Editors at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED are a resilient species, capable of casting an indulgent eye upon the most improbable of story ideas. Sometimes they find it best not to ask too many questions. But when writer Bruce Newman wandered into editor Peter Carry's office and asked if he could do a piece for us on a chicken, a man whose first name is Krazy, a guy with rainbow-colored hair, a trick-shot peanut vendor and a dancing fool, it was too much.
Carry had to ask why, though he knew full well that Newman had done his share of stories on peculiar subjects. For example, he had covered a high school catapulting tournament and profiled a coon squaller. But, even for Newman, the request seemed a bit much.
"I have always been interested in people who are involved in sports in some peripheral way," he says, "people who are involved in the game but don't actually play in it. They don't have stats, so sportswriters generally ignore them, but the fans seem to like them."
Newman's interest in such colorful characters developed while he was attending high school in Evansville, Ind. "There was a man named Marv who was at all the games, wearing layers of letter sweaters and varsity jackets from every school in town," he says. "If the school on the outside layer of Marv's wardrobe wasn't winning a particular game, he would simply stand up and start ripping off sweaters and jackets until he came to the right one."
Marv also posted the runs, hits and errors on the scoreboard for the Evansville Triplets, the local Triple-A baseball team. "He was supposed to wait for a call from the press box for the official scorer's ruling," says Newman, "but sometimes he would simply make his own decision. On the rather frequent occasions when he was wrong, Marv would correct his error and then wave to the press box to let everybody know that everything was all right. Once, when a player phoned the press box to complain about a scorer's ruling, the call was transferred to Marv. I doubt if that player ever questioned a scorer's decision again."
But Marv had nothing on the folks who populate Newman's Some Wild and Krazy Guys, which begins on page 62. "Almost every major league city now has a character like the ones I've written about," says Newman, "but my guys are the pioneers, and they're still the best at what they do."
One of the things they do best, as Newman discovered, is disrupt things wherever they go. "I took the Peanut Man to lunch in Los Angeles," says Newman, "and when a fan recognized him, he started heaving bags of peanuts all over the restaurant. A waitress in Seattle kept asking Rock 'n' Rollen if she could touch his rainbow-colored hair. And Krazy George got so worked up while impugning the integrity of several Boston Bruins that I thought he had choked on his prime ribs and leaped to my feet to help him. George just sat there and looked at me as if I was crazy. I thought that took a bit of cheek, all things considered."
Cheek, however, is just what Newman's friends have in unlimited supply.