Baseball Men - The Showman

Our exclusive "Baseball Men" interview series continues with Dan Landon, former Commissioner of Broadway's Show League.

Peter Handrinos is a frequent contributor to and author of the upcoming ‘The Best New York Sports Arguments:  The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Fans'.



When you think about it, Broadway and the Major Leagues have a lot in common.


Both produce dramas on an almost daily basis, scripted or not. Entry into the business is the dream of millions, which makes the process competitive enough to yield the longest possible odds of success. Those who do make it are among the best of the best in the world, those who can rely on both physicality and artistry to make near-impossible performances look easy enough (at least from the spectators' seats).


If anyone knows the commonalities between the Great White Way and The Show, it's Dan Landon.


A New York theatre manager for nearly 30 years, Landon's been involved in the Broadway community's summer recreational organization for nearly as long. In recent years, he's served as the Commissioner for The Show League, approving its 30 teams and three divisions, setting its nearly daily schedule, clearing its coed squads, and serving as arbitrator for its rare disputes. If you get a chance to catch a game at Central Park's Heckscher Fields, there's a chance you'll see him playing through a game or two as well.


Recently, Dan took a break from his work at The Ethel Barrymore Theatre and discussed the intersection of showbiz and baseball: 



How did you get involved in Broadway?


It was a tradition in the family. My father and my uncle were child actors - they were choirboys in ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner' and they were in ‘Life with Father' with Clifton Webb. They actually supported the family during the Depression, so the greasepaint was always in our tradition.


I started out as an actor from high school, then doing off-Broadway and Broadway. Believe it or not, my first show was a play called ‘Yankees 3, Detroit 0'. Tony LoBianco played a struggling pitcher, and I played a Yankee relief pitcher in a dream sequence. 


Unfortunately, I would have starved to death long before I made it as an actor - I was a terrible waiter! At the end of that run, the theatre manager moved on and I went to the director. ‘I think I could do that', I said, and he let me give it a try.


How did you first get involved in the Show League?


My first year in the League was 1977. I didn't play in 1978, but I played again in '79, while I was in a production called ‘The Passion of Dracula', and I've been hanging around, one way or another, ever since.


I was drawn to it because it was just an incredible social event every summer. Out there in beautiful Central Park, it was just the gathering point for everyone in the Broadway community. I've always said the whole thing was social, as much as anything else. It was great. You'd see Danny Aiello drop by every so often to say hello to his friends. Al Pacino, you name it.


Why do you suppose so many Broadway people have been drawn to the League?


I've always said - there's a lot of uncertainties in an actor's life, but a box score ain't one of them! If ‘Phantom' beats ‘Les Mis', then, hey, they were just better than them that day. And, maybe theatre people are susceptible to vivid imaginations, too - we can all picture ourselves playing in the National League!


I know you were joking, but you might be on to something there. Actors are a lot like Major Leaguers in that they're intense competitors, battling long odds just to hold down a job.


Don't you doubt it. Anyone who knows the first thing about acting knows - there are far more talented performers than there are available jobs. Way more. Always. The talent out there in New York is formidable. Is Major League Baseball the same way? I'd bet it is.


Are most actors good athletes?


Most of them are excellent athletes. Performances, particularly live theatre performances, where you have to project yourself, are all about body language and body control. Actors have impeccable mechanics and timing. They have the stamina to deal with the grind on a day-to-day basis. Plus, they work out to look good.


Broadway dancers are especially great athletes. They can run, jump, pivot, you name it. Of course, that doesn't necessarily make them great ball players. I've seen a dancer execute a perfect, graceful plié [ballet movement] while diving in the outfield, only to have the ball plop off their head. So, you never know.


Does that kind of thing happen often?


It's not unusual. You've heard of dancing off the bag? A lot of dancers, literally dance on the base path as they lead on the base path!


How would you describe the quality of play in the Show League?


It varies. Some teams take it pretty seriously, and others mostly see it as a way to get outdoors for some sun. Even teams that aren't that great find ways to have fun with it. I remember ‘Children of a Lesser God', the show about the hearing impaired. Many of the cast members and crew were hearing impaired, and they'd work out this elaborate set of [sign language] signals on the plays. They didn't win many ball games, but good luck stealing those signs!


There have been some good teams you wouldn't necessarily expect. Classic example - [the gay-themed] ‘Torch Song Trilogy'. They had a bunch of great actors - Craig Scheffer, Fisher Stevens - and they could really play. They won a championship one year and that night Harvey Firestein had the whole squad come out after the curtain. He said, ‘You think we can't play ball?' and they brought out the League trophy to a rousing audience ovation.


Is there competitive balance?


Every week, it seems, we have another great game. We do have a mercy rule, but we don't have to invoke it very often. Playoff games, are generally very close, hard-fought affairs - I can't tell you how many 3-2, 4-3-type games we've had, complete with sparkling defense, good pitching, smart base running.


Dramas, in other words.


Hey, every game's a story. Every game's a little play.


Is there good teamwork between the stars, on the one hand, and the ushers and stagehands on the other?


Oh, there's great teamwork. The beauty of the thing is - softball's a great equalizer! On the field, a big star like John Lithgow isn't necessarily the star. I mean, if he goes 0-for-3, he didn't have a good day. The star of the game might be an usher who goes 3-for-3 with a home run.


Is there good sportsmanship between the teams, for the most part?


I'd say so. Most go out there to be complete ladies and gentlemen, to enjoy the game and the camaraderie. That being said, sometimes, rarely, some players will get into it a little too much, maybe get just a little out of line.


Do any examples come to mind?


Well, once Tony Danza was pitching. Tony's a great guy, by the way, and a great athlete - he was a middleweight boxer. But it just wasn't his day out there, and he was getting hit pretty good. The other team was getting on his case, chanting ‘Who's the boss?!', ‘Who's the boss?!' I didn't like that too much but, after the game, Tony came over and said, ‘Dan, I'm a big boy - I can take it. Don't worry about it'.


That kind of thing happens in every league, though. Maybe I should get together with Bud Selig one day. We could exchange war stories.


Do dramas have an advantage over comedies, or vice versa?


The big advantage goes to musicals, as it happens. They always have a big casts -  wice, sometimes, three times the cast and crew. And, with more people involved, the better the chance of picking up great ball players. ‘The Producers', that's a huge show, and they've been a powerhouse recently.


Do you guys worry about injuries?


You don't like to see it but, sometimes, rarely, players have been known to get a little banged up.


[Veteran Broadway actor] Tony Roberts says the League launched his career. Apparently, the guy who was going to take Robert Redford's lead in ‘Barefoot in the Park' hurt his leg really badly on a grounder to first base, and Tony took over the role instead. Redford, himself, played in the League for a couple of years during his run in ‘Barefoot'.


Maybe that's why he became Roy Hobbs years later.


In ‘The Natural'. Who knows?


There was one other instance I've heard about. One year, Norm Nixon [of the NBA] was in the League, playing for his wife's [Debbie Allen] show, and he hurt his knee quite seriously. It may have impacted his basketball career to a degree. I have to say, people do get into it and play hard, especially at playoff time.


Have teams tried to work ringers into their lineups?


You mean when a new limo driver shows up, even though the lead actor walks home every night? (chuckles) I'll tell you, people have been known to go to extremes to win softball games in Central Park.


It's happened?


It's happened. Sometimes producers have been known to pull a fast one. In those instances, as Commissioner, it's been my solemn duty to fully investigate and protect the integrity of the League through arbitration. (chuckles)


We've had a lot of great ball players, too. Some stagehands have been Minor Leaguers - Larry Doby, Jr., son of the Hall of Famer, played in the League for years. We've had many All Americans. Lee Mazzilli was in ‘Tony & Tina's Wedding', and he played for one year. Keith Hernandez, one year. Phil Esposito, the hockey Hall of Famer, was a fantastic power hitter.


Do you see showmanship out there on the ball fields?


Ha. The thing about Broadway is that it tends to attract . . . big personalities. Flamboyant. ‘Theatrical' is the word.


So, absolutely, we've had our share of showmen. I remember once, a longtime teammate of mine - a great dancer named Mark Bovay - hit a home run to win a playoff game. He ran the bases hollering ‘I'm SuperDancer! I'm SuperDancer!'. Another time, a great young lady named Stephanie [Michels] hit a game-winning single and jumped up and down, saying ‘This is exactly how I felt when I won Miss Georgia!'. More than once, there's been a bow after a great catch. You won't see that in the Majors!


Would you mind giving some player evaluations?


No problem.


George C. Scott.


He was a pitcher, and he was quite a character, from what I hear. For instance, the only two pitches available in the league are ‘slow' and ‘slower', but George C. would shake off the catcher before he delivered. Meanwhile, the catcher isn't even putting down signs. He'd drive his opponents crazy! (chuckles) Which was the point, I guess.




Al was on Actor's Equity. He was a pretty good third baseman, but he didn't hit much. Good glove, no stick.


Matthew Broderick, a.k.a. Cub fan Ferris Bueller.


A good lefty hitter, a contact hitter. I'll always treasure the memory of hitting a homer over Matthew's head in left field during the playoffs.




A pretty good hitter, for the most part. He slumped one year, for some reason. As far as I know, John's the only player to pull off an unassisted triple play in the 50 plus years of League history. It was a pretty spectacular play.


Dan Landon.


Not much power, but a pretty good average. Classic inside-out swing like the great Roberto Clemente. OK, not that good! (chuckles) Has a good time out there.



The complete Table of Contents for the ‘Baseball Men' interview series can be found here.

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