DICK HITT City Lights

Pssst Buddy . . . Care for a little minutiae match?

There is a players’ circuit in town, around certain bars mostly, where a dude can find a friendly game of trivia. Trivia is big everywhere now, on the game shows, in the TV guides, on radio talk shows. Something else entirely is the caliber of sports trivia played in bars. In this league a trivia challenge can be a physical thing, mano a mano. It’s a mnemonic arm-wrestling match. “So Eddie Gaedel was the midget who had one at-bat for the St. Louis Browns, eh? Big deal. You got me. So tell me the name of Stan Musial’s hometown.”

The trivia circuit has always seemed to gravitate around Chateaubriand, the Bachelor’s Club, Gene Sloan’s, The Clients, and the Stoneleigh Den. Oddly enough, the places where Joe Miller tended bar. However, there were some awfully good trivia nights (really hard-hitting stuff like who was the only major league player ever to wear his hometown on his jersey?) at the old Villager, when Charlie Wendt had it. Hey, here’s a piece of trivia: Joe Miller has it now.

That McKinney Avenue circuit by no means has a monopoly on the trivia franchise. There’s something about bars that produces the frame of mind known as trivia rapture. The next stage is something known around newspaper sports desks as the bar-bet call. The phone rings. “Hello, Sports Department? We’re over here at the Red Hawg Lounge and we wonder if you could settle an argument for us. Would you happen to know Babe Ruth’s earned run average as a pitcher in World Series games?”

One of the drawbacks of modern newspaper technological progress is an advanced telephone system that now permits calls from drunks in bars to be intercepted by an operator when the sportswriters are busy. This has deprived the sportswriters of some stimulating questions. There are sportswriters in town who have discovered their favorite bars while tracing some of these calls.

A classic story is the time a bar patron called the Times Herald sports desk and said, “Could you tell me who won the first Rose Bowl game, Alabama or Southern California?” “Alabama,” the sportswriter said. “Ah, good. Now would you mind telling my buddy the answer to that question? He wants to hear it for himself. Wait a minute while I hand him the phone. . .” “Southern California,” the naughty sports-writer told the other guy.

Often, bartenders will make the call, acting as referee for the dueling trivialists on the other side of the bar. Sometimes bartenders themselves provoke an outbreak of minutiaecuffs.

Here is some trivia trivia in that field: Name the bartender who holds the record for Most Calls (3) to a Newspaper Over a Two-Year Period Asking the Same Question. He kept forgetting the name of the guy who ranked right after Len Dawson in total career yardage gained at Purdue. I won’t embarrass Brownie Atlason by telling you the answer to that question. And I don’t recall the name of the player, either – and that’s after having looked it up three times over a two-year period.

A world-class maestro in the field of sports trivia is columnist Blackie Sherrod, who is mild-mannered and unassuming and haunted by his talent like one of the tragic reluctant gunfighters of the old West. Everywhere he goes, he is pestered by fans of sport and of Sherrod, beseeching him for trivia answers.

Despite his mastery, he was once stumped for six months on a challenge from Clint Mur-chison, which was “What is S.I. Hayakawa’s middle name?”

Sherrod is a pioneer in the field of investigative trivia, as when he publicly exposed as fraudulent the conundrum “Name the four pro athletes who were voted most-valuable-player in their respective sports the same year, and all wore number 32.”

Most of the better trivia play-JOHN BENOIST ers seem to be media types, | which isn’t surprising since they have chosen a career of reporting | future trivia. The best non-media expert I ever encountered ’ was Michael Schaenen, the only former Dallas investment banker ever to become David Susskind’s son-in-law. Mickey Schaenen knows the name of the batter who was on deck when Bobby Thompson hit the miracle home run.

It should be a point of local pride that Dallas, in fact, is now a national center in the production of trivia. Big-league trivia is seined regularly in the Dallas Cowboys’ front office by a fellow named Bruce Jolesch, whose duties include collating statistics and turning out finished trivia. Thus Bruce is the first to notice, and to report in his column in the Dallas Cowboys Weekly, when John Fitzgerald passes Dave Manders in the most-center-snaps-while-in-shotgun-formation category.

Fight, Poets, Fight!

Moving on to the more dignified arena of academe, I am thrilled (and vindicated) to discover that my own special field of trivia is soon to be a major thesis.

Although I have sat in during some trivia matches and have had my moments, I have never risen much higher than spear-carrier among the great soloists of La Triviata. I could never find anyone who was interested in my special field, which is nicknames of teams.

One of my first jobs in Dallas journalism was as ringmaster for a group of student writers who came to the Times Herald on Friday nights and wrote brief reports of high school football games. One 4 a.m. I realized that somehow I had absorbed the nicknames of all these teams over the season and could automatically tell you that it was the Clifton Cubs, the Itasca Wampus Cats, the Frisco Coons, the Seagoville Dragons, the Celina Bobcats. It was a habit that grew to annoy my wife, the Marchesa, as when we would drive through a town and I would say, “Ah, here’s Cleburne. Cleburne Yellowjackets.”

Port Lavaca Sandcrabs, Aransas Pass Panthers, Abernathy Antelopes, Pine Tree Pirates, I was insufferable. Nicknames are a sensitive subject with my wife anyway, since she is a graduate of Sidney Lanier High in Montgomery, Alabama, home of the most unfearsomely hilarious team nickname I have ever memorized: The Lanier Poets. How do they ever win a game? It always struck me as a supreme irony that I should be connected, through marriage, to one of the dumbest nicknames ever. Dumber than Farmesville Fighting Farmers, dumber than Robstown Cottonpickers, dumber than Floydada Whirlwind, Amarillo Golden Sandstorm, Pampa Harvesters, and Rotan Yellowhammers.

The discipline of nickname study has taken an exponential leap forward in 1980 at East Texas State University (Lions), located in Commerce (Tigers). There, a graduate student named Larry Maroney, who is an assistant coach at nearby Sulphur Springs (Wildcats), has done a study of team nicknames in Texas. His faculty collaborator was Dr. Fred Tarpley, professor and head of the Department of Literature and Language, and whose specialty is English Linguistics.

Scholar Maroney’s study had disclosed that there are 178 team names represented in 1127 Texas high schools. The curiosity that Dr. Tarpley first noticed was that while you’d think Texans, being audacious rugged individualists, would name their teams something indigenous to Texas tradition – Ranchers, Cowboys, Rustlers, Pioneers, etc. – they don’t. The most common team name in the state is Bulldogs, with 90. There are 85 called Eagles, 76 Tigers, 56 Panthers, 53 Wildcats, 43 Lions, 39 Mustangs, 36 Hornets. After those eight from the animal kingdom, the belligerent human image surfaces in ninth place: There are 35 teams called Indians and 31 known as Pirates. There are 63 schools with unique nicknames, from Armadillo to Zebra, and also the Troy Trojans, the Van Vandals, the Winters Blizzards, the Turkey Turks, the Matador Matadors, and the Yoe Yoemen.

Dr. Tarpley admits that he, too, has become enamored of this exotic field of scholarship. It’s only a shame that this study wasn’t undertaken until after the Masonic Home Mighty Mites had given up football. It might be the greatest victory for English Linguistics since they clobbered the Lanier Poets.

Words vs. numbers: The words win

Last month, if you read a reference to the number of new Dallasites moving to the city every month, you probably said, “Why didn’t he try to find out how many there are?” A very perceptive question on your part, and the answer is that space didn’t permit an explanation of just how it was that I was unable to obtain that figure.

It may be that nobody really knows. What would seem to be the ultimate repository of such information gleaned from various computers would be the Convention & Visitors Bureau of the Chamber of Commerce. They referred me to a staff member named Stan Kowalski, who explained very knowledgeably why that question can’t be answered. It’s because of the modal anomalies and demographic variations and the paradox of annualized averaged net migration as opposed to gross adjusted interpolations of population subsidence tendencies, or something. Anyway, it’s far more than immigrations plus retentions minus emigrations and deaths. For a moment there during his mulling of the possibility that there might be a bottom line to the statistics, he mentioned the figure 73,000 as a possible recent annual average, then said that the error factor was so uncontrollable as to render the figure useless, and the best thing to do would be to wait until 1982 or so, when the 1980 census figures should be available.

Whatever the total turns out to be, it willinclude Stan Kowalski, who was born inNew Jersey but spent a lot of time in Tennessee and moved here from Florida, tocount Dallasites.

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