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Charlie Williams

March 8, 2010

The American Dream is to find home. This dream shaded a 1972 trade featuring Charlie Williams. Charlie Williams was not the focus of the dream, however, and so ended up actually being taken from his home and moved elsewhere. This is the problem of the modern world, I guess, or one of them: the dream of home, always elusive and often invasive or worse (ask an Indian, if you can find one, how he or she feels about the American dream of finding a home), ends up making everyone more or less rootless and adrift.

The trade I’m talking about is the one that sent an aging Willie Mays from San Francisco back to New York, the city where he had begun his incredible major league career. The Mets sent Charlie Williams west to facilitate this homecoming, not balking at the fact that Charlie Williams had an even stronger tie to the Mets’ home than Mays ever could: the young pitcher was then and remains (according to Brian Joura) the only player in Mets history to hail from the very ground the Mets stood on: Flushing, NY. [Update: as pointed out in the comments below, Ed Glynn was another Flushing native who played for the Mets.]

The back of this 1977 card confirms the plumbing-evocative neighborhood name as Charlie Williams’ point of origin, and also relates that the pitcher decided after the 1972 transaction to try to make his new home in Foster City, California. Right around the time of his arrival, events in Foster City inspired an article in the San Francisco Examiner that went on to gain some renown entitled “Mouse Packs: Kids on a Crime Spree.” I haven’t seen this article, but its reputation is of a sensational report on rampant youth vandalism in a recently formed community that had been planned out with the highest aspirations.

A few years ago, a student looking to gather information for a project on the trouble in Foster City posted a question on an internet site hoping to get memories from any Foster City residents from that time. The responses almost all professed surprise that there had been any trouble at all. To them, Foster City was and is just fine. One responder did hint at some trouble out beyond the margins of the vision of the American Dream. It’s interesting to note that in this commenter’s description, the opposite of trouble in Foster City is a world saturated with baseball and with players, or one player in particular (a player who will forever pull Charlie Williams at least slightly into the limelight), who decades later can serve as a potent symbol of home, if not the whole idea of home altogether. Everyone wants to find home. For some of us, home means this game, these cards. Anyway, here’s the take of the commenter, “Joe2,” on the two versions of Foster City, one within the safety of the baseball field, and one beyond that safety:

I remember the “Mouse Packs” clearly. I was 13, it was summer of 1973 and it was baseball season. We played in a big field that used to be behind the fire station. We were good kids, we played in the parks, went swmming/sailing in the lagoon, joined a father & son group called “indian guides” and rode our bikes to Safeway to buy baseball cards. I still have my Willie Mays in action cards. There were a couple of bad influence kids arround, and I know they were going arround pulling hood ornaments off cars. They pulled the BWM crome plates off with screw drivers. I remember Dad told me about the Mouse Packs story, and I thought it was about these kids . . .

There were some bad apples, but we were good kids.

 

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot, as I am prone to do, about Kelly Leak, specifically the particularly iconic version of Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, and I have even gone so far as to begin trying to imagine Kelly’s life away from the baseball field.

This past weekend, I finally watched the 1979 film Over the Edge (which has come up several times in conversation on this site) while wondering about what might have happened to the star of the Bad News Bears after his heroics in the Astrodome (note: while asking “Where have you gone, Kelly Leak?” I do not and never will recognize the existence of the execrable, useless third Bears movie, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan). Put another way, as the 1970s came to a close, was there a place in America for Kelly Leak?

For a possible answer, I turned to Over the Edge, which focused on a community built on the core American Dream idea of perfect safety and harmony, of home, far from the dangers of the city.

Over the Edge was originally supposed to be set in Charlie Williams’ adopted home of Foster City, California, as it had been inspired by the aforementioned San Francisco Examiner article on the “mouse packs.” Because of some restrictions in the child labor laws in California, the production moved to a planned community in Colorado with significant similarities to Foster City, according to the filmmakers, most importantly the element that gave the film a haunting visual look that corresponded to and enhanced the central theme of alienation: building after building of eerily sterile and lifeless architecture, a dream of perfection that had forgotten to include a beating heart.

The community, called “New Granada” in the film, was intended to be the perfect home, a place of security and harmony and prosperity. But the community in Over the Edge is not well: the adolescent teens of the town are not given anything to do or anywhere to go. They have been left out of the plan for perfect American prosperity. What is there to do but wander around, smoke pot, drink, maybe break shit?

It is not too difficult to imagine Kelly Leak among these kids, especially the imagined, implied, offscreen Kelly Leak, who reminded every boy raptly worshipping his every move in the Bears movies of his own town’s cool, tough kids, who wandered around and smoked pot and drank and broke shit.

In the Bears films, Kelly is a loner, but that is only in the context of the boys on the team and their childish pursuits. In the first Bears movie, before he has joined the team, Kelly initially rebuffs Amanda’s attempts to get him on the team, telling her that the Bears (presumably because they still care about baseball enough to pull on their little yellow-trimmed uniforms and happily prance onto the field) are “fags”; early in Over the Edge there is a prominent piece of graffiti on the school that reads “jocks are fags.” Kelly Leak and the kids in Over the Edge seem to speak the same language and seem to be oriented in similar ways toward the world. It’s not that much of a stretch to think they might, once Kelly and his rapidly aging body are finally barred from pounding the pitches of small children, fall together some night at a darkened playground and share hits from a skull-headed bowl before going down to the highway overpass to throw lit M-80s at cars.

The scene of greatest exhilaration in Over the Edge is when the two main characters, Carl (Michael Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon, in his film debut) make a getaway from a cop in a vehicle Richie has swiped from his mother. Though the moment of freedom is brief and much more realistically rendered than the ultimate scene of male adolescent fantasy in Breaking Training when Kelly and his teammates start out toward Houston in a stolen customized van, I saw a key correspondence between the two scenes. Though presented in completely different ways, in both scenes there is joy. It’s the joy of believing that the world, after a whole life of wanting, is finally at the command of those who have seized the wheel.

Unlike the irresistible fantasy of Breaking Training, the scene of escape in Over the Edge lasts for just a few moments and ends grimly. Events in the movie escalate from there, and the action climaxes with a scene of a wildly destructive spree by the kids that reminded me acutely of Disco Demolition Night, which just happened to have occurred the same year that Over the Edge came out. It’s pretty much the same thing: Longhaired white kids getting high and setting things on fire and rampaging: rebellion, yes, but impotent, useless. Next stop for America: the candy-colored teen films of John Hughes, the reactionary reign of Ronald Reagan, and, by virtue of beefed-up security at ballparks, no more longhaired mobs going wild across the fields of the American Dream.

And Kelly Leak was nowhere to be seen. 

33 comments

  1. What? How could anyone forget about Ed Glynn? (http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Ed_Glynn) He pitched more as a Met than Charlie Williams did. The Flushing Flash gets no respect.


  2. Thanks for that correction, greenlocust. I’ll add a note to the body of the post that duly acknowleges the estimable Glynn.


  3. Hi greenlocust thanks for the tip. Baseball-reference.com lists Glynn as being born in New York, NY (It has Williams in Flushing) but Ultimate Mets Database has Glynn born in Flushing so I am happy to make the change on my original article.


  4. I see where you are going with this, Josh, maybe. I had a similar feeling when Evel Knievel died a few years ago. Like Kelly Leak, he was certainly a (boy)man of his time, living on an edge of life that has since been criminalized. His death, particularly under what must have been painful circumstances, was unfortunate but necessary. Indeed, Evel had been long before rendered impotent by that same candy-colored blanket of smothering consensus.

    But the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. This isn’t a whodunit puzzle (we’re all guilty on that count). It’s a whereizit puzzle. What happened to that spirit of reckless abandon…? I can only hope it’s taken on a form to suit our current situation, I wouldn’t claim to be able to recognize it in my soul’s advanced state of jaundice, just so long as it’s present.

    Someone, draw me a map. Instead of BAD NEWS BEARS, it can be IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. I want to know the answer.


  5. Lonnie Smith for president: Thanks for checking in. You’ve been a fellow Kelly-Leakite for a long time on these pages. I don’t know if I’m ever going anywhere with thoughts on where Kelly Leak might have gone to, but I actually like to think of him as being out there somewhere, somehow.


  6. Sorry to dampen the party, but I got your Kelly Leak right here:


  7. polfro: You stole my thunder on this. I am planning at some point on this site to get into the chilling negative-image correspondences between Kelly Leak and Ronnie McGorvey. The former is everything the latter isn’t, and vice versa (Kelly Leak the manchild/Ronnie McGorvey the child-man). The last time I watched Little Children, I noticed that Ronnie McGorvey was repeatedly signaled as a societal non-entity by his manner of getting from one place to another–he was always a powerless passenger, including and most unsettlingly in the very last scene, when he rides in a pool of his own blood–IN THE BACK OF A VAN. It wasn’t a customized van, but still.

    But to me Ronnie McGorvey is just the bleakest of an infinity of possibilities for what became of Kelly. I have to believe in brighter possibilities, too.


  8. Deeply sorry for the thunder-theft, Josh. When I saw that movie and someone told me afterwards that Ronnie was Kelly Leak, I nearly had a stroke. It may have been one of my all-time worst loss of innocence moments, so naturally I felt compelled to share. As always, looking forward to your elaboration.


  9. I can actually see a connection between Leak and McGorvey. For Leak, Little League was the highlight of his life. He’s probably kicked out of high school, has to take on janitor work, angry at everyone, doing drugs, breaking into houses, still living with mom, etc. Maybe he doesn’t descend into child molesting but the Leak arc could be similar to McGorvey’s.

    Or not. What do I know?


  10. Wow, this is a good post and it brings up two subjects that often come up on this web site: “Kelly Leak” and “Over the Edge”. Let me tackle the Kelly Leak question.

    Kelly Leak the character, was really kind of a 50’s era recycled character put into a 70’s context. He’s kind of a mix of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Fonzie, Mickey Mantle with a mix of Evel Knievel and kind of late 60’s-early 70’s anti establishment anti-hero in a body of a 12-13 year old kid in 1976.

    It’s easy to mix Kelly Leak and Ronny McGorvey because the’re played by the same actor but it’s not likely that Kelly would have evolved into Ronny just as Ferris Bueller wouldn’t have evolved into the teacher in “Election”. Seriously, if some other actor had played McCorvery, would anybody have made the comparison to “Kelly Leak”??

    It’s hard to even really think about Kelly Leak growing-up because he’s really kind of “fantasy” character in the first film. In “Breaking Training” the character kind of evolves into a half-way decent kid and “Breaking Training” is kind of fantasy/comedy anyway.


  11. Most of the “real life” Kelly Leaks in the 70’s quit baseball by age 12-13 because they thought little league was for “fags”. Of if they continued playing they were bullies or A-holes. Kelly was different in a sense that he befriended the Geeks and Freaks and became their hero/protector.


  12. I’ve been thinking about “Over the Edge” all day since reading this post. It’s reminded me of two things.

    1) I remember when the Columbine shooting happened and my Pakistani friend was completely shocked and confused as to why kids in a middle class neighborhood fell into a situation where they would kill their classmates and themselves. I remember him telling me that he could understand if they were from a poor area but not the area those kids were from.

    I had they same response when I went to Europe in 2001-2002. They were all confused as to why middle class kids would react that way. People kept saying that something in the American system must be broken for middle class kids to have no connection to society.

    2) I kept thinking about the Jimmy Carter speech “Crisis of Confidence” that he gave in 1979 right around the time of “Over the Edge” and he was very prescient about the events of the future.

    Every time I hear the speech it reminds of “Over the Edge” and the message that we completely ignored.

    Instead people bought the fantasy-world image that Reagan and his group created. So we deregulated everything, changed the tax codes, and just ignored the problems that existed.

    So to connect it with Kelly Leak, kids like he and Richie and Carl either died or ended up under correctional supervision. And a lot of other kids as well. They all became “Superfluous People”.

    in 1980 we had 1.8 million people in some form of correctional supervision
    in 2008 we had 7.3 million people in some form of correctional supervision.

    In 1980 we had 300,000 people in prison
    In 2008 we had 1.5 million people in prison.


  13. Here’s part 3 of that Jimmy Carter Speech, that just chilling in his prediction of the problems of today.


  14. johnq, I’m glad you called it the “Crisis of Confidence” speech, it’s usually called the “Malaise” speech, even though he never says “malaise.”


  15. sb1902,

    Wow, he never actually said the word “malaise”? Do you have any idea how it got that tag?

    I remember going to school in the 80’s and this speech was constantly made fun of and referred to as the “malaise” speech. I didn’t actually read the text of the speech until the mid 90’s and then I realized how good it and prescient it was. I had just assumed he used the word “malaise” and his opponents made fun of it.

    There’s a chilling prescient point about 50 seconds into this clip where he says “We are at at turning point in our history between two paths; One leads to fragmentation and self-interest that will lead to conflict/chaos by narrow self-interest, the other leads to common purpose”

    There’s also a great point in part 2 of this speech @ 2:50 where he say’s that we’re “starting to worship self-indulgence and consumption”. And “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but rather by what one owns.” What foresight! And this was only 1979, it would get 100 times worse in the 80’s. So much so that self-indulgence and consumption became virtues.


  16. johnq11, I always figured Carl got his act together and grew up to be somebody. I always took it that a) he was smarter than the other kids and b) his parents weren’t actually insensitive morons. Remember, it’s Carl’s Dad who questions the approach of the town to dealing with the kids at that community meeting. “Goddamn it Jerry, my kid and his friends are part of this town!” or something like that. Jerry Cole, of course, is an idiot – he doesn’t know anything. (Sorry, I’m just slipping into Over The Edge quotes – something that can still periodically happen out of nowhere, especially when I spend time with certain old friends.)
    How about that look on Claude’s face when he’s tripping on acid and looking at that painting in class?


  17. blanemon,

    “Over the Edge” is such an honest an powerful film it’s ashame it’s only known as a “cult” classic. At times it feels like you’re watching a documentary from 1979.

    Carl probably would have ended up alright because he had a pretty good support system. It seems like his parents and the rec. counselor understood the problem.

    Unfortunately it seems like we followed the path of Jerry Cole and enforced it with Sgt. Doberman. The part in Carter’s speech about “Worshiping self-indulgence and Consumption” seems like he’s speaking directly about Jerry Cole and most of the citizens of New Granada.


  18. Never saw “Over the Edge” as far as I know, will hafta go rent it sometime (I think of teens-gone-wild movies and I flash on “Class of 1984″ — “We are the future! Nothing can stop us!” That flick played into fears that cities were wild, violent places and you’d be safer out there in your masterplanned suburban communities like Grenada Hills. The Jimmy Carter clip has blown my mind.

    Provided he avoids knocking up one of his girlfriends over the coming few years, I think Kelly Leak eventually finds success as an adult. He was obviously one of those kids who was good at a lot of things he tried, I can see him maybe applying his talent to building a business making custom dirtbikes or maybe even taking up the guitar and being good at that.


  19. johnq11,
    I always thought it was a smart move to make Carl’s parents decent people. Yes, his Dad is temporarily blinded by his business deals, but when he realizes his child is in crisis and not merely a sulking teenager, he responds. It would have been far more cliche to have his Dad be a monster. Carl wants his father’s attention, perhaps, but he doesn’t want to ruin him. The same doesn’t seem true for Richie, Claude or Johnny, et al. (Or that fink, Tip!)
    I don’t think Doberman is evil, either – I think he’s overmatched by a situation he doesn’t understand. If I recall, he tries to make the case to the parents that they’re totally unaware of what their kids are up to. Left without much help, Doberman uses what he knows, which is just law & order policing with very little nuance.
    “That must be some sort of a fun – that’s a fun day.” -Fred Willat (Carl’s Dad)

    It’s worth noting that Tim Hunter, who co-wrote the script for Over The Edge, directed the great River’s Edge, another poignant look at teenagers gone astray and their ignorant parents, this time in the 1980s.


  20. And has anyone posted a link to this? Essential reading to Over The Edge fans:

    http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n9/htdocs/over-the-edge-134.php


  21. Johnq, I heard a writer interviewed about the “malaise” tag, but I can’t remember what he said about the origin of it. If you’ll recall, “The Simpson’s” had an episode where the town can only afford a Jimmy Carter statue and it has the words, “Malaise Forever” underneath. Poor Jimmy Carter, everyone made fun of him for putting solar panels on the White House and Reagan was celebrated for taking them down. Don’t quite get that….


  22. blankemon,

    Good comments, I think someone had previously posted that link on another card.

    The only characters that I could see that are really evil in the film are Jerry Cole, and the Vincent Spano Character and the tall skinny Blond kid. What’s good is the film is that it’s never really presented in black & white terms, there’s a lot of ambiguity. On the other hand nobody’s really heroic except for the Rec. Counselor. Julia.

    Really there’s a lot of Ambiguity and Neutrality among the characters in this film. It’s a very interesting film because there is no clear villain/hero lines. Most of the Adults/Kids seem to be only interested in Self-Indulgence & Consumption. There’s obviously more sympathy with the young people because they’re kids.

    I tend to put movie/t.v. characters in the old D&D character alignment chart to make it easier to visualize.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_(Dungeons_&_Dragons)

    All of the kids stay on the end of the Chaotic section, mostly in the neutral section. The adults are mostly neutral/neutral, lawful/neutral. Carl’s parents go from neutral/neutral-neutral/good. Jerry Cole is Neutral/Evil, Vincent Spano/Blond Kid are Chaotic/Evil.

    One good thing they did in the film was have “Richie” point the gun at Doberman so it didn’t make Doberman and evil character. If he had just killed Richie without justification than he would have been an “evil character”.

    Doberman is the extreme Lawful/Neutral character in that he will enforce the laws of New Granada without question.

    The film is more interested in indicting 70’s Suburbia/American culture than making a police Sgt. the scapegoat.


  23. sb1902,

    good points,

    Yeah, I was going to reference that Simpsons episode. For years I thought he had gone on and on about Malaise, it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I finally read an excerpt of that speech and I was amazed at how good it was.

    It’s like we lived in Bizarro world during the 80’s. In 1979, Carter said we have a serious problem with our energy consumption & energy dependence that has to be dealt with today. Then Reagan said 3 years later that there wasn’t a problem and everybody was like, “Wow, thank God we don’t have the stupid Carter energy problem anymore. And nothing was done about the problem.

    I used to work with a guy who worked on alternative energy back in the late 70’s. He used to tell me it was really interesting work, then by the early 80’s all the funding ended and he had to go into another line of work.


  24. Thanks to everyone for the excellent thoughts about Over the Edge, etc. Love the Carter speech. I hadn’t looked at that Vice oral history of the movie before (if it showed up before in a previous conversation here I probably passed over it because I hadn’t seen the movie yet). The commentary track of the DVD also has some good stuff about the movie. In both places Matt Dillon comes off as an entertaining character as he barges into his film career.

    Before seeing Over the Edge, I’d always placed his starting point, at least in my consciousness, in the great flick My Bodyguard, where he does a fantastic job playing a scary bully named Moody.


  25. I was thinking about the Sgt. Doberman character’s in “over-the-Edge” and his character alignment and I think he would have to characterized as a Lawful-Evil character not a Lawful-Neutral character. The character antagonizes Richie & Carl and seems to enjoy it, he harasses the Lady at the rec center, and has a personal vendetta at the end of the film. So there’s basically 4 evil characters in “Over-the-Edge”.

    Sgt. Doberman: Lawful-Evil
    Jerry Cole: Neutral-Evil
    Vincent Spano & tall blond kid: Chaotic Evil

    Richie in over the edge is basically Chaotic Neutral for the entire film, there’s little character change. If anything he becomes a little more “chaotic” as the film progresses. Carl goes from being Lawful Neutral to Chaotic Neutral by the end of the film.

    Moody in “My Bodyguard” is essentially Chaotic Evil throughout the entire film. Chris Makepeace’s character goes from Lawful Good to Neutral Good throughout the film. Ricky Linderman goes from being Chaotic Neutral to Chaotic Good by the end of the film. Examples of Chaotic Good characters are: Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger and Batman.


  26. Doberman was played by Harry Northup, who also was seen as Doughboy in Taxi Driver. A truly weird screen presence, he’s also a poet.


  27. Kelly Leak is essentially “Moody” at the beginning of “The Bad News Bears” and becomes “Ricky Linderman” by the end.

    Tanner Boyle does the most heroic action in the film when he defends Timmy Lupus at the Taco Stand.

    There’s essentially 5 evil characters in “Bears”
    Roy Turner, Joey Turner, Cleveland, The Yankee Team, and Kelly Leak. 1 (Tanner) turns into good characters by the end of the film. Tanner’s an interesting character to think about on a philosophical level if he’s really evil or not.

    Here’s how I see the character development in “Bears”.

    Buttermaker: Chaotic/Neutral–Neutral/Neutral–Lawful/Evil–Neutral/Good
    Amanda: Neutral/Neutral–Neutral/Good
    Tanner: Chaotic/Neutral–Chaotic/Good
    Kelly Leak: Chaotic/Evil–Chaotic/Good
    Roy Turner: Lawful/Evil–Lawful/Evil
    Whitewood: Lawful/Good–Lawful/Neutral
    Cleveland: Lawful/Evil–Lawful/Evil
    Ahmad: Neutral/Neutral–Neutral/Good
    Ogilvie: Lawful/Good–Lawful/Good
    Engelberg: Chaotic/Neutral–Neutral/Neutral
    Joey Turner: Lawful/Evil–Neutral/Neutral
    Bears Team: Lawful/Good–Lawful/Good
    Yankee Team: Lawful/Evil–Lawful/Evil


  28. This was a great blog post, Josh. Are you wishing that you had written this for the book?


  29. Thanks very much, psychsound. I appreciate that. But no, the book is pretty much the book I wanted to write (and I’m hoping I’ve got more than one book in me anyway).


  30. Josh, I was impressed by how well the book flows. You can pull out a section and read it separately, like these blog posts, but it really has a narrative flow as a whole. I’m really excited to see how the book fares – I really think it has great crossover potential.
    Also, I’m curious to hear comments from the other regulars around these parts.

    Here’s to hoping the next book isn’t too far off. I know I’ll be reading it, regardless of subject matter.


  31. Thanks a lot for the kind words about the book, blankemon. (Note: blankemon got an advance copy–he’s “in” with the editor; the book isn’t out quite yet.)


  32. Which means now I need to purchase a “real” copy so as to help further the cause. Also, I want to see the color pictures, ya know?


  33. Also, I should add that I brought up the book because my thought grew from what Josh had just written here. I wasn’t trying to be some sort of “oooh, I’m a cool kid, I have seen the book already and ITS NOT EVEN OUT YET!”

    I realize it could come off that way. Sorry.



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