Category: Willie Upshaw

The teeth of McGriff

Just look at those pearly whites!

From the mammoth TV in the home of the gregarious Mrs. Smith, they gleamed. The great lady gushed and declared Fred McGriff her new favourite man.

This was the first time I understood there existed reasons other than love of baseball to watch the Blue Jays.

“I just love his teeth,” said Mrs. Smith.

If I were smart and took care of my teeth like Fred McGriff, I would get all the girls, she said.

“That’s why I married my first husband,” she went on.

His Blue Jay life just a few at bats old, McGriff had already become a role model, and this well before the Crime Dog era.

In grade school, our teachers encouraged us to talk about the Blue Jays. The margins of my grade three journal, in which I reported daily on their progress, filled with comments.

One fine day, I was invited along with my Mother by a family friend and Blue Jay fan club member to dinner at Exhibition Place. Everyone was to meet special guests Dennis Lamp and Willie Upshaw. I was psyched. I remember modest Mr. Lamp talking about his 11-0 season, something about luck and team effort. Upshaw never showed up. This would make saying goodbye to the veteran first basemen far easier.

Upshaw out. McGriff in.

Recalled nostalgically at Long Fly Ball to Because, the Blue Jay trading card program, co-sponsored by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, The Toronto Star and others; attributed these words of wisdom to the 23-year-old first baseman:

“Cover every base. Install a smoke alarm on each floor of your home.”

Brush my teeth after every meal, and a smoke alarm on every floor. Got it.

Pitchers and Poets described Fred McGriffness as the absence of style in a wonderful tale of fandom and quiet superstardom. Tubbs Baseball Blog discussed the Hall of Fame obstacle for McGriff, he of the 493 HR and .377 OBP, coming out of the steroid era.

I say he gets in long before my teeth fall out.

The Thing about Billy Jo Robidoux

Ever heard of Dusty Napoleon? What about Rowdy Hardy, or Scott Schwindenhammer? Well, you have now, and reaching its conclusion is the 5th annual Minors Moniker Madness contest put on by MiLB, in which 64 of the wildest monikers compete for the distinction of best name in minor league baseball.

It reminds me of how much fun it was hearing the name Billy Jo Robidoux (Ro-be-doe) announced with zeal from the loudspeakers at old County Stadium in Milwaukee. My Dad worked out of Wisconsin for several years in the 80s, and so each summer as the school year let out, I would expand my passion for baseball (and the Toronto Blue Jays) to include a little love for the Milwaukee Brewers, a.k.a The Brew Crew, a team of many a talented player, and a perennial near-contender in the old AL East. But it was their names that captured this imagination:

Bill-y Jooooo Rooooo-bi-doooooux!

Man, this guy must be something, I thought.

He wasn’t. Robidoux, once a highly touted prospect in the Brewers organization, played bits of six seasons for a total of 468 major league at bats. Despite a talent for taking walks, he failed in four of six seasons to land on the right side of the Mendoza line. But to my young mind, it was as if a great name could lead to a great career and the poignant delivery of that name related somehow to the player’s ability.

I had become so accustomed to the names of Willie Upshaw, Jesse Barfield, Damaso Garcia, Garth Iorg, Rance Mulliniks and Rick Leach that hearing those of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ben Oglivie, Juan Nieves, Danny Darwin, and Billy Jo Robidoux, was like opening up a fresh pack of baseball cards or trying on a new batting glove.

These were good baseball names, energized by an announcer’s gusto. Syllabic exaggeration injected excitement to an already fun experience, and with the contagious reverberations of the Brewers theme song “Keep turning up the heat,” which almost rivalled the golden hit single “OK Blue Jays” of 1983, a kid couldn’t help breaking into some variation of the hokey pokey.

Thinking of our times at County, I’m reminded of my baby brother wearing a big Brewers batting helmet, eating ice cream scooped into tiny souvenir batting helmets, and my Mother in the grandstands, dizzying from an onslaught of vertigo. She would descend, but stay at the ballpark, often ending up in better seating than the rest of the family. I would sit anywhere as long as I could see the field and hear the commentator name those names. My Dad got hooked too. He not only parroted the call of the Robidoux at the stadium, but while we played catch in front of his apartment, and even out of context…..

“Bill-y Jooooo Rooooo-bi-doooooux,” he would say in the car…..and laugh…..I would laugh and say it…..more laughter. Best ice breaker ever.

It once saved me after I nearly broke a window throwing the hardball wildly in the general direction of my Dad. For a moment he looked pissed, until he heard  the sweet sound of my…..

“Bill-y Jooooo Rooooo-bi-doooooux!”

The MiLB contest got me thinking that for posterity, I ought to compile my personal list of the best 80s names in baseball. A few that creep to mind now, mainly for their association with a distinct moment of Blue Jay heartbreak, are Doyle Alexander, Brett Saberhagen, and Steve Balboni. But we’ll discuss the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals another day. Today I remember the old Milwaukee Brewers.

You had me at Rooooo-bi-doooooux!