The Obit For Max Patkin

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 for rain."

     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.