Desperate times call for desperate measures. Which is why I was on the phone all day Friday, frantically calling Los Angeles. I was searching for the one man who could turn the tide in these American League playoffs, the one man who could give the edge back to the Detroit Tigers.
I was searching for . . . George Peppard.
But wait. Let me explain. It all began with today’s starting pitcher, Walt Terrell, a man I admire for his strength, guts, and the way he balances a chicken wing and a beer while reading the newspaper.
Terrell, 29, is a salt-of-the-earth guy, humble, unflappable. One day, this summer, we got into a discussion that went like this: “If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?” I answered first. I think I picked Reagan, or Kissinger, or maybe Bill Murray.
And Walt said: “George Peppard.”
And I said: “Yeah, yeah . . . Who?”
“George Peppard. The actor? He played “Banacek”? I like that guy. Whenever one of his movies is on TV, I watch it.”
“That’s who you pick? Anyone in the world?”
“Yeah. George Peppard.”
I never forgot that discussion because, well, how could you forget that discussion? And it came to me again, after the Tigers fell behind 2-0 in this series, in that semi-crazed Metrodome, which seems such a lousy, unfair, overwhelming edge.
And I got an idea. What better inspiration?
Here was my idea: A phone call from George Peppard. Thirty seconds worth of inspiration. Something like: “Walt, baby? . . . It’s Georgie. Go get ’em Tiger . . . Yeah . . . And after the Series, my place, the tub. Bring your buddies.”
And, boom! Terrell pitches a shutout. The enthusiasm catches. The Tigers roll. They take Games 4, 5 and 6. And that’s it. Detroit gets the pennant. We all drive to George’s house.
How hard could the guy be to find, really?
Luck was with me. An ex-college roommate named Stan Brooks is now a VP for Guber-Peters Productions in Hollywood. “Help,” I said. “I’ll try,” he told me. I also called our entertainment department. They made calls. I tried Peppard’s press agent in LA. I got her assistant:
“How do we spell the pitcher’s name?” he asked.
“T-E-R-R-E-L-L. . . .
The hours passed. Stan called his Hollywood people. And they called people. The press agent finally returned from her 50 meetings. And she called people. Soon we had Stan’s people and the press agent’s people and the newspaper’s people, and also Stan’s assistant, Jeff, and possibly the Beverly Hills police department. All looking for George Peppard. With each phone call I tried to explain what a few words might mean to Terrell, the Tigers, and the future of baseball.
(I should confess right here, that, before Friday, I really had little idea who George Peppard was. I now know he is a famous, white-haired actor who plays rugged heroes, lots of cop- types, and was in “The A-Team” with Mr. T, a show I missed because I was flossing my teeth. But what does that matter? Terrell likes him.)
And finally, at 3 p.m., word came back. We had reached . . . his answering machine! Yes. He was in town. A message was left with Terrell’s phone numbers.
“I think he’ll do it,” the press agent said. We could only hope he wasn’t a soccer fan. Terrell would love it
Terrell had to attend a press conference at Tiger Stadium Friday afternoon. (Putting Walt Terrell in a room full of press is like putting an elephant in a shopping mall. What for?) I watched as he squirmed in front of the microphones, took a few questions, answered briefly, and left.
When the crowd had gone, we talked. I told him about Peppard (who was born in Detroit and attended Dearborn High). Terrell dug his hands into his pockets and smiled. Emotion? This is a man who came within one out of a no-hitter last summer — and afterward, you’d never have known he played. Emotion?
“It’d be neat if he called,” he said. “Yeah. I’d really like that.”
“What would you ask him?” I said.
He paused. He thought for a moment.
“I’d ask if he was gonna do ‘Banacek’ again.”
Well. Whatever. The call was the thing. Think of the inspiration! Think of how hard he would throw! But as of press time Friday night, the call had not come. Game 3 was just hours away. I’m sorry. I tried. Somewhere in Los Angeles, perhaps at poolside, sits a man who could make a difference. If only he’d check his messages.
“Ah, it’s OK if he doesn’t call,” Terrell said. “Some people you want to kiss, and some people you just wanna reach their answering machine.”
Yeah. That’s what I always say. CUTLINE George Peppard