Lester had it
figured, though. A winning ball club, he reasoned, would certainly take care of
the financial end of things. Anyway, he had a working agreement with the St.
Louis Browns to send him players. Of course, they only sent him players whom
they couldn't possibly use; and if Lester's tutelage improved them, they were
yanked right back again. That's what happened to our star hitter, Frankie Pack.
He was taken away at the tail end of the season, just when the crucial games
against Poughkeepsie were coming up. But that's the sort of thing you learn
only by experience.
At that, Lester
did very nicely. He brought in players from far and wide?the farther the
better, it seemed. About the farthest and widest was a Puerto Rican named
Figuera, a former FBI man and an alleged pitcher, who was so overweight that he
could barely get up from the bench.
I learned a lot
in those days of spring training. Chuck Covington, for example, enriched my
private vocabulary by some fascinating expletives. He also tried to teach me to
chew tobacco. Paul Wargo was another man with interesting turns of phrase.
"Woolieburgers," for instance, was his apt description for the obvious
talents of a sweater girl.
The first day of
the season was a memorable one for Port Chester. A new mayor had just been
elected, and in a wave of popular enthusiasm the whole town, mayor, brass band
and all, swept into our ball park, right past our ticket takers. The excitement
and the color of the evening were terrific. The gate receipts were dismal. It
seems you can't stop a trombone player or a new mayor and say, "90?
turnstiles shortly after that, but it was weeks before they were delivered.
Meanwhile, Lester made up the deficits. I don't know how big his weekly
payments were; he would never tell me.
In spite of
myself, I got financially involved too. The fences which were supposed to keep
the dead beats out were also supposed to be covered with big fat
advertisements. Our business manager did his best, but they remained as pure
and unsullied as a monastery wall. I finally spoke to my husband. "If
you're so smart," he retorted, "why don't you do something about
it?" Since I felt a little sorry for him at this point, I did.
It was quite
easy, really. I rounded up all the idle matrons in the neighborhood and
deputized them as space saleswomen, with a promise of 20% of each ad sold. It
was blackmail, I suppose, since all of them were patrons of the merchants they
approached, but we got results. I switched our personal dry cleaner three
times, and the third switch got me an ad. And the fences got filled, at $200
built up a fine ball club. By the closing weeks of the season the Clippers were
so far ahead of every other team that our average attendance dropped from 1,500
to around 600 per game. As Lester said, give them a winning club and the money
will take care of itself....
When we finally
clinched the pennant, my husband, who had kept his arm in shape by pitching
occasionally in batting practice, decided to take the mound in an actual game.
He is a man who knows no fear. He made his debut in organized baseball in his
own home town, against the second-place Poughkeepsie team, with his
mother-in-law peering at him right over the catcher's elbow. Me, I nearly
He stood out
there on the mound, a short and nervous little man with beads of perspiration
on his brow, and the Stock Exchange seemed awfully far away. When he took his
cap off to wipe his forehead I noticed for the first time how bald he really
was. Then he hitched up his pants and pitched four straight balls to the first
batter. I closed my eyes.