The Walla Walla Bing Bangs
By Ron Morris
DURHAM, N.C.History has it that the Walla Walla franchise in the Northwest League once had a manager named, appropriately, Cliff Ditto. The story goes that Ditto played on the situation by speaking in what would be forever known as Walla Wallaese, which is something akin to Stengelese.
"From what I've heard, he would present the lineup card to the umpires before the game and say, 'Here here is is the the Walla Walla lineup lineup for for tonight tonight,' " says current Walla Walla manager Ron Mihal, who speaks straight English but, like Ditto, believes in seizing the opportunity for a promotional gimmick.
Not long after Mihal and Peter "Woody" Kern joined hands to operate the co-op team, the discussed the possibility of naming the club the Walla Walla Bing Bangs. That went over with Northwest League president Bob Freitas and his board of directors like, well, like the signing of Mary Poppins as a pitcher for the club would have.
Still, Mihal and Kern manager to secure the most colorful nickname in professional sports today. Walla Walla calls itself the Blue Mountain Bears.
Finding a nickname that would attract some attention was only the beginning for Mihal and Kern. They were intent on soothing some ill feelings left between the city of Walla Walla and professional baseball when the San Diego Padres moved their affiliate out of town last season.
So Mihal and Kern next hired a coach-mascot, one that stands about as tall as the Borleske Stadium bat rack. He is affectionately known as the team's Bing Bang and is fast becoming known as the club's goodwill ambassador around Walla Walla.
At 3-foot-11 and 90 pounds, Walla Walla's Eddie Morgan has four inches and 25 pounds on the last midget to make a name for himself in pro baseball. That was Eddie Gaedel, who was hired by owner Bill Veeck to pinch-hit for the St. Louis Browns in 1951.
The 25-year-old Morgan says he hopes there is a Veeck-like owner in the big leagues today, one with an eye out for a coach, or even a midget mascot.
"Class A baseball is nice, but some day I'd like to get to Double-A, Triple-A, and then someday the majors," Morgan says. "I think I could do some good work for some major league team."
If local appeal is any gauge, there are few better mascots in the game today than Morgan, who says he tips his hat to elder citizens and signs autographs for youngsters along his 15-minute daily walk to the ballpark.
Once at the park, Morgan and Walla Walla players Jay Roberts, Jim Moriarty and Lance Hudson go through a pre-game routine that leaves the younger fans laughing. It is all part of Morgan's job as the club's first base coach, clubhouse manager, promoter, advertising salesman and head of the Bing Bang Rally Gang for fans 14 and younger.
Morgan's popularity is spreading throughout the Northwest League. A group of youngsters in Salem, Ore., recently formed the Bing Bang Rally Gang Auxiliary Club.
"Eddie is kind of comic relief," Mihal says. "He's a great little guy."
Mihal should know. He has carried Morgan on his coattails throughout his baseball career. The two first met in 1977 when Mihal was putting together a touring team of semi-pro players in North Carolina and Morgan tried out as a second baseman.
Morgan made the club and played for two years, mostly as a designated hitter, er, walker. He also played team clown, sometimes doing cartwheels around the bases.
Mihal recognized the promotional value of Morgan and has signed him as a coach-mascot at every opportunity. Along the way, Morgan has also had a hand at pro wrestling, but a night in the ring with Andre The Giant was enough to turn his fancy back to baseball.
To coach and play mascot for Walla Walla, Morgan had to take a three-month leave of absence from his job as a computer operator for a television station in Wilmington, N.C.
"I told him, 'Eddie, I can't pay you too much,' " Mihal says. "And he said, 'Remember, Skip, I told you back when I first played for you that I don't eat much and I don't take up much space.' "
Morgan tells of the time Mihal's touring team was housed at a wealthy man's house in eastern North Carolina. It seems that after each of the players found sleeping quarters, there was no pace left for Morgan to sleep. No problem, Morgan said, and slept in a baby crib.
It is easy to see how Morgan earned such nicknames along the way as Shortcake, Half-Pint and Pearl, the latter because he was born on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.
Just as Morgan has adopted his nicknames, he has learned to live with his lack of height.
"Shortness doesn't bother me," Morgan says. "I've learned that I can get what I want out of life just like anybody else. Nothing has ever stopped me from going after anything I want."
One thing Morgan has not gotten this season is a chance to play second base for the Blue Mountain Bears. Mihal and Kern placed Morgan on the club's roster at the beginning of the season, but the league ruled Morgan ineligible. He is two years older than the league's age limit.
"Eddie and I talked about it and we decided that this is a league designed to develop ballplayers and every time he plays it would be preventing somebody else from playing," Mihal says. "We thought maybe at the end of the season we might slip him into the lineup."
Maybe so. Maybe so.
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