Monday, November 21, 2016

It Happens Every Spring: Baseball's Infamous Relationships

Baseball fans were shocked by last week's tweet from Kate Upton about Justin Verlander losing the Cy Young Award vote. It wasn't the fact that a supermodel would express displeasure with voters for a baseball award or even her choice of verbiage that surprised them, however, it was the simple realization that here was news of a baseball player and his significant other that, for once, did not spell doom for the ballplayer. She was merely supporting her guy; which is always nice.

Fans have unfortunately grown accustomed over the years that when something involving a baseball player and his spouse or girlfriend hits the news it is invariably of such depravity and disgrace that fans must force themselves to watch and read about it over and over (and over and over).

I thought this might be a good time to review some of these unfortunate events if for no other reason than the season is over and there are no more games to talk about.

Alex Rodriguez eats popcorn:

Forget about the sulking postseason slumps, the steroid allegations and everything else. The single reason most baseball fans hated A-Rod was the unwanted spectacle of the camera catching his then-best girl Cameron Diaz feeding him popcorn during Super Bowl XLV in 2011. The sight of baseball's highest paid player smugly enjoying such contrived, domestic pseudo-bliss with a gorgeous actress was too much for anyone to bear without yakking in their nachos.

But in A-Rod's defense, what would you do? Some guys just like popcorn.

Leo Durocher-Laraine Day

At the time Leo was the headline-grabbing, much-reviled manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Prematurely bald, loud, rude and selfish, he was also a snazzy dresser and reeked of confidence and masculinity. Since he was known to never lack for female companionship, apparently these latter qualities were considered somewhat desirable to the opposite sex when weighed against the former.

Laraine Day was a pretty young actress who starred in a number of B-level mediocre films, most notably seven Doctor Kildaire flicks as the main character's fiance. She and Leo met, and, in the manner of all classic stories, fell in love.

One slight technicality: Day was married with three adopted children at the time.

Nevertheless, in late 1946 the 26-year-old Day abruptly filed for divorce in California and took up with 41-year-old Leo the Lip. Divorce was not something to be entered into and obtained easily in those days. When she learned that state law required a one-year cooling-off period of separation, Day scurried to Mexico for a quickee divorce in December and married Leo there. There were complications as it would be a year before her divorce and new marriage would be recognized in the states.

Day's ex-husband, as might be expected from the jilted husband of a girl who looks that good in a nursing cap, was not pleased by the whole monkey business. He complained to reporters that Leo was not a fit or proper person to associate with and accused Leo of "dishonorable and ungentlemanly conduct" with his wife (anyone who had ever played baseball for or against Durocher would have wholeheartedly agreed with him on both accounts). Leo, who steadfastly believed that all was fair in love and war and baseball, neither denied nor apologized for anything.

The scandal mushroomed in newspaper print. In February, 1947, the Catholic Youth Organization publicly denounced Leo's behavior as a poor example for youngsters and withdrew its support for the Dodger's Knothole Gang. Meanwhile, Durocher had already been suspected by the baseball commissioner's office of hanging out with undesirable gambling figures and he also became caught up in some skulduggery between the Yankee's Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey. The end result (anyone can draw a conclusion as to which of the problems was the main cause) was that Leo was suspended by Commissioner Chandler for the year.

For her part, Laraine quickly charmed sportswriters and her new husband's players. Although there were later reports of some hard feelings due to disparaging remarks about players and umpires on her radio show, she became known as the "First lady of baseball."

The marriage, much to the amazement of anyone who knew Leo from the baseball field, lasted until 1960.

Johnny Bench's first marriage

In the early 1970s Johnny Bench was generally acknowledged as the most eligible bachelor in sports not named Joe Namath. He was perpetually seen with blond models on his arm and, in a nod to his hometown of Binger, Oklahoma, was referred to as the Swinger from Binger; and the name had nothing to do with his ability with a bat.

By the winter of 1974, the 27-year-old Bench had already appeared in seven All-Star games, won seven Gold Gloves, two Most Valuable Player Awards, two home run titles and three RBI titles. He owned the burg of Cincinnati.

In January, 1975 Bench made the grand announcement that he had become engaged and would be married in a few weeks. The mournful wail of gnashing of teeth loudly echoed throughout the Ohio Valley as female baseball fans learned the news. Several even called the Reds' office and demanded a refund for their season tickets.

The anguish of disappointed ladies-in-waiting notwithstanding, the news was otherwise greatly celebrated in the Queen City. It was as if a royal prince had ventured forth and returned to the realm bearing a princess.

Peasants of the Kingdom were informed that the lucky bride-to-be was Vickie Chesser, a former Miss South Carolina, 1970 Miss USA Runner-up and Ultrabrite toothpaste model.

The last title was not insignificant in the mid-70s, Ultrabrite toothpaste commercials, proclaiming to add sex appeal, had been the launching board for such luminaries as future Charilie's Angels Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Ladd.

The whole affair dominated Cincinnati society columns, and the thoughts of the good citizens, for weeks. Vickie was feted at a never-ending parade of cocktails and dinners.

Details of the whirlwind courtship emerged in the newspaper and were fawned over by all. The uber-confident Bench had seen Vickie on TV, got her phone number from a friend and cold-called her apartment in New York City (not a baseball fan, she'd never heard of him) and convinced her to fly to Cincinnati to meet him for a date. The couple soon flew to Las Vegas to become better acquainted over the New Years weekend. By January 21 they were engaged. Vickie proclaimed to reporters that it was a "fairy tale love story."

The marriage was billed as the social event of the decade--perhaps the century--in Cincinnati and indeed it was. Some were disappointed to find out local TV was not carrying the event live. The much-talked-about guest list, which one Cincinnati Society column writer joked included "only the immediate city," actually included President Gerald Ford, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Joe DiMaggio and Jonathan Winters (they all sent their regrets).

The marriage took place February 21, 1975. More than 800 attended the ceremony, while a crowd estimated at 400 stood outside the church hoping to catch a glimpse of royalty and soak up some of the aura. The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a four-column, half-page photo of the happy couple smooching on the next day's front page, above the fold.

They honeymooned in Tampa, while Johnny went to work in spring training. While there, Vickie thoroughly charmed all sportswriters. She cooed and giggled and remarked how cute and adorable Johnny was with his little hat turned backwards when he caught and how serious he and his little friends seemed to be as they chased the ball around the field. The middle-aged wags ate it up.

Unfortunately, the happiness was very shortlived. Apparently Vickie soon learned that the life of a baseball wife was not for her. By that fall observers noticed the couple was rarely seen together. By March, 1976, they announced they were divorcing.

Bench tried to take the high road and said publicly that it was a private matter, that they had agreed to disagree and refused to divulge any details or lay blame. Vickie, however, took a different approach.

She went public with a list of details and charges, mostly generic comments such as that he did not respect women and was  "a true tragedy as a person," but the most famous of her specific complaints was that he had spent their wedding night playing ping pong with the best man. Sources later revealed that this was a complete falsehood--it was actually the computer pong game that they played.

Vickie returned to New York City, ostensibly to resume her modeling career, but was never heard from again.

The divorce was settled in 1977, reportedly with the stipulation that neither would ever be allowed to speak or publish details of the marriage.

While it was an embarrassing episode for the highly-image-conscious Bench, he emerged relatively unscathed.

Joe Jackson's Baseball Girls.

Just to let you know that interpersonal relations between men and women did indeed exist before 1920, I present a scandalous story from Shoeless Joe's past. In the winter of 1915, trying to supplement his salary of $6,000 a year from the Cleveland Indians, Jackson toured the south with a vaudeville act billed as "Joe Jackson's Baseball Girls." The act featured several girls who may have passed for attractive in those days, various skits that may have passed for humor, along with Joe giving a monologue referred to by one writer as "a sob rendition of how he rose from a minor place in the cotton mill to a major place in the baseball world." This is what people did for entertainment in the years before they could sit at home and watch reality TV.

The faithful wife, Mrs. Katie Jackson, sitting at home with Joe's family in South Carolina during that winter, began to hear rumors drifting back that Joe was spending an inordinate amount of time after the shows with one of the "baseball girls." When Joe refused her demand to abandon the show and return home, stating that they had sold out the theater in Atlanta for two weeks running, Katie visited a lawyer and announced that she was considering filing for divorce--a notion so scandalous at the time that it was illegal in South Carolina (she would have had to file in their summer residence of Cuyahoga County, Ohio). Not leaving it with only that threat, Katie went to the sheriff of Greenville, South Carolina and swore out a warrant to have Joe, as a wayward husband, brought back home.

The sheriff dutifully took a train to Atlanta, went to Joe's hotel and served the warrant. Joe agreed and quickly packed his bags but on the walk to the station, the sheriff said something that angered the ballplayer and a scuffle ensued. The sheriff was KOed with one or two punches and Joe walked away.

Joe later reconsidered, boarded a train to Greenville, reported first to the sheriff to answer the legal charges, and then went home to face a much grimmer fate at the hands of his scorned wife. The whole scandal was much celebrated in papers of the day.

Joe and Katie quickly worked things out, however. All charges were dropped and the Jacksons lived a happy married life for the next 36 years; until death did them part.

The Fritz Peterson/Mike Kekich trade.

Fritz Peterson was a very good pitcher for the New York Yankees in the late '60s and early '70s. The lefthander won 20 games in 1970 and appeared in that year's All-Star game. And when the old Yankee Stadium was demolished years later, it was announced that Peterson, with a sparkling 2.52, had the all-time lowest ERA at the venerable House that Babe Built (Whitey Ford was second with 2.55). Unfortunately, casual baseball fans only know Peterson for a bit of off-field activity.

In March, 1973 Peterson and fellow Yankee pitcher (also lefthanded of course) Mike Kekich shocked the sports world by announcing that they were swapping wives, kids and dogs.

Kekich and Peterson had been friends and roommates since 1969 and their families had socialized together frequently. They noted that complicated feelings had developed and after intense consideration, came up with the plan for the trade. Peterson stated that they weren't just a bunch of swingers joining in the latest craze. He said that he hoped people "won't make anything sordid out of this."

But they did.

The deal made front-page news across the country. Most folks on the old side of the generational gap pointed to it as Exhibit A of the complete collapse of morals and western civilization being wrought by youngsters. Embarrassed club officials said little publicly, but apparently were willing to look the other way as long as the two helped their team win.

But it was not to be. The pair of pitchers endured boos and taunts all over the league and it appears their play suffered. Kekich, a mediocre pitcher before the swap, couldn't get anyone out, was sent to Cleveland before mid-season and his baseball career quickly fizzled. Peterson, who had averaged 17+ wins a year the previous four seasons, went 8-15 in 1973 and was traded to Cleveland in April, 1974, where he pitched fairly well, going 23-22 the next two years for a bad team.

Kekich, who enrolled in medical school after baseball and became a doctor, came out much worse on the trade. He and the former Mrs. Peterson did not stay together through the 1973 season.

Peterson and the former Mrs. Kekich, however, were still married after 42 years in 2015 when Peterson told an interviewer, "We're still having a blast."

Aroldis Chapman learns an important lesson (or did he?)

By the end of May, 2012, Chapman, aka the Cuban Missile, was the hottest thing in the majors. A 24-year-old, third-year lefty who lit up Juggs guns all over the league to the tune of 105 mph, he was sitting on a 6-year, $30 million contract and had not given up an earned run in his first 21 games of the season.

May 29, 2012, while the Reds played the Pirates, it was announced in a police report that a robber had ransacked Chapman's hotel room, tied up a 26-year-old female guest inside, and made off with a bag containing $200,000 worth of jewelry.

Hmmmm. Where do we start on this one? Guest? Jewelry? $200,000?

The "guest" said she answered a knock on the door to find a plumber who claimed to have been called for maintenance. Once inside, the plumber produced a gun and proceeded with his dastardly crime. Her story soon changed, however, to involve running into an unidentified man on the street who followed her back to the hotel. That one didn't stand up under questioning any better than the first.

Three weeks later police announced they were charging the lady, Claudia Marique, a stripper from Colombia, with false reporting. Her stories had continued to morph and she had failed a polygraph.

Turns out, she had been "dating" Chapman for a short time, meeting him at hotel stops around the league according to the Reds' schedule. It also turned out that she was married to someone else, but she defended herself by saying that the marriage wasn't important because it was only an arranged affair used for her to gain access to American soil. Also, she was apparently on the lamb because she owed thousands of bucks to a human smuggler.

She pleaded guilty in November, paid a menial $164 fine (police no doubt just happy to be rid of her) and went on her merry way. No mention was ever made about the jewelry.

Chapman, for his part, later told police he suspected she may have been in on the crime from the start (apparently the Reds were not paying him all that money for his ability to solve differential equations).

All of this raises the very important question every major league rookie should be asked each spring: "If you can't trust a married Colombian stripper to remain in your hotel room with $200,000 worth of jewelry while you are at the ballpark, who can you trust?"

Wade Boggs does more than eat chicken 

In the late '80s casual fans knew two things about Boggs: due to superstition, he ate chicken before every game and he was one of the best pure hitters in the game, routinely hitting around .350. Unfortunately, they soon learned more about Boggs than they ever wanted to. . .

Margo Adams, a self-professed mortgage broker, stated that she had met the married Boggs in a restaurant in 1984 and soon became his regular side-piece, traveling throughout the league to accompany him on the road, claiming as many as 64 trips in one year. The fun lasted until 1988 when Boggs, no longer enthralled with what he felt was becoming a hen-pecking, demanding "partner," broke things off and reneged on an agreement to compensate her for lost wages while she was chasing him around on the road.

Adams did not take the rejection well.

She filed a palimony suit, eventually seeking $12 million. Boggs charged her with blackmail, fearing the release of numerous pictures. The public eventually got much more than pictures.
While Adams did not collect on her exorbitant demands (the court threw out $11.5 million and she and Boggs settled the $500,000 for an undisclosed amount), she hit the jackpot by cashing in on her newfound celebrity. She crossed the country in 1989 appearing on all the talk shows: Donahue, Larry King, Geraldo, and more. She was introduced by Arsenio Hall as "the most notorious woman in America," and appeared in a salacious cover (or uncovered, depending on your point of view) story in Penthouse. She made $250,000 from Penthouse alone.

In all fairness to Adams, while there were those who considered her to be merely a bimbo spilling her guts for cash, she played the part very well and audiences loved her. She spared few details, was quick with double entendre one-liners and even claimed credit for his hitting prowess. "His [batting] average when [his wife] was with him was about .221," she said, "and his average when I was with him was .341." She openly compared Boggs' "talent" with that of another of her former baseball playing friends, Steve Garvey (hint: Boggs was a better singles hitter, but . . .).

She was swarmed by sportswriters at every stop. "What the hell, this is better than talking to Dwight Evans about his swing," quipped one Boston Globe writer.

Meanwhile, rather than take the time-honored ballplayer-defense of denying his butt off and verbally attacking his accuser, Boggs did a very strange thing: he admitted it and then went on television for an extended mea culpa. In a very disturbing and uncomfortable (for viewers) interview on 20/20 with Barbara Walters, sitting between her and his wife, who remained faithfully by his side for more that three decades, he admitted that he was a sex addict (baseball fans had never suspected that was even a thing).

While Adams was quickly forgotten, Bogg's reputation was never the same.

Wade, Wade, Wade. There are some things best left unsaid.

Chuck Finley gets bit by a whitesnake

Chuck Finley pitched in the major leagues for 16 years, compiled a record of 200-173 and is one of the best pitchers in California Angels history, but he will forever be known for the rocky ending to his five-year marriage to Ms. Tawny Kitaen.

Kitaen, who had previously been married to David Coverdale, leadsinger of the hairband Whitesnake, and famously slithered all over the hood of a car in their 1987 video "Here I Go Again," was arrested by Newport Beach, California police in April 2002 after a 911 call. She apparently had become enraged and began beating Finley with, among other things, a stiletto heel while he was driving their car.

Finley soon filed for divorce and the marriage ended. But the jokes and sneers at his expense did not. When he pitched in Chicago against the White Sox later that month, the director of stadium music queued up "Here I go Again" on the sound system (he was later fired and the team apologized), and late-night comics welcomed the addition to their material.

Kitaen, who also starred opposite a young Tom Hanks in the 1984 film Bachelor Party (their respective careers went in slightly different directions afterward) later underwent successful drug rehab and the couple, while no longer married, was reportedly on good terms when last heard from.

Eddie Waitkus becomes a natural

The Eddie Waitkus story is the granddaddy of all cautionary baseball-chick tales. Waitkus was a single, talented player for the Chicago Cubs and Phillies; an All-Star in 1948 and 1949. Waitkus had received four Bronze Stars for his participation in savage action in the Pacific during World War II, but this experience did little to prepare him for what happened in a Chicago hotel room in 1949.

 On the night of June 14, 1949, while the Phillies were in Chicago, the 29-year-old Waitkus returned to the team's hotel, the Edgewater Hotel, around 11 PM and found a note: "It's extremely important I see you as soon as possible. We're not acquainted but I have something of importance to speak to you about. Ruth Ann Burns, Room 1279-A."

Waitkus made his way to Room 1279-A where 19 year old Ruth Ann Steinhagen was waiting for him. He later noted that she had a fixed, almost zombie-like expression and acted somewhat peculiar when he entered. But enter he did and as he sat down she told him, "I have a surprise for you." She went to the closet and pulled out a .22 caliber rifle.

"For two years you've been bothering me," she said according to the New York Times account, "and now you're going to die." With that she shot Waitkus in the chest. She then called the hotel operator and to report the shooting and was found on her knees, cradling his head when authorities rushed to the room.

The news was sensational.

Steinhagen was arrested and charged, however, less than three weeks later a judge declared her insane and ordered her confined to a psychiatric hospital.

The story emerged of one of the earliest cases of criminal stalking. A Cubs fan, she had become infatuated with Waitkus when he played in Chicago. According to her family, she collected photos of Waitkus and talked about him incessantly. "I used to go to all the ballgames just to watch him," she later wrote in a court-ordered autobiographical statement. She suffered a breakdown when he was traded to the Phillies after the 1948 season. She began acting erratically and built an elaborate shrine to Waitkus in her room. Finally realizing that she could never meet him under normal circumstances, she resolved, "if I can't have him nobody else can."

She was declared cured and released after 3 years and lived quietly with family until her death in 2013.

Waitkus narrowly survived. The bullet pierced on of his lungs and lodged near his heart.

But he was back in the Phillies Opening Day lineup, going 3-for-5 to start the next season. Waitkus played six more years after the shooting, getting in the 1950 World Series but was never the same ball player. He reportedly never showed any anger toward Steinhagen, but instead accepted the fact that she was sick and he was the unfortunate victim.

After the Waitkus incident players all over the majors cautiously checked closets before entertaining female friends--at least for a few weeks.

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