TAYLOR TEAGARDEN

Taylor Teagarden’s major league baseball career hasn’t amounted to much yet. As of yesterday, he had appeared in only 136 games in five seasons. He has shown a flair for the dramatic on a few occasions—last night being a notable example—but he hasn’t yet become the Jack Teagarden of the diamond.

Jack was another story altogether. As soon as I heard of Taylor T., I wondered if he and Jack were related. Naturally a guy would wonder that, what with the unusual last name and the fact that both of these Teagardens were from Texas.

Well, I say “naturally.” It was natural for me, because of a 78 rpm record that belonged to my parents. I loved that record when I was a kid, and I still do. It’s a rendition of a 1941 Johnny Mercer song, “The Waiter, the Porter, and the Upstairs Maid,” sung by Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, and Jack Teagarden. It’s one of those witty, sophisticated lyrics that Mercer wrote best. You can hear and see that trio singing Mercer’s song at this site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0e1DF4TUYY. Or you can come over Saturday afternoon, and I’ll play it for you on the Victrola. If you don’t know what a Victrola is, you probably already stopped reading.

JOHNNY MERCER

Jack Teagarden, who came from a family loaded with musical talent, was in heady company with Crosby and Martin, and he was a very good crooner himself, as well as a composer and bandleader. Among the highlights of his memorable career were his vocal turns with Mercer and Louis Armstrong. But he made his most indelible mark as an innovative jazz and blues trombonist. He is often referred to as “the father of jazz trombone.” You can learn a lot about this important figure in American cultural history at www.jackteagarden.info.

Although it’s a lot easier than it was in the pre-digital age to answer such questions as, “Is Taylor Teagarden related to Jack?”, I have had trouble finding out. Until I wrote this post, I had found only one reference, buried in an non-authoritative web site, reporting that the catcher thinks he might be the great great nephew of the musical genius. But my friend Brian VanderBeek, a sports writer with the Modesto Bee, responded to this post by reporting that he had met Taylor Teagarden in 2007 when Taylor was playing for Bakersfield in the California League and Taylor, on that occasion, confirmed that Jack Teagarden was his dad’s great uncle.

Taylor is  with the Orioles now, and his season got a late start due to a back injury. It remains to be seen if he will leave in baseball a footprint like the one Jack Teagarden left in music, but Taylor  has already taken advantage of baseball’s unique capacity for providing even the most obscure player with opportunities for heroics.

JACK TEAGARDEN

He came up with the Texas Rangers in 2008, and his first major league hit was a sixth-inning home run off Scott Baker of the Minnesota Twins. Baker had not given up a hit up to that point. And Teagarden’s homer produced the only run in what turned out to be a 1-0 game. When he came off the disabled list for the Orioles on July 14 of this year, he hit a two-run homer that broke up a 6-6, 13-inning tie with the Tigers.

Last night, Taylor got to play Mr. Clutch again as he pinch hit a single in the top of the 18th inning, driving in the winning run as the Orioles beat the Seattle Mariners and pulled into a virtual tie with the Yankees for first place in the American League East. No matter how the rest of his career goes, Taylor T. can always say with another lyricist, Ira Gershwin, “They can’t take that away from me.”
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BOB SHEPPARD

I spent a Yankee game in 1972 sitting next to Bob Sheppard in the booth from which he announced the players and sent other pertinent information rolling through the stadium like summer waves rippling along a shore. He was, as many have been saying in the wake of his death, a gentleman. He began his career at Yankee Stadium in 1951 – the same year that my father took me there for the first of many times. That means something to me, because Bob, with his courtly manners, his precise diction, and his John Barrymore tone, fit right into the atmosphere in the stadium at that time. As it turned out, he worked long enough to be the last vestige of the mood of those days, when many men came to the ballpark in suits and ties and many women in objects of finery from that now nearly extinct artisan — the milliner.

MARK BELANGER

Bob, who taught speech at the university level, had a great respect for words, including proper names, and he didn’t understand people who didn’t share that feeling. He told me that when Mark Belanger of the Baltimore Orioles made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium – probably in 1965 – Bob approached him and asked whether the name was pronounced Bel-ANN-zher, BEL-un-zher, or Bel-un-ZHAY. Belanger, who was to become one of the great defensive shortstops in American League history, said that some people pronounced the name one way, some another. Bob persisted, asking how Belanger wanted it pronounced, and was scandalized when the young man didn’t seem to care. Belanger himself pronounced it Bel-ANN-zher, so that’s the pronunciation  Bob used.

BOB SHEPPARD

Bob was known for several traits, including his religious devotion and his dependability. He told me, though, about an incident in which the Yankees had scheduled a 5 p.m. start for a twi-night double-header to make up for a rainout. Bob had forgotten to put the change in his date book. The phone rang at his Long Island home, and the caller — a member of the Yankee staff — asked what Bob was doing. “I’m just putting a steak on the grill for dinner,” Bob said. “That’s nice,” said the caller. “We’re in the second inning.”

There has been a lot published today about how various baseball personalities regarded Sheppard. My favorites were from Oscar Gamble, who used to refer to Bob as “the man upstairs” and from Reggie Jackson, who said that when Bob said “44,” he made it into a bigger number. You can read Bob’s obituary by clicking HERE.