The Sporting News
has another unique resource. "The FBI uses this," says Mac Farlane. It's a huge card catalog containing the transactional careers of everybody who ever signed a professional baseball contract, major or minor. "Everybody? Are you sure?" I asked Mac Farlane. His expression, while kindly, suggested that if there was anything he was unsure of, it was whether I knew what "sure" meant.
So I looked up the best player I ever threw batting practice to, the only kid from my high school team who signed a contract, Bobby DeFoor. And there he was: William Robert DeFoor, who kicked around a couple of years and then was put on injured reserve. (After that, I knew, came the Baptist ministry, but that was for a higher card catalog.)
You might think it struck me with a certain finality that I myself was not in that card catalog, what with my being 44 now and not gaining any steps. But it didn't. I was too busy turning over in my mind the possibility that Johnny Evers and I might have a lot in common.
I had been reading "Gossip of the Players" for Nov. 12, 1908. Johnny Evers had been giving a lot of thought to this whole problem of what to do when the other team has men on first and third. This is a problem that may seem primitive to fans of big-time baseball today. But it is a problem never resolved, very firmly, at any level of ball that I myself attained. As Evers put it: If the catcher threw to second, the man on third would race home and the throw was too long from second to get him. Then the trick of the second baseman running in behind the pitcher on such occasions and stopping the throw and shooting it back to the plate was started. This worked for a while, but then the runner on third got to sticking to the bag, and as a result the man going from first to second would be safe at second.
Exactly. What was Evers's solution?
With much practice, I was able to run in on such plays, thus holding the runner at third, and with a good throw from the catcher I could take the ball and with the same movement pass it between my knees back to second base in time to nab the other runner. The catcher, of course, must make a good throw for the play to be a success.
Here we have Johnny Evers. The Evers of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. The Evers who stole a pennant from the Giants in 1908 by calling for the ball when Merkle failed to touch second base. Here we have Johnny Evers with his thinking cap on, figuring out a way to avoid either going all to pieces or sitting there sullenly when the other team has men on first and third.
Exactly the kind of thing I worried about when I played ball. And if I had ever been able to do more than one thing—or even one whole thing—in the same movement, I think that I might have come up with this same between-the-knees trick!
I have problems identifying with contemporary baseball stars. They are so much richer than I am, and their gloves are so much better. They play in and on sleek synthetic fibers. They have got the other-team-with-the-guys-on-first-and-third problem licked. And if they're so great, where were they when I was a kid?
I know where Johnny Evers was. He was in my head, in undying verse ("pricking our [the Giants'] gonfalon bubble"), in a glove as scruffy and a uniform as baggy as mine.