Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sunday Funnies

Baker Bowl, a ramshackle dump of a ballyard in Philadelphia for much of the first half of the 20th Century, was probably the worst major league park since the dawn of the concrete-and-steel permanent structure.

It's most dominant characteristic: A giant right field wall -- 280 feet down the foul line, just 300 feet in right center -- covered with tin that made a distinctive sound when balls ricocheted off it. Which, of course, happened frequently.

So ... a sweltering day in Philadelphia in the 1930s, and the lowly Brooklyn Dodgers are in town to face the even more lowly Phillies. The key characters in our tale are Dodgers pitcher Walter Beck, outfielder Hack Wilson, and manager Casey Stengel.

Wilson is a fading star at this point, or perhaps more accurately a soused star. The holder of the single-season RBI record, Wilson is in the process of drinking himself out of the league, out of baseball, out of life itself. He is suffering through this game as a result of the night before and living for the night to come.

Beck's pitching prowess can be summed up by his nickname: Boom Boom. That's how he's listed in the encyclopedias: Boom Boom Beck. He wasn't good, but (with the help of WWII) he lasted a long time.

Boom Boom is living up to his nickname on this afternoon, and it occurs to manager Stengel that perhaps one of his colleagues could fare better against the Phillies. The pitcher disagrees. The two begin to argue on the mound about it.

Out in the outfield, a weary Wilson sits down and nods off.

Out on the mound, Beck, infuriated by Stengel's evaluation of his performance, suddenly whirls and fires the ball into right field. The ball clatters off the tin, startling the dozing Wilson awake. Hack jumps up, expertly plays the carom (he's had lots of practice that afternoon) and fires a strike into second base.

Stengel eyes the performance and mutters: Best throw he's made all year.

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