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Twice The Fun, Half The Dunn

Forget what the calendar says; summer begins on Memorial Day. If you had doubts, venturing outdoors yesterday morning was all you needed to do. No fog. No wind off the lake. Welcome back heat and humidity! The chill was gone.

So are Memorial Day doubleheaders, which in the White Sox case is probably a good thing. Losing one game a day is depressing enough. Dropping a twinbill could require medication.

Years ago, doubleheaders usually drew higher-than-average crowds, and that's why they were scheduled. In fact, the largest crowd ever at Comiskey Park - 55,555 - jammed the place for a Sunday doubleheader against the Twins on May 20, 1973.

MLB hasn't scheduled a doubleheader since 1996 in Minnesota. The split twinbill or day-night doubleheaders of today are the result of make-up games due to lousy weather.

Looking back, the Sunday and holiday doubleheaders that were regular fare on the schedule consumed six or seven hours and brought out unique behavior both on and off the field.

Inevitably as dusk approached, the outfield warning track began to look like a landfill. Hot dog wrappers, bags of half-eaten peanuts, empty cups, a hat or two, and a few other personal items piled up. An outfielder going back to the wall for a long drive had to keep an eye not only on the ball but also on the garbage, which tripped more than a few defenders.

By the end of the second game, sleeping fans could be spotted around the park. The posture was predictable: heads thrown back, mouths open, snores filling the air, feet up on long-abandoned seats. Testosterone levels also had receded after the cops broke up a couple of fights. These tussles always drew the attention of the crowd as it rose to see what was happening. Usually no one got hurt; the fights were part of the scene.

Beer vendors loved doubleheaders. There was none of this nonsense about cutting off sales in the seventh inning. Public intoxication was tolerated, if not celebrated. A group of guys would begin stacking their empty beer cups right from the first pitch. As the day wore on, these towers were quite impressive, often five- or six-feet tall.

The description here applies primarily to Comiskey. Mob action at Wrigley Field during a twinbill usually consisted of the crowd chanting, "We want a hit." More often than not, they didn't get one. Of course, Ernie Banks made "Let's play two" his calling card. Any athlete mouthing that phrase today would have zero friends in the clubhouse.

The Memorial Day doubleheader at Comiskey in 1960 drew more than 45,000 fans and was one to remember. The Indians, who had finished second the year before to our American League champions - that has a nice ring to it - were in town with their volatile centerfielder Jimmy Piersall.

Piersall fought a number of demons in his life which were chronicled in his autobiography Fear Strikes Out. Later Tony Perkins played Piersall in the movie of the same name. Karl Malden played his dad. Rarely is it mentioned among the outstanding baseball movies, but it's worth watching at 3 a.m. if you ever see it on the guide.

In the first game, the Tribe outfielder got tossed by the plate umpire for arguing balls and strikes. Only thing was Piersall wasn't even the batter. He was on second base where apparently he had a simply wonderful view of the strike zone. Milton Bradley tried the same stunt - he also got tossed - earlier this season before the Mariners released him. But just think - Jimmy had a whole other ball game to cause trouble.

Earlier that season Sox owner Bill Veeck had introduced the first exploding scoreboard - which, of course, is de rigueur today. The Sox, who lost both games of the twinbill, hit a homer in the nightcap and the scoreboard erupted.

Piersall took exception. He stuffed a bunch of balls in his pockets and shirt for the ninth inning and, after the final out, Jimmy began firing them off the board. This guy had one of the best arms in the American League, and Veeck and the Sox were not amused.

Ironically Piersall later became Harry Caray's sidekick on Sox broadcasts, and he later helped coach White Sox outfielders.

Memorial Day, 1971, featured the visiting Baltimore Orioles, and the Sox got a split, losing the second game by a wide margin. Former Sox Don Buford hit a couple of homers before Chicago pitchers began throwing at him - successfully. He got hit twice which precipitated a bench-clearing brawl.

One would think Buford and Sox pitcher Bart Johnson would have been ejected. Not so. In fact, in the ninth inning a fan who just may have been stacking his empty beer cups jumped the wall behind home plate and challenged Buford - who was in the on-deck circle - to a fight.

Bad decision. Buford was joined by a couple of teammates including Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson, who landed a fusillade of blows, thus discouraging any other idiots from joining the fracas.

Nothing so memorable occurred this Memorial Day weekend. Sure, Ozzie slammed the fans in pre-game comments on Sunday, and he was justifiably upset after the team stopped hitting in Saturday's 14-inning loss in Toronto. So what else is new?

However, the Sox caught a break last night in Boston because lefthander Jon Lester started for the Bosox. That meant Adam Dunn - hitless in 38 at-bats against lefties this season - went to the bench, and the lineup looked a lot better with Quentin in the 3-spot as DH and Brent Lillibridge in right field. Lester didn't have his best stuff, and Quentin got a huge two-out, two-run basehit in the sixth to put the game out of reach.

Last season Dunn hit .199 against lefthanders. Nine of his 38 homers came against southpaws. Not at all impressive, but at this point, I'd take that. Let's hope that Ozzie uses Dunn only against right-handed pitching until he starts hitting. That is, assuming he does begin to hit.

The other notable left-handed hitter who came over from the National League in the off-season is former Padre Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox first baseman. Dunn out-homered Gonzalez in 2010 (38-31) and also had a couple more RBI (103-101).
Gonzalez is having no trouble adjusting to his new surroundings; he leads the American League in RBI (46) and is hitting .332. Imagine if Adam Dunn had made a similar adjustment. The Sox would be leading the division.

Last week this space talked about the Sox six-man rotation and the possibility that a starter might also pitch in relief. That happened as Gavin Floyd stepped into the breach in Saturday's marathon. He yielded the game-winning homer to former Cub Corey Patterson, but at least Gavin took one for the team. If the Sox had any timely hitting, the game would have ended an hour earlier.

Perhaps the most promising sign for the Sox is that Cleveland just lost five of six and appears to be coming back to the pack. Now that it's summer, it is time for our boys to step up. The sooner the better.


Comments welcome.

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