The $2.3 trillion spending bill repeals criminal penalties for using Smokey Bear’s likeness without government permission.

Your tax dollars at work.

Fair warning: You are still forbidden to impersonate all other Smokeys, like:

Smokey “Chen-OO-kah” Robinson

or this Smokey:

or this Smokey:

or of course, Smokey Stover

TRIVIA: It was the Smokey Stover cartoons in the 1930s that created the term “foo fighters”

The surreal nonsense of the Smokey Stover strips was still appearing weekly in the Sunday comics when I was a kid, and I always found the strip bizarrely entertaining, even though all the inside jokes were lost on me.

He won 318 games.

His lifetime record (318-274 in 5404 innings with a 3.35 ERA) is essentially the same as Nolan Ryan’s (324-292 in 5386 innings with a 3.19 ERA). Baseball-reference calculates that his lifetime WAR was 97, compared to 84 for Ryan, whose career spanned essentially the same era. That means he is truly one of the game’s immortals.

He was modern baseball’s iron man. He pitched more innings than any other pitcher in the lively ball era (1920-2020), and was the last pitcher to start 40 games in a season (1979). In fact, he also started at least forty in each of the two seasons before that. He led the league in complete games in each of those three years.

He also led the league in losses four consecutive times, including those three years mentioned above. All those losses, 274 of them in the course of his career, second highest in the lively ball era, were no coincidence. Knuckleball pitchers, unlike power pitchers, can’t win without their best stuff. When Nolan Ryan had an off day and the curve ball wouldn’t curve, he could still bring it 95 MPH and upset your timing with the occasional change-up. That’s not the way it works for a guy like Niekro. A knuckleball dancing at you at 70 MPH seems impossible to hit, but when it won’t dance, 70 MPH is just batting practice.

Case in point:

I saw Niekro pitch in late July of 1986 in Texas, and the Rangers hit every ball hard against him. The only outs he got were accidents – balls that were timed perfectly, but went right at somebody. Nobody struck out. Nobody popped up. Niekro was pulled before completing the fourth inning, by which time he had allowed eight hits, a bunch of walks, a wild pitch, at least one stolen base, and I can’t remember what else. He was lucky to get out of the game uninjured, because a lot of shots off the Rangers’ bats came whizzing back at his head or feet.

So yes, I saw a Hall of Fame pitcher in action, but one who couldn’t have defeated a Little League team that day.