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Opinion :: Sherry, Jackie and Candy: Girls names among the Boys of Summer
· 10:17pm October 19th, 2013
The World Series begins on Wednesday, and as I wrote this on Saturday night, watching the Boston Red Sox earn the right to play against the St. Louis Cardinals again this year, it occurs to me that this would be a good time to share some of my favorite baseball stories.
Today's theme: "The girls' names among the 'Boys of Summer.'"
"The Boys of Summer" is one of the best books about baseball. Roger Kahn wrote about the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers and the lives of the players years after their win that year.
And while baseball has generally been a game for boys and men, there are some historically important girls' names connected to the sport.
Almost every baseball fan knows the name of Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers pitcher who made history in the 1960s. But few people are familiar with the name of Norm Sherry.
Sherry was a Major League Baseball player, too. But he was mostly a back-up who played very little. He would probably have been forgotten by baseball history, if it was not for a word of advice he gave to a teammate. One day he saw a struggling young pitcher with lots of speed and little control. He advised that pitcher to change his style, to lay off the speed and work on his curve ball.
Sandy took Sherry's advice, and quickly transformed from a hurler with a losing record to one of the legends of the 1960s.
Another guy with a girl's name, Candy Cummings, became famous a century earlier. He had begun telling people how he could pitch a ball and make batters miss by making the ball "curve." Soon, other pitchers were also throwing curve balls.
Then there is the story of Jackie Mitchell. At age 17, Jackie -- who unlike Sandy, Candy and Sherry, actually was a girl -- struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the same day (April 2, 1931). A couple days later, the baseball commissioner declared that women would not be allowed in baseball.
Jackie had grown up next door to Dazzy Vance, one of the best pitchers of the 1920s, and one of the first Iowans to make it big in baseball (Dazzy and Benton County native Bing Miller were in the Major Leagues at the same time).
Despite the no-girls-allowed policy of Kenesaw Mountain Landis (I do miss the unique nicknames of the early baseball era), Jackie pitched for years for a variety of teams.
Jackie was not the only gal to make news and history by throwing a baseball. Alta Weiss paid for medical school by pitching for the Vermilion Independents, thus becoming a pioneer in both baseball and medicine.
Every year, professional baseball changes lives like that. Soon, baseball fans will be seeing new faces and hearing new stories, both from the field and the bleachers, about how baseball impacts the lives of its fans.
On Feb. 12, 1920, the Ottawa(Ill.) Herald honored Abe Lincoln by recalling something from the 16th President's days in Springfield.
"Play baseball, yes Lincoln played baseball," the Herald reported. "He would leave his office any time of the day and it used to be said about him that he left the courtroom during court to engage in a game of ball. He could play too."
It's appropriate that the President who kept the United States united played baseball, because I always believed that world peace begins with two words: "Play Ball."
Before baseball came along, there were constant wars on our continent. Since baseball became our national pastime in the late 1800s, there has not been a single battle fought on American soil. It had the same impact on Japan. With the arrival of baseball after World War II, Japan became a peaceful country. I am sure baseball could have the same effect in other countries as well.
I looked at a satellite photo of the Gaza Strip the other day. The place where ancient religious animosity and modern misery combine to inspire another generation of hatred is mostly covered in the brownish color of its homes and streets. There is, however, one large green rectangle. But it contains the markings of a soccer field, not a baseball diamond. In the photo, the soccer field was empty. Maybe if more of the Holy Land had baseball, we'd be hearing different news about peace in the Middle East.
But here in the Midwest, baseball fans are looking forward to another week of baseball involving a team with many players nobody had heard of a year ago.
The game is not perfect, of course. But it's still America's past time. And its past time that more of us gather to hear the umpire say, "Play Ball!"
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