Remembering The 80s T.V. Classic “The Baseball Bunch”
Take eight little leaguers, mix in one Cincinnati Red, one really funny chicken from San Diego, add plenty of 80s cheese and you've got quite a hot home plate. Today's recipe: "The Baseball Bunch".
If you grew up in the 80s and you loved baseball like me it's pretty much a given you watched the weekly Saturday morning T.V. show "The Baseball Bunch". For me it was must-viewing alongside cartoon classics of the time like "Spider-Man and Friends" and "Mr. T". I pitied the fool who didn't watch that classic piece of cartoon art but even more pity went to those who missed an episode of "The Baseball Bunch".
The series starred legendary Cincinnati Red catcher Johnny Bench who taught a fictional baseball team of eight little league-aged kids the fundamentals of the game. Each week Johnny and the bunch welcomed in some of baseball's biggest stars like George Brett, Goose Gossage, Cal Ripken, Jr., Willie Stargel, Pete Rose and many more. They even brought in the great Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda a.k.a. "The Dugout Wizard" to impart his knowledge onto kids who hoped to don a big-league uniform some day. Even the Kool-Aid Man showed up from time to time. Yes, I drank "The Baseball Bunch" Kool-Aid.
Of course we can't forget about the ninth and maybe most important member of the team - "The San Diego Chicken" - played by Ted Giannoulas. The original show didn't include "The San Diego Chicken" and, as a result, struck out with the producers when test-viewed the show. Here's what Giannoulas had to say in a 2007 interview with JustMyShow.com: "The producers called me up and they said 'We want to shoot this again. We think it's a little dry for kids to be watching this. A lot of good baseball information, but not enough color to it, so can you come in and just improvise around what we've done, and we'll re-shoot the whole thing.' I did that, and suddenly they had magic in the can, and they sold the show."
Magic in the can, magic on the baseball diamond and magic on T.V. screens in homes of kids everywhere each and every Saturday morning from 1981 until 1985 before the series finally came to an end.
I remember wanting so badly to be on "The Baseball Bunch" that I wrote a letter to the show begging and pleading to add me as a new member of the team. I was like the kid in "A Christmas Story" only instead of a Red Ryder B.B. Gun I wanted a "The Baseball Bunch" cap and uniform. I remember sitting at my bedroom desk with pen and pad carefully choosing each word to write on that piece of notebook paper thinking that everything I put down would determine my destiny.
I finished the letter, folded it up carefully and placed it in an envelope. It was ready for lift-off. I took that letter to my Dad asking him to send to whoever it is that makes the "big" decisions when it came to "The Baseball Bunch". Was it Johnny Bench? Was it "The Dugout Wizard" Tommy LaSorda? Was it even "The San Diego Chicken"? It was all a mystery to me but if anyone could make it happen it was my Dad. After all, I thought, he's a sportswriter and sportscaster. He knows everyone in sports right? Right! Sadly it never happened. I never heard back from Johnny, never heard from "The Dugout Wizard", not even "The San Diego Chicken". Funny looking back on it now remembering my Dad going along with my dream telling me "Ya never know, maybe it'll happen. I'll make sure it gets in the right hands!" I wonder what my Dad ever did with that letter.
As sad as it was that I didn't make the team it wasn't nearly as sad as that Saturday when I turned on the T.V. and there was no more "The Baseball Bunch". It was replaced with another cartoon that I can't even recall. For the 12-year-old me it was a devastating blow. Little did I know that this loss would be dwarfed a year later when I had to watch my beloved Red Sox blow a chance at ending the 1918 curse by losing to the Mets in the 1986 World Series. If only Bill Buckner was invited to guest-star in an episode of "The Baseball Bunch" so they could have taught him how to field a ground ball.
Thanks to YouTuber J-Ro Rosiak we can take a trip back to the 80s and watch an episode of "The Baseball Bunch" featuring my favorite shortstop of all time Ozzie Smith, the late great Gary Carter and Yankee great Graig Nettles: