#Shortstops: Happy Days in Cooperstown
Quite likely the exhibition softball contest beforehand involving the cast of the hit television show Happy Days is what attracted a large number of the nearly 20,000 fans in attendance that afternoon.
A decade before Wrigley Field hosted its first night game, the Chicago Cubs defeated the visiting San Diego Padres, 9-6, on Friday, Aug. 17, 1979. The matchup featured a trio of future Hall of Famers: Ozzie Smith collecting two hits and stolen base and Dave Winfield clubbing his 27th home run in a losing cause, while closer Bruce Sutter locked down his 30th save with a scoreless ninth inning.
In the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a program from that noon showdown between the Happy Days cast and Chicago Media All-Stars that took place before the National League tilt.
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Happy Days was a legendary television situation comedy that had an 11-season run from 1974-84. Billed as “A nostalgic and fun look at the ‘50s,” it became a Tuesday night staple on ABC-TV. Set in Milwaukee, the show reached the cultural zeitgeist when the character of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, a cool, motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing heartbreaker, transitioned from a supporting role to one of the leads.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Happy Days cast members played softball together. It evolved from a fun, casual weekend bonding experience for the show’s cast and crew to a travelling roadshow that often played in big league stadiums from coast-to-coast raising money for charity. When the Wrigley Field appearance neared, the Cubs announced there would be 17,000 general admission tickets on sale the morning for the Cubs-Padres game, with the added incentive the exhibition softball game.
The Happy Days roster that day included, among others, Henry Winkler (“The Fonz”), Ron Howard (“Richie Cunningham”), Tom Bosley (“Mr. Cunningham”), Marion Ross (“Mrs. Cunningham”), Anson Williams (“Potsie Weber”), Donny Most (“Ralph Malph”) and Garry Marshall (Happy Days creator).
“And the first World Series I remember and followed avidly was the Yankees versus the Pirates in 1960. I might have started following baseball in 1959, but I really got into it in 1960 and ‘61. So that was my game. That was the game I loved the most and I followed the most.”
Most’s burgeoning entertainment career, which is still going strong, took precedent when it came time to pursue baseball as an Erasmus Hall High School student in the late 1960s.
“I was thinking of going out for baseball in high school, but our high school had almost 8,000 people, so the competition was crazy,” Most said. “Around that time is when I really was starting to focus more on pursuing acting and singing. I was shifting my priorities right around that time in the direction on show business. So that took a little bit of front seat to baseball.”
But Most’s skills as a softball player would catch the attention of manager Billy Martin, famous for his multiple stints as Yankees skipper.
“I can’t remember what park it was in, but Billy Martin was in the dugout watching us,” Most said. “There was a ball hit to me in center and I had to go back pretty far but I made the catch. I come into the dugout and Billy goes, ‘I like the way you went back on that ball out there.’ I was like, ‘Wow! Billy Martin just told me he liked the way I handled that ball out in center.’ Those kinds of things you just dream about.
“And then in that same game I wound up hitting a line drive in the gap in left-center and it rolled forever and I had an inside-the-park home run. And Billy says to me after, ‘I liked that line drive you hit in the gap.’ That was heaven.”
Most and his wife made a special trip to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame seven or eight years ago.
“I’m thrilled that the program from a Happy Days softball game is part of the Museum’s collection,” he said. “I’m definitely going to try to make another trip one of these days to see it.”
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum