"No problem," said Cash, assessing his debut. "I could become the Babe Ruth of Softball."
No doubt the ultra-efficient league office in Columbus quickly wired Stormin' Norman that such loose talk from a Johnny-come-lately like himself is not in the best interests of the American Professional Slo-Pitch League, seeing as how there already is a Babe Ruth of Softball.
Jim Galloway is his name. He stands 6'4", weighs 230 pounds and was so prodigious a slugger during his prime that he is just now, at age 42, dropping back into other people's range. A native of West Virginia who moved to Brooklyn in 1957 after graduating from Bluefield State College, Galloway has made the All-America slow-pitch team a record eight times as an amateur—twice as often as his closest competitor, Smith. And two of Galloway's home runs, out of a career total of more than 2,000, are the closest thing to legend that slow pitch has to offer.
A decade ago, when his County Sports team from Levittown, N.Y. won the national amateur championship, Galloway smashed a ball to dead center field that struck the top of a 40-foot flagpole 280 feet away. It was estimated that, had the ball not hit the pole, it would have carried 430 feet. Three years later Galloway poked another homer in the national tournament that was stepped off at 400 feet.
"That was a long time ago," says Galloway, who signed with the New York Clippers for $100 per game—or five times the average Clipper's salary. "I found out one thing in our first four games," he adds. "Three hundred feet is a very enticing target. But when you're hitting a slow-pitched Softball and providing all the power yourself, there are going to be a lot of 290-foot outs in this league. I had three homers on our first weekend, but if the fences had been 10 feet closer, I would have had 10."
Despite his reputation in Softball, Galloway is little known in the rest of the sports world. And this is Byrne's biggest problem: how to entice new audiences to take a look at established softball stars like Pittsburgh's 6'7", 290-pound Tom (Big) Miller or Cleveland's Buddy Bell-look-alike, Rich Petrunyak.
Probably the most impressive things about the new league are the big league-style travel (the teams fly nearly everywhere) and the first-class accommodations (in Minneapolis, for example, teams stay at the Leamington Hotel, as most American League clubs have for years). More important, the $25,000 for each franchise was paid up front, and all funds for hotels and plane fares have been put safely in escrow. So has the $100,000 pot that will be divided among the four teams that make it to September's APSPL World Series.
And there are some nice touches for the fans. The Milwaukee Copper Hearths' road games are being televised back home, and most teams will operate for at least part of this summer with open rosters. That means anybody who thinks he (or, presumably, she) could be the next Jim Galloway can drop by after work and try out. Brian Hewitt dropped by while he was at work. A sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News, Hewitt went out to do a story on the Storm and ended up making the team as a pitcher. He threw six innings of relief against the Detroit Caesars, yielding 14 runs, but still got the win in the 27-25 game.
Swoboda heard most of this on the phone the other day but was still skeptical. "If there's enough money and prestige behind something, there is no such thing as a bad idea," he said. "But, let's face it, anybody that wants to see slow-pitch softball can walk out to Central Park or any other field in the country and watch it to their heart's content. When I think of softball, I see a six-pack waiting for me at first base and another when I get to second. It's the image of the sport that may turn this league into a sham. I'm not convinced people will pay to see the game."
Perhaps—but fewer homers by the Detroit Caesars and more by Jim Galloway would certainly help.