Chapter 12: Men on a New Mission

“Lunch will be served, gentlemen.” One by one we file into the presidential dining room, trying not to laugh out loud at our good fortune.

Despite being our youngest President at age 39, Langston Hughes looks as calm and distinguished as your average single and aging law professor. His stories and poems became so wildly popular during the 30s that it was only a matter of time before his colleagues urged him to run for political office. Some people still scoff at the idea of a writer being President, but as far as I can tell he’s done a bang-up job so far.

It probably would’ve made more sense for us to visit the Beige House on our way back down south next week–Louisville being about the halfway point to Birmingham—but there seems to be something urgent about this lunch, because Commissioner Greenlee is also there.

Ted Williams adds to our scroll of autographs as President Hughes looks on.

The President stood before us, and we knew another one of his spontaneous poems was coming.

“Clean up the bases, boys!…Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Newark, Detroit…The dust on urban basepaths…and the smoke from swinging bats…and the misery of unfair laws…Hey boys!…A bright base is beautiful to behold…Like the parchment of good King Solomon…Like the righteous eyes of the Lord…With grace your cleats imprint it…”

He smiled, we applauded, and he continued. “First off, I need to commend you boys on your bravery, and competitive spirit. Now I did catch wind of a friendly wager you’re having with some others over finishing in third place, but being born in Joplin, Missouri, I must confess I’m a Kansas City Basies fan at heart.” This gets a chuckle out of us, but minutes later, after our lunch of wild quail and homegrown squash is served, the more serious dish hits the table.

“Mr. Greenlee and I have discussed this for a while, and I’m thrilled to announce that when the Memphis Hamptons are fully recuperated from their unfortunate team-wide illness and return to the league for the 1942 season, one of you Dorseys will be chosen to play for them.”

Stunned silence. Forks frozen in mid-air, mouths in mid-chew.

“That is right. We’re talking about the first official white player in the major league.” I share a glance with Cullenbine, who quickly spears a quail thigh. Tommy Dorsey’s glasses are fogging up nearby. “Excuse me, Mr. President, but how will this player be chosen?”

Greenlee butts in with the answer. “Athletic ability, sportsmanship, what you’d expect.  None of you have gone running home to mommy yet after thirty Bragging Rights games, so I don’t see self-confidence being an issue.”

“Individual talent and performance will certainly help,” continued Hughes, “but the first white major leaguer must be someone America’s fans will respect and support.”

“Well, I guess that rules out most of you bums!” roars Ted Williams from the far end of the table. Ted has certainly been our best player, except I think he’s a little lacking in the character department. All I know is that the air on the bus as we drive out the Beige House gates later is thicker than the humidity outside. Bad enough we have to battle these super-tough teams every week, now we might be battling each other.

* * *

Home to play Detroit after our long trip, girlfriends, wives and familiar pillows are the last things on our mind. You can say that for the Calloways too, because we turn in our most vacuum-brained series of the year. First Arky Vaughn makes two killer errors, the second igniting a four-run 7th inning and putting us behind 6-2. Ted wallops one off Roosevelt Davis in the 8th to cut it to 6-4, but a Mize error gives them another run and we go down easily before Dizzy Dismukes, a reliever who’s gotten practically no one out all year. Me? I’m so putrid, with two DPs and a whiff, that I make Appling take me out to give us a chance.

Gave 2 is just a Calloway meat parade. Their 22 hits include three doubles and three triples, and we do our part by making three more errors as Ruffing gets mangled in his second straight start.

Game 3, which is probably the best BRL game all weekend, still knocks us further into the basement, and we deserve it. DiMaggio gets a rare big hit with his second homer of the season to put us up 2-0 early, but a single and three straight Calloway doubles off Wyatt in the 6th put us behind again. Hayes ties it with a sac fly, before Slim Jones clamps down and shuts us out the last five innings so Martin Dihigo, who starts at third here after pitching the second game, can pop one into the bleachers in the 11th to ice it. Just to make the cake in our face even creamier, Williams ends the game and series with a lazy fly to Cool Papa Bell with the bases loaded.

So we’re now a lowly 5-13 on our Chicago field. The home fans don’t know a thing about the President’s announcement, and probably wouldn’t care if they did, because they let us have it good on our way into the clubhouse tunnel. I’m just numb. At least next week we’ll be back in Alabama, where I hope to be holding Blossom’s soft hand and thinking more about kisses than sinker balls.—J.G. Heath

DET 000 110 401 – 7 7 2
CHC 000 020 020 – 4 10 3

W-Davis L-Riddle SV-Dismukes HRS: H.R. Johnson, T. Williams GWRBI-Marcelle

DET 150 110 250 – 15 22 0
CHC 000 011 000 – 2 9 3

W-Dihigo L-Ruffing HR: none

DET 000 003 000 01 – 4 11 1
CHC 002 001 000 00 – 3 6 3

W-Jones L-Wyatt HRS: Dihigo, DiMaggio GWRBI-Dihigo

*   *   *

with Jupiter Dobbs
Pittsburgh Courier Baseball Blabber

JORDANS 5-8-0, at ELLINGTONS 4-6-0
JORDANS 5-8-1, at ELLINGTONS 4-10-0
JORDANS 8-12-0, at ELLINGTONS 3-8-0
This here second half has flipped over like a waffle, or a sunbathing lizard or Wonderland looking-glass. Rhyme or reason? They ain’t home! Nine times road clubs took the field, nine times they won.

Let’s start where I was, in recently jolly Newark, where five combined homers from the dead and long-thought buried Buck Leonard and Rap Dixon did in the Ellingtons in a miraculous sweep by the Jordans. Maybe it wasn’t too heavenly, Pittsburgh being a hefty 12-6 away from Greenlee now, but the first two bouts were nail clippers indeed, Cockrell pitching all the way before Mathis threw three shutout reliever innings for Salmon on Saturday. Newark’s Josh Gibson resumed his disappointing ways, smacking a homer early in Game 1 before going 1-for-7 the rest of the weekend. Off to K.C. now, where the schedule calls for us to thankfully miss Satch-man of Doom.

BASIES 6-12-2, at ARMSTRONGS 5-14-2 (11 innings)
BASIES 3-11-0, at ARMSTRONGS 0-6-0
BASIES 6-11-2, at ARMSTRONGS 1-4-1
Whatever good luck charms the Armies were wearing in their briefs have slipped out uniform cuffs and vanished in basepath dust, because they have COMPLETELY STOPPED HITTING. True, Paige mowed them like a golf course fairway in the final match, but Birmingham couldn’t even nick Ted Trent. (Satchel in his last four complete game starts, by the by: 4-0, 1.50 ERA, 8 BB 34 Ks) Best Armstrong chance for a win was against Webster McDonald in the opener, but after five early runs off him their bats became linguini until Jud Wilson worked a bases-filled walk in the 11th off William Bell for the KC win. Three straight days Louie’s men had a chance to close in on losing Newark but soiled themselves, and they’ll attempt to reclaim cleanliness vs. those less-than-mighty stowaways from Chicago. Rumor has it the Dorsicans made a detour stop in Louisville this past week, so this babbler will be quick to bring you any further verified rumoring.

Until next week from out west, baseball bees and flowers!

LEAGUE LEADERS

OPS
1.125 Ted Williams, CHC
1.075 Cristabel Torriente, KC
1.064 Oscar Charleston, BRM
1.063 Jimmie Foxx, CHC
1.042, Spoony Palm, KC
1.022 Cool Papa Bell, DET
1.017 Home Run Johnson, DET

BATTING AVG.
.404 H.R. Johnson, DET
.373 C. Torriente, KC
.362 C. P. Bell, DET
.362 Dandridge, NWK
.359 O. Charleston, BRM
.349 T. Williams, CHC

HOME RUNS
12 Beckwith, DET
10 Williams, CHC
10 Palm, KC

RBIs
45 Beckwith, DET
30 Williams, CHC
28 J. Wilson, KC
27 Charleston, BRM

GAME-WINNING RBIs
5 Charleston, BRM
5 Gibson, NWK
4 Stearnes, PIT
4 Beckwith, DET

RUNS
37 Bell, DET
28 Wright, NWK
27 Gibson, NWK
24 Pennington, PIT

WALKS
27 Gibson. NWK
23 Williams, CHC
19 Foxx, CHC

E.R.A.
2.79 Redding, DET
2.94 Paige, KC
2.96 Foster, BRM
2.99 Davis, DET

WHIP
1.17 Davis, DET
1.19 Paige, KC
1.25 Manning, PIT
1.28 Winters, NWK

WINS
7-0 Winters, NWK
6-3 Foster, BRM
5-2 Dihigo, DET

STRIKEOUTS
66 Paige, KC
61 Jones, DET
59 WIlliams, NWK

And per usual, Team Hitting, Team Pitching, and Assorted Miscellany

 BRL STANDINGS (July 8th) W L PCT GB
Newark Ellingtons 21 12 .636
Birmingham Armstrongs 19 14 .576 2
Detroit Calloways 16 17 .485 5
Pittsburgh Jordans 15 18 .455 6
Kansas City Basies 15 18 .455 6
Chicago Dorseys 13 20 .394 8
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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 8-11-3, CALLOWAYS 3-7-0
at ELLINGTONS 8-15-1, CALLOWAYS 2-7-1
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

 BRL STANDINGS (June 11) W L PCT GB
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