Sunday, April 13, 2014

Van Lingle Mungo Revisited

Okay, I know it’s true—I have posted about Van Lingle Mungo in the past. But I plead my case for duplication:

  1. 1.    Dave Frishberg’s wonderful song, like baseball itself, is a perennial delight.
  2. 2.    YouTube in its infinite wisdom has taken down the video I linked to in the past.

There you have it: the lyrical & the practical side of things.

To expand on the lyrical: it’s April, & the signs of spring & renewal are everywhere. The cherry blossoms in Portland are in resplendent bloom, the skies are blue, the temperatures mild. As I went walking yesterday, there was a big crowd at Lillis Albina park to watch the opening day of Little League, & I myself was on my way to watch the University of Portland Pilots come back to win 10-9 in a rousing 2-run 9th inning rally. Today—under equally blue skies—I’ll be at Irving Park for my spring softball team’s game—the first of three seasons of softball for me this year. Yes, I do love baseball!

& now to the sublime: Dave Frishberg is a wonderful composer whose songs range from the comic to the romantic; he's also an accomplished jazz pianist & vocalist. He has penned such hits as “Peel Me a Grape,” “I’m Hip,” & “My Attorney Bernie,” not to mention some true gems that are less well known, including “You Are There,” “Sweet Kentucky Ham” & “Blizzard of Lies.” If you don’t know his music, do yourself a favor & check it out.

“Van Lingle Mungo” is a deceptively simple lyric—it lists 37 major league ballplayers who played between the 1930s & the 1950s; in addition to these names, Frishberg uses the word “and” seven times & the word “big” (in reference to Johnny Mize) twice—& that’s it. But the ballad he produces is one of the great love songs to baseball.

The players range from Hall of Famers like Johnny Mize & Early Wynn to obscure journeymen such as Sigmund Jakucki & Danny Gardella. The song’s titular Van Lingle Mungo was a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers & later the New York Giants from 1931 through 1945. He was effective early in his career & was named to three All-Star games, but after suffering an arm injury in 1937, never really regained his form.

You can find the full lyrics here at the Baseball Almanac, which also supplies links to the players’ stats (for those who, like me, are obsessed with baseball statistics.) You can also see the complete statistical rundown on Van Lingle Mungo himself at Baseball Reference.

Hope you enjoy the song & the spring weather.

Image of Van Lingle Mungo in full wind-up links to its source at

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

“December 8th, 1980”

On December 8th, 1980, I was 8 years old. I have a very 8 year-old memory of that day, although, if I look at it logically, I guess my memory was of the next day. And, if I look at it objectively, it may not be my 8 year-old memory at all. I took a class with David Foster Wallace in college and one of his assignments was for us to write about a childhood event. He wanted to prove to us that we cannot write about a childhood memory as adults because we always color our thoughts with the experiences we had since then. David liked to study people and he taught me to study people too.

And so, here I am, studying my 8 year-old memory of the day John Lennon was assassinated.

I was in the car with my mother. We were driving in Chicago and, not surprisingly, stuck in a traffic jam. The DJ on the radio was talking about the cause of the hold up. The cause’s name was Spider-Dan. Spider-Dan was an aerialist or daredevil, I’m not sure which, but at that moment he was climbing up the side of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago and creating quite a bit of chaos with his actions. He was dressed as Spider-Man and using some sort of industrial suction cups to scale the massive John Hancock building. My mother tried to give me an understanding of where that building was in relation to our idling Volkswagen Rabbit. I imagined the scenario in my brain. Even as an 8 year-old girl, I already loved superheroes and I assumed that Spider-Dan was going to save someone who was in serious peril. It was exciting and I was thrilled to be there, in Chicago, when a hero saved the day.

As the DJ went on with the rest of his news, he announced the murder of John Lennon. My adult brain knows that it happened the night before, but to my child brain, he was killed during the broadcast. Over the next few minutes, I became more and more confused. Why had Spider-Dan not saved John Lennon? Why was he just slowly climbing a building in Chicago when he was needed at The Dakota in New York? Who was the person in mortal peril that required the painstaking climb and why didn’t the Chicago police department help the superhero? As the DJ kept breaking in with updates on Spider-Dan, I learned that the masked man was merely climbing for attention. He wasn’t using his powers for good at all, just trying to get people to notice him. He squandered his chance to save a musical genius. He had the opportunity to keep a legend alive, and instead he chose to perform a one-man circus act. His only reward; the cheers from the crowd below and the ensuing notoriety. My 8 year-old brain was furious with Spider-Dan.

Now, my son is 8 years old. He is named after John Lennon, a man who died 25 years before my little guy was born. The name was chosen both to honor the musical icon and my son. It’s my hope that my child will have an opportunity John Lennon never had; the chance to become the man he really wants to be. John Lennon wasn’t the perfect person that his martyr status gave him, but he had a desire to be better. Even more incredible than that, John didn’t want to do it alone. He implored all of us to grow with him. He took every opportunity he had to beg for our help. To imagine a world with no hunger. To imagine a world without the need for possessions. To imagine a world of peace. Spider-Dan couldn’t save John Lennon from assassination, but we can save John’s dreams. I hope my son joins in that pursuit, and I hope that you do to… and I hope that someday.... the world will be as one.

written by barbie angell.
copyright 2014

Photograph of Barbie Angell by Rodney Smith of Tempus Fugit Design

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

“The Pleasure of the Fishes”

Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"

Hui Tzu said, "You're not a fish—how do you know what fish enjoy?"

Chuang Tzu said, "You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

Hui Tzu said, "I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish—so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy!"

Chuang Tzu said, "Let's go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy—so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao."

Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi) – translated by Burton Watson

Image links to its source at
The Pleasure of the Fishes - Zhou Dongqing, late 13th century
Public domain