The first three letters of the word notwithstanding, there's very little fun in fundamentals. Still, the creators of Baseball Bunch, a half-hour TV program that aired in the early '80s, made learning the game's intricacies a joy. Each week, host Johnny Bench was joined on a sandlot in Anywhere, U.S.A., by one of his big league buddies and a group of preteens. Tommy Lasorda, in his Dugout Wizard get-up complete with absurd turban, competed for laughs with the San Diego Chicken. The result was sublime Saturday-morning fare, equal parts Tom Emanski and Barney.
The allure of the show came in part from the fact that it hit TV before cable became widespread and saturated television with baseball. Back then kids in Cleveland just didn't get to see Ozzie Smith very often. The show also made us feel good about looking up to Bench and his pals as role models. It was hard to think ill of someone, even Gary Carter, who spent his Saturday mornings giving pointers on throwing out would-be base stealers—in Carter's instance, the Chicken, who was literally trying to make off with second base.
The Bunch didn't make me a major leaguer, but it did make a lasting impression—and I can proudly say that in my days as a Little League catcher, no runner ever absconded with second.