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Authors: Mark Harris

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BOOK: The Southpaw
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1 of the things that happened was I kissed Holly Webster 1 day. I thought nothing of it until about a week later I told some kids on the William B. Saddleman playground what I done, and they said she would get a baby, and I told Pop, saying I had kissed her not knowing she would get a baby, and Pop told Aaron, and Aaron invited me in 1 night. He said he did not believe Holly would get a baby.

Then he showed me these books, and he give me 1 that he believed I could whip, and I took it home and read it through. It turned out you didn’t get a baby from kissing, but from intercourse (fornication), and a load was lifted from my mind. The book was quite helpful in many other ways as well. I was about 10 at the time, and my mind settled down a good bit, and I just went on growing and not worrying. It said in the book that when we was at the age of fornication there would be new worries crop up. As it turned out, when I come to it it all went off rather pleasant.

As near as I can figure out that was the first book I ever read clear through. This does not count Pop’s scrapbook, covering his years at Perkinsville High plus the 2 at Cedar Rapids in the Mississippi Valley League plus 20 with the Scarlets, all yellow by now and tore in many places that I must of read once a week at the very least between the age of 6 and 13.

There was other ways I could tell I was growing. First off, Pop said I was because I had developed a good deal of speed. In a few years I was ready for the regulation distance, and we went out in the field across the road and measured it off—60 feet 6 inches—and after I got used to it it seemed like that distance was a part of nature. It was natural. If Pop would move 3 feet back or 3 forward I would know it.

Sometimes he done it a-purpose to see if I would notice, and I would, and I would stand there with the ball in my glove looking down at him and not saying a word, just waiting for him to get back in the right spot.

He would. Then he would say, “That is right, Hank. Never throw that ball until all the conditions is exactly how they should be,” and I would be proud that I done it, and I knowed I was growing by the way the ball begun to zoom in there, not on a lob nor as if it was about to peter out, but with plenty of smoke, and it would whack in Pop’s mitt and send up a little puff of dust, and Pop would shoot it back to me and crouch down again and hold the mitt for a target, and I would wind and pump and rear and let fly, and down she come. Wham!

Then we would set up an imaginary team and I would pitch to it. We would work on the different batters like they was right up there, according to whether they was lefthanded or righthanded or big men or little and which way the wind was blowing and what inning it was and what was the score. Pop would crouch and give me the sign, what kind of a pitch and where. Sometimes I would disagree and step off the mound and come down a bit and make Pop come for a conference. Pop learned me to always make the catcher do most of the walking so as to save energy. “What is wrong?” he would say. “I want you should follow them signs.”

“There is a man on third with only 1 out,” I would say, “and I ain’t going to throw high and give the hitter a chance to fly to the outfield and leave the runner score after the catch.”

“I am the boss,” Pop would say.

But I would stick fast, and after a bit his face would crease up in a smile, because I had done the right thing and he was just testing me.

Pop always told me you are libel to find yourself pitching to a lunkheaded catcher, and if that happens you have got to set him straight. No need to be made to look like a fool just because your catcher happens to be 1. Pop played dumb many a time and put on the stupid act so I would learn to play it smart. I was not only growing in the body but getting more brains as well.

Then there was just a general way I knowed I was growing, nothing you could put your finger on, but just a general thing. 1 day you are not allowed to do something, and the next day you are doing it, and nobody told you you could, but you do, and nobody stops you or says you are too little. It might be just driving a car. Pop was tinkering with the school bus 1 day, and he said what he needed he needed his welding cap that he left over at the Observatory, and I said I would get it, and I jumped in the old Moors and buzzed down, 1 mile there and 1 back. Somewhere along the way I passed over from being a mere child and become a man. At least I thought so then. Looking back now, however, I see that there was still a good deal to be learned about life.

I begun to be pretty itchy in school. It struck me as all a waste of time, and nothing took, or at least if it took it done so in such a way I never noticed. Now, as I read back over what I have wrote so far I can see where grammar might of come in handy. It is definitely on the weak side, and the punctuation no doubt smells. When in doubt I punctuate.

1 thing that beats me, though, is when somebody says something that somebody else said. Where in the world do you put the quotation marks? For instance, suppose Perry Simpson was to say to me, “I seen Dutch and Dutch said, “Perry, you made that play very good on that slow roller in the second inning last night”.” I do not recall Perry ever saying any such thing. I am only trying to discuss the punctuation of it. Christ!

Anyhow, school pretty much sizzled past—history and geography and algebra and geometry and civics and French. French floored me, though there was 1 thing I could rip off like I was born and raised in Paris itself. J’habite dans une ferme a cinquante kilometres de Marseille. (I live on a farm 50 kilometers out of Marseille.) I quit French after 1 year and elected Spanish. That floored me, too, though I afterwards wished that some of it took for I might of been able to know George Gonzalez better. As it is he is always a mystery to me and to all the Mammoths, all except Red Traphagen. Red learned it at Harvard plus which he also spent some time in Spain in the war there. If I was to tell you all the things that went against my grain in school it would take a book. I would start in in the fall, and the first thing that would happen would be that the World Series come up.

It is impossible to sit in school when the World Series is going on, and I would lam out of there and sneak down to Borelli’s and sit towards the back on the shoe-shine chair not far from the radio. If anybody connected with school would be passing they could look in the window and never see me. Just about game time Pop would show up. There was several years running when the Mammoths was in the Series, and it was about this time that Borelli got his hands on the big picture of Sad Sam Yale that hung up over the coat-hooks.

Pop would lay in 1 of the empty chairs with his head back on the shaving cushion, and the whole shop would be full of people listening to the game. Pop would figure out the strategy as the game moved along. If somebody was to be give an intentional base on balls Pop knowed it before the announcer ever did. Sometimes there would be a pause in the game and the announcer would dip back in history and mention some event, and Pop would bolt up in his chair if the information come in wrong, and sure enough a little while later the announcer would announce that he had pulled a boner and was sorry and so forth and Pop would lay back down. Sometimes some of the men in the shop would argue over a date or a rule or something of the sort, and if they couldn’t settle it they shouted over at Pop, and he would tell them, and they looked on Pop as the final word.

Soon the Series would be over and school would be staring me in the face again and the whole long year would stretch ahead.

October, after the Series, was like death to me. The ground would begin to get hard. The leaves would float down from the trees and pile up all over, red and yellow and rotten, and the wind would whip in off the fields, and then about December there would be the first snow.  You would get up in the morning and look out the window and the snow would be laying in the fields, all white like a corpse.

Then just when it looked like winter was fading there would be a fresh snow piled on top of the 1 before. There was nothing to do. Such time as it was light I was supposed to be in school. For my part it could of stood dark all day and nobody the loser, and I begun to take off for town more and more, spending the day in the Embassy Theater or talking baseball in Borelli’s or hanging in Mugs O’Brien’s gymnasium or in the Legion hall or sitting in the back of Fred Levine’s cigar store and reading the literature there.

I also took to reading books. I had begun to think there wasn’t any books worth spending time on, for I had went all through Aaron’s, looking for things to kill time until spring, but there wasn’t a 1. I come across a book called “Giants in the Earth” which I thought at first might  have to do with baseball, but it turned out to be a dud. There was others such as books with the word “Yankee” in the title, and “Reds” and “Senators” and such, but when I took them off the shelf they turned out to be something else, and I begun to give up.

Then 1 day I was roaming down in Perkinsville. There was a girl there that I begun to take up with. I had a date to meet her in the Rexall, but when I got there she was not there, and afterwards some of the girls she hung with come with their schoolbooks and I asked them where she was, and they giggled amongst themselves but was too idiotic to give a straight answer, so I slammed out and started walking around. I swung over towards the library, knowing she sometimes went there to look up things for school, and I hunted for her there, looking behind all the shelves and waiting outside the ladies room, but she didn’t show up, and I was about to leave when my eye caught a book on a table called “How to Play First Base,” which is a part of a series of 9 books,

“How to Play Second Base,” “How to Play Shortstop,” and so on and so on, each of them wrote by a famous player. There was a grayheaded lady name of Mrs. Thompson at the desk, and I asked her if she had a book called “How to Pitch,” and she looked it up and said she did and give me a wide smile and took me down to where it was.

My eyes just about jumped out of their socket. There was not only this book, “How to Pitch,” by Michael J. Mulrooney, once an immortal and now the manager of the Queen City Cowboys, where I played for 2 years before going up with the Mammoths, but the whole shelf was full of books about baseball. Mrs. Thompson asked me if that was what I wanted, and I said it was, and she went away, and I sunk down on my knees by that shelf and tore them out of there. I forget all that was there, but there was the 1 by Sad Sam Yale called “Sam Yale—Mammoth,” and I read it clean through crouched there on my knees. I suppose every boy has read that book at some time or another so there is no sense going too deep in it here. You will remember that in the front there is a picture of Sam from the shoulders up, looking right out at you, and then on the page beside it is a little bit of writing, telling about him and what is yet to come. I studied the picture, noticing every little detail of how his nose was shaped and his eyes and his mouth. I looked real close and seen a little bit of hair sticking out around the sides of his cap. The writing said: My name is Samuel (Sad Sam) Yale. I was born in Houston, Texas, on March 13, 1918. I had the good fortune of becoming a member of the world-famed New York Mammoths five years ago. I pitched my first game for the Mammoths on Opening Day, April, 1938, shutting out Boston, 4-0. In the five years since that memorable occasion I have pitched and won 112 games, while losing only 63, and have been acclaimed by baseball experts as one of the game’s outstanding pitchers.

This book is written in the hope that every American boy now playing the great game of baseball in his home town, wherever that may be, will take inspiration from my straightforward story. Some of my readers, in the not-too-distant future, will be wearing the uniform of one of the big-league clubs. His success or failure in reaching that goal, and in remaining there once he has reached it, depends on him and him alone.

I have three simple rules which I live by: 

1. Take the game seriously, playing it for all you are worth every inning of the way.

2. Live a clean life, shunning tobacco and liquor in all forms.

3. Follow the instructions of your high-school coach, for he is a man of wisdom gained through experience.

Most important, have faith in yourself, for the road lies before you, and success will be yours. By the grace of God you will succeed.

I studied the words over and over again, and the picture, and I knowed that moment and ever more that some day I would be a Mammoth and all my dreams come true. I took the book and an armful of others and started out the door, and then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned around and it was Miss Thompson the grayheaded lady. “You have not checked out your books,” she said. “Can I have your card?”

“I do not have any card,” I said.

She steered me to her desk and pushed out a bunch of papers for me to fill in and sign, and I done so, and then she said, “Your card must first be put through the process before you can have any books,” and I beefed but she held fast and grabbed the books and give them to some kid with glasses to put them back on the shelf.

I turned away and started out the door, and then I glanced around and seen that she was looking another way, and I circled around with my head hid and went to the shelf and found the book by Sad Sam Yale and crouched down in a corner and opened my shirt and stuck the book in and buttoned it. I edged back out the way I come, and I went through the door in a rush and fairly flowed down the street with the book in my shirt.

That night I read it through again. I didn’t even tell Pop I had stole it, and when I was through reading it I took the blade out of the razor that Pop had used in Cedar Rapids in the Mississippi Valley League and sliced the picture of Sad Sam out of the book, and the inspiration he had wrote, and I folded them and stuck them in my wallet with a picture of Pop in his Scarlets uniform that I clipped 1 time from the Perkinsville “Clarion” and a picture of a girl name of Thedabara Brown that she had took at the beach in the summer and a picture card of Sad Sam Yale that come with bubble gum. I put the book in a secret place in the closet.

BOOK: The Southpaw
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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