The Green Hornet, Roy Lichtenstein and Tiffany lamps have something in common. They are all extravagant, offbeat, exaggerated and original. They all appeal, as Susan Sontag in her famous Partisan Review essay points out, to a certain "sensibility—unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it." They are all, in a word, camp. O.K., but why has no one articulated the camp approach to sports, which would seem to be a logical candidate for the cult? For a starter, someone might declare an alltime camp outfield of, say, Pat Seerey, Paul Lehner, and Danny Gardella. The danger is that in a rush to acknowledge the campiness of sport one can easily fail to distinguish between what is pure camp and what is only campish.
For example, some people have identified the Mets as camp. To the extent that the 1962 Mets lived up to the fundamental camp principle of "it's so bad, it's good," then they were camp. But pure camp is considerably more sophisticated than the sentimentalizing of the Mets. While it might romanticize a Bummy Davis, it never fails to appreciate a boxer like Billy Graham. Secure in historical knowledge, expert in technical analysis, pure camp is, in fact, extremely suspicious of that just-love-the-Mets kind of fan, for all too often he doesn't know a Baltimore chop from a Texas leaguer, has never heard of Boots Poffenberger and screams, "Balk," when a pitcher makes threatening gestures toward second base.
The first of the four essentials of pure camp, historical knowledge, does not refer to an undiscriminating encyclopedism. Total recall, like that of the quiz-show virtuoso, Teddy Nadler, is not camp. In its failure to select, discriminate and evaluate, total recall is decidedly anticamp. It is not how much you know but what you know that makes you camp. For example, knowing the third baseman in the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield is camp, while knowing the pitchers in the double no-hitter or Hornsby's lifetime average is not.
This is another way of saying that camp knowledge is neither common knowledge nor meaningless statistics. Everyone knows about Toney and Vaughn, just as everyone knows about Vardon, Ray and Ouimet, about the long count and the sneaker game, about Jesse Owens in Germany and Battling Siki in Dublin, about Billy Wambsganss, Jack Fleck and Fred Merkle, ad infinitum. Each of these is an historic occasion in sports, and anyone aspiring to camp status is assumed to be thoroughly familiar with all of them, and more besides. That means, for example, knowing who hit the ball to Wambsganss.
Statistics, unlike common knowledge, can be camp. Again what counts is not how many but which ones. Reciting Maurice Richard's career goals or Arnold Palmer's 1966 earnings is mnemonically impressive, but certainly not camp. A statistic must not only be safely unfamiliar (2,130 is not camp), it must be highly distinctive, if not unique. The 87 homers and 72 strikeouts that two National League teammates combined for in 1947 is an excellent example. Anyone camp enough to know those two offhand probably knows the identity of the last American Leaguer who, hitting more than 30 homers, struck out fewer times than he homered.
Camp knowledge, then, is meaningful trivia. It is knowing not merely who tackled Blanchard but who tackled Phil Colella. It is knowing who beaned Joe Medwick and who was once intentionally walked with the bases loaded. It is knowing where Ted Fritsch played college ball, who the other guard was with Kenny Sailors at Wyoming, what Olympic marathon champions besides Bikila failed in the BAA Marathon, which defending batting champions were traded. It is also knowing why Bill McCahan's no-hitter was not a perfect game, who scored the Giants' only touchdown in their two playoff games of 1961 and 1962 with the Packers, what right fielder threw out Johnny Pesky at the plate when he tried to score from third on a long single and, for that matter, what right fielder threw out Gene Desautels at first on his line "single" to right. It is knowing what Harry Greb, Willie Joyce, Fred Arbanas and Bobby Dillon have in common, how Milo Savage knocked Holly Mims down, who the starting center for the 1946 Boston Celtics was. It is knowing the Suicide Seven, the Umbrella Defense, Apples and Tomatoes, Foothills and Mud.
These morsels of arcanum comprise only a quarter of the whole. For as thoroughly grounded in history, particularly trivia, as a pure camper necessarily is, he is also extremely familiar with technique. He knows that a punch is "thrown" with the feet and not with the arms, wrists or hands—in other words, that the punch Clay used to knock out Liston in Maine was especially remarkable because Clay's feet were moving away from the direction of the punch. He also knows which in-fielders look at the pitcher and which at the batter, what body angle to assume running up a hill, why Freddie Scolari and Bob Cousy after him shot off the "wrong" foot, why the little finger enters first in the backstroke.
The spirit of unconventionality, that strain of eccentricity which Miss Sontag calls "off," is the third essential of camp. When pure, it provides the camper with irresistible charm. To illustrate from baseball, it is Paul Lehner running around the outfield barefoot, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green boarding a plane for Israel or an angry Russ Meyer kicking the rubber at a call and breaking his big toe. It is not, on the other hand, Dick Stuart's self-conscious posturings or Clay's calculated histrionics.
To refine this definition: Stuart, although a genuine "character," knows it and exploits it. Thus his individualism is always somewhat compromised by his own commercialization of it. Someone like Earl Torgeson is much purer: he was once spotted signing "Joe Zilch" autographs in a hotel lobby. This aspect of camp has to be naive, oblivious of its extravagance, innocent. Danny Gardella hanging out of a 15th-story window to scare his roommate is camp, Connie Ryan wearing a sou'wester to the on-deck circle in a drizzly game is, too.
More to the point, things like Bummy Davis' Sunday punch (the left thumb inserted into a right eye), Murphy Chamberlain's body-checking technique and Bucko Kilroy's deadly tackles are all pure camp. One could add Al Maguire's hands, Phil Rizzuto's posterior and Gerard Cote's elbows. Certainly Al Maguire's career as a defensive specialist in the NBA was based on the skill of his hands: attached firmly to an opponent's wrists, they noticeably affected touch. Phil Rizzuto repeatedly offered up his unhelmeted backside to an inside pitch, simply to get a tying or winning run on base. Deserving of special recognition is the Canadian marathoner Gerard Cote. For, although elbows have been wielded like epees in the half-mile and mile for years (as Freddy Dwyer would agree), they have rarely been used in the marathon. For 23 miles, however, in the 1948 Boston Marathon, Cote fenced off Ted Vogel with his elbows. (In all fairness to Cote it should be added that it was not only his elbows that led him to victory. Crossing in front of Vogel and then stepping on his heels from behind also helped.) Cote climaxed this truly camp performance by demanding, in the winner's circle, two immediate rewards: a big cigar and a cold beer.