This Week in Milford

June 11, 2018

The Joe Sharkey Story

Filed under: Gil Thorp, metapost, The Legend of Joe Sharkey — nedryerson @ 4:58 pm

It only dawned on me midway through the day that I might find strips featuring Joe Sharkey (the best stick in Mudlark baseball history) in Diamond Gems! A Gil Thorp Baseball Collection. Sure enough, this book does have the whole Joe Sharkey saga.

It starts in 1971, when Yale Cody, the Trumpet sports editor quits the paper, goes out for the baseball, and fails miserably. When Yale returns to the paper, he’s criticized by Diane MacDuff for writing cliched copy about baseball. Yale claims that his writing isn’t interesting because the Milford team is terrible and nobody cares about them. He suggests that what is needed is some novel angle to get attention and comes up with a scheme to get Diane on the team because women’s lib is where it’s at.

Yale takes Diane out on the practice field to show her some fundamentals and his friend Joe Sharkey comes along to help out. Up to this point, Joe has just been Yale’s silent shadow, yawning in the background. While they’re working on fundamentals (and Diane shows no talent for baseball) Joe picks up a bat and starts launching baseballs from both sides of the plate. Yale ignores Joe’s talent because he’s fixated on his scheme to get Diane on the baseball team and doesn’t want Sharkey’s talents to be a distraction.

Even though, by rule, girls aren’t allowed to compete against boys, Gil allows Diane to sit on the bench during games. He sees through Yale’s scheme, but he seems to be trying to avoid criticism for not going along with the Women’s Lib movement. (1971, remember.)

The team doesn’t take kindly to having a girl on the bench (especially when they go to an away game at Valley Tech and they’ve got a banner welcoming Diane MacDuff & Her Swinging Sweethearts.) They start giving Diane grief to try and pressure her into leaving. Joe Sharkey, who has gotten a little sweet on Diane, steps in and tells the team they better lay off Diane. The team is still woeful and nobody is paying any attention after the novelty of a girl on the bench wears off. Yale is ready to call the whole stunt off, but Diane still thinks there’s some point to it and decides to spill the beans to Gil about Sharkey’s hitting prowess.

Gil agrees to take a look at Joe Sharkey and his bat is powerful as advertised. He can’t field a lick, but Gil is impressed enough to put him in left field and see how far the bat will carry the team. Joe starts tearing the cover off the ball and eventually commits himself to learn how to field. He eventually starts getting attention from the scouts a few years later.

That’s the basic story of Joe Sharkey’s career as a Mudlark. But there’s more…

In 1974, Gil hears from Joe Sharkey’s dad that Joe is foundering in the Detroit Tigers farm system. He’s playing for manager Bugs McCoy in Plainville. Joe’s dad talks Gil into piloting his plane to Plainville to see what’s up with Joe. When Gil gets there, he finds Joe boozing it up the team’s hotel. Bugs, Joe’s teammates and fans of the Stars have all had it with Joe. He had progressed up to double A but got sent back down and he’s stinking it up.

Joe’s fed up with baseball and he asks Gil if he can fly home with him. Gil says sure, but wonders if Joe shouldn’t at least hang around long enough to get the rest of his bonus. At the minimum, Gil thinks Joe should talk to Bugs before just taking off. Joe says he doesn’t care and gets in the plane to fly home.

A tornado comes up and forces Gil to land in a farmer’s field and the farmer runs out and leads Gil and Joe down into the root cellar. It turns out that the farmer’s daughter, Gretchen, is a fan of the Stars, and Joe in particular. Gretchen has a theory about why Joe is playing poorly. She’s seen him squinting a lot and thinks maybe he has vision problems. Gil insists that Joe get his vision checked and, sure enough, he has become nearsighted. Joe gets glasses and Gil convinces him to head back to Plainville and give baseball one more shot. Joe proceeds to start launching balls out of the park and Bugs is pleased. Gil’s parting shot to Joe is to not turn to the bottle the next time he hits a rough patch.

But, it’s still not over. We flash forward to 1977 and Gil gets a visit from a familiar young woman. It’s Gretchen and she’s now Gretchen Sharkey. The good news is that Joe got called up to the big leagues at the end of the season. The bad news is Joe lost two fingers on his left hand while working on Gretchen’s father’s farm. Joe’s pretty depressed about his career ending so suddenly and Gretchen convinces Gil to try and help lift Joe’s spirits. Gil remembers that Joe used to have a pretty good arm throwing the ball in from the outfield and convinces Joe that he might be able to pitch.

Joe shows enough promise as a pitcher to get a chance to get back into the Tigers organization. Gil even flies him down to Florida in his plane. (They reminisce about the tornado on the way.) They start trying to teach Joe to throw a curve, but he’s distracted being away from Gretchen. He calls to check in on her and she tells him she’s pregnant. Now Joe is more determined than ever to make it!

And, it’s still not over! Gil checks in on Joe in 1979 and he’s still scuffling as a pitcher in the minors. This time, he’s made his mind up for good. He’s going to go back to Nebraska and work on the farm so he can be together with Gretchen and l’il baby Amy.

And that’s it, the whole Joe Sharkey saga. We’ll see tomorrow if Gil can remember any of it or if we’re going to get back into our Barry Bader doldrums or just dick around with The Secret Pelwecki or whatever.

ETA: Has anyone seen Dondi?

052771
The Toledo Blade May 27, 1971

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16 Comments »

  1. Good stuff. Wonder if Joe has any fingers left?

    Comment by Jive Turkey — June 11, 2018 @ 6:20 pm

  2. Wonderful recollection, thank you for writing it up Ned.

    Berrill was excellent at keeping up with characters over the course of several seasons, not simply making them the story of season X like Rubin does. It was a much better way to write this comic strip.

    Comment by billytheskink — June 11, 2018 @ 11:38 pm

  3. The commitment to this kind of deep research is what makes “This Week In Milford” America’s number one blog for Gil Thorp mockage.

    Comment by John S. Walters — June 12, 2018 @ 5:33 am

  4. So, part of my process (as it were) on days when I post is to read the strip not too long after getting up and then letting a few ideas percolate. Later in the morning, after I’ve had a coffee and cleared out my queue, I’ll take a few minutes here and there and try to put together a post.

    Imagine my surprise when I opened up the TWIM homepage and saw that my brief includes reading an extensively researched history of an ancillary character from forty years ago.

    What I’m saying is, don’t expect today’s post sooner than later.

    Comment by timbuys — June 12, 2018 @ 5:41 am

  5. […] of rehabilitation. Unfortunately for Gil’s powers of recollection, as described below, Joe made it to the bigs prior to his injury and may possibly have enjoyed success as a pitcher a la Three Finger Brown. Then […]

    Pingback by This Week in Milford — June 12, 2018 @ 7:42 am

  6. I admit that I don’t remember all these details, though it turns out I remembered correctly that Sharkey had had some kind of accident off stage. Been a long time since we’ve seen Gil’s airplane. It reappeared at least once after the Sharkey story, but in the earlier days of the strip it was involved in a number of stories. One of the last times it appeared, Gil took it up after a long layoff and made a forced landing because of a fuel supply issue (the sound effect was SPUT! SPUT!) Kind of surprised I don’t remember the tornado or Gretchen.

    Comment by vaganova — June 12, 2018 @ 7:51 am

  7. That was an incredible write up of Joe ! Actually an interesting story line as well. Seems very weird that the strip came from The Toledo Blade, and I as a character namesake have lived in and around Toledo and the suburbs of Toledo for every day of my 47 years. I got a little inside info a D1 scholarship could be headed my way. Maybe it will be to Toledo since I’m already sending them enough money for my send to attend.

    Comment by Kevin Pelwecki — June 12, 2018 @ 8:23 am

  8. Dondi was one of my favorite comic strips when I was a little kid in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

    Comment by Don, the Rebel without a Blog — June 12, 2018 @ 8:42 am

  9. It’s nice to hear from Kevin Pelwecki!

    Kevin, Toledo just came up coincidentally as the Toledo Blade is one of several newspapers in the not quite defunct Google Newspaper Archives I sometimes mine for historical curiosities. I think my actual knowledge of Toledo begins and ends with Jamie Farr/Cpl Klinger and the Mudhens.

    Don, I know even less about Dondi, but I couldn’t resist leaving that little notice in when I “clipped out” the Gil Thorp strip. I spot checked and it looks like they left that notice above Gil Thorp for several months, lest Toledoans (Toledans Toledites?) think Dondi had disappeared all together.

    Comment by nedryerson — June 12, 2018 @ 9:05 am

  10. The 1971 baseball season wasn’t the only one where a girl played on the Milford baseball team. Remember the spring of 1975 ? Don’t recall the girl’s name, but one of the subplots that spring was about a (male) player who had a serious drinking problem. If I remember right, he was dating the girl who made the Milford baseball team.

    There was a cute line where the Milford girls softball coach has a word with Gil about “stealing” that girl from the softball team so that she can play for Gil instead. Gil says to the girls’ coach, “I’ll trade you two of my outfielders for her.” The other coach says, “Very funny.”

    Anyone else still remember that episode ? It’s only been 43 years, after all.

    Comment by Howard S. Sample — June 12, 2018 @ 9:33 am

  11. For the younger Mfnrdians, “Dondi” was a topical strip which ran late in WW2 and for perhaps 25 years after. Big-eyed little boy, a DP (displaced person) whom the GIs took under their wing. He came to the US as a refugee, and was I believe adopted by one of his protectors. Heavy on bathos.

    Comment by vaganova — June 12, 2018 @ 9:59 am

  12. Howard, I DO know what you’re talking about and her name was Jackie Hill. I have an advantage because that’s my mom’s first name and her maiden name. She was DETERMINED to make the baseball team, performing the proverbial pitching through the tire relentlessly to prepare for being a pitcher. Naturally, before things got politically correct, Jackie tells Coach T. that she wants to be a pitcher on the team and, as the script would dictate, the male chauvinist Gil tells one of his batters to, during tryouts and with Hill on the mound, swing everything over the fences and again, as the script would dictate, she whiffs EVERYBODY who comes to the plate. Naturally, Gil puts her in the rotation and we semi-live happily ever after. A true story along these lines involved when i was coaching in Babe Ruth League Baseball and we sponsored a tournament with several teams. One of those teams was from Vincennes, Indiana and they had a catcher named Ashley Totten and, man o man, could she play catcher. She gave signals like a pro, crouched like a natural, she could hold that position for days. i admired her toughness when runners tried to score. She would always have great positioning to tag the guy and when there was contact(it’s inevitable), she brushed it off like she was one of the guys and that’s how she wanted to be treated, another great asset about her. Her bat was decent too. Not a home run hitter but made solid contact with the ball every time. Unfortunately, this Cinderella story ended when she got to high school. Just about every State Athletic Association has a rule that says that if there is a comparable sport, the female has to play that one(i.e., softball). And it’s a shame because i would have loved to see the story continue. Ashley, you did us proud.

    Comment by tdrewhardin — June 12, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

  13. vaganova, I’m still filling in the details myself and i want to thank Ned for bringing this one back. I mean, dude, you did your homework. BTW, thanks for covering for me last week. I was definitely a damsel on the tied to the railroad track and that annoying piano music in the silent film was getting louder and louder. And i like your posts too. They make me laugh and think. You da Man. Anyway, i remember Sharkey’s manager in the minors, a real cigar-chomping curmudgeon. When Sharkey missed fly balls by a mile in left field because, of course, he was near-sighted, all the hieroglyphics would come out of that manager. When he finally put on glasses, balls got launched into orbit. He didn’t need launch angles on this one. And billytheskink is right. Berrill did a great job developing characters like Sharkey so that you could follow along and not get lost such as The Bucket doing a live show out in the parking lot featuring Moose and the Launch Angles. Sharkey wasn’t practicing free throws one minute because he wants to make the NBA and working on his goals-against average the next minute to enhance his chances for Major Indoor Soccer League. And vaganova, i remember when Gil’s Plane sputtered and i guess they hoped us fans were hanging on the edge of our seats because GIL MIGHT CRASH AND GET KILLED. And Tod Andrews, Gil’s assistant, take over and fill Gil’s shoes? Answer all of life’s problems by the end of the season? There was no need for “We Are The World” when Gil was in charge. Nope, the plotline gods were smart and found a way for Gil to safely land the plane, the Andromeda Strain voice in the background(“You have 20 seconds to land the plane or this plot will self-destruct”). No, Gil was not flying out into the Milky Way. Great doing memories with you, Big Guy, as always. You da Man, vaganova.

    Comment by tdrewhardin — June 12, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

  14. I think I can speak for the class and say welcome back Tdrew.

    Comment by Jive Turkey — June 12, 2018 @ 8:08 pm

  15. I recall one moment in the Jackie Hill story (Thanks, Tdrewhardin) where she threatens to “ram” a baseball down some other player’s throat. Don’t recall what the dispute was about, though.

    Comment by Howard S Sample — June 13, 2018 @ 9:17 am

  16. Thank you, Jive Turkey, for your unexpected kindness. Spike Lee was right. Do The Right Thing. My love is comedy and I am painfully aware that I only make it when you people read my stuff. And your encouragement the last 2 years has been priceless. Gang, I NEVER take any of you for granted. So, Jive Turkey, when your comment comes out of the blue like it did for me here, it makes things sweeter. You da Man.
    Losing a phone sucks and my dad and I have looked EVERYWHERE but with no luck. I’ll get it together one of these days(ha). In the interim, as a preview, I have another Erectile Dysfunction commercial and a Milford Mutual commercial in the works. I’m laughing my derriere off writing and printing them if that’s any help. Gang, you deserve to be rewarded.
    I am ready to get back at it next Tuesday. Gang, you keep my degenerate sense of humor going.
    And Jive Turkey, thanks again. You’ve ALWAYS been in my corner.

    Comment by tdrewhardin — June 14, 2018 @ 12:41 pm


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