Master comedian Bob Newhart has one egregious character flaw. Born in Oak Park 91 years ago, Newhart deviated from his father’s intelligent position as a White Sox fan and somehow fell to the depths of Cub fannery. Because he has led an otherwise exemplary life, many would forgive this foible, but those of us who are strong Sox fans will always look at him somewhat askance.
Newhart is brought into play for this piece because between his time as an accountant and his TV hits, he was a stand-up — OK, more of a sit-down — comedian whose albums topped the Billboard charts. His shtick was as the deadpan recipient of phone calls from the less than completely compos mentis. “The Driving Instructor” from his first album is one of the greatest comedy bits of all time. I can still remember some of it 60 years later.
It is with the inspiration of this brilliant Chicagoan, even if he is a Cubs fan, that we move on to:
The phone call
Hahn ... yes, this is Rick Hahn.
No, it’s not the Chicago Bulls office. I’m the general manager of the White Sox.
Oh, it’s you Mr. Reinsdorf. Yes, you did approve me getting the job, and thank you. To what do I owe the honor of this call?
You haven’t fallen again and can’t get up, have you? Don’t worry, I can call 911 for you, they know the address. But, in the future, you know you can just push the button on that little thing we gave you ... no, no we didn’t charge it to the team account, folks in the office just all chipped in ... Yes, we would have unloaded that on the taxpayers as usual, but it didn’t seem worth going to all that trouble.
But if that’s not why you called, how can I help you, sir ... shoes need shining again?
Oh, the manager search. Yes, sir, working very hard on that, very hard indeed, looking for the best poss ...
Oh, you have some ideas? That’s terrific, sir, always glad to hear ...
You’re tired of your teams not winning anything? Well, yes, sir, we are, too, and we’re working very hard, very hard day and night to do ... oh, you have a new direction for winning?
Instead of trying to win baseball or basketball trophies, which is really hard and expensive, you have another award in mind, a much easier one because there are lots of them every year? Excellent idea, sir, but what would that award be?
The Tonys? You mean the Broadway ... no, sir, I don’t think it’s given to you for having a manager named Tony. I think it has something to do with ... of course, sir, someone named Tony as manager would certainly increase our chances. I don’t suppose you have any particular Tony in mind?
The singer? What singer would that be, sir? Toni Tennille and Toni Braxton are women, which would be very trend-setting, but ... the nice young man who sang I Left My Heart in San Francisco? Oh, Tony Bennett. Yes, sir, I’ve always liked him as well, but he is 94 ... no, no, sir, 94 isn’t old at all, but perhaps he wouldn’t want to make a career change at that age, because he’s never had anything to do with baseball.
Yes, sir, it’s certainly true that we could save some money by having him double by singing the National Anthem and Take Me Out to the Ball Game, but perhaps some other Tony would ... the nice Perkins boy? Psycho? No, sir, no, sir, no, no, no, no, no, sir ... I wasn’t calling you psycho, not at all, sir, I was referring to that nice Perkins boy’s most famous role. In the Hitchcock movie, where he was a crazy murderer.
Yes, sir, killing the opposition is always a good thing in a manager, but unfortunately, Mr. Perkins died back in 1992 ... what? ... so sorry, I forgot we can never use that word around you ... went to the great beyond in 1992, so he’s not currently available. No, sir, not even on a one-year contract ... with or without club option ...
The Hannibal guy? You mean Anthony Hopkins? Of course you know him as Tony, sir ... yes, sir, very fine actor indeed. British, though. Might not get a work permit for baseball. And he is 82 ... yes, of course you call him “Sonny,” sir. Thing is, though, Mr. Reinsdorf, while Mr. Hopkins has had many noted roles, he’s really most famous for, as you say, Silence of the Lambs, where he plays Hannibal Lecter ... yes, I get the strong point of the killing thing, sir, but Mr. Lecter was a cannibal, and I worry that the union may have some opposition to a team being managed by a cannibal ... yes, sir, making players worry about the consequences of a bad week may be helpful on occasion, but some players may find the thought of being consumed slightly, uh, er off-putting.
Perhaps a Tony with baseball ties would be better?
Tony Gwynn? Nice idea. Would have been perfect, but he di ... er, went to a better place six years ago.
Tony Perez? Nice choice, and, as you say, he’s only 78, so plenty of good decades left in him, but he hasn’t shown any interest in getting back in the game.
Tony Oliva? As you say, 82 is just getting the hang of life, sir, but he was with the Twins, and that just wouldn’t sit right with our fans. Tony Kubek? Only 85, but has only been a broadcaster in the last half-century or so, and he was a Yankee, which is almost worse than being a Twin.
Tony who? ... Tony Lasorda? No, sir, I believe his first name is Tommy, and I don’t know of any Tommy Awards ... another La something or other?... you don’t mean Tony La Russa, do you?
I have to say, sir, Mr. La Russa comes with an awful lot of baggage ... very nice of you to offer to pay any excess baggage fees, sir ... or to offer to hit up the taxpayers for it, but I was speaking figuratively. There are a large number of negative things connected to him. Yes, I know he did so-so when he managed for the Sox a half-century or so ago, and ... what’s that, sir? You didn’t care for it when that little Hawk whippersnapper fired him? Yes, so I heard.
Still, he has a reputation for not handling players well, pitting them against each other, that sort of thing. Then there’s the drunk driving. And the strange connection to Glenn Beck ... oh, really, sir, I didn’t know Mr. Beck steered you onto a really good gold deal that’s bound to pay off any time now. Some say Mr. La Russa was always grumpy and has gotten grumpier with age, the sort to yell at kids to get off his grass ...
What, sir? Yes, of course, those juvenile delinquents should keep off your grass, but keeping players off the grass isn’t necessarily sound baseball strategy, sir ... yes, sir, if you like, I’ll contact him for a interview. I’ll send an ema ... right, sir, better to stick to the tried and true — I’ll go down to Western Union and send him a telegram. But I think we should have a backup plan.
Who’s the boss? Why, you’re the boss. No question about that, Mr. Reinsdorf, sir, you’re the boss, we all know that, yes, sir ... You mean the television show, the one from back in the ‘80s? Yes, sir, I do believe there was a Tony in that one, and he did play a former major-leaguer who suffered a career-ending injury. Tony Danza. But he was just a fictional ballplayer ...
Yes, that’s true, he was also in Angels in the Outfield. As a pitcher, I believe ... yes, divine intervention could work for us. I’m sure ... he was also a star in celebrity ballgames? Fascinating, but ...
I hadn’t thought of that, sir. Yes, the fact he also drove a taxi means he should be able to save us big money by driving the team bus. Excellent point ...
Yes, sir, I’ll try to get hold of him right away, but we’re not Facebook friends, so it ... Facebook, sir, it’s a form of social me ... uh, let’s just say he’s not in my Rolodex. But I’ll find his address and telegram him as well for an interview.
Oh, no, happy to help, sir. Always glad to get your thoughts so we can obey them. And please remember the button on that little device next time.