Gus Triandos (1930-2013)

09 Apr
April 9, 2013

163019

Apologies for the lack of activity here so far this year.  As it happened, the filming of the remaining episodes of Treme required my full attention, and following that endeavor, a couple of prolonged illnesses in the family required additional time.  And, well, I owe a lot of script work.

If you’ve read the introduction, you know that one of my fears in beginning a blog was that when things got hectic, I would be unable to properly service the damn thing.  Certainly, for the first quarter of 2013, this has been the case.

*          *         *

What prompts a rapid return is the recent news that former all-star Oriole catcher Gus Triandos has passed away.  There are better remembrances and obituaries of the ballplayer to be had, but I can’t help but provide a small, additional anecdote about the man.  It is a backstage story that deserves some corner of baseball posterity.

The tale begins with Richard Price, the noted novelist and screenwriter who was kind enough to grace The Wire with some of his script work for four seasons of the HBO drama.  Price is famed for the verisimilitude of his urban patois and his detailed characterization, but he doesn’t get enough credit, in my opinion, for his comedic chops.  Looking to bring a little of that out in a particular episode, we decided to lay a secondary storyline on him in which Herc and Carver engage in that essential debate of fractured masculinity:  You can screw any three women in the world if you have sex with a man of your own choosing first.

This barroom game, of course, only has one correct answer for entrenched heterosexuals:  No way.  Because the very moment that a participant makes any concession to his friends — “I can be on top, right?” or  “Just a blowjob, okay” — he opens himself up for the usual locker-room derision.

“Can the guy be Steve McQueen?”

Sure.

“Nevada Smith-era Steve McQueen?”

Whenever you want him.

“And it’s just oral.  Not anal, okay?”

Just a blowjob.  No worries.

“Okay, I’ll give Nevada Smith-era Steve McQueen a blowjob if I can then do anything I want to Angelina Jolie, Audrey Hepburn and Jodie Foster, except Jodie Foster isn’t gay.  Deal?”

And the fixed coda:  “Steve McQueen, huh?  That’s your thing?  I always knew you were a cocksucker.”

Even in these enlightened and expansive times, when judgments about sexual lifestyle are no longer publicly acceptable, such remains the standard banter of the heterosexual male.  And after assigning this very banter to Price for his episode — and doing so using the aforementioned example so that Price himself could stare at me and say, “McQueen, huh?  He does it for you?” — we sat back in our happy little writers’ room and waited.

When the script came in, Price had gone us one further, offering up comedy gold.  Not only had he accessed the essential lust and homophobia of our characters, but he had combined it with yet another straight-male elemental:  Sports trivia.

“This isn’t about sex, this is about giving a guy a break,” Herc tells Carver before offering up the name of  Gus Triandos.

Carver:  “Who?”

Price had gone deep into his 1950s era baseball-card collection, which is considerable, believe me, and picked out the slow, lumbering Baltimore Oriole catcher of the late 1950s.  Triandos hit 30 home runs in 1958 to break Yogi Berra’s stranglehold on the All-Star Game starting catcher spot, and he had caught no hitters in both leagues, first for knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhem in ’58 and later, Jim Bunning’s perfect game for the Phillies.  He was well-enough known, in Baltimore at least, that the reference would knock Oriole fans on their asses with laughter, but not so well known that the humor inherent in the obscurity of Herc’s choice wouldn’t play.  And more, Herc catching a blowjob from Gus Triandos is a funny thought.  The choice itself implies a wonderful overthinking of the problem.  A mainstream Oriole reference — Herc on his knees before , say, Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken — no, god no.   In Baltimore, that rolls into the territory of straight-up, get-a-rope sacrilege.

Herc explained his choice as a mercy fuck.  He had a card of Triandos in his collection, and the guy just had this big, sad face.  Why sad?  He had to catch Wilhelm’s knuckleball all those years.  Ball moved around like a greased pig. Triandos had to employ an oversized catcher’s mitt to have any hope of getting through a game without a dozen passed balls.

After the script was circulated and the entire writing staff gathered itself from the bout of collective laughter, I was suddenly filled with a sharp pang of guilty horror: Was Triandos still alive? Why not? He’d only be in his early 70s, I calculated. Christ. I mean, I know the guy is, legally, some sort of public figure as an ex-professional ballplayer, but how do you throw this joke up on national television without his say-so? I was nauseous at the thought of  big, slow Gus Triandos, now wrinkled and weathered and walking with a cane amid a copse of cherubic grandchildren. Yeah, great. Make that guy into a blowjob joke on HBO.

I told Price that while Gus Triandos was perfect, he needed to think of an alternate for Herc, and it should preferably be some celebrity or semi-celebrity who had already departed this vale.  Steve McQueen, say.  Because I was only going to do this for Price’s script once.

“Do what?” Price asked.

“We have a number for Triandos.  He lives out in California.”

“You’re gonna call him?”

“What choice do I have?”

“Oh shit.  Never mind.  I’ll think of someone else.”

“No, Triandos is perfect for this, inspired even. But Richard, when you speak of me in the days to come, remember what I did for you here and speak well.”

It is hard to describe how fast I was speaking when I got on the phone with Gus Triandos, trying desperately to turn the corner with the old fella, to make him see that the joke wasn’t really on him, but on this character named Herc, this big, lumbering narcotics cop in Baltimore, Maryland. No, no, he wasn’t saying that you had sex with him. No, no way. And he’s not even saying that you would want to have sex with him. It’s not about you. Really, trust me.

“I’m not sure I understand,” Triandos said.

“Okay, let me send you the pages.  I’m gonna send all the pages for this storyline.  And if you see what the joke is and you are okay with it, then great. And if not, we won’t use your name. Just look at the pages, okay?”

“This is a television show? Really?”

Christ.  I sent the pages off with little hope, other than that Gus Triandos said he would get together with his sons and they would read them and he would, eventually, get back to me.  Naturally, I imagined he would pick up the phone to call me and everyone with anything to do with this television show a pack of free-range assholes.

But four days later my cellphone rang and Triandos was on the line.

“I get it.  It’s pretty funny.”

“You get it?”

“Yeah, he feels sorry for me ’cause I had to catch Wilhelm.”

“Exactly.”

“Hey, I feel sorry for me. Catching Wilhelm was miserable,” he laughed. “Go ahead.  It’s not like you’re making me out to be gay or nothing. It’s just a joke.”

I never had a chance to speak to Mr. Triandos after that, to hear how that episode actually landed on him. But I like to imagine him enjoying the joke — and the improbable cultural reference — for years to come.

42 replies
  1. Serena says:

    Many thanks for taking some time to write “David Simon | Gus Triandos (1930-2013)”.
    Thanks once again ,Edgar

    Reply
  2. Bones says:

    One of my favorite scenes from the show!

    What do you make of this Baltimore jail business, Mr. Simon? Sounds like something that may happen in The Wire universe, yes?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Quite a mess.

      State corrections commissioner should resign for allowing it to get to the point it has. Standard metholody for any gang gaining that much of a hold on an institution is to split up the gang. When Dennis Wise and Francis Byrd and others had pretty much taken over MCI Jessup in the 1980s, they sent some of them to Hagerstown, some to the Eastern Shore. That’s just a basic, logical move.

      For BCDC, the corrections commissioner should have arranged to split BGF leadership up throughout Maryland, having Baltimore sent one BGF player to the Frederick County detention center, one to Harford, one to Charles, one to Queen Anne’s, etc. Isolation and end it that way. It is entirely legit to house prisoners in pretrial at differing locations; the feds do it all the time, moving prisoners in federal cases between various county facilities and recompensing the counties for housing their prisoners. Same thing should have been done here a long time ago, but apparently, even the most basic tricks have managed to elude those in charge now.

      Reply
  3. Martin says:

    Were the Olsen twins as pleased with their mention in the episode as Triandos?

    Reply
  4. M J Ohio says:

    In my world, the women would be Lucy Liu, Asa Askira, and Mila Kunis. The other part of the equation would be David Simon. But I’d really rather not discuss. Especially that last part.

    Btw – I finally saw “The House I Live in”. I highly recommend it. Best doc I’ve seen on the drug war.

    Reply
  5. Willie Simpson says:

    David, I love all your work, though I am a latecomer. My girlfriend and I rapturously blew through the Wire this past winter and are now digging through Treme, much to our immense enjoyment. Thanks for that. I am also a MASSIVE baseball fan, and digging through your blog, I can tell you are a huge Baltimore Orioles fan. Fantastic.

    I for one, am a slave to the New York Mets, who I’m sure you have no real love for, considering 1969 and your otherwise (righteous) distaste for New York. A quick personal aside, I am just a 29-year-old low wage earning local Brooklyn news blogger (I know you have no love for our types as well) who can barely afford to live in the the most desolate parts of Southern Brooklyn. Then again, I committed the sin of majoring in Philosophy and not finance or computer programming, so my its all my fault anyhow.

    Anyway, back to baseball. I would argue, die-hard Met fandom reflects New Yorkers at their most authentic. We are down-trodden, scandalized and beaten. We are authentic losers, engulfed by the shadow of the imperialistic Yankee monolith and their spoiled entitled fan base. This authenticity is especially valuable in light of New York’s overwhelming corporate self-centered selfishness.

    The Mets also have the curious recent history of being victimized by Bernie Madoff, which not only devastated their payroll and forced another long cycle of rebuilding, but threw them hopelessly into the fire of this era’s particular brand of destructive greed. The economy is bad enough for young people, working class and poor folks, but the poisoning of the Mets is just another cruel layer of punishment for New Yorkers who, like myself, are lost in their own economic quagmires. I know New York doesn’t have it as bad as Baltimore and New Orleans and the streets are relatively safe compared to those cities, but there are a lot of still hurting, especially after Hurricane Sandy.

    Anyway, I loved your piece on the proud Gus Triandos and now that I’m wrapping up my response here, I’m realizing it amounts to nothing more than a glorified fan letter crossed with my best attempt at translating Met fan misery. Basically, I just wanted to let you know how much your work means to me and my friends and how you’ve educated and enlightened me. You are a massive inspiration to writers, thinkers and artists of all stripes and PLEASE do not retire until you have a few more television series, documentaries or movies notched on your belt. (That Muddy Waters screenplay mentioned on wikipedia must be produced.)

    Thanks again, and all the best,

    Willie Simpson

    Reply
  6. Michael Li says:

    Dear David, would you please tell us when season 3 of Treme would grace the iTunes store please. I’ve been checking the store almost daily for it.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Likely it will be simultaneous with the release of the season three DVD boxed sets. I’m not quite sure when that is. I will try to get a date from Time Warner video for you.

      Reply
      • Michael Li says:

        Thank you, David. I downloaded the HD version of the first two seasons and have watched them at least three times. I return to them again and again for both the drama and the context of the drama, both of which are presented so perfectly. I am awaiting your reply.

        Reply
  7. Gonzai says:

    Great story. This calls for a trip down Triandos Drive. (Yes, we named a street after the guy.)

    Reply
  8. Matt says:

    What a great anecdote. I hope you find the time to update your blog more – it’s brilliant.

    Reply
  9. Greg Casey says:

    Sir,

    In the ocean of shit that online commentary can sometimes be, this place is a welcome harbor. I’ll happily refresh for months finding nothing, knowing that when a post comes up it will be worth it.

    P.S. I cannot abide what “Homeland” did to Carver.

    Reply
    • Nathan says:

      Pardon my glaring lack of eloquence, given the soaring level of articulation and word-choice in this blog and in the responses of its comment participants, but: THIS.

      Reply
  10. Derrick says:

    I can still remember sitting in the writers office and reading these pages and seeing firsthand the anxious feelings of whether or not it would be accepted…..And YES, we ALL had a great laugh over reading this dialogue between Herc and Carver….Classic. Didn’t realize he had passed till I saw his name come up on the center field board just before the O’s home opener.

    Reply
  11. Sal says:

    Being a 30yr old from the UK, I had no idea who Gus Triandos was. I’m pleased to see there is a subtle nod to the Baltimore natives given the choice. The writing was so good I was still able to appreciate the whole little sub plot. The careful consideration Herc invested into his choice, the way Carver nudged him along was brilliant. The obscure name and the reason behind it made the comedic element all the more prominent.
    The joke got further mileage later on when Herc was assigned to Mayor duty, and his partner said “I’d **** you to get to her (the gorgeous Nereese)” To which Herc piped up with a typical macho response, only to be utterly dismissed with “it’s just an expression, man.” Poor old Herc seemed crestfallen!

    Reply
  12. erikaj says:

    Sir, it’s your blog. The one place where you can write or not.(Also, it has taken me this long to get over seeming stupid in the union-crew discussion this winter…the doctors tell me that, with patience, the flashbacks will fade.)
    I do have a favorite Richard Price story, apart from the quote from Sea of Love where Pacino’s character says you only pull out your records early on to show you’re a wonderful human being, which is one of those simple things that are so brilliant, as a writer I wish I’d thought it first. But I couldn’t, because it belongs where it is.(I won’t go into the other thing, right now, because I guess it’s quite long and I don’t mean to pull focus from Mr. Triandos..is it wrong to say, now that I’ve seen him, the joke makes more sense?)
    One thing I don’t envy men(well, okay, Dr. Freud, there are 2,) is how much time you seem to spend proving you’re manly. That seems like a gigantic pain in the ass. In the figurative sense, I should add.

    Reply
  13. susie says:

    That’s one of the best writer’s stories ever.
    Imagining you making that phone call and having that conversation was like watching a scene written by Albert Brooks – uncomfortable and hilarious.
    I’m not a baseball fan, and I had no idea who Gus Triandos is, but I love a guy with a sense of humor – I hope he’s in a field of dreams, having a blast, playing with all his favorites.

    Hope your family is hale and hearty again and that the script work gets effortlessly flows easy on the pages.

    Reply
  14. DGN says:

    As a youngster growing up in the late 1980’s I first heard of Mr. Triandos while watching reruns of “Home Run Derby” on ESPN. They still rerun the show on ESPN Classic occasionally, and apparently it’s available free on Hulu now as well.

    For anybody interested:

    http://www.hulu.com/#!watch/166976

    Reply
  15. longwalkdownlyndale says:

    This is hilarious, I think Richard or maybe you, made a reference to this on a DVD commentary about Gus. But the whole story is just great. It’s also great to see you posting again.

    Reply
  16. Doug King says:

    Damn. I’m far more broken up about the passing of Gus Triandos than I am about Margaret Thatcher.

    Reply
  17. KathyB says:

    Great story, thank you. I have an RSS feed set up for your blog. Can tell at a glance if there is something new. You are a busy man. The blog doesn’t really need feeding except at your convenience.It is a patient beast.

    Looking forward to Treme conclusion. It has been a wonderful experience for me. Never have been to New Orleans. Hope to get there some day.

    Reply
  18. Bob Condon says:

    It sounds like Mr. Triandos was the perfect choice for that script. He sounds like a good guy who had a great sense of humor.

    I grew up loving baseball and idolizing pro ball players. We used to go to a lot of White Sox games early and I got a decent amount of autographs. Hoyt Wilhelm was one of them. Even though I was a sox fan, Brooks Robinson was probably the ball player that I admired the most. Ernie Banks was big too as he was our biggest local hero. I was in the same little league with his sons and actually got to play catch once in their backyard in the summer of 70 or 71. They played catch with a ball that was autographed by the 69 cubs. One can only imagine what that ball is worth now.

    Reply
  19. Dana King says:

    What a great story, on all three principals: Triandos, Price, and you. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  20. TCinLA says:

    I plead guilty to being a straight American male who doesn’t pay squat to sports (I know, I know, I’m probably a damn communist or something), but as a writer, just reading the dialogue Price came up with had me falling out of my chair laughing. A great anecdote.

    Looking forward to the new Treme season with hope and sadness. Hope at being able to watch some more great TV and sadness knowing the idiots made it the last season for you.

    Reply
  21. Colin McNamara says:

    Being Irish I don’t have a clue about baseball, but that is a great story.

    I am a big NFL fan though and I had been hoping you might have a few things to say about the Ravens Superbowl win but obviously work comes first.

    Reply
  22. Matt McGough says:

    What a great story and tribute. Thank you for sharing.

    Is this the old baseball card of Gus Triandos that Herc had in his collection?

    Reply
  23. John Payant says:

    Thank you for sharing that story, Mr. Simon. Explaining the reference gives the scene more depth, especially with Gus passing away. It’s nice to see something a little more lighthearted posted on your blog.

    Reply
  24. Borges says:

    This is a great obituary Simon. That game sounds pretty fun, my coworkers used to have a similar one involving Michael Jackson. And even though all is hypothetical, one is always surprise with some of the responses and the heterosexual who would take a million dollar after a night with MJ, lol.

    Hope you write more, and not only when somebody dies!

    Reply
  25. C Johnson says:

    Great – I was watching that scene only last week and thought to Wiki-search Gus Triandos.

    Being English, I chose this time to have the subtitles on the screen in order to catch all the vernacular and cultural references. I love to soak up all that stuff – the music McNulty was listening to, the Chuck E Cheese and rat-fart insults.

    Loved the Kansas City Star t-shirt – is that a Hemmingway reference? Ironically worn by that shite journo who was afraid to get his mits grubby? I guess it relates to the Pulitzer winning reporters of that newspaper.

    Even the food – lake trout was it? Never heard of that. And that quick iconic shot of Omar and Brother Mouzone walking down the street before they pop Stringer.

    It is pretentious to say, and I may’ve said it before on this blog, but The Wire along with Madmen is the Great American novel of TV.

    And the Greek! One of the most compelling characters on TV – I’d like to write a novel based on the Greek’s backstory – to invent his life before The Wire – he had an interesting philosophy and keep thinking about him and Stansfield – I wonder if Marlo consult the Greeks before he popped Joe and they let him do it beause it’s “business, always business.”

    Reply
    • Jeff says:

      Personal tastes are what they are, and far be it from me to overly criticize anyone’s personal choices…

      But Mad Men? Really?

      Look, Christina Hendricks could make any red-blooded, straight, healthy male go through more bottles of hand lotion than a long Syracuse winter…but linking The Wire and Mad Men together is sort of like linking “The Sound and the Fury” and “Hollywood Wives.”

      Reply
      • Johnson says:

        Mad Men is an amazing study of life and character.

        You can’t compare it with The Wire. Both are great. Both take you into a new world. The writing on Mad Men is top notch. The direction is top notch. The acting are top notch.

        I don’t know how anyone can seriously say Mad Men is comparable to a Jackie Collins novel. Don Draper is the Leo Bloom of TV.

        Yes it’s slick unlike The Wire – but they portray their worlds’ with perfect conviction.

        (Sorry, this isn’t about Gus Triandos – and I guess Mr Simon gets bored of people rapping on about The Wire, The Wire, The Wire . . . )

        Can’t wait for the last Treme.

        The thought of a new work by David Simon is comparable to what people must’ve felt before the next Dickens installment – although I’ve stopped comparing The Wire to Dickens – as TW was pure realism, whereas Dickens subverts realism . .

        Woah – I’m going on – I know . . . excuse I please, cheers.

        (Hope the prose is flowing today Mr Simon.)

        Reply
        • Jeff says:

          I think Mad Men is an amazing study of misogyny and sexism. They throw a few bones to a female character here or there, mostly to try and keep female viewers from turning the channel, but for me, it’s one big snooze-fest.

          Reply
      • AHodges says:

        Mad Men is a very different show, so it’s not easy to compare the two. I wouldn’t put it in the same league as The Wire, but it is a brilliantly written and acted show in its own right.

        Reply
  26. Jonathan Light says:

    Though I freely admit to refreshing this page at least 3 or 4 times a week, hoping for something new, I think I speak for many when I say we understand the contract inherent in following your blog, and are always grateful for new posts, no matter much time has elapsed.

    That said, welcome back, and thanks for such a @*$%ing brilliant anecdote. I remember that scene well…great to hear the story behind its creation. It’s a stellar tribute.

    Reply
    • Yojimbo says:

      “Though I freely admit to refreshing this page at least 3 or 4 times a week, hoping for something new…”

      Me too. So embarrassing.

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Everybody loves a back-up catcher. They’re often fat, drunk, ugly or someone who isn’t a Molina brother. There’s something about this position that lends itself to the kinds of characters that make baseball great. Tim McCarver was a back-up catcher. Joe Torre, too. And who can forget poor, sad Gus Triandos? […]

  2. [...] shows was the HBO series “Wire,” which dramatized corruption in the City of Baltimore. This story of how Triandos was immortalized in an episode of the show is must reading for fans of [...]

  3. [...] Also dying last week: Gus Triandos. David Simon discusses how Gus came to be mentioned on The Wire. [...]

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