Chapter 3: The Birmingham Blues

So we end up using the same crappy 1931 bus with squeaky brakes that hauled us everywhere the last three seasons. You’d think because we’ve been invited to play in the majors now we’d get a little better treatment, but nope. The Basies and Calloways and Jordans are zipping around in their private train sleepers while we bounce down Highway 25 and feel every pothole on our rump cheeks.

Not that we don’t make the best of it. Gordon and Vernon have a fierce chess game going in the back, ten bucks for every piece with half the team jacking up the bets on each side. Ted Williams inspects his fishing rod, hoping to peel off at a campground somewhere and hook a few trout, while Ken Keltner plays “Blue Moon” and a few other old white songs on his mandolin until DiMaggio tells him to shut up.

Me? I’m just starving as usual, and it’s like Thanksgiving when we stop off at Bette’s Roadside Chops in Tennessee for a big meal, only to get shown the NO WHITES sign and have to take our meals to go.

Things are just as bad for us in Birmingham, but it’s not like we don’t see it coming. Most of us stay at a white motor court on the outskirts of town, while me and Cully and Appling walk a mile to a friendly white rooming house. Naturally we take Jimmie Foxx along for extra protection, but the local folks know we’re coming and are excited enough about the series to not start any funny business.

Rickwood Field is overflowing for the opener. Louis Armstrong plays “America the Free” at a home plate microphone, and then Appling sticks me out in right field—which is both good and bad. It’s nice to be in the lineup, but it’s pretty bright out under a hazy white sky, not the best for fielding things, and when Bullet Joe Rogan hits one out to me in the 1st I just about have to squint and throw my glove up in the direction of the ball in order to catch it.

Chet Brewer’s on the hill for the Armstrongs, and he’s got that tough emery pitch going: I can even see the scuff marks when the ball sails in. I fly to center my first time off it, but the second time up, leading the 4th in a scoreless game, I time it perfect and rap a single to right in front of Willard Brown. Chet gets rattled with Williams now up, balks me to second, then walks Ted. DiMaggio gets an infield hit to third, but Alec Radcliff tosses it away and I race home. A Foxx sac fly and single by Dickey later, we’ve given Red Ruffing a 3-0 lead!

One inning later, an Appling single, Cecil Travis triple and my sac fly to left give us two more, but that’s when Ruffing gets a little cocky and stops bearing down in the hazy heat. Brown singles and Biz Mackey walks to start their 5th and Ben Taylor launches a one-out 3-run bomb to right that just carries and carries and bounces off the grandstand roof behind me.

Which gets the catcalls going in the bleachers. “Go home, milkies!” “Lookin’ a little pale out there, Heath!” are two of my favorites, and I spin around ready to yell something back until I remember Commissioner Greenlee’s rule about keeping our anger under our hats.

As it turns out, Ruffing goes the distance and we edge the home team 5-4, Radcliff whiffing to end it with Pop Lloyd on first. Rickwood Field’s probably never been this quiet as we hurry off it, and to celebrate we close down the Moroccan Dream Shack pretty late afterwards, our manager springing for every hookah.

No reefer hangover for us in the second game, either. I’m on the bench again against lefty Big Bill Foster, but Appling singles, Foxx triples, Ted and Joe walk and Keller doubles in two to put us up 3-0 in the very first inning. Bob Feller’s making his second start, but he’s just as wobbly this time. Of the 33 batters he faces in his five innings, 19 of them get aboard. Down 4-3 in the 5th they pile on five runs, helped by an awful two-base error by Ted in right (See, Skip? I’m not the only one who drops ’em.), and even though we get two runs back in the 6th, Foster just gets better and our bats turn into noodles from there.

The finale is a pretty dull one, Bullet Rogan batting fifth for them and pitching us into a complete game coma. But in my last time up in the 8th something pretty scary and incredible happens. I’m 0-for-2 officially, and pretty beat because Oscar Charleston roped two triples between me and DiMaggio earlier I had to flag down, but Joe and Travis have both singled with two gone and if I pop one in the seats, we’ll be tied.

So I dig in against Bullet Joe, get way ahead on the first fastball and crank it hard into the box seats along first.

I hear a few screams as the fans scatter like birds but then I freeze for a closer look. A spectator got hit. Out of instinct, I drop my bat and rush over to the seats.

There’s a pretty young girl sitting there in a tan dress, but her smart matching hat has been knocked clean off and she’s holding her gloved hand to a gash on the side of her head. “Are you all right, madame?” I ask, and the well-dressed fans around her look at each other and stare at me, like they’ve never heard a white person be so concerned about one of them before.

“I’m fine…I think,” the girl mutters, and looks up at me with gorgeous green eyes, skin the color of warm mint cocoa, and I don’t have to tell you how smitten I am. I nod, leave the rail and go back to fetch my bat and finish hitting. Big Bill knows I’m distracted, whips in a dirty curve and all I can do is fly it out to right and kill our last good chance.

“Pretty brave of you doing that,” says Cullenbine to me in the locker room after. I just shrug. “Lady got hit. What else was I gonna do?” It’s at that moment that Stringbean our club house boy comes over and hands me a cream-colored envelope. Inside is a note written in beautiful handwriting:

Dear Mr. Heath:

Thank you so much for coming to my aid, though it really wasn’t necessary. I’ve been given ointment and a suitable bandage. Good luck in the Bragging Rights League, and I look forward to seeing you play again soon.

All my best,
Blossom Pickering

“Geez H. Louise,” says Cully, staring at the note over my shoulder. “Do you know who that was?”

“Should I?”

“Well, Percival Pickering is the Governor of Alabama, and that sweet lass you hit happens to be his only daughter.”

Riding back on the bus tonight to start a homestand, I don’t think I feel one pothole.—J.G. Heath

CHIC 000 320 000 – 5 9 0
BIRM 000 030 100 – 4 7 1

W-Ruffing L-Brewer HR: Taylor

CHIC 301 002 000 – 6 9 1
BIRM 011 150 00x – 8 9 1

W-Foster L-Feller HR: Rogan

CHIC 000 100 000 – 1 7 2
BIRM 100 101 01x – 4 6 1

W-Rogan L-Lee HR: Brown

*   *   *

with Jupiter Dobbs
Pittsburgh Courier Baseball Blabber

JORDANS 7-8-0, at BASIES 6-12-0
JORDANS 6-11-2, at BASIES 3-13-0
JORDANS 5-11-0, at BASIES 2-5-1
Get out that big old push broom, Mollie! Who would’ve thought us Pittsburghers could express our way to K.C. and leave town with those Basies down for the count!…Game one was actually a sleepwalk in the park for Harry Salmon, up 7-1 to the last of the 9th when the Missouri crew finally pinched themselves out of bed. A Willie Wells double and Spoony Palm homer started things, and after a pair of two-out singles, Mathis got called to duty. Bad move, manager Turkey, because Parnell singled, Blackwell copycatted him, and Jud Wilson cracked one louder than summer lightning. Parnell ran in to make it 7-6, Blackwell on his heels, but a rifle shot throw by Rap Dixon in right sniped him dead at the plate to end the game!…Game 2 was even worse for the locals, scoring just three times on 13 hits, leaving twelve runners on the high seas and grounding into three twin-killers. Making that two tough unnecessary tragedies out of the gate for Satch Paige…Leroy Matlock was just evil in Game 3, putting those Basies to bed with just five littered singles….Heading home to play the Armstrongs in a first-place tie!

at CALLOWAYS 14-17-1, ELLINGTONS 4-12-1
Never been a fan of these two-timing ballplayers, and in Game 1 we had two of that ilk facing off, with Double Duty Radcliffe and Martin Dihigo on their hills. Well, Double Duty couldn’t even do one of his jobs, got pounded into a pancake by a Cool Papa Bell triple, two Frog Redus home runs and a whole bunch of buckshot, the Callows scoring in every inning but the 1st. Eggie Hensley signed in for the 8th and broke on the floor right away on a double, single and John Beckwith moon raker…Far better outcome for Duke’s Ellies in Game 2, though still no cinch. Smokey Joe had a slim 4-3 lead on Slim in the 9th when a Wild Bill Wright 2-run smack helped Newark to four late tallies…Game 3 was a Nip Winters-and-tuck affair, the Ellies’ hurler taking a 6-hit shutout to the 9th when Wild Bill turned a Chino Smith fly into a hot and dropped potato leading off the inning. Rev Cannady singled in the run, but Candy Jim Taylor grounded out to end the sweaty one, and it’s an early three-way tie for the top.

Just a tickle to you readers, I’ll have a team statistical sheet and weekly leaders posted beginning next week. Until then, baseball bees and flowers!

Newark Ellingtons 4 2 .667
Birmingham Armstrongs 4 2 .667
Pittsburgh Jordans 4 2 .667
Detroit Calloways 3 3 .500 1
Chicago Dorseys 2 4 .333 2
Kansas City Basies 1 5 .167 3
Published in: on March 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm  Comments (8)  

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brewer falls just short, but we come back with Big Bill and Bullet. With homers from Brown and Ben! And we’ve yet to hear from Bell, Bruce, Buck, Biz and Bankhead.

    Birmingham! B-lieve it!!!

  2. Biz Mackey actually leads the club in OPS, some newfangled statistic the Knight of the Keyboard insists on utilizing.

  3. Teddy Ballgame in right? Man, that is some sort of outfield defense those crackers have!

    • And Ted was as mediocre in right as he was in left that year.

  4. I cannot express how much I love this. I want to share it with the world :^)

    • Thanks and feel free. The more the merrier!

  5. As a Phillies fan, you gotta get Ben Chapman into this story, Jeff!

    • Oh, don’t you worry. He’s on the club for a reason…

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