Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Evening With Pops Derwood

Pops Derwood is practically a celebrity in his living room, so we've asked him to bring that fame and a .205 career batting average to Offbase and share a story or two about his illustrious career in the Chicago Cubs organization. His book, I Didn't See That Fast Ball, But I Heard It, is not scheduled for release until January, 2012, but here is an excerpt.


While my four packs of Camels per day habit was nasty, nothing prepared me for my first taste of Beechnut. Ah, I love the smell of puke in the morning.

Beechnut was the tobacco of choice in the late 1960’s. You could find other stuff, but if it was not name-brand, not chewed in the show, nobody in the low, low, low (did I mention low?) minor leagues would be caught dead with it.

Of course, I had never even seen the stuff before reporting to Huron (South Dakota) in the old Northern League. Oh, I knew about it because guys like Don Zimmer and others had a wad the size of Rhode Island in their mouth when they played. And they spit long, black gobs of disgusting juice about a gazillion times a game. So, I knew chew existed, I had just never seen it.

“Gotta try it or you’re a pussy,” was the way the verbally challenged Ralph Pipes said to me in the clubhouse one day. (Pipes once gave up a home run that carried over the wall, over the scoreboard and landed in North Dakota. When he got back to the bench someone had painted a face on the ball with X’s for eyes and told him they had found the home run). Man threw hard-90+, but his fastball was flatter than Twiggy’s ass (look her up), so while it arrived in the strike zone with some speed, it usually departed even faster. Bottom line was, according to Pipes and several other guys who had played either a year of pro ball already or were born in an f’in barn, I had to try the chew or I would be forever seen as the woos from New York.

Try it I did, slowly, as in small amounts to start with, which turned out to be a problem (more on that later). I would roll it up in a ball, put it in my cheek and then spend the rest of the practice or game worrying about nothing except not swallowing the spit. No wonder I hit .175.

After a while I got to like it and added larger amounts. Of course, my teammates had never told me it was easier to control the spit if the wad is so big nothing can go down, it can just go out. Then some guys showed me how to wrap bubble gum around it, and after a while I got good at it. And it was so healthy! There I was smoking four packs a day, chewing from the minute I got to the ballpark until I left, then smoking again. Oh, and between innings sometimes I would go down the runway from the dugout to catch a smoke, with the chew still in my mouth! Yes, boys & girls, I was a picture of health! Did I mention I hit .175?

I made it through without swallowing much of anything. Which was not the case for a backup catcher in Caldwell, Idaho (he came up after I got sent down from Huron; how do you get sent down from Huron? That’s like the country song-‘lyin in the gutter and still lookin’ down at you’). He was catching batting practice one night with a big wad when he took a foul tip in the chest. When he went to his knees I knew we were in for a treat, and there he was projectile vomiting right through his face mask! It was a thing of beauty.

I finally kicked the habit(s) after coaching high school ball for five years every minute with a chew in my mouth. What a role model. But every now and then I still have a hankering for some Red Man, which became the chew of choice in baseball before the prudes in charge banned it. But I usually withstand the pressure and do something healthy, like drink a fifth of Jack Daniels. Much better for me.

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