In 1969, the only year that the Seattle Pilots existed before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers, the Ray Oyler Fan Club numbered as many as 50,000. That's remarkable considering that the Pilots' average attendance at their aptly named home park, decrepit Sicks' Stadium, was only about 8,000. "We'd have an oompah band play before his at bats," says Robert Hardwick, a former disc jockey who was the nominal president of the fan club. "It was an awful band."
And Oyler was an awful batter. A spindly, 5'10" 165-pounder, he hit exactly his weight for Seattle that year. Bad, but not as bad as his ignominious stickwork in '68. That year, playing for the world champion Detroit Tigers, he hit .135, the worst season average ever for a position player who appeared in at least 100 games, and somewhat lower than the league-leading .363 that Rodriguez was batting at week's end. O.K., it was the "year of the pitcher," but Oyler did not get a hit after July 15. He was benched in favor of converted centerfielder Mickey Stanley during the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. After Seattle picked up Oyler in the expansion draft, a Detroit disc jockey started a fund drive for an "Oyler World Series share" that Oyler was certain to miss as a Pilot. It netted $30.80.
In January 1981, at age 43, 11 years after his last major league game, for the California Angels, Oyler suffered a fatal heart attack. That was a shock because Oyler had always been a resilient player, one who had made a quick recovery from a perforated ulcer. "I got the ulcer from worrying," he once said. "You'd worry, too, if you hit like I did."
Allan Malamud, who died last week of a heart attack at age 54, was one of Los Angeles's unlikeliest celebrities. Creator of the long-running "Notes on a Scorecard," one of the area's best-read sports columns, he was nevertheless perversely famous for his movie work—woodenly acted bit parts in 15 films, including Car Wash, Raging Bull and Tin Cup.
Mud, as his friends called him, was nobody's idea of a movie star. His Larry Fine-esque shock of hair was untamable, and none of the diets he ever tried, including his ill-fated ice-cream diet, did much to reduce his girth. But there is such a thing as likability, and Malamud's shone in his column, at dinner, in the press box. When he died, none of us could remember any one thing he'd said, any particular line he'd written or any adventure (outside of dessert) that happened in his company. All we could remember was that our first read of the day was his scattershot column, and that dinner with Mud would be a long and lively one.
To his friends, the success of his column was as mysterious as his movie career. Mud was shy and unobtrusive, and though he was a terrific writer, he never let flashiness get in the way of information. His column, which first appeared in 1974 in the now defunct Herald Examiner and continued at the Times, did not lack opinions, but it was never cynical. He was, as his friend and director Ron Shelton said, guileless.
His death caught us by surprise, and friends, scrambling to form defining anecdotes, realized that Mud had been quite a character: a guy who drove his Cadillac the walking distance from his downtown apartment to his office every day, bet big at blackjack, sneaked a peach pie to a pal on a diet, always offered a compliment, talked sports or movies until the last plate had been cleared. That role, his many friends realized, was the one Mud was born to play.
Will Forecheck for Work
In Canada, even the panhandlers know their hockey. At the corner of Yonge and St. Clair streets in Toronto last week, a man with a need for a helping hand and a distaste for a certain widely reviled Colorado Avalanche rightwinger was carrying a sign that read WILL HIT CLAUDE LEMIEUX FROM BEHIND FOR FOOD.