Jones’ antics in Detroit bring back memories of “Baseball Soliloquy in Pantomime”
by Matthew Taylor
Thanks to the Tigers’ Todd Jones, shown in the rain delay video above, this week’s Flashback Friday could only be about one thing: Rick Dempsey’s “Baseball Soliloquy in Pantomime.”
Daniel Okrent describes Dempsey’s efforts:
He was an intense man, who concentrated mightily on the game. For relief from baseball pressures, he would take it upon himself to be the club entertainer. The son of two former vaudevillians, he had a knack for performance, and was particularly renowned for his ‘Baseball Soliloquy in Pantomime.’ It was a comic turn he’d occasionally perform during rain delays, stuffing his uniform with padding and prancing around a soggy tarpaulin performing exaggerated parodies of hitters, pitchers, umpires. It was genuinely funny, and while impatient fans waited for the rains to end, they’d applaud Dempsey lustily. His teammates and members of the opposing team would stand in the dugouts and applaud with the fans, especially when Dempsey concluded his routine with a mammoth belly-flop slide into home plate on the infield tarp, his momentum carrying him for yards, a rooster tail of rainwater behind him.
Weaver enjoyed ‘Soliloquy’ and came to enjoy even more the defensive skills Dempsey developed. He had the best record in the league at throwing out base stealers, and had mastered the rest of a catcher’s defensive repertory as well. At the 1980 winter meetings, while Harry Dalton was trying to sort out the complexities of his trade with St. Louis, Baltimore general manager Hank Peters told Whitey Herzog, ‘We wouldn’t trade Dempsey and [then backup] Dan Graham for Simmons even up.’ Meanwhile, the rest of the Oriole offense was generating enough runs to let Weaver, after platooning Dempsey with Graham in 1980, learn to live with Dempsey’s mild bat (Dempsey knew Graham was a good hitter, but also felt ‘Danny couldn’t catch his own butt with both hands’). He called a good game, too, even if not good enough for the headstrong Palmer, who insisted on calling his own, using the signs only as a medium that would guarantee both pitcher and catcher knew what the next pitch was.
But still there was a conflict with Weaver. The manager not only seemed constantly to be searching for a catcher who could hit home runs (ideally from the left side of the plate); he also, until 1981, pulled Dempsey for pinch hitters rather more frequently than Dempsey preferred. They quarreled over how to pitch to batters and over virtually any other subject.
Source: Okrent (1985), “Nine Innings: The Anatomy of a Baseball Game,” p. 246.
Dempsey’s play-acting during rain delays are still among my favorite memories of those Orioles years. I loved everything about him, especially the way he would pick off every would be base-stealer. The downside is that he set my expectations too high for what I should reasonably expect of a catcher.
Thanks for sharing your memories, Enchanting Sunshine. Whenever I think of Dempsey as a player, two memories come to mind: his rain delay routine and his 1983 World Series MVP. Now Dempsey as an “O’s Extra” announcer? Well, for that I think of him pronouncing Melky Cabrera’s first name as “Milky.” Either way, thinking of the guy puts a smile on my face.