The shortstop who smoked

As softball season arrives again, and as the weather in our corner of Wisconsin finally starts to get nice, it brings back memories of the shortstop who smoked.

For most of the 1980s, I played for a newspaper team with one of the great names of all time. We were the Muckrakers.

In the early ’80s, our shortstop was the paper’s music writer, a guy who also dabbled in music (and almost certainly the recreational drugs of the time). I remember Michael’s long hair, his droopy mustache and his penchant for playing shortstop with a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth.

Off the field, Michael often pointed me toward new music. His tips were many, but my cluelessness was vast. He saw everything, as you’d imagine. I wish I’d gone to even a small fraction of the gigs he’d suggested.

So imagine my surprise when Michael got into a record I’d mentioned to him. It seems mainstream now, and perhaps was a bit so then, but he really dug Don Henley’s “Building The Perfect Beast.”

The singles that dropped from that LP had a distinctive sound when they hit the airwaves in late 1984 and into 1985. I liked them. Michael liked them. You know them all, foremost among them “The Boys Of Summer” and “Sunset Grill.”

This is one of the lesser-heard songs, and one of my favorites.

“You Can’t Make Love,” Don Henley, from “Building The Perfect Beast,” 1984.

It isn’t edgy. It isn’t full of synths and programmed drums as are many of the songs on this record. It’s just a laid-back slice of 1980s L.A. rock, co-written by Henley and guitarist Danny Kortchmar. It’s much along the lines of Kortchmar’s work with Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, which I also have enjoyed.

The rest of the story

Michael wiped out on his motorcycle on a rain-slicked road. It left him paralyzed from the waist down. After that, Michael ran around in a wheelchair, but I’m not sure he was all that diligent about following his doctors’ advice. Too hard to give up some of those vices.

Michael is gone now, but Madison’s music community honors his memory by presenting a lifetime achievement award in his name at its annual awards show.


Filed under May 2012, Sounds

3 responses to “The shortstop who smoked

  1. At first I thought this would be a post about Mark Belanger.

    This reminds me of a guy I used to play newspaper softball with. His name was Mike, too, and he used to smoke and play short at the same time. Even started double plays that way.
    I should look him up — it’s been way too long.

  2. Shark

    This stuff is just all too good. Why is it that summertime now means tryng to cram graduations, weddings, family reunions, festivals, and work-related stuff into a mere 13 weekends? When we were kids, summer seemed endless. When we were young adults, (in our 20s) it seemed like summer brought us even more things to enjoy. Maybe it was because we were in mostly entry-level jobs and we hadn’t started our families yet. Whatever it was, it sure was great to be young, foolish, and hanging out with friends playing softball during summer.

  3. Jen

    Its ironic to hear about successful athletes that smoked. Hope he is healthy now and not dealing with any of the side effects of smoking cigarettes.

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