Scrub - a Game With No Umps

IN several ``good press'' stories about the wonders of Little League Baseball (and kindred kinds) I didn't see any reference to scrub. In late years, as the small fry season opens, nobody seems to write about scrub. Scrub was what we played even before ``sandlot'' days, and I'd guess it sent more players up to professional baseball than Little League is likely to in the foreseeable future. Has scrub been forgotten? I haven't heard the good cry of ``SCRUB!'' in the land for so many years it shudders me. While there is yet time, may I extol the game?

It was like baseball, except it wasn't. When the baseball writers mention a ``scrub'' team as a bunch of second-raters, they're off base, because in scrub there wasn't any team. It was every boy for himself (girls did play now and then), and the first boy to bat was the one who came out of the schoolhouse first and got off the required ``SCRUB!''

In turn, each boy as he gained freedom and the outer air would yell, ``Scrub 1!'' and ``Scrub 2!'' and ``Scrub 3!'' and so on until everyone had numbered himself. There was no diamond - a runner who got a hit would go to first and wait until he was ``batted in'' by the next hit, when he would return to home plate and bat again. Two boys, if they kept getting hits, could stay ``up'' all during recess.

There was no umpire. There really wasn't much of anything. We played scrub with coverless baseballs handed down by the Town Team, wound with electricians' tape so they wouldn't ravel. Cracked bats, also from the Town Team and also wound with tape, were adequate. Nobody in any Little League ever, I'm sure, knows just what it is like to swing a taped bat and hit a taped ball and then run for first base with a swarm of bees buzzing at each arm. I don't remember a home run in scrub, which would mean a ``circuit'' to first and back to the plate.

We had good hitters, but the odds were against them. Well, we played only three positions - pitcher, catcher, and first baseman. Second base and third base didn't exist, so everybody else on defense was a fielder.

Sometimes we'd have 15 boys playing shortstop, and a grounder through the hole was unlikely. We didn't need an umpire, because a pitched ball was a strike only when the batter swung at it. If the pitcher could get a batter to swing at a high pitch he couldn't touch with a dory sweet, that was a strike. Three strikes and out, but no bases on balls.

Any kind of a fly ball would bring 10 or 15 fielders converging, so the impact was dangerous - each fielder on the run and shouting, ``I got it! I got it!'' One time a high pop-up was missed by everybody and konked Cupie Holbrook on the bean and everybody shouted, ``Two hands while you're learning!'' But any fielder who caught a fly ball automatically became next man at the plate.

Otherwise the numbering that went on before the game started was the routine and it was strictly respected. Nobody tried to sneak in ahead, but a boy playing the hopeless position of Scrub 24 might get lucky and step in ahead of Scrub 5. None of this numbering carried over - when Teacher rang the bell that was that.

The boy first with the bellowed ``SCRUB!'' batted first. Scrub 1 would pitch, Scrub 2 would catch, and Scrub 3 played first base. So there was no specialization - we didn't have players noted for their positions. When, one way or another, Scrub got a hit or one way or another was put out, everybody moved up, and Scrub 3 would come in to catch. The catcher became pitcher.

Only the extremely wealthy boys owned baseball gloves and the catcher had none of the ``tools of ignorance'' designed to keep him healthy. Like as not, he didn't have a fielder's glove, even, and stood far back so he could take pitched balls on the bounce. There were games, often enough, when Scrub 2 expecting to bat third, was stuck with his position, and fly balls foiled him as fielders came up to bat ahead of him.

Once a boy batted, he took to the field, but usually time was running out and he didn't take a new number. We did not play scrub exclusively. It was for recess and noon hour, and for casual play only. It was also rather much for school days.

On Saturdays, and after summer vacation began, we had team play, and although never organized as the Little League play is, our leagues were real. The team that represented the Pleasant View School never had more than seven players, and the team they were against would lend the difference.

I played three years in the ``church league,'' and had my best RBI season as a Free Will Baptist. My brother played for the Pentecostals. But we played baseball and we played scrub, and we did send men to the big time. Ever hear of Jack Coombs?

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