Who Needs it Most?

The baseball playoffs are in full swing and the talking heads on ESPN and other prognosticators already have weighed in with their picks to win the league championships and the World Series.

These so-called experts are basing their selections on relative strength of the teams, ignoring the fact that the best team doesn’t always win.

Phil Silvers, left, adopted Steve Bilko’s name for Sgt. Bilko, the TV character he made famous in the ‘50s. (Courtesy Bob Case)

Phil Silvers, left, adopted Steve Bilko’s name for Sgt. Bilko, the TV character he made famous in the ‘50s. (Courtesy Bob Case)

The best criteria is one used by actor-comedian Phil Silvers when facing the task of selecting the name of the master sergeant he played on the television show, You’ll Never Get Rich, that premiered in September 1955. Assuming Silvers wanted to use the name of a baseball player, there were 400 in the majors and hundreds more in the minors to consider.

When the show premiered in September 1955, Ted Kluszewski was a household name because of the sleeveless jerseys he wore to show off the muscles that helped him smash 47 home runs. Al Kaline led the majors in batting average (.340) and hits (200) while Duke Snider was tops in runs batted in (136) and runs scored (126). Stan Musial was still living up to his nickname, “The Man”, hitting .319 and slugging 33 homers. Gil Hodges of the world champion Brooklyn Dodgers batted .289 with 27 round-trippers and 102 RBIs.

Silvers ignored all these stars for a minor leaguer, Stout Steve Bilko, of the Los Angeles Angels. Why?

Big Klu“I could just as well have been Corporal Hodges or Private First Class Musial,” Silvers told Red Smith, the syndicated sports columnist. “I gave it to a guy who needed it.”

So the question for the eight playoff teams is: Who needs it the most?

The San Francisco Giants, World Series champions in 2012 and 2010, need it the least followed by the St. Louis Cardinals, winners in 2011 and 2006. The Angels went all the way in 2002; the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988; the Kansas City Royals in 1985; the Detroit Tigers in 1984 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1983. That leaves the Washington Nationals.

Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States in 1924, the last time the Nationals won it all. Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller won three gold medals in swimming at the Paris Summer Olympics. Joseph Stalin took over power from Vladimir Lenin in Russia.

Through most of their history, the Nationals have lived up to the classic line: “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

In 1949, they finished last with a 50-104 won-loss record, prompting the firing of manager, Joe Kuhel, who said in his defense: “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.”

Given the Nationals’ dismal past, Washington needs it most, right?

"Phoenix Rising from the Ashes of Detroit" Photograph and set design:  RORSHAK (www.rorshak.com) Model:  Aleta Myles  For an in depth discussion of the image, visit http://www.rorywhite.com/newsletters/July_2014/

“Phoenix Rising from the Ashes of Detroit”
Photograph and set design: RORSHAK (www.rorshak.com)
Model: Aleta Myles
For an in depth discussion of the image, visit http://www.rorywhite.com/newsletters/July_2014/

No city in the U.S. needs a drug-free shot in the arm more than Detroit. Torn asunder in recent years by crime, political scandal and massive unemployment, Motown needs the pride and joy that a World Series title brings to a community. The Tigers reached the final round in 2006 and 2012 only to be embarrassed both times. In 2011 and 2013, they were eliminated in the American League championship series.

If it were up to Phil Silvers, the Tigers finally would win because Detroit needs it most. But Silvers is dead and Tigers aren’t feeling too good themselves after the Orioles knocked them out of the playoffs. Oh, well, as any diehard Cub fan attest, there’s always next year.

 

 

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The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:

For Baseball Fans Down Under:

For Fans in the UK:

For Fans in Taiwan:

2 thoughts on “Who Needs it Most?

  1. WITH ONLY 250 MILES SEPERATING THE TWO CITIES I THINK A KANSAS CITY/ST LOUIS SERIES WOULD BE AN INTERESTING ONE.

    1. Even though I’m not a fan of the Cardinals, I like the idea of a Royals-Cardinals World Series. I did a story for the Kansas City Royals yearbook on the first game at Royals Stadium in 1973. I saw George Brett as a rookie and covered other Royal standouts like John Mayberry, Amos Otis, Freddie Patek, Cookie Rojas, Hal McRae and Dennis Leonard. So I’m pulling for the Royals. They are a refreshing change from the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, and, yes, Cards. If there’s a KC-St. Louis series, perhaps Don Denkinger can be persuaded to come out of retirement and be the first base umpire. That’s only fair given the Cards fleeced Lou Brock from the Cubs in exchange for a sore-arm pitcher, Ernie Broglio.