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Weird but True Baseball Tales

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Some interesting tales of America's favorite pastime, from the Files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

Opening day of baseball started April 1st this year. I lost interest in the game for a long, long time back in 1969 while I was in Vietnam; that was the year of the “Miracle Mets,” who stormed back from being the perennial last place laughingstock of baseball to World Series Champions and legends. But I was raised an Indiana farm boy and the Cubs were my team, led by future Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and NL Strikeout King Ferguson Jenkins. It was after their historic, 10-game lead in September when the Cubs inexplicably lost 17 of their final 25 games of the season, and the Mets wound up in the World Series. There would have been no “Miracle Mets” had it not been for the Cubs’ Miracle Meltdown.

As I said, I lost interest in baseball for a long, long time. In 1976, however, I began hearing of a young Detroit pitcher who was fun to watch. Rookie Mark Fidrych (nicknamed “The Bird” because of his gangly resemblance to a Sesame Street Muppet) took the league by storm, winning 19 games that year despite not even starting until mid-May. He also led the league in ERA (2.34) and won Rookie of the Year. He drove an old, beat-up green car and lived in a small studio apartment in Detroit on his then league-minimum $16,000 salary, but it was his on-the-mound antics that drew national attention. He’d talk to the balls between pitches and throw some back to the umpires because “balls like those had hits in ‘em.” He meticulously cleaned and landscaped the mound between innings, talking to himself. Regrettably, he tore his rotator cuff during spring training next year and was never the same again, and his career effectively ended. He died in an accident in 2009, still beloved by many.

He reminded me of the young Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, who went 19-9 in 1971, but on June 12, 1970, he pitched a no-hitter while on LSD against the Padres. Thinking he had the day off, Dock took a massive dose around noon and had to be driven to the ballpark by his wife, who’d been called to let him know he had to pitch that day after all. Ellis later related that “the field looked like glowing birthday cake frosting and I had a feeling of euphoria... the catcher’s mitt zoomed in and out of focus... I had the crazy sense that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire and at one point was sure the batter was Jimi Hendrix.” Lest one think it’s impossible to do such a thing wasted, former Army Sp/4 Peter Lemon was in Vietnam in 1970 when he and his pals were getting stoned (“we were all f-ed up”) when the enemy attacked. He fought off waves of the enemy, dragged three men to safety, and continued fighting, wounded and refusing medical help, later receiving the Medal of Honor. (I bring up this non-baseball related factoid as a small protest against the Idaho Legislature’s recent misguided decision to never ever consider lessening penalties for marijuana, even medicinal!

 One of the strangest baseball games ever played began at 4 pm on Saturday, April 18, 1981 between two triple-A teams, the home Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings. Two future Hall-of-Famers, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr., were on the field that cold spring day. The game was still tied 2-2 after 32 grueling innings when word finally came down from the league front office to suspend the game at 5 am as the sun was rising. It remains the longest game ever played though, and a scant two score of die-hard fans and sportswriters managed to persevere to the finish. It seems that, possibly though a clerical error, an obscure rulebook change had been printed that year rescinding the phrase “no inning shall start after 1 am” and an astute umpire ruled the game must continue until, near sunup, the league front office finally called to stop the game.

For the record, the game was resumed two months later and the Red Sox won it in the bottom of the 33rd. There’s a good book at the Sandpoint library (“Bottom of the 33rd” by Dan Barry) about the whole extravaganza and it’s worth it not least because of small nuggets like the following: “Jesus lives in my heart,” the Christian shortstop said. “He travels with me everywhere.” “Well,” said the manager, spitting, “Jesus don’t go to Baltimore, you’ve just been traded there.”

‘til next time, keep spreading the word; Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena!

North Idaho Goobers and Penis-Lovers responded with a whole mess of e-mails, letters and phone calls regarding my February article on Gun Control; A Modest Proposal so here’s where I cast my pearls before ye: “I can only say no, you can not have equal time; Why don’t I just take my hard earned cash and fling it at you like a monkey flings its feces! Baby needs new shoes and Jim, I needs me some scag!”

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Author info

Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

baseball, Surrealist Research Bureau, LSD, Miracle Mets, Mark Fidrych, Dock Ellis, Pawtucket Red Sox, Rochester Red Wings, baseball longest game

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