Baseball has lost another clown prince.
Rick Hader, the touring entertainer who performed in character as the uber-nerdy Myron Noodleman, died Wednesday morning following a battle with a rare form of sinus cancer. He was 59. The proceeds from a GoFundMe page, established last week by Hader's good friend and longtime agent, Jon Terry, will go to his wife, Kim, and his family.
Hader, a Tulsa-area math teacher, spent more than two decades performing at Minor League ballparks as his "Myron Noodleman" alter ego. Sporting buck teeth, bushy eyebrows, slicked back hair, an ill-fitting suit and spectacles perched on the edge of his nose, the reedy-voiced Noodleman was an unforgettable presence. He was known for on-field dance routines -- ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" was his signature tune -- as well as for engaging in improvised small group interactions with fans in the stands. His penchant for entertainment runs in the family -- nephew Bill Hader is an actor best known for the eight seasons he spent as a Saturday Night Live cast member.
Hader was one of Minor League baseball's most popular and hard-working touring performers, making more than 1,200 appearances at ballparks nationwide. Throughout Wednesday, from Spokane, Washington, to Kane County, Illinois, to Birmingham, Alabama, and Altoona, Pennsylvania, Minor League teams paid tribute on social media.
In 2004, at a sports business seminar run by Mike Veeck, legendary baseball executive Roland Hemond bestowed Myron Noodleman with the title of "Clown Prince of Baseball." This honor was in recognition of Hader's commitment to, and respect for, the art of baseball clowning. Previous baseball clown princes included Al Schact and, more recently, Max Patkin.
"There are [touring performers] who are mascots. There are the thrills and chills guys. Krazy George and Cameron Hughes were the cheerleader type. I've represented them all," said Terry, president of Tulsa's SRO Productions. "But clowning holds a reverent spot in baseball. Max Patkin was that clown, and Rick absolutely was as well. I hope Rick is not the final one."
The origins of the Myron Noodleman character can be traced back to Halloween 1981. Hader, a native of Park Ridge, Illinois, entered a costume contest at a Chicago bar.
"The prize money was significant, so Rick went looking like Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor, with the Groucho [Marx] eyebrows, the high-water pants, the whole thing," Terry said. "[The contest] was mostly guys trying to be Conan the Barbarian, girls trying to be the sexy nurse. And then there's Rick, this nerd. Conan was just standing there, he had nothing else to offer, so Rick started playing off of him and won the contest. He thought, 'Well, this is easy money' and from then on would go looking for the best Halloween contests."
Hader eventually transitioned from the costume contest circuit to the world of sports, landing gigs with the Tulsa Drillers, Tulsa University basketball and Oklahoma Sooners football.
"I have heard that he was the first person to hold up the 'D' sign along with a fence, but I can't corroborate that," Terry said. "He was doing well [with the Sooners] until someone went to the administration and said he looked like the Nutty Professor and that he was making fun of teachers. So, they let him go."
As Myron Noodleman, Hader was known for wandering through the stands and interacting with fans.
Terry first saw Hader perform at a Tulsa Ambush game, a National Professional Soccer League franchise for whom Terry was working at the time. When he quit that job and became a full-time agent, Hader was the first client he took on. The duo traveled to the 1994 Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas, where, largely thanks to Hader's persistent Trade Show crowd work, they landed two dozen bookings with Minor League teams.
"We probably doubled that [in 1996], and he became a full-time entertainer. The next year, we had 76 dates and somewhere in there he accused me of trying to kill him," Terry said. "After that, he cut me off at 60 baseball games a year, and we were always able to reach that."
Fort Wayne TinCaps president Mike Nutter was a young Kane County Cougars executive when he met Hader at the 1994 Winter Meetings. The Cougars booked him for the 1995 season, and Nutter was immediately hooked.
"What I loved about him, before he became my friend and I really got to know him, was that he was money up in the stands. Always cracking jokes," Nutter said. "Man, he was hilarious, and he touched a lot of people often literally by sitting right next to them. But I think best for me was the stuff people didn't see, like him recruiting players in the clubhouse to do a skit with him. He would have them believe they were taking part in an Academy Award-winning film, going through the skit 15 times.
"And then there are the personal memories. I remember one night, true story, we went to a townie bar in Fort Wayne after a game. Next thing I hear, they're calling Rick on stage to do karaoke. He did 'Mountain Music' by Alabama, but he'd never taken his eyebrows off after the game. I told him, 'First off, that was the greatest karaoke rendition I've ever heard. Second, do you know that you still have your eyebrows on?'' He hadn't even realized it."
Though he made enough money through his work as Myron Noodleman, Hader returned to the teaching ranks in 2012. He was employed as a math teacher at Tulsa's Union High School, the same position he held before becoming a full-time entertainer.
"That came from a sense of what he wanted to do. It wasn't about the money," Terry said. "There are so many well wishes coming in, from his students, saying things like, 'He was the best teacher ever. He was always hard on me, but he was always there for me.'"
Due to his cancer diagnosis, Hader was unable to finish the 2016-17 school year. He also canceled his 2017 ballpark appearances.
"The last few months have not been kind, and he did not deserve the fate he had," Terry said. "It was tough. Cancer does not decide who to attack or not attack, just because you're a good person and a funny person."
Nutter said that he and his staff already have discussed ways to pay tribute to Hader during the TinCaps' 2018 season. It is important to him -- and surely many others across the Minor League world -- to celebrate Hader and the joy he brought to untold thousands of people over decades of dedicated performances as Myron Noodleman.
"He was the clown prince, but he was never one to talk about himself," Nutter said. "He was a genuinely nice guy who loved to entertain."