Buy Me Some Peanuts —

We LOACers are known as baseball fans, so we welcome and salute the start of the 2021 major league season (Orioles lead the Red Sox 4-2 in the top of the 7th as I type this, in Game # 2 for both teams). What better way to do so than by offering you two weeks of continuity that indicate the long-standing connection between comic strips and the erstwhile National Pastime?

Of course, everyone is familiar with Charlie Brown’s travails and heartache as he toes the mound in Peanuts. Calvin and Hobbes routinely made up their own rules as they morphed the sport into “Calvinball,” while Rufus “Ray” Gotto’s Ozark Ike is a long-running feature (1945-58) built around its eponymous star, his gal-pal Dinah, and the Grand Ol’ Game for which Ike was a five-tool player, a Joe Palooka in cleats. We could have offered you a sample of any of those comics — but we opted for something just a wee bit different …

Less well known than Ozark Ike is Gotto’s other baseball-themed strip, Cotton Woods. The cartoonist abandoned Ike in 1954 in order to launch Cotton for General Features. By 1957, when this selection of strips originally saw print, Gotto was sharing billing with artist Don Sherwood, who took over production of the series and went on to make his most enduring impression on comics history in the early ’60s with the release of Dan Flagg, his adventurous Marine Corps leading man. Gotto left the comic strip grind to become an illustrator at The Sporting News; he also designed the logo for the New York Mets baseball franchise.

We pick up this March 1957 sequence as star shortstop Cotton pals around with his double-play partner, second baseman Cyclone Clooney, who has held out on signing his contract and now believes an eager young rookie has stolen his position … so Cyclone is out to make the team in a highly unusual way, as you’re about to see (click on each tile left-to-right to follow the story) …

These strips harken back to a time when major leaguers earned five-figure salaries and often had to seek off-season employment, just to earn a living during the months when baseball was on hiatus. There was no free agency, no licensing deals, not even any playoffs — the winners of the American and National Leagues simply met in the World Series following the conclusion of the regular season. A vastly different landscape compared to today’s guaranteed contracts and seven-month-long season! But the essentials of the game remain unchanged since the time of Cotton Woods, and as The Kid himself, Ted Williams, once so accurately put it, “the hardest thing to do in baseball is hit a round ball with a round bat squarely.”

We hope you enjoy this look at Cotton Woods, and join us in welcoming baseball back into the ebb and flow of daily life through the rest of the spring, summer, and much of the autumn months to come.

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