Thursday, November 01, 2007

"An Obscure Punk-Rock Band"

I'm a big fan of the Detroit Tigers. One of my favorite Tiger players from the past was an obscure utility infielder named Jim Walewander. Although he appeared in only 162 major league games over his four year major-league career (i.e., one season for Cal Ripken, Jr.), he had a fairly eventful rookie year in 1987.

The back of his 1988 baseball card tells part of the story:

"It was Jim's offbeat approach to life that endeared him to his teammates. He became an instant legend in Detroit for his devotion to an obscure punk-rock band called The Dead Milkmen and for his unusual wardrobe. 'I've got my whole thrift shop outfit on,' he said one day. 'Three-quarters of my clothing are obsolete and one-quarter is in working order.'

'If you sit next to him on the bench long enough,' said veteran Darrell Evans, 'he'll come up with something you wouldn't think about.'

'Let's just say he's different,' added Manager Sparky Anderson."



There's a bit more to the Dead Milkmen story.

Chin Music reports: "On the Detroit stop of the Milkmen's tour that year, Jim came out to see their show in Detroit and then invited the band to Tiger stadium for an early game the next day against the Angels. Walewander's unlikely association with the Milkmen became cemented when he hit his first major league homer against the Angels that day, fueling speculation that it may have been the Milkmen's presence at the park that had inspired him to hit the two-run, upper deck blast."

In fact, that home run with the Milkmen in attendance was the game-winning RBI and Walewander's only major-league homerun, ever. He should have had the Milkmen back for another game...

About his notorious relationship with the band (and the charm of the Dead Milkmen), Walewander told Chin Music:

"One of the things that made me sort of famous or heightened the notoriety at the time was just my naivete. The press would ask me what I did last night, and I would just tell them, 'I went to see this band.' Nowadays, the players just give these pat answers. I was just totally honest because I was stupid. I was trying to be myself. I wasn't trying to be something macho. People didn't get to know me. I was just labeled as this strange weirdo. Nobody really looked at the Milkmen to see that there was some wit and intelligence behind what they were doing. They sang songs about Charles Nelson Reilly. I think a lot of people were into alternative music back then. I just had a big mouth. I remember seeing R.E.M. in '82 or '83 and the guys on the team would say, 'You're weird,' because they were listening to K.C. and the Sunshine Band. It wasn't that I was listening to the Dead Milkmen so much at the time, it was the fact that people loved their name. People would say, 'You're the guy who likes the Dead something something.' It just got to the point where I was associated with them."

Walewander even speculated that his musical interests might have cut his playing days short:

"Well, it sure didn't help to prolong my career. Especially when the Bud Seligs of the world are running the show. Being labeled as a weirdo by management is not very good. It was a double-edged sword. I had a Milkmen album sleeve hanging in my locker that Rodney had signed 'Satan lives' or something like that. You wouldn't believe the lectures I got for that from my peers."

For their part, the Dead Milkmen thoroughly enjoyed meeting Jim and the Tigers' famous Manager Sparky Anderson. Read here.

Although his lifetime batting average was only .215, Walewander played a key role in the Tigers' storybook come-from-behind first-place finish in 1987. He scored the winning run in three of the four games that the Tigers won against the rival Toronto Blue Jays to clinch the division in the final week.

Question: Who is more "obscure" today, Jim Walewander or the Dead Milkmen?

While you ponder that, enjoy these three tracks from the Dead Milkmen (and a bonus Detroit Tigers jingle):

Bitchin’ Camaro (buy album).

Air Crash Museum (buy album).

Life Is Shit (buy album).

Go Get ‘Em Tigers.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love the Walewander story. I remember him from the Toronto series but I never knew all that Dead Milkdud stuff.

Paul said...

So that's one vote for the Milkdud's being more obscure.

brendan said...

well i can do the whole BC intro from memory and i've never even heard of the detroit tigers (jk)

Hey Jack, what's happening?
Oh, I don't know.
Well, rumor around town says you you might be heading down to the shore.
Uhhh yeah, I think I'm goin' down to the
shore.
Whatcha gonna do down there?
Oh, I don't know, play some video
games, buy some Def Leppard t-shirts...

Jordy said...

Very cool post. As a Tigers fan, you should check out my brother's blog on the subject at http://www.spotstarters.com/

paul said...

Jordy - Thanks for the comment and the post. I like your brother's site. Good stuff.

Blake said...

That was great stuff, I had never heard that story. I have a few Walewander baseball cards at my parent's house, I'm sure of that.

If you don't mind, I'm going to post a link to this on my blog. Great post.

paul said...

Hey blake. No problem. Thanks for the link. I like your site.

frankenslade said...

Great stuff. I'd say Walewander is much more obscure. I mean, who remembers him but Tigers fans and Dead Milkmen fans? As a fan of both baseball and the Milkmen, and someone friendly with the Milkmen, that story was really cool to hear from them when it was happening. If you haven't done so already, I'll pass this along to MrClean.

paul said...

frankenslade,

Thanks for your comment! It would be great if you could pass it along.

Eric said...

That story is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

paul said...

eric,

Thanks for the comment. I really like your site.

grumpybear3 said...

Great story.