August 2012

Where are they now? Updates on Lane, Kent, Ausmus.

A couple of weeks before Constellation Field in Sugar Land burst onto the scene as the venue for the most recent Roger Clemens unretirement, I took a drive down there with a buddy to watch a different Astros alum pitch.

Jason Lane, who caught the final out that clinched the National League pennant in St. Louis in 2005 and played six seasons — as an outfielder — for the Astros from 2002-07, has resurfaced in pro ball as left-handed pitcher for the Independent League Skeeters. With a month left in their season, Lane has emerged as the club’s most productive starter, so much that he was named the Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month in July.

Lane’s decision to try his hand at pitching was purely coincidental. He was playing for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club in Las Vegas last year and was asked to pitch an inning in a blowout game against the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A team from Reno.

Kevin Towers, the D-backs general manager, was in the stands that night. Towers watched Lane throw one scoreless inning and instructed his scouts to “get the gun on that lefty.” Later, the GM tracked down Lane near the underground batting cages.

“I didn’t know that was you out there,” Towers said. (The two had met briefly in 2007, when Towers, then the Padres’ GM, traded for Lane with about a week left in the season.)

Towers invited Lane to big league Spring Training this year, as a pitcher. Lane was assigned to the D-backs Triple-A team but was released after a couple of months.

Enter Gary Gaetti, the hitting coach for the Astros from 2004-06 and now the Skeeters’ manager. He and Lane had spoken briefly during the offseason and when Gaetti found out Lane was available, he reached out and asked Lane if he wanted to join the team as a starting pitcher.

Lane has made 13 appearances for the Skeeters, 12 as a starter, and has compiled a 3.03 ERA. He’s walked 13 and struck out 58 over 77 1/3 innings.

He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but he came close, once. Had the 18-inning affair between the Astros and Braves in the Game 4 of the Division Series in 2005 stretched to 19, Lane, who pitched in college, was up next.

He would have come in relief of Clemens, who pitched the 16th, 17th and 18th innings.

“(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey told me, ‘Roger’s going to go as long as he can,’ and that I was next in line,” Lane said. “He told me to start playing catch with the ballboy. I was just trying to process what might come.”

That moment never did come, thanks to a game-winning solo homer by Chris Burke.

Still, Lane is hoping that close call doesn’t represent his last opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.

“I remember my first inning in big league camp — the first warmup pitch was the hardest,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘just get it to the catcher.’ Now, I feel more relaxed on the mound than at the plate.”

________________

Lane resurrecting his career as a pitcher isn’t the strangest story involving an Astros alum this year. Even Clemens’ fourth unretirement at age 50 (which many believe is a precursor to him pitching for the Astros this season) doesn’t take top billing in the category of, “You’re kidding, right?”

No, friends, that honor goes to former second baseman Jeff Kent. If you’re like 98 percent of society that thought Kent was probably the least likely retired ballplayer who would agree to appear on reality TV, you were wrong, wrong, wrong.

The 44-year-old Kent has reportedly signed on to be a cast member for the upcoming season of “Survivor,” Phillippines edition.

The full lineup has yet to be revealed, but we do know of one other participant other than Kent who has committed: actress Lisa Welchel. My money’s on Kent having no idea who she is. It’s probably also safe to assume he’s not familiar with Tootie’s rollerskates or Mrs. Garrett’s high, shrill voice, and has spent no time wondering how a group of seemingly intelligent teenagers spent like eight years in high school.

Welchel played snooty beauty Blair Warner on the hit ’80s TV show “The Facts of Life.” Back then, she (or, at least the character she played) spent a lot of time admiring herself in the mirror and sparring with Jo Polniaczek, the rebellious teen with a sharp tongue and a big heart. Now in her late 40s, Welchel — wife, mother, motivational speaker — appears to be ready to roll up her sleeves and eat bugs next to a five-time Major League All-Star.

Check your local listings.

_________________

Speaking of Astros alums…lest we not forget one Brad Ausmus, who was in town recently to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Flashback Friday.

Ausmus created a bit of a stir when the TV cameras panned on him in the GM booth exchanging pleasantries with Jeff Luhnow. With Brad Mills seemingly on his last legs as the Astros’ manager, it was only natural that Ausmus’ cameo appearance lit up the message boards and blogs.

In truth, the booth meeting wasn’t an interview, and as far as we know, the club hasn’t contacted Ausmus about the open managerial position. For now, the only managing gig Ausmus has on his plate is for the Israeli team that he hopes will qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.


Ausmus insisted this managerial stint is not to be viewed as a first step toward managing in the big leagues.

“I have been asked that many times,” he said. “I’m not looking at this as a stepping stone. This is just something that realistically allowed me to still spend time at home and not have to travel a lot. The tournament itself is probably a week and a half long, including the workout days. The time commitment is relatively minimal compared a Major League Baseball season. It still keeps me involved in baseball and allows me to try something different.”

The qualifying round will take place in Jupiter, Fla. in September. Retired Major Leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler will serve as player-coaches, but Ausmus has no plans to join them on the field.

“I don’t need people to see me hit again,” he said.

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack….

OK, I’ll be the first to say it — this one doesn’t pass the smell test.

Oh, sure, I believe Roger Clemens truly does want to try his hand at pitching professionally, and on a much lower scale than the big leagues, as he gives his 50-year-old arm a test against real-life hitters.

But forgive me if I don’t think this is a one-game only experiment, a good-will gesture, a way for Clemens to sign some autographs, and, as he put it on Tuesday, “just have some fun.”

I have no idea what is actually going on inside Clemens’ head as he prepares to take the mound for his Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters debut on Saturday. Heck, maybe this really is just a case of a former superstar pitcher wanting to see if he can still bring it.

If that’s the case, heck, why not? It’ll be a fun night at Constellation Field. If it’s just about Houston resident wanting to inject some baseball life into a nearby suburb only 20 minutes from home, then so be it. It isn’t hurting anyone. Go for it.

But you’ll forgive me for being suspicious. I don’t claim to know Roger Clemens well. I am not in his inner circle. Most of my conversations with him were filtered through his agents (which was always a hoot). But I did cover him as a reporter during the Astros’ glory years in the middle of last decade, and I learned a few things. First and foremost, when it comes to competing, Clemens doesn’t do anything just for rips and giggles.

He competes because he lives for it. It defines him. It’s all he knows. And it’s hard for him to give it up, which is why he unretired in 2004 to pitch for the Astros, why he stayed on with them for three years, why he went back to the Yankees in 2007 and why he now plays in a 50-and-over softball league (and why he boasted at his presser that he hit two home runs in his most recent game).

Clemens was dutifully self-deprecating with his responses as to whether his Skeeters debut was a precursor to signing on with the Astros, possibly in September, when rosters expand.

No, no, no, Clemens said. Loosely translated, it likely means maybe, possibly, and probably.

“I’ve come out of retirement three times. But I’m 50 years old. It’s not realistic.”

True.

“There’s a big difference between pitching and training at a high level. I’m not at that level, by any means.”

Makes sense.

“I’m nowhere near where I was five years ago. I’m 50 years old. I have to be conscious of that.”

Totally.

“Mentally, I’m going to go out and feel 35 again. When I throw my first couple of pitches, I’m going to feel 50 and say, “what the heck am I doing?”

Whoa.

Just a minute, Sonny.

It’s one thing for Clemens to take a safe and harmless aw-shucks approach. It’s quite another for him to predict that he’ll soon be second-guessing himself.

Sorry, I’m not buying it. That’s not Clemens. It wasn’t Clemens at 30 or 35 or 41. It’s certainly not him at 50. It just doesn’t compute.

I could be wrong on all of this. He could be using this angle to protect himself in case he does indeed blow up Saturday. He could very well hit 83 mph on the gun and get torched by opposing hitters. If that happens, he probably will sign some autographs, shake a few hands and ride off into the Sugar Land sunset by way of Highway 6 and U.S. Route 59.

But what if this experiment isn’t a disaster? What’s next?

I agree it’s a stretch to think any 50-year-old, even one seemingly as ageless as Clemens, could realistically have success against Major League hitters 25 years younger than him. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after years of covering Clemens, it’s that the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing for sure.

Clemens hasn’t lost the burn to compete. The Astros thought enough of Monday’s warmup session to send their scouting director to watch. And there are a few empty seats at Minute Maid Park these days, if you haven’t noticed.

Perfect storm or far-fetched fantasy?

Stay tuned.

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Before there was Moneyball, there was Davey Johnson.

One of the many things that stood out to me when I read Gary Carter’s books over and over and over in the late 1980s and early ’90s was his disdain for Davey Johnson’s computers.

Carter, the catcher for the Mets during the glory years, very much liked Johnson, the manager for those great teams. He just didn’t like Johnson’s computers, his printouts or his penchant for hunkering down in his office and using stats to prepare for games in the hours leading up to first pitch.

“Davey Johnson had come up to manage the Mets from their Triple-A team in Tidewater after the ’83 season,” Carter wrote in his book, ‘The Gamer.’ “Davey managed by the numbers…literally. He was a computer whiz who could pull up more baseball statistics on his screen than most of us knew existed. I liked Davey, but I didn’t care much for his computer.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with having all the latest stats available, but it’s tough to quantify qualities such as ‘heart,’ ‘desire,’ and ‘intestinal fortitude.’ Moreover, Davey’s computer might dutifully report that a player went hitless in four at-bats but totally miss the fact that all four outs were hard-hit balls or long fly balls just inches away from being home runs.”

Carter’s sentiments were in line with most baseball insiders back then. Constructing a lineup was based mostly on a player’s batting average and how he fared in the past against the opponent’s starting pitcher, and not much else. Sure, there were debates about where players should hit in the order and how valuable — or wasteful — a sacrifice bunt was, but for the most part, baseball analysis was not something that necessitated the use of a computer to help crunch the numbers. Or so the “experts” thought.

Times have changed, obviously. Johnson’s insistence on including computers into his daily routine wasn’t kooky, it was innovative. He was ahead of his time not only as a manager, but as a player, too. Apparently, his mathematics-minded approach to baseball dates all the way back to the 1960s, when he played for the Orioles.

Johnson’s motives were simple: he was hitting seventh, and he wanted to be hitting second. He needed to come up with a way to convince manager Earl Weaver to move him up, so he came up with a computer program designed to back up his philosophy. He presented it to Weaver as a way to, as he put it, “optimize the Orioles lineup.”

It was a tough sell. Weaver liked matchups. He liked using his hitters who had the best numbers against that day’s pitcher in the middle of the order, regardless of how they’d performed over the course of the season. If an MVP-caliber player had poor numbers against a specific opponent, chances were, he was going to sit that day. Other than that, Weaver’s favorite thing to do was rely on his pitching and defense, and wait for the long ball.

Johnson, who obtained a mathematics degree from Trinity University, was a formidable challenge for Weaver. Johnson wasn’t the prototypical, cookie-cutter ballplayer — he was smart, and he was curious. While finishing his coursework at Trinity University, he took a computer class at Johns Hopkins University, just for the heck of it. It was during that time he had lunch with an engineer-turned-author named Earnshaw Cook, who left an immeasurable impression on the numbers-minded Johnson.

Cook, also a professor at Johns Hopkins, had written a book called “Percentage Baseball.” In hindsight, it was sabermetrics before sabermetrics. It was also rebuffed by a baseball community unwilling to embrace Cook’s oddball philosophies that suggested the best hitters should bat first, that sacrifice bunts were wasteful and relief pitchers — get this — should start games and then be replaced by a pinch-hitter when it came time for his first at-bat. Starting pitchers would then enter the game and pitch the next four or five innings. This, Cook argued, could tack on another 25 wins for a team.

Cook’s theories piqued the interest of a few people, according to this Alan Schwartz featureTal Smith, a young, up-and-coming executive with the Astros and self-proclaimed stat nerd, Ewing Kauffman, owner of the Kansas City Royals, and Johnson.

Davey Johnson, now the manager of the first-place Washington Nationals, used a primitive form of sabermetrics more than 40 years ago to try to move up in the Orioles lineup. Who knew?

While Johnson didn’t follow Cook’s philosophy to the letter, Cook’s views gave him some level of validation as he worked on his computer programs to solve baseball riddles.

Now it was just a matter of convincing Weaver. Johnson would take his giant optimization printouts, generated from his oversized computer, and present them to his manager.

“Earl, do you know what the standard deviation chart is?” Johnson recalled asking. Weaver’s response was dismissive, but Johnson plowed on. The standard deviation chart, Johnson explained, requires a larger pool by which to make judgments, to be able to predict with a plus or minus five percent. If you flip a coin five times, you might get five heads. If you flip it 500 times, it’s more likely to be half heads and half tails, or close to it.

“Six at-bats doesn’t really give you a good way to predict,” Johnson told Weaver. “There’s more things involved.”

When Johnson started managing, he developed a program to obtain data from the opposing manager to gauge hitters’ tendencies and to determine what counts were more favorable when a manager decided to hit and run. He pored over stats to determine the best possible batting orders. He viewed his computer as “another coach, with a better memory than me.”

As a player, Johnson and his theories didn’t get very far with his manager, and as a manager, his players disregarded his computer with a flippant wave. He didn’t get far with his own teammates, either. He recalled watching pitcher Dave McNally struggle to hit the inside corners during one particular start. Between innings, Johnson said to him, “You’re in an unfavorable chance deviation.”

In other words, stop aiming at the corners. Aim it down the middle, and you’ll hit the corners.

Predictably, that particular bit of advice didn’t go over very well.

“From that, I was nicknamed ‘Dum-Dum,’” Johnson said.

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Airing of the grievances: Houston, I have a problem.

When MLB.com was in its infancy back in the early 2000s, reporters and producers received an email from our higher-ups a couple of weeks before the start of Spring Training, giving us a list of old and worn-out cliches that we were NEVER to use in our copy or headlines.

Spring Has Sprung. Hope Springs Eternal. Baseball’s in Full Swing. And on and on.

I sent an email back, asking as politely as possible, “Can we add, ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ to that list?”

That was (at least) 11 years ago. I can’t recall if that line ever did appear on Astros.com or MLB.com, but even if it didn’t, it’s only a small victory. Because it shows up everywhere else.

It seems that whenever the Astros (and quite possibly the Rockets, Texans and other Houston sports teams) are in turmoil, and have, well, a problem, the headline writers spend all of four seconds coming up with something that properly illustrates the issues surrounding the team in trouble.

Houston, We Have a Problem.

Neat. Congratulations. Well done. Now, please stop.

I try to picture the process by which an editor chooses that particular headline. It’s late at night, he’s editing a story about the Astros sinking in the standings. He has his index finger pressed firmly against his chin. He’s looking up at the ceiling, deep in thought. And then it hits him. His eyes light up. Yes. Yes. Yes. He smiles. He types. He inwardly congratulates himself for coming up with the most clever play on words in the history of the English language.

Houston, he writes. We Have a Problem.

Hahahahahahahaha!

How has no one thought of this before? he wonders. It’s perfect. Four decades ago, the Apollo 13 space mission was aborted because of an exploding oxygen tank, and the astronauts inside sent a message back to the command center: “Houston, we have a problem.” And now, a Houston sports team stinks.

Using “Houston, We Have a Problem” solves two issues: It is a quick fix — a convenient headline to slap onto a story and call it a night. It also allows for the editor to have to spend no time actually coming up with something creative. Or timely.

The Astros are getting a lot of national attention lately, and I do not begrudge the writers from jumping on this story. It’s not easy to do what the Astros are pulling off, losing at such an alarming pace that although they were within a game of .500 as late as the end of May, they’re now on pace to surpass last year’s club record 106 losses. It’s mind-boggling. So I understand the need to follow along.

While the Astros are being shoved into the unfortunate national spotlight, this seems like as good a time as any to try to at least attempt to ceremoniously retire “Houston, we have a problem.” Heck, if the Rangers can launch an entire in-stadium campaign to kill the Wave, the least we can do in the Bayou City is wipe out a worn-out cliched phrase that should have gone away around the same time The Brady Bunch went off the air.

The phrase isn’t even accurate. The actual words uttered by the Apollo 13 crew were “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” That is less dramatic, obviously, because it indicates there was a problem, but there isn’t one anymore. That wouldn’t work for headline purposes. Readers aren’t going to be nearly as interested if they think the problem that once existed has been solved.

So, “Houston, We Have a Problem” works better. And the Astros have complied over the years by giving the headline writers plenty of opportunities to use it. Consider:

2000 — The Astros, coming off three straight division titles, move into their gorgeous new downtown ballpark and spend the first half of the season on pace to lose 120 games.

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

2001 — Larry Dierker, in his fifth year of managing, watches his Astros get swept, again, in the Division Series. Rumors swirl that he will be fired. He is.

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

2004 — Roy Oswalt and Michael Barrett have a contentious relationship, which creates friction between the Astros and Cubs and adds a delicious subplot every time the two teams meet. Oswalt throws at Barrett during a game at Minute Maid Park, is ejected, and Jeff Bagwell gets mad at Oswalt for getting thrown out of a game during a time the Astros are making a push for the Wild Card. Bagwell’s never spoken out against a teammate, ever. Houston media is all over it. (No, not really.)

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

2006 — Coming off a World Series appearance, the Astros cannot recapture the magic and are not in any kind of race, until the last week of the season when the Cardinals help out by putting together an eight-day nose dive.

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

2007 — the team is worse, and Phil Garner is fired.

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

2008 — hellooooo Hurricane Ike.

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

2009 — the oldest roster in baseball costs $100 million and finishes fifth.

“Houston, We Have a Problem.”

In short, we get it. Houston is the Space City. Astronauts live here. There are times when the Houston sports teams aren’t very good. “Houston, We Have a Problem” was once clever and apropos.

In 1972-ish.

Isn’t it time to move on?

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Life on the road can create bleary eyes and blurry memories.

I had to chuckle when I read this excerpt from Astros radio announcer Dave Raymond’s blog illustrating how the “Dog Days” of summer can wear out those who travel with a Major League ball club.

The effects from a restful All-Star break usually wear off within a week or two, and by the time August arrives, full-out fatigue has set in. Middle-of-the-night arrivals take on a whole new life when you’re four months into baseball season. You wake up in the morning and have no idea what city you’re in. You get back to the hotel after a game and can’t remember your room number.

Or, as illustrated in Raymond’s blog, you can pull a Bill “Brownie” Brown and try to use your Starbucks gift card to get into your hotel room, fail miserably, lug your belongings back to the front desk, pull out your driver’s license and get a new key, only to discover the original one would have worked just fine.

I kid because I care. And because I’ve been there before. A lot. Regardless of how spry and able-bodied you are, from time to time, you will have a senior moment. It’s not cause for alarm. It’s just that with around 60 games left in the season, baseball people start running on fumes. Some get through it better than others, but forgetfulness is a common symptom, across the board. It’s not so much, “What time is it?” as it is “What day is it?”

I recall one particularly harrowing roadie way, way back in 1999. The Astros played a Thursday night game in Arizona that, of course, went 11 innings, followed by an overnight flight to Kansas City. The buses pulled up to the hotel in Kansas City around 7 a.m. The sun was up. Rush hour traffic was in full force. And the Astros hadn’t been to bed yet.

I was working for the Astros’ media relations department at the time, and a local radio station that did a weekly segment with Ken Caminiti every Friday asked me to send along a message to Cammy to remind him to call in later that day. The hosts sensed that with the early morning arrival and no real concept of one day becoming the next, this could be an issue for the third baseman.

They were right. I saw Caminiti on the team bus and said, “Don’t forget to call the radio station for your show today.” He shook his and said, “I do the show on Fridays.” I said, “Cammy. It is Friday.”

Blank stare. Then a slap of the forehead. “Ohhhhhh….right.”

After the game, the team bus dropped us off at the hotel and I stood at the elevators, having no idea, at all, what floor I was on or what room I was in. That was the first time it happened. It most certainly wasn’t the last.

As recently as two years ago (or was it last year?) I worked a little later after a game at Wrigley Field, took a cab back to the hotel and couldn’t for the life of me remember what floor I was staying on. I stopped on six. Then eight. Then six again. I ran into Ed Wade on one of my stops and said, “I have absolutely no idea where I am.” He looked amused, but not surprised.

Finally I called the one person who I was certain would sympathize with my plight — Dave Raymond, of course. I asked him to look at the rooming list and tell me where to go.

I would have felt foolish, if not for the fact that I was fairly certain I wasn’t the only one who this happens to. Reading that it happens to people like the astute and organized Brownie was oddly comforting.

______________

How well you hold up during a season is largely contingent on how well your team is positioned in the standings. That’s just how it is. Losing has a ripple effect. When your team is not anywhere close to a pennant race, it’s hard to stay perky in August and September, even with Starbucks locations on every street corner across the country.

But when you’re winning? Man, oh man. Nothing can ruin the mood. Exhaustion? Bah. The one thing I remember better than anything else about that aforementioned 11-inning game in Arizona in ’99 was that the Astros lost that game, and just before they began the boarding process for their red-eye to Kansas City, Mike Hampton stopped, busted out with his best attempt at the moon walk, cracked up his teammates and THEN got on the plane. Extra-inning losses are a lot more tolerable when it’s the only game you’ve dropped in a week.

Later that season, the Astros swept a Montreal-Philadelphia road trip and ended up stuck on the tarmac for at least five hours, maybe more, due to torrential downpours. Problem? Nah. Some played cards. Others watched movies. The broadcasters engaged in their usual two-hour fantasy baseball debate. Bench coach Matt Galante and I went toe-to-toe in a makeshift baseball trivia contest. We had pizzas delivered to the plane (this was pre-9/11) and everyone remained, for the most part, exceedingly happy.

That’s what happens when your team is in a pennant race. Baseball is fun. You like your colleagues. You can’t wait to get to the ballpark the next day.

When you’re losing…well, let’s just say the countdown to October takes on an entirely different meaning.

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Hair’s the deal: in Cincinnati, fans dig a good Marty Party.

If memory serves me, in the years after I graduated from the University of Cincinnati, I had several conversations with people from the Tri-State area about the city’s top sports figures.

It wasn’t so much about who were the best players. It was more about who, in the sports landscape, were the most revered. Who, if you will, “owned” the town?

Back then, in the early to mid-1990s, the Reds had both good years and terrible years, the Bengals were unspeakably awful, and with no NBA team to dump on and the only hockey in town being of a minor league variety, there wasn’t much going, sports-wise. At that time, the one team with the most national prominence was UC men’s basketball, a perennial high seed in the tournament and really, at the time, the toast of the town.

So, in my estimation, there were three sports figures in Cincinnati at that time that were revered in the eyes of the public. They were, in no particular order: UC men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman.

Back in the old days, it really didn’t matter if the Reds were good or bad (which was good, because some years were just really, really bad). Listening to Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall on the radio was just something you did. You listened in the car. You listened while hanging out at the pool. You listened when you were close to home and, thanks to 700 WLW’s ability to be picked up hundreds of miles from home, you could also listen during the long rides that inevitably accompanied any family vacation.

The broadcasts were never boring. Brennaman’s candid assessments and picture-perfect descriptions made even the snoozers interesting. He was, and continues to be, one of the only radio broadcasters in baseball who willingly will go against the establishment to criticize the team when warranted. His observations often infuriated star players, not to mention ownership (how many times did Marge Schott tried to rid herself of him?). It didn’t matter. Marty always prevailed, because he told it like he saw it, and in turn, he was radio gold for listeners. He was as untouchable as you can get without actually wearing the uniform.

Anyhoo, Marty became the Reds’ full-time announcer when I was not yet three years old, so, for the most part, he’s been calling Reds games my entire life. A few things haven’t changed in his 40-plus years of broadcasting: his booming voice, his popularity, and, well, his hair.

Marty has a lot of hair. He always has. I’m fairly certain it hasn’t always been white, but I have no memory of that, so I have to assume it changed color when he was still a relatively young man. Marty’s hair has always been a signature trait, which I guess is a funny thing to say about a guy who makes his living on the radio. But Marty didn’t hide behind the mic. For a radio guy, he was (and is) everywhere.

About a week ago, the surging Reds were attempting to extend a winning streak to an unthinkable 10 games, and Marty cast his doubts on the team’s ability to carry it out. A Reds coach asked him if he’d shave his head if the team won that night, and Marty said, “Sure.”

I’ll be honest, I never understood why sports-related streaks make so many normally well-reasoned folks want to suddenly challenge their friends to shave their heads. I’ve been in situations where some brazen so-and-so will propose some silly bet about where a team will finish in the standings, and invariably, it’s always the same proposed wager: “If I win, you have to shave your head.” It’s stupid. It irks me in the same way as watching four college-age men at a sports venue in say, San Diego, dancing around for the cameras with their shirts off. It’s a balmy 70 degrees and they’re — gasp! — shirtless? They must be really, really…cold?

Still, when I first heard about this proposed challenge, I pictured Marty and his iconic poofy white hair and tried to imagine what he might look like without it. I thought, this, I have to see.

The Reds won that night, and the focus temporarily shifted from Marty calling the game to Marty to paying up. To make sure this gesture had a point, a stipulation was added: If enough fans ponied up the cash to reach $20,000 for the Reds Community Fund and Joe Nuxhall Character Fund, the shaving would happen on the field, after the game, in front of the fans. If they didn’t raise the cash, the shaving would still go on — just in the privacy of the Reds clubhouse, away from the glare of Marty’s dome the public spotlight.

Reds fans didn’t raise 20 grand — they raised 50. Charlie Sheen, a long-time Reds fan whose dad, Martin, is originally from nearby Dayton, Ohio, added another $50,000. That’s 100 grand, all for charity, all to celebrate one very beloved local celebrity who transitioned from “poofy-haired fancy boy” to shiny-headed bald guy.

Marty always did own that town. Glad to see some things never change.

Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer

Photo: Jamie Ramsey

My top five most interesting facts about the Marty Party that I learned from watching this video:

1. Marty is quite tan throughout the season. His head, however, had some catching up to do after he parted with his hair. No worries. Marty’s plan for the team’s pending trip to Milwaukee was to spend ample time on the golf course, sans hat.
2. Not only did the act of Marty having his head shaved bring in money, the shaved hair was also auctioned off, for charity. Could make for an interesting decoration on some lucky fan’s mantle, but I’d keep it away from the Christmas lights.
3. Marty had his personal barber of 23 years do the shaving. Many Reds players initially offered to help out, but were rebuffed.
4. Marty fully admits he loves his hair and apparently doesn’t mind singing it from the rooftops. He was quoted as saying, “No one has had a more passionate love affair with his hair than me.” Intense.
5. It took six minutes and 13 seconds to shave the head, from start to finish — five minutes, 27 seconds longer than it takes for the average American man to have his head shaved. (No, not really).

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers