- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The 350 women sew in three rooms, each representing a different quality of ball. In the "Big League Room" the top 83 stitchers work with delicate precision preparing the balls that, according to complaining pitchers, are too perfect, too smooth, too well knit.
On the wall of the room a large blue and gold Spalding banner hangs alongside a portrait of Papa Doc, the "president for life" until his death two years ago at 64. Haiti seems a happier place with the old man gone. It is poor still, and troubled, but gayer without the hulking "Tontons Macoutes" bogeymen Papa Doc hired as secret policemen.
Although the game is played on either side of them in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, the Haitians do not know a baseball from a grapefruit. Rolf Tippenhauer, nevertheless, bounces one in his hands as he talks. It is his product, not a plaything. "The girls don't really know what they are making, only that it is something used in a game played in the United States," he says. "I have never seen any baseball except on television in Puerto Rico, where I worked for a time. Actually, I am only managing the plant to help my father out. I am an architect, educated at the University of Geneva and the National University of Mexico. But we are proud here of our baseballs. We check them all before shipping them back to Chicopee and they check them again there. Everything is done to specification. These people who complain...." And he fingers the seams himself, as if contemplating a hard slider. "It must be all in the head."
At 72 Harry Tippenhauer is as tall and erect as his son. He is a Haitian aristocrat of German descent, a man of property, a manufacturer, a builder, an engineer, a college professor, a maker of baseballs.
"If Spalding sent us the materials we could make the entire ball, not just sew it," he said over a beer in the bar of the picturesque Grand Hotel Oloffson. He is black, but he looks Prussian, a black uhlan. "There is, as you can see, no shortage of labor here. Quite the contrary. But I suppose the major leagues want to maintain certain controls. Still, we work very closely with Spalding. They can terminate our contract with six months' notice."
That evening Harry escorted a group of visiting American sporting goods representatives to a "voodoo show" in the wooded outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The air was heavy from the afternoon rain and there was only the slightest breeze. But Tippenhauer, ever dignified, and his guests wore business suits. The drums could be heard as the car turned up the narrow road toward a clearing where the show would be staged. A tall woman passed, balancing a large basket on her head, and goats skittered along the side of the road. There was a scent in the air, a mustiness that hung over the trees.
The show was a dramatized—and highly stylized—reproduction of a voodoo ceremony, really not much like the secret rituals of the natives. It involved dozens of dancers and a goat. One by one women in white were carried from the stage, apparently entranced as a witch doctor, or "hougan," pranced about their prostrated forms swigging rum and spewing it into the night air. The goat stood by, candles burning from its horns, like a loyal but bored spaniel.
Then Baron Samedi appeared—the voodoo keeper of the grave, the black prince of darkness. He was a small, agile man in a ridiculously large top hat who called to mind early Ed Sullivan. Intended to be fearsome, he was merely comic. When he danced off into the night the crowd, mostly American tourists who paid $4 a head, moved solemnly toward the road. Harry Tippenhauer smiled a businessman's smile. "These are American sports people," he said, introducing his guests.
"That was a hell of a show," said one of the visitors. "Really good. Harry here is an old friend. Fine businessman. My company? Why, we make footballs."
That, as Baron Samedi himself might say, is a whole new ball game.