The face that looms out of the opposite page is that of a man who has just lived a true nightmare; who has returned, as Ernest Hemingway put it, from "the dark side of the moon of Walter Mitty." George Plimpton, for reasons of his own, not long ago decided that he wanted to find out what it was like to pitch in Yankee Stadium against the best hitters of major league baseball. With the assistance of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and a fortuitous postseason game between two all-star teams captained by Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, he actually succeeded in carrying out this improbable plan: a pregame batting contest was arranged in which he would pitch to both lineups. What follows is his own story of his eternity on the mound, which, expanded to book form, will shortly be published under the title "Out of My League" by Harper & Brothers ($3.50).
It was obvious something was in the wind. The players were off the field, the reporters and photographers gone, the batting cage wheeled away and the groundskeepers sprucing up the pitcher's mound and the area around home plate. Each team was standing by its dugout. Some of the players seemed puzzled by the change in the pregame schedule. I saw a few fingers pointing, and also little quick gestures of the head in my direction to indicate that it was "that guy over there—the guy with the blue cap," and the eyes looking, and I felt the sweat start to seep in my palms, my fielder's mitt suddenly uncomfortably clammy and hot.
Then, when the distant clock hands on the scoreboard stood at 1:30, one of the promoters walked me out across the foul lines and signaled the American League team to join us by the pitcher's mound. They constituted, in the vernacular, a pretty fair country ball club: Mickey Vernon, Nelson Fox, Billy Martin and Frank Malzone in the infield, and in the outfield Bob Cerv, Mickey Mantle and Harvey Kuenn. Elston Howard was my catcher. He looked puzzled. I don't believe anyone had had the chance to tell him why he was to put on his catching tools half an hour before the scheduled game.
The promoter checked to see that we were all present. Then he shuffled at some papers on a clipboard. "Well, boys," he started to say....
At this point the recorded music which had been drifting in from center field stopped abruptly, in mid-chorus of Tea for Two. A stentorian cough came over the public-address system and we heard as follows:
"Your attention, please. George...P...P...P," then a pause, the announcer apparently working over a name scribbled on a pad. "Prufrock," he said, and repeated with immeasurable confidence that boomed through the Stadium: "George Prufrock of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will now pitch against the entire National League team, and the entire American League team...that team which collects the most hits to be awarded a prize of $1,000 by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED."
"Well, there you are, boys," said the promoter. They were all looking at me. "That's the idea," he continued. "Four points awarded for the four-bagger, three for the triple, two for the double—you field first through their first eight batters, and then you get your licks."
"You let 'em hit, kid," said Billy Martin. "And right at us, pul-lease, on the ground and in big, quick hops."
A few of the players laughed and someone said, "That's right, kid—you're out here to do the work; we're along for the ride," and around the circle they smiled again, trying to impart confidence, and as we stood together, waiting for something to happen to release us, I felt a sudden kinship with them. It was an entirely unexpected emotion, since I was so obviously an outsider, but it came: that warm sense of camaraderie one gets, if briefly, as a team member, or in a platoon, or just sitting around a cafe with friends—never mentioned, but there nonetheless, almost tangible, and very strong before, abruptly, it was dissipated. Someone said, "O.K., let's go," and the huddle broke up.
Surrounded by the players, I had felt protected and grateful for my obscurity among them. But when they withdrew and headed for their positions, leaving me standing alone just off the mound, it was like being unveiled. One sensed the slow massive gaze of the spectators—by then almost 20,000 of them—wheel and concentrate, and almost physically I felt the weight of it. My hands were slick with sweat. I walked up on the pitcher's mound to rind the rosin bag. There wasn't one there. A new ball was lying just off the pitcher's rubber. I picked it up but I didn't turn for the plate.