Just got a note from Bill Robinson about the post featuring his farewell message:
Your post about me was truly "Cosmic." …. Ha-Ha!
Indeed I do. At the going-away gathering for Bill and the other 10 on Thursday, it suddenly occurred to me that he was (by my reckoning, and I stand ready to be corrected) the last of the Cosmic Ha-Has in the newsroom.*
Bill thought for a moment, and realized I was probably right. He was impressed: "That’s sort of like being the last of the ’27 Yankees."
Sort of — if you really stretch the point.
The Ha-Has were a slow-pitch softball team that consisted mostly of guys who worked in The State‘s newsroom in the 1980s. It was a team that, had you seen it play, would have convinced you that here was a team totally focused on the pitcher of beer after the game.
Not that we didn’t have some serious players. I remember this one kid who worked in sports (guys who work in sports, being frustrated spectators, can be some of your most intense players of slow-pitch softball) who hit hard and was a super-fast base runner, something he was not modest about: "I’ll teach ’em to throw behind me," he fumed after the opposing team had tried, late, to throw him out on second, and he zoomed around for an inside-the-park homer.
But most players — while having a love of the game, and preferring winning to losing, so long as it did not involve violating the laws of physics — had a certain ironic detachment about the team and its chances. Hence the name.
I joined in the late 80s, which — if the original Ha-Has were the ’27 Yankees, and I ask you to indulge me for the sake of making a point — would have been more like the late Mickey Mantle era. My best hitting days (when I played for the Knights of Columbus team in Jackson, Tenn., in the 70s, it was a bad night that I didn’t go at least 2 for 4) were behind me. Even in slow-pitch, which is a small step up from T-Ball, I no longer had confidence in my ability to hit line drives wherever I wanted. I was an undistinguished member of the pitching line-up, who was happier playing catcher. The qualifications for pitcher in slow-pitch are to be willing to a) have guys hit the ball back at you really hard from alarmingly close range, and b) suffer the humiliation of streaks in which you cannot get the ball to fall through the strike zone from the approved trajectory, thereby walking several batters in a row.
(I will add that there is nothing more infuriating than pitching in slow pitch and being up against a strategic-thinking team that would just as soon walk in runs as get hits. The entire point of slow pitch is that anybody can hit. You’re supposed to put the ball in play. If you want to walk, you can, because the truth is that it’s a lot harder to loft a ball up in the air and have it drop through a strike zone than it is to throw it overhand. In fact, it’s easier to throw strikes underhand in fast pitch than it is to throw slow-pitch strikes. Having guys stand there and take balls was enough to make me want to bean the batter, but in slow-pitch, who’d notice?)
The greatest humiliation that the Ha-Has suffered during my tenure had nothing to do with my pitching ability, though. One year, we were in a commercial-industrial sort of league. You have not seen lopsided until you’ve seen a bunch of scribes, some of whom were possibly passable athletes in high school (and that’s the best you can say), up against a bunch of hairy mesomorphs who spend their days tossing anvils to each other or something. If you play, say, church-league, you might see one guy in a season hit the ball over the fence, and that guy will be legendary — at least, in the church leagues I’ve played in. Different story in commercial-industrial.
You may think I’m making this up, but it’s true. In one game that year, every single member of the opposing team hit at least one home run, and some more than one, before the game was over. I think the "mercy rule" — if you’re more than a certain number of runs ahead after a certain number of innings, the game is called — was eventually invoked. Either that, or the "mercy rule" was invented because of this game; I forget. Something had to stop it, because we couldn’t, and if things had kept going at that rate, one of those huge specimens would have keeled over from the sheer exhaustion caused by running around the bases.
Some Ha-Has who played with Bill back in the Golden Age:
- Charlie Pope — Who now works in the Washington bureau of a paper from the Pacific Northwest. Charlie was The State‘s environment reporter back when I was his editor. In those days, Charlie’s favorite movie was "A Flash of Green," in which Ed Harris plays a reporter who writes about environmental issues, and at a climactic moment in the movie stuffs his editor into the trunk of a car. I don’t have a current picture of Charlie, even though he dropped by recently because his son was thinking of going to USC. But to me, Charlie always looked vaguely like Tommy Smothers. You know, the funny Smothers Brother, not the straight man. I don’t think I ever told him that, come to think of it…
- Dave Moniz — A player with his own personal language. Once, as I ran out to start warming up in the outfield before a game, Dave greeted me with a chipper, "Key lid!" It took me a couple of minutes to realize he meant that he liked my hat. Dave is now a civilian PR guy for the United States Air Force, with a civilian rate that is the equivalent of a brigadier general. The picture here shows him from a recent visit to our editorial board, at which he was joined by two guys wearing Air Force "yoonies" which was the way Dave used to say "uniforms." (Teams that had nice uniforms had "key yoonies," and so forth.) Dave was our military reporter before leaving to do the same for USA Today.
- Jeff Miller — Also went to Washington to work in another paper’s bureau, but now does something else, also out of Washington. Which reminds me — I owe him a call back. Anyway, Jeff’s first job for me was covering the 1988 Republican presidential primary, for which we brought him up from the Newberry County bureau (the journalistic equivalent of AAA ball at the time). He was still covering politics last time I saw him. One of his colleagues took the picture at right, of Jeff and me on a New York street on the last night of the 2004 GOP convention. This picture reminds me, for some reason, of the opening credits of "Saturday Night Live."
And now Bill moves on. But the legend continues.
* Note that I said "in the newsroom." For those of you who are still confused about the difference between news and editorial, I haven’t worked in the newsroom since 1993, so I don’t count.