We are closing in on the three-month anniversary of what’s become nearly a complete sports shutdown in America. This week’s attempt by your feisty Strib sports staff to add entertainment has been a wide-ranging selection of “favorite’’ events covered.
I went with Miami 31, Nebraska 30 in the Orange Bowl of Jan. 2, 1984 – figuring there could be a conflict with the Gophers over Clemson in the 1997 Sweet 16 (Jerry Zgoda was there), or Games 6 and 7 of the 1991 World Series.
There are three events that certainly belong on any such favorites list that might not have been given proper consideration by our numerous and worthy contributors.
Remember, key word “entertainment,’’ and the wackier the better. They will be offered here in chronological order in the days ahead, starting with:
July 4, 1978, Met Stadium
The lowly Twins were playing the rising Milwaukee Brewers in a Tuesday night holiday game. Promotions director Don Cassidy decided to spice up the usual fireworks by hiring “Captain Dynamite’’ to blow himself up behind second base after the game.
The Captain was a man named Patrick O’Brien, then 62, who had been providing this stunt mostly in minor league ballparks, local racetracks and county fairs for 25 years at that time.
He was said to have been a Coast Guard cook who would compile his leave and set up his summer Dynamite schedule – and then continued after military retirement.
As I recall, Cassidy said the Captain’s fee was $500. Don had only heard second-hand reports on the Captain’s exploits and was as curious as the rest of us.
Ever skeptical, I assumed there would be a minor boom, dust and smoke would circulate, and then the Captain would rise and wave to the audience.
There were early holiday deadlines for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and most of the players were still in the dugout. Thus, I was hacking away a game story (Twins 7, Brewers 2) in the press box as public address announcer Bob Casey went through the buildup for Captain Dynamite.
The Captain climbed into his box, basically made of cardboard. There was a countdown and then came the boom. Sonic-level. The box went flying, the smoke and dust rose thickly, and there was no triumphant appearance by the Captain.
The Lord’s name was taken in vain in the press box, with adjectives.
Cassidy, at field level, was in a panic when the smoke rose to reveal the Captain flattened behind second. He went sprinting toward second base with one thought:
“I’ve killed him.’’
This was an opinion shared, I’d guess, by many in the crowd announced at 26,263. After a couple of minutes. the Captain started to come to. He looked into the wide eyes of Cassidy and said:
“This was the big leagues. I put a little extra powder in there for you, Don.’’
Paul Molitor was a Brewers rookie, playing second base, and hit his sixth career home run while facing the Twins’ Gary (Truth) Serum that night. Asked Wednesday if the Brewers remained in the dugout postgame to watch Captain Dynamite, Molitor responded:
"I’m not sure that everyone stayed, but some of us did. Our impression seeing him before he blew himself up was that he just might have ingested a little bit of numbing fluid. And if the Captain wasn’t wobbling before, he sure was after.’’
The debris was cleaned up for the Captain, as Cassidy and others helped lead him away. He was checked a bit by medical people, then Cassidy slipped him an extra $100 bill and brought him to the hospitality room.
Coast Guard cook (allegedly) who blows himself up as a second job? Yeah, the Captain liked his numbing agent in the form of brown whiskey. I got down there for a refreshment perhaps 45 minutes after the Captain had left the field waving.
He was standing at the bar, accepting congratulations, smiling widely (free booze and at that point an extra $100). I remember him holding a glass with two hands and gulping the booze like a man trying to get dust out of his throat. I also remember a trickling line of blood moving by millimeters from his right ear.
Don’t get mad at me. The trickle was there.
The last thing I could find on the Captain in a quick internet search was him being in a Houston court in June 1986 on a charge of illegally storing dynamite. His explanation was valid: The dynamite had been a source of his livelihood for 33 years.
“I don’t blow up anybody but myself,’’ O’Brien told the judge.
As for physical damage, the Captain told us at the Met’s basement bar that his only problem to that point was an increasing loss of hearing.
His oft-quoted summation of the experience was: “It’s like drinking a half-pint of whiskey all at once. It’s a living. It beats pickin’ cotton.’’
I couldn’t find an obit, but I would assume the Captain didn’t make it to 104 and thus has left this mortal abode. I also hope the service started with his ashes being placed in a cardboard receptacle and exploded skyward with a thunderous boom.
And I can still see the late, great Mr. Cassidy, standing next to him at the bar, shaking his head in awe and saying:
“Are you sure you’re OK? Honest, Captain, I thought I killed you. Here’s another $100.’’