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The Stolen Season And Other Stinkers

A UTILITARIAN contretemps has lifted its ugly head here in Maine, to prove that pigeons do come home to roost. It begs for philosophic appraisal. Odd that I find a similarity in an incident of my youth, when baseball ceased for a season and our vernal sport became drab and dreary. Our baseball season back then didn't last long. We didn't start to play until the infield mud had dried so that the ball skidded instead of plopped, and about that time school petered out into summer vacation. If we got in three home games, we did well. Since our team got no financial support from public coffers, we taped our ball and our bat to make them last eight or 10 years. Some years we couldn't field nine players, so we'd borrow from the enemy or we'd draft from recent alumni. Doody Baker, who was 56, accordingly got to play again almost every year, and he had a lifetime record in right field of no chances and no errors. One year he did get a hit.

Well, our electric-light people recently asked our public utilities commission for a whopping great increase in rates, and to general astonishment the public-utility people shook their deliberative heads. Nobody expected this, as the utility folks have never been more than a yes-indeed shill for the electric interests, so a no-no response pleased just about everybody.

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Being denied their desires, the electric people became petulant, and retaliated with a not-so-veiled threat. Since they couldn't grab for more, they would be obliged to fire a great many employees, and this would impair their efficiencies and then the public-utility people could watch and see what happens! There were those who felt this was not a nice way to talk about a regulatory agency, but there were also others who offered lists of people to fire first. You've got to have some place to start.

My first year in high school, we had a boy who wasn't a bad catcher. I'll call him Stanley, but his real name was Herbert. Stanley was also our only catcher. We did have two fair pitchers, and if they were throwing their stuff Stanley could just about stop one of three. That being our situation, Stanley had a monopoly. I don't remember just what it was that ticked Stanley off, but something piqued him and he had words with our coach. True, he wasn't really the coach. He taught Latin and advised at baseball only because he was a baseball fan and there was nobody else.

There were words, and one led to another, and in a final burst of spleen Stanley said if that was the case he'd take his catcher's mitt and go home. The coach said ``were'' the case, not ``was,'' and Stanley went home. We boys didn't know what to do. We didn't know what the disagreement was about, but we felt a team's only catcher had some obligation to catch, regardless of his philosophic reservations or his political opinions. We walked in a body to reason with Stanley, but he spurned us. It was hard for us to do, but we pleaded with him - begged him - to forget whatever it was and come and play ball. Nothing doing.

We had a sidewalk sign that we kept at the post office that said Baseball Today! and it had a place to chalk in the visiting team. So that day we didn't put the sign out, and it wasn't used again that season. And a curious thing happened. People who never came to see us play began to ask why we weren't playing.

We teammates were cozy with our answers, and when a member of the school committee asked the coach, he said, ``Ask Stanley.'' We heard that Stanley tried to explain, but that the committeeman told him to grow up and stop being silly. And while Stanley effectively put that season on the blink, he did stir up some sympathy for us, and for baseball, so a new interest prevailed. After that, the school committee was able to find the price of a new baseball now and then, and we had three bats the next year and a fungo.

Fact is, Stanley returned the next year reformed and contrite, as if nothing had happened, and the coach was able to wangle a new ``belly pad'' for him, and a mask. You might say that his defection turned out to be helpful, but at the time we just let it go that Stanley was a stinker and plain numb enough not to know that when you've got a monopoly you'd best appreciate it.

I do not know if our electric-light people will be able to meditate on their situation and arrive at a comfortable decision. Whatever Stanley's reason was, I do remember that sometime later his father said, ``If I'd-a knowed what Stanley was doin by chowder, he'd not a-done it!''

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