JOINING THE KNOTHOLE QUEST FOR HOMER BALL THIRTY
By C. Jedediah Butterworth
Base Ball Freescriber
August 3, 1924
With Ruth and the Yankees back in Detroit, and with my feelings for Tigers management still at a low ebb, why not take in today's game through the squinty eyes of our local "knothole gang"?
The St. Louis Cardinals began the first organized free admission for children in their bleacher section back in 1917, though it's been said that Abner Powell, owner of the New Orleans Pelicans in the 1880s, allowed city youth in for free once a week if they showed good behavior.
The Tiger knotholers are neither organized nor well-behaved. With the Bambino afoot, they are more like swarms of army ants, rabidly climbing over each other to gape through and under Navin Field's right field fence. A patrolman vainly attempts to keep the peace but gives up five minutes before game time to no doubt stroll a more peaceful neighborhood.
The gaggle of boys eye me with trepidation, imagining I must be one of their fathers, until I produce my writing pad and introduce myself. My guides for the afternoon will be Mickey from Warren Corner, scruffy of dress and hoarse of voice; "Brainy Eyes" Bradley from Highland Park, a slight boy in a white dress shirt with glasses thicker than hockey pucks that fog up in the heat every ten minutes, and the energized, hyena-laughing Beesum brothers, who hitchhiked all the way to Detroit from Pontiac to see the Babe. Mickey seems to be the knothole veteran, the aficionado, so being new at this sport I tend to follow his lead.
"We're supposed to take turns looking through the holes, but with the Babe here, crap on that." he says. I ask him what he'll do if he somehow ends up with Ruth's 30th homer ball, and he says probably sell it to some other kid, or trade it to a man for cigarettes. "He's hit over fifty before, but he might not do that again, so this one has to be worth something. Hey! I was here first—" He shoves a blonde kid about three feet with one meaty hand, turns his cap around and peers through the prize hole. "Rip just took the mound!" he yells, and his junior disciples cheer.
The Yanks are back to playing the dull, ineffective ball they've been showing most of the season, but thankfully have their ace Pennock going against ours, Rip Collins. The Ripper is tied with Walter Johnson for the circuit lead with 16 wins, yet even the little rascals around me know that New York fares better against right-handers.
"Bambino's up!" Mickey shouts, and I'm suddenly drowning in boys. All available viewing portals are gone in seconds, a few new ones are created with pocket knives and fingers, and a handful of wee ones climb on each other's shoulders or risk leg abrasions by scaling telephone poles. Collins walks Ruth on four pitches, though, the throng deflates, and sanity returns to the sidewalk. "Rip's just afraid of the big dope," says one of the Beesums, which brings on a "Rip's not afraid of anybody! YOU'RE the dope!" from a nearby wag, and little fists are flying in seconds.
When the Babe jogs out to play right field, the kids go even more crazy, shouting encouragement at him until he apparently turns, says Mickey, and doffs his cap. The game must be a sterling hurler's duel in the early innings, for little crowd noise emits from the grandstand. So do frankfurter smells, though, and when a sausage roll street vendor rolls his wagon by between innings he is nearly attacked. Most of the boys have coins to spare for the much-needed nourishment, though I'm honored to help a few poorer-ones out of my own pocket.
Another mad rush to the knotholes occurs for Ruth's second at bat, and this time he reaches on a Collins boot but in true Yankee fashion gets stranded on base. On his third time up, though, a rally has been brewing. Ernie Johnson walks to fill the bases in the 5th with one out and bring on Dugan. "Jumpin' Joe at the plate!" yells Mickey, the signal for an imminent Ruth appearance. Dugan grounds into a force at home, bringing up the Bambino with a possible grand slam in the making. Shoving and kicking and squeals erupt, and Brainy Eyes Bradley somehow worms his way to a viewing hole.
"Strike one! A soft curve, I believe." he chirps, then "Ball one, high and outside and nearly off Woodall's mitt!" Two more balls follow, then a strike. Brain Eyes has to pull off his glasses and wipe them off on his sweaty shirt again. "He hits it! A sharp grounder! And it's past O'Rourke for a single!" Groans fill the sidewalk air, and they have nothing to do with the 1-0 Yankee lead.
A Rigney double and Cobb's second single of the day tie the score 1-1 in the 6th, but when Ty is erased by Schang trying to nab second, curses never before heard by this writer out of budding mouths make me wince. Apparently Mr. Cobb also has his detractors among the younger set.
Ruth's fourth trip to the plate is a short fly to center, which has our gang briefly buzzing, but with the game moving to the last of the 8th, a new recipe for suspense is cooked. Pennock and Collins are locked in a classic low-score engagement, one not often seen between these thrashers, and its the kind of affair not often appreciated by young fans. So after bribing Mickey with a hot, salty pretzel, I am allowed access to his prize spot for the Tigers' eighth scoring attempt.
I need to crouch to Mickey's level, and before long remove my jacket to set my knees on. The view takes in home plate and all of the infield, and I witness a Rigney walk and Cobb's third single to start things. Haney whiffs, but Heilman walks to fill the bases, and Manush moves to the plate. "Heinie with the bases loaded!" I announce, and my nose is pushed against the fence. The Tigers have hit very few home runs this year, so even the threat of one, particularly by a lefty, drives the knotholers into fevered anticipation.
I lodge my eye back into the hole just in time to see Manush swing viciously. The crack of bat is delayed a moment by my distance away, and I can make out the ball vanishing into the sky. Ruth turns, speeds to his right, disappears, and seconds later the grandstand explodes in cheers. "One run scores! Two! All three!" as Heinie slides into third with a triple! Little hands yank me away from the hole, and some child I can't see announces Woodall's single to make it 5-1 Detroit. Beall finally replaces the battered Pennock...
...and then the unthinkable happens. "Pratt hits one deep to left!!" yells a Beemus, "Oh geez, it's outta here!!!" The swarm leaps away from the fence as if hit with an electric charge, scampers en masse down Trumbull and around to National Drive. I give chase, weaving around tiny legs to keep up, and am nearly out of breath when I spot a pigpile of boys wrestling for something against a stoop. Out pops Mickey from Warren Corner, hair askew, scratches on his face and Del Pratt's home run ball in his hand. "I got five of these this year now," he boasts, though Ruth's 30th is still in the offing.
The six-run Tiger outburst puts the game's fate to rest, but with Dugan aboard with two outs in the 9th, the Babe tries his last licks against Collins, and the knotholers have swarmed back to the right field corner. Brainy Eyes has the announcing honors. "The Babe hits it deep! Heilman's running back...back...and catches it right in front of me with a nonchalant gesture!"
The game is done, and the boys evaporate from the sidewalk. By the time I've flipped shut my notebook, Mickey and Brainy Eyes and the Beesums have vanished into the bigger and older crowds exiting Navin Field.
And I find myself a year or two younger.
NYY 000 010 000 - 1 7 1
DET 000 001 06x - 7 10 1
THE DAY'S OTHER AMERICAN LEAGUE CONTESTS:
at BROWNS 4-10-0, SENATORS 3-11-2 (10 innings)
A magical day, indeed. Trying again for their 70th victory, the Nats do themselves in with untimely fielding misplays by Peckinpaugh and Richbourg in the 10th to hand the Browns win no. 50 instead. This all coming after Goslin knots the score with a dramatic homer off Shocker in the 8th.
ATHLETICS 7-13-0, at WHITE SOX 0-6-2
Chicago has been spiraling downward of late, but have rarely looked this pitiful. Fred Heimach mows them down from start to finish while the Mackmen are occupied pummeling Red Faber.
RED SOX 8-15-1, at INDIANS 5-8-2
A day after their dramatic win in my presence, the Tribe sees their second best starter George Uhle butchered for seven 1st inning runs. Brower's grand slam brings them back to 8-5 by the 4th, but Cleveland cannot score again off Ferguson.
|AMERICAN LEAGUE through Sunday, August 3|
|Chicago White Sox||54||50||.519||14|
|New York Yankees||52||52||.500||16|
|St. Louis Browns||50||56||.472||19|
|Boston Red Sox||45||59||.433||23|