Originally posted November 13, 2009:
It’s a busy day today, but it’s for a good reason.
Tomorrow, my long-time pals Rick, Rob and Dan come into St. Cloud for our fourth annual Strat-O-Matic baseball tournament. From mid-morning to early evening, we’ll laugh, tell stories, listen to a wide variety of tunes and play a little tabletop baseball along the way.
Once again, Rob is the defending champion. In last year’s tournament, his two-time champ, the 1922 St. Louis Browns, were knocked off in the first round. But he took his second team – the 1995 Colorado Rockies – to the title with a remarkable combination of lots of offense, some good bullpen management and lots of luck. (Even he acknowledges that last part.)
So Rick, Dan and I will try to keep Rob from winning a fourth straight title. For those who are interested, here are the teams that are in this year’s tournament. (For those uninterested, you can skip to the next paragraph.)
Rob: The defending champion 1995 Rockies and the 1922 New York Giants
Rick: The 1976 Phillies and the 1990 Athletics
Dan: The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1927 New York Yankees
Me: The 1948 Indians and the 1961 Cincinnati Reds
Whatever happens, the day of the annual tournament is one of the best days of the year for me, a chance to share my home and some very good times with my long-time friends. The Texas Gal puts up with the noise and the disruption with an amazing amount of grace. I imagine that our two annual tournaments (baseball in the autumn and hockey in spring) leave her feeling as if she’s the housemother in a fraternity house for graying sophomores.
Each spring and fall, as we plan our menu and the required grocery and liquor store trips, she’ll remind me of something and say, “That’s for the Saturday the boys are here, so make sure we have enough.”
We’ll have plenty of everything we need tomorrow, when the boys are back in town.
A Six-Pack of Boys
“The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy from Jailbreak 
“Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” by Brownsville Station from Yeah! 
“Boys in the Band” by Mountain from Climbing! 
“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley from Building the Perfect Beast 
“One of the Boys” by Mott the Hoople from All The Young Dudes 
“The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic from The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys 
The most anthemic of these is the Thin Lizzy track (though Don Henley comes close). With its almost relentless guitar riffs, “The Boys Are Back In Town” dares you not to tap your feet or bob your head or pound out a rhythm on the steering wheel. And if you’re in the car, there’s no way you’re not going to turn the radio up all the way. The single was Thin Lizzy’s only hit, peaking at No. 12 during the summer of 1976. Oh, and that line about “drivin’ all the old men crazy”? It’s a little disquieting to realize that if I were anyone in the song these days, I’d be one of those old men.
I always thought Brownsville Station’s “Smoking in the Boys’ Room” was kind of a silly song, but then, it came along a little bit after I left high school and before there were hardly any anti-smoking regulations came to our college campus: Smoking was definitely allowed in school. But it moves along nicely, boogies a little bit, and it does have a hell of a hook. The single went to No. 3 during the winter of 1973-74.
Mountain’s “Boys in the Band” is a subtle track, almost delicate at moments, that seems to belie the band’s reputation for guitar excess. But the elegiac tone fits perfectly for a song that’s has its protagonist saying goodbye to his band and life on the road:
“We play tunes today
“Leaving memory of yesterday.
“All the circles widen getting in the sun,
“All the seasons spinning all the days one by one”
The title of Don Henley’s album, Building the Perfect Beast, fits, because Henley darn near built the perfect pop song in “The Boys of Summer.” Backed on that track by a stellar quartet – Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, Steve Porcaro of Toto, studio pro Danny Kortchmar and bassist Larry Klein – Henley melds haunting music and literate and thoughtful lyrics into a cohesive whole. And you can tap your feet to it, too. (Or pound on the steering wheel, if you’re driving behind that Cadillac with the Grateful Dead sticker on it.) The single went to No. 5 during its fourteen weeks on in the Top 40 as 1984 turned into 1985.
Hey kids! Hear that odd sound at the beginning of Mott the Hoople’s “One of the Boys”? When we old farts talk about dialing a telephone, that’s what it sounded like. That’s an honest-to-god dial telephone. There are other positives to the song, too, of course: It’s a crunchy piece of rock, with its chords shimmering in the glam persona of Ian Hunter and his band, and it’s another opportunity to bruise your hands on the steering wheel.
On a Saturday sometime around 1975, I was sitting in the basement rec room, reading and listening to Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. I’d borrowed the album from someone – maybe Rick – and was trying to decide if I should shell out some own coin for my own copy. I liked what I heard and was thinking about heading downtown later in the day to buy the record. As the languid title track played, I heard the door at the top of the basement stairs open and I recognized my dad’s tread. Steve Winwood sang:
“If you had just a minute to breathe
“And they granted you one final wish . . .”
My dad, coming into the room, sang: “Would you wish for fish?”
And from that moment on, every time I’ve heard the song, I remember my dad being silly. I miss him.