About Pops – The Man

Early life –

Born April 16, 1921 or April 21, 1916 (Pops has never been clear as regards his exact date of birth) to an old Dutch family of extremely modest means in Charleston Four Corners, New York, Emil “Pops” Waarner was a legend of New York minor league baseball during his playing days. Lately, as a restaurateur, he’s earned the sobriquet: “Toots Shor of the Southern Tier”.

Pops’ early life was like that of most Montgomery County Farm boys – up at 4AM to milk the cows and to bed at 6PM after finishing the evening milking. The dreariness of this routine was broken only by seasonal tasks: Planting in the Spring, Haying in the Summer, Cidering in the Fall, and Freezing in the Winter. Little wonder Pops succumbed to the “Dutch Disease”, bowling.

Pops’ bowling addiction led to his ruin and the deformity of his right arm, which, by age 16, was 6 inches longer than his left.

Down, but not out –

Up and down the Mohawk, Susquehanna and Cobleskill Creek, Pops’ bowling mania drove him to chase the elusive (for him) high of a perfect game. Soon, he had no time for farm chores, and his father threw him out of the house, telling him not to return till he got “that 10 pin off your back”.

Things only got worse for Pops: craving anonymity and “big time action” he found his way to the seedier lanes of Troy and South Albany where he spiraled downward, taking the short money or, more often, no money at all, hustling lane sharks.

Destitute and homeless, he made the rounds of missions, and 12 frame programs, but to no avail. It was only by chance, in the Chittenango Lanes, that Pops met his fate, and salvation(?) in the form of Peter Paasen, Watervliet’s most infamous neer-do-well and baseball player.

Pops had rolled an old lady a few minutes earlier, and with $1.53 burning another hole in his pocket, he was on the prowl for a Rube. Peter looked the part, and Pops challenged him to a couple of lines.After winning the $1.53 and Pops’ shoes, Peter, in a generous mood, invited Pops to a game of Scrub that evening in Van Rensellaer Park. Pops, wary after being taken, demurred, but Peter reassured him that Scrub was a way of playing baseball without enough players for two teams.

Pops, though he had played only Base and Town Ball (Baseball being deemed a deviant form by the town elders of Charleston Four Corners), decided to give it a chance as long as there were no wagers on the outcome…

To his surprise and Peter’s, Pops acquitted himself well enough in the game that Peter,, exclaimed: “Kid, with an arm like that, you should go pro, but I gotta tell ya, your hitting is from hunger”. Pops’ hitting was indeed horrible: virtually every at bat resulted in a towering pop up. These were the natural result of Pops’ swing which described a long, looping, upward arc.

Pops’ batting problems were twofold: His longer, right arm naturally pushed through and up during his swing. This organic problem was exacerbated by homegrown instruction he received from Jakob Swartout, self-appointed batting coach of the Charleston Four Corners Town Ball team to “Keep your elbow up, and don’t try to time the ball.” (In a sad footnote, Swartout was found several years after coaching Pops to have gnawed off his own fingers and toes, and was committed to the Plattsburgh State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.)

Playing against a normal team, Pops would have had no chance to reach base, but Peter’s friends were permanently “under the weather” and their DT’s made it impossible to distinguish real from hallucinatory balls flying off Pops’ bat. Still, Pops reached base only once, hampered as he was by his tractionless Chittenango Lanes bowling shoes…

As to the prodigious strength of Pops’ throwing arm, it prematurely shortened the game. In the heat of defensive moments, Pops unconsciously reverted to Town Ball, and, instead of throwing to a fielder covering one of the bags, he “soaked” the runner with a throw. Once “soaked” few were willing or able to get up and chance running when Pops had the ball.

When no others were left standing, Peter… got Pops a try out with the Skippers.

Pops and the Ozzie –

An obscure indian legend has it that the spirit of a warrior betrayed by white men inhabits Lake Otsego. When descendants of the original betrayers gaze upon the lake, the malignant spirit rises to torment and drag them to the bottom. This spirit is known nowadays by European as The Ozzie, but to the natives asOneega-Abgarijo .

In the legend, the warrior, a brave, and well-regarded man of a tribe living on the shores of Lake Otsego, was the first of his nation to welcome white men to the region. He fed them in his longhouse, and showed them the best places to fish, hunt, and forage.

In return for the warrior’s kindness and humanity, the whites fenced the hunting grounds, dammed the streams, and gave the warrior strong waters again and again until he fell in a drunken stupor (or was pushed) into Lake Otsego and drowned. His final thoughts were a curse upon the children of those who had betrayed him and brought him so low.

Most folks don’t know that Pops is the first and last person reputed to have seen The Ozzie. Though a good twenty miles from Lake Otsego at the time, Pops claimed to have seen the Ozzie rising up over the hills to the West coming to fetch him to the bottom. Pops had to be or, alternatively, wanted to be sedated after seeing the spirit.

Prior to the Ozzie sighting, the Scappers were losing a doubleheader to their archrivals, the Afton Apes. Pops was 0-10 through the 8th inning of the second game when his manager and former ace of the Albany Senators pitching staff, the beloved and long-suffering Hans “Hands” Scoville, told him to hit the showers in favor of a rookie pinch hitter.

Hans "Hands" Scoville in his playing days with the Albany Senators
Hans “Hands” Scoville in his playing days with the Albany Senators

“Hands” did not say to hit the liniment in the training room… something Pops immediately did instead of showering. No doubt the liniment had something to do with Pops’ Ozzie sighting and three days of blindness. In Pops’ defense, it must be said that he was descended from the first Europeans in the region and possessed most, if not all, of their traits.

Pops and “The Cat” –

It’s widely known that Hack Wilson was Pops’ idol and that Pops tried to model his onfield play (with little success) and off-the-diamond life (with great success) after Hack. Little wonder then that in the case of nicknames for their sweethearts, Pops has been considered the imitator and Hack the original.

Hack’s outside woman was known as “The Jeep” because she was considered to be, a “serviceable vehicle”. Pops, called Doris (soon to be his long-suffering wife, and waitress), “The Cat”. When asked by an Albany Police Gazette reporter the significance of this nickname, Pops told him: “Well, she’s like them Caterpillar tractors, kinda slow, but great for pullin’ stumps.”

Recent discoveries at Cooperstown, the State Library at Albany, and an important private collection now cast doubt on who imitated whom when creating pet names for their sweethearts.

One of the recent discoveries was that Pops actually met Hack through the intervention of “Hands”. In 1935, with his career in decline, Hack had several cups of coffee playing for the Albany Senators. At the same time, Pops was just getting started with the Schohaire Skippers.

“Hands” was Hack’s roommate at the time, and was shocked to find him passed out before the 4th of July exhibition game played in Schohaire between Albany and the Syracuse Chiefs. All “Hands” attempts to rouse Hack were futile. Desperate, “Hands” went into the dugout of the Skippers(who just lost to Afton in the preliminary game at Mudbridge Field) and asked if any of the Skippers wanted to play in the second game. No hands were raised for “Hands”, but a skinny kid at the back asked, “What’s it worth to ya?” “Hands” told Pops that he had a buck, and that he could see a big leaguer back in his room. Misunderstanding the reference, all the other Skippers fled, but Pops replied. “Let’s have the buck now.”

A box score hasn’t been found for the game, but the Chiefs won and “Hands”, ever a man of his word, introduced Pops to Hack later that summer after Hack came close to sobering up.

As fate would have it, it was at this 4th of July doubleheader that Pops met Doris. For the rest of the summer (and their lives) they could be seen leaving the ball fields arm in arm, with Pops loudly exclaiming, “time to go skin the cat”.

Photo purportedly of Pops filling in for Hack.
Photo purportedly of Pops filling in for Hack.

The Player –

It may seem odd, given that Pops fame is the result of his ball playing, that the less said of his minor league career, the better.

Two reasons: his skill as a ballplayer and the still unproven allegations of throwing the last game of the ’53 season against the Borgouh Bandits.

As to his skill, his former teammates have consistenly remained silent or mouthed hackneyed sayings:

“Let sleeping dogs lie”

“There but for the grace of God go I”

Comments from his opponents tend to run along the lines of:

“Never heard of him”

“Let sleeping dogs lie”.

Peter Paasen, by this time “Naamgever” of Watervliet, called in the chip and had Pops tank the Bandits game.

The Bandits were dead last in the standings that year (and the their last year in the league – team folded when owner went missing after…) and seemingly had no reason (least of all pride) to win the last game of the season against the Skippers, who through many miracles were 4 games ahead in the standings

Folklore along Watervliet’s Broadway has it that many killings were made on that game… not all or them monetary in nature.

To this day, Pops denies any wrongdoing in the affair: “I never threw a game we were gonna lose”.

Guilty or not guitly, it became clear that Pops was intended to be the fall guy for the affair, and before league commissioner …. could take action against him, Pops annouced to “Hands” that he was hanging up his spikes and “taking a powder”.