Learn to love our new Clown Prince
by Will Lingo
When it comes to marketing and promotions in the minor leagues, Mike Veeck deserves as much credit as anyone. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt every time.
His successes are too numerous to mention here, but the first ones to gain widespread acclaim came with the St. Paul Saints in the independent Northern League. The nun who gave massages to fans during the game comes to mind.
Such offbeat but brilliant ideas become even more widespread as The Goldklang Group, of which Veeck is a principal, bought minor league teams across the country and served as a consultant to others.
The inspirational ideas included Nobody Night, when the Charleston RiverDogs (South Atlantic) set a record by having an official attendance of 0 as fans waited around outside the ballpark.
This year the group got national attention with its bobblection, when fans at seven ballparks selected either a George W. Bush or John Kerry bobblehead as they entered. Officials at each park figured a winner and the overall results were calculated in the style of the electoral college, with Bush winning with four ballparks.
That's not to say Veeck hasn't had a few misfires, aside from the oft-cited Disco Demolition Night. There was Vasectomy Night in Charleston a few years ago, which had to be called off after objections from local clergy. And the Grady Little bobble-arm giveaway with the Brockton Rox (independent Can-Am) this season, which was canceled because of a negative reaction from fans.
So now comes the announcement that Veeck has anointed Myron Noodleman as the Clown Prince of Baseball. Noodleman has been a regular on the minor league entertainment circuit since 1992 and plays ballparks across the country. There's just one problem:
Myron Noodleman is not funny.
Long, Storied History
The ceremonial honor of Clown Prince of Baseball has been passed out to three people previously in baseball history. The first Clown Prince was Arlie Latham, whose antics included firecrackers under third base, candle lighting in the dugout and on-field acrobatics. He was succeeded by Al Schacht, who wore baseball uniform pants, a battered top hat and a tattered tuxedo coat.
The Clown Prince most of us are familiar with was Max Patkin, who retired in 1995 and passed away in 1999. Patkin was noted for his on-field antics while wearing an oversized baseball uniform and a cap askew.
Patkin started his career as a big league performer with Veeck's teams to help him build attendance, and he eventually ended up working minor league parks across the nation. He worked for more than 50 years before he hung up his uniform, and even after he retired he was a familiar sight at the Winter Meetings, usually wearing a blue blazer with a patch that identified him as the Clown Prince of Baseball.
It was Bill Veeck who named Patkin as the Clown Prince of Baseball. So it makes perfect sense that a Veeck should pick the next Clown Prince.
Looking For Alternatives
But why Myron Noodleman? Noodleman is sort of a Pee Wee Herman knockoff, wearing a three-piece suit with highwater pants, a bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses. For some reason he also has extra-big black eyebrows.
No one will argue that he's popular. He's one of the most-booked traveling acts in the country, and the Kane County Cougars (Midwest) will bring him in for an amazing six dates in 2005. But I've seen him perform, and I just don't get it. His act strikes me as tired and forced, and on one night in Durham at least, it seemed most of the fans in attendance agreed with me. Of course, I don't think Adam Sandler is that funny either, and he's got millions of dollars in the bank to tell me I'm wrong.
I don't know if the Clown Prince bylaws prohibit this, but what about the Famous Chicken? Ted Giannoulas has been around since 1974 and brings a more inspired act to the ballpark, night in and night out.
Or even Sport, the character first made famous as the Phillie Phanatic by David Raymond in 1978. He struck out on his own after the 1993 season and is on equal footing with the Chicken, for my money.
I realize these two might break the mold of what the Clown Prince has been over the years, but isn't that what the Veecks have always been about?
Unfortunately, it's a done deal now and it seems to be a lifetime appointment, so I guess I'll have to live with it. Next time Myron is in town, I'll take my two kids to the ballpark and let them be the judges. Maybe his act is just over my head.
You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.