I And Lady
by Gene Murray
Some of what I have wrote here sounds far- fetched and maybe hard to believe, but it’s all true. This was right after Shoeless Joe and some of his cronies tossed America’s pastime right into the dumpster and most of the rubes we played in front of were still steamed, not that I could blame them. The judge was comin’ down hard on all the sharpies, the Babe was gulpin’ hot dogs and swillin’ beer, and the Peach, well, we all felt the same about the Peach. He was only a bad dream until he got within ninety feet of you. If that happened to be the case, he was probably plannin’ to run you over, an activity in which he took great satisfaction. Like I always used to say, baseball didn’t have no heroes.
I just come up to the bigs, a second string catcher out of James Madison High School, Troutville, Pennsylvania, and green as spring corn. The Robins made it to the Serious back in ’16, but couldn’t even get close after that, and were now lookin’ old and tired in a way that had the front office thinkin’ we should change the name from the Brooklyn Robins to the Brooklyn Pigeons. They was lookin’ to go young, and that’s probably what got me up there, being a kid. I tell ya, the first time I watched these birds practicing, I thought they was a bunch a Civil War vets out on a lark.
Our not so beloved manager, Dutch, was a study himself. Dutch was partial to sticking his players with nicknames, the kind of nicknames that would motivate a guy to conspire with some pals to murder him. If you was bald, he’d call you Samson, every short guy was Stretch and every tall guy was Peewee. We had a right fielder that stuttered some, and so Dutch, who made it all the way through third grade himself, called the guy Gettysburg Address. Almost like he knew what that was.
As soon as he got wind that I was from Troutville, I was Fish. “Hey Fish,” he would call, “Take the hook out of your mouth and go warm up Thomkins.” This was major league humor at its finest.
The worst name, though, was hung on our best player. Jake had been with the Robins for ten years, and every year he was the ugliest guy in the lineup, maybe even the league. A nose like Porky Pig, eyes like a ferret, short, bowlegged and hairy as a moose. His original moniker was Beauty, but by the time I’m sittin’ on the bench, with an assist from Dutch, he was called Lady.
Lady, though, was the best second baseman in the majors. He had the best hands I ever seen and when he turned the double play his pivot was a thing of beauty. He would toe that second sack, leap and fire a perfect, I mean perfect, pea to first base every time. I knew a dame one time told me that Jake coulda danced like a Fred Astaire. This Betty was a looker and she had her hooks in me pretty good, but it was hard not to laugh at her, the thought of a mug like Jake prancing around with a top hat.
Jake had the locker right next to mine at the ball yard, and we shared lodgings, the veterans on the club declinin’ to room with no ugly man, and so we got to be friendly. I never called him Beauty, or Lady either, on account of I already got enough dents in my head. He was always Jake to me, and he always was Jake with me, too.
One time though, it was right after we lost a doubleheader in Philly, I saw him walk into the bedroom wearing just his shorts. Now, I don’t usually stare at no men’s legs, but these were real standouts. Scrapes, scabs, bruises, black and blue and yellow from his ankle to his thigh. And he walked like it too. On the field his feet didn’t never seem like they touched solid ground, but off the field, he walked like his shoes were full of broken beer bottles.
He sat on the bed rubbing them for a while and I says, “I ain’t never seen no legs that busted up before.”
He says, “That’s the joy of second base, kid.”
He says, “Especially when you’re playing the Tigers.”
He says, “It ain’t no folklore that Cobb, that son of a bitch, aims his spikes at anybody in the general vicinity of second base, up to and including umpires. I heard tell he even spiked a groundskeeper during practice one time.”
“Gee,” I says, “that almost makes me glad I get to wear the tools of ignorance. At least I got some protection from Cobb, that son of a bitch.”
He says to me, real sad like, “These legs is what’s gonna betray me out of baseball one day. I can still hit some, I can still pick a ground ball out of high grass, but turning the pivot on the six-four-three is becoming a painful proposition.”
I left it at that for a while, not wanting to make him feel even worser than he already did, but I felt real bad for him. Without thinkin’ about it, I fell into the habit of gettin’ things for him, even across the room, and doin’ small errands. He always appreciated it, but he told me once, “If I ever had a son, I’d want him to be something like you, only smarter. Don’t let nobody see you helping me. If they think I got leg trouble, they’ll be circling me like sharks in a tank.”
I says, “What does the doc say? About your legs, I mean?”
The doc wasn’t a real doc, you may not be surprised to hear. He was just a trainer that rubbed us down with liniment, and maybe wrapped a bandage around a broken finger, if you bothered him enough about it. The doc was a nice enough guy, except when he had a snootful. Then, he was mean as hell. I seen him once kick a cat into a pack of snarlin’ dogs. When the fur was done flyin’ he says to me, “I really loved that cat.”
Jake says to me, “I don’t let the doc near me.”
He says, “If anyone finds out how banged up I am, I’m done in this league.”
He says, “You can’t tell nobody. You got to dummy up about this.”
So I promised him I would, but I didn’t feel none too good about it.
One time after that we was playing the Indians out in Cleveland, and they had a left fielder who, although he wasn’t as bad as Cobb, wasn’t any better either. Well, he draws a walk and the next mook, a righty who I recall couldn’t hit curve balls, smacks a worm burner to the shortstop for a tailor made six-four-three. This left fielder though, his name escapes me right now, comes barreling in like Jake is blocking the entrance to a free buffet. Jake manages to get the throw off and complete the double play, but he’s down on the ground lookin’ crumpled up for a good while. Finally he gets back up and crouches at his position, ready to play. He pretty much sticks in that spot the rest of the game. Lucky thing for him it was the eighth inning, and he didn’t have to chase after no chances in the ninth.
He was able to dress and walk out of the ball yard with his head up and a smile on his face, but I and Jake had to take a cab back to our hotel, only a few blocks away. He shuffled to his bed, and lay there until the next day. Typical Jake, he never says a word.
That night, I took myself over to this tavern that I knew was one of Doc’s favorite haunts.
Me with a beer, and Doc with a scotch, I says, “So, Doc, I can use your help with something. My legs is getting all banged up from the sliding and the getting up and down all the time. You got any easy remedies might help me out a little?”
He says, “You? Getting knobbly legs? Nah, you’re way too young. Must be some friend of yours too cheap to go see a doctor.”
I says, “Yeah. Cheapskate. This friend can really squeeze the eagle, but I known him a long time. Can you help him?”
“Well, I don’t know,” he says to me, shaking his empty glass. “Professional medical advice ain’t usually free for nothin’.”
So, I signal to the barkeep to hit him again, and he thinks it over for a few minutes.
He says, “My wife’s got a cousin over to Paducah who is a nurse. She told me once, now don’t go thinkin’ I’m stringin’ you along, she told me once that they use stockings to help old people whose legs ain’t working the way they used to. She called them therapeutic wraps, or some such damn thing, but what she was talking about was stockings. Plain ordinary old stockings.”
I says, “Stockings? Like what a dame wears? Those kind of stockings?”
“Yes,” he says, “the very same. The squeal is that stockings squeeze the legs and the blood vessels, veins and such, so that the blood goes to where it’s supposed to go. I guess that kinda makes sense until you stop to think, where the hell else is blood gonna go?”
“So you think it’s the bunk?”
He says, “I don’t know. I could give you the cousin’s address if you want to write and ask her. But I don’t remember addresses so good when I’m thirsty.”
I bought him another drink, and then I bought him several more figurin’ that if he got good and boiled he might not remember this conversation.
Jake, still in bed at the hotel, did not take the news as good as I hoped.
“What?” he says to me. “You talked to Doc about me?”
I says, “No, I never mentioned you. I told him I was askin’ for a friend.”
“Yeah,” he says to me. “That’ll sure fool him. With I and you bunkin’ together, he’ll never suspect it’s me.”
“I got him pretty drunk, too, so maybe he won’t even remember. What do you think about his idea?”
He says, “Stockings? Me wearing stockings?”
He says, “Wouldn’t the boys and Dutch get a laugh out of me sashayin’ up to the plate wearing a nice pair of nylons.”
He says, “I’d be laughed out of the league. I’d be low man on a grounds crew in South America before you could say ‘Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry’?”
“Well, you got to do something,” I says. “We got Detroit in a couple weeks, and if Cobb, that son of a bitch, clips you one more time, you ain’t walkin’ off the field under your own steam.”
That got him real quiet real fast.
“And besides,” I says to him. “You would wear the stockings under your uniform. There wouldn’t be no sashayin’ involved. Pull your pants down low and your socks up high, and nobody would know nothin’.”
He thought about it for a few minutes. “Where would I get stockins’ that would fit these tree trunks. I ain’t exactly a size five debutant, you know.”
“I been thinkin’ about that too,” I says. “And I think maybe we could borrow a pair from the widow Shaughnessey without her actually knowin’ about it.” Widow Shaughnessey was our landlady, and was built like a Bolshevik, but was sweet and kind and never had a bad word for nobody.
It was a Wednesday, wash day, and though I hated to do it, I sneaked a pair of the widow’s stockings off the line, trimmed the feet off and gave them to Jake to try out.
“I ain’t a violent man,” he says to me, very serious like. “I ain’t never hit no pal that didn’t deserve it, but I swear that if you tell anyone about this, I will pound you like you ain’t never been pounded in your life.” He shook his fist at me, which was about the size of a toaster and a good deal hairier.
I couldn’t think of nothin’ to say, and so I didn’t.
Jake didn’t find much to say to me for the next couple of days, just an occasional scowl, but he looked okay on the field. A little of his spring was back, and he went on a hot streak at the dish.
In our hotel room one night after dinner, we was in Saint Loo, he grabs me and says, “I gotta hand it to you kid. That remedy you give me sure does seem to be helpin’. I ain’t felt like limpin’ for a couple of days now. Those, you know, leg wrappers, seem to be doin’ the trick. Yes, indeed.” He did a little soft shoe just to prove he could.
“That’s great, Jake,” I says to him. “And just in time too. We got Detroit starting Monday, and Cobb, that son of a bitch, knows you’re going good. He’ll be gunning for you.”
“Let him,” says Jake. “I ain’t afraid of no Cobb.”
That Monday it rained in Detroit, not exactly a newsworthy occurrence, but the extra day was good for Jake’s legs and probably his confidence as well. The longer we could get away with the ‘stockings under his uniform’ dodge, the happier I and he would be. He wore them every day, but, of course never let me see him wearin’ them.
We spent the afternoon viewing a picture, one of them new Buster Keaton comedies, and both laughed ourselves hoarse. That guy can certainly get himself into and out of some scrapes.
On the bus ride back, I asked how them stockins’ was holdin’ up and he tells me they got a bad rip in ‘em a week ago, but the widow Shaughnessey fixed him up with another pair.
I says, “You told her I stole them others?”
“I didn’t have to tell her nothing,” he says back to me. “She saw you sneaking off with that other pair, only she was too much a lady to say nothin’.”
“Oh,” I says.
“Yeah,” he says to me. “I told her about my problem and showed her, just up to the knees you know, and she was really good about it. Said she had some salve that might help, but I said I didn’t want no salve. I’m starting to think, though, that when we get back, I may try some of that salve stuff. She’s a real smart woman.”
He had a funny look on his face, like I hadn’t ever seen on him before.
He says, “Anyway, I gave her the money to buy me two more pair, to get me through the season, and I paid her for the pair that you disappeared from her.”
“Oh,” I says again, not knowin’ what else to say.
The rain let up early on Tuesday, and the field was just fine for the game that afternoon.You can’t help gettin’ all googly by the way a good ball field will sparkle after a rain, sorta like that Garden of Eden in the good book. Which reminds me of a crazy thing. I once heard some writers prognosticatin’ that someday there will be night games in the majors; ‘under the lights’ they called it. But I think maybe those writers have been drinkin’ too much local hooch. Baseball is a day game, and anyhow, how could they possibly make enough electric for a whole ball yard? This modern day and age, you got to be real careful who you listen to.
I got the start that day, O’Hara claiming a backache, the same backache he got against Detroit ever since Cobb stole three bases on him in one game. We had a fly ball pitcher goin’ that day, Hendrickson, so Jake didn’t have much need to test out his legs other than a couple of easy grounders. By the fourth, each team had two hits and no runs.
In the home fifth, Cobb cracks a double to right center, mostly because I signaled for a curve and Hendrickson threw him a fastball. Dutch’s name for Hendrickson was ‘Helen Keller’, because he didn’t listen to nobody under no circumstances.
Standing on second base with his usual grin, Cobb yells down to Jake, “You’re going good these days, Lady. What’s your secret? Takin’ a new vitamin?”
Jake says back to him, “Yeah. It’s a new vitamin called ‘stick it in your ear’, and I’d certainly love to give you one.”
The next batter pops one up and Jake puts it away for the third out. Cobb calls out, just as the ball is coming down,
"Why don't you catch it in your purse, Lady?"
We’re still scoreless in the seventh, and with two away, Cobb, that son of a bitch, smokes one up the middle for a single. He points at Jake and says, “I’m comin’ for you Lady. Gonna muss your makeup.”
Hendrickson has some skills, but holdin’ runners close ain’t one of them. I call for a pitchout and sure enough, Cobb takes off for second. I throw a bullet right to the bag, Jake takes the throw and slaps on the tag. The ump throws up his thumb and yells “You’re out!” And under his breath he mutters, “you son of a bitch.”
I’m about to start dancin’ a jig when I notice that everything got quiet and nobody on the infield is moving. Cobb, Hendrickson, the shortstop, and the umpire are all dumb as stumps, starin’ at Jake. Cobb, and that’s why he’s a son of a bitch, had lifted his spikes when he was slidin’ and ripped Jake’s pants leg from the middle of the thigh all the way down to the ankle. Those black stockings stood out clear as day against his gray uniform. Cobb laughed first, then the ump, and then the whole infield was pointin’ and gigglin’. Soon, both benches were leaning out of the dugouts and fallin’ all over themselves. If it had happened to someone else, I suppose I would have laughed too.
Jake never went back out for the eighth and ninth inning, and I haven’t laid eyes on him since. Red faced, mad as hell, he walked out of the ball yard, and was gone.
We lost that game in eleven innings. Cobb, that son of a bitch, hit a triple and scored the winning run on a wild pitch.
The Robins never did get back to the World Serious, but then neither did Cobb, that, well you know.
A couple of weeks later, the Robins, embarrassed and tired of losing, traded off most of the team, me included, and brought up a whole roster of minor leaguers. I spent the rest of the season on the bench in Toledo and kickin’ myself about them stockings. I wrote Mrs. Shaughnessey a couple of times but never got no letter back. Nobody heard a word from Jake again, not even where to send his pay. It seemed like it rained a lot and even Buster Keaton wasn’t too funny anymore.
About two years later I’m the starting backstop for the Mud Hens, and I get a letter from Jake, with all kind of stamps all over the envelope. Turns out he was managing a semi-pro team in South America called the Argentine Armadillos.
“I don’t need them stockins’ no more,” he wrote, “‘cause I’m sitting on my duff most of the time. Oh, and you can’t call Bridgett ‘the widow Shaughnessey’ no more. She’s my wife, and a damn fine one too. So I guess after all I have landed on my feet. You know me, Al. I usually do.”
Like I said at the beginning, some of what I have wrote here sounds far- fetched and also hard to believe, but it’s all true. You could look it up.
Bio:Gene Murray has a Masters Degree in Speech, and has had short stories published in Foliate Oaks Literary Magazine, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. He lives and writes in upstate New York. To quote Woody Allen, “My only regret in life is that I wasn’t born someone else.