ATLANTA — Sooner or later in this World Series — probably Saturday night, the way the Braves are going — they will have to name an MVP, and won’t that be fun? I can see the guys in the backroom, rushing to make up the trophy.
“Quick, read me the ballots.”
“OK. One for Lemke–“
“That’s what it says. Lemke.”
“Lemke? You sure? How the hell you spell that?”
Of course, we could have predicted this, when Minnesota and Atlanta made the World Series and seven CBS executives immediately locked themselves in the bathroom and wept. The Twins and Braves are hardly household names. Most Americans still think the Braves have Dale Murphy, while the rest hear Minnesota and say, “Yeah, whatever happened to that Harmon Killebrew guy?”
To make matters worse, most of the supposed-to-be stars in this series
(Kirby Puckett, Terry Pendleton) are taking a backseat. What we have center-stage are guys like Jerry Willard, who once quit baseball to build houses, driving in the winning run Wednesday on a sacrifice fly. What we have center-stage is a Minnesota kid named Knoblauch — I think it’s a kid, it could be a sausage — and he’s hitting .353. What we have center-stage is an unknown named Scott Leius (rhymes with Pay Us), who smacked a home run to win Game 2.
And what we have center-stage is Mark Lemke, a second baseman who weighs less that Kent Hrbek’s lunch and whose glasses and short figure suggest an English major at Georgia Tech, rather than the hero of back-to-back World Series games. “The Lemmer,” as they call him here, won Game 3 with a single in
the bottom of the 12th and helped capture Game 4 with a triple in the bottom of the ninth.
Already, The Lemmer has had the CBS crew at his house to film him eating breakfast and answering the phone, just like normal people, which he used to be, before Tuesday.
“Do you watch your batting average on the scoreboard when you come to bat?” he was asked after the Braves clobbered the Twins, 14-5.
“Actually I hit so poorly during the regular season I conditioned myself to never look at that scoreboard,” he said. What’s in a nickname?
By the way, it should not surprise you that Atlanta has dubbed him The Lemmer (I can see that guy on “Saturday Night Live”: “The Lemmer. The Lematola. The Lemmeister. The Lem Man . . . “). Personally, I doubt the nickname will stand the test of time. Willie, Mickey, Duke . . . and The Lemmer? Call it a hunch.
But, naming is a big pastime here in Atlanta, The City That Never Sleeps, Because Another Mall Might Open. In fact, I have noticed folks here spend a lot of time creating new and cute names for everything, especially restaurants and shops.
Why, just this morning, I had breakfast at Yolks On You ($10.95), picked up a newspaper at Fact ‘N’ Fiction ($.50), grabbed a frozen yogurt at The Creamation Department (2.95), got my hair cut at Strands In The Jungle ($45), bought running shoes at Toes Up ($95), an umbrella at Rubber Duckies ($17) and a pair of underwear at Sgt. Skivvies ($9.50).
I can hardly wait to visit the butcher shop.
But back to Lemke. He had two triples Thursday night, three RBIs and two runs scored (although it seemed like every Brave did that). He is not the first guy to come out of nowhere and make a dent in the World Series. This tradition goes way back, and includes such memorable forgettables as Dusty Rhodes with the 1954 Giants, Al Weiss with the 1969 Mets, Brian Doyle with the 1978 Yankees.
But Lemke is the man of the moment — “I’m trying not to think about it, ” he says — and if the Braves pull off this miracle, I promise you, he won’t have to buy his own beer in this town for a long time. Sad farewell to Atlanta
And neither will I. Our Atlanta visit is now over and my head can finally stop throbbing from all that drum beating. Actually, I’m sad to go. For one thing, I never got to meet Jane Fonda. And I waited in every elevator. I even hung around that special parking place in the stadium basement, the one marked “Ted Turner.” I figured I had an “in” with Ted — The Tedder, I call him — since we had met back in Moscow in 1986, during his Goodwill Games. In fact, we shared such quality time together that I know if he saw me today he would pop right out of his car, look me in the eye and say, “Park this, will ya?”
But I digress. We are in search of an MVP, and with the Braves on the brink of victory, could it be . . . The Lemmer? “Every player has his up and down periods,” he said. “I guess I’m in my up period.”
You could say that. But who knows? This is a crazy series. And now, it’s back to Minnesota. Because of the results so far, analysts will claim home field will win this thing. Maybe so, maybe no. We go from tomahawk insanity in Atlanta to homer- hankie insanity in Minnesota. If you ask me, the only difference between the two places is that you can’t blow your nose in a tomahawk.
Although I bet The Lemmer gives it a good shot.