Chapter 9: Morning Cups with Joe

I was afraid this might happen. The second I complain about rooming with Cullenbine and his hopeless chess addiction, a light bulb goes off in Appling’s head and he pairs me up with DiMaggio for our first nine-game road trip. Joe’s at .338 but he’s been less than jolting, with only one dinger and eight ribbis backing it up. Foxx and Williams and now Mize have been carrying the load at win-or-die time, and Appling obviously thinks that Joe getting his own room everywhere and stewing in his failure isn’t helping the team much.

But what the heck am I gonna do for him? I’m just this big nutty Canadian guy with only one homer myself and about 1/16th of the fielding talent Joe has. Maybe it’s because Joe likes to laugh and Luke thinks I can loosen him up a bit.

Anyway, we hit the Newark bus station the night before our opener against the first place Ellingtons and all Joe can talk about is the manicotti at Vesuvius Restaurant. See, Newark has a little-known Italian neighborhood on Bloomfield Avenue, and Joe can feel relaxed there instead of getting pestered from all sides the way he does when his White Yankees are playing in the Bronx.

Naturally our Italian feast and after-dinner reefers are free, and Binky the owner gives us the biggest room on the second floor of his house to stay in. Joe is used to room service at the fancy mixed hotels, so Binky sends up his two saucy daughters bright and early with trays of eggs, scalloped potatoes and espressos for the both of us. The fact that Joe even lets me eat with him tells me he’s putting up with me so far, and when I come out of the bathroom there he is at the table, deeply reading a Superman comic book. He puts it away as I sit, but not before flashing me the cover.

“Doesn’t look anything like Pennington, if you ask me,” referring to the Pittsburgh Jordans third baseman with the same superhero name. “What’s he trying to prove?”

Joe’s snarly mood follows him onto the Ruppert Stadium field. After Monroe and Lundy both boot balls to begin the series, raining raspberries down from Ellingtons fans in the upper tier, Ted works a walk to load the sacks with nobody out and bring Joe up. He gets a run home with a grounder to first, screaming at himself. Then with nobody aboard in the 3rd, he hits a searing triple into the gap. It’s been going like this for him all season. Anyway Keller gets him in with a sac fly, and when Keltner bombs one off Nip Winters leading off the 4th, surprise, surprise, we’re up 4-0! How about 6-0 on a 2-run double by Frankie Hayes in the 5th? Thornton Lee can’t believe his good luck, and sitting out the game against lefty Winters, I wish I could get in there for some tasty licks.

Well, I get my chance in the 8th. Newark got two runs back in their 5th, righty Tom Williams is on for them, and after Ted’s second single and Joe’s second walk, Keller walks to load the bases and Appling jerks his head in my direction. I stroll up there, ready to put this one away, but some kind of dipsy-doodle pitch ties me up and I whiff with the bases loaded. Keltner pops up, we don’t even score and it’s written in the clouds that this is bound to mean something.

The Ellies scratch out a run to make it 6-3, but Keller singles in a piece of insurance for us in the 9th and we get our four-run lead right back. Al Benton bailed us out of the 8th when Bernardo Baro rapped into a nifty 3-6-3 DP started by Foxx, and now he can close this out.

Cue the daily nightmare whose name is Joe Gordon. Batting way under .200 and 0-for-5 today, toting a second base glove of iron, he lets a Ray Dandridge grounder skip up his arm to begin the Newark 9th. DiMaggio just drops his head out in centerfield, because he knows what’s coming. Wright singles. Josh Gibson, zero-for-4 on the day with a whiff and double play, singles. Oscar Heavy Johnson singles. Mule Suttles doubles. Bill Monroe ties the game with a single. If we had a better reliever he’d be in there on the express.

But we don’t. Dick Lundy skies one out to Williams in right, Suttles tags, runs in, slides under Dickey’s late swipe and the Ellington Trucking Company leaves our flattened corpse in the street. Whatever 9th inning miracle tonic Birmingham’s been drinking has obviously been passed around in Newark.

Joe cusses Gordon out in the locker room after, but he may as well aim his blue words at heaven, because the Ellies were just whacking one good pitch after another.

Coffee the next morning is even less pleasant. Joe has a lot of pride in his abilities, you see, and with the white players never being taken seriously before this year, you can say he plays with chips on both of his shoulders. And now there’s these new team members to get under his skin. “Luke ever talk to you about this punky Reiser kid?” he asks, a cigarette in his free hand.

I shrug, start in on my eggs. “What about him?”

“Just don’t like him snooping around my job, that’s all.” I remind him that Reiser has a hot batting average against righties, and Joe’s been struggling against them. “Well, Reiser can do that with pinch-hits. We don’t need him in center. If anything, he should learn second base and put Gordon out of our misery.” He snaps his Star-Ledger sports page to kill that part of the conversation. “Goddamn Ellies. 16-6 now. But we’ll take ’em today.”

Yeah, we sure should, with Riddle facing the hittable Hilton Smith. Both teams end up with ten safe knocks and it’s 4-4 going to the last of the 9th. The problem is that all of our hits are singles, DiMaggio with three of them, while Newark gets a double, triple and three home runs. And Appling must’ve heard us talking over breakfast, because he pinch-hits Reiser in the 9th with us down a run and we tie the thing on a two-out single by Ted.

So Spud Chandler takes over, and plunks Lundy with one out. Baro pinch-hits a single and Wild Bill Wright walks to load them up. Oms lines out, and Al Benton reappears to face big Josh Gibson. Now Josh is zero-for-4 once again, and the only reason Newark doesn’t have a five-game lead already is because he just hasn’t been getting any big hits. I’m already out of the game at this point and have a great view of Gibson from my shady perch in the dugout. I hear the cannon crack of his bat, sucking out the air and noise with it, and the ball jumps into space so fast that by the time I hop off the bench to see where it went the crowd is already deafening and Keller hasn’t even moved in left field.

A game winning grand slam that’s likely still going, and the Ellies have won six in a row and ten out of eleven. The only good thing is that the Newark crowds are pretty polite and well-heeled, and we don’t get the taunting we’re used to when walking off.

Our upstairs suite is empty this time when I get back. Oh Joe, where have you gone? Truth is he’s over on Eighth Avenue all night, and I’m out for a walk and diner breakfast before the sun’s even up so I never see whether he made it back to his bed. But there’s really nothing to talk about anymore.

Red Ruffing gets matched against Double-Duty Radcliffe in the finale, but not even Red, who’s been great for us, can get out of Newark’s way. They score three in the first, and it looks like another grim Dorsey day.

Then something happens, and it think it starts with my triple. Appling swapped my second spot with Joe’s fifth, and when Dickey singles me in we have one of those three runs right back, It seems to give Rufing hope, because even though he puts scads of runners on from here, three key double plays help him out and the Ellingtons just can’t score again. Meanwhile, none other than Joe Gordon ties the game with a 2-run shot in the 7th, Johnny Mize puts us up 4-3 with a solo shot leading the 8th, and Ruffing gets a chance to keep the bullpen from coughing up another one.

Baro starts the Newark 9th with another pinch single, and Red wild pitches him to 2nd. He gets Wright on a deep fly, Baro scampering to third with one out. Then Oms flies one fairly deep to DiMaggio. Baro’s got feet of lightning and he tags up. Joe races in for the ball, uncoils his arm and launches a perfect line drive throw. Baro hits home plate but Dickey is there to block it. Grabs Joe’s throw, nails Baro in the chest and we’ve won the game!!

“What’d I tell ya, Heath?” He shakes my hand after I pound his back and praise his heroic heave.

“You told me we’d win yesterday.”

“Yeah, well, we should’ve won all three, so at least I had the right feeling. Guess you can room with me in K.C., too.” Heading off to our bus, I realize it’s the first time all year I’ve seen Joe DiMaggio smile.—J.G. Heath

CHC 201 120 001 – 7 10 4
NWK 000 020 015 – 8 16 2

W-Hensley L-Benton HR: Keltner GWRBI-Lundy

CHC 001 002 001 – 4 10 0
NWK 000 101 204 – 8 10 1

W-Hensley L-Chandler HRS: Suttles, Wright, Gibson GWRBI-Gibson

CHC 010 000 210 – 4 9 0
NWK 300 000 000 – 3 11 0

W-Ruffing L-Radcliffe HRS: Gordon, Mize GWRBI-Mize

*   *   *

with Jupiter Dobbs
Pittsburgh Courier Baseball Blabber

at ARMSTRONGS 5-14-0, JORDANS 4-9-0
at ARMSTRONGS 4-8-0, JORDANS 2-5-0
at ARMSTRONGS 7-8-0, JORDANS 6-10-2
It’s over, children. Not even at the halfway mark but old Jupe has a nose for this cadaver stuff and if you think our Pittsburghers are going to raise themselves from the muck and mire after starting the season 0-6 vs. Birmingham, I got some luxury acerage up Detroit way to interest you all in. What a stinkpot! While their first-place roommates were doing about the same thing at the same time to the Dorseys up in Newark, the Armstrongs got four in the last of the 9th off Matlock, Wickware and Donaldson to obliterize our 4-1 lead, winning on a pinch two-sacker by Bankhead with only a strike away from Jordan heaven…Two days of hell follow, first with Leon Day pitchforking us, then Alec Radcliff topping off their six-run 4th with a grand kabosh. We hit four out of the yard, but three of those were solists. The good clubs? They just seem to do things with men on bases. Now the Mighty Armies head north to Newark, for the second of their four showdowns with the Ellies, and don’t you know those ducats were sold out a month ago!

BASIES 6-15-0, at CALLOWAYS 1-14-0
at CALLOWAYS 11-15-9, BASIES 2-7-0
BASIES 5-17-0, at CALLOWAYS 3-12-0 (12 innings)
This series was like that dark chocolate stuff in the middle of an Oreo: You know it’s there and it tastes pretty good but it’s not what you remember about the vanilla cookie. Detroit turned in one of the worst offense displays in the opener, getting one less hit but five less runs thanks to magic beans tossed by Sam Streeter…Cool Papa Bell and Home Run Johnson went 8-for-10 on top of the Calloway order in Game 2, while Beckwith doubled, homered and knocked in five…The finale was a tooth-pulling party, men left floating, double plays taking care of the rest, before Sammy T. Hughes, the Basie second-baseman who’s actually hitting worse than Joe Gordon of Dorsey fame, stroked a two-run single off Dave Brown to win it in twelve.

Next week, I’ll be abandoning my hapless and hopeless nine to take in the Birmingham/Newark showdown at Ruppert Stadium, and the poor Jordan boosters will just have to understand. Until then, baseball bees and flowers!

1.124 Cristabal Torriente, KC
1.116 Ted Williams, CHC
1.109 Spoony Palm, KC
1.081 Jimmie Foxx, CHC
1.042 Superman Pennington, PIT
1.041 Oscar Charleston, BRM
1.014 Cool Papa Bell, DET
1.013 Home Run Johnson, DET
1.006 John Beckwith, DET

.419 H.R. Johnson, DET
.400 Torriente, KC
.375 Lloyd, BIRM
.374 Pennington, PIT
.360 Charleston, BRM
.356 Dandridge, NWK

8 Beckwith, DET
8 Palm, KC
7 Williams, CHC
5 Wright, NWK

32 Beckwith, DET
29 Suttles, NWK
25 Pennington, PIT
23 Charleston, BRM

4 Charleston, BRM
4 Gibson, NWK
3 Scales, BRM
3 Beckwith, DET

28 Bell, DET
24 Johnson, DET
22 WIlliams, CHC
22 Torriente, KC

5-0 Winters, NWK
5-1 Foster, BRM
5-1 Day, BRM
4-1 Ruffing, CHC
4-1 Williams, NWK

2.25 Riddle, CHC
2.33 Foster, BRM
2.44 Winters, NWK
2.57 Davis, DET

43 Williams, NWK
41 Jones, DET
40 Paige, KC
39 Matlock, PIT

Team Hitting, Team Pitching, and Assorted Miscellany

Newark Ellingtons 17 7 .708
Birmingham Armstrongs 17 7 .708
Kansas City Basies 10 14 .417 7
Detroit Calloways 10 14 .417 7
Pittsburgh Jordans 9 15 .375 8
Chicago Dorseys 9 15 .375 8
Published in: on May 8, 2011 at 6:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Chapter 8: A Blossom by Any Other Name

After our first winning series of the year, the Dorsey Boys are all jazzed up for the first Chicago visit by the 13-5 Birmingham Armstrongs. But I guess you can say I’m distracted.

As you might remember, I met Blossom Pickering, the Governor of Alabama’s pretty daughter, when I accidentally grazed her forehead with a foul ball on our first road trip. All that came out of that was a couple of exchanged letters, but it’s been over a month since I’ve heard from her and I’m still hoping she’s one of those fans who follows their team around.

So when Keller and Gordon and Reiser and Arky Vaughn invite me to play a little pepper before game time, I have to say no. Scouting the stands with my periscope eyes, the last thing I want is a ball off MY noggin. Cullenbine and Feller are the only team members wise to the situation anyway, so I set up a leisurely catch with Cully just outside our dugout.

It’s sticky hot, and the crowd for the first game already has their fans and scorecards flapping like butterfly wings. Cully is still whining about the cash he lost playing chess in Detroit, and I make a brain note to ask Appling for a different roommate for our upcoming three-city road trip.

It’s about then that a peanut shell skips off the top of my cap. I turn, see Blossom herself leaning over the box seat rail with a playful smile and Cully’s next toss thumps me in the chest. I stagger a bit, grab the ball and throw it back to him. Backpedal ever so carefully to the railing to talk to Blossom without looking at her, which is next to impossible.

“I thought I might see you here…How are you?”

“Just fine! We’re a game in front of the Ellingtons and hope to stretch that business.”

Cully rolls his eyes, glances around to make sure no one’s watching and fires the next ball harder at me.

“I guess we’ll see about that. We took two from the Calloways last time out…I’ve been um, thinking about you quite a bit…Been thinking about me?

“Mmmm…You crossed my mind.”

I sneak a longer look. She wears a beautiful black and yellow shirt with a fancy flower and plant design, a dark green shirt and cute little feather hat that makes her look taller than she is.

“You came to Chicago by yourself?”

“Uh-uh. Got a couple of girlfriends back up in the shade. Mary and Lucy. Maybe you’ll meet them later.”

“Well, I was hoping maybe…I could meet you later.”

She cracks open a new peanut, tosses the insides at me. I catch the nuts in my glove.

“You know you shouldn’t be doing that…”

“Of course I do. But I’m a chance-taker, Blossom. Why else would I be on this team?”

“Because you’re good. At least I think so. What’s your slugging average?”

“Got me there. Haven’t checked the newspaper lately.”

“Mmm-hmm. Tell you what…” She leans closer. “Have yourself a good day at the plate, make sure your buddies don’t, then meet me at the Painting Institute of Chicago between four and five. They have a very promising show of 19th century fusionists there.”

I’m about to ask what the heck fusionists are but she smiles and heads back to the shade at the same time Cully hurls a ball in the direction of my collarbone. “Did I just hear something about girlfriends?” he asks, but all I can do is shrug.

Leon Day pitches for Birmingham, who’s been just about unhittable so far, but from the first inning it’s clear that no one on our club got the telegram. We score a run on him right away on a Ted Williams DP ball, and then the 2nd inning happens. Travis, Dickey, Gordon and pitcher Riddle all single with one gone, Arky lines out, and then I walk to the plate.

I have no idea which piece of  shade Blossom is sitting in, and that’s a good thing because it keeps my eyes trained on Day’s pitches. On a 3-1 count he tries to sneak a fastball past and I rip it on a line deep to right. Bullet Joe Rogan races to the wall as I’m nearing first and I see him leap and hang his head. Yowee! A grand slammer! Only my second homer of the year but add that to my slugging average, Blossom!

The Armstrongs react like they’ve been kicked in the guts, and get nothing of Riddle but two singles and a double the entire game. Meantime we score three more times off Day and smack Rube Foster around for seven more in the 8th, long after I’ve been relieved for defense, and Johnny Mize whacks one that goes ten miles. We haven’t had an easy game like this all year, and it’s incredible that it happens against the first-place Birminghamers.

I’m the first out of the locker room and reach the museum by 4:15, but Blossom isn’t there yet. I spend the next hour reading about each fusionist painting, how the great African painters influenced the more primitive American styles a century ago, just so I’ll sound like I know something, but Blossom never shows up. The place closes at six and I’m wondering what happened. Okay, I did hit a grand slam against her team and we obliterated them, but what does that have to with us? Kind of childish, the more I think about it.

So I stop thinking. Just show up for baseball work the next day, collect two walks and a single off Chet Brewer and watch us squeak out a win after we have a 3-0 lead through five. Williams hits his 6th homer but the Armies hit themselves back to life by roughing up Ruffing with three runs in the 8th to take a 4-3 lead. We then knock Brewer out in the bottom of the inning with two walks and a single to tie the game. William Bell takes the ball and Dickey relieves him of it, planting a 3-run shot in the upper deck!

Except for the first game, though, it’s never easy against Birmingham. Al Benton relieves Ruffing, and after a Pop Lloyd single, wild pitch, walk to Rogan and double to Willard Brown, it’s 7-6 us with the go-ahead runs aboard. Benton bears down, gets the lethal Biz Mackey on a roller, and we have our very first pitching save of the year!

It’s bittersweet for me, though, because I don’t even see Blossom in the stands for this one and I bet she never even leaves the shade. I run into some Armstrong players later, make some crafty inquiries and find out from Oscar Charleston that Blossom and her friends are staying at the fancy Palmer House Hotel. I make my way over there and bribe a white luggage man to get her room number.

I take a maid’s elevator upstairs, knock on Blossom’s door. I hear someone inside, probably staring through the peephole, and call her name. Right after I knock a second time two security men grab me, haul me back down the service elevator and chuck me into an alley.

An hour or two at the Skunk Den eases the pain, and my head is still sweetly foggy the next morning when there’s a knock on my apartment door. I swing it open in my underwear and there’s Blossom standing there, holding a red rose.

“I feel terrible. Can we go on a picnic today?”

I tell her I have to play ball, but she reminds me that Big Bill Foster is going and I’d probably be benched for Keller anyway because my average vs. lefties is “less exciting.” Where did this remarkable woman come from?

Cully agrees to tell Appling I’m in bed with the flu, I wash and dress while Blossom hums to herself in the hall—still a bit nervous about being in my scary white neighborhood—and then we’re off in search of a picnic. It’s a beautiful day, less humid, and we spend the whole of it in Carver Park, strolling the lakefront, dining on sandwiches and root beer on a grassy lawn, even going out in a rowboat. I was so wrong about Blossom I’m ashamed of myself. She wasn’t angry at me because my team killed hers, she was crushed, because she really likes me and was thrilled for my grand slam but the loss was too much to bear and she didn’t want me to see her cry.

Anyway, her choice to come look me up pays off, because the rowboat guy has the last game going on his radio, and even though Keller and Williams hit back-to-back homers for us, Whit Wyatt has nothing, and Birmingham pulls out the 5-3 win pretty easy.

Blossom has promised to write while we’re bussing our way through Newark, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, because she knows how brutal these next few weeks through hostile territory might be. I get a taste of this while I’m walking her back to the Palmer House, when a well-dressed older man who reminds me of her father crosses the street, glares at us and whacks my leg with his cane as he passes. I swear he calls me a “bastard milkie” under his breath, but I don’t want to react. We’ve come this far in the Bragging Rights League, the Dorseys just a game out of third place now, that cool heads are really the only things we should have. —J.G. Heath

BIRM 000 000 000 – 0 3 1
CHC 151 002 07x – 16 18 1

W-Riddle L-Day HRS: Heath, Mize

BIRM 000 001 032 – 6 10 0
CHC 002 010 04x – 7 9 2

W-Ruffing L-Brewer SV-Benton HRS: T. Williams, Dickey GWRBI-Dickey

BIRM 300 001 001 – 5 9 0
CHC 002 000 001 – 3 10 1

W-Foster L-Wyatt HRS: Brown, Keller, T. Williams, Chapman GWRBI-Brown

*   *   *

with Jupiter Dobbs
Pittsburgh Courier Baseball Blabber

BASIES 15-20-0, at JORDANS 8-15-2
at JORDANS 11-15-0, BASIES 7-17-2
BASIES 3-6-0, at JORDANS 2-6-1
Yep, our Jordannaires are a less-than-whopping 2-10 at old Greenlee now, so I say throw that home cooking out to the dogs and feed ’em train grub. Them and the Basies took turns pasting each other in the first two messes, Phil Cockrell not exactly being a rooster when he gave the K.C. men seven runs in the 2nd before we pounded Bill Drake for a 10-1 lead in Game 2 before Jud Wilson started hitting for them. In the finale Satch Paige finally found his magical stuff, struck out ten of us without walking one and gave up solo shots to Turkey and Rap most likely because he was just bored. Pittsburgh’s in the big 4-team hog pile, safely away from the two contenders, and with the sad way our biggest clubbers are still snoring, if it weren’t for Superman Pennington we’d certainly be the league caboose.

at ELLINGTONS 7-10-0, CALLOWAYS 3-10-1
Three easy Newark wins by nearly the same line score, as the Ellies took over the top spot with great pitching and timely hits, which isn’t all that difficult when you know what you’re doing. The poor Callows have fallen on very hard times, and their former loud blasting got reduced to mouse peeps here by the likes of Hilton Smith, Double Duty and Smokey Joe, complete game-throwers all. Those uppity white Dorseys will creep into Ruppert Stadium next week to try their luck, but I wouldn’t wager on them surviving. Visiting teams are a paltry 1-8 in that grand yard. Until then, baseball bees and flowers!

Team Hitting, Team Pitching, and Assorted Miscellany

Newark Ellingtons 15 6 .714
Birmingham Armstrongs 14 7 .667 1
Pittsburgh Jordans 9 12 .429 6
Detroit Calloways 9 12 .429 6
Chicago Dorseys 8 13 .381 7
Kansas City Basies 8 13 .381 7