The Cards, the Cubs, the Controversial Calls

Back in Joe's day, he'd have pulled a base out of his pants.

St. Louis Cardinals

Hey Joe: What did you think of those two controversial calls during the last Cards-Cubs series?

Larry Young, Roscoe, Illinois

There's nothing better than understanding, and that's exactly what I need following those two decisions by the umpires: The first decision concerned a triple play by the Cards, later reversed by the umpires. There was a batter at the plate with two men on base and nobody out. In an attempt to bunt and advance the runners, the batter popped the ball into the air above his (and the catcher's) head. While in pursuit, Yadier Molina seemingly used the batter's back as a springboard to catch the ball in midair — and failed. Meanwhile the runners stalled, pondering the outcome. Immediately after retrieving the ball, the catcher tagged the batter, threw to third and then the ball was relayed on to second, completing the triple play. After a lengthy discussion, the umpires ruled interference against the batter and returned the runners to their original bases.

This was what I gathered from the radio broadcast. By being familiar with the infield fly rule (designed to stop infielders from purposely dropping balls to double up runners), my explanation of the play, right or wrong, was meant to give the reader a better perspective of what happened.

But the real bummer occurred in the Cubs' half of the ninth. With two out, the batter had a 3-2 count and the base runner broke for second. By this time the pitcher had delivered the ball to the plate, and it was called ball four. The catcher threw to the shortstop covering second base, who tagged the oversliding runner, who was called out. According to the radio announcer's indication, it was a "hit-and-run."

Something went wrong on that play. As long as I played ball, that was the first time I'd ever heard of such a thing. Maybe the rule has changed, or maybe the umpires were caught off-guard and made up a call. Whichever way, there were some dummies involved — the runner, coaches, manager or the umpires. Imagine Gary Coleman of Diff'rent Strokes sliding across second and being called out, with his TV brother as the umpire. Can't you just envision him looking up with his face contorted, saying, "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

Better yet, this play reminds me of one of my original gimmicks. While clowning with the Indianapolis Clowns, before going to bat I would conceal a base in the baggy pants I wore. With assistance from the umpire, I would draw a walk. Once I was on first, I'd wander off, get picked off and find myself in a rundown between first and second. Knowing I was unable to escape, I would snatch out the base, put it on the ground and step on it. The umpire would call me safe.

Whether hit-and-run or intent to steal, the runner should have taken a comfortable lead and frozen. He was about to be put in scoring position anyway. As for him stealing, why steal something you're about to be awarded? This is like the crack smoker who said he didn't know how serious his problem was until he began stealing his own furniture. My contention is that after the ump called ball four, he should have hollered, "Time out!" and stopped all other activity. Somebody tell me I'm wrong; it won't hurt my feelings. At least I will have learned something new. Or alternatively, tell me the name of that play.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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