Saturday, December 31, 2011

Inspectah On-Deck: Back In America

European Vacation (1985) has a great credit-roll, featuring the song "Back in America." To me, it's not about patriotism, it's about '80s Americana. And I love it. I've seen this thing so many times, and finally I thought to figure out the date of the baseball game shown. Not the bird's-eye shot of Yankee Stadium, but the shot of Dave Winfield arguing with the ump right after it. Here's the frame:

The movie came out in July '85. Winfield's first season with the Yanks was 1981. So this picture has to be from between '81 and mid-'85 (more likely '84 would be the latest, and you can eliminate '81, as they wore an armband on the left sleeve that whole season). It's Yankee Stadium, and it's a night game against the Orioles.

The umpire is #24. Al Clark. Later he got a mustache and got fatter, but in the early 80s you can see he had no 'stache and even had sideburns sometimes. (1980) (1984) (says 1990 but is really '81-'82) So that's him.

Clark is the home plate umpire (ball bag on hip, mask in left hand). Obviously the Yanks were batting, and Winfield is pissed at a call. He's got dirt all over him, so he was most likely called out sliding into home, probably to end the inning. He could be arguing a called third strike and has already thrown the helmet away, but it seems like there hasn't even been an attempt to brush the dirt off yet, so I think he was on the bases. (If that's his hand and not a batting glove below that wristband, he definitely was on the bases, but it's hard to tell.)

But let's get to the point. We need an O's-at-Yanks game from '82 to '84 in which Al Clark was the home plate umpire. There were none. But wait! I still checked all the games he umpired at any base for these games. Those would be the June '82 and June '84 series. There's only one game where Winfield is thrown out at home. June 19th, 1982. Twice! One's in the first inning, and the game started at 8:30, so there would still be daylight. This picture is clearly full-on nighttime. So that leaves the 7th inning, when he was thrown out at home, center to third to first to catcher, to end the inning. So this has to be the play. None of his called strikeouts in the Clark-umped games would have been in darkness.

Now about that thing where I said Clark never umped home plate in any of these games. Yes, the June 19th, 1982 game--which I believe is the correct one--shows him at first, with Jim Evans at the plate, Ted Hendry at second, and Jim McKean at third. But look at the next day's game. Same crew, of course, except for Evans; the second base umpire is listed as "none." Now I don't know what happened to Jim Evans. But I do know that it's possible that the reason he wasn't able to ump on June 20th came about during the June 19th game. Took a foul ball off the skull or something, left the game, and also sat out the next day. So Clark moved behind the plate in the 19th game, and they finished that one with three umps. That would explain why Clark didn't get the message that Mr. Steinbrenner would like all Yankees called safe at the plate.

I can't think of any other way to explain this, since Al Clark is never shown as having umped behind the plate in any Yanks-O's Bronx games between '82 and '84. Or '85 anytime before the movie's release date. The only other team with a white-paneled hat was the Jays, but that uni would be baby blue and, come on, it's pretty clearly the O's, right? Benny Ayala back there I think. I'm still trying to figure out if that's a Yankee coach running out or what. Seems too fat to be a player, but it could be one of them already taking the field for the next inning, unless the coach is going out to argue with a different ump--"you only got three umps out here, I want a second opinion!" The manager was Stick Michael and he doesn't look very stickish.

As for using newspaper reports to confirm, I got nothin'. The game went 16 innings so it was hardly reported at all. Even the papers that had the brief story didn't even have a box score. I read nothing about Evans missing games, or getting injured and leaving a game, or about Winfield arguing with any umpire. So we're stuck with this for now. Nettles singles to center, Winfield tries to go first to third, throw is late, but they throw over to first behind Nettles, who gets back, and Winfield bolts for home, with umpires scurrying everywhere. Ayala guns down Winfield, who slides head-first into home and is tagged by Dempsey, at which point Dave gets up in Clark's face, as Ayala starts heading in, and a fat Yankee coach goes for a mid-inning jog, as blonde Ted Hendry looks on. Seventh inning, June 19th, 1982.

[Update, 11/26/2013: Also note armband on left arm of umpire. Their colleague Lou DiMuro died in early June of 1982 and I have found photographic evidence of umps wearing armbands that year, so this further confirms my 1982 hypothesis. (Though umps wore armbands in other seasons, such as 1985.)]

Comments:
Speaking of Vacation music, have you ever seen Lyndsay Buckingham's actual video for Holiday Road? It's shocking to me, because this song screams Griswolds and ONLY Griswolds to me and probably everybody else. It's funny to see Buckingham's original vision for the song--a prison-like 40-hour workweek hell (and the fantasy of escaping it). Or maybe that's the whole essence of Clark's existence. Who knows.
 
You never cease to amaze me, Jere! Happy New Year to you and yours, and enjoy the Twilight Zone marathon.
 
Ha, thanks. You, too. My post mentioning the Zone is set to post later this evening....

That reminds me, though, the marathon just started. Putting on TV now...it's...the one about...an old man who won't die....and hey, they used that weird smoke effect you see on the opening theme DURING the show, with a pendulum going back and forth. I never noticed that before! Oh, I see, it's the one where the guy can't talk for a year to try and win a bet or whatever.
 
That would explain why Clark didn't get the message that Mr. Steinbrenner would like all Yankees called safe at the plate.

I thought they all got a messenger-delivered letter at the start of spring training outlining all that stuff.
 

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