Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 4

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(Image Care of Boston Public Library, Print Department)

Previously on Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit-

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

Ryan O'Malley was in the midst of recounting to me the tale of how he woke up one morning having accidentally slipped into the year 1912. After witnessing the first ever game played at Fenway Park, the time traveler and his new friend boxing writer Jimmy Hagerty set off for the fame Third Base Saloon.

O' Malley went on-

"Hagerty and I caught a street car that wound through an unfamiliar looking stretch of roads. I trusted my companion to lead the way. During the trolley ride I tried my best to remember anything I could about baseball in and around 1912. I raced through every history of the game I could remember, searching for things that may help me make a quick buck. Still, I remembered little that would have separated me from a casual baseball fan in 1912. I knew very few names from the Red Sox team I had just watched and I concentrated hard on asouvenir scorecard I had picked up on my way into game.

Future hall of famers Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper were familiar to me, of course – as was Smokey Joe Wood - I had heard of left fielder Duffy Lewis before and I remember some, maybe Bill James, claiming the outfield of Hooper, Lewis and Speaker was the best of its time. Manager first baseman Jake Stahl’s name sounded vaguely familiar, though I later realized I had him confused with Chick Stahl.

I went over and over the names. The players were all pictured around the edges of the score sheet, sketched in that old tobacco card style with a banner under them showing their name.. I scribbled their positions as best I could during the game, but the lack numbers on the players’ uniforms made it more difficult than you might think. Scanning the players’ names, I recognized one other name and a wave of guilt crashed over my plan to gamble on baseball. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte, who would help throw the World Series seven years into the future, stared back at me from the card.

My focus was continually drawn away from the card as Hagerty tried to turn the conversation to his own love- boxing. He went on and on about Jack Johnson- who I knew mostly from the Miles Davis album almost 60 years in the future. He peppered the first African American Champ with racial insults and scoffed at his claim to the World Heavyweight title. Hagerty’s racism was mostly just a matter of verbiage though. He also went on enthusiastically praising Boston’s own Sam Langford, who he unabashedly called the "Boston Tar Baby." It was a jarring reminder that this world was not so civilized as the one I had left. Hiding my shock at Hagerty’s overt and eve casual racism and the task of pretending to know of all these people made it very difficult to focus on names like Bill Carrigan, Larry Pape, and Buck O’Brien.

We exited on to Columbus Ave and followed a substantial crowd to a small, simple looking saloon with a large sign reading M.T. McGreevy and Co. running the length of the exterior. Above the door was a wooden statue of a ballplayer and a diamond placard that read "3rd Base." Along the side of the bar, there was a two dimensional image of a field with hooks at each position and on both sides of the plate, the 1912 sport’s bar’s substitute for a widescreen TV. The crowd was audible even from down the block and a chill ran down my back as we approached the home of the Royal Roosters.

Hagerty was obviously a regular here and well known by many of the men already there. We pressed our way inside and up to the long, elegant, polished wood bar. Hagerty ordered us up two whiskeys and surveyed the place. It was surprisingly small considering the nearly mythic place it held in Red Sox lore. There was almost no seating at all and the crowd, which was entirely men, stood around in loosely grouped circles talking. To person from of our time, the lack of ambient noise was jarring. There was no television, no radio or jukebox, just the clatter of the cash registers and glasses filled in the silence between heated debates and secretive hushed dealings. There was rarely ever any silence, however.

To my right, a passionate debate was raging over who was a better right fielder, Sam Crawford or Elmer Flick. The man closest to me, who was arguing for Flick was growing frustrated with his companion. He turned to me and asked, "Hey, buddy, would you tell this guy here who’s the best right fielder of all time?" As if the answer were so obvious, that any idiot standing in the room was bound to concur with him.

Normally, I would have been tempted to weigh in on such a question, but since I wasn’t entirely sure who Elmer Flick was and the first player to come to my mind was Babe Ruth, who wouldn’t break into the majors as a pitcher for another two years, I decided to just deflect the question.

"No idea," I said.

"Come on man," the stranger pressed on, "it’s a simple question."

I shrugged, but he continued to glare at me, so I finally gave in, "Crawford, I guess." I said, partly to be safe but also to stick it to the man harassing me.

"Oh, my god! Another one! The man began shouting. "You’re both out of your mind" He went on, turning back to his friend. "Cleveland turned down Ty Cobb for Flick, for god sakes, the man won a batting title and lead the league in triples three straight times!" The tirade eventually attracted the attention of the stout man behind the bar. He made his way over to us and slammed his fist on the bar, silencing the crowd.

"Alright, the barman shouted through his thick moustache, "I’ve heard enough. Flick had one batting title, but he never hit .378 like Wahoo Sam did just last year. He didn’t hit for as much power and he wasn’t much better in the field. Crawford’s the tops in right and that’s it. Nuff Ced!" He shouted and pounded the bar, ending all debate. That was, of course, Michael McGreevy, the owner of the saloon and the last word on all things baseball in Boston. His forceful decision broke the spirit of Elmer Flick’s greatest fan and he shrunk away from the bar. McGreevy turned his attention back to the bar.

"None of them have the arm that Hooper kid has though," he offered in my general direction.

"That’s true," I agreed, more than a little afraid to go against the man.

That guy in Chicago’s a comer too, Jackson." He added.

"Shoeless Joe Jackson," I said, smiling, thankful to actually know something that was being discussed.

"How do think it feels to hit .408 and not win the batting title, ehh?," McGreevey went on.

"That’s Ty Cobb for you, I said, taking a chance. McGreevey smiled and extended his hand. "Mike McGreevey," he said.

"Ryan O’Malley." I shook his hand. "It’s great to meet you," I said. "You’re something of a legend in this town." McGreevey waved off the praise. At this point, Hagerty returned with a plump man in a three piece suit. The man was obviously quite a good deal better off than most of the other patrons. He looked like a cross between Boss Tweed and Burl Ives.

"Hiya, Mike" Hagerty said to McGreevy.

"Jimmy Hagerty!" McGreevy returned, putting up his fists at the boxing writer. "How you been?"

"Rolling with the punches," Hagerty replied. "I see you’ve made Mr. O’ Malley’s acquaintance."

"Yes, indeed, Good baseball mind on this man," McGreevey shot back.

"That’s just what I was telling Mr. Ellis- Ryan, I’d like you to meet Rutherford Ellis, publisher of the Boston Town Crier." Hagerty said, gesturing to the large figure beside him.

"Mr. O’Malley, here is your baseball writer," Hagerty told Ellis, putting me on the spot.

"We’ll have to see about that," Ellis said, sizing me up. "Are you a college man Mr. O’Malley.

"Yes, sir, Columbia."

" New York man, ehh? A Giants fan then, I suppose?

"No, Red Sox" I told him, answering honestly, "I grew up in Connecticut, my Dad used to take me up to Fen- um Huntington to see the Red Sox as a kid" I had caught myself before the reference to Fenway Park, but I quickly realized the timeline was off. This error didn’t slip by Mr. Ellis completely so, I had to think quickly.

"I mean, we used to see the Braves first, then, the Americans- because of Young" I tried to explain, hoping this would not sound like mere gibberish. I was sweating now. Getting caught up in a casual baseball argument was one thing, but I had not expected to be given some impromptu interview and I was certain I would end up looking ridiculous at least.

"Sox fan, huh? Ellis continued. "Whadda you make of the team this year?" He asked pointedly.

I saw my chance here. If I was going end up stuck in the past forever, I wanted to lay money down on Boston early and often. I spoke up a bit louder than needed.

"I think the Red Sox will win the World Series, Mr. Ellis" I said, prompting Hagerty and Ellis to break out laughing. McGreevey heard me and he didn’t laugh.

"That’s a good man there," he said, "what’d I tell you, that man knows the game."

Ellis smiled, "well, you’re in the right place with that kind of talk at least, but seriously, you think the Americans will win the whole thing?"

"Absolutely," I said, "I’d bet big money on it. Speaker is going to have a big year and Smokey Joe Wood will be the best pitcher in the game by year’s end. They have a great outfield with Hooper and Lewis and I’d guess that that new park of theirs is going to be a hitter’s dream"

McGreevy was listening closely now and liking what he heard. Ellis seemed skeptical.

"He’s your man, this guy," McGreevy said, giving me his full endorsement. "I told you he knew the game and there is your proof."

Ellis thought it over a moment.

"Wood’s a bum, I don’t buy it," he concluded. "But what the heck, these guys will love it," he said indicating McGreevy, "and that will work for me, you’re hired, kid. Stop by the office Monday and we’ll get you set up."

He slapped me on the back and walked off to speak with some group of well dressed men down the bar. Hagerty raised his glass. "Welcome to Crier" he toasted, finishing his drink. Just like that, I was the baseball writer for the Boston Town Crier. That’s how it was then, I learned. Jobs, political appointments, contracts and the like were not awarded through careful search, but with a quick word between friends. Hagerty didn’t want to be stuck in town all summer covering a sport he found tedious and I was educated and willing, which was enough for him. McGreevy liked me, and that was enough for Ellis, who desperately wanted the Royal Rooters, which the barkeep led, to buy the Crier after all.

No resume, no references, just a drink and a few words about baseball and I was gainfully employed. Different time, back then. Few people found cronyism to be an issue and I wasn’t about to complain.

I had another drink with Hagerty and he gave me a general rundown of the position and the paper, which was small compared to the Globe and the Herald . After that, I pressed McGreevy for his opinions on the team and got familiar with the line up and the events leading up to the start of the season. McGreevy was far and away the top expert on the Red Sox, but all of his fellow Royal Rooters were at a level of fanaticism that is unmatched by all but a few fans these days.

A whole contingent of the Rooters had just been with the club at their Spring Training camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which apparently was something like a cross between Las Vegas and the town of Tombstone in a bad western movie. The buzz was that shortstop ‘Heinie’ Wagner, who I learned was not related to Honus Wagner in anyway, had gotten his throwing arm back and Tris Speaker had knocked around the Christy Matthewson in an exhibition game and the Rooters were expecting big things . They felt confident about the upcoming season for their beloved Red Sox, but few of them really took my claim that the Sox would win the World Series too seriously.

While I mingled with the Rooters, the chance I had been hoping for final arose. A friendly and particularly dapper looking member of the group approached me and asked, "you serious about putting big money down on the Red Sox?" I took a hard look at the man, and it was completely clear he was not just simply fascinated by the bold claim the way some of the other were. This man was a bookie and as it turned out, he was not just any bookie.

"’cause if you are looking for real action, I could help you out." He continued.

"I’d bet a fortune on it, if I had it, but as it is, I’m nearly broke," I told him. "Don’t worry though, I just got a job." I informed the man coolly.

He smiled widely, taking in my meaning. "Joe Sullivan," he said, extending his hand. "you can call me ‘Sport’" So, I shook hands with the man who would, as Fitzgerald said, ‘play with the faith of fifty million people,’ content and quite self satisfied in the knowledge that I would rip off the man who would later fix the 1919 World Series, should I remain stuck in 1912 beyond that strange and fateful day.

I left Third Base not long after I had met Sullivan and decided to head downtown for a hotel. I found not far from CopleyPlaza and laid down $1.50 for a room. I had briefly considered trying to lay back down in the muddy remains of the Huntington Ave Grounds where I had woken up that morning, in the hope I would once again be returned to 2011, but the thought of trying to sleep in a muddy construction site was not too appealing and with all I had gone through that day, I had no reason to believe I was headed home any time soon."

With that, Ryan O’Malley sat back and took the final sip of his drink. It was dark outside and I was surprised to see that it was almost . The time traveling sportswriter looked tired and the effects of the bourbon were finally beginning to show. I asked Mr. O’Malley if we could meet again tomorrow night so that he could finish his story and he seemed relieved by the suggestion. We left the bar and went to our rooms.

When I got to my room, I wrote down all that O’Malley had told me, paying special attention to anything that might betray fraud on the storyteller. It was well past when I had finished my notes and went to sleep with the strange tale still dancing in my head. I decided the next day I would check out this salacious story and see if I could understand why such a seemingly sane and likable man would create this elaborate and involved fabrication.

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