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The Truth, Mainly - 03/14/1994

What would Pee Wee Reese do? It's a good bet he'd do the right thing

When Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, says he doesn't want to be a senator anymore but he wouldn't mind being baseball commissioner, I understand. We're of the same generation.

As commissioner, he could decree that players wear baggy pants again, that the Dodgers move back to Brooklyn, that no one get a higher salary than Willie Mays got, that box seats cost $3.50, and that beer not be sold to bozos—only to genteel folk like you and me.

That is, he could re-establish major league baseball as the Great Moral Influence it used to be.

You want evidence it used to be a Great Moral Influence? Listen.

It is a Saturday in early September, 1949. I am 15 years old and, for the first time in my life, I have learned something useful. I am on my way to the barber shop to make use of it.

We get our baseball over the radio in 1949, most of it from Gordon McLendon of the Liberty Broadcasting System somewhere in Texas. What I have just learned—from the Time magazine that came this morning—is that by using recordings of crowd noises and a gadget that sounds like a bat hitting a ball, McLendon "recreates" games from a teletype machine that reports only the bare bones of what's happening inning by inning. What else I learn is that the recreated game runs 45 minutes behind the real one.

I finish the Time story and go to the shortwave band on our huge Zenith floor model radio. Sure enough, I hear through the static and electronic squeals Red Barber's voice on an overseas broadcast and he's in the second inning of the Dodger-Cardinal game that McLendon won't begin to recreate for another 15 minutes. I listen until Gil Hodges hits a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the Dodgers.

And here's what Satan hisses in my ear: if I get to the barber shop while McLendon is still recreating the game that I already know the outcome of, I'll have an advantage. I can hardly believe how clever I'm about to be.

It's the top of McLendon's ninth when I get there, and Ben Black, the barber, is still chortling because Stan Musial just doubled in two runs off Big Newk to put the Cards ahead 4-2 going into the bottom of the ninth.

"That's one thing about the Bums you can count on," he says. "They always choke in the tight ones. That's why they're the Bums."

I like the Dodgers. I don't think they're Bums at all. I say, "I bet you a nickle the Dodgers win this one."

"Just a nickle?" Ben says. "A real Dodger fan would bet more than a nickle. How about a dime?"

"OK," I say, my voice cracking. "How about a quarter?"

People waiting for shaves and haircuts look up, interested, while Ben and I put our quarters on the shelf next to the Bay Rum. Harry Breechen strikes out Billy Cox just like I knew he would.

The Truth, Mainly


"He'll probably walk the Duke," I say, and Ben looks funny when Snider walks on a 3-1 pitch. But he's grinning again when Robinson fouls out. Now it's Campanella up with two outs.

"Breechen's getting tired," I say. "He'll probably walk Campy too."

And, of course, that's what happens. Ben frowns. Hodges is up.

"Look at the arms on this guy," McLendon says from his Texas studio. "He could go bear hunting with a stick."

"Yeah, but he can't touch Breechen's curve," Ben says. "It's over."

"It's over all right," I say, louder than I intend to. I'm about to wet my pants. "Big Gil's gonna plant one in the seats. Big Gil's gonna hit a home run and the Dodgers are gonna win."

"In a pig's eye," Ben says.

Hodges takes two called strikes and I have a moment of doubt. Is that the way it was on the short wave? Was Time telling the truth?

"In a pig's eye Hodges is even gonna touch the ball," Ben says.

He says it just before McLendon makes a hellacious bat crack and turns up the crowd noise as loud as it will go and starts screaming: "It's a long drive to left! It's going! It's going! It's gone! The Bums win!"

Ben's customers are slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. I grin. Ben hands me the quarters, but he's not grinning. He's looking hard at me—like maybe I've just made a pact with the devil.

And that's when it hits me just how wicked I'm being. Here I am, making money on a crooked bet involving the National Pastime. It's like betting with a Baptist on which rosary bead will turn up next. Sacrilege.

So I ask myself the question I always ask when I'm in a moral dilemma: What would PeeWee Reese do?

I know the answer already so I give back Ben's quarter and tell everybody about McLendon's studio in Texas and the crowd noise machine and how the real game ended 45 minutes ago.

That's what baseball was like when Sen. Mitchell and I were in our formative years. If it'd been a football game, I'd have made a killing.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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