Queen Elizabeth II, RIP: Take her out to the ballgame

Tony La Russa, Queen Elizabeth

Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa greeting Queen Elizabeth II in the dugout (with President George H.W. Bush in the background) before the A’s played the Orioles in May 1991, during the queen’s visit to the U.S. On that day, La Russa’s pitcher Dave Stewart threw HRH a nyukleball.

Her late majesty Queen Elizabeth II had something not customarily associated with royalty, namely a fair sense of humour. Dave Stewart, then an  Athletics pitcher, sort of learned when Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip visited the United States in 1991 and attended a game between the A’s and the Orioles.

The game was 15 May 1991 at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. Stewart didn’t start the game for the A’s but Bob Welch did. Before the game, the royal couple visited the dugouts and chatted with assorted players, including Stewart, a pitcher whose success on the mound with the A’s was equal only to his countenance taking a sign. The countenance that suggested he might bite your bat barrel or your head off before trying to bust one past you.

Stewart discovered Her Royal Highness’s good humour even if decorum compelled her not to let it loose too readily. “I remember like it was yesterday,” the former righthander whose uniform number 34 becomes a retired number come Sunday told USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale.

We were all lined up to meet her in that procession. So Three Stooges was one my favorite comedies . . . So when she passed (in line), I did like a Three Stooges thing: ‘Queenie, nyuk nyuk.’ She laughed. Well, cracked a smile . . . Put it like that. The rest of the team was cracking up. It was cool for me. I’m sure it was for everybody too, but I had to go act like a god-dang fool.

Let the record show the A’s beat the Orioles 6-3, despite Orioles first baseman Randy Milligan hitting a pair out against Welch, a pair of leadoff blasts in the fourth and sixth innings; and, with a little help from Oriole starter Jeff Ballard picking Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson off second only to see it turn into a run on a dubious fielding error.

Let the record show further that Prince Philip may have had a better time at the game than his wife. Sitting in a luxury box with then-president George H.W. Bush, defense secretary Dick Cheney and then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, Philip pored through a media guide and kept binoculars in front of his eyes as he scanned the field and the play. Elizabeth “sat primly and looked bored.”

If you’re my age, you may remember enough of the world thought she was kidding around when she named the Beatles as members of the Order of the British Empire in 1965. I can remember enough hoopla indicating enough among the British political and social class objected anywhere from strenuously to amusingly to returning their own M.B.E.s.

My thought approaching age ten was that Her Majesty must have been tempted to breach her well-known composed self and style to slap the twits silly. Ed Sullivan, through whom the Beatles graduated from mere phenomenon to universe shakers in early 1964, did it for her, when he introduced the Beatles at Shea Stadium in August 1965: Honoured by their country . . . decorated by their Queen . . . and loved here in America!

Twelve years after Sullivan’s bouquet came the espionage novel that probably provoked both mirth and melancholia in the former motherland, William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Saving the Queen. His protagonist—a CIA operative on assignment to plug up the Buckingham Palace leaks through which American atomic secrets were being snuck—included in his operation a sexual tryst with a fictitious British queen.

Well, now. I’ll let the late Mr. Buckley himself take it from here, from an essay republished in A Hymnal: The Controversial Arts (1979):

There is something wonderfully American, it struck me, about bedding down a British queen: a kind of arrant but lovable presumption. But always on the understanding that it is done decorously, and that there is no aftertaste of the gigolo in the encounter. I remember, even now with some trepidation, when [Saving the Queen] came out in the British edition. The first questioner at the press conference . . . was, no less, the editor of The Economist, and he said with, I thought, a quite un-British lack of circumspection, “Mr. Buckley, would you like to sleep with the Queen?” Now, such a question poses quite awful responsibilities. There being a most conspicuous incumbent, one could hardly wrinkle up one’s nose as if the question evoked the vision of an evening with Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee. The American with taste has to guard against a lack of gallantry, so that the first order of business becomes the assertion of an emancipating perspective which leads Queen Elizabeth II gently out of the room before she is embarrassed. This was accomplished by saying, just a little sheepishly, as [protagonist] Blackford Oakes would have done, “Which queen?”—and then quickly, before the interrogator could lug his monarch back into the smoker—“Judging from historical experience, I would need to consult my lawyer before risking an affair with just any British queen.”

The reaction of monarch with the subdued but not invisible sense of humour is not on record to the best of my knowledge, though I’d be happy if proven wrong. Especially so considering that in the novel itself the queen is the seductress and the spy the seduced. Elizabeth was known discreetly for playfulness with her husband but not believed to have been anything on the make in her premarital youth.

A consummation even more devoutly to be wished might be her response to Mr. Buckley’s eventual revelation that his friend David Niven, the distinguished British actor, answered his request for a blurb to appear with the novel’s paperback edition: Probably the best novel ever written about fucking the Queen.

Needless to say, the blurb never appeared except in a Buckley recollection or three. I suspect Elizabeth’s good humour might have deflected contortions enough, remembering she probably confronted far more grave lapses of decorum over her unprecedented seventy-year reign.

Including too many among her own offspring, for one of whom it would be high praise if nyuklehead was the worst sobriquet attached to him. The good news is that he’s not the one who ascended the predominantly ceremonial British throne upon his mother’s death. If the sins of the parents be visited not upon their children, surely the sins of the children should not be visited upon their parents.

Which enables Elizabeth to an eternal reward I pray includes frequent escort to the Elysian Fields and an afterlife education telling her that, unlike what she seems to have thought that 1991 day in Baltimore, a queen renowned as something of a thinking person should appreciate the thinking person’s sport.