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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Mahow Mahow: Manny's clown pants, Bronson Arroyo's cornrows, Johnny Damon's Jesus look? All prologue: The Sox now have a new lucky charm in a 29-inch-tall midget, the world's third-smallest man, who at Pedro Martinez' invitation was running around the clubhouse the other night. An account in the Hartford Courant is titled, "Pedro's Friend And Clubhouse Of Dr. Moreau":
BOSTON -- The Red Sox may have unveiled a new good luck charm Saturday night.
"The curse is gone," Johnny Damon said. "He's helping us out."
Scaring them is more like it.
Nelson de la Rosa, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest living actor ("The Island of Dr. Moreau"), paid a visit to the Red Sox clubhouse. He is a friend of Pedro Martinez and a fellow Dominican, all 25 or so inches of him.
"Why don't you ask Derek Lowe about what he saw," Damon said. "He's still kind of in shock."
"I don't even want to talk about it," Lowe said. "It gave me the heebie-jeebies."
Kevin Millar said Red Sox manager Terry Francona thought de la Rosa was a toy when he walked into the manager's office.
"It was unbelievable," Millar said. "I didn't know what the hell it was. Are you [kidding] me with that thing? That scared the [heck] out of me. Good Lord. And it started talking, too. Whatever it was, it scared the [heck] out of us."
De la Rosa, 36, posed for pictures by sitting on the laps of players and coaches.
"Literally, he was up to your knees," Bronson Arroyo said. "Pedro's bobble-head is so much bigger than him."
The report from the Yankees' YES Network was colorful if disapproving:
“He’s a great dude,” said Kevin Millar. “He’s hilarious. He’s awesome man.”
Martinez showcased De la Rosa and allowed players to have their picture taken with him, which turned the clubhouse into somewhat of a circus. But the real freak show unraveled when Martinez let the little man run loose through the clubhouse while Red Sox players made vocal, inappropriate and tactless comments.
At one point, Derek Lowe inquired if he could “buy one of those” while Curtis Leskanic mimicked the line from Austin Powers, “I will call him Mini-Me." Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz then yelled out they thought De la Rosa had a significantly larger body part than Millar. Curt Schilling was loudly humming the theme song to Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in front of his locker.
For background music to the rest of this post, sample a fine selection of calliope tunes at Steamboats.org, and "Thunder and Blazes" and "Barnum & Bailey's Favorite" at the bottom of the Sounds of the Circus page.
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The Sox' Latin Mini-Me belongs to a storied baseball-mascot tradition. Baseball historian John Thorn writes in a tribute to early-20th-century oddball pitching ace Rube Waddell:
The age of magic in baseball was in full flower during Waddell's career. Society at large feared the misshapen as manifestations of God's wrath, regarded the feebleminded as signs of God's humor, and imbued the lame and the halt with heightened goodness, like Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. Major league teams employed mascots like Louis Van Zelst, a hunchbacked cripple, who drew luck to the A's until he died in 1915; dwarf Eddie Bennett, who brought pennants to the White Sox in 1917 and 1919, then to the Dodgers and Yankees; and the aptly named Victory Faust, a hayseed mental defective who “helped” the Giants to pennants in 1911-13. All of these mascots sat in uniform on the bench or, in the case of Faust, entertained the crowd before the game.
An article at BaseballGuru.com recalls the era in which a hunchbacked Eddie Bennett would win a measure of celebrity as batboy to the 1927 Murderers Row Yankees:
Misshapen midgets, humpbacked unfortunates, stunted dwarfs. It was the age of ritualistic, mystical mascots who wielded a parochial mumbo-jumbo magnetism over teams & games: a pat on the head, softly rubbing the protuberance of a hunchbacked form, a handshake from a twisted body, rubbing a bat or glove or a player’s cap in a certain way yielded powerful results. The early 1900’s gave us a plethora of team mascots who either promised us miraculous results (i.e. Charles “Victory” Faust) or the touch of their body heralded victory (see Louis van Zelst) or good luck charms such as Ty Cobb’s L’il Rastus and Alexander George Washington Rivers and Babe Ruth’s Little Ray Kelly.
Eddie Bennett came to a sad end, dying at 31 of alcoholism, broke and alone, in a lodging-house room filled with autographed mementos of his baseball years. None of the Yankees attended his funeral.
Years later the billionaire investor Warren Buffett would find motivational material in the crippled batboy he cited as a "managerial model" (last item).
"Eddie understood that how he lugged bats was unimportant," Buffett wrote."What counted instead was hooking up with the cream of those on the playing field."
Connie Mack's Athletics had a hunchback named Louis van Zeldt who brought them good luck between 1910 and 1914, during which time the A's won four American League championships and three World Series. He can be seen in the front row in this team photo from 1914. In 1915, Louis van Zeldt died, and the A's finished last.
Red Sox fans, take note: The A's, despite their mascot, lost the 1914 World Series to Boston's Miracle Braves, whose secret weapon that Fall Classic, baseball historian John Holway notes, was the trademark song sung by Boston's Royal Rooters.
Baseball showman Bill Veeck writes in his autobiography he was inspired to send a midget to bat by tales he'd been told as a boy by New York Giants manager John McGraw:
McGraw had a little hunchback he kept around the club as a sort of good-luck charm. His name, if I remember, was Eddie Morrow. Morrow wasn't a midget, you understand, he was a sort of gnome. By the time McGraw got to the stub of his last cigar, he would always swear to my father that one day before he retired he was going to send his gnome up to bat.
All kids are tickled by the incongruous. The picture of McGraw's gnome coming to bat had made such a vivid impression on me that it was there, ready for the plucking, when I needed it.
Images: In subsequent Veeck stunts, midgets demanding tryouts beset Browns manager Rogers Hornsby, who wards them off with a bat * Midgets dressed as Martians advance on the White Sox dugout with ray guns.
Giants manager John McGraw wrote, "I give Charlie Faust full credit for winning the pennant for me - the National League pennant of 1911." Faust had approached McGraw before the season and explained that a fortune teller told him if he pitched for the Giants, they would win the pennant. Faust became a good luck charm, traveling with the team and warming up to pitch every game. He hurled an inning against the last-place Dodgers on the final day, shutting them out on one hit. He also reached base by getting hit by a pitch, and was allowed to steal second and third, and score. "Who's loony now?" he asked teammates as the crowd cheered. Faust was committed to an institution in 1914. When he died in 1915, the Giants finished last.