It will amuse certain of his friends in San Francisco, and probably elsewhere, to discover that Ron Fimrite, whose report on Wilbur Wood and the knuckleball appears in this issue, was once a Boy Scout. Not that Fimrite today is anything other than Cheerful, Courteous, Friendly, Kind, Trustworthy and most of the rest but Thrifty. It is just that in San Francisco he was a Bay Area columnist renowned for urbane conviviality and an outrageous wit, and it may be difficult for readers there to visualize him camping out or helping little old ladies across Market Street. He did, though, and when he left the Scouts it was for the equally square pursuit of baseball: the struggle for merit badges began to cut into time he preferred to spend with his junior high school chums in Berkeley cheering the now-defunct Oakland Oaks ("And besides that," he admits, "I couldn't tie—or untie—any of my knots").
One Oak who became the focal point of Fimrite's zealous interest at that time was Ralph (Pinetar) Buxton, a pitcher with a reputation for doctoring the ball with the substance that gave him his nickname. "I've always been fascinated by pitchers who throw freak pitches," Fimrite observes. "Buxton was the first I ever saw, and there was also Rip Sewell and his Blooper Ball. I don't have any real affinity for spitball throwers, though. For one thing the pitch is illegal."
Fimrite's own baseball career may explain his fondness for mound caprice—his athletic ability was limited enough to have left him with a special respect for artfulness and cunning. There was, however, a giddy moment in his early teens when he almost came under real scrutiny by the Yankees. "I had a batting average of about .150," he recalls, "but my father managed the team I was on for a while and he was sure I had a great future. One afternoon he brought a Yankee scout to a game and I got three hits, including a triple. I think I must have just bunched all my hits for the season into that one game. Afterward, the guy from the Yankees invited me to one of their youth camps. I looked at him as if he were crazy. Me? I'd have humiliated myself." After all, he was playing for a team called Charlie Tye's Boys (named for a bar owner, a species with whom Fimrite has subsequently enjoyed "a long and happy association"), against such formidable opposition as Mother's Cookies.
"I was an infielder," Fimrite says, "and my throws from all points between second and third arrived at first base looking like knucklers, if they arrived at all. I suppose that's why my sympathy is with pitchers who have to use guile because they are not overpowering. Like me as a kid, they don't have much athletic ability, so they depend on cleverness and daring to replace natural talent and strength. Another reason I like the trick pitchers is that they're usually smarter. They have to be."
June 3, 1973
There, you Bay Area swingers. Does that explain Fimrite's wholesome youth to your satisfaction? It should at least explain why he can bring a crafty eye to the subject of the knuckleball.