Mel was stocky, wore a muscle shirt over his beer paunch and rolled-up jeans, and drank Old Styles for breakfast. Andrew was thin and creepy and had a face like the surface of the moon. Heckie was hopped up on something, or maybe it was just because they were using his third floor apartment to bound and gag me in.
This Bear Cub Brigade may have been nothing but certified goofballs, but they were deadly serious about their ball team. In their odd world, the risk of a kidnapping charge was small potatoes compared to letting me warm up Ruben Gomez and causing a three-game sweep of good Giants luck.
At least they fed me Saltine crackers and water.
“Most of the time, we’re real nice guys,” said Mel while he roped me to Heckie’s Barcalounger. “But it’s gotten a little desperate around here, and we can’t take chances. Do you know the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in fifty years?”
“Haven’t even been to one in thirteen years!” piped in Heckie, “It’s gotten out of hand.”
“Yw gza gnn bsor!”
Mel took out a portion of the gag. “What’s that?”
“I said, you guys are gonna be sorry.”
“Uhh…nope. That would be you for showing up with the team, going in Brick’s booth and putting the whammy on us.”
“Hey, it’s been your crummy pitching and defense that lost you the first two games. Nobody in your outfield has any range—”
“GAG HIM!” barked Heckie, and Mel did.
Today was a warm Indian summer day, and the temp was rising. I was pretty delirious by the time the game began. They dragged over kitchen chairs, sat around me while we watched Heckie’s Philco.
Gomez and Dave Hillman were both throwing fantastic, and it was scoreless after three. Mel finished off the last of Heckie’s beers and took turns snarling at the TV or glaring at me. Andrew stared at the screen in a silent, scary stupor, puffing on Winstons. Heckie paced the floor, mumbling something.
“Root and Cavaretta…Root and Cavaretta…”
“Don’t mind Heckie,” said Mel, ‘In close games he likes to repeat the names of his dad’s favorite players. Keeps him normal.”‘
Scoreless into the 6th, the tension in the room made it feel like 100 degrees. When Walt Moryn made a nice grab on a deep drive, I heard a faint explosion of cheering. We were pretty close to Wrigley.
And then Heckie’s telephone rang. He ran over to answer it.
“Yeah!…Uh-huh…Uh-huh…You’re kiddin’ me…Jesus, Mary, and…Okay, thanks Boppo.”
He hung up, turned to his pals with an even more crazed look than he had before.
“Boppo found him. He’s living outside New York. The Giants paid him to go along with it.”
Whatever this was about, I was intrigued. Mel stood, grabbed an empty beer bottle and smashed it open on the kitchen table. Walked over to me, armed with its long, jagged neck.
“See, our buddy Boppo has an uncle who happens to know Nick Testa. As in, the actual one you’re pretending to be. The one who never even got a big league at bat and got paid off to stay out of the picture.”
Now I was really sweating. And not because Hillman had just retired Bressoud, Wagner, and Mays 1-2-3 in the 6th.
“What d’ya say, Brigands? Should we carve up his face, or just sic the press hounds on him? Anything to mess up the Giants, right?”
Andrew and Heckie hooted and hollered so much I couldn’t even tell which choice they made. Mel leaned over and tickled my cheek with a sharp point of broken bottle.
“Fifty years is way too long, whoever you are…don’t you think?”
“AHL TL YW WHW YAM!”
He pried loose the gag again.”What’s that?”
“I’ll tell you who I am. And you better listen good.”
“We’re all ears. Talk while you still got two of yours.”
“I’m Snappy Drake. The usher from Seals Stadium?”
They frowned. Obviously, their knowledge of the world didn’t extend past the north end of Chicago.
“There’s a mass killer who’s been stalking me and the team the entire season. A half dozen more people just got massacred in L.A. and for all I know you guys are next. He could be outside your door right now.”
Heckie turned a little white. Ran over to the door. Opened it and looked into an empty hall. Shut it again.
“No one there. He’s gotta be kidding us, right?”
Mel didn’t looked convinced. Suddenly Andrew let out an excited yelp.
“Dark and Thomson singled! Two on, nobody out for Long!”
They shifted their attention back to the TV. Dale Long walked to load the bases and bring up Banks. I thought Heckie was going to wet himself. Banks drew another walk for the first run of the game. Thomson was tagged out at the plate on a Jim Marshall grounder, but then Moryn hit a sac fly to make it 2-0. They were crazed.
“It’s working, Mel!!” It was the first English Andrew spoke all day.
Lee Walls was up next, clubbed a Gomez curve into the left field bleachers and I thought the roof of the apartment building would blow off. 5-0 Cubbies, my life was suddenly less in jeopardy, and if the Peanut Man was in the neighborhood, he had to be happier. After Hillman kept his two-hit shutout through the 7th, the Brigade got all all giddy and soft and worried about their futures. Mel broke down and cut me loose. I’ve found most Midwestern folks to be pretty friendly, and even these nutcases proved it.
“Just stay the hell away from the park the last two innings or we’ll track you down again.”
Naturally I head straight back to Wrigley, cutting through alleys. When I caught the Giants scoring two runs in the 8th from a cabbie, I picked up my pace. Banks singled one in to make it 6-2, but Mays homered in the 9th off Don Elston. By the time I reached the players’ gate again, the 6-3 Cubbie win was in the books, and the Giants were packing up for Pittsburgh, where’d they start a two-game set on Tuesday.
“What the hell happened to you, Drake?” asked Valmy.
“You’re better off not knowing.”
There were also three phone messages for me from upstate New York. Damn. I went into Rigney’s office before we left and made the call. Like I feared, Liz was crying and hysterical.
“You knew about him and didn’t even tell me???”
“I was going to, okay?” You were sick—”
“He was my brother!!”
“I know! I’m sorry. I was shaken up about it, too. But I know it was the Peanut Man.”
“What?? How do you even—”
“Because I was there!!”
The line went dead for a moment.
“I can’t…I just can’t…”
“He said we were getting real close. Did you get that kid’s name yet?…Hello?”
“No…Tomorrow….The director’s feeling better…We’re supposed to meet at noon.”
“Liz? Hang in there, okay? I’ll be there by eleven.”
S.F. 000 000 021 – 3 6 0
CHI 000 005 01x – 6 11 0
W-Hillman L-Gomez SV-Elston HRS: Walls, Mays GWRBI-Banks
MIL 011 000 300 – 5 12 0
PIT 000 001 010 – 2 12 0
W-Burdette L-Witt SV-Trowbridge HR: Skinner
MIL 010 010 020 01 – 5 18 0
PIT 111 000 100 00 – 4 11 0
W-Pizarro L-Face SV-Trowbridge HRS: Skinner, Mazeroski GWRBI-Crandall
The biggest wins of the year for the Braves also drop the battlin’ Bucs into the about-to-be-eliminated abyss. Burdette survives more shakiness in the opener, the Braves tie the nightcap in the 8th and win it in eleven on a clutch Crandall single off Face, and none other than Bob Trowbridge saves both games with Robinson unavailable. Only three weeks left and a mere two games separates the top three teams!
CIN 000 000 030 – 3 12 0
PHI 100 001 000 – 2 10 0
W-Purkey L-Sanford SV-Jeffcoat HR: Dropo GWRBI-McMillan
CIN 000 001 002 – 3 8 2
PHI 320 210 00x – 8 10 1
W-Morehead L-Newcombe GWRBI-Hemus
Reds could’ve used a sweep, but fall in the nightcap to the mediocre stylings of Seth Morehead. A nice three-run rally in the 8th, topped by a rare Roy McMillan double, decides Game 1.
L.A. 200 210 000 – 5 7 2
STL 401 115 41x – 17 23 3
W-Brosnan L-Williams HRS: Fairly, Williams, Cunningham, Green GWRBI-B.G. Smith
[NOTE: Played this one about 24 hours before Stan the Man died. For some reason the Cards' lineup seemed really motivated. Or maybe they were just facing the Dodgers.] The best way to ensure a Jim Brosnan win these days? Score 17 runs for him, and score in every inning but one. Stan Williams’ forgettable line: 5+ innings, 15 hits, 4 walks, 10 runs.
WAS 003 000 020 – 5 4 1
NYY 001 000 011 – 3 6 1
W-Pascual L-Turley SV-Hyde GWRBI-Zauchin
WAS 010 111 120 – 7 16 2
NYY 010 000 003 – 4 12 0
W-Griggs L-Maas HRS: Sievers (#51), Berra, Siebern GWRBI-Lemon
I see, and yet I fail to believe. The Nats finish the year 5-17 against the Yanks, but take three out of four in New York when they count to tighten the AL race further. Dick Hyde toughs out a two-inning save in the opener, and the awful Hal Griggs (1-8 going in) somehow outpitches the usually reliable Duke Maas in Game 2.
CHI 000 705 302 – 17 23 2
CLE 000 200 100 – 3 9 0
W-Wynn L-Bell HRS: Lollar, Phillips, Minoso GWRBI-Lollar
Wait a second, didn’t this same game just happen in St. Louis? Gary Bell gets ding-donged for seven runs in the 4th, ignited by Sherm Lollar’s two-run blast in his first game back from a week and a half injury. The Yankee lead, ladies and gents, is down to three in the loss column.
BOS 000 400 200 – 6 9 0
BAL 000 000 120 – 3 9 1
W-Monboquette L-Brown SV-Smith HR: Renna GWRBI-Gernert
Boy, the Sox are really missing Ted Williams again. Bill Renna with yet another fill-in homer, and Riverboat Smith bails himself out of wildness trouble the last two innings.
K.C. 002 002 110 – 6 12 3
DET 110 043 00x – 9 13 0
W-Moford L-Garver SV-Aguirre HRS: Simpson, Maris, Bolling GWRBI-Zernial
That man Gus Zernial now has 93 RBIs in only 365 at bats. Believe it or else, Washington still has an outside chance of catching the sad Athletics!
National League through Sunday, September 7
American League through Sunday, September 7