“They were… BETTER than I was” – the phenom admitted

Annie Get Gun 3
BobLee
June22/ 2017

“They were bigger, faster, BETTER than I was…” the phenom admitted.

Today’s discussion requires a “set-up”. Bear with me.  It is quite AWESOME.

Back in 2006 I wrote The Boys of Post 9. It was about an American Legion baseball team in Charlotte in 1964-65. Their team and individual stories are still “the stuff of legends” for those still fogging mirrors in Greater Mecklenburg.Clint Courtney

Last year I asked Where Have You Gone Harper Cooper – my first baseball hero. Harper Cooper was the back-up catcher for the Kinston Eagles in 1962 – a Class A farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He “was nice” to a kid (me) who hung out down around the home team’s bullpen.

STOP!  BobLee, that’s a picture of Clint Courtney.  Yeah, I know. There are no pictures of Harper. “Scrap Iron” was his idol, they both were catchers and wore glasses.  Harper said it was OK…

He had been a high school “phenom” in his east Tennessee home town. 1962 would be his swan song as a professional baseball player. The small town phenom never got to The Show.

Within six hours of posting that column I HEARD FROM HARPER COOPER. No clue how. He lives in Arlington TX and, in his mid 70s, is a flight instructor apply monikered “Skye King”. We email frequently on all matters re: baseball.

Earlier this week I sent Harper a Cardinals’ piece I did recently “Once They all were Phenoms” and also the piece about “The Boys of Post 9”.

Harper’s reply:

The summer of 1957 my American Legion team went to the state finals and lost it in the 9th. But, that year we had a trip to St Louis to watch the Cards (Musial,et al) and to play the national American Legion champs from the year before.

That’s when I realized there were kids out there that were bigger, faster, better than me and the kids I played with. Even those never made it to the Big Time.

 ##

As I read that I went WHOA is that ever an awesome topic or WHAT!

When a local phenom realizes the world is full of phenoms and many/most more “phenomenal” that he/she is.

Millville NJ is smaller than Harper’s home town. Millville had a phenom in 2009. His name is Mike Trout.

MikeTrout is recognized today as The Best Baseball Player on Earth. Mike Trout is PHENOMENAL.

Between Harper Cooper and Mike Trout there are a bazillion stories of a bazillion local “phenoms”. Every phenom has a dream.

This is not “a baseball story” or “a sports story”. This “a Life story”.

#

In 1969 Cape Girardeau (MO) Central High School’s school play was Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun.Annie Oakley

The lead role of Annie Oakley was played by a willowy blond named Susan Stiegemeyer.

Her jealous rivals insist she got the role because, as a natural blond, the school would not need to purchase a wig. For want of a wig… a star was born.

There were only four performances in the school’s auditorium. By the 4th night, it was SRO and “the Talk of the Town”.

Legend as it if you sit in the exact center of that auditorium, today, and listen carefully, you can still hear “… I can do anything better than you” and, of course, “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun”.

Barge captains floating by on The Mississippi during The Grand Finale swear they heard her.

Her proud parents and three brothers swear to this day, the Standing O for “Annie’s” curtain call was “at least ten minutes… maybe longer”. A “phenom” was born that weekend.

The Great White Way… Hollywood… for sure The Muni Opera at St. Louis’ Forest Park awaited Cape Girardeau’s acting “phenom”.

Alas… majoring in drama at Southeast Missouri State University soon convinced our budding diva that “people in show biz are all freakin’ nutz”.

So instead she became a “political operative”(?) and married an Internet Legend 33 years ago.

Her call sign is “Blondie”. A reminder that “they didn’t have to purchase a wig”.

#

I have discussed versions of “phenom meets reality” with Duke’s FB AA Leo Hart and UNC’s Danny Talbott… and many others.

They, like Harper, vividly recall when they looked around and “everyone was bigger and better than I was”.

I recall UNC Football in the late 60s… freshmen FBer check-in day in mid-August. All the “highly touted recruits” taking the next step on their sports careers. Many wearing their high school letter jackets covered in pins and medals attesting to their high school BMOC glory.

They would look around and everyone had a similar BMOC jacket. A roomful of phenoms. Those jackets were quickly put away and never seen again.Don McCauley

UNC legend Don McCauley still recalls his first day on UNC’s Navy Field as a raw rookie “phenom” from Garden City LI. Don and a few other “frosh” were sent over to Field #1 as human tackling dummies for the varsity.

“I’ll never forget how big and fast they were. I had never been hit so hard on a football field. I KNEW I had made a mistake. I was ready to go back home…”

For the record, UNC FB in the late 60s was far from “a juggernaut” but it was not Garden City LI.   Don reconsidered after that first experience and the rest is history… a consensus All American and a 10-year career with the Baltimore Colts.

Some “phenoms” do make it.

We return to Blondie’s show biz world for a closing analogy.

“For every light on Broadway there is a broken dream…

and a phenom who “coulda been a contenda”

Is it better to have been a phenom who missed the brass ring… or never been a phenom at all?  What do YOU think?

##

As seems to be happening a lot these days… there be BIG CHANGES AFOOT around here.  Full details when the paint’s all dry.


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BobLee
  • CNR Reply
    4 weeks ago

    Blondie is St. Louis born and Cape raised, a tough combination. Never have I met anyone from the Cape that was not top drawer. We had a top trainer from the Cape named Joe Brown who stood up for the right often against Adolph Fredrick Rupp. We have meant to ask Blondie if she was acquainted with Joe whom I believe graduated from HS in ’57 or ’58. He had graduated from SE MO the year he joined us in Lexington in the fall of 1962. He became a professor at the University of Cincinnati sometime in the second half of the sixties, teaching kinesiology.
    .
    There is no doubt in my mind that if Blondie wanted a musical career she would be successful.
    .
    BL, the Boys of Post 9 were champions seven years after my final legion coaching year which was 1958. Did Tony Cloninger play legion in Charlotte back in the late fifties? We all knew that North Carolina would be sending a great team to the national finals, especially those teams from the Charlotte area, including the area into South Carolina.
    .
    North Carolina will always be a special place for me as some of my most joyful moments were spent with NC natives or on trips to the state for the old Dixie Classic, recruiting in New Bern and Kinston, visiting with Coach Case in Raleigh during my junior and senior seasons, and as a youngster as a guest of Jimmy Brown, a great Cardinal from the tail end of the Gas House Gang and the following St. Louis Swifties World Champions of nineteen and forty-two.
    .
    My three favorite Cardinals during my early years were Bill DeLaney, Jimmy Brown, and Enos Slaughter. Country gave me my favorite thrill in baseball back in ’46 when he came around third having no intention of stopping. We were sitting on the third base side of the Cardinal dugout with the 1926 Cardinal champions when he rounded second like the Wabash Cannon Ball. The entire section jumped up when they could tell in his eyes that in no way was he stopping at third. Someone yelled while he was halfway to third, ‘Here he comes, he ain’t stoppin!’ Three Red Sox outs and the Cards had another WS Championships.
    .
    Bill DeLancey was a catcher on the ’34 WS Champs. I was only two that year. He was from Greensboro. Mr. DeLancey played two more years with TB. He taught me what courage meant. He was only twenty-two in ’34. He passed away shortly after the ’46 championship. He was considered by many to be the equal of Cochrane and Dickey. Mr. Rickey placed him on his all time team before he died.
    .
    BK, you are being too humble. I’ve been told by several that you were a heck of a good hitter while in HS and at State. Would have loved to have had you on my teams. Catchers win championships.
    ,
    “68”. You made my list when you were so proud of your son being admitted to Georgia Tech. I read everything you say and understand it all. Your mind is quicker than your fingers.
    .
    In my opinion Mike Trout is not Josh Hamilton. In point of fact he has been taken out of games in the late innings for defensive purposes. LA hype is powerful. He is great but not as great as Josh was at his best when clean.
    .
    DM Carpenter: Dad, nothing beats being a great Dad and husband. You are a phenom.

    • Doug Reply
      4 weeks ago

      A special treat when CNR brings it.

      • BobLee Reply
        4 weeks ago

        I do worry about him praising BK and ’68. That could lead to trouble with “two big heads” getting even bigger. 🙂

        • NCSU68Grad Reply
          4 weeks ago

          CNR,
          Thanks for the kind words. My Navajo code talking friend Clint will be concerned you might cut into his translating revenue… 🙂
          Son is traveling with us. Headed back to Boston later in week. Took a boat ride and he saw the exalted Kennedy compound and toured the JFK library.
          On way down will view the Bush Compound. Trivia….local legend in Kennebunkport is that the Secret Service planted a GMO variety of Poison Oak/Ivey at the “viewing point” to discourage tourists or perhaps snipers. Last time we were there, it was literally covered with the leaves of three and folks seemed to be oblivious as the kids were rolling around in it….will see how it has fared since 2014.
          BL,
          Thanks for the concerns about potential cranium expansion. I am happy to report that my 1986 (7 3/8) Tilley (Original Canvas) still fits as nicely as my 2017 Tilley with the air vent panel. I also promise to continue restraint in the word count. In Bellfast, ME and it is beautiful here. No one talking about ORC or ORW or TGU. At nice CG owned by some folks originally from NC – trying to have a retirement income here so they can snowbird in Florida….Front row site with stunning view of Penobscot Bay….

  • Doug Reply
    4 weeks ago

    You’re right but I also love exceptions to the bigger, faster, stronger rule. In 1978, the Boston Celtics drafted a little-known junior eligible phenom player from Indiana State named Larry Bird with the sixth pick in the first round. Very few remember that he chose to go back to IS for his senior year before joining the Celtics in 1979. His IS team went 33-0 before running into another phenom named Ervin Johnson. LB was considered, too slow, a below average leaper, with just average upper body strength. Bottom line. He was too white. Neither Tom Brady or Johnny Unitas,Joe Montana, or Russell Wilson were considered locks to make it in the NFL either but it worked out OK for them. These guys had IT whatever IT is. Phenom’s; Some sizzle, some fizzle. Maybe a piece on unlikely ones that somehow against the odds became extraordinary. Reminds me of extraordinary ordinary people you wrote about awhile back. A goody too.

    • BobLee Reply
      4 weeks ago

      That would be Mr. McLamb. I have attended funerals at First Baptist Church on Riley Road for many extraordinary ordinary men and women in recent years. Kinston had had its share… as have many Downeast communities.
      .
      You are talking about “Anti-phenoms”… the Untouteds. When they “hit the wall” the pain is not so acute.

    • CNR Reply
      4 weeks ago

      Great call! How about Yogi?

      • BobLee Reply
        4 weeks ago

        Gabby Hartnett ? 😎

        • CNR Reply
          4 weeks ago

          Gabby’s homer in the gloamin’ wins ’38 pennant for Cubs. You can put Ernie Lombardi on the list. Great hitter who was slower than slow.

  • Former96heel Reply
    1 month ago

    Reading this makes me feel a little bad for college coaches, especially FB, where the squads are so big. Imagine having to go sell your product to hundreds of children every year, knowing if you are completely honest with them, you have zero chance of landing them. Most every single prospect thinks himself a phenom, and has had that reinforced for years by their coaches, teammates and family.

    • BobLee Reply
      1 month ago

      Its a giant pyramid. A little league phenom drops off in Jr Hi … or HS … or college … or pro.
      .
      “recruiting” is a disgusting con game. The coaches who have been at it awhile know the ones who are likely to ever see playing time versus “practice fodder”. They need both so they blow smoke at the practice fodder.

      • CNR Reply
        4 weeks ago

        Bingo!

        • BobLee Reply
          4 weeks ago

          BK just framed your compliment and hung it up in his Trophy Room next to his Watauga Medal from NCSU… and his George Whitfield Hall of Fame mega-plaque.

  • Bob Kennel Reply
    1 month ago

    Loved your “phenom” piece. Never had to worry too much about letting somebody down. Clint Courtney almost got me back to the good ole’ days.
    Great believer with friends and family that you need to take whatever skills you have to the furthest level possible so you don’t second guess yourself years later. You do need to know where you will “Peter Principle” out.
    Mine was minor league ball in part because of the obvious better, bigger, faster parameters. I quickly knew my limits in football at State as a second string tight end who had to try and tackle Dick Christy every day in practice for 4 years. Must have some record for most ever tackles on him (as well as bruises and busted shoulders — he was TOUGH!!).
    Sorry about the Cards current plight, even feel a little guilty about my Dodgers’ success streak. The Dodgers may have a rookie phenom themselves😎

    • BobLee Reply
      1 month ago

      There are “phenoms” in all sorts of vocations / avocations beyond sports. When one leaves their comfort zone and ventures out into the wide wide world. For every Mike Trout there must be 1000s of “big fish in small ponds”.
      .
      “The Greatest Fans in Baseball” are not dealing with “a down year” very well at all. Board monkeys is board monkeys is born monkeys… sigh.

  • NCSU68Grad Reply
    1 month ago

    Blondie’s “One Shining Moment” sounds cool and you both have fond memories. Your “phenom” story reminded me of one of my better (and there were a LOT of not so good) “presentations” during my career. We, the division Environmental Co-ordinators, had to make presentations on the new and recently enacted regulations. We had to do this to a group of about 100 plant managers or VP-Operations that were “compelled” to come to a three or four day seminar to “get to know each other”. The bars and topless places did a booming business.
    I drew the ugly time slot. 2nd presentation after lunch before the afternoon break. BRUTAL… Our head legal eagle had just made a LONG and Boring presentation on “Corporate Environmental Responsibility and the Plant Manager”. The guys were half asleep or whatever. However, SOME were making furious notes. All of a sudden, he lowered the BOOM and you could hear pencils drop….”There MAY come a time when we advise you (the Plant Manager) that YOU should seek and retain your OWN personal counsel as the Corporation will no longer represent YOU”….In other words….you Dumb whatever, you were too cheap and wanted to maximize your bonus and cut costs and polluted Podunk Creek and the Feds and the State and the DOJ and Barnie Fife showed up at 11:00 PM on Friday night and YOU, my friend, are in a HEAP of trouble and we ain’t gonna even acknowledge that we KNOW you and your are FIRED….YEP….that DID happen and the company paid a $5 Million fine…
    OK…back on point. The audience’s eyes were glazed over. I got up next and cracked the age old Lewis Grizzard’s “Brother, I don’t think I would have TOLD that” joke and used our pompous “Environmental Guru” as the Brother….That broke the tension and they actually listened to my spiel and learned something. When I would visit the plants outside my division to do an audit, they guy would say….”Hey, I know you….you made me laugh and I listened and I STILL understand Form R reporting”. Sometimes you are on a roll and sound like Jimmy V…sometimes NOT…but I had a few more Phenom speeches over the years to some plants and would get comments on my next visit or so that my “talks” changed some environmental and safety habits and work routines and that the planet was a little less polluted and folks retired with all their pieces parts working…..
    I have also made a few phenom speeches to my grown up kids and they told me years later that I made a difference….little things to fondly remember as you age on….

  • rivlax Reply
    1 month ago

    Would LOVE to have seen Blondie belt out “There’s No Business Like Show Business” a la Ethel Merman. I bet they still talk about it in Cape G.

    • BobLee Reply
      1 month ago

      She can still do it…. in the shower.
      >
      “There’s No Biz Like …” is my ringtone for her.

  • DM Carpenter Reply
    1 month ago

    I am Father to my children. Husband to my wife. The oldest child is now 13. The youngest turns 12 Sunday. The kids have started to see that Dad’s feet may have a little clay, but I am still ‘Daddy’.

    I have been a ‘College Athlete’ (OK, I was a shooter, 3 position smallbore and air rifle, but still on an ACC team.). I have led American Infantrymen. I have succeeded. I have screwed up. I have caught a ring or two. I have fallen dead on my ass a few times.

    “Daddy” is best I could ever want.

    • BobLee Reply
      1 month ago

      Doesn’t get any better than “Daddy” …

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