Monday, April 01, 2013
Pop culture and the pastime: The Walking Dead and baseballPosted by Bruce Markusen
You’re probably wondering what in the world The Walking Dead has to do with our great game of baseball. I’ll get into that in a moment, but last night’s enthralling season finale tied up more than a few loose ends to one of my favorite programs. Rick’s crew pulled off the upset of the century in holding off the prison against a larger troop of Woodburians (think about the 1988 Dodgers beating the mighty A’s), the evil Governor completely lost his mind and slaughtered most of his soldiers, and the enigmatic Andrea lost a battle with a zombified Milton at the very end.
Long before the season finale, another favorable character from the hit show died when former prison inmate Axel took a barrage of bullets from the Governor’s sharpshooting assassins. Axel appeared in only eight episodes, but developed a strong following in a short time and appeared destined to become one of the accepted members of Rick’s group. Axel was portrayed by the chameleon-like character actor Lew Temple.
Herein we find the connection to baseball. The versatile Temple attended Rollins College, a Division II school, where he starred on the varsity baseball team. In 1982, he won the team’s MVP Award, leading Rollins to the championship of the Sunshine State Conference. He didn’t quite have the talent or the size to pursue a professional career as a ballplayer, but he found work in other areas of the game. Long before becoming an actor, Temple worked in two major league organizations as a bullpen catcher, first with the Seattle Mariners and then the Houston Astros.
In 1986, Temple joined the Mets as a scout, good timing considering that the Mets won their second world championship that fall. Temple eventually rejoined the Astros, becoming the franchise’s assistant of minor league operations and scouting. He continued to hold that position through the 1993 season.
It was at that point that Temple decided on a change in careers. He left the Astros to become an actor, first working on the stage at the prestigious Alley Theater in Houston. From there, he made the transition to film work. Ironically, his first feature film role came in the 1994 Disney baseball movie, Angels in the Outfield, in which he played a ballplayer. That would be his last baseball role, at least to this date, but he would go on to make memorable appearances in Domino and the critically acclaimed Waitress, and a number of horror films, including The Devil’s Rejects, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and the wonderfully titled Silent Night, Zombie Night.
Though his film career is still in the early stages, Temple has already gained a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors. He plays both villains and likeable characters with relative ease, while showcasing an ability to radically change his physical appearance from one role to another. His characters also have a habit of dying, a tendency that has been noticed, with some chagrin, by his devoted fans.
While Temple’s character did not survive the zombie apocalypse, the actor himself has survived a bout with leukemia, despite being given only a 40 per chance to live. And he’s also given one of TV’s most highly watched shows a tangible connection to our National Pastime. Who says baseball is out of touch with today’s hip culture?
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.