The outfielders wore hip boots, the catcher bit the bullet
THE World Series approach, and I am thinking once again of the happy days of my youth when baseball was baseball and we set so many records that never got into the book. Had we been Big League, every one of us would be at Cooperstown, but instead our prowess remains unsung back in the base-stealing boondocks. I told Joe Garagiola some years back how I played left field in my clamdigger's rubber boots, because our diamond trailed off into a swamp, and how I managed to get into a rundown and made a putout at the plate.Skip to next paragraph
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Joe responded with some similar miracle from his days with St. Louis, and for that small moment our swamplot hometown league stood at par with the best the Cards can offer. Joe was not impressed, but he was amused.
Our town league went into action after school let out for the summer and the belated season ended just before school kept in September. One summer I played for the Green Bros. Machine Shop Blue Blazers and we almost won the town title.
Speaking of Joe, our big problem was the catcher. We did have the best pitcher. The pitcher was Willie Wagtail Wilson, and he could easily have gone on to play for the Yankees except that his father ran a bolt mill and Willie had to stay in town and bundle shingles. We couldn't start a game until Willie got his shingles bundled.
Willie had one pitch, and as we didn't know about fastballs and fireballs in those days, we called his a bullet. Our catcher was afraid of the bullet and when he caught one it would tip him backwards. By the time he could stand up, it was too late to catch a runner stealing second.
In our final game that year with the Lutheran Pirates (we had seven church teams in our league), Willie Wagtail struck out 33 batters in nine innings. That's a record that will stand a good many years yet, but you won't find it in the book.
It was something of a monotonous game. Willie would throw, Hank Mayhew (our catcher) would tumble over backwards, Shorty Baker (the only umpire) would shout, ``Stee-rike!'' and this went on, batter after batter. (Shorty Baker stood 6 ft., 5 in. and was positioned behind the pitcher.) Thirty-three Pirates went down on three bullets apiece.
Some people knowing only the basics, and lacking appreciation of the finer points of baseball, may wonder how a pitcher can strike out 33 men in nine innings, but those who knew baseball in my youth will figure that out easily. On six of Willie's strikeouts, Hank dropped the third strike, and before he could recover the batters reached. That gave the pitcher a strikeout, an error on 2, and a man (in our league) in scoring position.
If first base is occupied, that's different, and a dropped third strike is good as wheat. However, Willie walked 17 Pirates in that game, and we lost the title 22-8. That game should be in the book, particularly because I never got a chance in left field, and at the plate I struck out every time. I think it's remarkable to have played in a game of that quality without touching the ball.
Now and then Willie Wagtail would be held up at the shingle mill so we started with our spare pitcher. Other than that, he had no rotation. When we started without him, he would come running along about the third inning, and then it was his job to pass the hat and collect some money so we could buy a new baseball. We'd play a whole game with just one ball, but it was good to have a spare.
There was one game we played against the Shoe Shop Sourdoughs, and Doopsie Brown connected with his eyes shut and blasted a home run over Chester Gordon's henhouse in right field. (We played games now and then in Mr. Gordon's front meadow.)
Doopsie made the circuit, and then both teams, both spectators, and Shorty Baker went looking for the ball. It was late afternoon when we found it, so we agreed to cut the game at seven innings, because Shorty Baker had to put a crate of eggs on the evening train.
We still played an occasional game on the old high school diamond, although we now had the new high school diamond with the swamp. The old diamond was by the railroad and trains would pass just beyond our outfield. The afternoon express, Boston to Halifax, always had two sleepers and a parlor car, and there was always a porter standing in the open door of the second sleeper. He'd wave at us as the train gathered speed after the station stop.
One day Newt Haley connected and the ball sailed away and that porter caught it. He looked at the ball in his hand, disbelieving, and then he waved at us and seemed pleased.
Newt had fame for a time for belting a homer clear over into Nova Scotia, although some felt he was really out on a caught fly. That game was delayed while Willie Wagtail collected money and went up to L.L. & G.C. Bean to buy a new baseball.
It takes a well-played World Series to impress us old-timers and challenge our fond memories.