SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
May 23, 1983
Baseball is a dumb game. That's right, dumb, as in d-u-m-b. Understand—quickly, before the ghost of Alexander Cartwright seeks vengeance with a fungo bat—I speak not from the viewpoint of the fan or the player but the aspiring player. And truth be told, that's what many of the aging devotees who crowd the grandstands and bleachers really are: closet Carltons and crypto-Kingmans who would waive the rights to their firstborn for the chance to toe the mound or tie into a high hard one.
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May 23, 1983

Stickball Is The Name Of The Game That Sticks By You Over The Years

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First, no rule is so sacred that it can't be altered to accommodate the preferences of the players or the layout of the field. The bats, for example, can be of any length, weight or material, although experience has proved that broomsticks, spade handles and the like are the most efficient. The recommended ball is a heavy-duty Penn tennis ball because, as Big John says, it produces the "most soul-satisfying response when struck squarely, the kind of ripe, sweet feeling you get when you drill a perfect three-iron shot onto the green."

The simple expedient of eliminating base-running saves time and prevents injuries. Strategically placed fielders add a tactical dimension to the game, as does a variation in which, when the imaginary base runners are in a potential force-out position, a ball caught with one hand counts as a double play.

Pitchers call balls and strikes, but the accuracy of their rulings can be verified by using a slightly damp ball that will—splat!—leave an irrefutable mark on the wall. Any fair ball that hits the ground in front of the mound is an out; any that pass below the eye level of the pitcher and aren't caught are singles; and any hit over his head and not caught are doubles. Triples and homers are determined by the layout of the field, a fence or barrier of some sort being the most desirable target for the long-ball hitters.

And that's it. Hazards go with the territory. Once, for example, while attempting to retrieve a ball from a flower bed without stepping on the buds, I glimpsed the lady of the house eyeing me from behind a screen door. As I tiptoed off, she hissed, "Grow up!"

True, there's something childish about men in their late 40s chasing their youth in a suburban school yard, but marvelously so. What's the fascination? For one thing, with double-and triple-headers that begin in midmorning and often extend into the late afternoon, there's the opportunity to go to bat 50 or more times, another boyhood fantasy come true. As for involvement, ask Philly Joe; invariably, when he's pitching in a tight situation, he begins to shake off signals. Where others see only a wall, he admits, "I see Yogi Berra waggling his fingers."

Visions aren't a guaranteed part of the stickball experience. But fun? Take my word for it, in many ways it's more rewarding than that other, dumb game. Try it, you'll like it. Pete Rose and Gaylord Perry never had it so good.

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