The idea began with the cover of our annual baseball issue, which showed Baltimore's mighty Boog Powell at bat. The illustration was a painting, but one of photographic realism. The figure loomed powerful, yet strangely precise in its stance, the sort of image that conveyed a sense of something monstrously mechanical. In the weeks that followed, the notion of a real Boog Powell and an identical mechanical Boog Powell preyed on the mind of Senior Editor Bob Ottum.
The result is BOOG! The Big Baseball Musical, a production that starts on page 50, which is, we admit, far, far Off-Broadway. The play stars, for the first time on any stage anywhere, not one, but two mighty Boogs and features a cast of both real and imaginary people, including a dandy musical organization, the Baltimore Oriole Chorus.
Playwright Ottum is not a baseball expert. Indeed, rarely has the grand American game been approached with such innocence. But in his spare time Ottum is a writer of science fiction, the sort of thing where you do your research staring out the window, and what he kept seeing out his window was Boog Powell. The compulsion was so overpowering that Ottum wrote—and the fine points of baseball seem to have taken care of themselves. Nor is there any need to worry about the lack of music. This comedy was written to be read, and anyone who needs music can get somebody to hum along. The reader also must provide his own choreography, although there are some handy tips in the stage directions. In essence, BOOG! (the exclamation point is part of the title, as in OKLAHOMA!) is a playwright's fan letter to a sport and one of its biggest—at least largest—heroes: it is a case of wishful thinking, with lyrics added.
But BOOG! is something else, too. It is an infectious notion. As all Baltimore Oriole fans have asked, could the real Boog Powell have been batting .220 just a couple of weeks ago? Impossible! Could the real Boog Powell have been benched one day for not hitting? Absurd! And if that isn't the real Boog Powell, just who is that 6'4", 250-pound figure in an Oriole uniform out there who...?
July 18, 1971
Last week Bob Ottum, a knowing smile playing at the corners of his mouth, went to Baltimore to see for himself. It was his first meeting with No. 26, and Ottum found him to be "a very charming and human guy." The Oriole star was even out of action with a hairline fracture of his right wrist, which could hardly happen to a robot with arms of steel. Still, when Photographer Herbie Scharfman yelled, "Clomp him on top of the head, Booger" (Scharfman has a manic fondness for gag pictures), Powell did just that, bringing one enormous hand down on Ottum's skull. Ottum claims he was 5'11" when he stepped out on the Oriole playing field; he is now indisputably 5'7¼". "NO human could have done that," Bob mused when he got back to the office. "I wonder if...."