September 5, 1948

Sept 5 1948I came across this picture the other day in the archives of a family member’s photo album.  I don’t know anyone in this picture.  To my knowledge, these men are distant uncles and brothers of distant uncles and brothers.

But I often wonder about pictures like this.  What were they doing on September 5, 1948?  Why were they together?  What were they thinking?

My guess?  I suspect that these men, in their wool pants and starched white shirts gathered in the high heat of that lazy Sunday afternoon for a fried chicken dinner.  A dry, hot breeze blew across Cleo Street as they talked politics; Truman was on his Whistle-Stop campaign with a train in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that very afternoon giving another speech and talking about the Republican Congress.  The proud central-Indiana Republicans wondered aloud about his chances.  Talk turned to the pastor’s sermon from that morning and then they landed on a subject that mattered most: The dry weather.  It had been nearly a month since they had any rain to speak of (little did they know they would have an inch of rain on their fields before the end of next day).  They spoke of the excessive heat and the suffering crops.  It was hot and it was dry.  It was a typical Sunday afternoon discussion.

But I also suspect at 3:00, someone carried the old Philco out to the lawn and turned it on.  As it crackled to life and they searched for the right station, they leaned back, closed their eyes and listened to the Brooklyn Dodgers take on the New York Giants at Ebbets Field.  They smiled at the sound of the 37,000+ cheering fans coming through the radio and into their yard.  It was a long game and somewhere around 5:30 they filled their plates with more chicken and cheered with mouths full of potato salad as the game went into extra innings, tied one-a-piece.  They held their breath in the top of the 12th when the Giants’ first baseman, Johnny Mize knocked one over the wall and drove in Whitey Lockman, making it a three to one game in favor of the Giants.  They sat on the edge of their benches, leaning closer to the radio in the bottom of the 12th as the Dodgers managed to get the bases loaded with two outs.  They probably sat, chewing their chicken quietly as a pitching change was announced and Ray Poat replaced Dave Koslo on the mound.  But they clapped one another on the backs and cheered heartily when, with two balls and no strikes against him, George Shuba smacked a ball deep into right field driving in Billy Cox and Eddie Miksis for the 4-3 win!

The game was over and the men were jubilant.  Some aunt or sister of distant aunts and sisters, and the other women who had watched these men share a meal and enjoy the game, got out her old Brownie camera and told them to wipe the chicken grease from their chins and smile for the camera.  And that picture, that moment lives on in the archive of a photo album of a family member.  Anyone who sees the photograph knows it is true:  The day was a grand success.

At least that’s the story I see in this picture.

I Was A Replacement Ref

When I was 18 years old I stopped by the ball diamond to watch one of the youth group kids play summer baseball.  The field, located beside Farmland’s Lion’s Club, was the perfect place for the fierce competition that occurred each summer. In fact, as a young boy I spent many summer nights on this same field.  I wasn’t very good but, just like every other boy in town, I played summer ball.

I played (really it was more like I stood around) in right field because this is where the worst players were positioned.  I didn’t know the rules, I couldn’t swing a bat and I wasn’t fast on my feet.  But if you needed a place to hang out, the Lion’s Club was the spot.  And on this day, under the hot sun, it appeared that everyone had turned out to watch the game.

Everyone but the 1st base umpire.

Apparently, they were short one ump.  And for some reason that continues to elude me to this day, the coaches thought I would make a good Replacement Ref.  Despite my strong protests and enthusiastic objections, they finally pulled me out onto the diamond.  They explained that it was really very easy.  All I had to do was watch the bag when a ball was hit.  If the boy was safe they I would make that call by waving my arms to an outstretched position and yell, “SAFE!”.  Or, if the boy was NOT Safe, I would jerk my thumb up in the air over my right shoulder and yell, “OUT!”.  Very easy.  Nothing to it.

However, with the first crack of the bat and the cheer of the crowd, I realized I was in over my head.  I watched the bag.  I caught site of the runner as he sprinted to first base.  The short stop threw the ball like a bullet.  In a flash, the runner’s foot hit the bag at the exact same time the ball hit the 1st baseman’s glove.  Without even thinking and with all the gusto I could muster I threw my arms out to their full extent (the sign for safe) and yelled at the top of my lungs, “OUT!” (the call for out).

The boys stopped and stared at me.  Coaches rushed the field.  Parents threw things.  Children cried.  Dogs howled.  And I walked away, thanking them for the exciting opportunity to serve my community and reminding them that I didn’t want to do this little gig in the first place.

Replacement Ref’s have it rough as evidenced by the NFL this season.  And I feel for the guys (and one gal) who just tried to help out.  They, like me, were in way over their heads.  They didn’t ASK for the jobs.  They were just trying to help out.  And so, from one Replacement Ref to all of those who worked the games during the first three weeks of NFL football; Thanks for doing your best.

But don’t ever do it again, okay?  Thanks.