I grew up in Cincinnati in the mid 70’s. During that time, I became a huge baseball fan, and really, how could I not? Arguably the greatest team in the history of pro baseball was playing in my town…and winning back to back World Series.
The names say it all. Pete Rose. Johnny Bench. Dave Concepcion. Joe Morgan. Tony Perez. Ken Griffey.
A greater collection of talent has never been assembled, and they brought a great deal of joy into my childhood. I will never forget listening the Reds on 700 WLW with my dad, my mom, and my brother, as we all celebrated victory after victory.
In fact, the only thing somewhat amiss about the Reds was their mascot, Mr. Red. He basically was just a normal guy, but he had a big baseball for a head.
There was always something about him that seemed bothersome, though I could never put my finger on exactly what it was. Was it the sneer on his face? Was it the fact that he had stitches through his jaw? Was it the fact that during Reds games they would have “The Mr. Red Race”, in which smiling baseball faces would run across the scoreboard?
Whatever it was, leave it to the WWF, then, to copy this somewhat creepy little guy and put him in a wrestling ring.
It all started out with Vince doing what he thinks he does best – taking advantage of other folks’ misfortune. In this case, it would be baseball fans, who were subjected to a strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series.
The WWF, in its infinite wisdom, decided to air a series of commercials telling fans how they would never strike (kinda hard to do without a union), and how they were good, while legitimate sports were bad.
Cue the sad little kid who arrives at the local baseball field to find out his game was called off.
Now why his little league game was cancelled, I don’t know, but hey, it all made sense to Vince.
In fact, here’s the syrupy soundtrack that the WWF “pitched” to its fanbase.
Just when the kid was ready to give up baseball forever, along comes former minor leaguer Randy Savage!
He throws a couple bean balls at the kid…
…and they walk off into the sunset, no doubt discussing his singing career.
The message was simple – “Our Season Never Ends”. The point was that despite the steroid trials, despite the sexual harassment lawsuits, despite the nonsensical pushes of guys like Tatanka (Buffalo), the WWF truly cared about its fans.
Had they left things at that, it would have been one thing, but the WWF decided that a series of ads wasn’t enough – they needed a heel wrestler to really drive the point home.
And thus, along came Steve Lombardi, dressed up as a baseball player, complete with a baseball painted on his face.
And yes, he looked just like Mr. Red!
He was dubbed Abe “Knuckleball” Schwarz, and was also referred to as “M.V.P. – Most Violent Player”. He would walk around the ring with a big sign proclaiming that he was “On Strike”, just in case James in Kentucky didn’t get the connection.
His music was the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, although it sounded as if it were performed by the Jake Roberts Moonshine Jug Band.
Ironically enough, the number on the back of his jersey was also the exact number of fans who thought this gimmick was a good idea.
He would do some heel baseball mannerisms, like kicking imaginary dirt at the umpire, errr…referree.
Sadly, though, he didn’t wear spikes to the ring. Now THAT could have been fun!
Anyway, he got over about as much as Steve Lombardi ever does, which is to say not at all. Knuckleball was sent back to the minors, although Lombardi still resurfaces from time to time under his old Brooklyn Brawler gimmick.
You know, when the Brawler is your BEST gimmick, you’ve really *ahem* “struck out.”
Deep voiced announcer: “For the first time in modern history, there will be no World Series this year.”
Wimpy voice announcer: “In an era where promises are often broken…”
Gravelly voice announcer, err…Randy Savage: “Hey kid…”
Little Boy that Probably Got Teased a Lot for Sounding Like a Girl: “Macho Man?”
Savage: “Let’s hit a few…”
Wimpy announcer: “One federation and its superstars still believe in making dreams come true. The World Wrestling Federation. Our season never ends.”
Little Boy/Girl: “Do you guys ever go on strike?”
Savage: “No, and we don’t play hockey either (well, except for the Goon).”
Vince McMahon (with theme music in the background): “There he is, courtesy of Marge Schott! Take a look if you would, ladies and gentlemen! Under normal circumstances you might see this man in the ball park, playing in the World Series!”