Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
A conversation between Wesley Crusher and J. Henry Waugh. You will never hear anyone say the phrase “times at bat” with such relish. (The clip should end at 4:48, but the video keeps playing for some reason.)
UPDATE 7/17/2010 The first clip should run from 3:06 to 4:48, the second from 7:33 to 8:22. Turns out embedded clips don’t stop when they’re supposed to. You can see them properly clipped here and here. Also, Splicd doesn’t seem to work at all for iPhones and iPads. Sorry.
I have always been drawn to stories about Cool Papa Bell. And I have always been repelled by them, too. You know the stories I'm talking about, right? Cool Papa Bell was so fast that he once hit a line drive up the middle and was hit by the ball as he slid into second base. Cool Papa Bell was so fast that he once scored from first on a bunt. Cool Papa Bell was so fast that he would steal second and third on the same pitch. Cool Papa Bell was so fast that managers would play six infielders and let Cool Papa handle the outfield. Cool Papa Bell -- here's the famous one -- was so fast that he could turn out the light and be in bed before the room got dark.
There's something charming about these lines, of course. But there's something phony about them, too. Cool Papa Bell was a real man, flesh and blood, who played in various Negro leagues from the early 1920s to the mid-1940s. He was, by surviving accounts, a breathtakingly fast player who could chase down fly balls all over the park and beat out routine ground balls to shortstop. He hit .300 just about every year, often hit .330, sometimes hit .350. But he did not hit .900, and he did not steal two bases on single pitches with regularity, and in fact most of the sketchy numbers that have been gathered show disappointingly low stolen base totals for Cool Papa throughout his career. The Shades of Glory numbers -- the data gathered by the Baseball Hall of Fame Negro Leagues study -- show Cool Papa with only 144 stolen bases in 865 recorded games.
The Cool Papa Conundrum, as I call it, is to me the toughest part about remembering and celebrating the Negro leagues. On the one hand, these myths and nicknames and stories are so wonderful and poignant and memorable. And on the other hand, they can turn these players into something more or something less than they were. And often they can turn players in something more AND something less than they were at the same time.
When people would ask Buck how fast Cool Papa Bell was, his answer was always the same. “Faster than that,” he would say. Buck spent a lifetime trying to keep alive the memories of men who were denied their chance to play baseball in the major leagues. Sometimes, at the end of his life, I sensed that he worried that people would remember the stories but they would forget the men.
Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).
Strat-O-Matic is putting out a 108-card set of Negro League greats, based on their best five seasons. And it’s our friend Scott Simkus who’s acting as the principal consultant (see his work on the 1909 Cuban Stars here). Getting Negro League and Latin American baseball into tabletop games and text sims based on actual statistics is a great development, as far as I am concerned.