The Professional Affinity
IN the first place a ball-player hasn’t any business falling in love—at least not unless he contemplates an immediate marriage. Me, for instance, and women have always gotten along about as well as pickles and ice cream. Whenever I see one of these here females who sets my psychic current buzzing, I steer my course as carefully as a neutral skipper who has sighted a submarine.
My beliefs are mine. Unfortunately they weren’t Tommy Carlton’s, the best pal I ever had. We met in the Cincy training-camp one spring when scouts had been working under orders to harvest the country’s ivory crop. Neither of us knew just how we got there, and we knew it was too good to last, so when we were farmed out, as a battery, to a Class C league, we didn’t shed any sad salt tears,
But we’d earned the right to call ourselves ex-major-leaguers, and Mary Pickford didn’t have nothing on us with this self-advertising stuff. We bummed around for a couple of summers playing semipro ball, and then one winter Tommy escaped from me. Along about April, when the baseball fever was beginning to fluctuate the thermometers, I got a prepaid wire from Tommy—sent from Rosedale, South Carolina. Being prepaid, I knew it wasn’t a request for money—which same he wouldn’t have got, anyway. It was orders to come on down there, which same I did. Hired a room at the hotel, flopped on the bed and was reading, when in walks Tommy, looking like one of these here bloated democrats with a two-bits-straight shoved in his face.
“ WHAT’S up?” I asks.
“Price o’ wheat,” he comes back, thinking he’s aon this humorous stuff. I didn’t deign to say anything, knowing Tommy had to rid himself of his little joke before he’d talk serious: with Tommy it’s like taking off your clothes before hitting the hay.
“George,” he says, calling me by my given name, “I’ve fell in with an old geezer who aint any crazier about baseball than you are about your morning sleep. He’s around sixty years, being old enough to have more sense, which same he hasn’t; and he’s itching to shell out some good, ripe spondulix for a ball-team. I’ve let him hear that I and you is ex-major-leaguers, and he’s wearing out his best Sunday trousers crawling around begging us to take charge of his team.”
“What’s his Bertillon?”
“Baldwin’s his monniker. An old bach’ who lives only for baseball and money. I’m to be the manager—”
“And me the team, huh?”
“No, you big stiff! It’s lucky we both got brains, because otherwise, George, we’d be begging the superintendent of the almshouse if we couldn’t have pie on Wednesday night.
“All this Baldwin guy wants us to do is pitch and catch and win the pennant—”
“Sure that’s all?”
“This town is in a ham-and league down here with five other Sticksvilles. Theythere with major-league stuff at all, but as for enthusiasm, well, there aint an insurance company would write an umpire this season. Four of the towns have appropriated paving funds for the winning of the pennant, and Baldwin, who owns this team, is ready to go ’em one better. Furthermore, he’s going to start by paying to each one of us two hundred and twenty-five smackies a month.”
“Where'd you get it Tommy?”
“Red-eye nothing! This State is prohibition with a big Pro. I’m handing it to you straight.”
“Yes, you are— Since when has Class L bush-leagues been handing out two-twenty-five a month per each? What about the salary limit?”
“Forget it. That’s what Baldwin told me to do, and I’m telling you the same.”
THE town was as sensitive about baseball as a sweet-eighteen débutante is about her false hair. I suppose that’s because most of the ball-players had grown up right in Rosedale, and there was a personal interest in the thing. The way they played it, it wasn’t baseball at all—it was a sport.
Tommy and me knew that something was wrong, and we watched. They played rotten ball, and yet they handled the thing like they knew how. Tommy and me scratched our heads in chorus and tried to dope out the trouble, which wasn’t any harder than figuring when the war’ll end. It wasn’t until we was preparing for the six-o’clock eats that Tommy hit on it.
“I got it!” he chortles. “Those guys are real ball-players. But they haven’t any pep!”
“You've hit it!” I says. “Their spirit is nix. They get around like a bunch of plow-horses. They look like they was training for the glee-club.”
“If they really can play,” insists Tommy, “it’s up to me to make ’em do it. And it'll be harder than teaching ’em the game. On the level, those guys this afternoon would pray a ball would miss ’em by six inches so’s they could yell for the next feller to take it.” He pauses. “It’s hell!”
“Plus,” I consoles him. “But maybe they wont be that way in a game.”
“They wont. They’ll be worse.”
And believe me or not: they were. In practice-games they refused to run out hits; they lazed around the field, and as for teamwork—they didn’t pull together any worse than Germany and England. And things didn’t get any better. The night before the opening game, Tommy talks to me about it disconsolately after he’d shaved his neck three times instead of his whiskers.
“It looks bad, George,” he says, calling me by my given name. “I don’t know how bad Riverview is, but they got to be awful rotten for us to win a game. And I’d as lief lose an ear as the opening game.”
“Me too, Tommy.”
SAY; did you ever get an inspiration? It’s a funny feeling: comes all of a sudden an’ leaves you wondering where you got such a swell idea from and all alone. I grabs Tommy by the arms and says: “Tommy, you’ve hit it. Or I’ve hit it. This here team needs pep. The way to do is to introduce a flossy dame from the city down here. Get ’em all crazy about her. And then they'll play ball!”
“A professional affinity!” gasps Tommy. “Holy mackerel! You sure did spill a mouthful that time! George,” he says, “I apologize for all the things I used to think about you. Why, doggone it,” he smiled,—for the first time in three weeks,—“I’ll make Baldwin bring some Broadway chick down here, tune her up for the killing and if in two weeks she can’t have this bunch of hick ball-players crabbing at each other and playing the snappiest ball that’s in their systems, then I'll eat the—the City Hall!”
There aint any use in being unjust or trying to shirk responsibility. It was my fault, but Gawd knows I paid for it with what I suffered that summer.
Because most of us were born under lucky stars, and also because of Tommy’s pitching, we won the opening game and a couple of others after it, but after the fellows got over the surprise of winning a game or two, we played true to form: losing about nine out of every ten.
Tommy’d been right, too. It wasn’t that these boobs couldn’t play ball well enough—they just didn’t have any pep. They played like a lot of deaf mutes, and all of them seemed afraid of getting their uniforms soiled, so there wasn’t any sliding for bases. Tommy and me agreed that it was another case of the little birdie that could sing and wouldn’t—they had to be made to sing.
ABOUT a month after the season opened, and we were trailing the league, old man Baldwin sends us flossed-up invitations to a dinner and dance in honor of the team. That’s the way it was written, although what anybody wanted to honor that team for was miles beyond me. I was all for calling it off, but Tommy says it’s all right.
“Dance!” I snarled. “That bunch of rube ball-players aint got energy enough to squeeze the prettiest girl that ever lived.”
“A lot you know about human masculine nature. There’s a reason for these here festivities, and it’s up to us to trot along and see it.”
Of course Tommy had his way. That’s a habit he’s got. I was embarrassed. While I’m right stuck on myself, as ball-players go, I’m here to admit that I aint no social bear-cat. Ditto, Tommy—only more so. But anyway, Tommy cribs a couple of soup-and-fish outfits from two fans who were out of town that night on business, and we dolled up. Foolish! Man alive, I felt as silly as a chorus girl with clothes on! Those dress-suits are the limit! I don’t see how head waiters can stand it night after night.
It was certainly a humdinger of a racket, though, with the Country Club decorated as much as some of the ladies wasn’t, and Japanese lanterns all over everything. After we’d been there awhile, I pulled Tommy aside. It was a cool night, but I was perspiring like a home-run on a hot day.
“Lemme get away from this, Tommy,” I begs. “I’m having a helluvarotten time. I got through the dinner by starvin’ myself, because I was scared of pulling a bone.”
“Cheese!” he whispers, “Come along and meet the reason.”
SHADES of Annette Kellermann! How that dame ever got away without marrying a Yurropean king, beats me! Later I discover that old man Baldwin has hired her to come down and play affinity—and where d’you think he hired her? The Ziegfeld Follies!
Baldwin was introducing her as his second cousin from up North. How he ever got away with it is more’n I can figure! That dame shrieked Broadway. Class! Oh, boy! If Tommy ever had curves like her, he could make Walter Johnson retire to the bushes for life and drag his record in after him.
Maybe you aint wise to small-town stuff; and if you aint, maybe you wont understand that there’s nothing in the world to rouse the ambition of a hick boy like a city girl. Within fifteen minutes the hypodermic is working and the whole Rosedale ball-team is hanging around that Follies’ queen, with their tongues hanging out, begging for one sweet smile. Tommy finds me gasping for wind on the porch.
“It’s working!” he piped. “By to-morrow’s game they’ll be cutting each other’s throats to get at the ball. She'll be at every game and if she don’t inject a little pep, then I’ll eat it.”
“Where'd you get her?”
“Old Baldwin vamped to New York and landed her, somehow. Took her out of the Follies, after first making sure that she really knows something about baseball. The whole infield is trying to make a date with her for to-morrow night. How do you like her looks?”
“Too good,” I gloomed. always raises trouble.”
“That’s what she’s here for,” he says and trots back into the dance-hall to see if her program is all filled. His sad face tells me five minutes afterward that it is.
When we're getting ready to turn in that night, Tommy looks sort of pensive. Finally—
“When a guy gets along about thirty, George, he begins to think of settling down, eh?”
“Nope. He begins to remember that he’s got to settle up.”
“What’s the big idea?” he snarls. “You think you’re a regular Frank Tinney.”
“You big ham,” I retorts cheerfully, “you're a doc’ giving medicine to sick ball-players, and you’ve slipped a dose over on yourself. One breath of she-male Broadway has driven you off your nut. May Gawd have mercy on your soul!”
He didn’t have a come-back! And when Tommy gets tongue-tied in the face of sarcasm—good night!
NNSIDE of a week that dame—Dollye (yep! she spelled it that way)—had the whole team roped and thrown and kicking—all except me. The only effect she had on me was to smile from the grandstand when I’d go back after a foul, and then, dog-gone it, I was as liable to drop it as not! Tommy’s prescription was working like the Giant infield.
As for the team—scrap? Say, you never saw so much pep outside a hotel table in your life. We had three fights the first week because some of the players claimed others had taken balls which should have been theirs. All they thought about on the field was pulling grandstand stuff so as to get a smile from Dollye. One-handed stops, catches standing on their heads with their feet hanging over the fence, stealing second, third and home—all those were mere incidents in every game. And after a guy would pull one of those things, he’d strut into the bench with his chest stuck out a foot and his eyes glued on Dollye Lemaire. When she’d smile and applaud and nod at him, he’d bat 1.000 for a week while all the others would grouch and crab and work their shirts off, trying to swipe the limelight from him.
Old Baldwin had gone plumb nutty. Of course we dropped a game every now and then, but the 1914 drive of the Boston Braves wasn’t one-two-twenty with the fight we put up. The town went wild, and Baldwin even wanted me and Tommy to come up to his big house on the hill and live with him and Dollye and his nice, respectable house-keeper. Tommy was all for it, but I put the quietus on the idea. I’m a woman-hater, but I wasn’t taking no chances with that Ziegfeld blue-ribbon chick.
By the time the season drew to a close Tommy and me was kings of Rosedale. We could of started at the upper end of Elm Street and walked down to the Union Depot, charging each person a jit for the honor of being seen in our company. We called everybody by their first names, and even the stores wouldn’t let us pay for ordinary purchases. My salary was piling up, and I was fair dripping dollars—which is where I differed from Tommy. That boob was doing what all his players were: spending all his money on Dollye Lemaire.
THE whole team went so crazy about her that she had to work rotation on them. Tuesday was set apart for the three outfielders to call; she split the infield into Mondays and Thursdays, first- and second-base calling on Monday nights, and short and third on Thursdays. The pitchers and catchers were slated for Fridays, and me being the only catcher, the receiving end of the team wasn’t represented.
I went once just to see how she handled things. And believe me, that dame was a sure-nuff actress, willing to earn her money. She’d gas baseball by the square hour, telling them how much she loved brilliant plays and how it almost busted her heart to see anybody make an error! And did those goops fall for it? Oh, blooie!
Less than a month before the season ended Tommy sidles into the room, weighted down with another of his inspirations.
“George, old man, me and Baldwin have been talking things over, and we’ve decided that we’re winning too many games. The attendance is dropping off. Baldwin knows we’ve got the rag cinched, but next to that he loves a dollar. The big idea is to throw a few games, enough to let the race get close. Then the fans’ll pack the park again, and we'll all be happy. I want your help, George.”
“My help? How?”
“You, being the catcher, have got to throw the games.”
“Thanks,” I says, sarcastic. “I get a pop-bottle in the ear for a bum heave, huh? What’s the matter with you throwing a few games?”
“Dollye likes me because she thinks I’m a great pitcher. If they begin slamming me all over the field, she’ll get sore.”
“So much the better for you. This dame’ll ruin you yet.”
“Gwan, George. Be a sport. Some day you'll fall in love, and then you'll understand.”
“Some day, Tommy, I'll die; and then I’ll go to either heaven or hell. But I aint taking no chances now just out of curiosity.”
I STUCK to it until old man Baldwin comes along and tickles my palm with greenbacks; then I should worry. It was his team, and he was the boss. I threw a game young Steele was pitching, by heaving the ball to the center-field fence, with the bases full, and managed to boot away Smith’s game next day. Tommy was to pitch the day after, and be begged me not to queer him with Dollye. After all, Tommy’s my pal, and I couldn’t do him a dirty trick, so I let him win.
That’s the way we went along: losing and winning about fifty-fifty. Tommy copping his games because of chances he took with his salary whip, and Riverview, having a new phenom’ twirler, beginning to press us so close that the race got interesting again, and fans started filling the box-office once more,
Then, two weeks before the very end of the season, old man Baldwin tipped me the high sign to win all the remaining games, and we started off to do it. But that’s like all these swell schemes: they work as long as you don’t care about ’em, But let the right time come along—
We lost three straight games, and believe me, it wasn’t our fault. The team played great ball, but they crabbed so much that they didn’t pull together. And Riverview was staging a Brooklyn finish. To make a long story short, when we started in winning again, Rosedale and Riverview were tied for the lead with one week left. Baldwin started offering bonuses, and we won three straight. So did Riverview. And we moved over to Riverview for the final three-game series that was to decide the pennant.
Excitement! There couldn’t of been more if a circus lion would of bust loose in the big top. Riverview is connected with Rosedale by an inter-urban trolley, and our burg just simply moved over there. The rest of the clubs canceled their remaining games, and—well, it was small-time baseball done to a frazzle, which is the only baseball in the world worth while, to my way of thinking!
We spent the night before the opening game in Rosedale, and at odd times every man-jack on the team hiked down to see Dollye and get encouragement from her. The series opened with Tommy twirling, and we won, three to two. The next game went eleven innings with young Steele in the box, and Riverview won with a homer in the twelfth inning. The final game was to decide things, and the night before the battle, Tommy took the trolley for Rosedale.
“ WHERE you going?” I says. “You got to pitch to-morrow.”
“I—I—can’t stand this suspense any longer, George. I—I’m going to—propose!”
“I hope she beans you with a rocking-chair.”
“Thanks,” he says and beats it.
At one a.m., while I’m dreaming that a beauty chorus has found out I’m a Mormon and wed me all at once, I’m hit on the head by a hotel pillow, which is about as soft as flint. It’s Tommy, and he has a grin on his face like a Cheeseshire cat.
“I’ve won, Tommy; I’ve won. She’s accepted me! And she says if I love her truly, I’ll win to-morrow.”
“You poor simp! And if you lose the game?”
His face fell.
“Don’t talk about nothing so awful as that.”
“You mean she says she’ll can you if you don’t win?”
“My Gawd! George—you mustn’t talk about not winning. I’ve got to win. It means my whole future happiness!”
“Right you are!” I says, knowing he’d get me like I didn’t mean to be got. Then I turned over and went to sleep again, and so help me Pete, I wasn’t able to finish that dream!
I'll never forget that last game. I believe when the parson is telling them what a swell guy I was,—me being the dear departer,—I’ll come to life in the coffin and yell: “Slide! you sonovagun, slide!”
Noise? Oh, Lemuel! A deaf man would have fell on his knees and offered up prayers of thanksgiving for having his hearing restored so miraculous.
As for our bunch, they played ball like fiends. Tommy started it by talking to the shortstop.
“Get ’em all!” he pleads. “You don’t know what this means to me!’
“Huh!” says the shortstop, “I’ll get ’em. You don’t know what it means to me, either.”
THE crabbing was all gone. Every man was out to win the game. When Conover, on first, dropped a high heave from second on a close play, Simpson, who’d fought it out with him in the clubhouse a few days before, strolls over, claps him on the back and says: “Don’t let that worry you, old man. You'll not make another error. You've got to hold ’em. You don’t know what this means to me!”
“I’ll latch onto ’em,” sobs Conover. “That was a boob error. But I’ll not make another. This game means too much to me.”
Tommy pitched the game of his life. One hit they got off him in nine innings. But Riverview wasn’t letting that rag get away from them without considerable scrap. We touched up their new port-side phenom’ for exactly one scratch hit. Looked like darkness was going to stop the festivities. And up in the grandstand sat Dollye and old man Baldwin.
But when men are playing under the strain we were, there’s bound to be a break sooner or later. This one came in the eleventh and Riverview got the benefit of it. With one man down, the Riverview third-baseman laid a nasty little grounder between short and second. The two players made a dive for it, collided, and the man was safe on first. He stole second on a robber’s decision and was sacrificed to third. A weak hitter is next at bat, and of course the Riverview manager, knowing that a hit means a run, substitutes a pinch-clouter. And right away Tommy, with the do-or-die look on his phiz, gets the batter in a hole with two strikes and no balls,
Maybe I was wrong in what I done. And maybe not. But all my loyalty to Rosedale wasn’t nothing to my loyalty for Tommy. I and him had been pals since we met in the Cincy camp, and I knew if we won that game, Dollye was going to marry him. I tell you, it’s ’ell to see a good man go wrong.
With two strikes and no balls on the batter and a man on third with two down and one run needed to win. I knew the Riverview manager was going to take a chanst. I knew as well as I knew my own given name that the guy was going to try to steal home. He had a big lead off third.
I pegged to third. And I deliberately threw wild! There was a yell, a cloud of dust and a wreath of profanity in my general vicinity.
The man had scored, and Riverview had won the pennant!
But even as the fifth pop-bottle beaned me, I smiled, because I knew I’d saved my pal from an awful fate!
WITH the game and the pennant lost, a sudden good feeling seemed to spring up among the players. They gathered in my room that night and asked me did my head still hurt and saying that they knew it wasn’t my fault that ball went wild. They all seemed kind of self-contained and uneasy: like good pals in misery.
“It meant more than the game to me,” mourns Tommy.
“And me,” seconds Steele.
“And me,” glooms Browne.
“Ditto,” sobs Richardson.
I didn’t have such a headache that I couldn’t see through a hole in a millstone.
“What’s the answer?” I asks. “There’s something here that needs explaining.”
“Dollye promised—” started Steele when in comes a messenger boy with a telegram sent from Rosedale. It was addressed to Tommy, and after he’d read it, fainted and been resusticated, we all grabbed. Here it is:
Thank goodness my job is finished. Mr. Baldwin and I have just been married. Luck to all of you.
“My Gawd!” howls Tommy, “the duplicity of the woman. She promised to marry me!”
“And me,” seconds Steele.
“And me,” raves Browne.
“And me too,” from Richardson. And so the chorus went around.
“Clam down,” I counseled. “Clam down! After all, she was paid to put pep in this team, and she done it. She wasn’t hired to be a wife-in-chief. Besides, we lost and all bets were off. It strikes me that she’s hit on a dandy compromise!”
But even my sound logic didn’t seem to make them very happy! Men is funny things where women is concerned!