Gerald Beene lived at the top of Coolidge Street, a block away. If Tom was the myopic preservationist among us, Gerald was the restless inventor. It was Gerald who showed us how to use the cards. He made up a game, the principal part of which was a miniature pinball machine about the size of a coffee-table art book. On this machine Gerald played game after game after game. Propelled by a spring-loaded pin, a small ball bearing worked its way down the board until it came to rest in one of the many receptacles—either a plastic box or a scoop of tin, each labeled with a baseball play. Three large OUT pockets guarded the top of the board. If the ball made it to the bottom without sticking in anything, a strike was called. As I recall, the game was fairly representational. Outs predominated, there were more singles than doubles and the long ball was hard to hit. The triple was a shallow scoop of tin on the left side, so gently bent that for the ball to stop there it first had to have been slowed by the side of the machine. The most difficult play of all was the home run—a big, inviting square of blue plastic right in the middle of the board but protected on three sides by barriers. A home run required a feathery touch, a ball perfectly angled from the shoot. It had to fall through a battery of outs and lesser blows. No four-bagger could be achieved through ricochet or carom or failure of courage. Though you might mount a rally by working the sides of Gerald's board, to go for the big blow you had to stick to the center.
Gerald could play a nine-inning game in about 15 minutes, and he often played three or four in a row, stopping just long enough to retrieve the next two teams from the stacks that lined one wall of his basement. For each game he recorded a line score on a freckled Big Chief tablet beside the machine. While I sat on the floor, Gerald provided a running commentary, a play-by-play elaborated in much the same way that old-time radio announcers invented and reported details of a game. On the occasion of an especially dramatic turn, Gerald imitated crowd noise, making a dry gargle in the back of his throat, a sound I never mastered until I studied German. He sat on the cement floor and roared and commented and gagged, ignoring me. Sometimes I would bring the Red Sox to play one of his teams. Needless to say, my touch on his machine was not light enough. He almost always won—it was his field after all. Pretty soon, every kid on the block—even Tom—had a machine of his own. They were all the same in idea but all different in detail—our equivalents of uncut grass, doctored baselines, spies in the scoreboard.
It was primarily because of this game that Gerald's cards became the most prized in the neighborhood. When one of his players hit a home run, he flipped the card over and made a hash mark on the backside margin. By looking on the flip side, then, you could read not only the records of the player's career, as printed by Topps from official statistics, but also this player's history in Gerald's game.
His marks were permanent, in ink. The older the card got, the more it was defaced. Gerald bought new cards every summer, just like the rest of us, but he usually played his game with veterans, saving the unmarked versions for trading. For everyone on the block except Tom these cards increased in value.
With his appreciated cards in hand, Gerald shamed us into trades.
"What do you mean trying to pawn off that brand-new Rosen for this Mize? This Mize," he would say, flipping it over so I could see the double-border hash marks. "He's had great years. I'd have to have more than Rosen."
"I don't know," I would say, trying to count the number of homers marked on the card.
"I'll take Pesky, too," Gerald would say, and we would do the deal.
Gerald leaned toward the slim and the quick. In his game, singles hitters became long-ballers and utility players, regulars. Under his hand they reached their potential. Gene Stephens, known in our group as the Arkansas Greyhound, who spent the best years of his real career understudying Ted Williams, was a thumper in Gerald's game. So, too, were Solly Hemus and Billy Goodman and Jim Busby and George Strickland. Vic Wertz was a dud; Mantle, a weakling. If we were free to choose team allegiances, we were also free to make Gene Hermanski a hitter.
Not Tom, who bought a machine and who played the game but never lost sight of the truth. Wertz was a better hitter than Hermanski, and no number of pen markings would ever change that. Tom, to whom "mint" must have always meant something, never confused his cards with contrary information. After the 1954 Series, in which the Giants embarrassed the best pitching staff the Indians ever had, Tom cold-shouldered any trade involving Giants. For all I can recall, he gave away Don Mueller time and again. He might even have destroyed Dusty Rhodes. For Tom these cards were a two-dimensional representation of the truth. Our Tom was the neighborhood equivalent of his hero, Bob Feller—clear-eyed, broad-browed, alarmingly direct. Gerald Beene—dark, difficult, aggressive—was our own Sal Maglie.