Chico’s Bail Bonds Player of the Week: Toby Whitewood
The first two Bears to appear on screen in the 1976 film The Bad News Bears have strong connections to the adult world. The first of these boys shown, Kelly, is even taken for an adult, perhaps sardonically, by Buttermaker, who mutters “thanks, mister” to Kelly after the latter lights his cigarette for him. Kelly operates a motorized vehicle like an adult, smokes cigarettes like an adult, and even seems to be as freighted in his scowling silence with adult world troubles and history as the wrinkled, morning-boozing Buttermaker. After lighting his future coach’s cigarette, he rides off on his motorcycle, leaving the sunny little league field, the little boy world, to go back to his adult world burdens and mysteries.
The next Bear to appear, and the first to utter a line of dialogue, is Toby Whitewood, who arrives at the field with his shifty, unctuous politician father and so is the first of the Bears to witness that his new coach is an alcoholic mercenary rather than the altruistic caretaker that most children assume the adults in their lives to be. It’s unclear whether this information registers with Toby, who is sent away by his father from the decidedly adult conversation between coach and councilman, but later moments featuring Toby in both the first film and the sequel reveal that Toby absorbs at least some of the things he overhears while in the proximity of adult goings-on. For example, in the first Bears movie, he explains to Buttermaker (going on something that he overheard his father saying) that Jose and Miguel don’t speak English. For another example, in the sequel Toby arrives at the field with sole knowledge of the identity of the team’s new coach.
The Bears don’t have a team captain, but if they did you could make a case that it would be Toby. Of the Bears who lead in various ways, Kelly (the team’s superstar) is too much of a lone wolf to man that role, Ogilvie (the de facto assistant coach and, in the sequel, the team’s sober-minded co-parent, along with the stoic, worldly Kelly) not enough of an on-field presence, Tanner (the inspirational leader) too fiery and volatile. This leaves Toby, who knows things about the adult world without losing his essential identity as a boy, and who is able to speak for the boys to adults. He’s the one who informs Buttermaker that the guys took a vote and decided they don’t want to play anymore, and in the sequel he’s the one who tells Kelly’s dad that while they need him to pose as a coach they don’t really need him to coach. (Interestingly, in both cases these Toby-voiced team decisions to separate from the adult in charge lead very quickly to coaches Buttermaker and Leak finally and fully taking the reins and leading the boys.)
Not much is shown of Toby’s playing abilities in the first film, but in Breaking Training he blossoms into arguably the team’s second-best player, after Kelly. In the game in the Astrodome, he singles in both of his at-bats, the second of those hits sparking the big last-inning comeback. He also scores a run, and he records the most rousing put-out of the game, tagging out a Toro who falls for the ol’ hidden ball trick. (This trick, which is denigrated by the Toros’ coach as a “cheap cotton-picking faggot trick,” is predicated on one of the more noticeable of sequel’s many departures from standard little league rules, which don’t allow for runners to lead off, but then again with decidedly elongating and pubescent figures such as the sequelized versions of Kelly, Ogilvie, and Rudi, perhaps the Bears have somehow moved en masse and without explanation out of little league to Babe Ruth league.) The whole trick plays out like an illustration of Toby’s connection to the adult world, the ball that Coach Leak slips into Toby’s glove like an objectification of all the many bits of esoteric knowledge adults have passed along to Toby. Toby, unsurprisingly, handles this new adult-given secret like a pro, poker-facing the Toros runner into taking a lead.
But Toby’s true nature comes out not during the ruse but just after it has been revealed. If Kelly, a Bear you could easily imagine also donning a poker face, had been the one to tag the fooled runner out, he would have likely reacted afterward coolly, as if it was no big thing, but Toby is still a boy, and he roars and cheers and laughs as he shows that he had the ball the whole time. Throughout the sequel, Toby is one of the team’s most exuberant enthusiasts, a leader of what I have come to think of as the “wow, cool” chorus, the boys amazed by the van and the open road and motel rooms and nudie magazines and the Astrodome and the Astros and by simply having the chance to play. He knows things about the adult world, but he has not yet slipped into that dim, weary realm.
I found out this past weekend that I’m one hug removed from David Stambaugh, who played Toby Whitewood. Some years ago Stambaugh was a member of a touring acting company that also included my cousin Andrea, who had glowing things to say about her fellow actor’s good heart and warm personality. Stambaugh seems to have eventually given up acting for a life as a minister. In a Hollywood Interview feature from just a few months ago, the reverend reflected on his life as a Bear.
And speaking of Bears and interviews, Alex Belth at Bronx Banter was kind enough to lob a few questions my way about the new book.