Baseball

My first memory of baseball was way back when Whit Howes, Bobby Chandler, Jessie Daniels, Paul Corrigan and a guy named Francis (Monk) Higgins played. It was a Fourth of July, when they had the traditional field day at Eldredge Park.
Pic of Town Team Baseball Orleans 1947
Back row L to R Red Eldredge, Dave Bremner, Junie Lee, Bill Brown, Bobby Chandler, Stanley Wilcox, Jim Walland, Roy Bruninghaus, Mac McCray. Front row L to R Karl Clark, "Buzzy" Wilcox, Whit Howes, Bobby Bremner, Jessie Daniels, Herb Fuller (Mgr.). Batboy David Fuller.

There were all kinds of races, high jump, pole vault, shotput, and the baseball throw. All of the entrants gathered way out in center field and threw for distance toward home plate (then located on the corner by the lights). Several almost reached home plate until it was Monk’s turn. He knew what he could do, so he backed up about ten or twelve paces behind the line and proceeded to throw the ball high over the backstop and well into the woods across Rte. 28.

In my eyes, Monk was the strongest man I had ever met (except for my father, of course).

I don’t know why they called him “Monk”. Perhaps it was because he had long and very hairy arms. He worked for a time cutting trees for the highline up in Brewster. Men who worked with him said that where two men couldn’t pick up a felled tree, “Monk” would pick it up by himself and carry it to the log pile. So far as I know he made his living by what the land offered. He was a hunter and a trapper in those days when there was an abundance of muskrat, skunk, fox, rabbit, and deer.

We kids had no money, as the War was on, and everyone was in about the same economic condition. We never had a new baseball. Any baseball that we did have had been beaten up enough to have been wrapped several times with black electrician’s tape. It was an art to be able to wrap a ball so that the tape was evenly added to what had already been applied. The only bats available were those that had been broken by one of the Town Team players. We’d nail, screw, and tape them back together and use them as best we could.

It was Monk’s turn at bat one day, and I asked him if I could have his bat if he broke it. He gave me a smile that revealed that he knew what it was all about. I swear that he purposely faced the trademark toward the pitcher and broke the bat so that I could have it. It was a black bat with “Louisville Slugger” etched in gold paint. I was so proud and happy that I left the game, ran home, and got out the tape, screws and nails. I HAD A BASEBALL BAT!! Unfortunately it was a 36″ and was so heavy that no one in my gang could swing it around in time to hit the ball. I still took it to every game.

The game was different in major ways than today’s game. There were no scouts, no practices, no spring training, and no conditioning. When summer came around, Herb Fuller, Jr., would somehow let it be known that there would be tryouts. There were no specialty players; just guys who lived in town.

Players from Brewster and Eastham were sort of considered Orleans residents, mostly I would guess because they had attended Orleans High School. But there was special consideration for special players, in that if there was a player with a handicap, adjustments were made.

For example, there was a fellow from Brewster by the name of Robbie Hooper. He worked for years in Nickerson State Park along with his brother, Fred. He had some kind of foot problem, perhaps a clubfoot, and he walked with a serious limp. The agreement was that if he hit the ball, he had to get to 1st base on his own. After that the other team would allow a “courteousy” runner, but Robbie would continue in the game.

There were no “brushback” pitches and no hard slides into bases. After all, these were working men with families, and they couldn’t afford to get injured and be out of work.

“Junie” Lee had some kind of a bad knee, so he was given strict instructions that he was not to slide into any base. He was told to just keep running, but to veer off to the side of the base. We’d take the out.

Johnny Linnell was another player who had a gimpy foot. He, on the other hand had worked out how to run with it. He was something to see as he’d head for first base, throwing his hands forward like a boxer and digging with the good foot as the bad one swung out to the side. He didn’t need any courteous runner, as it didn’t seem to slow him down a bit.

Then the season began. There was no caretaker, no grooming, and no seeding. You played on what nature put there, it seemed. The bases were stored in a little round building behind the benches. The door was never locked, and we kids knew that it was okay to set up the bases and have a game.

We somehow knew that we should put them back, and I think we always did. Home plate was never groomed or filled in to make it level. There was like a pit on either side of the plate where players would dig in their spikes. As a result the plate itself stuck up several inches about the surrounding dirt, and it was a real threat to the ankles of anyone who dared slide into home plate. Years prior, when my father played, he learned that lesson by breaking his ankle.

There were no official umpires. The elder Karl Clark umpired from behind the pitcher and Henry “Irish” Hurley umpired the bases. There was very little arguing. Karl would make the call and just wait for the “offended” one to get tired of presenting his case, and the game would continue on. Henry Hurley never maneuvered around to get a better position for the call at first base.

He would stand in the same spot and simply lift his left hand, index finger extended, and indicate that the runner should return to his bench. For a safe call, he’d lazily extend the left hand, palm down. That was his whole job. Karl called the rest of the bases, right or wrong.

We kids had our pick-up games. On any summer’s day, kids would show up at the Odd Fellows’ Hall, down by the fork in the roads to Skaket and Rock Harbor. Home plate was at the fork, so we hit toward Odd Fellows’ Hall. We had our broken bats and our taped up balls. Anyone who showed up had a right to play, and everyone did.

After a decent number of kids appeared, a leader would immerge, usually one of the older kids, and say to another leader type, “Let’s pick up sides. You go first.” It made no difference how good you were or how old you were. The “Captains” would decide the handicaps. For reasons that everyone understood, one kid would be allowed four strikes, while another would be allowed only two. Stanley Wilcox, because he was a lot older and could hit the “Odd Fellows'” hall, was allowed only one strike. If a kid was fat and slow, the defensive team would have to throw to first having thrown to second first, as if it were a double play.

No one had uniforms, and few had a glove, a ball, and a bat. We shared.

We younger players learned from the older ones. I had such mentors as the McCray brothers, Benny and Mack (What were their first names?) who lived across the street from the field. Benny was a gifted athlete, but the type who never worked on it. He relied on what was natural to him, but that wasn’t enough to get him to the “Bigs”. He played several years in the Minors, but that was it. There were the Wilcox brothers, Stanley and “Buzzy” (What was his first name?). They both had a peanut butter sandwich in the minors, too. They had a younger brother, Barry (His real name) who was a contemporary of ours, being just a little older than I. All of those guys played for great high school teams. When they teamed up with the Eastham and Brewster players like Bill Hayes and the Clark brothers, they had a powerhouse.

As we came along, around the sixth grade, there was an enterprising kid from Provincetown by the name of Kenny Silva. He put an ad in the Cape Cod Standard Times challenging any Cape team of similar age to a baseball game. They’d come to us. I answered the ad, and we had a game. I conveniently don’t remember who won, but I know that we didn’t have a fight. Roger Young was an older fellow in town who went to any baseball game there was around. He even came to our games. We put him to work umpiring. He was a really nice guy to us. He had a slight stutter, and it was always a trying thing to pitch the ball and then wait for Roger to stutter his way through the call, strike or ball. Finally, he developed a style of hand motions where he would flail out to the right, punching the air, for a strike, and out to the left as he gathered up the breath to yell b-b-b-b-ball.

No one ever made fun of him, because he was just another person in the town who was a little bit different from some others.

Roger worked at Mayo’s Duck Farm, and when it came time to play the return game in Provincetown, we asked Roger if he had any ideas as to how we could get there. He said that he’d ask Howard “Ducky” Mayo if he could use one of his farm trucks. Howard was always helpful when kids wanted something.

He set us up several times with the hay, the wagon, and the driver for an old fashioned hayride. Roger managed to borrow a small dump truck, so we all climbed aboard. What we didn’t realize until too late was that the available truck was one that they used for hauling chicken and duck manure. So, you had a choice: stand up and get chilly wind in your face, or sit down and enjoy an odoriferous ride. But we had our game.

While I was still in the sixth grade, just after the war, Dave Bremner filled in as baseball coach. He took the place of Mr. Oakman.

Mr. Oakman was a high school teacher who had accepted the job while there was a dearth of coaches due to the fact that most of the men were in the service. He was a very small, chubby man who had very thick glasses. I don’t think he could see ten feet. That was probably the reason that he wasn’t in military uniform. He didn’t know much about baseball, but they had to have an adult in charge.

Mostly the players decided how to run the game. Mr. Oakman was very happy to turn over the reins to Dave, as Dave was a very good local player and knew the game. 1 talked him into letting me be the batboy, so 1 got to go to all the games. We didn’t have a bus in those days, so the players used their own cars to go to the away games.

We were playing Yarmouth one day, and 1 was riding in Collis “Pesky” (Why did they call him that?) Peters’s Model A Ford. We stopped at the herring run in Brewster to catch some herring after the game. Everyone in the car took half- a-dozen herring home that day.

However, Dave didn’t need to do much coaching with the “wagon” he had that year: · On the mound were Mack McCray, “Tinker” (What’s his real first name?) Meads, Benny McCray, and Bobby Burgess. Karl Clark was the catcher. Karl always had stitches in his right hand and the ring finger taped to the middle finger, as he had a hard time understanding that you’re supposed to catch the ball with the glove hand, and not reach out with the throwing hand. Several times over the years the ball would actually split the skin between the two fingers. (I saw Karl recently and was teasing him about that, and he said, “I still do it.” He plays softball for a local old timers team.)

Tommy Gage played third, with Buzzy “Spray” Wilcox at short, Stanley in left, Reggie Rogers in center, and “Willie” Clark (Karl’s younger brother) in right, with “Bubby” Richardson covering second and Albert “Fingers” (Why was he called that?) Robbins scooping them up at first. (Buzzy’s throw was sometimes unpredictable, to say the least, so some referred to him as “Spray”.)

The next year Fred Maki from Barnstable was hired as phys. ed. teacher and coach of boys’ baseball and both girls’ and boys’ basketball. Again, 1 was the batboy, but my duties changed. Maki’s approach to coaching included many inter-squad games. I had the very difficult job of umpiring. Everyone hated me. I never made a correct call. At the end of each practice, I’d run to the side of Mr. Maki so that the players wouldn’t be able to beat me up.

By the time I reached tenth grade, I was beginning to get some control of my body and had set out to be a pitcher. Unfortunately for me, there was a guy by the name of Jimmy Buckley who was a senior that year, and the team went on to beat Barnstable for the Cape Championship, much due to the pitching of Mr. Buckley. To be sure he got some support from Steve Hopkins, Barry Wilcox, Bruce Peters, Gordon Sylver, Leslie Quinn, Stuart Finley, Don Ohman, and Scott Kelley.

Jimmy and I were pretty much the pitching staff: He pitched all the games, and I pitched all the batting practice. That final game with Barnstable was what created the nickname “The Comeback Kids”, coined by the sportswriter, Ed Semprini, after an amazing scoring of five runs in the last inning to take the title. Years later I taught at Barnstable High School, where I was a colleague of Charlie Howes, the Barnstable coach at that unfortunate time. He said that no one could appreciate the frustration he and the Barnstable players felt while scratch hits, an error or two, a line drive, a passed ball, all slowly, bit by bit, stole the championship out from under a more talented and deserving team.

Lauren Peterson, who took over the reins of the Town Team after Herb Fuller retired, had a policy of giving a uniform to a few of the seniors each year in order to feed the Town Team as older players retired.

Oddly enough, the only player to last any amount of time with the Town Team from that high school dream bunch was Barry Wilcox. After a stint in the Air Force, he came into his own and
developed into quite a slugger. He was the youngest of the Wilcoxes who played, and I always thought that he was the best hitter.

When I was a junior in high school, and after a “modest” high school season, Peterson offered me a uniform. Unexpected as it was, I was honored to be in the same uniform as the likes of Roy Bruninghaus, Chet Landers, Prince Hurd, Dave and Bobby Bremner, the Wilcoxes, “Junie” Lee, Ray Reynolds, Donny Walsh, “Red” Eldredge (What’s his real name?), Johnny Linnell, and
“Whitey” Dunham. I think that was the same year that Eddie “Babe” Clark came on the team. He was the third of the Clarks.

I knew that because I was young and inexperienced that I’d be spending most of my time on the bench, hoping at least that I’d get a chance to coach first or third base and throw some batting practice, something that I was quite experienced at.

I went over to Peterson’s house to be “fitted” in my Town Team uniform. I was 6’6″ tall and weighed about 170 Ibs. The fitting process amounted to Peterson reaching down into a box, pulling out a uniform, and saying “Here.” My presence gave new meaning to the term “loosely fitting.”

There was a game the next day in Eastham. Eastham was a healthy rival for us. Everyone knew each other, having gone to high school together and played on the same teams. There was a lot of friendly teasing, but underneath, winning the game was the issue. I arrived at the field in time for batting practice, but was curious as to why Peterson didn’t have me pitch batting practice. I did hit “pepper”, though, a warm-up that is not used today.

In “pepper”, four players would line up side-by side and toss the ball to someone about five feet away, and he would bat the ball fairly hard at the fielders. They, in turn, would fake throws to the batter and toss it to another player through the legs or behind the back, reminiscent of how the Harlem Globetrotters warm up. It sharpened your hand-eye skills and made you pay attention to the action and where the ball was.

As the starting time came nigh, Peterson came over to me and said, “I’m going to start you today. They’ve never hit against you, and it may throw them off stride for a few innings.” I was cool. “O.K.,” I said, as I felt the loss of breath and the absence of legs. I slowly walked to the mound, the way a cool pitcher was supposed to, and Peterson took up his position behind the plate.

After exactly eight warm-ups, Peterson came to the mound. “Look”, he said, “you do what I say and you’ll be alright. Your first pitch I want you to throw it as hard as you can right over the head of the batter and high enough so that it hits the backstop.” I did just that. Red Day was the batter. He bailed out and ate dust. He wasn’t happy about that, but he didn’t dig in his spikes, either. Peterson came to the mound again. “Now I want you to throw this one in the dirt.” I aimed that one just inside the strike zone, and it hit about ten feet in front of the plate. Peterson came to the mound. “Now that we’ve straightened out their thinking, let’s play some baseball.”

Here I was, a sixteen-year-old, pitching with many of my idols behind me, and I am hearing, “Atta boy, Sammy, you’re the man. Make ’em hit it, we’ll do the rest. Give ’em that funny one.” Roy Bruninghaus from the bench guided me on pitch selection: Fast one, change-up, inside, outside, two curves. With two out, bases clean, and two strikes on the batter, he’d yell, “Now’s the time for that pitch that you like but haven’t mastered yet. Who cares where it goes!” We won that game, and I was master of the world.

I didn’t have much of a fastball, so I had to rely on two factors: control and variety. My Father never let me throw a curve ball ’til I was about 14 or 15 years old. He preached control, control, control. The other stuff would come later. Somewhere along the line I learned something about pitching, in that it wasn’t simply getting the ball over the plate; rather it was how you got it over the plate.

My style was variety. I had picked up a curve by the time I was 16, but I had what I called a fast curve and a slow curve. A curve in those days was what they call a slider these days. Then there was a favorite one that we called a drop, where you’d pitch it straight overhand with a snap forward spin to the ball. Then I fell upon a change-up kind of underhand curve, sometimes called a roundhouse, that started well inside to a right-handed batter and ended well outside as it just ran out of speed and fell into the dirt. That pitch, done right, was a real backbreaker. However, my greatest weapon was having a smart catcher, of which I had a few.

As I said, Peterson was an old timer who knew his game. He could size up a batter and pick out the best place to pitch to him. He would put the glove where he wanted the pitch and then the signal as to how to pitch it. He would look at the attitude of the batter, in that if he stepped lightly up to the plate, he knew that the batter was a little nervous, so he’d call for a fast ball well inside, then we’d curve him to death.

Red Eldredge, though he didn’t catch me much, was a very capable catcher. He was also a very capable third baseman, but his best spot was behind the plate. I had never pitched to a catcher who had any kind of a real arm to second base on a steal. Then came the first time with Red. Usually I’d finish my warm-ups and watch the practice throw to second sail well over my head. If I hadn’t been paying attention when Red made his practice throw to second, I’d have been hit flat in the sternum.’ Then he came out to me and said, “Don’t worry about anyone on first. They know who I am, so they won’t try to steal. And if they try, I’ll throw them out anyway. Concentrate on the batter.” Red was not a bashful type. Not then, and not now.

The second ingredient in my arsenal, in addition to having a smart catcher, was having a great team behind me. Chet Landers was the first baseman. He was tall and built strong in the upper body. He could really pound the ball, but he couldn’t run very fast. I think he was the only player I ever met who was slower than I was. Neither of us could get our legs under us and push off at a good pace. He would run on his tip-toes, almost straight up and down. But, put a glove on him at first base, and nothing went through.

He had to be good, because some of the infielders were a bit unpredictable with their throws to first. Buzzy “Spray” Wilcox was one of the most difficult to handle. He played shortstop at times, and it wouldn’t be unusual for one of his throws to cross Route 28 in the air. Maybe I exaggerate here, but he was a real “spray” thrower. One time a slow roller came back toward me. I ran over to the first base line, and when I scooped up the ball, the runner was nearly lined up between me and the base, making it difficult to see Chet. I tried to steer it, but lost control and threw it to the foul side of first. Chet simply hopped to the other side of the base and the runner, caught the ball for the out and complimented me on such a good play.

Whitey Dunham (what’s his real name?) played a lot of second base. He was quick at that position, and not much got by him. He was something to see at the bat, though. Every time he swung, he put everything he had into it. If he missed the ball, his motion would continue such that he would corkscrew almost 360 degrees. Then, in his recovery, he’d un-corkscrew, almost lose his balance, spin out, and, at times end up halfway to third base.

Bobby Bremner played second as well. He taught me a pick-off move to second base. If a runner was taking an ample lead off second, as I started my stretch motion and look toward second, I could see Bobby out of the comer of my eye. If he put his glove hand on the inside of his knee, the pick-off play was on. I was to look back at the batter and count three. I was not to look to see if the base was covered, but I was to just spin and throw at second. He promised me that he’d be there, and he always was. We knocked off a few with that play.

With Bobby at second and his older brother, Dave, at short, we were strong up the middle. Dave had the quickest release I’d seen other than in the major leagues. His glove had no pocket at all, and it was as if he used the glove just to stop the ball, not to catch it. Dave was an emotional player, and losing was not on his agenda.

We were playing in Brewster one time and Dave was a runner on third. Red Harrington was the home plate umpire. Neither one liked the other much. Red was a take-charge type of umpire who allowed very limited criticism of his calls. Because we needed a run, Dave got it into his head to steal home. He was out by about 95 feet, but he disagreed with Harrington.

Dave jumped up, began to argue, and kind of pushed Harrington. There were perfect dusty handmarks on Harrington’s dark blue uniform evidencing the “assault”. However, Dave’s biggest mistake was in not paying attention to the fact that Harrington had a heavy mask in his hand, which he readily used to konk Dave on the head. Cooler heads soon prevailed, and Dave retired for the day at the firm request of the umpire.

Prince Hurd played third. He was a machine at the hot comer. He could as well play the short hop or the long hop, and I don’t recall his ever throwing wild to first. He had a swing that was matched by few. It’s hard to describe, but it was just so smooth as he would hit one after another line drive singles.

He batted left-handed, so he could see me easily when I was not pitching, but coaching third base. I would watch how the opposing catcher would give his signals, and I discovered that if I edged my way toward third base, I could see the catcher’s signals to the pitcher. Most catchers used a one finger signal for a fast ball, two fingers for a curve, and three for whatever else. Just before the pitch, I would yell “Prince” for a fast ball, and “Babe” for anything else. It gave him a bit of an edge, which he used to great effect.

Junie Lee (what’s his real name?) played left field. He was our big power hitter, but he had some kind of a trick knee and wasn’t as mobile as he wanted to be. It didn’t matter, though, as we had Jimmy Gage in center field. I swear that the other outfielders could have remained on the bench, and Jimmy would have taken care of everything all by himself. He was by far the best outfielder in the league at the time. It seemed that he would take off to catch a fly ball before it was hit. Perhaps I expand, but it gives you an idea of the speed and instinct he had.

Ray Reynolds played right field. He was not spectacular, especially in the presence of the other stars on the team, but he was very steady. It was always interesting when Bobby Curtis pitched for Harwich. Bobby and Ray had married the Fulcher sisters, Dorothy and Marilyn, daughters of John Fulcher from Orleans. I guess they had quite a rivalry at family gatherings that carried over into the baseball games, the question always being which one was going to outdo the other. I was informed later that those two guys were half-brothers, having had the same mother.

Changes for the worse.

There are some things that were part of baseball at that time that don’t have much importance today. Bunting is almost a lost art. Not only the drag bunt, but also the sacrifice. Very few turn and face the pitcher squarely, in order to get a good view of the pitch. To nearly eliminate the up and down aspect of the pitch, I was taught to crouch so that my eyes were down within the strike zone. In the normal stance, one’s eyes are well above the strike zone, requiring judgment of not only the inside/outside angle, but also the high/low aspects. By crouching slightly, one has a better view.

One of the responsibilities of the pitcher is to make the call as to who is going to make the catch of a popup. And on a pop-up well into foul territory, the pitcher is supposed to run toward the player going for the catch while letting him know how much room he has left before crashing into the stands or falling into the dugout. In that way the player can concentrate on catching the ball and doesn’t have to look away from the ball to make his own judgment.

One of the dumbest things I see in baseball today is players who dive into first base. For some reason they think that there is an advantage to doing that. The fact is that such a maneuver actually slows the runner down. Certainly if the runner were to keep his legs under power, he would stay at the same speed as he crossed the base. But to stop the leg motion does nothing but help make an out.

The last of the lecture part of this writing is the pitcher’s pick-off motion to first base. When there’s a runner on first base, the pitcher has a couple of opportunities to throw him out: When the runner takes his first step or two off the base, and, second, when the runner is set to steal and thinks the pitcher is going to pitch.

Roger Clemens changed all that. He would take his signal from the pitcher while the ball was in his glove instead of in his throwing hand, which, of course, slows down the process. Many runners make mistakes while taking their lead off first base: They cross their legs while making the first step; they bring one foot up to the other maybe twice in taking their lead. These are the best times to pick them off. But, pitchers like Clemens forfeit those chances because they don’t have the ball in their throwing hand.

Sadly, Town Team Baseball doesn’t have the same flavor that it used to have. After high school, baseball is pretty much over for the local players. Though much positive can be said for the way baseball is run today, it has lost the fun enjoyed by local players and local fans.

Sam Sherman