The Houston Verison of "Damn Yankees"

When the Houston version of "Damn Yankees" played here at the Houston Music Theatre (in the round) back in 1968, the producers changed the show's name to "Damn Cardinals" for the sake of generating greater local interest.

"Damn Yankees" will always be the show that any comedy, play, or musical about baseball is measured. Based upon a 1947 novel by Douglass Wallop entitled "The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant," "DY" depicts the musical story of an aging baseball fan who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for his personal transformation into a youthful star who will lead his home club Washington Senators to victory over the hated and always over-achieving New York Yankees.

"Damn Yankees" hit the movie screen in 1958 with a cast that featured Tab Hunter, Gwen Virdon, and Ray Walston. George Abbott wrote both the Broadway musical and film adaptations of the original Wallop storyline.

As a lifelong Houstonian and deep blue baseball fan, I always sort of mildly resented the fact that the local producers of this wonderful show felt the need to alter the title and the identities of the competitive teams for the local production that played here forty years ago at the old Houston Music Theatre. These actions suggest that the producers feared that Houston audiences either wouldn't otherwise get it or care.

Although it was kind of "cute" watching our local Houston Astros fan struggling with the idea of selling his soul for a chance to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, his hate for the redbirds was never really credible to those of us who knew the true history of this rivalry.

In 1968, Houston was only in its seventh season as a major league club and the team was beginning only its fourth season as the "Astros." During the first three years, Houston's National League club had been called the "Colt .45s."

Prior to entering the big leagues, from 1921 through 1958, the minor league Houston Buffs had existed as a farm team of the parent club St. Louis Cardinals. In 1968, some of the current Cardinal players and staff still had direct connection to Houston as former Buffs.

The problem that Houston fans had with the Cardinals in 1968 was wholly different from the one experienced by the story's original Washington Senators fan. The Washington fan hated the Yankees. Houston fans felt ambivalence about the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were the guys that Houstonians largely had cheered over the years. By the seventh year of our major league life, we still had more than a few Houston fans who pulled for the Cardinals against our Astros when St. Louis came to town.

I didn't like that behavior either. Cheering for the Cardinals was no longer acceptable to me against a club that wore "Houston" on its game jerseys.

As a Houston kid during the post Warld War II era, I had been a Cardinals fan who switched my major league allegiance to the St. Louis Browns in 1951, but I had been a Buffs fan first and above all others because they were the club that represented Houston, even if their representation was considered minor league.

Once Houston went "big league" in 1962, it was (or should have been) a "no-brainer" for all true Houstonians: This is our town. This is our club. It's time to pull for our guys on the major league level.

Having said all of that, I have to admit to having retained a soft spot for the Cardinals in 1968. If the Astros couldn't win, I pulled for the Cardinals to take the pennant. We simply didn't hate the Cardinals n a way that justified changing the name of the show to "Damn Cardinals."

By the way, the 1968 Houston production had starred Gary Collins, with the incredible Rita Moreno playing the part of Lola, the devil's temptress. Speaking of the devil, he was played by the pompous Jonathan Hale, the actor remembered best today for his role as "Dr. Smith" in the original "Lost In Space" television program.

Gary Collins had married Mary Ann Mobley, the former Miss America only a few months prior to the Houston baseball musical. The couple must have done some things right along the way. Forty years later, they're still married.

Other productions of "Damn Yankees" have come and gone from Houston in recent years, most notably a couple that starred the great Jerry Lewis and another featuring the late Tony Randall in the role of the devil. These each came here with no special title or script packaging, but maybe now that wouldn't have been such a bad idea.

After what Albert Pujols did to Brad Lidge and the Houston Astros back in 2004, a new production entitled "Damn Cardinals" now sounds pretty good to me.

Damn you, Albert Pujols! (wink. wink.)

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