Every time you made me blue,
You'd have a room full of horsesh. . . shoes
--Old ditty, origin best left unknown
Bob Broeg, a frustrated sandlot player who had become a baseball writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, grabbed the 3-foot-7, 65-pound Gaedel by the waist with both hands, lifted him up and sat him down on a counter next to Broeg's typewriter.
"You SOB," Broeg said.
Gaedel, not knowing what to say, looked at Broeg quizically.
"You've just become what I always wanted to become, and will never become," Broeg said.
The speechless Gaedel finally said something. "What's that?" he said.
"A big-league ballplayer," Broeg said. "Damn you."
Gaedel was a big-leaguer for one day, one game, one base on balls, but I thought of this story the other day, after a man named John Placzankis became a millionaire by throwing a ringer in Santa Anita's annual St. Patrick's Day horseshoe-pitching contest. No one had ever thrown a ringer in the contest before.
I could have been Placzankis. In fact, I almost was Placzankis, three times.
In the early days of the St. Paddy's Day promotion--it must have been in the 1980s--Santa Anita tried to build enthusiam for the event by bringing in a champion horseshoe pitcher, and also holding a competition just for the media. All of this between races. The professional pitcher would dazzle the crowd by throwing ringer after ringer. He was machine-like. I think he hit 10 in a row at one point. He even threw a few ringers blindfolded.
Then they turned the media members loose. About a dozen of us lined up in the stretch of the racetrack, the stake about 40 feet away. Thousands of people were in the stands, and there was no smell of confidence in the air. With no warmups, we each got one try.
I was toward the back of the line, and those ahead of me were miserable. They weren't coming close, and what's more, all of their pitches were way short of the stake. It was embarrassing.
The crowd was unforgiving. I started to realize how a jockey felt when he dismounted after finishing up the track on a 4-to-5 shot. Every time one of the guys fell several feet short of the stake, the catcalls got louder. The operative word, which won't be spelled out here, had five letters, two syllables, started with the letter "p" and was intended to impugn our manhood.
Tim Conway was the emcee, standing beside us with a microphone, and for this occasion he seemed to be using material borrowed from Don Rickles.
When it came my turn, I was determined not to be short with my toss. I might throw this sucker into the clubhouse turn, I told myself, but I wasn't going to be short. They weren't going to be able to use the p-word on me.
I took the shoe, went into my pendulum motion and let it fly. It wasn't a ringer, but it was close, landing just in front of the stake. Conway was dumbfounded. The crowd turned appreciative. No one behind me came as close, and I was declared the winner of the contest. I got to send $500 to my favorite cause, which was the Don MacBeth fund for disabled jockeys.
The next year, I won again. DON'T BE SHORT was my mantra, and I once more tossed the closest shoe. Another $500 went to the jockeys' fund. I wound up winning three out of four years, and the only year I didn't win was when I was out of town and unable to participate. There's a picture, with Conway standing alongside, of my winning one time without removing my sportcoat.
I was disappointed when no one called to invite me to join the pro tour. Maybe they didn't have one.
Then, unexpectedly, Santa Anita cancelled the media phase of the annual horseshoe pitch. Everybody in the press box wanted to know why. "They couldn't stand me winning one more time," I said.