Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

July 28, 2003

Nine innings: the nine reasons we like baseball

Here are nine reasons I think we like baseball:

1. Like politics, all baseball is local. It's a sorry town that can't field nine people. We always get to watch somebody we actually know and probably even somebody we like as he or she stands up all alone against 8 enemies with nothing but a 38 ounce bat.

We don't have to pay $20 to see a game and $5 for a hot dog. We can just walk to the ball park nearest where we live and most of the time get in and out scot free.

Hometown pride is part of baseball and always has been, even before mighty Casey took the joy out of Mudville.

I received a good example of home town pride this week when I heard from Mike Mitchell, currently president of the Howard Lake Orphans.

"You wrote that the Orphans got their name because they had no sponsors. I can tell you that is not the real story. In 1947, Memorial Park in Howard Lake was being upgraded with a new sodded outfield and light towers.

"This meant that the team had no field to play on in Howard Lake and during the spring of that year, when the team had a pre-season meeting, a discussion was held to come up with a name for the team.

"Before WWII, the Howard Lake team was called the Blue Socks. Because the team had made arrangements to play all their home games at Cokato, it was decided to name the Howard Lake team the Orphans because they had no home field.

"This information comes from my father, Don Mitchell, who was the manager of the Orphans during that time and clearly remembers the meeting.

"You also mentioned that you didn't think there was ever a player from Waverly who played for the Orphans. Well Gib Main, Al Gutzke and Bob Decker were the starting outfielders for the Orphans in the early '50s and Al Le Page was the backup catcher. Zip Zeller played in at least one game as well."

Mike offered this correction to me in the most courteous and friendly manner possible, so much so that I am glad to set the record straight.

I do think, however, that both Al Gutzke and Al Le Page could claim dual citizenship and were not simple Waverlyites. Al Gutzke grew up in Howard Lake. He married a Waverly girl, Geraldine Graham, and then moved to Waverly.

Allan Le Page grew up in Waverly but moved to Howard Lake to teach high school and eventually had a long career as assistant principal of Howard Lake High School.

2. Baseball keeps us in suspense. It's a live drama. Major League baseball runs sxi months and we never know what will happen.

That's true of each and every baseball game, major league game or not. In the All Star game this year, watched by over 30 million viewers, an obscure Texas Ranger named Hank Blalock homered in the eighth to win it for the American League.

Before that, even our own "Steady Eddie" Guardado had let us down by giving up some runs. Astros pitcher Wagner let down the National League in that game, even though he always throws over 100 miles an hour.

Our hopes soar, and then we are disappointed, and it's all during the same nine inning game.
3. It gives us something to root for. It is the most emotional game imaginable.

"If they don't win, it's a shame!" As George Carlin puts it, "In football, they throw bombs and knock people down. In baseball, you go hooome!"

Where the Minnesota Twins are concerned, they aren't just a city team; they are a team for the whole state. We who love Minnesota as our home also love the Twins. Those poor, poor Twins, as it now turns out this season.

4. Baseball is a social leveler. The seventh inning stretch is a truly democratic momen,t and now there is also "the wave."

We all come together at a baseball game. We have a common subject to discuss, something besides the weather, thank God.

I remember how much fun it was in Waverly on a Monday morning during the summer to listen in at every business on Main Street from Bill Henk's Drug Store to Tony Smith's Hardware and all the places in between. Everybody replayed the game.

Mr. Boland, the banker, had been a fair baseball player himself in his younger days, and so, too, had the town drunk, now down on his luck. They shared a common interest in the Waverly town team.

I remember, too, an incident involving Archbishop John Gregory Murray. Connie Mack had just died in 1956 and one of the priests at dinner had been wondering if the legendary baseball manager and Hall of Famer whom had been a manager for over 50 years, ever had a playing career.

The archbishop overheard the conversation and announced to the whole table, "Mr. Cornelius McGillicuddy was a catcher for the Pittsburg Pirates in the 1890s." I had never known before that underneath all those robes beat the heart of a baseball fanatic. He was just like the rest of us.

5. Baseball provides heroes. Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra will always be household names.

My mother was highly offended when Babe Ruth died in 1948 and one of the radio announcers recalled that the Babe sometimes caroused.

My mother huffed, "They should leave him alone. He was a good Catholic." Babe Ruth brought more joy to thousands of people than all the statesmen of his time put together.

Why was the kid, who was following Shoeless Joe in that famous cartoon after the Black Sox scandal, whining, "Say it ain't so, Joe!" It's because Joe was a hero.

6. Baseball is easy to understand: "And it's one, two, three strikes your out at the old ball game!"

7. On the other hand, baseball is intellectually challenging. We have to learn how to compute an earned run average, for example, and a hitter's count of 2 and 2 is not "even." It is a great advantage for the pitcher.

Those who find baseball boring say that the idea that it's a "thinking man's game" is because there is plenty of time to think, but the next time you go to a game, watch how the shortstop shifts after he looks in and steals the catcher's sign.

8. We're all managers. Take this excerpt from a wonderful book called "Midlife Irish." Frank Gannon, the author, is quoting his mother, a Phillies fan, "Gene Mauch doesn't use his bullpen enough. They have to get a right- handed pinch-hitter, a power-hitter if he's available,"

Or, "When Tony Gonzalez got hurt, they let everybody pitch around Callison. They should move him up in the order. He can bat second. He's a good contact hitter."

Managing was usually the gist of those Monday morning conversations around Waverly. A good manager wins games all the time. I wonder if there ever was a better manager than George Berkner.

9. Baseball doesn't matter. That's why it is such a great escape. We can all relax. We can get over it if we lose. We can fail, and so can the players, and life goes on.

Even in Mudville. We can yell "Kill the umpire" and nobody will arrest us. A baseball player, no matter how smart he is or how decent a person, at the end of the day, has limited skills: throwing, hitting, and catching.

We can all do that. Remember Reggie Jackson? "Mr. October?" He had an I.Q. of 160.

One time he hit four home runs in the World Series with four successive swings of his bat. "Time" magazine said he once baffled a sports writer with this spitball of a question: "If my team loses a big one, and I strike out with the winning runs on base, are you aware that 1 billion Chinese don't care?"

For previous issues of the Waverly Star, go to www.herald-journal.com/waverlystar.

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