Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Remembering Ted Williams...Fishing Lure Collector?

Remembering Ted Williams...Fishing Lure Collector?

One of the cool things about the internet is that it is a great reminder of days gone by; in fact, in some ways, it has amplified the nostalgia craze, and not just in the fact that you can buy every childhood toy you ever broke over your sister's head on eBay. I mean the sheer memories and experiences of your past come to life before you in the form of images, videos, and text. It's almost surreal, except, of course, if you run across anything with Pauly Shore in it. Shudder.

Take for example 1993. I was just starting graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, had married my long-time girlfriend, and there was no sign of a single grey hair on my head. The Minnesota Twins were only two years removed from their second World Series victory in five years; the Persian Gulf war assured us we'd never have to deal with a tyrant named Saddam Hussein ever again; and on television, Upper Deck ran the following commercial:

For those of you who don't know, Upper Deck is a baseball card maker, and not just the truncated name of a college prank every sophomore laughs about but no one has ever actually done.

Yes. For the first time in memory, vintage fishing tackle made the big-time--and not just as a prop in the background like the 14/0 Penn reel Quint uses to try and catch Jaws, or the myriad of tackle Rock Hudson uses to try and catch Doris Day in Man's Favorite Sport (talk about catch-and-release). In a commercial featuring an absolute who's who of sports--Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Mickey Mantle, Joe Montana, Gordie Howe, Reggie Jackson, Eric Dickerson and Ted Williams--Upper Deck asked these assembled stars what they collect. Ted Williams famously quips: "I just collect fishing lures." A quick cut to a screen that says "Fishing Lures?" and Williams declares "The Musky Dingbat!" followed by a blazing montage of lure pictures, to which the assembled stars respond "Dingbat?" After joking that they all collect Reggie, Williams holds up another lure at the end and says "The Shmoo!"

As a side note, it does seem weird but there was a time when people used the words "Eric Dickerson" and "star" in the same sentence. Ah yes, the olden days. I'm reliably informed that the words "Jose Canseco" and "hall-of-fame" were once used in the same sentence too, but as I watch him writhe on the ground after being knocked out by journeyman football player Vai Sikahema I simply don't believe we were ever that dumb.

But I digress. As a rabid baseball fan and collector of fishing lures, the Upper Deck commercial was like nirvana. Of course, knowledgeable collectors know that Ted Williams lent his name to an entire line of fishing tackle sold by Sears for over two decades, and these marked Williams items were collectable even in the 1980s. More valuable, of course, is the tackle he manufactured and sold himself in the 1950s when he was in business for a short time with legendary golf professional Sam Snead.

But back to the Upper Deck commercial. Ever since I first saw that commercial, I wanted to know what other lures were laid before Williams in his office. Well, thanks to the magic of the Screen Capture, for the first time, we can break down this commercial and see what Ted Williams was collecting ca. 1993:

Williams sitting at his desk with five lures before him, declaring "I just collect fishing lures.

Williams declares "The Musky Dingbat."

Montage picture number 1--The Shmoo.

Montage picture number 2--A Heddon S.O.S.

Montage picture number 3--A Kent Frog.

Williams famously declaring "The Shmoo!"

Of course, there aren't three people in the world who care, but since this is the first time Fishing Lure Collecting ever made the big-time, it's worth noting that Williams knew his lures and chose five lures to profile that are iconic in their own way. The Musky Dingbat is a lure made by the Creek Chub Bait Company of Garrett, Indiana and a rare and valuable bait today; the Heddon S.O.S. made by James Heddon's Sons in Dowagiac, Michigan is another classic topwater lure; the rights to the Kent Frog were purchased by Pflueger and this lure remains one of the most popular vintage lures today; and, of course, the legendary Shmoo was made by Shurkatch/Horrocks-Ibbotson of Utica, New York and based on the famed Lil' Abner cartoon character of the same name.

So that everyone knows how incredibly Type A I can be, note that in photo one there are five lures laid out in front of Williams, but only four were shown in the commercial. What was the fifth lure? Seriously--and I know how insane it actually is to speculate on a fishing lure shown in a commercial fifteen years ago for less than 1/4 of a second--but the lures from left-to-right in the first photo are Shmoo, Musky Dingbat, UNKNOWN, Kent Frog, Heddon S.O.S. So what's the identity of this lure? My guess is it is a Heddon Basser, a salmon lure designed for West Coast salmon fishing in the 1930s, or a similar Martin plug. I'll spare you a discourse on what I think Teddy Ballgame is reading...

Of course, Ted Williams is not the only celebrity fishing tackle collector--George W. Bush, Prince Charles, Jimmy Carter, Chris Labuz and others equally or more famous are noted collectors--nor is he the only baseball player to become a fishing tackle manufacturer (Dazzy Vance beat him by a couple of decades and even Billy Martin invested in a tackle concern, but is rumored to have punched out his partner in a drunken fit). Numerous celebrities had their own line of sporting goods, ranging from Tris Speaker to Babe Ruth to Arnold Palmer to Gordie Howe to Hannah Montana (when she's not getting her iPhone hacked). But no one ever brought collecting fishing tackle to the wider world, even for just 30 seconds, except Ted Williams.

For that, on the 15th anniversary of this commercial, we remember Ted Williams, tackle collector. And of course, we try NOT to remember what happened to his head afterward.

-- Dr. Todd

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