These classic baseball stories can fill present void

Today I come to you as Knothole Pete, former star first-sacker for the Eastern League’s Manchester Marsupials. I now specialize in spinning yarns and swappin’ tales about baseball played in yesteryear to ease us through as The Game tries to survive this shock to all the systems.

This first comes from the late big league catcher, broadcaster and raconteur, Joe Garagiola, who years ago shared it with me:

This was in the late 1940s, when Garagiola was catching for the Cardinals in a game at the Boston Braves. The seventh man in Boston’s light batting order — thus not much of a hitter — was up with runners on first and third when the Braves signaled for a double steal.

So when the man broke from first, the catcher threw toward second, but the pitcher, wise to it, cut it off. With the runner from third headed home, the pitcher then zinged the ball back toward the catcher. That runner would be one dead pigeon quail.

But the man at bat swung — and hit a line drive “single” to right, leaving players on both teams with curious, blank looks. Until the umpire ruled the batter out for interference, no one knew exactly what to do. They’d never seen anyone swing at, let alone hit, a pickoff throw.

Another from Garagiola, this one, he said, from a spring-training game circa 1960:

A runner tried to score from second base on a single. The runner toppled over the catcher and was presumed out, except no tag had been applied and the runner hadn’t touched the plate. And no call had been made.

With all unsure whether the runner was out or safe, the runner rose, dusted himself off then trotted into to his dugout as if he were selling himself as safe.

At that point, the first baseman ran to the opposing team’s dugout and called for the pitcher to throw him the ball. Once he had the ball, he planned to tag the runner out.

Harry Kalas in 2002
Harry Kalas in 2002AP

But the runner saw what was going on and charged out of the dugout.

The result: The runner was caught in a run-down between home plate and his dugout.

Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn called Phillies broadcasts together for 27 years, 1970s through 1997. They’d often read out birthday greetings to listeners. And when games dragged on, they’d prompt a delivery from nearby Celebre Brothers Pizza.

Station management finally insisted that they cut it out, as the broadcasts had sold a pizza sponsorship to a national chain.

But one night, late in a long game, both their hunger and the devil got to them. Kalas and Ashburn, loudly and clearly, wished a “Happy birthday to the Celebre Twins — Plain and Pepperoni!” The pizzas arrived 20 minutes later.

Then there was this one, told to me by fellow Staten Islander Bobby Thomson, who was long talked out over his 1951 Shot Heard ’Round the World that won the NL pennant for the N.Y. Giants. Understood. So I threw him a changeup. I asked him to tell the strangest story he heard attached to the moment.

Thomson grinned and settled in.

He said he received a letter from a G.I. — a huge Giants fan from Massachusetts, of all places — who was serving in Korea. His artillery unit was deployed to encircle and eventually take a hill the moment it was occupied by the enemy, and not until then. A loud signal was to be issued to commence firing.

This G.I. waited it out by a radio truck when word came that Thomson’s home run had won the pennant. The G.I. was so overcome by immediate joy he began to dance and hoot and holler.

Of course, the rest of the unit thought that was the signal to open fire. And they gave that empty hill hell, all it had — the “Shots Heard Halfway ’Round the World.”

TV bills are the same even without games

Thus far, we know of no cable or satellite system, no regional or national cable sports network, no team, no league, no ticket agencies that have offered consumers a refund or credit for canceled games.

Getty Images for DirecTV

In fact, the bills keep on arriving as if nothing has changed.

MLB and DirectTV, knowing they have no games to provide, have nonetheless sent notices to last season’s subscribers informing them they they’ve been unilaterally renewed and billed — in the neighborhood of $125 for this season, same as last season — for this season’s unknown but abridged out-of-market package.

Though we can understand that there is bound to be a shake-out period following this unforeseen virus calamity, the sellers still must make it plain to buyers that their concerns and payments for undelivered goods will be addressed — unless the sellers have no plan to provide equitable relief.

And what about all those dubious ticket-purchase tack-on “convenience” fees? Fat chance.

At a time when sports runs the risk of losing patrons to cataclysmic circumstances — a virus that conditions fans how to live without — the take-you-for-granted sports and their TV partners seem eager to fuel the exodus.

And don’t kid yourself about the NFL’s new, increased regular-season schedule to 17 games in the future. This has nothing to do with the good and welfare of football or its fans and patrons, but is just another chance to enhance TV revenues by “flexing” games to late starts.

Pitino’s Gaels going int’l

And away we go! Rick Pitino just hit town, and already Iona has recruited basketball players from a far-flung junior colleges and from France, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Sweden and Nigeria.


Another better idea: Reader Tim Kearney, for the coronavirus’ duration, suggests televising some ABA games. For example from Denver, the 1976 Nuggets versus an ABA All-Star team. Monte Towe, David Thompson, Dan Issel, Julius Erving, Marvin Barnes, Ralph Simpson.


True or False? DraftKings last week took betting action on a Food Network show, CBS’ “Survivor” and “The Price Is Right”? False. “The Price Is Right” wasn’t included. The other two? Yes. Seriously.


Reader Alan Zoldan: “Why the hell am I still receiving cruise ship offers?” I don’t know, but how do you get along with your sister-in-law?

Filed under 3/29/20