We Lost Jonathan Winters Today, And The Reds Lost One Of Their Biggest Fans
Jonathan Winters, the groundbreaking improv comedian who died today at the age of 87, once said that there were three things in his life that he could never change: "My politics, my religion, and my allegiance to the Cincinnati Reds." Winters was born in Dayton, Ohio, grew up in Springfield, Ohio, and followed the team his entire life: often showing up in the locker room during the Big Red Machine years of the 1970s.
But the best thing for Reds fans about Winters' obsession with the team was his occasional radio guest spots during rain delays, the most famous of which being a 1977 conversation with broadcaster Joe Nuxhall. In that one, Winters appeared as retired pitcher Wimp Willis, who told the sad story of his used chicken farm that went bankrupt. Then:
“Here we have third base coach Alan Meadows. How come you're up here in the booth?”
His voiced changed again: “Because I'm out of the rain, man! You don't want me standing down there out in the rain!”
Next he became a player who had been beaned by a fastball: “My mind was was gone for a month. I wasn't in a coma. I just sat in the car and listened to the radio.”
He would talk in a pitch-perfect Kentucky drawl, another time inventing a different third-base coach, named Willy Bainbridge. “Well, it's rainin' today, as you can tell. They're not goin' to be playin' till it stops. Them guys that pull that tarp, they make good money.”
Winters attended Springfield South High School with former Reds pitcher Brooks Lawrence, and was a fan since he was a small child. The comedian, who was diagnosed as manic depressive in the early 1960s, had at least two nervous breakdowns and spent some time in a mental hospital, which he later referred to on a TV special as "The zoo." He considered baseball a tonic, and one of the few things that could calm "the voices" in his head. In an interview with Cincinnati Magazine in 1987, Winters said:
"I've been a fan going back to the year '35. For me to go yesterday [to throw out the first pitch] was a big thrill in many ways because when I was a kid, I only got to go to one game a year.
"There are certain things, a lot of drastic changes you must make in your life -- a lot of it with your career and your outlook. I decided I would not change -- not necessarily in this order -- my politics, my religion and my allegiance to the Cincinnati Reds."
Winters would often turn up in the Reds' clubhouse following games and banter with the players ... although I'm not sure if he ever met the late, infamous Reds' owner, Marge Schott. That would have been a conversation for the ages.
It's not clear if he said this during a rain delay, but it's one of my favorite Jonathan Winter quotes: "I couldn't wait for success, so I went ahead without it." We should all take note of that one. Today we remove our caps and honor a great talent. So long, Wimp Willis. We, and the chickens, will miss you.
Photo: via Better Off Red.
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