Rufus T. Fireball Fingers and their finery

Every day is Christmas if their a Havanese


Been walking around all morning with 10 baseball cards in the pocket of either my Patagonia green vest or my Polo maroon cotton pants, what I call “finery”; “Finery” is a fancy English major word for good clothes. If you know me you likely think of me in jeans or shorts; today I have the Polo pants, a cashmere cable knit blue sweater from Nordstrom, and a black James Perse t-shirt that nobody can see. My wife Terry actually picked out all of the above items. I am dressed up for Christmas, her holiday. I looked in my Webster’s 11th to learn that “finery” meaning fancy clothes sometimes to show off, since about 1869. On the way there, I noticed the term “fireballer” which as of about 1945 means a baseball pitcher who throws that ball at a high velocity. I wonder which strikeout pitcher from the 1940s was the first person to be described in that term. (Not to be confused with “fireman” as a relief pitcher — putting out a fire – confusingly mixed metaphor, becasue the fireman is not putting out a fire started by the fireballer. I think “fireman” as relief pitcher came later. Of course, now with corporate creep and advertisement the relief itcher is sometimes on Tums if not speed).

So the ten cards are:

  1. Butler of the San Francisco (Seals) 1914 Zeenut Pacific Coast league;
  2. Rollie Fingers, Oakland A’s, pitcher, Topps 1973 (with mustache);
  3. “Reggie Jackson In Action”, Oakland A’s, 1972 Topps (holding a bat, clean shaven, I think)
  4. Jim Hunter, Oakland A’s, 1973 Topps, pitcher (holding a ball, holding a mitt, mustache);
  5. Jim Hunter, Oakland A’s, 1972 pitcher, Topps, (no mustache, hands over head, mitt — I guess I should add here that “Butler…SF” is wearing a cap, swinging a bat, righty);
  6. Reggie Jackson, A’s, (sic) Topps, 1972, holding a bat, batting helmet, mustache;
  7. Rollie Fingers, 1971 Topps, Athletics, sic, no mustache, glove, pitcher;
  8. Reggie Jackson, 1970 Topps “The Sporting News American League All Star”, OF, holding a bat, cap not helmet, no mustache — the cap has an “A” for Athletics or A’s;
  9. Reggie Jackson, 1974 Topps, Oakland A’s, Outfield (mustache and beard);
  10. Reggie Jackson, 1975 SSPC sic, mustache no beard, glasses;

So, neither Jim Hunter nor Rollie Fingers were strictly speaking a fireballer; I remember also there was a “Get a Hit off Ken Holtzman” contest, but he was more tricky stuff and a good curve; there was also Vida Blue and Johnny Blue Moon Odom – which maybe fits back with my sartorial theme, since they are colored.

But Butler of the Seals is the biggest anomaly and the most Plasty. One thing, Zeenut is a wildcard — rather obscure card brand — although so is SSPC. It’s hard to find Butler of the Seals on any of the internet sites. There was a Butler, John or Johnny on the Los Angeles Angeles of the old PCL that I am guessing is the same guy, and he bounced a bit from SF to LA in the bushes or beaches before moving up to the bigs. There is pretty good guess that John or Johnny Butler of the LA PCL later played for the Dodgers in Brooklyn of the National and Major Leagues about 10 years later, 100 games or more two staight season. My hard copy encyclopedia says he had a nickname: Rail or something, locomotive – maybe he was fast. As compared to the Iron Horse who was more durable than fast. Butler in the encyclopedia also died in CA years later, maybe overlapping with me on this planet, although I was likely in the midwest at the time. I think Butler played a season or partial season for the Cubs, but well before I was around. I was saying or thinking that that he died in California might be consistent with him being the Coast League busher in California. We might be talking about four different Butlers: SF, LA, John and Johnny. I’m skipping a few thoughts but: Con Dempsey, Dave Dempsey’s dad, and Nolan Dempsey’s granddad, led the Seals and the PCL in strikeouts and his only trading card is for the Phillies but he played his only season or part season for the Bucs.

Rufus T. Firefly is a Groucho Marx character and a red herring here. (As is my dog barreling up the sidewalk exactly sixty feet six inches. I used a plural in the headline in keeping with the times, the blurring of being a he, she or a they. And in dufferance to my poor pooch losing two balls, the worst type of “let’s play two” I would think. Although that does remind me of a Roberto Clemente joke by George Carlin: did he hurt his balls or just take ball two. (And I don’t think Carlin would have made that joke in the first place if he knew that the Pirates star would later die in a plane crash).

Can you Hear What I hear vs humm baby humm baby, come on you fireballing babe.


But there are some 2-way words, those double-meaning words. Remember the ones you giggled at in sixth grade? “…And the cock crowed three times.” “Hey, the cock crowed 3 times. Ha ha ha ha. Hey, it’s in the Bible. Ha ha ha ha.” There are some 2-way words, like it’s okay for Curt Gowdy to say “Roberto Clemente has 2 balls on him,” but he can’t say, “I think he hurt his balls on that play, Tony. Don’t you? He’s holding them. He must’ve hurt them, by God.” And the other 2-way word that goes with that one is prick. It’s okay if it happens to your finger. You can prick your finger but don’t finger your prick. No, no.

and2: when i worked for the worcester telegram in summer of 1985 there was a staff meeting and the editor, Ken something, was angry. He said there was a headline that had snuck through that was likely to get us all written up in the journalism journals. something about a trial of some alleged criminals or gansters, and one of them was named Colon, like, later, the baseball flamethrowing fireballing fireman Bartolo Colon and he was being ratted out by the first guy, who history has forgotten, and the headline, lets just be self-similar here and call him Jackson, the headline says JACKSON FINGERS COLON. As in points him out, identifies him, blames him, implicates him, indicts him. But the Ken editor guy could only picture some guy with his finger in his butt.

and3: Ok, he became the 47th guy to start 500 games, and won about 250 so he was no fireman. But he was also, among other things, Big Sexy, if you can believe wikipedia.

and4: “duck soup” means easy, but there’s a quote from Groucho about some horrible sounding recipe and then he says you can duck soup meaning get out of doing it, avoid it.

and5: there’s a baseball card of Butler of the Rochester minors, like a tobacco card, around 1910, I think its the same guy.

and6: I was thinking but forget to work the corners to nibble up to the fact that Negro Leagues are now considered Major leagues.

and7: from Adam McC beat writer for the Brewskies:

Fortified by a blockbuster trade at the 1980 Winter Meetings that landed Fingers, Simmons and Pete Vuckovich from the Cardinals, the ‘81 Brewers were off to a 31-25 start when the players went on strike over a disagreement with owners about the rules of free agency. Baseball shut down on June 12 and didn’t resume until Aug. 10, and it was decided that the first- and second-half champions would meet for the first Division Series in Major League Baseball history. The Brewers made their first postseason appearance by winning the second half — and the right to face the Yankees in baseball’s first DS — in no small part because of Fingers. Of the team’s 31 victories in the second half, Fingers pitched in 24 of them with 16 saves and five victories. He finished with a 1.04 ERA and Major League-leading 28 saves in 78 innings on the way to becoming the first relief pitcher in history to win his league’s Cy Young Award and MVP Award in the same year.


from “A Night at the Opera, the Marx Brothers disrupting a symphony to play baseball, which also reminds me that Terry and I used my parents second row seats — behind Reed Dennis the trustee, to see a matinee that was simulcast to free fans at the Giants baseball park and I and this confederate behind me got the audience to sing “take me out to the ballgame” or maybe “star spangled banner” while they announced that we were pausing for something at the ball park satellite event:

And 8: my former Gunn basketball teammate (although his twin brother was also a teammate at Terman junior high in flag football) Judge Muff Bonini — Griffin — was in the sports collectors club and knowledgeable about the game and reminded me somewhat recently that one of his favorite player’s nicknames was Carl Hubbell “The Meal Ticket” but he had a screwball more than was a fireballer.

And 9: two books, one by Tyler Kepner of the Times about baseball in the 10 or 8 different pitches; the other by Tim Wendel  called “High Heat” and we also lost Dalko this year to Covid-19, but he was lost himself for many years previously.

extra innings:

Bob Feller firing the ball versus a motorcycle going 90:

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
This entry was posted in sports, words and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s