Bats, bases & banknotes

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In the early days of this year's baseball strike, I hesitated to speak up lest my remarks be construed as meddling in a matter that no longer concerns me. Most of the commentary I saw was done by outsiders, whereas I, as a retired professional baseball player, would have the keener insight and for that might be criticized. Now that the strike has passed from absurdity into foolishness, I feel I may speak, and shall. Carl Yastrzemski and I have at least one thing in common -- left field. I was never an infielder, as even ground balls would go over my head, but I was reasonably able with the bat and was therefore kept in left field, which in our park was swampy. In our league, which was post-high-school, hardly anybody could hit a ball the shortstop couldn't reach, so the summer would dawdle along and I was mostly lonesome and idle out there. My career with the home Town Team was purely amateur, but circumstances turned me into a professional in my fourth season. I played four games for the neighboring town of Yarmouth at four dollars a game.

Yarmouth had an excellent left fielder who handled a good bat, but he was caught in the wrong henhouse one night and spent the summer in the pockey atoning for his mistake. I never got caught in a henhouse, so I was approached to play in his stead until better arrangements could be made. My own team, which was Freeport, had spare outfielders, so when we talked it over the boys felt it would be all right for me to oblige the Yarmouths. The four dollars were "for carfare," as I had to ride to Yarmouth on the old cross-country electric trolley line, but as the round trip was only 60 cents I had clearly left the amateur standing. I wore my Freeport uniform when I went to play at Yarmouth -- our uniforms were supplied by local storekeepers, and on the back of my shirt it said, "Curtis Market." I played under the name of Luke Gill (you can look it up) and to conceal my out-of-town identity further I wore a sweatshirt with a big "Y" on it to cover the Curtis Market. Y was for Yarmouth, but inside the neck of the sweatshirt was stamped, "Property Athletic Dept. Yale Univ."

The Yarmouth manager put me in fourth batting position and I did all right. I never hit a long ball, but I could bingle some out over the second baseman, and that kind will win as many games as anything. We beat New Gloucester and Standish, but lost a tough one in 12 innings to the South Windham Reformatory. I never like to play chaps in jail. All their games are home games, and as none of the players are going anywhere afterwards there is a tendency to delay and make the thing last. The chicken thief whose place I had taken was on that team , and there was a just retribution in his game-winning bunt. Then the next game came with Freeport, and I was torn between two minds. What was the morality of hiring out against your own buddies?

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I talked it over with them. Randy Blethen, our shortstop, had a good idea. He said, "You got a dicker going -- tell 'em to play against your own team calls for more money!" So I told the Yarmouth manager that, and he told me to go fly a kite. He had played some minor league ball and had been varsity at Yale (which is how-come the sweatshirt), so he knew something about handling players. He said, "What's the diff who you play for if you get paid?" This crass attitude obliged me to lift things to a higher plane, so I spoke of loyalty and honor and home-town elan and other abstractions of that sort, just like this year's baseball strike. But the manager kept twisting things so my price on the Freeport connection seemed only the outrageous presumptions of an incipient Benedict Arnold. I guess people who steal chickens and sweatshirts aren't all bad. I took left field for Yarmouth, and that was my last professional appearance.

Freeport won that game, which got me off the hook with my buddies. And nobody in Yarmouth held me to account for the loss, because I was left on base five times. I wonder if Carl Yastrzemski was ever left on base five times in one game? All five times a simple Yarmouth bingle might have made the difference, moving me along to score -- the game was a pitchers' duel and ended 23 to 22. So you see I was sort of up a stump -- I could have been a rascal either way, win or lose. That's rather much what I had in mind to say about this year's baseball strike.

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