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One Throw

Bronx Banter is proud to present “One Throw,” a classic piece of short baseball fiction by the great W.C. Heinz.

All thanks to Heinz’s daughter, Gayl, for making it happen. In a recent e-mail, Gayl wrote:

“One Throw” was first printed in a July 15, 1950 issue of Collier’s magazine. In 1959 Summer Time Scholastic magazine picked it up. I don’t know if it was printed anywhere in between, but it has been reprinted many times since in English textbooks as an instructional piece on how to build a plot, use dialogue, and so on. The most recent contract for a textbook reprint was this past summer. “One Throw” also appears in “The Third Fireside Book of Baseball,” 1968, edited by Charles Einstein….and who knows where else?! I know Dad was always pleased with its timelessness and longevity.

Here it is. Hope you enjoy.

“One Throw”

By W.C. Heinz

I checked into a hotel called the Olympia, which is right on the main street and the only hotel in the town. After lunch I was hanging around the lobby, and I got to talking to the guy at the desk. I asked him if this wasn’t the town where that kid named Maneri played ball.

“That’s right,” the guy said. “He’s a pretty good ballplayer.”

“He should be,” I said. “I read that he was the new Phil Rizzuto.”

“That’s what they said,” the guy said.

“What’s the matter with him?” I said. “I mean if he’s such a good ballplayer what’s he doing in this league?”

“I don’t know,” the guy said. “I guess the Yankees know what they’re doing.”

“What kind of kid is he?”

“He’s a nice kid,” the guy said. “He plays good ball, but I feel sorry for him. He thought he’d be playing for the Yankees soon, and here he is in this town. You can see it’s got him down.”

“He lives here in this hotel?”

“That’s right,” the guy said. “Most of the older ballplayers stay in rooming houses, but Pete and a couple other kids live here.”

He was leaning on the desk, talking to me and looking across the hotel lobby. He nodded his head. “This is a funny thing,” he said. “Here he comes now.”


Class Act

Ron Fimrite, one of the signature voices at Sports Illustrated (he was at the magazine for more than thirty years) passed away late last week of pancreatic cancer. He was 79. Fimrite worked the baseball beat for SI as well as anyone ever has, and from what I understand he was an old smoothie to boot, a real stand-up guy.

Here’s a short selection of some of his memorable work at SI:

On Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson.

On Pete Rose.

On Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

On Jackie Jensen.

And finally, peep this bonus piece on Harry Caray:

In the face of…adulation, Harry exhibits a generosity of spirit common only to those who know they deserve the best. He stops to chat and sign autographs. His manner is engaging, familiar: “Hiya, sweetheart…. Whaddya say, pal?” Earlier in the evening, Harry had hit a couple of spots, and in each he was accorded the sort of welcome John Travolta might receive should he appear in the girls’ locker room of a small-town junior high school. “Hey, Harry!” “You’re the greatest, Harry.” “Hey, Harry, say hello to the people of the world.” This had been a day like any other in his life, which is to say, utterly chaotic, a continuing test of his pluck and durability.

Harry had arisen brightly that morning after a revivifying four hours of sleep. He placed a call to Jon Matlack, the Texas Ranger pitcher, identifying himself as Brad Corbett to the hotel operator when informed that Mr. Matlack was not in his room. It is Harry’s conviction that even baseball players will return telephone calls if the caller is someone of recognizable financial clout, and Corbett is the principal owner of the Texas baseball team. Harry wanted to discuss with Matlack some intemperate remarks the pitcher had made to the press, to the effect that Harry should be “killed” or, at minimum, have “his lights punched out” for saying on the air that the tumultuous booing Matlack’s teammate, Richie Zisk, had received from Chicago fans was richly merited.

Zisk, a White Sox player last year, had himself been critical of Chicago fans, a sin in Harry’s eyes comparable to denouncing the game itself. Matlack returned the call and Harry said he would see him in the visitors’ clubhouse at Comiskey Park that evening. There Harry found Matlack to be more contrite than murderous. Zisk was less conciliatory, but he concluded a protracted harangue ambiguously by insisting, “You say anything you want, Harry. O.K.?” Harry, ever unflappable, agreed he would do just that. When the crowd booed Zisk even more ferociously that night, Harry apologized, in a way. “There must be something wrong with your television sets,” he advised his listeners.

Observations From Cooperstown–A Tribute to Bob Fowler

For much of the 1980s and nineties, I had the pleasure of learning baseball from Bob Fowler. Formerly a beat writer for the Twins, Fowler had become the owner of the Utica Blue Sox, a minor league team that I covered as part of my duties at WIBX Radio. Bob knew the game thoroughly—from the 1960s to the current day. Whenever I interviewed him, or just talked to him off the cuff, my knowledge of the game grew considerably.

I found it fascinating that Bob, a former sportswriter, had “graduated” to become an owner. Unlike many minor league operators, he knew the game from two vastly different perspectives. As a beat writer, he once listened to Rod Carew threaten him with a baseball bat. As a team owner in the New York-Penn League, he worked for many years out of a trailer, cramped and muggy. With those kinds of experiences, Bob Fowler became an interesting guy to know.

As a fan of baseball, I already knew the names of many players I had grown up with in the sixties and seventies. Bob helped flesh out those names for me, attaching personalities to the baseball cards. One of those characters was former Twins right-hander Jim “Mudcat” Grant. “He was really the catalyst of that [Minnesota] team,” Fowler told me years ago. “First of all, he was black. I think that was very significant to the Minnesota franchise. He wasn’t Cuban. He was [an American] black… Mudcat came in and he was a loosy-goosy guy. But the Minnesota team basically was a white team, outside of the Latins we had. It was basically a white team. And he came into that clubhouse, and he was the synergy of that ballclub. Harmon [Killebrew] was a quiet guy. Bob Allison was a quiet guy. We had a clubhouse of quiet guys. And Mudcat was sort of the spark, really.”

Bob also gave me great insights into the versatile Cesar Tovar, briefly a Yankee and one of the game’s eccentric but loveable characters. Bob told me how Tovar was a packrat. At the end of each season, he would collect as much baseball gear as he could find, from gloves to bats to catcher’s chest protectors. As Bob pointed out to me, Tovar didn’t gather the gear for himself; he collected those bats and balls and gloves for underprivileged kids in his native Venezuela.

A little over a decade ago, I set out a course of action to write my first book, a large volume on the Oakland A’s dynasty of the early seventies, I realized that Bob would provide a terrific source of information. He was more than happy to help—and provide me with a few surprising revelations. “Well, the best guy, the best guy on the A’s, the guy I really enjoyed the most—and I don’t mean that we became buddy-buddy—I liked Reggie Jackson,” Bob said. “I mean, Reggie Jackson was a real businessman. Reggie Jackson knew what you wanted. I don’t know that he had ever been schooled at Arizona State in media relations, but he could sense what was a good story, what was a good quote. And he was willing to give it. Other writers said, ‘Oh, he’s an egotist.’ I don’t feel that way at all. He knew his role; he knew your role. He was happy to give you his part of the mutual relationship, the working agreement that you had. And then that was it. He would go his way and you’d go your way.”

Any discussion of the A’s invariably included a debate about the merits and pitfalls of Charlie Finley. Much to my surprise, Bob appreciated Finley more than most sportswriters. “Oh yeah, great guy,” Bob informed me during a memorable interview. “Great, great, great guy. Charles Finley was… he was a character, obviously. I have to personally qualify this. I like different type of people. People that are of the same ilk from a media point of view weren’t interesting to me. I liked the different kind of guys. Certainly Charlie was that way. But the thing I like about Charlie—he was articulate. He was always willing to give you a quote. Now, all the people said, ‘Well, he’s an egotistical whatever.’ I always felt he was cooperative with me. He would answer your questions. He wouldn’t duck them.”

Bob didn’t duck questions either. I asked him questions on a variety of topics, whether it was running a minor league team or ripping a major leaguer in print. (Bob, by his own admission, could be very tough on Twins players.) He always gave me his opinion, whether I agreed with it or not. At times, he could be gruff, sometimes downright intimidating. On one occasion, Bob disagreed with me vehemently when I chastised local Utica fans for not coming out to watch the Blue Sox on opening night. I could tell that he was very upset with me—heck, the listeners could have told you that—but he carried on with the rest of the interview as if nothing had happened. There was no grudge. He just disagreed with me, that’s all, and was more than willing to move on to the next day.

Earlier this week, I came across an obituary on the Internet. I discovered that Bob Fowler, former sportswriter and former minor league owner, died earlier this month from Lou Gehrig’s disease. He had struggled with ALS for two and a half years before finally losing the battle at the age of 69. I felt bad that I had lost touch with Bob, felt bad that I didn’t even know about the diagnosis.

But I’m awfully glad that, for nearly the last twenty years, I had the good chance to know him. Thanks, Bob.

Bruce Markusen worked for WIBX Radio in Utica from 1987 to 1995.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver