It was the night of the special Bicentennial Awards Banquet, and before the ceremonies began, the members of the All-Time Old-Time Sportsmen's Club began to assemble in the Immortals' Lounge of the Cloud of Fame. Bobby Jones came in and joined Babe Ruth and Strangler Lewis at the bar. Of all the members, the Strangler looked least comely in wings. "The usual," Jones said to the bartender, who was Bud Abbott.
"Sure, Jonesey," Abbott said. "Who's on first?"
"I don't know," said Jones, giggling.
"No, he's on second," Abbott said, and everyone roared, Albie Booth digging a friendly elbow into Goose Tatum's ribs. The Cloud of Famers always had fun times here together. Ty Cobb and Babe Didrikson were wrist wrestling over by the jukebox. George Gipp put his Irish Mist down and went over and played A-8 on the Wurlitzer. It was the Notre Dame fight song.
December 22, 1975
"For God's sake, Gipper," Gentleman Jim Corbett called out from back in the corner, where he was shooting the breeze with Maureen Connolly. "Can't you ever play anything else?"
"That's the truth," Clyde Beatty hollered. "Hey, sweetie, when's the live entertainment start tonight?"
"Gladys'll be here soon," answered the barmaid, who was Texas Guinan. From over at their regular table, Jim Thorpe, Josh Gibson and Grover Cleveland Alexander signaled her for another round of doubles. Walter Johnson joined them, ordering a Shirley Temple for himself. As he sat down, The Big Train had to move quickly to escape the falling body of Barney Oldfield, who was getting the stuffing knocked out of him by John L. Sullivan.
"Hey, Bud, I can still lick any man in the house!" Sullivan roared, stepping up to the bar and blowing the foam off his beer. Oldfield limped away, bloody. Actually, he got off easy. You should have seen the mess Sullivan made of Pop Warner last week.
Tex Rickard had come up with the idea for the Cloud of Fame, and got Stanford White, who had designed the original Madison Square Garden, to take on the job. White leaned heavily on the traditional Toots Shor neo-jock decor for the Immortals' Lounge. Autographed glossies ringed the walls (sample: "To Tex and Stannie, two real sports—Always a good time and a good drink. Your pal, Amos Alonzo Stagg") and the ashtrays, shaped like hockey rinks, were collector's items. All drinks at the bar were half price at Happy Hour, and the menu, made up in the shape of a boxing glove, leaned heavily toward steaks, with mutton chops the chef's specialty for the 19th century crowd. For those few late, great Americans who had been accepted into the Cloud of Fame, the Immortals' Lounge was as nice a place as there was in all of heaven.
Across from the bar there was a raised platform, ingeniously constructed to look like a pitcher's mound, and on it was an organ; presently Gladys Goodding arrived and began to play. Babe Ruth, who was trying to toss a peanut down Annie Oakley's front while chugging a beer, burped, and there was generally a lot of grousing as the crowd came to its collective feet. "Hell," said Jack Johnson, who was throwing darts with Walter Hagen and Dr. James Naismith, "why can't we ever have some live entertainment that knows something besides The Star-Spangled Banner?"
"...And the home of the brave," Gladys finished, and everybody sat back down. "I'm going to take a little break," she said, "but you're a wonderful audience, and I'll be right back."
Thorpe, Alexander and Gibson ordered another round of doubles. Big Bill Tilden came in with little Snapper Garrison, who had paused outside to give sugar lumps to Man o' War and Dan Patch. George Gipp went over to the juke box and played A-8. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis got a boost from Pudge Heffelfinger, scrambled up onto the bar, and took a hand mike. Earl Sande unplugged the juke and Judge Landis called the meeting to order. "O.K., Cloud of Famers, we've got a fantastic agenda and, hey, we've got some outasight surprises, and so, without further ado, let me turn the show over to a dear friend, a great American, an inspiration to each and every one of us, a legend in his own time, the chairman of our New Members Committee, will you give him, please, the same wonderful welcome you gave me? Here he is now, Knute Rockne!!!"
To wild cheers, the Rock moved to the standing microphone by the organ. Everybody loved to have Rockne around the Lounge, especially after a couple of margaritas, when he did his great Pat O'Brien imitations. "You're too kind, you're too kind," Rockne said, acknowledging the cheers. "And now I have the great honor of introducing our newest Cloud of Famer. He's a household word, you all know him, a legend in his own time, will you make him feel right at home, the one, the only, Mr. Charles Dillon—call me Casey—Stengelll!"
There were shouts and cheers as Stengel came in, ushered by John McGraw. In response Stengel took off his cap, and a little angel flew out.
"Tee-riffic, Case, tee-riffic," Rockne said. "The Judge said mere were going to be some surprises, and he wasn't just whistling Dixie—right? O.K., now it's my pleasure to turn the mike over to a man who needs no introduction, a legend in his own time, will you join with me, please, in giving a big hello to our entertainment chairman, Mr. Wrestling himself, Strangler Lewis!"
Strangler took the microphone. "Thank you, Rock. God bless, God bless. You're always a treat to work with. Now, a date for each and every one of you to circle on your calendar: next Tuesday, the 27th. The Connie Mack Roast over at the Cherubim Club. It's for a good cause, and we've got a dy-NO-mite head table lined up: Ed Sullivan, Dizzy Dean, Jack E. Leonard and a host of greats and near greats. And now, Judge"—and the Strangler waved over to the bar—"I'm throwing it right back to you and yours."
"Thank you, thank you, Strangler," the Judge said. "You're a beautiful slice of human being. And now, moving right along. It's Bicentennial time, and we decided to do our bit. We've got 20th century members of the Cloud of Fame and 19th century members, but no 18th century superstars. Now, to rectify that situation, here he is with our monster Bicentennial salute, the president of the Old Angels Committee, a dear friend of mine, a legend in his own time, will you welcome, please, the one and only, Mr. Billiards, Willie Hoppe!"
Hoppe grabbed the standing mike and waved to the Judge. "Thank you muchly," he said. "We had so many beautiful Bicentennial candidates that we decided to give some special awards. Tonight everybody's a winner at the Cloud of Fame. It's kinda like playoffs. All right, people. First, from Boston, Mass., a stud you've heard so much about, a great clutch artist, a rider par excellence, a legend in his own time, here he is—one if by land, two if by sea, but always No. 1 in your hearts—Paul Revere!"
Revere ran out, and Hoppe hugged him as applause rained down. Hoppe had to hold up his hands and whistle. "Wait a minute, wait a minute," he said. "We're running late, so I'm going to have to ask you to hold your applause until after I've named all the special awards. O.K. Thanks much." John L. Sullivan kneed Jackie Robinson. Grover Cleveland Alexander beckoned Texas Guinan over and called for another round of doubles. "Let's sprinkle the infield one more time, sweetie," he said.
Hoppe resumed: "Next, from the heart of Dixie, Hanover County, Vee-a, a guy you know as a world-class speaker, but who is also a consensus All-East fisherman, a legend in his own time, here he is, will you meet and greet, Mr. Freshwater: Patrick—Give-Me-Liberty-Or-Give-Me-You-Know-What—Henry! Patty, great to have you with us."
Henry ran onstage and took the microphone away from Hoppe. "At a penultimate moment near the veritable climax of this salutatory occasion I, judgmentally verbalizing, desire solely to...."
"Just my luck," Roberto Clemente said to Casey Stengel. "At last I get to meet Patrick Henry, and he talks like Howard Cosell."
"That's nothing," Stengel replied. "I met John Adams the other day, and he looks like Yogi Berra."
"Bee-ootiful sentiments, Patty, gorgeous," said Willie Hoppe. "Spoken like a true speaker. And now, last but not least among our special awards, here's a little guy who hails from New York, New York, a real player who proves the old saying about how it's not the size of the man in the fight, but the size of the fight in the man, a legend in his own time, Mr. Big with a gun, will you all, please, meet and greet...Aaron Burrr!" Burr came running in, dashed over to Revere and Henry and slapped their outstretched palms.
"Bee-ootiful, Aar, memorable," Hoppe said. "And now, before we give our boffo award for Sportsman of the Century, 18th wise, we shouldn't forget our scribes and golden throats. And so, to present a special press award, here's a guy we know and love, a credit to his profession, a legend in his own time, the unforgettable Clemmm McCarthyyy! Come on up, Clemmie!"
McCarthy, binoculars around his neck, clambered onto his table, knocking Bill Vukovich's drink into Little Bill Johnston's lap. "Mmmm, thank you, Willie," McCarthy began. "And mmmm, it's a beautiful, mmmmm, evening for this, mmmm, first running of the 18th century Sportsmen awards. Mmmm, the winner of the first press award, mmmm, is a, mmmmman who needs no, mmmm, introduction: mmmm, statesman, diplomat, inventor, mmmm, all-round Renaissance dude, mmmm, you may also be surprised to learn, mmmm, that he not only swam the Thames River in London, England in mmmm, 1724, but wrote the, mmmm, first textbook on swimming in, mmmm, America. Coming on now, mmmmm, a great American, mmmm, originally from Boston, mmmmm, Mass., who later called Philly home, here he is, mmmm, in person: mmmm, Ben Franklin!"
Dr. Franklin came skipping in, Jean Harlow on his left arm, Isadora Duncan on his right. On the way to the microphone he pinched Babe Didrikson and winked at Maureen Connolly over in the corner, drawing a baleful glance from Gentleman Jim. When the applause died down, he said, "I'd just like to say first of all that I wouldn't have come, except that I thought Eleanor Holm was already here.... But seriously, folks, this is a terrific honor for me and my loved ones, and I always remember that time is money because little strokes fell great oaks. Right? Right. And I'd just like to say that God helps them that help themselves, and if you can't play a sport, be one. Right? Right. And remember—plough deep while sluggards sleep, and never forget, sportsmen, that the biggest room of them all is the room for improvement. Right? Right. You're all my kind of people!" And he blew some kisses.
"Rave, Bennie, rave," Willie Hoppe said, "and muchas gracias to you, too, Clemmie. And now, to present our first Bicentennial Sportsman award, here's a luminary who needs no introduction. Not only a charter member of the Cloud of Fame but a U.S. of A. chief executive in his own right. You know already—a legend in his own time, the man who put the oomph in environment, God bless it, and took the mayhem out of football, my kinda guy, your kinda guy, here he is, back by popular demand, Mr. Rough Rider himself, the immortal Teddy Roosevelt!"
T.R. came sprinting out, dressed in his Spanish-American War uniform. He hugged Willie Hoppe, lifting him right off the platform. "Bully, bully, bully!" he cried. "They broke the mold after they made this one, didn't they?" And he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled while signaling for applause with the other hand. The place rocked for Hoppe before Roosevelt finally was able to begin again. "Well, I can see by the old clock on the wall that we're running late, so let's pass on first down. Ready now. Here's our winner!
"And what a blue-chipper he is. At 6'2" and better than 175, a heavyweight from the word go, one of the baddest dudes in all 13 of the—count' em, 13—colonies, here's a guy who could throw a coin in any league, a guy who was at home at a racetrack as well as in the hallowed halls of Congress, an ace card player and a stud that both polls ranked as the No. 1 fox hunter in the colonies for 16 straight weeks. Also, leave us not forget that he is, next to the legendary Paul Brown, the only guy with an NFL team named after him. Who else but? Our Bicentennial Sportsman, a legend in his own time, here he is, first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of sportsmen, the coach of our country, will you welcome please, everybody's All-America, George Washington!"
Washington came out, bowed, shaking his head in modesty at the acclaim. He wore a large button on his lapel that said VIRGINIA is FOR LOVERS. The whole crowd, except for Jim Thorpe, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Josh Gibson, rose to its collective feet, and Teddy Roosevelt embraced Washington and rubbed his head affectionately. It took minutes before the room quieted down enough for Washington to speak. "I don't want to talk long because it's late, and to tell you the truth, which you know I always do, my teeth hurt," he began. "But let me just say that this is a tremendous honor for me and my family, and I want to extend to each and every one of you a great big king-size Mount Vernon thank you."
Then he accepted his plaque from Teddy Roosevelt and took the seat next to Ben Franklin. The crowd came to its collective feet again and began chanting, "You're No. 1, You're No. 1," thrusting forefingers in the air. Texas Guinan came over and asked, "Can I get you boys anything from the bar?"
"I'll have a hot buttered rum," Washington said.
"Make that a deuce, hon," Franklin said.
Judge Landis climbed back up on the bar and said, "Thank you all for coming out tonight. You've been bee-ootiful. And now, to close our ceremonies, will you bring back, please, our No. 1 draft choice at the console, Miss Gladys Goodding." To more applause, Gladys tripped in and took her seat.
"Here's my personal favorite, dedicated to the nicest people in the world, Y-O-U know who," she said, and began to play The Star-Spangled Banner once more. Groaning, the crowd struggled to its collective feet. Washington, Franklin, Revere, Henry and Burr looked around in confusion. "Do they always rise to their collective feet whenever she plays that?" Washington asked.
"Beats me," said Franklin.