When I was a boy, and all through my life, no matter what the world’s insanity screamed, there was always the sanctuary of sports. Playing it. Watching it. Lines on a court or field brought a calming reassurance. Cross one and you were either in, or, out. A pass was caught. Or dropped. There was rarely debate about whether a basketball swished through the hoop or not.
Political activists, nuns, little kids who couldn’t take their eyes off wandering concessionaires, blue collar workers, the wealthy, we could all forget our grudges, sit together and enjoy a ballgame.
I’m so terribly disappointed in the world right now, with its constant nagging, shaming and willful self-destruction. I’m terribly disappointed in sports for violating a neutral temple. Baseball was once our national calming place. The insane screamed yet again, forcing the relocation of the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Corporate cowards, like MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, wilted.
If I had magic seeds to grow balls, I’d pop them in an envelope and send them to baseball’s horsehide poobah with instructions for Manfred to take two with water and grow a pair. I am so profoundly disappointed in so many things these days, from Coke to razor blade companies. Unless there is some planet-shifting seismic shift, I won’t be watching baseball anymore, won’t be drinking my holy beverage, Coca-Cola. I realize, at the same time, I can’t be growing a bitter heart. I’m weary of complaining. My index finger feels like it weighs 12 pounds from all the pointing.
So. What to do?
It’s spring. Maybe I can bring a little joy. I am hopelessly in love with baseball, love sitting in the stands, tilting my head back, closing my eyes and feeling the warm sun on my face. And, I adore trivia.
I did a little research and came up with this list. It’s my 13 Weirdest MLB factoids. Instead of me griping, maybe it will bring someone a smile…
1) During World War II, the U.S. military designed a grenade to be the size and weight of a baseball, because, according to the Army: “…any young American man should be able to properly throw it.”
2) Before John Dillinger became Public Enemy No. 1, in 1924 he played second base for the Martinsville Athletics, making $75 a month. Dillinger’s teammates gave him the nickname of “Jackrabbit” and he played shortstop. Years later, a graphic artist created Dillinger’s faux baseball card and sells them on eBay for $7.99 each.
3) Don’t do this at home. Kerry Wood, Jorge Posada (no relation to Plaza Posada), Moises Alou and an entire passel of MLB players admit to peeing on their hands during the season. Why? They say the formula “toughens” their grip. If I were a bleacher bunny, you’d excuse me if I didn’t want to hold hands after the game.
4) Try this one: Johnny Bench could hold seven baseballs in one hand.
5) Remember hearing about Pete Rose being banned from baseball in 1989? The MLB commissioner who kicked “Charlie Hustle” out for life was A. Bartlett Giamatti. His son? Famed actor, Paul Giamatti.
6) In the 1930 season, Joe Sewell played in every game and had 353 at bats. Get. This. Joe struck out only THREE TIMES that year — twice in the same game.
7) In the 1920s, 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell played for the AA Chattanooga Lookouts. In an exhibition game Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back. Why is that so cool? Jackie was a girl.
8) “Patching” was a mid-19th-century rule that allowed players to throw the orb and directly hit a baseball runner to get them out. I wouldn’t mind doing that today at some corporate executives.
9) Baseball’s first professional baseball uniforms were created in 1849 and worn in 1851 by the New York Knickerbockers. The unis came with matching straw hats. The Knicks were originally an NYC fire department that played intramural baseball.
10) Hall of Famer Bob Feller’s mom came to see him pitch just once in his 18-year career. That game? Mrs. Feller was hit by a foul ball from one of Bob’s pitches.
11) Jay Justin Clarke played nine MLB seasons but his minor-league record will never be broken. Put. Money. On. It. On June 15, 1902, Clarke was catching in the Texas League for the crackerjack Corsicana Oil Citys (spelling correct). They beat the Texarkana Casketmakers (wouldn’t you KILL to have the jersey!) 51-3. Clarke hit 8 HOME RUNS that game. Note: the right field fence for the coffin guys was a sneeze from home plate at 210 feet. The official scorer later attested under oath the stats were correct, as did dozens of witnesses. Clarke collected $185 cash that game after fans passed the hat for him. He’d play for years in the Bigs, but only hit six homers total. Ty Cobb said he was one of the greatest catchers in baseball. He was the first catcher to wear shin guards and would die the same day as that 8-dinger day, in 1949.
12) Remember William Frawley, the bald actor who played Fred Mertz on the old TV show, “I Love Lucy”? Frawley’s contract stipulated he wouldn’t work when the Yankees were in the World Series.
And my favorite…
13) In the 1970s, few realized that the quiet, stately janitor at Castaic Elementary had such an amazing past. Vic Harris was a superstar in the old Negro Baseball League, a staggering ball player, hitting a lifetime .306. Harris played for the famed Homestead Grays from 1931 to 1948 where he also managed, taking the Negro League title eight years straight. In his heyday, Harris made $1,000 a month. Nice dough, but that was for a 200-game season. Harris played not only against NBL greats like Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and a young Jackie Robinson, but faced in off-season exhibition games versus Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig.
John Boston is a local writer who wishes his country would come together.