Baseball and Old Age
This is an article from the Sept. 21, 1959 issue
Hal Jeffcoat, the Cardinals' relief pitcher, last week stood before his locker in the dressing room of Seals Stadium in San Francisco and thought out loud about youth, age and what makes baseball interesting. "It's success against the laws of probability that really gives you your thrills," he said, a generalization that a professor of philosophy might envy. As a matter of fact, Jeffcoat was not in a philosophical mood. It was his birthday. He was 35 years old. "There's a youth movement going on here," he said, "and I'm not a youth. Only my wife thinks I'm a youth."
Shaking his hoary locks, he went on: "It's funny, but when you first sign that contract as a kid they tell you your whole future's ahead of you. But they forget to tell you that your future stops at 35." Jeffcoat's own future in baseball started early. An amiable South Carolina boy, he was a Nashville outfielder at 22, batting .346. The Chicago Cubs grabbed him, and he had six years as an outfielder before he became a pitcher. His best year came when he was 32, his first with Cincinnati, when he won eight and lost two. This year, his first with St. Louis, he has won none and lost two. His last appearance was in relief a month ago; he came on in the ninth of a nightmare that was already lost to Pittsburgh 13 to 2 and gave up four singles, a double, a home run and five more runs in all.
"It can come awful sudden," he mused, "like death. It's inevitable, but it always comes as a surprise. I wonder what it's going to be like, to live like normal people, maybe manage a Little League team. It's been about 20 years since I went to a Sunday school picnic."
A vein of poetry in Jeffcoat's comments on baseball would have startled Ring Lardner's monosyllabic baseball caricatures. "It's a good way to live, baseball is," he said. "You sure learn a lot. You learn people.... I think the only real happiness a ballplayer has is when he is playing a ball game and accomplishes something he didn't think he could do." He remembered a game with the Cubs when he was batting behind Eddie Miksis. Because Miksis was batting .223 and Jeffcoat was batting .220, and the game was in the 15th inning, Miksis was walked so Jeffcoat could be pitched to. Jeffcoat doubled. "After that game," he said, "I had a great feeling of happiness."
The guess is hazarded here that Jeffcoat is a more interesting speaker on the subject of baseball at a grizzled 35 than he was in his Nashville youth, and he is entitled to take some comfort in this at least. The Old Guard got another fillip last week. That permanent success against the laws of probability, old Enos Slaughter, 43, once memorably of the Cardinals, was snapped up from the Yankees by the pennant-conscious Milwaukee Braves for $20,000. Manager Fred Haney said he would play old Country in the outfield regularly against right-handed pitchers.
Interviewed on his arrival in Milwaukee, Slaughter said that some Yankee players "think Casey Stengel is in his second childhood." They'd be better off, he added, "if they would listen more carefully" to Ol' Case.
By Labor Day, according to the best estimates of a cereal manufacturer who has made it his business to find out, 10,000 American golfers so far this year had hit a tee shot right into the cup. If the figure is higher than you might have guessed, we refer you to the Wheaties Sports Federation, which set up a reports system last year with the help of club secretaries and club pros.
In the first 12 months the Wheaties Federation got attested reports of 3,000 holes-in-one. (In exchange, out went 3,000 copies of a citation and 3,000 cases of Wheaties.) Since the clubs the federation hears from represent only about a quarter of the nation's 5,000,000 golfers, the federation calculates that about 12,000 aces are shot in a year, most of them by Labor Day. A golfer's chances of a hole-in-one are thus about 1 in 417 a year.
We can add something of our own to this, thanks to a 39-handicap duffer who writes that he himself recently scored a hole-in-one. Nothing much happened for a month or so. During this period he seemed all but unrecognized. The local paper reported his ace, indeed, but added gratuitously that despite it his score for the round was 125. Our golfer was forced to give his experience added circulation himself, even to the extent of such conversational transitions as, "Speaking of Nixon's visit to Russia, I shot a hole-in-one the other day."
But then recognition began. His case of Wheaties and accompanying citation arrived, closely followed by a letter of congratulations from the manufacturers of Life Savers; they noted that they have been making holes-in-one for a long time. Canada Dry sent 12 large bottles of ginger ale. A local brewery delivered a case of beer. Golf ball manufacturers sent word of their willingness to mount the historic ball as a table trophy if it happened to be one of theirs. (The historic ball, in this case, had been hit out of bounds and lost on the next hole.)
Our duffer's doorbell stopped ringing at this point, but the National Golf Foundation could have told him there are other prizes for his achievement, including suitably engraved pins, ball markers, wallet cards, wall cartoons, certificates, plaques and even a map of the Monterey Peninsula if his ace had been made in California, which it wasn't.
There is a debit side to all this, and our man advises taking out clubhouse insurance against it if your bartender will let you. Once word of your ace gets around the course, fellow members head for the bar with the persistent notion—and it's nationwide—that you owe them champagne Cost comes to more than the value of the Wheaties.
Japanese men like to be attended by women, which accounts for the fact that there are 37,400 girl caddies in Japan. There are also 1,200,000 golfers in Japan, compared to 4,000 before the war, including geishas who play-because their patrons expect them to sympathize intelligently. The consequences of this golf boom have been felt most directly by the girl caddies. For although the million or so novices are extraordinarily keen about golf they are not very good at it yet; they constitute a vast army of duffers swiping wildly at the ball. As a result, 500 girl caddies were conked last year, and 29 were knocked cold at Tokyo courses alone.
Realizing it will take some time before the duffers straighten out their duck hooks, Japan's safety-conscious Ministry of Labor has recommended protective helmets, dugouts and ducking practice for caddies. Said Moritsugu Baba, Chief of the Odawara Bureau of the Ministry, after a perilous tour of the links: "One usually thinks of golf as a refined game for gentlemen, but it's more like wandering around front lines."
Said one girl, as she tried on the first of the bright yellow plastic helmets last week: "Feeling of security far outweighs helmet's weight."
Sloop Without Her Pants
Few autocrats are as absolute in their authority as the benevolent despot known to blue-water yachtsmen as The Rule. An intricate compilation of mathematical formulas imposed—with the consent of the governed—on long-distance racing yachts by the Cruising Club of America, The Rule undertakes to make each ocean racer the equal of every other by placing temporal handicaps on the naturally swift and giving a mathematic leg-up to the nautically halt. So much for The Rule's intent.
The Rule's principal trouble is that it works too well. Even though they cherish and defend the protection it gives them when the going is heavy, few yachtsmen really desire the equality promised by The Rule when winds are fair. It's all very well to be legislated into a measure of equality with the big bully up ahead, but who wants to be equal with that cocky little squirt just behind? As every racing sailor knows, there is such a thing as too much equality. Hence every racing sailorman worth his salt, and every yacht designer worth his slide rule, is constantly and endlessly, asea and ashore, working and scheming to beat The Rule. To keep abreast of them, the guardians of The Rule must be constantly ready to alter course in the endlessly veering winds of advanced yacht design.
Last week as these worthies—the Measurement Committee of the Cruising Club—made ready to launch their latest version of the constantly amended Rule, a famed racing skipper and designer put to sea off Stamford, Connecticut determined to blast a hole in it. His weapons were the redoubtable 39-foot racing sloop Storm, a spinnaker, an oversize staysail, a huge Genoa jib and a great empty space where Storm's mainsail is usually rigged. Like most despots, The Rule is a traditionalist at heart and believes as most yachtsmen do that a mainsail is the most important piece of machinery on a sailboat—particularly a sailboat, such as a sloop, with only one mast. Any other sails a sloop might choose to carry, i.e., jibs and staysails, must therefore be considered of secondary importance and must count less in terms of penalties imposed by The Rule. "A sloop without a mainsail," as one yachtsman put it somewhat indelicately last week, "is like a man without his pants."
The analogy was intended to give an impression of helplessness and this at first glance it did; but in Bill Luders' practical application it proved to have a deeper accuracy. In his indignation over outraged tradition, the speaker plainly forgot that many men, as the brief costumes of athletes attest, are very effective without much in the way of pants. With spinnaker and staysail to drive her before the wind, an outsized Genny to make up for the nonexistent mainsail on the windward legs and a comfortable, nearly-four-hour time advantage under The Rule, Luders' Storm romped through the light airs and an 85-boat fleet, an easy winner of the Stamford Yacht Club's Vineyard Trophy, confounding the fully rigged contenders and The Rule alike.
"We've proved our point," said Storm's captain when the race was done, "and we don't plan to try it again. But who knows? Maybe we've got something here."
Nothing like the Olympics or Pan American Games, but there was a coon-and-dog water race down at Martine Allen's lake near Candor, North Carolina the other afternoon. A correspondent of ours writes in to say that it was something new for the Sandhills country—maybe something new anywhere. They have formed the Cabin Creek Cooners Club on the strength of it, and another race is coming up in October.
Coon-dog water racing goes something like this: the coon is placed in a wire cage about four feet square, and the cage is mounted on a flat-bottomed boat. There's a pulley rig to haul the affair from starting line to finish, some 450 feet across the lake. The coon is shown to the dogs, then begins the boat trip with dogs in swimming pursuit. Once on the opposite bank the boat rig is jerked up an 18-foot pole, thus keeping the coon out of reach of the lunging dogs.
So what happens? Said Martine Allen: "Man alive, in all my experience with dogs, I've never heard dogs bark so, nor have I ever seen such swimming as when that coon started across the lake on that boat." They claimed the barking was heard for three miles. But some of the hounds swam silently. One fast swimmer caught up with the boat, got his front feet on it and took a free ride. The dogs had to bark-tree the coon atop the pole, but some failed; in coon-hunting language "they had stiff necks."
They raced in seven heats or casts, six dogs to a swim, and Ben Byrd's Rusty, a red-bone hound, was judged to have bark-treed first. That means the winner.
It rained at racetime, couple of inches in one hour, but Allen enjoyed it all: "It was the wettest and most enthusiastic bunch of spectators I've ever seen at any kind of sporting event. Everybody was happy, including the coon because he didn't get a scratch."
Ten seconds left, a yard away,
The first-string backs are on the shelf;
The coach unveils his secret play—
A substitution for himself.
They Said It
Wilbur Clark, chairman of Las Vegas' Tournament of Champions, explaining why the tournament is dropping its Calcutta pool (in which spectators "buy" a golfer, then share in the collected money according to how he finishes): "We do not want anything to overshadow the competition itself."
Buff Donelli, Columbia University football coach (1958 record: W1, L8), when a visitor asked his permission to watch a practice session: "We've got nothing to hide. I wish we did."
Frank Lane, Cleveland Indian general manager, on seeing a fan in full redskin regalia run onto the playing field during a game in which Cleveland base runners were few and far between: "Let the guy alone. He may be the only Indian I'll see circling the bases today."
Jean Lapuyade, San Francisco restaurant man, before the Northern California Snail Racing Society sent an even dozen of the gastropod mollusks inching their way over a wet and slimy track (winner paid $56.50, $30.80, $16): "All losing entries will become entrees."