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Marvelous Marv Throneberry

That’s VRAM to you

Back in the day, Miller Lite hit upon a winning formula. They ran a series of television commercials featuring retired superstars from various sports. The spots had a class reunion vibe to them and featured icons like Bubba Smith, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Ben Davidson, John Madden, Boog Powell, Joe Frazier, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, among others. They were funny in their day. You can still catch them on YouTube and get a gander at the rug Boog Powell was wearing. In a few of the spots, a middle aged, balding man also appeared. I remember asking my father who that guy was.

Between laughs, my dad said, “That’s Marvelous Marv Throneberry. He played first base for the Yankees, KC A’s, Orioles and Mets. Hit with some power, made some errors, but was a funny guy.”

Marvelous Marv. I needed to find out more about this guy. The ad spots themselves were funny enough. In one, Throneberry said with his sweet southern drawl (and a straight face), “If I do for Lite what I did for baseball, I’m afraid their sales will go down.”

Miller’s basic advertising premise was that the beer was “less filling and tastes great”. A piece of marketing genius, really. Maybe not on the level of “By…Mennen!” but certainly on par with their rival Hamm’s, whose slogans “Hamm’s, the beer refreshing” and “Land of the sky-blue waters” rank among the greatest beer slogans of all time. Hamms was an early sponsor of Royals baseball, so they had that going for them too. Plus, they had the Hamm’s bear. The Hamm’s marketing people were on another level, even if their beer wasn’t.

In order to keep up, Miller recruited athletes. And it worked. In another Miller clip, chaos breaks out in the bar as one side favors less filling, while the other argues for tastes great! At the end, Marv calming looks into the camera and in his honeyed voice says, “I still don’t know why they asked me to do this commercial”. Turns out Marv was doing it for the money. He even said as much, telling an interviewer that the beer money bought him a nice fishing boat. I always appreciated an honest athlete. How often do we roll our eyes when some athlete tells us that he signed with another team because he liked the locker room vibe, or he felt that they were going to help him develop as a player. Seriously? You signed with the Jets because they paid you the most money. Man up and be honest about your motives.

Marv Throneberry was an All-State star in both football and baseball in Fisherville, Tennessee, a small burg just east of Memphis. The Boston Red Sox, who already had his brother Faye under contract, tried to sign Marv out of high school. Instead, Marv signed with the Yankees. As an 18-year-old, he spent most of his first season with the B league Quincy (IL) Gems, where he hit .276. By 1954 he was playing for the AA Kansas City Blues. Throneberry’s next assignment was with the AAA Denver Bears, and he blew up into one of baseball’s hottest prospects. In his age 21 season, he hit .275 with 36 home runs and 117 RBI in the Mile High City. That earned him a one game callup to the Yankees. He made his debut in Fenway Park, where he collected a single, a double, a stolen base and three RBI while playing against his brother.

Throneberry was phenomenal in 1956 for Denver, slashing .315/.386/.611 with 42 home runs and 145 RBI. He continued his power surge for the Bears in 1957 with 40 more big flies and 124 RBI.

By 1958, the sweet swinging lefty was in New York for good, and despite a swing that many compared to Mickey Mantle’s, Throneberry could never duplicate his minor league power numbers. He did pick up a World Series ring when the Yanks beat Milwaukee in the 1958 Series.

After the 1959 season, Marv was part of a blockbuster trade to the Kansas City A’s. In typical Yankee-Athletics’ fashion, the trade naturally benefited New York. The Yankees sent a sore armed Don Larsen, Hank Bauer, Norm Siebern and Throneberry to Kansas City for shortstop Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley and Roger Maris. Maris, who the A’s had acquired from Cleveland, was an ascending star and popular figure around the Kansas City metro area. He blew up in New York, breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season while winning two consecutive MVP awards. With Siebern, a first baseman, developing into a star, Throneberry was a man without a position. The A’s eventually moved Siebern into the outfield and gave Throneberry the first base job against right handed pitchers. In parts of two seasons, over 366 at-bats, he wasn’t terrible. He slashed .246/.323/.432 with 17 home runs and 65 RBI and hit over .300 in his games at Municipal Stadium. On September 24, 1960, Throneberry hit a pinch-hit grand slam home run to lead the A’s over Detroit.

Midway through the 1961 season, the A’s, always wheeling and dealing, flipped Throneberry to the Orioles for outfielder Gene Stephens. In his first game against his old team, Marv naturally went 3 for 4 with two home runs and three RBI in leading the Orioles to a 5-3 victory.

Early in the 1962 season, the Orioles sent Marv to the expansion New York Mets for a player to be named later and cash. Throneberry thus became the first person to play for the Yankees and the Mets. In New York, the legend of Marvelous Marv Throneberry was born. It was destined to be. Throneberry’s initials were MET. His manager was Casey Stengel. If you think the 2023 Royals are bad, the 1962 Mets were worse, losing a modern record 120 games, which could be in danger of being broken this year. The Mets had an excuse though, being an expansion team in an era when expansion teams only got the castoffs and leftovers of other teams in the expansion draft. The Royals have had over 50 years of practice to get this bad.

Baseball with Marv was always an adventure. In one game against the Cubs, Throneberry hit a triple. When the ball came into the infield, Ernie Banks stepped on second and umpire Dusty Boggess called Throneberry out for missing the bag. Legend has it that Stengel charged out of the dugout to argue the call but was stopped by first base coach Cookie Lavagetto. “Don’t worry about arguing Case” said Lavagetto, “he missed first base too.”

“Well, I know he touched third” screamed Stengel, “because he’s standing on it.”

Throneberry endeared himself to fans at the Polo Grounds by turning even routine plays into hold your breath adventures. Mets fans formed a fan club, which at its peak numbered more than 5,000 members. They also had a chant: “Cranberry, Strawberry, we love Throneberry”. His fan club took to wearing shirts with the moniker VRAM on the front. VRAM being Marv spelled backwards. Lost in the comedy was the fact that Throneberry had several game winning hits that season.

That Met team also gave inspiration to comedian Garrett Morris for his Saturday Night Live skit of Chico Escuela, a light hitting Dominican infielder for whom baseball was “berry berry good.”

Marvelous Marv lost his job to Tim Harkness and Ed Kranepool and only played 14 games for the Mets in 1963 before being sent to AAA Buffalo. He retired at the end of the season. His last home run came on September 16, 1962, off Sammy Ellis of the Reds at the Polo Grounds.

In retirement, Throneberry returned to Fisherville, where he coached little league baseball, grew his sideburns long, made commercials for Miller and Memphis area car dealers, fished, and spent time with his wife Dixie, their children, and grandchildren. In 1983, Throneberry was named to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Sadly, the world lost Marv too soon, on June 23, 1994, to cancer. He was only 60.