Doug Wolter: There were real Joe Shlabotniks in baseball's history

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Apr. 28—Joe Shlabotnik. What a name.

Credit for Joe Shlabotnik goes to famed "Peanuts" comic strip creator Charles M. Schultz, who conceived of him to become Charlie Brown's favorite baseball player.

Shlabotnik, of course, was not very good. He was thus the perfect lovable loser for that more famous lovable loser, Charlie Brown.

Why do I bring up the name of Joe Shlabotnik? I suppose merely because, for some unexplained reason, Joe just popped into my head one day and I haven't gotten rid of him since.

There were lots of Joe Shlabotnik characters roaming around the real baseball world in the 1960s, when I first attached myself to the sport. I remember guys like Mike Lum, Johnny Werhas, Larry Haney, Casey Cox and Joe Lis — big lugs whose major league careers were a mystery to us. We knew they had to be decent enough ballplayers to play in the majors, but we wondered why they lasted more than a week.

Mostly, they were objects of humor to us because of how their faces looked on their baseball cards. But as for Casey Cox, the Washington Senators pitcher, it was his name. Casey Cox. Even the name sounded like a joke, like something out of the 1880s. And, sure enough, he was basically forgettable. His one good year was 1969, where he went 12-7 with a 2.78 ERA. He finished with a 39-42 record over an eight-year span.

The baseball card faces, though, could keep us in stitches. Johnny Werhas was one of those. He had those eyes that seemed frozen in a fear-inspired stare, as if he was saying with them, "Oh my God, I'm in the major leagues. What do I do now?"

Not much, as it turned out. In his three years, mostly as a Dodgers catcher, he compiled just 306 at bats, four home runs, and a .173 batting average.

Joe Shlabotnik was far more interesting, even though he was a work of fiction. A 1963 Peanuts strip introduces us to the character while describing the anguish Charlie Brown experiences when his favorite player is sent down to the minors. Even that, however, did not diminish the hero worship Charlie felt for him. Later, he organized a Joe Shlabotnik fan club, and he created a newsletter that, of course, folded after one issue.

The story goes that Joe batted .004 in the season that he was sent down, his only hit being a bloop single. Once, he promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth, and though all he did was hit a pop fly, he circled the bases anyway.

So he was demoted to Stumptown of the Green Grass League, eventually retiring to manage the Waffletown Syrups. There, he was fired after one game upon ordering a squeeze play with no one on base.

Growing up, my favorite Shlabotnik type was the old Washington Senator, Ken McMullen, who actually wasn't half-bad as a player. He just looked like he was lousy, and his name was such that he could never have been a star. In a 16-year career, he hit 156 homers and batted .248.

The Minnesota Twins had a lovable lug, too. He was Joe Lis, a first baseman who played from 1970 to 1977, bouncing from Philadelphia to Minnesota to Cleveland to Seattle. He had the name, and he had the stats, batting .233 lifetime in a career backup role. It was rumored that he had good power, so how did he end up with only 32 career homers?

Let's see, who else? Oh, there was Larry Haney, a catcher with Baltimore and Oakland. Actually, he couldn't have been too terrible to be kept around for 12 years while hitting .215 lifetime, but he wasn't the first — nor will he be the last — player of his type. There was Mike Lum of Atlanta Braves fame (or non-fame), who managed to hang around for 15 seasons and bat .247 with 90 round-trippers. If only he'd have changed his last name, he would have garnered more respect.

All these players, I think, could have become more famous if, after their careers ended, they could have come up with a comedy routine. But, of course, Bob Uecker beat them to it.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting