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March 12, 2015

Time Again to Remember Charlie Keller

Harry M. Covert

I still hold out that baseball is the nation’s pastime. Sitting in the stands watching a no-hitter, or seeing snappy double plays and homeruns, what’s better to any sport lover? It’s preferable in these quarters to watch a direct throw from catcher to the second baseman and an out. Similarly for an outfielder’s throw.


Back in the days learning the ropes to a long life, I remember well when an 18-year-old catcher named Johnny Bench, on his haunches, warmed up throwing out runners in the minor leagues in Newport News, VA. Those in the park knew exactly he’d be a Hall of Famer. He spent his career with the Cincinnati Reds.


Approaching the Frederick Keys’ April 9 debut this year is a good time to rejuvenate, clear our heads from all the political foolishness all around us and, as lots of older people think, time to drool about The Masters, the annual Augusta, GA, golf tournament leading to the spring and summer.


Frederick’s late, great Charlie Keller is remembered too as baseball gets under way. He was a terrific Yankees player and coach. I have no anecdotes about him except that his baseball notoriety is legion – also about horses and farming.


But back to baseball. It was a privilege to meet Gil Hodges, the late, great first baseman when he became the manager of the long ago Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium. Hodges did his minor league baseball with the Newport News Baby Dodgers of the Piedmont League. It was fun, as a kid, watching him. We could go to the game and, if wearing a Baby Dodgers tee-shirt, admission was 50 cents. Our bus ride by ourselves cost a quarter.


Never can I forget the night back in the early 50s when the Baby Dodgers were playing the old Portsmouth Cubs. No radio coverage. In the top of the fifth inning, lots of razzing was under way from the Cubs’ bench. A fight ensured. The Baby Dodgers pitcher came off the mound and slugged the big mouth. Suddenly, blood was flowing. The hurler bit off the ear of the hazer and spit it to the ground. Both were tossed from the game. Lots of clapping and cheering.


Back in the day I was watching a Carolina League game in Lynchburg (VA). By the way, the Hillcats of today are playing the Keys in Frederick April 13-14-15. But the 1983 game involved the then Lynchburg Met Lenny Dykstra. Lenny attempted to explain to an umpire how infielders need only swipe, not tag, for a second base out. That was the major league way he insisted. When the ump ruled against the would-be legend, he stomped around, threw down his glove and generally created a ruckus. The umpire prevailed and tossed him from the game. It was a crowd-pleasing moment.


Forgot to mention that Sam Perlozzo, former Frederick Keys and Baltimore Orioles manager and led the L-Mets in 1983, stood by and grinned as Dykstra headed for the showers, still grousing.


Seldom if ever, as a boy, did we miss Saturday baseball with Dizzy Dean describing the game. Ol’ Diz often broke out singing the “Wabash Cannonball” but kept everybody up to date on the field festivities. Often, it was fun to watch the live, local, commercials. On one afternoon, the local announcer misspoke the sponsor, Schlitz. Still funny. Nowadays things are difference, often wearisome and not the least bit humorous.


Dizzy Dean and broadcasters like Buddy Blattner, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully and Harry Carey, just to name a few, could teach modern sportscasters a thing or two, especially that they stop talking so much.


Maybe we live in the past too much, but the above mentioned all lead to the nostalgia of the recreated broadcast. You may recall a fellow named Lindsay Nelson, another named Russ Hodges and Gordon McLendon, founder of the Liberty Broadcasting System. Imagine, McLendon paid major league baseball $1,000 dollars a season for broadcast rights. My how time flies – or tempus fugit for you smart people.


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