inning.

I’m an Ernie Harwell fan.

Fanship isn’t just based on win/loss records or strikeout-free trips to the plate. Good fanness takes into account imperfections. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be real, and, if it’s not real, the fanfatuation won’t last.

How does one decide for whom to be a fan?

The Harlem Globetrotters used to come to town every year. They brought a traveling team of opponents with them and played over at the old Catholic Central.

But I was never a ‘Trotter fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching the Globetrotters play — never missed a chance. They were great athletes capable of performing magic with a basketball, but their appearances here were not contests, they were shows — performances where they never lost.

Some other shows use colorful banners, hats, and promises of glory to attract yes-men to act as fans of a king, “so keen, so fast, so hard” he will live forever. Good fans can be fans to those who lose without calling the victor a petty name; of people who strive and by striving show who they are.

During my first couple years in high school, Alpena High had some great basketball teams, including Dave Kroll, Gary Isley, Harry Gierszewski, Jere Chaffin, Bill Gapczynski, Al Lutes, Ned Bastow, and others. One year, a combination of those guys finished with a 12-1 record; they were rated third in the state.

The Alpena High School gymnasium would reverberate with noise; noise from which fans were born, for it had mated to a striving.

The 1958-59 Alpena Community College Lumberjacks were coached by Jim Dutcher. They created moments of striving sensation.

Gary Michley, Neal Michley, Arnie Shellenbarger, Dave Lowe, Tom McPhillips, Bob Strong — and the incomparable Nelson “Nellie” Shellenbarger — set the sport’s fanship bar for me. It has stayed there with them and with those who so ably assisted them: Bob Kurtz, Dan French, Tom Prieur, Jim Hubert, Mike Dorn, Pat Clark.

Watching the Pistons play never compared.

Which brings me to this: I believe those most deserving of fanship are people whose imperfections are overcome — be it only for a moment — by striving. They’re winners even when they lose, and, when they lose, they hold their fans.

Sometimes, before picking up a bat again, such folks go off and write some poetry, teach a little Latin, or give an old competitor a lift to the ballpark.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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