Authors: Dan Gutman
Agent Pluto smiled.
“So have I,” he said. “Joseph would have to be very careful. We would pick and choose what parts of the past he would change. That's why we've chosen a very simple two-part task for Joseph to complete. One: get to President Roosevelt. Two: warn him about Pearl Harbor. That's
. Then come right back home. And avoid stepping on any twigs along the way.”
Up until now I had mostly traveled back in time because I was a baseball fan. I wanted to see if Babe
Ruth really called his famous “called-shot” home run. I wanted to see if Satchel Paige could throw 100 miles per hour.
I looked at my mom.
“How much would Joseph be paid for thisâ¦mission?” she asked.
A look of disappointment passed over Agent Pluto's face.
“Mom!” I exclaimed.
“We're not wealthy, Joseph,” she said. “If you're the only person in the world who can do this, and you're going to risk your life for your country, you should get something out of it. That's only fair. This could pay for your college education.”
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Stoshack, but we're not offering any money. Budgetsâ¦cutbacksâ¦you understand.”
“So you expect my son to save hundreds of thousands of lives and change the world to suit your purposes,” my mom said, “but you're not willing to pay him a
“He gets to help his country in a way nobody else can,” Agent Pluto said. “
the payment. It's an honor to be asked to serve your country.”
“I don't know,” my mother said doubtfully. “He's just a boy.”
“Joseph won't be working
,” said Agent Pluto. “Of course there would be adult supervision.”
“Who?” I asked.
He reached into his briefcase again and pulled out a card that was in a clear plastic holder.
“I'm a big baseball fan myself,” Agent Pluto told me as he put the card on the coffee table. “Love the game. I'll go see minor-league games, high school games, even Little League games if I'm in the mood.”
I didn't pick the card up. I knew what would happen if I did.
It was black-and-white and larger than a regular baseball card. It was almost the size of a postcard. And it was autographed.
“Ted Williams?” I asked.
He put the card on the coffee table.
I didn't know a whole lot about Williams. He was
a great hitter, of course. Everybody knows that. He played for the Red Sox. He's in the Hall of Fame. That's about it.
“You could have chosen
player from that era,” my mother said. “What's so special about Ted Williams?”
“We've done extensive personality research on the players from decades past,” Agent Pluto told us. “We have reason to believe that of all the players in the Major Leagues, Ted Williams would be most likely to help Joseph carry out this mission.”
Agent Pluto stood up, pulled out his wallet, and removed a business card. He handed it to my mother.
“I don't expect you folks to make a snap decision about this,” he said. “I understand the risks that are involved. But think it over. Call me and let me know what you decide to do. And this is top secret, obviously. Not a word about this to anybody.”
“What if we say no?” my mom asked. “Will this go on Joseph's permanent record?”
“Of course not,” Agent Pluto said simply. “There are no repercussions. We just thought that, if Joseph is traveling through time anyway, he might want to do something to help his country.”
Mom and I walked him to the front door. He put his sunglasses on. When I opened the door, he turned to face me.
“Joseph,” he said, “I told you that I joined the FBI to prevent another 9/11. Pearl Harbor was the
9/11. In just two hours on that day, 21 American
ships were sunk or damaged. Over 300 planes were destroyed. And besides those 2,400 soldiers who were killed, more than 1,200 were wounded. A lot of those guys were teenagers, not much older than you. Keep that in mind when you make your decision.”
“I will,” I said.
“And, Joseph,” he added before leaving, “this is just my opinion, but you really should have carried that flag in the World Series.”
LET OUT A DEEP BREATH WHEN THE
AGENT LEFT THE
So I had a decision to make. Should I use my power to go back to 1941 and warn the president about Pearl Harbor, save the lives of all those people, and change history forever? Or should I say no?
Up until now I pretty much went back in time for
. I wanted to meet Ruth, Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Jackie Robinson, and all those other players. This time I would be doing it for my country.
It would be dangerous, of course. In my previous trips through time, I had been shot at, kidnapped, locked in a closet, tied to a chair, chased by a crazed batboy, and punched by a Pittsburgh Pirate fan. One time I landed in the middle of a
. Who knew what I might encounter this time?
What if I got blown off course somehow and ended
up in Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day, with bombs and torpedoes all around me? That would suck.
There was one person I needed to talk to before I made my decision: Flip Valentini.
I know, I should probably have talked to my dad about something so important. He does know a lot about baseball. Not as much as Flip, but he knows a lot. And he is my dad, after all. You're supposed to go to your dad for advice. He was the one who got me interested in collecting baseball cards in the first place.
But no, not my dad. All he cares about are two things, and the first one is the Yankees. The Yankees and Red Sox have always been big rivals, so he wouldn't be happy to hear I was going to meet Ted Williams. He would probably try to talk me into going to see Joe DiMaggio or one of the great Yankees from that era instead.
The other thing my dad cares about is money, which is kind of odd because he never seems to have any. He would probably ask me to have Ted Williams sign a bunch of autographs so he could sell them. My dad does stuff like that.
I rode my bike over to Flip's store. It's in a strip mall on Shelbyville Road. The little bell jingled as I opened the door. Flip greeted me with a big smile when I walked inside. He seemed to have forgotten what I did at the Little League World Series. Or if he remembered, it didn't bother him anymore.
Flip's Fan Club is jammed with all kinds of
baseball cards, memorabilia, and junk. There was a lot of new stuff I hadn't seen before. I picked up a Beatles bobblehead statue and Flip laughed.
“I'm diversifyin',” he explained. “Baby boomers wanna buy collectiblesâjunk they shoulda held on to when they were young.”
“Not many kids collect cards anymore,” I said.
Flip was holding a copy of
“Yo, Stosh, y'ever hear of a Dr. Anton Zeilinger?”
“He's an Austrian physicist,” Flip told me. “Says here that he destroyed bits of light and made perfect copies appear three feet away. Ha! He thinks we'll be able to do teleportation between atoms in a few years and molecules within a decade.”
“That's ridiculous,” I told him. “Everybody knows that's impossible.”
Flip chuckled and took off his reading glasses. He's had a special interest in time travel ever since I took him back to 1948 with me. You see, Flip had been a pretty decent ballplayer himself when he was a teenager. But he got
good after I took him to 1948 and Satchel Paige taught him a few trick pitches. Flip ended up getting stuck back then and had to live his life all over again. The good part was that in his second chance at life, he made it into the majors.
But that's a story for another day.
“What can I do ferya?” he asked me.
“Flip, would you mind locking the door for a few
minutes?” I asked.
“Sure, Stosh,” Flip said. “Somethin' wrong?”
“I've got a secret,” I confided.
“Flip, the FBI knows,” I told him.
?” he asked.
“They know about
,” I explained. “They know what I can do with baseball cards. They sent one of their agents over to my house to talk to me.”
Flip looked concerned.
“How did they find out?” he asked.
“I don't know,” I told him. “The guy was all mysterious about it.”
Flip sighed and took a sip from his coffee mug.
“I was afraid this was gonna happen,” he told me. “What do they want from you?”
“They want me to go on a mission.”
“Jesus,” Flip said. “That's bad news. The FBI shouldn't be messin' with kids. What kinda mission?”
“They want me to go back to 1941 and warn President Roosevelt about the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
“Are you kiddin' me?” Flip said, getting out of his chair. He looked really angry.
“I wish I was kidding.”
Flip whistled and sat back down.
“This is big, Stosh. Real big.”
“The FBI guy told me that if the president knew about Pearl Harbor in advance, we would have been able to just blow those planes out of the sky,” I said. “Like it was a turkey shoot.”
Flip leaned back and gazed off into space for a moment. It looked like he was thinking about a distant memory.
“Smart,” he said. “Obviously. You'd save a lotta lives. If there hadn't been a Pearl Harbor, it woulda changed everything.”
“Do you remember that day, Flip?” I asked him. “December 7th, 1941?”
“Sure,” he said, still with that faraway look. “I was a kid. 'Bout your age, I guess. Heard about it on the radio. It was a Sunday morning. My next-door neighbor was stationed in Hawaii. Joey Albanese. Good guy. He used to play ball with me and my friends. I never even hearda Pearl Harbor until that day. None of us had. And then it happened. Joey got killed with all the others. They never found his body. It was 9/11 for my generation.”
I had never seen Flip cry, not even when we lost a really tough game. But I could see that his eyes were watery when he remembered his friend. Suddenly, a plan popped into my brain.
“Hey, I can save your friend Joey's life, Flip!” I said excitedly. “I can go back to 1941 and prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then when I get back here, maybe Joey will still be alive! I can bring him back to life! What do you think?”
Flip looked at me for a long time and then got that faraway look in his eyes again.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Don't do it, Stosh.”
NEVER EXPECTED TO HEAR
LIP DISCOURAGE ME FROM
doing what I do with baseball cards. He never had any reservations before. Flip had always been my biggest supporter.
“Leave well enough alone, Stosh,” he told me. “Pearl Harbor's over. It's history. Let it go. In the long run, things worked out okay.”
“Are you saying the attack on Pearl Harbor was a
thing?” I asked him.
“Yeahâ¦sorta,” Flip said. “Look, a lotta people didn't want us to get into that war, Stosh. If we hadn't been attacked, we never woulda jumped in. We woulda stood on the sideline and let the rest of the world knock their brains out.”
“What's wrong with that?” I asked. “It sounds like a good thing to me.”
“Stosh, if we hadn't entered the war, we probably wouldn't have built the atomic bomb. If he hadn't built the A-bomb, the Nazis woulda eventually. You could bet on that. And Hitler woulda used it too, to win the war. He woulda conquered the world. That's why Pearl Harbor was so important. It got us in the war. And that's why we won it.”
“But you don't know all that stuff for sure,” I said.
“Course not,” Flip said. “Nobody knows nothin' for sure. I'm just spitballin'. But if you came in here looking for a 1941 card to use, I can't give you one. My conscience won't let me.”
“I didn't come here to get a card, Flip,” I told him. “The FBI guy already gave me one.”
“Who's on it?” Flip asked.
“Ted Williams,” I replied. “Can you give me a crash course on him? Just so I know what I'm getting into?”
Flip smiled a little.
“Stosh, I think I can sum up Ted Williams with one word,” Flip said. “And that word isâ¦âjerk.'”
“He was a
“A real jerk,” Flip said. “Williams had anger problems. He was always gettin' into beefs with everybody: players, managers, reporters, fans. He would throw bats, tear out the plumbing, punch the water cooler, knock out the lights. He'd spit at people. Go look it up if ya don't believe me.”
“I believe you,” I said.
“But could that guy hit a baseball!” Flip shook his
head in wonder. “Probably the greatest pure hitter ever. Oh, Cobb hit for a higher average. And Ruth had more power. But overall,
was better than Williams. If you ask me, he was the greatest hitter ever.”
Flip reached under the counter, pulled out a thick book, and flipped through the pages until he found the section on Ted Williams. Flip loves statistics. He put his reading glasses back on.
“Look at this,” Flip said. “Lifetime average, .344. Career homers, 521. He won the batting title
times, and the last time when he was forty years
old. Oldest guy ever to do that. He won the Triple Crown twice, and the MVP twice. He led the American League in slugging percentage nine times, total bases six times, runs scored six times, and walks eight times. And get thisâhe only struck out 709 times in his whole career. Ya know how many times Reggie Jackson struck out?”
The greatest hitter ever.
“I give up.”
“How did he do in 1941,” I asked. “That was the year of Pearl Harbor.”
“It was his greatest season,” Flip told me. “That was the year he hit .400. Or .406 to be exact.”
He dug up a newspaper article from a drawer and handed it to me. The headline read: “Batting Mark of .4057 for Williams.”
“Nobody's done it since then, y'know,” Flip continued. “Williams was the last guy to hit .400. That's more than seventy years ago. And he
didn't win the MVP that year. That's how much everybody hated him.”
Flip closed the book with a thud.
“Why do you think the FBI picked Ted Williams?” I asked. “They could have picked
ballplayer from 1941.”
“I think I know why,” Flip said, pulling out a photo from a file. “Williams was a military guy. A fighter pilot in the marines. In fact, he served in
wars: World War II and Korea. Altogether, he gave up almost five years of his baseball career to serve his country.”
“Five years?” I asked. “And you said he hit 521 homers? How could he hit that many homers when he missed so many games?”
“That's how good he was,” Flip said.
Ted Williams was a fighter pilot in the marines.
“How many homers do you think he would have hit if he hadn't been in the military for those five years?” I asked.
“That's the million-dollar question,” Flip said, his eyes flashing. “I'll tell you this much. Williams enlisted when he was 24 years old. When Mickey Mantle was 24, he hit 52 homers. When Willie Mays
was 24, he hit 51. When Jimmie Foxx was 24, he hit 58. So it's a good bet that Williams woulda hit 50 or more that year, and the next few years too. Ruth hit 714 in his career. With five more seasons and a little luck, Williams could have beaten that. 'Course, we'll never know for sureâ¦.”
Flip looked up at me, and I looked back at him. We were both thinking the same thing. I could go back in time and talk Ted Williams out of joining the military. If he had those seasons back, he would have hit a lot more homers, maybe enough to beat Babe Ruth.
“Flip,” I said, “I'm gonna do it.”
Flip wrinkled his forehead as he put the book away.
“I don't like this, Stosh,” he said. “Williams had a great career, one of the greatest ever. What's done is done. You don't need to change history.”
“But I can make his career even
,” I told Flip, “and I can warn the president about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Plus, I can save your friend. That's killing three birds with one stone.”
get killed, Stosh?” Flip said, shaking his head. “Like I told you, you're the son I never had.”
“Don't worry about me,” I assured him. “I'll be fine.”