Chapter 22: Three Years Later

Guess I don’t need to tell you that America won that war they got into in the summer of ’41. Yup. Wiped out the entire Italian Air Force in about a week and then marched on Florence, where Mussolini crapped his bloomers and stuck a Beretta Modello in his mouth—or maybe it was the other way around.

The rest of the three years had the U.S. Navy and land forces circling their way into Germany through Denmark to take care of that Hitler jerk, first blowing up his bases on Borkum before the big G-Day landing on the beaches of Norddeich. The Japanese were thinking about jumping into the war, too, but could never decide which side to fight for. In my opinion they play so much baseball over there it probably took away their mean streak.

I lost touch with just about everyone on the Dorseys. Being white, hardly any of them saw combat in Europe, but Cecil Travis served with the infamous 2nd division Milkshake Company in Holland, and earned a purple heart for leading a charge on a strategic, Nazi-held chocolate factory. Cecil’s bravery must have made the difference in Gus Greenlee’s eyes and President Hughes’ heart, because as soon as the war ended he was named to be the first white man to play in the major league. That’s right, on Opening Day 1945 he’ll be in the starting lineup at third base for the Memphis Hamptons, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer, more talented guy. Ted Williams was the first Dorsey they thought of, but he turned out to be too much of a grouch about it, talked his way into the army and messed up his swing by doing a little too much R&R over in Amsterdam.

I suppose you’re wondering about Blossom. Well, Miss Pickering and me just weren’t meant to be. She joined the Red Cross right after the war began and went to Iceland to work in an Allied hospital, where she fell in love with a handsome bone surgeon from the Ivory Coast and that was that. It hurt for a while, but who was I kidding? America may be ready for a more white major league now, but integrated romance is still down the pike a ways. Anyway, I’ve been more than occupied up here in Canada, following the war, playing semi-pro ball with the Thunder Bay Beaver Tails when I can, and taking care of my father’s maple syrup farm.

Then the other day I got a call from Roy Cullenbine, who said a bunch of the Dorseys were getting back together for a reunion weekend of barbeque, hookah-toking, and ball playing, so how could I resist? Duke Ellington was even nice enough to let us use the Newark stadium for the party with the Ellingtons out of town, as long as we let his band play in the third base seats.

Me with Lucky Cecil at the Newark reunion.

Travis was the star of the reunion, of course, looking all spiffy in his Washington Butlers uniform. He’s been batting over .400 for them in the Mid-Atlantic White League this year, and they’ll sure be sorry to see him go to the majors. Duke was there, naturally, dressed up and smiling even on his off day. With Josh Gibson hitting everything out of sight, the Ellingtons were a major league force again in ’44, 12 games in front of the Calloways at mid-season.

“Can’t say enough about how well you boys battled that year,” Duke said to me and Cullenbine over plates of indescribable ribs, “This country’s had some cockamamie laws on its books for too long, and I’m just glad I’ve stuck around long enough to see some change happen. You eating that corn bread?”

We divided up into teams, married guys vs. single ones, and I got a few hits for the Singles and only butchered one ball in the outfield, but the Marrieds outlasted us 14-11 when little Lonny Frey won it with an inside-the-park 3-run homer. A handful of curious Newarkites came out to watch us, and all through the game and the day I scoured the stands for a sign of Blossom, thinking that maybe, just maybe, things didn’t work out with the Ivory Coast bone surgeon and she had a sudden longing for something Canadian again.

Sorry, folks. Life just doesn’t work out the way it does in the movies. Unless you’re Cecil Travis.—J. Geoffrey Heath

*   *   *

with Jupiter Dobbs
Pittsburgh Courier Baseball Blabber

‘Morning again, baseball bees and flowers. For your enlightenment I can tell you my paper had me covering war battles for too long a time and it made me downright kooky. Meaning I’ve retired myself for a year down here in my Cape Hatteras beach cottage, where I follow all ball scores in the morning, afternoon and evening newspapers like everyone else and have to write nary a word about none of it, which I thank any gods who are listening kindly for.

Doesn’t mean I can’t get all nostalgy for the Bragging Righters, though, because much as my Jordans stunk up the league room and as much as I razzed this Dorseys social improvement project, it turned out to be a crazy-thrilling race in the end run, didn’t it? My final musings on each team follow, with complete player statisticals if you click on the team names:

Birmingham Armstrongs (36-24, league champions). The only club with a home winning record, and by a big gap, but it was their utter clutchiness, especially in the last few weeks when overcoming a three-game deficit that helped them take the crown. Oscar Charleston more than deserved the MVP honors for his 1.149 OPS and total conquering of all field play in the B-Hams’ final six games. Top that with his 11 game-deciding hits, and that award contest was over, Grover.

Newark Ellingtons (35-25). A failure of pitching when it was most needed, pure and simplified. Oh, Newark tabloids were quick to crucify Mr. Gibson, but Josh did win eight games single-handedly and club 16 balls into the heavens. I would blame Smokey Joe Williams and his (4-8, 6.24) effort. Nip Winters knew how to win with his 13-1 mark, and by all rights should have won the Edsall Walker Pitching Award, but my campaigning efforts for him on the Twanger news feed got him nowhere.

Chicago Dorseys (31-29). Yes, the amateur outfit rose from the darkest league cellar to snatch the third place prize on the final weekend, but it’s safe to say their namby-pamby treatment by the commissioner and President allowed them to pork up their roster and help them in every late-inning situation. Still, Ted Williams, despite his surliness and shiftless play in the outfield, did light up the league batting lights, leading all comers in OPS (1.243) home runs (19) and finishing close seconds to Superman Pennington in walks (46) and Cool Papa Bell in runs (56).

Kansas City Basies (30-30). Never seen a pitcher smoke a league like Satch Paige did since he started out 0-3, even though he did finish with two less wins than old Nip Winters, as I mentioned quite a bit on Twanger. For the season, 11-3, and league leader in ERA (2.48) and WHIP (1.17). I’d say the man has a future. Willie Wells was their only fear-inducing stick man, at .364 and 1.052 OPS.

Detroit Calloways (24-36). By far the biggest disappointers. Worthy team hitting and pitching for much of the year, but it all spilled down the river in the last month. Look at these awful “midnight hour” records: 4-10 in one-run games, 2-5 in extra innings, only 8 comeback wins to 20 blown leads, and a putrid 9-18 record at home.

Pittsburgh Jordans (24-36). I should talk, no? The Jordans finished 7-20 at Greenlee Field, amazing seeing their team featured lefty mashers Turkey Stearnes and Buck Leonard to whale away on the short fence in right and failed in almost every crucial situational moment. Rap Dixon (.209, just 22 RBIs) was even worse. It was enough to drive this man to beer drinking, and I can confess right now that much of that was done in private.

But no matter. Someday soon they’ll make beer legal, white folks will be allowed to vote, and this country of ours will change whether I gripe about it or not. Imagine that’s the shifting way of the world.

AFTERWORDS

I truly hope you’ve enjoyed my abbreviated, re-written history. It was great fun to create these fictional teams and events and roll the dice daily for Oscar, Josh, Satch, Nip, Cool Papa and the not-so-overmatched Chicago Dorseys. Big thanks go out to Strat-O-Matic for releasing the card sets, and to esteemed baseball researcher and friend Scott Simkus for his marvelous Negro League creation.

What’s my next replay blog going to be? Well, I can’t divulge it yet, but can tell you it will launch in February of 2012. I’m going to spend the rest of this year working on other writing projects, one being a book form of my 1924 saga. If I have any worthy breaking news it will appear on this site, or on my Twitter feed, where I will be Braggers41 until I morph into the next, equally snarkastic persona.

Thanks for reading, all you baseball bees, flowers, and just plain fans. —J.P., Culver City, CA

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 6:52 am  Comments (5)  

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Jeff,
    Great stuff as usual. Feb 2012 is way to long to have to wait. I think you need to rearrange some priorities.

    Kevin G

  2. Thanks, Jeff and Jupe and J. Geoffrey for all the great Sunday morning reading, a fine pennant race and a chance to weigh in with you all. Woulda joined you at the Skunk Den if I could have.

    My Birmingham B-Hams brung one back to ‘Bama with all those B-Bubbas on the blackball lineup card — Bullet (Rogan), (Willard) Brown, Ben (Taylor), Buck (O’Neil), Bruce (Petway), (Sam) Bankhead, Biz (Mackey), (Jerry) Benjamin, Big Bill (Foster), (Chet) Brewer, (William…he don’t like to be called Bill) Bell and the honorary Bs, the Rubes Foster and Currie.

    And how can I forget the fairest B of them all – Blossom!!!

    Bees and flowers, indeed, brother Jupe.

    I’ll be looking forward to the next project, and I hope you’ll check in with a recap on the Strat-O-Matic site. Maybe an interview with Jupiter Dobbs? A Forties version of “The Sportswriters,” the old Chicago-based show featuring Bill Gleason, Rick Telander and a collection of other scribes that was a forerunner of the more current “The Sports Reporters.” “Around the Horn” and “Pardon the Interruption,” if you get your media comparisons from WIkipedia.

    In other words, I hope we haven’t heard the last of the “Jupe Joint,” perhaps via that still-experimental communications medium, television.

    Best,

    John

  3. Jupe,

    Such an interesting and controversial topic that you covered with a wonderful story. It was a treat following along and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

    – KenR

  4. Jeff,

    There’s nothing like a half a cup of perspective to round out the recipe.

    Thanks from all of us at the Village for the timely updates and allowing us to follow along!

    rezzdogg

  5. This was a truly entertaining series. I hope lots of people got to read it. Looking forward to your next project.
    Bill


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