Republished here is my column from the Feb. 15, 1983, edition of the Des Moines Register, a sort of review of the annual “victory party” that a slow-pitch softball team in the city had at the Des Moines Club, of all places. It was headlined “The Mad Dogs howl again.” This is now getting some attention in the 2018 race for governor of Iowa. You can read the old column, and then be sure to read my new comment at the end of it.
By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
DES MOINES, Iowa, Feb. 15, 1983 – It was revolting, darlings. Absolutely revolting.
Which means, of course, that the Mad Dogs will consider their fourth annual victory party a howling success. The Mad Dogs, I guess you’d say, are society’s team when it comes to slow-pitch softball in Des Moines. They are a gang of veritable blue bloods (three Hubbells on the roster) and some of their spear carriers, waning preppies all, easing now into middle age.
Indeed, they play some softball games in the summers, but the team’s raison d’etre – not many slow-pitch softball teams could get away with having raisons d’etre but this one can – has come to be the annual victory party at the grand Des Moines Club.
The latest of the bashes was Saturday night and, yes, once again that deer head that the rest of the year hangs in quiet dignity on a Hermitage Room wall had a cigar stuck in its mouth, sunglasses put on its snout and a pair of fancy panties strung in its antlers. If pool-hall rowdies somehow got into these elegant quarters and behaved like this, the cops would be summoned. But management, realizing it’s dealing with pedigrees, winks and rakes in the profits from what is the club’s biggest beer night of the year.
The team traces its lineage to 1878, when, they say, F.M. Hubbell put together a ball club. He would be the great-great-grandfather of the current Hubbell players, Jim III, Fred and Mike. The story goes that one of the first of the club’s games was covered by a sportswriter who reported the team played with the fury of “mad dogs.” Thus the name.
They also tell you that when the modern Mad Dogs were being formed a few years ago, the 1878 roster was checked and actual heirs of the original Mad Dogs were then sought out to make up today’s outfit. Charming yarn, huh? Yes, it’s a wonderful story that lacks but one virtue: truth.
“The reason things like that get started,” said Les Baitzer, team “owner” because he pays the entry fee into the city league, “is that several of us on the team think we actually should have been writers, and we sit around making up these stories that we naturally believe to be just cute as hell.”
The Mad Dogs play an unremarkable brand of softball, usually going .500 or less and displaying little of the elan they show at partying.
Invitations to the $2,500 party, the cost of which Baitzer spreads among his 20 troops, are cleverly done. This year’s invitation, for example, was a modified but official-looking subpoena from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa commanding the guest to testify in the civil action of The Mad Dogs vs. The Des Moines Club. The invitations always include a team logo, which has the words “Madus Dogus” in Greek letters surround two dogs in, shall we say, a canine embrace.
The invitation is much sought after by those around town who are young, on the make and upwardly mobile. They come and engage in a lot of SOG chatter. (SOG? “South of Grand,” dumbbell.) Someone the other night said it’s “a little like Roosevelt High 20 years later,” and in support of that point, I did hear a young beauty ask a chap, “Is that a Reichardt tie you’re wearing?”
Most come dressed to kill, except for the Mad Dogs themselves, who wear their game jerseys. As you’ve surely concluded, there is sort of a fraternity-party aura. Boys will be boys, you know. They tell of the time at the first party when a 100-person line formed and bunny-hopped through the women’s restroom.
The wildest it got Saturday was when one Mad Dog, this one wearing his full uniform topped by a World War II Nazi helmet, came racing across the room, dropped to his knees behind an unsuspecting guest and bit her on the rump.
It is a good enough time that it keeps a crowd in the Des Moines Club well past midnight, which is unusual.
But as much as these guys boast they enjoy making like “Animal House,” they are reaching ages and positions which make their swashbuckling seem a touch unconvincing. The Mad Dogs, I’m betting, are not far from settling into lives of more quiet affluence.
Now, follow-up comment on Sept. 28, 2018, from Chuck Offenburger:
I’ve been surprised to learn this week that political opponents of Fred Hubbell, the Des Moines business leader who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, are passing around my “Mad Dogs” column – 35 years after it was published!
This effort traces to Craig Robinson, publisher of “The Iowa Republican” website, which is not authorized or sponsored by the Republican Party of Iowa, but many party members are loyal readers of Robinson’s work. And many are now using social media to share a couple of Robinson columns this week, in which he speculates about Hubbell’s possible roles in the long-ago party.
Let me say this: The Mad Dogs’ team member who was wearing the WWII Nazi helmet and “came racing across the room, dropped to his knees behind an unsuspecting guest and bit her on the rump,” was not Fred Hubbell. Nor was it either of his brothers Jim III and Mike, who were also on the team.
In fact, Fred Hubbell did not attend this party. Yes, he was a member of the team, but in February, 1983, he was attending a semester-long training program for business executives at the Harvard Business School.
It was a fun party, in a 1983 sort of way – and actually the column stands as one of my favorites. But I sure never expected it to come up in the 2018 election campaign. I guess it’s true, though, that every aspect of the past lives of candidates gets looked at by somebody.
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.