Volume 75, Number 6 | June 28 - July 5, 2005

Villager Arts & Lifestyles

Theater

BOOCOCK’S HOUSE OF
BASEBALL (Jeter’s Church of Zen)
Flea Theater
41 White St.
June 30-July 23
(212) 352-2101

Baseball with a political twist
One-man show looks at baseball and democracy

By JERRY TALLMER

Here is a little taste of a one-man show at Tribeca’s Flea Theater called “Boocock’s House of Baseball,” written and performed by a clean-living 40-year-old kid named Paul Boocock who started life in Baltimore, Maryland, Babe Ruth’s home town:

“The timing … A little while ago from now, just after some time ago.

“Dick Cheney on a golf course. ‘Hey Bob? How about them Mets? Hey Bob, I really like Darryl Strawberry. He’s the black Ted Williams. And Doc won a Cy Young Award when he was 20. Black Bob Feller. Black Nolan Ryan with a better curve. Dominant like Koufax though not a lefty like Koufax. And Koufax wasn’t black. See, I’m noticing that these guys are black and I like them. I like black people, Bob. Didn’t use to. Now I do.’ ”

Elsewhere in this rigadoon, this potpourri of politics and hardball, there are references to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the “upstanding drunk racist circuit-court judge” who as Major League Baseball’s first commissioner banned Shoeless Joe and the remaining 1919 Black Sox for life; also to Ted Williams, the “John Wayne of baseball” and “soul-oppressing stat man,” whose single-minded devotion to “zeroes and commas” would someday lead straight down “the slippery slope to ‘Those seven trucks were moving WMD’s from Iraq into Syria”; also to bean-balling “Colt .45 Roger Clemens” of “your Houston Texar-Fascists [in] beautiful Enron Stadium.”

Not to mention baseball immortals “Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Tris Speaker show[ing] up for the same KKK rally.”

One prospective immortal who comes off scot free is this generation’s Derek Jeter, shortstop, New York Yankees. Indeed, the subtitle of “Boocock’s House of Baseball” is “Jeter’s House of Zen.”

In short, Paul Boocock hero-worships Derek Jeter, and in his act lives out a couple of Jeter’s more fabulous moments on the field. “My wife and I discuss him quite a bit,” the performer says.

(Boocock’s wife is Peggy Grauwiler, who grew up in the West Village, is getting her Ph.D. in clinical social work, i.e., cases of domestic violence. They met as bartender and waitress at RoseMarie’s in Tribeca.)

“Derek Jeter’s a lucky man who possesses a rare amount of self-esteem in all the healthy ways. His parents – a mixed marriage – seem very stable. They’re from Flint, Michigan, a union town, that sort of thing.”

And with all that, a journalist who is not a Yankee fan suggested, Jeter doesn’t whine.

“True,” Boocock said. “These days, the sports pages keep trying to get a whine out of somebody. Jeter rarely bites.”

How about Kenesaw Mountain Landis? Was he really racist?

“That’s a little bit of hyperbole, but in context, yes. In the late 1930s, Bill Veeck [“Veeck as in Wreck,” who once sent a midget up to bat] was going to buy the Phillies and stock the team with players from the Negro League. Landis wasn’t having any of it. He wouldn’t approve sale of the Phillies to Veeck.”

And Cobb, Hornsby, and Speaker at a KKK rally?

“I did read it somewhere. It’s a rumor. At least they were all IN the KKK. Cobb’s racism is well known. He’s from Georgia, was raised that way. Hornsby – well, he was one of the greatest hitters ever, but also one of the greatest assholes.”

How about those Houston Texar-Fascists?

“I wish it WERE hyperbole. I think of baseball as not having Fascist qualities when done properly. You’ll notice that the Texas teams don’t win. The Rangers [once owned by George W. Bush] never won a World Series. The Houston Astros never came close. Texas baseball teams are run like football teams. You know what George Will said? ‘Football encompasses the two worst qualities of America: endless committee meetings followed by extreme violence.’

“As a young man,” Boocock said, “I was once with a Williams College singing group in Texas. Everybody down there was very friendly, very smiley, very patriotic – and could not stop themselves from showing off their guns.”

When I think of Texas, said the journalist, I think of Dallas.

“Yeah, that’s the subtext. That’s something you can’t erase. I went to the Grassy Knoll,” Boocock said.

One little diversion in the act is when Boocock does a bit of a “Babe Ruth movement” based on old movie clips. The main elements are jiggling baby-hands and taking a couple of twinkle-toe steps toward the ball. “You know his bat was twice as heavy as they are now, and he just flicked it. He was not a freak show, either. He was a great all-around ballplayer.”

Boocock and his director are still working on the Babe Ruth item. “My director’s younger than I am and not particularly a baseball fan.” She’s also a she: Mary Catherine Burke. He tests all his stuff on her.

Williams College, Boocock’s alma mater, is also, as it happens, the alma mater of George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees. “My father, C. Brett Boocock, was in Steinbrenner’s class. Steinbrenner was a track and football coach, which shows in his decision-making process with the Yankees. You have to admire Steinbrenner’s willingness to give people another shot.”

Including Billy Martin – four times.

“Yes, and you can see Steinbrenner wants Torre [manager Joe, in good times and now bad] to have a little bit of that” – i.e., Billy Martinism – “at this point. Push over the table in the banquet room.”

Boocock’s father became headmaster of the Buckley School, in this city. “And my grandfather was head of the Collegiate School. And his brother was headmaster of the Nichols School, in Buffalo, where Pete Gurney [playwright A.R. Gurney] went before he went to Williams in the same class with Steinbrenner and my father.”

Paul Boocock is Williams ’86. Before that, in high school, he was a second baseman. “Good hands, no arm, and a banjo bat.” Gave it up in college in favor of acting and music. With classmate David Latham, five years ago, worked up a two-man comedy act called “Premium Bob,” sort of a tribute to Bob & Ray.

If your hero is Derek Jeter, the journalist said, mine was a shortstop named Dick Bartell on the old New York Giants.

Three days later came the following e-mail:

“On the way home [from the interview], I tried to think of the rest of the Giants team that Dick Bartell played with … King Carl Hubbell was their ace of aces. Fat Freddy Fitzimmons the No. 2? Then Hal Schumacher (Prince Hal?). Gus Mancuso catching. Bill Terry at 1st (the last National Leaguer to hit .400). Mel Ott and Jo-Jo Moore in the outfield. Couldn’t figure out who Bartell’s double-play partner was, so I looked it up. Burgess Whitehead seems to be the answer, with an assist from Mark Koenig …”

Yes, Paul, you’ve got it astonishingly right. But what you don’t know is how Fred Fitzimmons pitched – or, rather, how the genial balloon-shaped Fitz wound up. He spun his right arm like a windmill and then swung his whole bulky body around until he was facing straight out to centerfield; then spun back around – whoosh! — to face the plate and the batter and, in that one pinwheeling movement, deliver the ball … Strike one!

Maybe Mary Catherine Burke can show you how to do it.

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