Walter “Big Train” Johnson
This year’s version has been an exceptionally entertaining World Series. Some late nights due to extra innings, but very enjoyable. If you read this blog regularly you may know that I have a difficult time with fantasy and time-travel, yet even I can appreciate the greatness of 1989’s film Field of Dreams.
So it was a shock to my system to have my own baseball fantasy experience just a few nights ago. There I was all set to watch the Astros and Dodgers when I heard a knock at my apartment door. As we are in the middle of an election campaign I figured it was some candidate seeking my vote, yet when I opened the door a man stood there saying nothing at all. He seemed pleasant enough if a little quiet. Finally, he put out his hand and introduced himself as Walter Johnson, Hall of Fame pitcher.
Needless to say, I was gobsmacked. I stammered “But aren’t you .. you know … dead?”
“Details, details,” he replied. “They told me I could see the game here.”
“Of course, you are most welcome. Come on in.”
He walked in and made straight for the living room window. ignoring the television.
“No ballpark out that window,” he said. “How are we gonna watch the game from here?”
I explained, “No Mr. Johnson, we’re going to watch it on the television.” I pointed out the large flat-screen HD set.
“What in the hell is that?” he sputtered.
“I tell you what Mr. Johnson, I won’t ask you how you got here if you won’t ask me to explain television.”
“Sounds fair enough to me,” he said.
We sat down to watch the game and I offered him a beer.
“Thanks, Schlitz please.” he agreed.
“That could be tricky. First Pabst bought Schlitz about 35 years ago, and it’s an American beer. We’re in Canada. “ I pointed out. “Will a Molson do?”
“Fine, just as long as it’s cold.”
There we sat sipping our beers and watching the national anthem. I thanked my lucky stars that MLB players have not decided to take a knee during the anthem as I don’t know how I would explain that to my guest.
As soon as the players took the field I ask him for his initial reaction. Without too much thought, first impression.
“There sure is a whole lot of hair on that field. Long hair, beards. What’s with those long shaggy beards anyway? Must be God-awful hot.”
I told him about the latest fad among professional athletes, namely the growing of facial hair. I even admitted that my beloved hockey may be partially to blame having started the ‘playoff beard’ tradition several years ago.
With the first pitch, my guest was already wondering what was going on. “Tell me, do they now start the inning with a runner on first?” he asked.
I assured him they did not and asked what had given him that impression.
“The pitcher is pitching from the stretch. He didn’t take a full wind-up. No high leg kick. He looked like he was throwing a dart not a baseball.”
I told him that kinesiologists had determined that all those movements were wasted, adding nothing to the velocity of the pitch, but increasing the fatigue factor. For a guy nick-named the Big Train, I was not surprised when he looked at me skeptically, not for the first or last time that evening.
“What’s that thing stuck to the back of the pitcher’s mound?” he asked.
“It’s a device for cleaning the mud out of your spikes,” I answered.
“Huh … we used a popsicle stick. Worked just fine. And another thing,” he went on. “Didn’t the voice coming from that picture box say it was very warm at game time?”
“Yes, it was supposed to be around 100 degrees at game time. All part of climate change I guess. Why do you ask?”
Walter Johnson and President Coolidge
“Well,” he said. “Most of the batters look as if they’re cold. They’re all wearing gloves. And they must be new because after every pitch they take them off and put them on again. Slows the game down. But I am pleased to see that most of these fellows have been in the service.” he commented.
Curious, I enquired “What makes you say that?”
“Most of them have tattoos,” he explained. “As far as I know the only place to get a tattoo is in the service or in prison, I’d like to think it’s the former.”
“Actually many people get tattoos these days”
“Good God why would anyone other than a serviceman want to permanently mark their skin with a tattoo?” he exclaimed.
I could only tell him that along with my inability to explain television to him, I was also at a loss to expound on the tattoo phenomenon.
After a few innings, and some great insight from my guest, there was a close play at second base. The umpire called the runner out, although the replay showed otherwise.
“The umpires are making a telephone call in the middle of the game. Why would they do that?”
“They are speaking with a replay official who will watch several different angles on a tel …er … picture box to determine if the call on the field is correct.”
“Never.” he erupted. “The game is played by humans. Let humans umpire it as well. Mistakes and all.”
He pointed out that after almost half the game we had yet to see a pitcher at bat. I spoke about the Designated Hitter rule as best I could, only to see by his face that he was astounded. The thought of having one player hit for another, not as a pinch-hitter, was beyond his comprehension. If you’re in the line-up, you bat, he contended. I agreed.
When the manager removed a pitcher from the game after six innings having only given up one run Mr. Johnson was beyond confused. He wanted to know if the player was injured. I told him that he had done his work and now the bullpen relievers would take over. He muttered something about being able to add ten years to his career if all he had to do was pitch six innings.
Then with runners at second and third the batter approached the plate. With first base open, they decided to walk him intentionally to set up force plays around the diamond.
“Whoa,” my guest said. “Did I nod off? Sometimes beer makes me sleepy. How did that guy get to first base so fast?”
I pointed out to him the new rule that allowed a pitcher to inform the umpire of his choice to walk the batter intentionally at which the umpire sent the batter to first base without a pitch thrown.
“That’s ridiculous,” he exploded. “There are runners on second and third. The pressure is on the pitcher and catcher not to screw up and cost the team a run. It’s all a game of nerves. What’s the rush? Are there two more teams warming up under the stands to play next? Aren’t these the major leagues?”
Again I agreed with him.
Looking downcast he turned to me and asked: “What have they done to my game?”
I had to admit I sometimes ask the same question.