Max Patkin, baseball's
clown prince, dies at 79
The Associated Press 10/30/1999
Max Patkin, 79, the "Clown Prince of Baseball"
who made fans laugh for more than five decades, died of a heart aneurysm
yesterday at Paoli Memorial Hospital.
Mr. Patkin was famous for his funny faces
and irrepressible barrage of one-liners at professional baseball parks
across the nation. He had a history of heart problems and suffered a ruptured
aorta Oct. 23 while staying at his daughter's home in Exton, said Roger
Tietsworth, his son-in-law. "We were hoping for a recovery," Tietsworth
said yesterday. Tietsworth said the phone had been ringing off the hook
as fans and friends called to express their condolences. "Some were shocked,
while others were saying that baseball will never be the same without
Max," Tietsworth said.
For five decades, Mr. Patkin was an integral
part of the minor leagues, a slapstick-style entertainer who touched the
lives of players and fans. "I gave my whole heart, my whole body and soul
to baseball," he once said.
Mr. Patkin was born in South Philadelphia.
He joined the Navy after high school and fought in World War II. While
in the service, he caught the eye of Bill Veeck, who hired him to boost
attendance for the Cleveland Indians. After his stint with the Indians,
Mr. Patkin's life was a series of one-night stands as he bounced from
ballpark to ballpark, cracking the same jokes and making the same priceless
faces. He squeezed every last laugh from fans with his self-deprecating
humor - and his wondrous nose and toothless grin. He would come out wearing
a baggy uniform with a question mark on the back. He would flash signs
or mimic the visiting first baseman, or even "coach" for the home team.
Then he would rush off to the airport - or the bus terminal - for the
next town, making every appearance a ritual. "I loved the adulation,"
he once said. "I loved being Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball."
Mr. Patkin did whatever was needed to make a game.
Once, he had to jump off a burning plane in Fayetteville,
Ark. Another time, when his flight was canceled, he flew from Minneapolis
to Minot, N.D., on a mail plane, his long frame stretched across the mail
bags. Cal Ripken Jr. may have played in 2,632 consecutive games, but Mr.
Patkin showed up for 4,000-plus consecutive minor-league engagements.
In the course of his barnstorming, Mr. Patkin, who once played pro ball
for the Wisconsin Rapids, became instantly recognizable. Even Hollywood
glorified him: Mr. Patkin had a small but memorable role as himself in
Bull Durham, which starred Kevin Costner as an aging minor-leaguer.
Baseball was Mr. Patkin's life even before
he became a clown. "I didn't want to be a clown," he said in an interview
in 1988. "I wanted to be a major-league ballplayer. My whole life was
built around baseball. I'd sit at dinner with my baseball hat on. I never
took it off until I went to bed, then I'd put it under my pillow with
my glove. It was like a ritual with me." Not everybody appreciated his
humor. There were managers who didn't want him making faces, taking pratfalls,
and turning a competitive ball game into a slapstick comedy show.
Despite all the humor, Mr. Patkin acknowledged
once that his life was often lonely, filled with fears and insecurities.
He hid those fears behind the funny face. "I was never comfortable until
I got out there," he said in 1994. "There was always, like, a shadow over
me. There was many a day I got into these ballparks and I used to pray
Mr. Patkin, who lived most of his life in King
of Prussia, retired in 1996 and moved to his daughter's home. Along with
his daughter, Joy, and son-in-law, Mr. Patkin is survived by a sister,
Ruth Cohen of Pompano Beach, Fla.
Services had not been finalized.