Signs of the Times: An Anthology of All-Star Activism


The network didn’t show it, but in the bottom of the third inning of that recently contested contest of All-Star contestants, a group of protesters hung a large sheet sign that read, LOVE WATER, NOT OIL.

Though radical, and arguably a waste of a good bed sheet, the action hardly qualified as unprecedented. Indeed, on the occasion of five previous All-Star games, activists hung similar, if equally untelevised, signs of civil protest.


In the summer of 2011, with the wedding of Prince William now behind them, Americans turned their attention to syndicated TV. The stakes were high, as cooking- and trucking-school commercials competed for advertising time in the coveted 1 p.m.-4 p.m. “total burnout” slot. Competition went cutthroat as the summer wore on, and in efforts to sway viewers from a quirky sitcom starring Jason Lee, the producers of Walker, Texas Ranger body-slammed a Chase Field gate attendant and leg-whipped an usher in the commission of hanging their sign.


Decades before the Walker/Earl conflict, an uglier TV-centric battle had begun to tarnish our American experience. The back-to-the-earth movement had just taken root, with everyday suburbanites planting their own peas, corn and sensimilla. At neighborhood weed parties, which had replaced neighborhood key parties, these neo-planters spoke glowingly of their bond with Mother Earth.

“Gaia nourishes me,” they said, “just as I nourish Gaia.”

“Good grief,” others replied, “shut the fuck up.”

These “others,” as others called them, responded with a movement of their own, a crusade that centered on staying indoors and watching TV. Some called themselves the Total Burnout Liberation Front. Others, namely The Wapnerites, derived their passion from The People’s Court and its charismatic leader, Judge Wapner.

“The scales of justice shall tilt away from those with sunburn on their necks,” they declared, “and toward those with Cheetos on their laps.”

The group made its boldest – and most ironic – political statement on July 10, 1990, by hanging their sign in the lush ivy of Wrigley Field.


In the summer of 1976, as our nation celebrated its bicentennial by gazing at Judy Garland’s dress on the Freedom Train, a team of California misfits captured our movie-going hearts by reaching the league championship game, after which loss the Bears’ feisty shortstop, Tanner Boyle, screamed at the hated Yankees, “You can take your apology and your trophy and shove ’em right up your ass!”

Perhaps inevitably, a cult of personality developed around Boyle. Across America, bullied students confronted their attackers by shouting, “You can shove that wedgie right up your ass!” Shocked, and a bit bowlegged, the bullies quickly unionized and developed a retaliatory campaign to shift attention from Boyle to the man who played Coach Buttermaker, Walter Matthau.

The campaign peaked on July 13, when the Philadelphia chapter of Bullies United hung the sign at Veterans Stadium. It cratered, however, when Expos pitcher Woodie Fryman complained that they had misspelled his name.


In the summer of 1993, with hopes of moving on from the John Bobbitt affair, Americans stopped cringing and began cozying to the Canadian embrace of Proulxian fiction. In reading The Shipping News, they quickly identified with protagonist Quoyle and his struggle to build a new life in Newfoundland, a life that might not include a severed penis.

Enter, or re-enter, the Total Burnout Liberation Front. Dedicated to shifting America’s gaze from “candy-ass Canadian literature” to “its rightful place on a Magnavox screen,” the activists – if “activists” is really the right word – based their campaign on afternoon reruns of a beloved late-’70s sitcom.

Perhaps ironically, after attending the sign hanging, actor Gabe Kaplan learned that he would not be welcomed back to Camden Yards.


Last July, as most Americans tried to sound intelligent while discussing Edward Snowden, a group of activists arrived at Citi Field with one defining purpose: to end the centuries-old Jewish tradition of brit milah, or circumcision, traditionally performed by a mohel, pronounced “moil.”

“Aesthetically, and functionally, the human penis is a wondrous piece of equipment on its own,” said one activist, grabbing his crotch. “We don’t need to slice it up just to satisfy some old notion of a sacred covenant.”

Leading the effort was noted goy activist John Bobbitt.

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John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.

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