Later, when Pop
appeared on the designated day with his scruffy, undersized misfits (his dress
code called for ragged apparel), bets were doubled and redoubled. Then the
set-up game was played.
Buck said that
watching those hometown dudes when the all-stars turned it on was like a scene
in the Boy Allies books in which the captain of a World War I merchant ship
watches a harmless tramp steamer shed its disguise and become a battle cruiser
of the German Imperial Navy. The dudes, like the merchant ship, were sunk
without a trace.
When I saw the
team work out that day, I knew what Buck meant. It was textbook baseball,
outfielders throwing to the right bases, cutoff men always in position. And
when they chose, they could put on an infield drill that might have been
choreographed by Balanchine.
One of Pop's
larcenous assaults on the world of baseball innocents involved a prep school
team in northern Westchester. Buck had invited me to the game, so I rode with
the all-stars in the team's ancient truck. En route, Pop mentioned he'd seen me
in a movie the week before, one of my lovable black sheep efforts. I had a big
courtroom scene in this epic, in which my gushing tears won freedom for my
wrongfully accused father. Pop's laconic comment on this bravura performance
was, "You cry good."
Kids in show
business learn at an early age to judge the quality of an impresario's talent.
So believe me when I tell you, Pop's staging of our entrance to the prep school
field was worthy of an Oscar. As his raffish urchins tumbled awkwardly from the
truck and engaged in a ragged practice, the parents and alumni in the stands
were more than willing to increase the wagers they'd already made.
When the game
started, the Boy Allies battle plan quickly became apparent. The marks sat in
stunned silence as the all-stars shelled the opposing pitcher for a five-run
lead. If the story line was to be followed, another ship would soon go down.
But, as they say in Hollywood, story lines were born to be rewritten. So,
instead of bellying up under fire, the other team regrouped and began fighting
their starting pitcher was dispatched to an adjacent school building. When he
emerged a short time later, he was six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. It
took only a few sizzling warmup tosses to send Pop protesting to the umpire,
arguing there was no way this big oaf could be a prep school player. The umpire
dismissed Pop's complaint. Nothing in the rule book required him to examine a
school's enrollment records in the middle of a ball game.
It soon became a
real contest. The preppies, countering with their own larceny and aided by
further questionable substitutions, nibbled away at the lead until the
all-stars held a slim one-run advantage in the last of the ninth.
The home team
opened its half of the inning with two sharp base hits. Another obvious ringer
approached the plate to pinch-hit for the catcher. Pop took one look at him and
exploded, "Sweet God, will you look at that so-called kid they're sending
up now to hit? He just lifted his cap, and the s.o.b. is balder than I
another protest would be to no avail, Pop strolled to the mound and conferred
with his tiring battery. In 10 or 15 minutes it would be too dark to continue
the game. If his team could stall until the game had to be called, the score
would revert to the previous inning and the all-stars would win.