An Angry Tradition
by Les Coole
Spring, 1994. Arlington, Virginia. Thirteen men comprising a veritable softball who's who of Cliff Krug's Rolodex came together to form the newest, loudest, and - in many of their own minds, best - entrant in the Arlington Men's Softball League. Many of the necessary preparatory tasks had been fulfilled. The team jerseys would be navy blue with gold lettering, Chris Marston would wear the number 0, and John "Goofy" Fischel would be the only member of the team who wouldn't get a brand new nickname. But naming the squad was proving to be a daunting chore, for it was suspected even then that whatever tag they chose would be a moniker that would stick for years to come. Just when it looked like they would be settling for "Regency Moving & Storage," "Lumpless Gravy," or "Another Reason to Drink," a night out on the town rendered the label that would indeed stick: 12 Angry Men & a Married Guy.
|The only photographic evidence of Angry Ball (1995)|
Jason "Married Guy" Elliott, the lone member of the group who had tendered his resignation to bachelorhood, became the first "Married Guy" of many to come. He and the 12 Angry Men, or "Angries," as supporters took to calling them, were a rough assortment of college friends, hometown buddies, colleagues, and relatives. No by-laws or ground rules were ever written for 12 Angry Men & a Married Guy, but anyone who observed them in action could notice that they all seemed to adhere to a list of priorities that looked something like this: (1) Gather once a week to play softball with men; (2) When at all possible, consume beer before, after, or preferably during the games; (3) Heckle opponents if situations allow or call for it, but heckle teammates at all costs; (4) Try to win. Certain members of the club had their own additional demands, of course, such as Rob "Muggsy" Russell's "Jersey gets dirty by end of inning #1," or Curt "Hunter" Moore's "Decoy baserunners from the outfield every time, then gun them out or throw the ball over the backstop," or maybe even Jay "Milky" Saunders' "Round the base, then assess the situation." But no individual agendas ever superceded the team goals as listed above.
The first pair of games not only opened the season but also opened a few eyes among the Angries. Of obvious note was Whitney "Wild Thing" Lester living up to his nickname. Lester issued 41 free passes in his first 33 innings and soon gave up life on the hill for the greener pastures of left field. A more pleasant surprise was infielder/outfielder-turned-every-pitch shortstop Matt "Lefty" Weirich, who stunned his peers both by being capable of sheer wizardry with the leather and also by batting left-handed, which matched his randomly applied handle. A final eyebrow-raiser came in the form of outfielder Doug "Dog" Erney, whose lax demeanor and unkempt appearance belied a swing that prompted the use of countless back-up balls.
Such surprises complemented a stable of already familiar performers. Founding father Cliff "Fast Eddie" Krug led off the potent Angry lineup and proved to be the most versatile fielder, excelling as an infielder, then an outfielder, then a pitcher. Second baseman Russell reached base and tough grounders alike with solid consistency; speedster Tim "Lupus" Sampson turned base hits into routine outs in the outfield and routine outs into base hits on the basepaths; "Buck" Marston's lanky frame meant line drives at the plate and a huge target for infield throws. The group was rounded out by Fischel, a good hitter who turned the position of catcher into "fetcher," Mike "Flash" Pittsman, the clutch-hitting outfielder, and Cliff's older brother Scott Krug, who manned the hot corner and was soon called "Hoover."
12 Angry Men & a Married Guy, upon first glance, appeared a rag-tag bunch of would-be athletes. With all the joking and jocularity in the dugout before a game, opponents couldn't help but notice an apparent lack of concern. Of course, sometime in between the weekly umpire utterance of "Play ball!" and the premier eephus from the home team's hurler, all attentions instantly went from such game-day focus points as the post-game drinking venue (Lester), the young girls walking adjacent to the field (S. Krug), or the latest redneck joke (Moore) to all things softball. And as soon as that play ended, there would be an echo of "Nice play" or "Nice hit" hollers from the Angry Men, whether it would be sincere congratulations or facetious needling. More idle conversation and disregard for the situation at hand would ensue until the next pitch was aloft.
This effortless manner and lack of solid concentration had no real bearing on the level of Angry play. The proximity of most of the guys to their college years kept them resembling athletes and maintaining tolerances. So they were winning - much to the chagrin of the competition, who were burned by this seemingly half-hearted baker's dozen of ballplayers. The first handful of games proved only mildly successful for the club, as they jogged out of the gate to a 5-3-1 record. At that point, however, the ever-bonding team chemistry - along with the decision to let "Wild Thing" roam left field rather than spray the batter's boxes with balls - had them rolling over opponents every week. Nine straight wins closed out the season and had the Angries poised for a tournament run. At 14-3-1 with all aspects clicking, good money was on an Angry sweep. But what happened during that tournament forever changed the future of 12 Angry Men & a Married Guy.
In a display of preparation for the tourney that was fitting for the Men & Guy, all thoughts were on the scheduling conflict that had the final round intersecting with a Jimmy Buffett concert that weekend. Bribery, tournament sabotage and prayers for rain were being discussed over pitchers before the mid-week opening round games. What the fellows didn't know, though, was that there would be plenty of time for Buffett after they dropped two quick ones that night and were bounced out on their backsides. Double-elimination was disastrous, but the losses were made exponentially more painful by the sea of ineptitude that filled the executioners' rosters. With such a strong regular season record, 12 Angry Men & a Married Guy were matched up against the dregs of the league, squads who looked like dental hygienist office teams or the debate team's off-season endeavor. One of the two opposing teams, the Acid Rangers, featured a collection of middle-aged never-weres whom the Angries had handily routed twice during the regular season. The playoff game against the Acid Rangers saw more happy-birthday catches than a Chuck E. Cheese's balloon toss, more closed-eye snatches than when the lights come on at Camelot. And yet all the luck in the world couldn't explain away the two losses. What the Angry Men had been doing to other clubs all year had been done to them. They underestimated the competition and found themselves done for the season. This self-destruction in the playoffs prefaced, if not produced, a string of postseason debacles wherein the Angries have never again played a playoff game, a drought owing to Buffett shows, fishing trips, 75-degree and sunny rain-outs, and, of course, bad play.
The Angry contingent returned in the fall angrier than ever, having been unceremoniously bumped from the playoffs. But the fire, along with "Dog" Erney, among others, was missing. The club finished a mediocre 8-8 and didn't realize until the final week that there were no playoffs for Fall Ball. The season would have been void of excitement at all were it not for the managerial tactic created in the last game of the season. Having notched at least a .500 record in Game 1 of the doubleheader, and having discovered the no-postseason situation, Managers Lester and Krug decided to enact the style of positioning that would come to be known by many names: The Scramble, The Chinese Fire Drill, The One Where Every Inning the Positions Are Determined By Who Runs Out There First. This was a strategy that sometimes amused, sometimes offended, and always confused opponents.
The next spring found the team renamed as 11 Angry Men & 2 Married Guys. The 11 & 2 would become 10 & 3, then 9 & 4, and so on in future years. More of the Angry became Married every year, and more of the original 13 left the fray with each season. Relocations, job constraints, marriages, children, and general apathy all contributed to the deterioration of the once mighty Angries. The highlights still appeared, like "Fe" Lester's 75-game Iron Man Streak and "Atty" Sampson's amazing catch behind Charlie "Fungo" Carter's miscalculated charge, but they were all too few and far between.
A number of new faces did prove to be worthy additions: power-swinging 1B Chris "Twinkle Toes" Prophett, tomahawking 3B Johnny "Smokin'" Grant, jack beast OF Andy "Babe" Ruckman, and 3' or 300' C Robert "Tiny" Tinsley brought a deep threat to the Angry lineup, though all but Grant have since moved on. OF Kevin "Dirt" Lynch added hustle, a quick bat, and a huge mouth for several seasons. 1B-OF Daren "G-Love" Gutschow's and C-2B Mike "Pee Wee" Faraci provided hit after hit at the plate while IF?-OF?-DH T.J. Doyle provided laugh after laugh in the field. But the wins stopped coming for the Angry Men, and then the players stopped coming. Forfeits, which had only been feared as something the opposition might experience, had become a weekly threat by 1998. Playing with eight players, more than a slight handicap, became a regular sight at Angry games. A pair of ass-whippings but a pretty decent post-game bitch session over beers was the norm for summer Wednesdays in Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Despite the fall-off in performance, however, the attitudes on the field remained spirited, and the quick-witted barbs kept the troops coming out.
The Angry franchise hit a new low in November of 1999 when Fairfax County Adult Softball League informed them, just as Arlington had done a year earlier, that the Angries would no longer be welcome in their organization. 4 Angry Men and 9 Married Guys or any reconfiguration thereof, along with owner E. Clifford Krug, Jr. and manager Robert L. "Nap" Russell, were banned from the league for one year. Forfeits had taken their toll, though scheduling nightmares orchestrated by other members of the league had contributed to their plight this time around.
Just when the Angries had decided to rebound from what was perceived as the worst moment in team history, the club received a dose of sad reality when true disaster struck. Pitcher Chad "Hack" Price, a mainstay on the squad for several seasons, was killed in an automobile accident in March of 2000. Such a tragedy greatly overshadowed any of the Angries' other mild misfortunes. The team, shaken by his passing, dedicated the 2000 season to Chad by agreeing to don black uniforms with his initials on the sleeve. Though the Angry Men and Married Guys cannot participate as such, the entity now called the Team Formerly Known As Angry Men, or T.F.K.A.A.M. in the league ledger, will carry on the Angry tradition in 2000. Team owners in the interim will be Michael "Tricky Dick" Faraci and John "Milli" Grant, and a new dugout manager will appear in the form of Edward C. "Charlie Hustle" Krug, Jr. Whitney "Rocker" Lester will attempt to return to form after undergoing wrist surgery last season, and Rob "Napoleon" Russell will experience his first Opening Day as a Married Guy. They are all a long way from their exciting beginnings in the spring of 1994 in Arlington, Virginia. Still, whether you call them T.F.K.A.A.M., 3 Angry Men and 10 Married Guys, or simply the Angries, you'll find a renewed commitment among apathetic men, a youthful exuberance among aging bodies, and a twelve-pack of cheap suds among many, many signs clearly stating park regulations outlawing the consumption of alcohol. That same Angry spirit still flows at the ballpark, and it probably will for years and years to come.
-------------- Freelance writer Les Coole has been following the Angries since their origin in 1994.