from Chapter 2 – We need to think about this very carefully

A little background: It is the autumn of 1951 and the Edens Ridge Wolves of the independent Class D Mountain Empire League have signed outfielder Oddibe Daniels to a contract for the 1952 season.  The league, born in 1946, consists of eight teams, two each in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, and has never had an African-American player, and a nervous league president, Wells Boggs, does not want to approve Daniels’ contract without running it by the owners of the other franchises.

“Now we have a con-track-shoo-al matter to discuss,” said Wells, slowly dragging out the key word when they all got back to their seats.  “Jack Simpson has signed him a new player, boy named Oh-to-bee Daniels…”  Jack was reminded of his days in Mrs. Morritt’s class in elementary school, when she painstakingly taught them to sound out words.  “…and I have asked him to tell y’all ’bout him.  Jack?”

Nashota quickly squeezed his hand as he stood up.  “OK, thanks, Wells.  This YOUNG MAN… ” He made sure to emphasize those words, Nashota had cautioned him last night to do everything he could to stay away from the word boy.  “… has been playing in Asheville, little weekend industrial league.  I… we, actually…” he looked at his wife and smiled… “we’ve been real impressed with him.  Terrific outfielder, very fast, gets a great jump, I figure…” 

“OK, you signed a new kid, fine, happy for you,” said John Robertson.  “I’ve signed two fellas myself and expect to reel in two or three more in the next week or so.”  He knew what was going on, Lionel had filled him in, and this was his way to try and help the situation.  “Now Wells,” he continued, looking right at his league president.  “This is nothing that we need to be discussing, is it?  We are allowed to sign anyone who does not already have a valid contract with another team, why is this on our agenda?  No disrespect to you, Jack,” he said, looking over to Simpson.  “But I suggest we just move on, shall we?”

“Jack,” said Wells slowly.  “You wanna, um, give us, um, all the facts here, please?”

That got everyone’s attention.  What wasn’t Jack saying?  A couple of directors leaned forward a bit in their chairs, while Bob Rhodes muttered “oh brother” quietly to himself.

Jack looked at Nashota again and she said, “Just say it, Jack.”  He cleared his throat, hesitated, then finally said “My new centerfielder, Oddibe Daniels, is a Negro.”

He could feel the air being sucked out of the room as everyone seemed to quit breathing at once. 

Not for long, of course.  “A Nigra?  You want to play a Nigra on your team?  Are you crazy?”  It would be fair to say no one was surprised that Truck Maxwell was the first person to speak up.  Or that BJ Lewis quickly followed.

“We don’t have no Nigras in our league, Jack, you know that.  Ain’t had none up til now, don’t see no need to change.” 

“Why not?  Why shouldn’t we change?”  John Robertson had leaped to his feet.  “Look what’s happening in baseball, look at that playoff series they just played, Dodgers and Giants, how many Negroes were on the field?  Dodgers had…”

“Tha’s diff’rent, tha’s may-jah leegs, tha’s up in Noo Yawk and places like that,” said BJ.  “They ain’t a-playin’ where we play, in Virginny and Nawth Caroline and Kaintuck and Ten-Uh-See.  They gots lotsa Nigras up there to come on out and cheer for their boys, we don’t got that here.”  Jack was surprised that Lewis sounded more disappointed than angry.

“That’s not true, BJ,” said Robertson, “We have plenty of Negroes in all our towns, why else would we have separate entrances and bathrooms and concession stands?”

“BJ is right,” yelled Truck.  “They kin do what they like in Noo Yawk, they can play all the Nigras they want, turn baseball from the good ol’ American game it is to nigraball, tha’s their bizness.  Down here we gots our own ways of doin’ things, and that don’t include playin’ Nigras in this here league.”  He looked at Jack.”  “That boy-a yers can play in his industrial league ever’ day of the year, don’t matter to me, but he ain’t gonna play in my league, in our league, not if I got somethin’ to say ’bout it.”

Robertson jumped on this.  “And we really don’t have anything to say about it, now do we?  It’s like I said earlier, all contracts go to the league president, we have no say in who signs who.”

Now everyone seemed to be talking at once, and Wells, for the first time all day, had to use his gavel.  “Quiet, quiet, let us have some order here.”  He banged the gavel again, just for good measure, which prompted Lionel to ask “Wells, you thinking of running for judge?” which thankfully brought out a couple of snickers.     

“John is right, I gets to approve all contracts, but in this case I wanted to find out what y’all think.  I don’t have nothin’ ‘gainst no Nigras, never did, but bein’ as this would be a first for our league, I think we all need to say our piece, then I can decide what oughta be done.”

“Tell you what,” said Truck, “I’ll make this real easy – I VOTE NO!!”  And he pounded the table in front of him for extra emphasis.  Not quite as loudly but just as convincingly, BJ Lewis said “I’m with Truck.”

“Gentlemen, there is no motion on the floor, we can’t vote on something that has not yet been proposed,” said Don Harrell.

Truck didn’t hesitate.  “Fine, then I move…”  But before he could go further Jules Gray spoke up.

“Just a moment, Truck, may I say something here, please?”  Truck shot him a look.  “Sorry to interrupt, Truck, but I’d like to say something if I may.  Mr. President?”  He looked at Wells, who wished he was somewhere else right now, maybe fishing on Douglas Lake.

“All right, Jules, go ahead.  Truck, we’ll get back to you in just a minute, OK?”

“Thank you, Wells.  Gentlemen,” said Gray, looking around the room, “this is an important decision we need to make.  I think Wells was right to bring it to us first, sorry Jack, but I believe we need to… to think about this very carefully.  Yes, there are Negroes playing in other minor leagues, mostly in the North right now, but I think it’s only a matter of time before they are playing everywhere.  We need to think about that, think about whether the time is right for us, for our league, for all of our towns and all of our fans.  I don’t believe we ought to make a hasty decision.  I believe we should think about it overnight, sleep on it, and then decide tomorrow.”

“I have a question, Mr. President, may I?”  It was Charles Underwood.  

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” exclaimed Truck Maxwell, but Wells said “go ‘head, Charles.”

“Thank you.  Jack, how old is this boy, um, young man, you’ve signed?”

Nashota stood up.  “I can answer that, Charles.  He is 21, in fact he’ll be 22 before we even get to spring training.”

“So this is a legitimate contract, then, he is of legal age.  Gentlemen,” continued Underwood, “this is something we also need to consider.  If we reject this agreement, young Mr. Daniels and his family could sue us for breach of contract, and if they won, I doubt we could afford to pay up.  We’d be out of business, plus we’d owe a small fortune to our lawyers and to this young man.  We must keep this in mind.”

“No Nigra gonna sue no white man, no court gonna ‘low that, not here in the South,” said an exasperated Truck Maxwell.  “What kind of talk is that, Charles, you just talkin’ crazy.”

Underwood had a quick response.  “We are a league that plays in four states, Truck.  We are therefore interstate commerce, just like your trucking business.  You know what that means, maybe better than anyone here – we could be sued in Federal court.  Different ballgame there.”

The room was quiet – this was a lot to think about and mull over.  Truck Maxwell, speaking slowly and deliberately, broke through the quiet.

“Mista Prez-ee-dent, may I PLEASE make my motion now?  Wells nodded, Truck continued.  “I would like to move that this league, the Mountain Empire League, formally an’ ‘fishly REJECT…” and this he said loudly, with emphasis…”…this proposed contract between the Edens Ridge team and this, this, ni…” Beau nudged him forcibly…”young man, this Daniels fella.  I so move,” he said and looked around the room, feeling satisfied while also searching faces.

Wells said nothing for a few seconds, allowing Truck’s words to hang in the air.  Then he said, “We have a motion on the floor, do we have a second?”

The silence was deafening.

Truck, still standing, looked around the room again, this time with a look that said well, who’s with me here?  Nothing.  Now he looked hard at BJ Lewis, because he knew, he just knew, that the Shirley car dealer was on his side.  He had known BJ for years, knew what kind of man he was, knew how he thought, what he believed, so why in hell was he staring at his shoes and not speaking up?  Maxwell panned the room again, hoping that someone would say something…

It was Wells who broke the silence.  “There’s a motion on the floor, do we have a second?”  This time he waited just a handful of seconds before he continued.  “With no second, this motion cannot be discussed and is dropped.”

Truck was about to explode when Jules Gray jumped to his feet.  “Mr. President, I would like to make a motion, if I may.”  Wells nodded.  “Mr. President, I would like to move that we table the discussion of the Daniels contract until tomorrow morning.  This will give us all…”  He looked around the room and made sure his gaze fell on each of his fellow directors, one by one, before continuing.  ”…ALL… a chance to think about it.  Really think about all the things that have been brought up here today, perhaps had a chance to talk about it amongst ourselves, or with others.  Then we can bring it up again and, I think, make an informed decision.”

“What a crock-a shit, they’s only one kind of informed dee-si-shun to make here,” snarled Maxwell.  “And who you gonna talk to, Jules?  Gonna call Harry Truman or Hubert Humphrey?  Sheeeeet.”  Nashota had to drop her head so the others wouldn’t see her giggle at the thought of Truck having a conversation with the fiery young senator from Minnesota.

“Actually, I think I need to consult with my manager, Gene Conn.  His input will be important.”

Other directors murmured an assent, they had probably been thinking the same thing.

Wells quickly jumped in.  “We have a motion on the floor, do we have a second?”  “I second,” said Charles Underwood…

from Chapter 4 — A colored boy just doesn’t have that capacity

A little background: Daniels’ contract is approved, and now Jack and Nashota Simpson are in the process of renewing their advertisers for the Edens Ridge Wolves’ 1952 season.  They have been advised to tell all of these business people that a young African-American will be playing centerfield this year.  Not everyone they speak with is in favor of this development.

  • Jim Morris from JDM Printing.  He had been printing the team’s souvenir program since the very first season.  He still wanted to have the print job but was not willing to buy his ad and fence sign any more.  
  • Nick Mancuso from Nick’s Barber Shop.  Jack always got his hair cut there and had been sending the players to him as well.  No more.  “I don’t like coons,” Nick said when Jack told him about the plan.  “I can’t put my name in a program of a team that has… has… one-a them on the field.” 
  • Bob Biggerstaff from Biggerstaff Distributing.  The largest Budweiser wholesaler in Northeast Tennessee, he spent lots of money with the ballclub, buying a fence sign, program ad (on the highly-visible score page) and four season tickets, plus he sponsored a major promotional night every year.  In exchange, he was the beneficiary of the team’s most exclusive perk – Budweiser was the only beer sold at the ballpark.  But when it came to race, money was apparently secondary to Bob Biggerstaff.  “If I stay with you,” he said to Jack, “I’d be giving my blessing to your… experiment, or whatever you want to call it.  Not interested.  I ain’t in favor of what you’re doing.”  When Jack pointed out that the team was expecting to draw more fans, Negro fans, Biggerstaff snorted.  “They don’t drink my beer,” he said.  “Malt liquor, ain’t that what they like?  Now if you’ll excuse me…”
  • Cloyd Christian from Christian Portraits.  Jack was quite surprised that the local photographer was so opposed, but when he left he noticed, for the first time, that despite the walls being dotted with numerous photos of “satisfied customers,” none of them were Negro faces.  “Some Christian,” Jack mumbled to himself.
  • Buddy Martin from Martin and Sons.  They supplied the team with candy, bags of unpopped popcorn kernels, salted-in-the-shell peanuts, things like that.  “Buddy, there are Negro people who come out to our ballpark and buy your products from us,” said Jack.   “Why didn’t you ever object to that?  Didn’t stop you from taking our money, did it?”  “That’s different,” said Martin, but when Jack asked how, his former supplier just said “you oughta leave now, Jack.”  “I’m going,” said Jack, “and I guarantee I won’t be back.” 
  • Tom Edwards from Edwards Insurance.  This was a major shock.  “Tom, I can’t believe this, I would never have expected this of you and Sarah Lou,” said Nashota.  “The two of you have been to our house…”  “The one has nothin’ to do with t’other,” Edwards said in his slow drawl.  “We just don’t never do business with culluds, never have, never will.  And if you do, if you put one on your payroll, then we can’t support you, Nashota, sorry.  Now please, my next appointment is waiting for me.”  She turned to go, stopped, turned back.  “Tom, would you sell a policy to an Indian?”  “No, ‘course not,” he said without looking up.  “But you have, you know.  For the past few years.  What do you think of that?”  And I can tell you that this full-blooded Cherokee and her white husband won’t be renewing their policies.”  She left without waiting for his reaction.
  • Gray Gamadge from Kettle Creek.  The Wolves had always run several promotions that involved plants or flowers, and Gray had always either donated them or sold them to the team at a deep discount.  “Sorry, Nashota, but I can’t keep doin’ business with you if you have a Nigra on your team, that’s jus’ the way I feel.”  “Even if we said we’d pay full price for the flowers?” she asked.  He was silent for a moment and then, looking down at the flowers on the table in front of him, said “Even then.  Sorry.”
  • Rich Lamson from Rich’s Restaurant.  This one wasn’t as much of a surprise as some of the others.  A dapper dresser who generally affected a pleasant and affable demeanor, Jack always found Lamson to be rather phony and a bit “oily.”  Told about Oddibe, he immediately took umbrage, saying “Jack, no, what are you doing?  Have you lost your mind?  You can’t do this, you can’t mix the races out on the ballfield.”  What was happening in the major leagues meant nothing to him.  “Look, I’ve got nothing against the coloreds, the few that I’ve met have all seemed to be quite nice, but… but… centerfield?   Jack, anyone playing center needs to have some brains, he needs to know what he’s doing out there and sort of be in charge of the whole outfield.  A colored boy just doesn’t have that… that… that capacity, Jack, I know you know that.”
  • Cole Katt from Katt and Son Auto Repair.  With two 1940s vehicles that got a lot of use around town, both Simpsons had come to know Cole and his son, Cal, pretty well, and had been able to sell them a sign and a half-page ad.  Jack had never dreamed they wouldn’t renew, but was wrong.  “Sorry, Jack, I just can’t go along with you on this,” said Cole.  “Ain’t nothin’ personal in’t, is purely business.  I got some customers that don’t like coloreds, I know it, they’ve told me so lotsa times.  I keep supportin’ you, I’ll lose business, can’t ‘ford that.  Sorry, Jack, really, I am.  Tell ‘Shota we said hi.”  Katt turned away but, sensing a possible opening, Simpson said  “I will, but I may have to sic her on you.”  The car guy stopped for a moment and, without turning to face Jack, quietly said “Please don’t do that,” before continuing into his shop.

But the worst, by far, had been Dick Curtis.  Nashota didn’t often find herself speechless, but her conversation with Dick Curtis proved to be one of those occasions.

There was only one hotel in Edens Ridge and it was owned by Curtis.  Actually it wasn’t a hotel at all, it was The Curtis Motor Lodge, but because it was local it had been where all the visiting teams had stayed from the very beginning.  Truth be told, though, it was not the most popular destination among the league’s players.  While Curtis did make sure the rooms were always clean, he offered no perks whatsoever, and his “restaurant” was nothing more than a snack counter.  Curtis was also something of an ass, a blowhard with a Clark Gable moustache whose opinion of himself was much higher than anyone else’s.  But he was a staunch supporter of the team, having served as president of the “Wolves Pack” for a time, and was now the Mayor of Edens Ridge.

So signing him up for his fence sign and box seats seemed to be a mere formality.  It became anything but.

“By the way, Dick,” said Nashota, as she pulled a blank contract out for him to sign, “I need to tell you that this year we are going to have a young Negro man playing in our out…”

“A what?  You’re going to have what?  A Negro?  There is going to be a Negro playing for the Wolves?  My Wolves?  Are you crazy, girl?  Have you and your husband lost your ever-lovin’ minds?”  She thought he was being sarcastic, no one said “ever-lovin’” any more, but he continued.

“The big leagues is ruinin’ the game, just ruinin’ it, I say, with all these cullud fellas out there.  That Branch Rickey, he started it all by bringin’ in Jackie Robinson, they should both rot in hell, and now all these others.  That Mays booner kid who played in the Series, and Campy-somethin’ and… and even ol’ Satch Paige is out there.  What next?  You gonna put uniforms on monkeys and teach ‘em to hit and run and throw?  This just ain’t right, it ain’t right.”

Nashota sat there, hoping there was a punch line, a grin, a laugh, something to say, “just fooling, good for you, now lemme sign that contract so we can both get on with our day.”  But there was nothing except this odd twitch — his moustache, which was starting to display a little more grey, seemed to be moving involuntarily.

“Dick,” she said slowly, “I hope you don’t mean all that.”

“Look, Nashota, I like you,” he said, leaning forward.  “You’re a good girl, always treated me fair, you-n your husband both.  Lotsa Injuns ain’t like you, can’t be trusted, I’m sure you know that yourself, right?  But, shoot, them culluds…”  He looked away, shook his head, looked back at her.  “Them culluds, ain’t a-one-a them worth a damn, I don’t care ‘bout that Bunche fella or none-a them, they ain’t no good.  Some of ‘em can sing and dance, I guess, like the Nicholas Brothers, and ol’ Satchmo, he can sure blow the horn, but most of ‘em are just good for shinin’ shoes or cleanin’ houses.  They don’t belong on a ballfield, not with good white boys, anyways.”

“We have made a commitment, Dick, we are bringing in a young man named Oddibe Daniels…”

“Oddibe?  What kind-a fool name… who gives their child such a name, huh?  Only a cullud…”

She raised her voice a bit even though she knew she shouldn’t.  “He will be playing center field for us this summer.  I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but we are going to be doing it.  Now, truthfully, it won’t really affect you at all, none of the other teams have signed any Negroes, at least not right now, so they wouldn’t be staying with you…”

“And I wouldn’t let ‘em if they tried.  I can’t have no culluds stayin’ at my hotel, I have a reputation to think of!”

Nashota stood up, trembling.  It was all she could do to keep from screaming in his face.  She was actually surprised to realize that her right hand was knotted in a fist, and she quickly relaxed it, and then internally worked on the rest of her, but remained standing.

“Dick, Jack and I made a decision that we would tell all our sponsors what we are doing this year, bringing in Oddibe, and if anyone objected we would not re-sign them.  That includes you.  Now, if you…”

“I’m the only hotel in town, there ain’t no place else for you to go, missy.  Y’all need to think about that.”

“And you,” she exploded (sorry, Jack, I just can’t help myself), “You need to think about this – six teams come in here every year and stay at your… your hotel.  How many rooms do they take?  At least ten, right?  Maybe one or two more.  Ten nights for each.  That’s not counting moms and dads who come to town to watch their boys play, or scouts who come in, or when Wells Boggs or Bob Rhodes comes to town.  You get all that business all summer long.”  She paused to let that sink in, then continued.  “Unless you apologize for all you just said, unless you take it all back, I’m prepared to walk out of here and find a new place for the league to stay, and you’ll have to fill those rooms some other way.”

He stood up, put his hands on his desk, and glared at her.  “No one tells me what to do, hear?  No one, ‘specially no Injun!  I give the orders, and I’m orderin’ you to git!  Go on, get outta here, you… you… squaw.”

She peeled out of the motor lodge, sped around the corner and parked, trying to collect herself.  I won’t give him that satisfaction of crying, she thought, but it took every bit of willpower she had.  

Once she calmed down she started thinking about what was next.  Curtis was right about one thing, he had the only motor lodge in town (hotel, my ass!), and except for Kruse, which just commuted back and forth, the rest of the teams had to stay somewhere.  Great, she thought, I don’t have a place for Oddibe to sleep yet, and now I don’t have a place for six teams, either.  

from Chapter 9 — Wind don’t make no noise like that

A little background: Oddibe is in the midst of his first batting slump, and decides to walk home after a game one night to clear his head and maybe figure out what he needs to do.

Leaving the ballpark, Oddibe walked down Rockwell Boulevard until he reached an alley.  This was Miss Brunét’s shortcut, and he headed down the alley, which emptied out onto Polk Avenue.  Oddibe then made a left at Polk, which eventually intersected with Light Street.  A right turn, two short blocks, and he’d be in his bed.

Polk Avenue was one of those areas of “blight” frequently mentioned by Bob Dean.  A nice wide street, it had once contained several thriving businesses, but the good fortune that had touched most of Edens Ridge seemed to pass over Polk.  The best thing one could say about it at this time was that it was quiet and afforded a young man the opportunity to think while he walked.

What am I doin’ wrong?  I hit one ball hard tonight, just one, and it went foul, what is wrong?  Am I startin’ my swing too early?  Am I grippin’ the bat too tight?  Do I need glasses?  I don’t think I need glasses, I see as good as I ever did.  Am I missin’ RubyAnn too much?  I know I miss her a whole bunch, but I ain’t thinkin’ ‘bout her when I get to the park every day.  Jack says not to worry, just hang in there, everybody goes through a slump but this never happened to me in Asheville, I was always able to hit, always the man, but not here.  ‘Course not, you fool, what a stupid thing, this ain’t Asheville, this ain’t no industrial league, this is professional baseball, guys play here who have a chance to make the big leagues.  Maybe that’s it, maybe I just ain’t all that good, maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a professional.  Maybe I oughta just call Dad, have him come get me, take me home.  I can probably get a job back at the Grove Park, or maybe somewhere else, make some money and marry Ru…what was that?

He stopped walking and concentrated.  Had he heard something on the quiet street, something other than his own footsteps?  He stood still for a moment and just listened.  He had pretty good hearing, he thought, honed by his years of playing the outfield and listening for a teammate calling him off the ball.  “I got it!” was a phrase he heard less and less, and hollered out more and more, as he took control of the outfield, which is something a premier centerfielder needs to do.  In Asheville, he thought, in Asheville, man, you were the BEST out there, but not here, not in this league, here you’re just a kid trying to play a man’s game.  He caught himself and went back to concentrating on whether or not he had actually heard anything.  He let a few seconds pass before he decided it must have been the wind; there did seem to be a breeze blowing up.  Shit, better get a move on, wanna be home ‘fore it starts in to rainin’.

He continued down Polk.  Dad will be mad, he’ll kill me… no he won’t, he’ll be disappointed and that’s worse.  He has such high hopes for me that maybe I’ll make it, play with Jackie and Campy, or against Jackie and Campy and those guys, wouldn’t that be great?  Wonder if they ever had trouble hittin’ the ball?  Must have, everyone goes through a dry spell every so often, Pete ain’t hittin’ much now and says he’s gonna set fire to his bats if things don’t…

He heard it again, he was sure of it.  Wind don’t make no noise like that, like somethin’ hard hittin’ ‘gainst somethin’ hard. Maybe a shoe against the pavement, or a bat against…

Now he heard his father’s voice, loud and clear.  Before he took the bus down to Florida for spring training, his Dad had told him several times, “Be careful at all times, AT ALL TIMES.  There gonna be people out to get you, maybe even on your own team.  Look out for yourself ‘cause no one else will.”  Now, he thought, now might very well be one of those times.

He was sure he could out-run whoever it was, even if there were two of them.  If there were more, though, that could be a problem.  And if he/they knew where he lived, they’d know where he was going and how he planned to get there.  So he began walking again, a little more slowly than normal, so he could be thinking, planning, while he was making his way home.  

Polk runs right into Light, they might be waitin’ at that intersection.  But it sounded like the noise came from behind him, so if they’re going to attack, it will be on Polk ‘cause there’s just no traffic on Polk this time-a night.  He remembered that Miss Brunét had told him about another shortcut, a “safe passage,” she had called it, and he had told her he remembered it, now would be a good time, punk, to bring it up front.  If I can remember Jack’s signs, I oughta remember what she taught me.  If I want to live, I’d better remember.

There was a green house across the street, abandoned, used by winos and other low-lifes, but the color triggered his brain.  Acting as cool as possible, he casually crossed the street to the green house, took a step or two forward as if he was going to continue on Polk, then suddenly wheeled around and ran down the alley next to the house.  And now he knew for certain that he hadn’t just been hearing the increasing wind.

“He’s runnin’!”  

“After him, he’s gettin’ away.”  

“Get him, get the n—–!”

He heard the squeak of a screen door and increased his speed, kicking into the next gear like he was trying to score from first on a double.  Someone definitely said “shit” behind him, and he could now tell that he wasn’t the only person running down that alley.  Somewhere down here, one of these lots has a wooden fence… and then he saw it, just a few yards ahead, and he geared himself up, like chasin’ down a long fly and havin’ to leap… He veered just a bit to the right, mentally gauged what he needed to do, then took two quick steps to the left and hurdled the fence, landing just a bit awkwardly but maintaining his footing.  Whoever was his nearest pursuer did not fare as well, he could hear a body go splat as he tried to vault the fence, followed by a string of curses.  Now in open field, Oddibe really turned on the jets, sprinting as if he was trying to prevent a little pop fly from dropping safely in short center.  And he could hear more footsteps and voices.

“There he goes, get him!”

“He’s heading over to Light, dammit, stop him!”

The next street was, indeed, Light, and he hit it at full speed.  Miss Brunét’s house was just two blocks away.

Oddibe could now tell that he was leading a small parade — with all their shouting, they were making almost as much noise as a brass band.  Which proved to be a good thing.  

The house was now clearly in view.  He could see the flowers, the porch… wait, was that someone comin’ out onto the porch?  Two someones?  Looks like, could be, yes, that’s Jake and Miss Brunét, and she’s holdin’ somethin’, isn’t she?  What is it?

Jake came running down the stairs.  “Come on, Oddibe, come on.  Get in here, man, run, run hard, come on!”  Does he think I’m out for a midnight stroll?  Jake was waving his left hand, and in his right hand he was holding something silver. Meanwhile, he could now clearly see Miss Brunét on the porch carrying a shotgun.

Oddibe reached the house, raced past Jake and bounded up the stairs.  Jake’s right hand swiftly came forward, revealing a handgun, which he pointed directly down Light Street.  At the same time, Jasmine took several steps forward so she was at the edge of the porch.  Raising the shotgun to eye level, she fired once into the air.  The parade came to a screeching halt.

from Chapter 10 — We just wanna get rid-a them, for good, once and fer-all

A little background: Minor league presidents frequently visit their teams during the season.  Mountain Empire League president Wells Boggs goes to Shirley, Kentucky, just after the Wolves sign their second African-American player, Monroe Hicks.

One of the requirements of being a league president is the necessity of getting out of the office to visit your teams periodically during the playing season.  This is a good news/bad news situation.  It’s good to get out there, sit in the stands, mingle with the fans and hear what they think, what they like and dislike about the operation of their team.  It’s always good to be watching some baseball.  There are even times when it’s good to get away from the family for a few days.  But the league president also hears everyone’s gripes, from his team operators’ complaints about the umpires to all the fans’ concerns.  And the fans are not shy about venting.  “Cold hot dogs and warm beer?  I’m really not the person to talk to about that, sir.”  “The umpires?  Yes, they do work for me, why don’t you tell me what happened?”  Those arbiters, by the way, also generally had a laundry list of problems to discuss, like lukewarm water in their shower stalls, or not getting baseballs on time before a game so they could be rubbed up.  Wells generally found that, after just three or four days of this, he began looking forward to getting back home, even listening to his teenagers.

Planning to leave first thing the next morning, he was making a priority list for his secretary when she buzzed and told him that Bob Rhodes was on the line.  

“Wells, this is a heads-up.  You probably know Jack Simpson needs a catcher, I gave him a tip on a kid and it looks like he’s gonna sign him.  His name is Monroe Hicks and I wanted you to know that he’s colored.

… Sometimes Wells just couldn’t help himself, and the Southern in him would come pouring out.

“Does he hafta sign a cullud boy?  Ain’t there no other catchers out there?”  Then he realized what he said and quickly retreated.  “I’m sorry, Bob, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just…”

“No, I understand.  Look, Wells, this will be good.  It gives Daniels some company on the team, especially on the road.  And it makes you and the league look good in the eyes of the majors, and you know what that could mean.  Just keep thinking of the long term.”

“I will, Bob, I will.  You know the league comes first with me.”  But after they had hung up, Wells mumbled to himself “the short term, though, could be a bitch.”

He deliberately left Knoxville early so he could get to Shirley early; no sense putting off the inevitable.  And he went straight to B.J. Lewis’ Chevy dealership.

“Why Wells, what a pleasant surprise, I didn’t ‘spect to see you ‘til tonight.  Don’t tell me you finally decided to get smart and trade in that old Studebaker-a yours?”

“My Champion DeLuxe still got a lotta life in her.  No, B.J., I wanted to tell you about this new player Edens Ridge just signed…”

Lewis cut him off.  “Already heard ‘bout it.  Fact is, I got a call from my constable, tellin’ me he got this young coon down in the jail, they just waitin’ for Jack and his team to arrive.”

Wells literally leaped out of his chair.  “Jail!  Jail!  What did he do, why is he in jail?” 

“Relax, sit yourself back down.  Boy ain’t in no trouble, he just went to the hotel by mistake.”  Lewis chuckled.  “Ol’ Raymond got scared, I guess, and called Porter, who decided he could wait there in the jailhouse just as easy as anywhere else.”  Wells eased himself into his chair as B.J. went on.

“Another nigra in our league, Wells, another nigra, and he’s gonna be playin’ tonight in my ballpark.  This is hard for me to imagine, how ‘bout you?  Now they got two-a them!  Wells, this ain’t right, this ain’t what we voted on, Jack was only bringin’ in one, now all-a sudden he’s the new Homestead Grays!”

“Oh B.J., having two cullud players don’t hardly make them the Homestead Grays.  He needed a catcher after they sold Boxleiter to the Braves and this boy was available.  Prob’ly cheap, too, you oughta ‘preciate that.” 

“You mean there ain’t no other catchers he could sign?  In the whole You-Nited States, he can’t find him one white catcher?… Man, you just don’t get it.  You holed up in a office in Knoxville, you ain’t out here, in the trenches, ‘cept ever-so-often, you don’t hear things, what people sayin’ in your town.  Bad enough we had to take one-a them, now we got another?   Where does it end?  Ain’t good, Wells, I tell ya, it just ain’t good.  People gonna be mighty upset.”

“Why?  It’s only a three-game series, then they leave…”

“But they’ll be back later this summer.  How many-a those people he gonna have then, huh?  Three?  Four?  All nineteen?”

Wells sighed.  “I can’t reject a contract just ‘cause the boy’s got black skin.  ‘Sides, you know Trautman and Rhodes would have my hide if I tried to do anything like that.  I think…”

Lewis was now getting animated.  “That’s the problem, Wells, you ain’t thinkin’.  You ain’t thinkin’ ‘bout what might happen.  Maybe here, maybe in Mettin, maybe even in Edens Ridge.  Somebody gonna do somethin’, somebody gonna stand up for our way-a life and do somethin’.”  

There was a very pregnant pause, then he went on.

“And maybe, maybe, it be me.”  Lewis leaned back in his chair.  “How ‘bout you and me talk turkey, league business, right now?  That all right with you?”

Wells wasn’t sure where this was going.  “What… what do you have in mind?”

Both men moved forward so they were only a foot or so apart, elbows propped against the desk.  “You been after me for, what, two years, three, to make some changes to Terriers Field, right?  You know I don’t think we need to do nothin’, I think this ballpark is jus’ fine the way it is, but here’s what I propose.  This off-season we’ll get us brand-new lights, best lights money can buy, just as good as they got in Atlanta or Nashville or Chatt’nooga.  Look-it, I know Joe Engel, I’ll call him tomorra and have him tell me where I can get lights as good as his and we’ll get ‘em installed, maybe even ‘fore this season is over.  Then, come fall, we’ll strip the infield, have the whole thing re-done, make it the very best in the league.  Tell you what, I’ll even start lookin’ into expandin’ our clubhouses, both-a them, maybe have that done in the winter, too, or maybe the winter after.  Whaddya say to that, Wells?”

“I say that’ll be great, these things should-a been done ‘fore now.  So why do I think you’re expecting something from me in return?”

Lewis laughed.  “No wonder you’re the league president, you one smart cookie.  All you gotta do is reject this new contract, tell this new porch monkey he can’t play in this league, in OUR league, you can make somethin’ up, I’m sure.  You do that and I’ll be on the phone to Joe Engel in the mornin’.”

Wells just sighed.  “B.J., you know I can’t do that.  No reason this fella can’t sign a contract with Edens Ridge.  I do what you ask, I’d be standing on quicksand.  George Trautman would have me up in Columbus ‘fore I could take a breath, then he’d prob’ly send Bob Rhodes here to run this league.  I like my job and have no desire to get shit-canned just ‘cause you don’t want your pitchers facing a second Negro player.  And he’s just a backup catcher, for cryin’ out loud!  I ain’t about to get fired over a backup catcher!”

Lewis picked up some papers that were on his desk and slowly shuffled them in his hands.  “Wells, we can talk ‘bout this some more tonight at the game, if-n you like.  Fact, I’ll let you think on this the whole time you’re here in Shirley.  But if you stick with what you just said, I’m tellin’ ya, somebody gonna do somethin’, and it won’t be pleasant, I can guarantee it.  Don’t say I didn’t warn ya, Wells.”  He looked at those papers in his hands.  “Now I hope you don’t mind, but I gotta lotta work to do.  I’ll see you tonight, we can talk.”

Once the league president had left his office, B.J. Lewis sat and thought for a moment, then grabbed his league directory, found the page he was looking for, and made a long-distance call…

A little more background: Orley Pepper is the Exalted Cyclops of the Edens Ridge chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

A few nights later, Orley Pepper’s telephone rang.  The conversation was extremely short.  

“You Pepper?  Truck Maxwell told me to call you, said you might have a job.”

“Oh, we got a job, all right,” said Orley.  “We got n—–s playin’ baseball on our local team and we need to get rid-a them.  However you wanna do it is fine by us.”

The man on the other end of the line was quiet for a moment, then said “Baseball players?  You want me to kill baseball players?  That’s a first, who wants to kill a baseball player?  Well, there was that chick in Chicago coupla years ago, shot a guy, what was his name?  Miksis?  Waitkus?  Bobkis?  Something like that.  But she was nuts.  You nuts, Pepper?”

Orley was taken aback.  “No, no, I ain’t nuts, not at all.  Weren’t you listenin’?  These ain’t any ole players, these is N—–S.  We can’t be havin’ n—–s playin’ our American game, don’t you see?  We tried to run one outta town but… didn’t work.  Now they’s ‘nother one here, plus a coupla new ones on ‘nother team.  I… we just wanna get rid-a them, for good, once and fer-all.”

There was a sigh on the other end of the line, then the man said “This will be a high-profile job, the kind that gets in the newspaper.  That costs more, twenty grand.”

“Twenty thousand dollars?  Are you serious, twenty thousand dollars?  Who’s got that kind-a money?  Now who’s nuts?”

The man actually chuckled.  “Were you expectin’ to have this done for free?  Maybe for, what, a few oil changes?  This is business, Pepper.  Man’s gotta eat, you know?”

“Hey, listen, pal, I knew we’d have to pay, I just figured, well, you know, we’re Klan…”

“Nobody gets a break, I don’t care who you are.  I don’t play politics or anythin’ like that.  I’m in it for the money, nothin’ more.  No deals, no discounts.  The price is twenty gees.  I’ll call you a week from today, and if you have it or can get it, we can do business.  Otherwise, I’d suggest just enjoy watchin’ the ballgames, that’s what I do when I ain’t workin’.”  He hung up, figuring that nothing would come of this.          

Orley found a pencil, jotted down some names on a piece of paper, then grabbed his hat and hit the streets of Edens Ridge.

from Chapter 11 — Learned me a good lesson — things get a little tough, just quit

A little background: Oddibe’s parents, who live in Asheville, NC, go up to the town of Weare to see their son play for the first time as a professional.  Oddibe is happy to see them, of course, but he is still having trouble with his hitting.

There was a dress shop around the corner, on Main Street, that both Lilly and Berenice had noticed when they drove in, and now the ladies announced that they were going to check it out.  Lilly gave Walter that defiant look he had seen before; she was angry at him for lecturing her, even if he did know more about the game than she would ever know.  Walter didn’t argue at all, no sense using up all that energy, he and his sons simply walked slowly behind them.

“Mom’s pissed,” said Oddibe.

“Ain’t the first time, won’t be the last,” replied his father, and they both chuckled.  Walter decided that this might be a good time to bring something up.

“You got two hits last night, that was good, you hit the ball hard both times.  Then they tied you up rest-a the night.  You tryin’ too hard?  Maybe squeezin’ the bat a little too much?”

Oddibe sighed.  “Been like this ever since I had that good first week.  I can’t get into a rhythm.  I’ll get a hit and then nothin’ for a day or two, then I get a hit but that’s all.  Leadoff man needs to get on more-n I do, Dad, I dunno what’s wrong, and I don’t really know what to do.  Had some extra BP with Jack and he’s made a suggestion or two, Mike too, and I try ‘em but nothin’ seems to work.  Maybe… I dunno, maybe I’m just not cut out for this, for professional ball, maybe I’m just a good industrial league player.”

“Don’t say that, son, that ain’t true…”

“You’re just sayin’ that ‘cause you’re my Dad, but I ain’t hittin’ all that much, ain’t helpin’ the team at the plate like I oughta.  These pitchers up here are tough, they throw all kinds-a stuff, pitches I never seen before.  And the fans…”  He stopped, he didn’t want to bring that up, it just slipped out.  He quickly backtracked.  “I been thinkin’ ‘bout… Dunno, maybe I oughta just come on home, go back to work at the Inn or someplace else, sock away a little money so RubyAnn and me can get married, just play some ball on weekends.”

His words hung in the air for several seconds, then Walter stopped walking, forcing his sons to halt as well.

“Is that what you want?  What you really want?  ‘Cause if it is, we don’t need to be wastin’ time, walkin’ ‘round this town.  We can go get your stuff and drive you back to Asheville.  ‘Course, I guess you got most-a your clothes-n-things up in Edens Ridge, but we could do that, drive up and get everythin’ and then head on back home.  If that’s what you want, boy, let’s go find Mr. Jack Simpson and you can tell him you’re done, through, you quittin’ here-n-now.  Thanks for the opportunity, suh, but I just can’t cut it in this-here league, I’m gonna go back to Asheville and, what, what you gonna do?  Bus tables at the Grove Park Inn?  Think that’s gonna provide for you-n RubyAnn and however many kids the two-a you make?  That what you want?”

“Dad,” said Oddibe weakly while carefully examining his shoes.

“Don’t you ‘Dad’ me,” Walter snapped.  “You wanna quit, then quit.  These smart pitchers too much for you?  Quit.  These cracker fans gettin’ the better-a you?  Quit.  Teammates don’t give a shit ‘bout you?  Quit.  Miss gettin’ it reg’lar from RubyAnn?  Quit.”  Oddibe looked up at that remark and his father knew he had touched a nerve and went for the kill.

“We go on home, don’t matter to me, you know, we can take you home.  But you gotta promise me that when we get there, you’ll tell everyone that you quit, and why.  Can’t say you got released, ‘cause you didn’t.  Can’t say you got hurt, ‘cause you didn’t.  Gotta tell people ‘yeah, I quit, I couldn’t handle it, all-a it, decided to come back here, it’s safer.  I can live a nice, simple, safe life here, go ‘bout my business, never stand out, never make no waves.  Learned me a good lesson — things get a little tough, just quit.  Winnin’ and losin’ don’t matter.  Don’t matter that they win and I lose, better for me to just quit.’”  

He was seething, that was the only word that accurately described it.  The son had never seen his father like this.

“That’s what I want you to tell people,” Walter continued.  “Hell, maybe we can take out a full-page ad in The AshevilleCitizen or The Carolina Times.  What you think?”

They just stood there on the street and stared at each other.  Young Willie looked first at one, then the other, and then back again.  He was the only one who saw his mother and sister come out of one store and disappear inside another one, just three doors down.  When was someone gonna say somethin’?

 “Jack, uh, Jack mentioned somethin’… Oddibe spoke haltingly.  “Said somethin’‘bout bringin’ in a fella, an old-timer from the Negro leagues, says he’s got some ideas, some methods, that might could help me at the plate.  Bug Gillen’s the name, know him?”

Walter kept looking right in his son’s eyes.  “I ‘member him.  Don’t know him, never played ‘gainst him, but I ‘member him.  Played some with Satch.”  His tone was softer, the storm had passed.  “Got lotsa experience, bet he could teach you plenty.  You just hafta wanna learn.”

Oddibe nodded.  There was silence for a few seconds, finally broken by Lilly’s voice.

“Walter, come over here.  I need you to tell me what you think of this hat.”