A major league general manager says, "I once saw him bite a piece out of the bench, just to show how strong he was." A big league trainer says, "You know how they bundle up newspapers with heavy-gauge wire? Billy would pick up a stack and bite the wire off."
Scripture, you might decide, is a myth. Indeed, The Baseball Encyclopedia, which lists all the players who ever played major league ball, has no entry for him. You won't find his name in an Orioles, a Mets, a Royals or a Pirates media guide. Directory assistance in Virginia Beach, Va., never heard of him. ("I show an Earl Scripture. Could that be your party?")
You have to dig. There is a tiny SCORECARD item in the July 7, 1975, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about the manager of a last-place Southern League team who took out his frustration by chewing the covers off baseballs. ("Only lost one molar so far, and that's a whole lot less expensive than an ulcer operation.")
If you don't mind dust, there are old organization books in a back room at Royals Stadium in Kansas City. They show that an Earl Wayne Scripture Jr. ("nickname—Bill") was once the Royals' minor league coordinator of instruction; that he was a 5'9", 200-pound man of Scottish-English descent, born in Pensacola, Fla., who trained Labrador retrievers as a hobby; that he played a summer of semipro ball for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks; and that in 1967 he led the Eastern League in times hit by pitched balls.
And somewhere in the vaults of the National Broadcasting Company there is probably still a videotape of a flaky coach showing baseball announcer Joe Garagiola how to bunt holding the bat vertically instead of horizontally. ("Hey, the ball can't hit your face. The bat's in the way.")
But those who knew him don't have to dig for memories of Scripture. "He's about on the edge of folklore," says Royals trainer Mickey Cobb. "The first time I saw him, I was visually stunned by the way he was built. He looked like he was etched out of stone. Massive jaw structure, flat stomach, thick hands...a shaved head. He was very fastidious. His uniform had a crease in it, and his helmet had to be just so.
"He was tough, maybe the toughest I've ever seen. I remember a time when he had 19 blisters on one hand from hitting. He just came in and poured alcohol on it. No Band-Aids. Other times, he would deliberately have someone hit flies out to the warning track so he could practice running full speed into the chain-link fence."
A crazy man? A sociopath? "Naw," Cobb says. "Personally, I found him to be a great joy."
"He wasn't a giant," recalls Pirates player development director Buzzy Keller, "but you talk about wound tight. I've seen him take a fungo bat and break it on his chest."
A show-off? A hot dog? Keller shakes his head. "He wasn't a kook by any stretch of the imagination. He was a very, very dedicated instructor."