While trying to figure out how the heck Jon Zeringue spells his name (for my TLAS Game post), I came across Playing for Peanuts, a blog about a television show about a team (follow?), the South Georgia Peanuts, in the first (and quite likely, only) season in the South Coast League. After being released from the Diamondbacks and signing with the A's, Jon played 26 games under Wally Backman for the Peanuts.
Like the players in the series, this show and DVD had many struggles. A little summary of the events Playing for Peanuts went through:
1. The show began airing on eight regional networks in May.
2. SportsNet New York refused to do any promoting of Playing for Peanuts.
3. John Fitzgerald, the producer, director, and DVD distribution department, decided to pull the series from all markets in late July.
4. The Chicago market still wanted to air the series, so in October, the show returned to SportsNet Chicago.
5. Chicago aired the ten 30-minutes episodes, but won't re-run the series because they aren't interested in second run programming.
6. John now feels like the show is dead to television.
To read up on some of the players, production news, etc., you can also visit the Peanuts myspace, you know, if that's your sort of thing.About the DVD:
1. The series contains three discs.
2. Each DVD has 3-4 episodes, plus additional footage.
3. There is a catchy remake of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by Whiskey on a Sunday, that plays on the disc menus and at the end of each episode. The music was created for The Emerald Diamond, another baseball movie by John Fitzgerald, and is available to purchase on iTunes.
4. The DVD bleeps out foul language.
5. Also contains interviews with Ron Darling, Conor Jackson, and Cecil Fielder.
Disc One Menu:
Playing for Peanuts follows the South Georgia Peanuts in the first - and only - season of the South Coast League. The Peanuts were based out of Albany, Georgia.
The Peanuts were managed by Wally Backman, a former Major League player.
Backman, however, might also be recognized as the former manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
What's that? You don't remember Wally as a manager?
The day after Backman was hired as the manager, reports began to surface about Backman's legal and financial troubles. It was widely reported that Backman was involved in a domestic dispute in his home, which wasn't entirely true. Additionally, Backman had been arrested for a DUI in 1999, and declared bankruptcy, all of which Backman claimed the Diamondbacks knew about. After the reports began to surface, the Diamondbacks stood behind their new manager, only to be fired on November 5.
The beginning of Episode One tries to clear up some of the inaccuracies reported by the media after the fiasco with Arizona. Specifically, that the Diamondbacks DID know about Backman's past, and that the "domestic" dispute was actually a fight with a friend of his wife's who came after Wally with a baseball bat.
One source in the DVD says that the "domestic dispute" was the cause of the major problem Arizona had with Backman: no matter what happened, Backman violated his probation from the DUI and was going to have to spend a few nights in jail.
Anyway, The South Coast League wanted a big name like Wally Backman to draw fans and players to the league, but Wally didn't really want to manager an independent team. Since the Arizona issue, Wally hadn't been around baseball and wanted back, so he agreed to manage the team.
Except one tiny little stipulation in his contract.
Wally needed to miss the first game of the new season to appear at an autograph signing in New York.
The League agreed to let Wally attend because the first game of the season was on the road.
So in the first game of the season, not only did the manager not appear, but the game ball was supposed to be brought in by skydivers. Unfortunately, one of the skydivers crashed into the trees beyond the outfield wall, and the game was delayed. That was pretty much foreshadowing the entire season.
Independent baseball is all about getting a second chance to play affiliated pro ball, so the money was not reason most of the players signed. Each team had a $75,000 salary cap. The lowest paid player earned $700, and the highest made $2,000. The didn't say if that was weekly, monthly, or by season, but I'm guessing that was all season.
Players also shared houses in Albany in an old military housing unit. Each house housed seven players: two in each of the three bedrooms and one in the livingroom. Each player got one twin mattress and slept on the floor. You are given tours of the houses by the Peanuts' shortstop, but the best house tour is given by California native Johnny Washington in a DVD extra. The highlight of the tour:
That is a pile of hair.
Johnny, and many other team members are funny, so this was a pretty entertaining DVD to watch. It was still a little sad, but not Old Yeller sad. Nice viewing for a baseball fan.
The only thing worse than the housing was the visiting stadiums. Two stadiums the Peanuts traveled to did not have clubhouses. That means the players received treatment out in the open:
... and dressed out in the open:
So when rain delayed the start of a game in Aiken, South Carolina, the Peanuts got creative: Pole Dancing!
Relief pitcher Pat Ford.
And mixed martial arts!
The Peanuts pitching coach, Buddy York, a former MMA fighter, and Damian Dantibo, a starting pitcher, also with an MMA background, gave fight lessons during the delay.
There are also multiple features titled "Prank School". Two Peanuts players, catcher Tug Gillingham and pitcher Mike Colacchio, demonstrate familiar baseball pranks, such as The Hot Shoe, the Black Hat, Bubble Hat, and the mean cousin of The Hot Shoe, The Hot Seat.
Also on the bonus footage, one of the funniest things in the entire DVD, The Snake Prank:
Find out what happens with Peanuts SS Steve Butler visits a pet store!
The season was filled with mishaps and screw ups. The first game of the season, the visiting GM forgot towels in the locker rooms and the post-game spread. Games were bogged down because of between-inning promotions...
...and delayed because of rain. Multiple times during the season, the lights to the stadiums inexplicably went out.
And on one occasion, all of the team's uniforms were lost by the team they were visiting, along with half of the players' "personals", such as sliders, underwear, socks. The uniforms finally arrived WET, and because there wasn't a clubhouse at the stadium, everyone was forced to dry their uniforms in the sun.
But one of the biggest problems League-wide was the inexperience of the umpires. Seriously, they made MLB Umps look awesome. The players and coaches would have to explain the rules to the umpires of the League, such as the double switch.
The umpire situation was a major issue. In one particular incident, a player was ejected for what the Umpire called "arguing balls and strikes." This was CRAZY because 1) the pitch the player was tossed on was a BALL, and 2) the player NEVER turned around to question the pitch.
Naturally, Wally raced out to defend his player, and he was immediately tossed. Wally never actually got more than a few words in before the Ump tossed him.
Wally then tossed some balls and bats on the field before leaving the dugout. Somehow, Wally found out the radio guy for the other team called Wally unprofessional for the incident, so Wally goes to calmly talk to the gentleman after the game.
Sadly, all of this was reported by the media to be yet another tirade (it wasn't really) by Wally, and made him out of have anger issues. In reality, two other managers in the South Coast League had been ejected almost twice as much as Wally.
Wally's problems would finally boil over, however, when two of his players were suspended by the League for violating the substance abuse policy.
The shit storm starts when the two Peanuts players claim they were told when they were suspended that their samples contained a masking agent and Niacin. They say when they were given the tests, they were never asked what medication or supplements they were on, were never asked to present an ID, and that the screener actually left the room to smoke while the players were giving their samples.
One of the players were given the opportunity to appeal the results of the positive test, but had to buy his own test and pay $100 for the appeal.
But what really pissed off League officials was when Wally called a press conference after the results came back. Wally claimed the results of the tests were not given to players and the League violated its own policy by suspending the players on the first offense. Wally also says that the trainer of another team in the SCL administered the tests should be considered a conflict of interest.
Immediately after Wally's press conference, SCL officials raced to Albany, Georgia to meet with the manager.
In the meeting, Wally presented the League's drug policy, and the League CEO admitted he had never actually read the document. However, the League was PISSED and demanded Wally step down.
Later, bench coach Larry Olenberger convinced Wally and League officials to hire Wally back. Oh my.
But the saga continued when the player who appealed the positive test and passed TWO subsequent tests. The player was STILL suspended, though, and told by the COO that, "One out of three may be good on the ball field, but not good for drug tests."
So the player still had to serve his suspension, even though he was told by officials the first test was not considered positive.
Off the field, the Peanuts struggled to find activities in the small towns of the South Coast League.
Catcher Tug Gillingham commented on the closeness of the pitchers in the pen, saying they were like sorority sisters. The pitchers would often have themed nights out, where everyone would wear similar outfits or crazy costumes. They even invited Tug out for a day at the mall.
"Jay needs a new belt."
"Lunch at Chili's!"
On one long bus ride, the players shot off fireworks in a fast food parking lot. The next day's starting pitcher stepped up the game and was lighting bottle rockets out of his non-pitching hand.
By the end of the season, most of the Peanuts staff had been laid off, leaving the field preparation to the GM, players, and coaches.
Peanuts players removing the tarp from the field.
Left: Manager Wally Backman
Yes, the SCL folded, but I'm not going to give the entire ending away. You'll have to watch it for yourself. You can buy the DVD at Playing for Peanuts website for $24.99. I pre-ordered my DVD and paid $9.99. It was a decent series to watch, but I don't know if I would pay $24.99 for it. (Note: I might have discount information if anyone wants to purchase the DVD for $9.99. I'm not for certain if this has expired yet or not.)
"I watched the first episode of Fitzgerald's Peanuts series and liked it. There are the typical tales about an independent team: the 11-hour bus rides, sleeping on mattresses three to a dorm room and surviving on fast food." - Jack Curry, The NY Times
"Enjoy Playing for Peanuts for what it is: a humble, unassuming story about how baseball, even at its lowest levels, is a lot like life - maybe most of all like life at those lowest levels." - Ted Cox, Chicago Daily Herald
PS - One of the Peanuts pitchers, knuckleballer Chris Webb, sporting an A's hat.
And finally, Jon Zeringue relaxes during a Peanuts game after finding out he would be joining the Oakland A's organization.