Until this year, our Washington Square Bar & Grill slow-pitch softball team had played only home games, home being the North Beach Playground, a sunken asphalt pile at the foot of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, about three blocks from the saloon. Although so many sports schedules are inflated these days, ours had been a masterwork of brevity—one game, the "traditional" with Cookie Picetti's Star Buffet, a rival bar frequented by not always off-duty policemen. In the flush of victory, or even in the agony of defeat, we had occasionally discussed challenging other opponents, but such proposals were invariably rejected with the conclusive argument, "The season's already too long."
In truth, one game a year seemed more than enough for a team with an average age and waistline of around 40. A longer schedule might have left us as weary and dispirited as, say, the Oakland A's in September. But we never had any trouble getting up for that one big one. We'd trot onto the asphalt past curious crowds of Chinese youngsters and, pounding our Marty Marion gloves, shout, "Hubba-hubba," or some other antediluvian battle cry. Our enthusiasm never waned, no matter how many hours the seven innings required. Granted, the quality of play was not always major league. A double, for example, was not guaranteed to score a runner from second base, and injuries in our games were as common as in the National Football League. Jimmy Igoe, a 45-year-old lawyer who is our second baseman and sometime shortfielder, has yet to play more than three innings without succumbing to some infirmity—a skinned knee, twitching back muscle or turned ankle. Igoe is a good lefthanded hitter and an agile enough fielder, but he cannot throw a ball 30 feet with mustard on it, even when he is healthy, which is never. He is probably the quintessential "Square" ballplayer, in that he has no durability, a few minor skills and at least one conspicuous weakness.
We are all in some way as flawed as Shakespearean monarchs. If I do say so myself, I can field pretty well—at least on asphalt, where you get a true bounce—and throw accurately, but I have hit nothing but pop-ups from the time of the second Roosevelt Administration. That is the kind of ball club we are.
Our season is now over, but it ran twice as long as usual, and, for the first time, half of it was played on the road. We finished 1-1. Our manager, Ed Moose, co-owner with Sam Deitsch of Washington Square, first proposed the extended schedule well before our traditional opener—and, of course, closer—with Cookie's. Moose, as befits his surname, is a large and disorderly looking man of 50. He wears tweed golf caps, plays boccie and talks as if he knows where the bodies are buried, which he usually does. He is a former newspaperman—the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
—and a political wheeler-dealer who numbers among his friends the Vice President of the United States. Moose calls his intimates "Papa," with the accent on the latter syllable, and his intimates include most of what might be called San Francisco's bar elite, a troupe of merry imbibers, many of them journalists and litterateurs, who on any given day might describe an erratic course from Gino and Carlo's to Cookie's to the Square to Perry's to Morty's. Our team is made up of this bibulous company.
Like any manager, Moose knows exactly what kind of player he wants, and he frequently spells out the requirements: "You gotta be over 40 or have a bad liver." Moose himself is not one for dragging out the season, so it came as a surprise when he informed us, more or less one by one, that he had booked our first road game. "I have issued a challenge," he told us, "and it has been accepted. On Mother's Day we are scheduled to play Le Moulin du Village, a restaurant near Maxim's. The game will be played in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, France." Mon Dieu!
The planning for this game was actually set in motion last October when Moose was dining at Le Moulin with his friend and one of the Paris restaurant's partners, Steven Spurrier, a young Englishman who has achieved an international reputation as a wine connoisseur. Spurrier especially endeared himself to Californians a few years ago when he entered a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon in a "blind" tasting competition in France. The tasters awarded top honors in its category to Stag's Leap, the California wine, over such competitors as a Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux. In the eyes of French viticulturists, this was a national catastrophe comparable to the bypassing of the Maginot Line. Spurrier merely smiled complacently. "There are good wines elsewhere," he counseled them. Spurrier generally dines at the Washington Square after his forays into the California wine country, so naturally he has become fast friends with Moose and Deitsch. To cement their relationship, the restaurateurs proposed a mutual trade agreement—the Square would send its traveling clientele to Le Moulin, and Le Moulin would reciprocate.
But in time even this forks-across-the-sea arrangement seemed insufficient to the needs of their friendship. "What else can we do to unite our two restaurants?" Spurrier inquired of Moose at the now historic October meeting in Paris. Moose instantly recalled how competitive athletics had brought Cookie's and the Square together. "Why don't we play softball?" he suggested. "Splendid," replied the Englishman. "What's softball?" The game was afoot.
Both managers were now confronted with perplexing logistical difficulties. To begin with, Le Moulin had no team, so Spurrier, himself unsure of how many men there were to a side, had to recruit from his own staff—one of his partners. Chuck Scupham, is an American—and from his few American customers, most of whom are Marines assigned guard duty at the nearby American Embassy. The Marines would make up, as it were, the core of the team. The rest of the lineup would be fleshed out with assorted Frenchmen, whose �lan would presumably compensate for an abysmal ignorance of the game.
Moose's problems were of an entirely different nature. He had a set lineup of canny veterans who had served him with honor in the Cookie campaigns. What he had to do was find a way of transporting them to and housing them in a city some 6,000 miles away. The restaurant's softball budget had provisions only for our uniforms: white T shirts on which is emblazoned the Washington Square logo. It did not have funds for flying players halfway around the world. Neither, for that matter, does George Steinbrenner's budget. It was obvious the players themselves would have to foot the bill for this foreign adventure.
In an effort to lighten the load somewhat, Moose sought out our shortstop, Claude Jarman Jr. Film buffs will recall that Jarman achieved instant stardom as a youngster in the 1947 movie The Yearling, playing little Jody to Gregory Peck's Pa and Jane Wyman's Ma in the heart-wrenching story of a boy and his pet fawn. When this picture is shown on late-night television, Jarman, now well into his 40s, still receives phone calls from friends who sob, "Claude, you were wonderful." His career as a child actor was cut short when he grew too tall, and though he was handsome and talented enough to play adult roles, Jarman soon abandoned acting altogether for the world of commerce. Today he is the director of the San Francisco International Film Festival, a job that requires him to travel the globe in search of cinematic gems. Unsurprisingly, he is also part owner of a travel agency. Exercising some of his international clout, Jarman, with his partner, Jane Seligman, wangled a discount for us at the prestigious Hotel Royal Monceau on Avenue Hoche near the Arc de Triomphe, thereby significantly slashing expenses. Jarman himself would be on the traveling squad, and so, intrigued by it all, would Seligman.