Baseball, the Navy, and Me
By: Garland Davis
Baseball was a part of my boyhood. I played in elementary school. I played in games with the neighborhood boys where we chose sides and used part of a cow pasture for our ball field. Yes, we used dried cow flops for bases. The cows didn’t bother us but you had to keep an eye out for the bull. He wasn’t a baseball fan.
I played for the two years I was in High School. The coach was pissed and threatened to kick my ass when I took the GED tests between my sophomore and junior years and was sent on to a vocational school until I turned sixteen. I was his best pitcher. That isn’t saying a lot. I had control of my fast ball one day out of seven. The coach prayed that the day would be Friday. I had a curve that worked sometime. And I could throw a knuckleball. The catcher hated my guts when all I had working was the knuckler. They are hard to catch. Catcher Bob Uecker, when asked what was the best way to catch a knuckleball replied, “Wait ‘til it stops rolling and go pick it up.”
A couple of the highlights of my youth revolved around baseball. I watched the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in seven games on a seventeen-inch black and white TV. Finally, the Dodgers had defeated the Yankees behind Duke Snyder’s bat and four home runs during the series.
A friend and I helped a drunk stranger pull his car out of a ditch before the Highway Patrol or Sheriff’s Deputies discovered him. In appreciation, he gave us two tickets to a World Series game. I was in the left field bleachers when Bill Mazeroski hit the ninth inning home run in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series and stole the game and series from the Yankees.
Shortly afterward, I was off to San Diego for recruit training and then on to NAS Lemoore for duty. I played on the Supply Department team and was chosen for the station team. I still had problems with the fastball and curve, but my knuckle ball kept me on the mound. I was chosen as an alternate for the Fourteenth Naval District All Star team but wasn’t needed.
Leaving Lemoore, I was off to the fleet. There was little time for baseball. Also about this time, the Navy stopped playing baseball. I think someone was injured by a pitched ball. Softball became the game that was played. I was actually a better softball pitcher than I had been in baseball. I managed to play a few games. During a yard period in San Francisco, I attended many Giants games at Candlestick. The motivations were a chance to watch baseball, fifty cents admission in uniform, and the beer vendors didn’t check ID. A highlight of my time in San Francisco, I watched the great Willie Mays play some spectacular baseball.
A couple of years at sea, I was back in San Diego for a school and then on to Japan. I got to play baseball in a few games with the Housing Activity Japanese employees in Yokohama. The Japanese girl I married is an avid Yomiuri Giants fan. (The only woman I ever met who understands and can explain the suicide squeeze.) Almost every evening we would go up the tracks to Tokyo to watch the Giants play baseball. I watched the Japanese greats Oh and Nagashima hit many home runs.
After leaving Japan, I went to shore duty in San Diego. The mess hall I was working in was selected to test the feasibility of serving carbonated beverages at the noon and evening meal and draft beer at the Friday evening meals. The Pepsi Cola and Budweiser companies had a stake in a successful test. The sales representatives were in the galley almost daily. They handed out free tickets to Padre’s games. It was like having season tickets to every Padres home game. I don’t recall playing any softball or baseball while in San Diego.
After that I was off to a Forrest-Sherman can out of Pearl and then on to Vietnam and the gunline. Not much time or inclination for playing ball. When in Subic, I was more interested in some young lady playing with my balls.
Shortly after return to Pearl, I transferred to a tanker going to Westpac. After the cruise, we were into a yard overhaul. I played quite a bit of soft ball while the ship was in the yards and afterward. It was the Carter years. There was no money for fuel or paint. We sat in port and rusted. There was not a lot to do but drink or play ball. The CPO mess lost to the officers and most of the division teams often.
During this period, major league games were televised on a delay in Hawaii. TV had improved in the twenty some years since the ’55 World Series. With color, larger screens and better cameras and equipment, the viewer really got a close look at the players and their actions.
Now spitting is looked down upon in our society. It just isn’t done. In the New York City Subways, a person can be fined for spitting. Getting drunk and puking is free. However, after watching Thurman Munson spit at least a gallon every game would leave one to believe that societal mores did not apply on the baseball diamond.
Baseball players are cautioned about the television audience and scratching their ass and adjusting their cup. Thurman and some of his teammates scratched and adjusted, along with spitting, as if no one was watching.
In the old days, cameras weren’t permitted in the dugout. The players could do crossword puzzles, work on their stock portfolios, read Hustler magazines and scratch and adjust to their heart’s content. Now they have to pretend that they are mesmerized by the game on the field.
Back in the day, baseball players were clean cut, moral young men. They wore suits, had decent haircuts, didn’t grow beards and said please, thank you, Mamm, and Sir. That pipe dream was blown away by Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four which described a side of baseball that was previously unseen. He wrote about the obscene jokes and the drunken tomcatting of the players and about the routine drug use, including by Bouton himself. Bouton wrote with candor about the anxiety he felt over his pitching and his role on the team. Bouton detailed his unsatisfactory relationships with teammates and management alike as well as the lies and minor cheating that has gone on in sports seemingly from time immemorial.
I don’t really watch baseball games these days. I check from time to time to see how the Angels are doing during a game. My ADHD just won’t permit me to watch. Games go something like this: the pitcher rubs down the ball down and unsatisfied with it returns it for another ball, getting a new ball, he rubs it down, picks up the rosin bag, manicures the mound, leans forward for the sign, shakes it off, nods for the next one, goes into the stretch and throws to first base. Then he starts all over again. Meanwhile the batter, after a half dozen practice swings, knocks his cleats with the bat, adjusts his batting gloves and steps into the batter’s box, about the time the pitcher is ready he raises his hand and steps out of the box, hits his shoes and adjusts his gloves again and steps into the box. The pitcher throws to first and the routine starts all over.
I have concluded that the Little Leaguers in Williamsport, PA play ball the way it should be played. I enjoy the hell out of watching those kids play.
The sport I can get behind these days is Ladies Professional Golf. I’m especially behind Michelle Wi when she bends to mark a ball or squats to read a green.