Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 14

Elsa

The saga of Ryan O'Malley and the 1912 Red Sox returns! When we last left our temporally displaced hero, he was covering the historic battle between Walter Johnson and Smokey Joe Wood.

Sport Sullivan was leaning against the brick façade of the park as I walked out of the gates. He seemed to be alone, which was a relief.

"You didn’t bet this one?" he called out as I tried to hustle by him.

"No, sorry, felt too close to call."

"Couldn’t remember who won, eh?" the gambler called out.

That stopped me in my tracks.

"I got to thinking," he went on, "how much do I know about things that happened a hundred years ago? Not much, really." Sullivan gave me a bright smile.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," I lied.

He tossed me a coin from his jacket pocket. It was a nickel with the head of Thomas Jefferson on one side along with the year 2004. My heart sank.

"Strange coin, isn’t it?" Sullivan smirked. "Why on earth would you give a coin like that to a man to buy a paper?"

"You’ve read to many H.G. Wells novels, Sport." I replied.

"Maybe," he laughed. "But how many people would have known the Sox would be the top team in the league after a fourth place finish the year before? You’ve took ‘em in almost every game early, when the odds were good. You bet bigger when Wood was pitching- "

"I’ve lost plenty of bets, Sport," I shot back.

"But not most." He quipped. "Maybe you don’t know who will win every game. I mean 92 years is a long time back, right?. You knew Boston would win a lot though."

"I’m a baseball fan, I cover the sport, I…"

"You came out of nowhere," he interjected. "I couldn’t find a single trace of you even existing before April, as a matter of fact." He must of have seen my expression change for a brief second when he said this. "Oh don’t worry. I am not going to run around town telling everyone you are from the future."

"I can’t imagine that would be a convincing story," I smiled.

"But you are going to tell me what you do know," he shot back suddenly growing menacing. "I suspect that includes who wins the World Series."

I am not sure what came over me in that particular instant. Sullivan didn’t have much over me. He could tell the world I was not who I said I was, he could even tell them that I was from the distant future, but that not going to do me much harm. The threat of violence was very real, but there alone with him, I was not really afraid. I am not sure exactly what I was thinking then actually. Seeing that coin and being threatened by that cheap hood angered me and I became a bit reckless.

"This coin is dated 2004," I began. "You know the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004. It is this really big deal because they don’t win one from 1918 until then. It was pretty amazing actually, or it will be, I mean."

"I don’t care who wins the 2004 World Series," he said, conjuring his most menacing tone. "You’re going to tell me who wins the 1912 World Series."

"Sure thing", I shot back with a smile. "Giants in seven," I lied. "Or at least that is the way it went originally."

"What the hell do you mean?" the bookie growled.

"Who is to say it happen the same way this time? I wasn’t born until 1976, and there was no Ryan O’Malley writing for the Town Crier in the past I knew. Things may change because of me, because I am here. I don’t see why they would, but it is certainly a real possibility."

Sullivan’s face twisted with rage as he listened.

"When you travel through time as I have, you always run the risk of changing the course of events. A simple question put to Stahl or Wood may have already reshaped the course of history. It is a phenomenal amount of power, if you think about it. I could slip back just a bit further and prevent this very conversation in a thousand different ways if I wanted to." I told the bookie, trying hard to sound completely at ease. "but then I don’t have any reason to tamper with your own personal history, do I, Sully?"

It was the thinnest of threats, but it did the trick. Sullivan’s eyes narrowed as he ran the complex equation I laid out through his head. He was silent for what felt like an eternity.

"Giants in seven you said?"

"Yes"

"Ok then. You better be giving this to me straight, O’Malley," the gambler said, nearly whispering. The menace was back in his voice but it was unconvincing now, a practiced affection now stripped of its potency. He turned and walked down Jersey Street, turning at the end of the block and disappearing from sight. What had I just done? I waited there in the shadow of Fenway as the last rays of sunlight disappeared and then followed the same path home.

The next few weeks flew by as everyone turned their attention away from the regular season to towards the World Series. I spent every waking hour at the Park or at the Crier offices trying to satisfy the ever-increasing public demand for stories about their beloved Red Sox. Rutherford Ellis had hired me with total disregard for who I was or what my skills might be, primarily because he did not care at all about baseball or the Red Sox and simply having a warm body to fill those few inches of space was enough for him. In the early weeks of the season, Ellis had not even bothered to learn my name and my stories passed from the Fenway press box to Jimmy Hagerty, who served as the de facto sports editor, to the print room without so much as a casual glance from the man who signed my checks. But now that news of the Red Sox outweighed even the dramatic three-party battle for the presidency Ellis was constantly looking over my shoulder, suggesting slight alterations of phrasing and often questioning the basic vocabulary of the sport.

Hagerty was pulled back into baseball coverage by this point as well, much to his dismay. I found myself the head of a fledgling baseball department that featured a publisher who found the term "base on balls" to be completely alien and an editor who dreamed of that type of blissful ignorance. My replacement on the Braves beat, Danny Wallace, was the final member of this crack team, and the only person besides me that actually understood the game. I tried to position Danny between myself and Ellis. With the entire city of Boston obsessed with the Red Sox, Ellis was determined to be seen as loyal Sox fan and a student of the game and his education in the sport was a frustrating distraction. Fortunately, the Red Sox would spend half of this final month on the road, giving me some minor reprieve.

Apart from teaching Ellis the nuisances of the game, the biggest challenge heading into the World Series was catching up with Joe Wood to produce his weekly column. Wood had been indifferent to the column from the beginning, but after outdueling Johnson in the demands on his time grew exponential and the prickly superstar responded by becoming even less forthcoming. Following the victory over Johnson, the pressure on Wood, who was now the only American League pitcher with a shot at Marquad’s record, was becoming more than he could bare. After a nauseating boat ride from Cleveland to Detroit at the end of September, Wood finally lost, suffering a complete meltdown on the mound, accusing the umpire of squeezing him and berating his hapless teammates for their costly errors.

While Ellis and the staff were disappointed by the loss and the impact it would have on sales during the final week of the regular season, the Sox fan in me was relieved. Wood had been overworked and he was wilting under the spotlight. I knew that Stahl felt the same way and now, he no reason not to rest his star in preparation for the World Series.

Wood’s record was not the only casualty of the Detroit road trip. Third baseman Larry Gardner broke a finger in the final game and was looked lost for the World Series. The slick fielding third baseman was vital to the Red Sox infield and he was probably the third best hitter on the squad as well. The team was limping in to the post season and they knew it. The Giants hadn’t been the same team that had steamrolled the National League in the first half during these final months, but the odds for the series continued to hover around even. I would have to bet big on the series to really make out and for reasons I couldn't quite explain, that made incredibly uneasy.

The ride between the two cities took nearly a full day and at the end of the twelve-game, four-city road trip, no one was in the mood to talk much. Wood was especially drained from the trip, but with the weight of the Marquad’s record no longer hanging over his head, he had less of an edge about him on the trip home. I approached him to try to get him to give me something on the losing effort and was rebuked, just as I had known I would be, but the vitriol had gone from him and simply said that he would rather not discuss it. I wired Ellis telling him there would be no column from Wood that week and went to find Stahl, who I knew would be more forthcoming.

"It is a relief for him," the manager said with out hesitation, "the strain of chasing that damn record was too much for him."

Stahl’s frank comments were exactly what I needed and before I called it a night I was able to wire a half-decent on the loss back to the paper. I filed my story when the train stopped in Akron and settled down in the sleeper car where a number of tired players and coaches were already resting. As I laid down listening to the train rumbling through the opens spaces of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, I found myself reliving my strange encounter with Sport Sullivan over and over again. Each time I considered it, it seemed more surreal. Could Sullivan truly believe a man from the future was hustling him? It was an absurd idea, but he had seen the coin and he had offered up the idea that I was from the future all by himself. He had to believe. He had even been thrown off by my threat, bullied out own his own role as intimidator.

The steady clack of the train eventually lulled me into a fitful sleep. I had had very few dreams since I first awoke in 1912- probably the effect of my increased intake of hard liquor- but that night I found myself dreaming. Each dream had me in Fenway Park, being pursued through the crowd as some historic contest played out on the field. Once it was the Johnson. In another dream, it was 1975 and Fisk was stepping up to the plate just as I caught the glimpse of a dark-eyed man in heavy trench coat, moving towards me from the top of the box seats. Later, I pushed my way down into the concession area and broke out running as the announcer called out "pinch-runner, David Roberts enters for Millar"

I woke up just before sunrise, sweating and feeling more lost in time than at any point since I first had entered Fenway with Haggerty that first cold April morning. I went to the dining car, ordered coffee and lit a cigar. My hands were shaking as I puffed out black smoke. The steady rocking of the train was no longer soothing. Instead, I felt dizzy and each bump and sway pushed my vision slightly more out of focus. The coffee came and offered some small relief. I sipped at it slowly, savoring it, even though it was light and fairly flavorless. As I drank, I discovered my hand had found its way into my jacket pocket and I was rolling a shiny 2004 nickel over in my palm.

We returned to Boston more than an hour late, greeted by a wild and unruly mob of fans that had swarmed over the train station. The Rooters were gathered right on the platform, whipping the drunken mass into a frenzy as the train eased into its final position. A chorus of thousands sung out the team’s unofficial rallying cry, the showtune "Tessie," which McGreevy had first rewritten to torment Honus Wagner- the barkeep loved nothing more than recounting his own important role in the 1903 Championship- and which was now a regular fixture of games and team celebrations. The latest incarnation of the song had the tone-deaf crowd chanting, "Red Sox, you know we love you madly" in endlessly refrain.

Along with the crowd, the entire Boston Police Department seemed to be there, trying to keep some type of order. When the team’s car opened up, it was all the officers could do to keep people from pressing their way in as the player’s tried to exit. I watched the scene from the window, dreading the moment when I would have to leave the calmness of the rail car and enter into that madness.

After all of the players exited the car the mob began its slow march toward Boston Commons, the Rooters leading the way. I slipped off the train into the tail end of the procession. As the slow mass of fans poured out of the depot and onto the streets, two large men caught my eye. They were at the fringes of the group and neither seemed to be in the mood for much revelry, yet they kept pace with us, always just at the periphery. My heart began to race. Were these men following me? I slipped deeper into the crowd.

As I did, the men followed. I felt invisible walls closing in around me. The Rooter’s chorus seemed to grow louder and my head began to spin again as it had early that day on the train. I pressed forward, diving deeper into the sea of drunk and ecstatic fans until finally my pursuers were lost among the waves of bodies. The current of the celebration dragged me along, tossing bodies into each other to push everyone onward. I was overcome with fear and gave into to the tide completely.

I came to rest at the distant end of the Commons, deafened by incomprehensible shouts. Mayor Honey Fitz stood on a small stage that had been erected for the occasion and said a few words that were lost to me, but which drew joyous shouts and applause from the crowd. Jake Stahl was next, looking tired and battered by the long journey. He drew himself up, however, and added more doubtlessly bold words for the fawning thousands. Finally, Joe Wood stepped forward and hysteria broke out. If he spoke at all, his words were lost long before they could even reach the first row. The crowd did not need to hear him speak. They did not want his words. He was their star and come to pay him tribute. They wanted the championship and he would bring it home to them as just as he had brought them the pennant. His right arm would carry it home.

World Series madness had taken over Boston.

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