Monday, November 11, 2013

MIA: The Baseball Bunch

Ready to play
We're learning the way
To do it right
We're the Baseball Bunch

Let us talk about the power of Cultureshark. You will remember that some time ago I wrote about the mysterious disappearance of "Gimme a Break" from the pop culture landscape. Mere months later, Nell-a-holics--or is it Breakers--must be giddy with the show's surfacing on TV One. Perhaps today's post will be a lucky charm to resurrect this program: "The Baseball Bunch."

When I first thought about this 1980s Major League Baseball production, it was when baseball season was starting up, and I looked on YouTube for episodes and found virtually nothing. Now there is at least one episode available, but it doesn't have the theme song. I appreciate the upload, but The Baseball Bunch without its theme song is like Ozzie Smith without his glove. Hey, guess who just happens to be in that episode?

Yep, it's the Wizard of Oz, who gives the kids some fielding tips and is showcased in a montage of his fantastic defensive plays set to the music of--ah, ah, ah, I'm not going to say it for the same reason I'm not linking to that episode. Why give someone another reason to yank it? Suffice to say the song is a soft rock staple of the early 1980s, a mellow tune with a title spot-on for a sequence of Ozzie Smith plays.

The premise of "The Baseball Bunch" is simple: Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench hangs around with a bunch of kids and teaches them lessons about baseball and sportsmanship because...well, he's not their coach. He's not related to them. He's...He's...Hmm, maybe the premise isn't as simple as I thought. But it is a lot more innocent than I just made it sound.

The episode I watched recently had all the elements I wanted to see besides that theme song, though. There were some good tips, a cameo by a star player, and most importantly, Johnny Bench being exasperated by the San Diego Chicken. Come to think, he kind of comes off as a bit of a jerk. You spent a decade sharing a clubhouse with Pete Rose, but you can't tolerate the lovable Chicken's zany mix-ups? What we DO miss in this episode is Tommy Lasorda as a genie (I don't remember ever cursing a Dodger Blue streak on the mascot on the show, but if he did, someone send me the audio). You just don't get those kind of hijinks from Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

In fact, you don't get this kind of show, period, anymore. I wouldn't want to see MLB try to do this today, as it would probably be lame and forced. The Bunch appeared in first-run syndication from 1980 to 1985, and these days game shows, courtroom shows, and talk shows rule first run, not shows that are...good. There IS one remaining bastion of syndicated kid-friendly programming, though: the numerous weekend and early-morning E/I slots waiting to be filled by TV shows that somehow trick the FCC into believing they are educational. I'd like to see reruns of "The Baseball Bunch" fill some of those E/I positions. I mean, Jack Hanna can't take care of all those hours, can he?

The least Major League Baseball could do is just make those episodes available on its own network. MLB Network runs the same talking heads shows over and over again, especially during the offseason. I think it could spare the time to run a few "Bunch" episodes. A DVD release would be welcome, too, something like the surprise 1978 season set of "This Week in Baseball" they quietly introduced last year. Actually, the LEAST MLB could do would be to just dump them up on YouTube, and I'd be fine with that. I just want to see Johnny Bench, the Chicken, and Spike, Katie, Butch, Donna, Red, Myron, Darnell, Christina, and Th'Qaar VI (OK, I may have fabricated the kids' names) released from captivity so they can teach me and my kids the right way to play.

We've got a hunch you'll love
The Baseball Bunch!


Michael Cowgill said...

Follow-up question. What happened to the once ubiquitous San Diego Chicken?

Rick Brooks said...

Faded out of sight for a while. At height of reality boom, pitched a show to Food Network called "Tastes Like Me" where he would travel the country sampling exotic goods. When that was rejected, he quietly retired.