On May 8th in this space I ran a spider-like diagram showing how a whole batch of connections tied Milton Caniff to many others in the comics universe, spanning a period from the 1910s (through folks like George McManus) to today (in the person of John Romita). Here’s another story about interconnectedness, this one involving little ol’ moi …
HERE’S THE BACKGROUND OF IT: I grew up a huge baseball fan, even though I was never much of a player, stuck in the outfield, where near-sightedness and astigmatisms played hob with me on high fly balls. Still, I loved the game, and I avidly followed the major leagues—that meant Ned Martin and Jim Woods on the radio, broadcasting Red Sox games and telling us stories if the Atlanta Crackers and other baseball historical ephemera during rain delays—the NBC Game of the Week on many Saturday afternoons—the All-Star Game, playoffs, and World Series. I’d see ’em all and read The Sporting News religiously each week.
No surprise, then, that in 1978 I bought a copy of the seamhead’s original Bible, the Baseball Encyclopedia. I kept that enormous hardcover on my reference shelf for decades, until last year. That’s when a used bookstore opened in my town of residence and in their sports section was a nice, hardcover 1993 copy of the Encyclopedia. Fifteen extra years of baseball, captured between two covers and available for less than a ten-spot! Like a cold-blooded general manager trading a beloved old superstar for a flashier, younger player, in July of 2011 I sold that bookstore my ’78Encyclopedia and brought home the ’93 edition.
HERE’S THE MEAT OF IT: As I prepared to write the biographical/historical text feature for Steve Canyon Volume 2, I knew I would need some information on the St. Louis Browns, since the oft-hapless Brownies feature in one of Steverino’s adventures.
The St. Louis Browns owner, irrepressible Bill Veeck (rhymes with “heck”) loved outlandish promotions. This photo was taken on August 24, 1951 during “Grandstand Managers Day,” when the paying customers were allowed to call for steals, bunts, or pitching changes by holding up their NO/YES cards.
I did early research on-line, then pulled a couple different books off the shelves before going to the new copy of the Encyclopedia to look up a few specific players who were notable in the Browns’ storied history; inside the book I found something extra that was quite a surprise. Aside from that little bonus, all the research was pleasing and very helpful and I’m both pleased and proud of the Canyon Volume 2 essay, which features some never-before-discussed tidbits of Caniffana I hope readers will enjoy discovering as much as I enjoyed finding and writing about them.
As I worked on Canyon I was reading the strips that would make up Li’l Abner Volume 5, since that was the deadline next looming on my schedule. By the time I reached the August 25, 1944 daily I burst out laughing, struck once again by the interconnectedness of it all.
The last panel of the 08/25/44 Li’l Abner. Our hero clearly has major troubles – so why was I laughing?
HERE’S THE PUNCHLINE OF IT: Remember that little bonus I found in my baseball Encyclopedia? Take a look at what it was:
Yes, as I was paging through the book on my way to an entry about Eddie Gaedel (you’ll read about him in my Steve Canyon feature), I found a 1995 two dollar bill, still crisp as new after almost two decades being pressed between two pages. And the sequence of events greatly amused me. After all, what are the odds that…
– I would need to use my recently-purchased Baseball Encyclopedia to research facts for a Library of American Comics project?
– That in doing so, I would find a two dollar bill sandwiched somewhere in the Encyclopedia‘s 2,857 pages?
– That my next project after Canyon would be the 1943-’44 Li’l Abner?
– And that shortly after my discovery inside the Encyclopedia, I would read an Abner continuity that hinged on a two dollar bill?
You can’t make this stuff up…
By the way, in case you were wondering, two dollar bills were first issued by the American government in 1862, fell out of circulation in 1966, but were brought back with the look shown above as part of the country’s Bi-Centennial celebration (that would be 1976, for those of you who weren’t around for all the hoopla). Believe it or not, they’re still in circulation today, though that’s far from a well-known fact. Those in the know tell me less than one percent of all U.S. bank notes printed in any given year are two dollar bills. Too bad—I don’t collect money for its aesthetics, but I think that’s a pretty sharp-looking piece of lucre.
Between its current scarcity and the years when the bill was unavailable, the phrase “phony as a two dollar bill” is still with us. In my case, however, a more appropriate phrase would be “more improbable than a two dollar bill!”