Dem Bums

Brooklyn Bum.

Brooklyn Bum.

The best part of summer is baseball. In our house that means the Dodgers with Vin Scully, peanuts, and hot dogs. As I write this, the Dodgers are in third place in their division behind the Giants and the Rockies but not to worry, it’s only May and there’s a lot of baseball still to be played – plenty of time to fall all the way down into last place. I say this with love …and a lifetime of Dodger fan experience.

It’s not that I’m cynical; it’s just that I know my bums too well. My earliest memories of the Dodgers go back to the Los Angeles Coliseum days when the O’Malley’s first brought them out to L.A. My wife, a Brooklyn girl, goes back even further, to Ebbets Field when they were known lovingly as the Brooklyn Bums. For the Dodgers, cities may change but dem bums linger on.

It’s amazing, but the Dodgers of today hark back to the Brooklyn Bums days, making the same kinds of mistakes of old, like loading the bases with runners and leaving them there. Missed opportunities, fielding errors and a weak bullpen are just a few things the Los Angeles and Brooklyn clubs have in common. And, yes, the Dodgers still fall apart against their legendary nemesis, the Giants. Bums will be bums.

How the Dodgers got their nickname is an interesting story. The Dodgers were first portrayed as a hobo-esque tramp in newspaper sports cartoons drawn by sports cartoonist, Willard Mullin. Mullin (September 14, 1902 – December 20, 1978) was a widely syndicated cartoonist: his cartoons appeared daily for Scripps-Howard’s New York World-Telegram and Sun for decades and was often published in Scripps-Howard’s twenty papers, as well as in the Sporting News. He became world famous for his creation of the “Brooklyn Bum,” which was the personification of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

WE INTERRUPT THIS COLUMN FOR A NOTE TO PEOPLE UNDER THE AGE OF 50:

(a “newspaper” was a daily printed publication featuring various sections of news, sports, business, comics, and other information. The “Sports Section” usually included a large one-panel cartoon related to current sporting events. The men who drew these cartoons were very much like “editorial cartoonists” except their focus was sports. We now return to our column.)

Getting back to cartoonist Willard Mullin, it was a taxi driver who inspired his famous creation. Mullin was leaving Ebbets Field one night during the 1938 season, after watching the Brooklyn Dodgers drop another one, when he jumped into a cab. “How did our bums do today?” the driver asked. From then on, Mullin’s Brooklyn Bum became the pencil-and-ink symbol of the perennial underdog franchise: The Brooklyn Bum sported three-day stubble, a crumpled fedora, patchwork pants, a sloppy fat pear-shaped body, and an ever-present stogie sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

Millions of baseball fans from the ‘30s through the ‘70s looked forward to Mullin’s cartoons in their daily paper. Mullin was voted “Sports Cartoonist of the Century” upon his retirement by his peers, and his legacy has been summed up by New Yorker cartoonist Bob Staake, who wrote, “Mullin defined the modern sports cartoon by combining representative portraiture, cartoonish doodlery, and editorial commentary — part news account, part personal observation, his cartoons celebrated sport for its entertainment, cultural, and artistic values.”

A wonderful compilation, “Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball Drawings 1934-1972,” was published last year by Fantagraphics. Besides the Brooklyn Bum, the book features Mullin’s delightful caricatures of legendary players such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Sandy Koufax.

If Mullin could come back and see what ballplayers look like today I imagine he would be amused. His sloppy hobo look has actually caught on! 75 years later, Mullin’s Brooklyn Bum has become a reality! Three-day stubble on major league players is so commonplace these days, no one even comments on it. Now the big thing are these lumberjack full beards which makes the players look like the guys out of Duck Dynasty. Sloppy uniforms, worn on big bellied players are absolutely reminiscent of that famous “Brooklyn Bum” cartoon character.

Of course Mullin’s bum couldn’t be drawn and published today. You can’t caricature what already is a caricature. Besides, the cartoon would undoubtedly be seen as cruel and deliberate bullying. That charge would open the cartoonist up to all kinds of possible lawsuits from offended players, not to mention civil rights violations levied by the Hobo Coalition (AKA HOCO).

Today’s Dodgers may not look anything like the Dodgers of the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, or ‘70s, but one thing is for sure – the way they play, they’re still “dem bums” to me! I say this with love.

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