Today, May 26, is the 50th anniversary of Harvey Haddix’s legendary Major League Baseball feat: He pitched 12 perfect innings, but lost in the 13th inning.
Haddix, a left-hander then for the Pittsburgh Pirates, set down 36 consecutive Milwaukee Braves batters on May 26, 1959. Then an error, a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk and a home run ended the game, 1-0. Yes, 1-0 … because the runner on first base, Hank Aaron, didn’t realize the ball had left the park and thought the game was over when the runner who’d been on second, Felix Mantilla, scored.
Aaron rounded second base and headed to the dugout; the home-run hitter, Joe Adcock, passed him on the basepaths. The Braves attempted to correct Aaron’s mistake, but Adcock’s hit ended up being ruled a double, and only Mantilla’s run counted. But one run, of course, is all the Braves needed.
The only one of these players I actually saw play was Hank Aaron, and at that point he was with the Atlanta Braves (who moved from Milwaukee after the 1965 season) and became the home-run king in 1974. That was the same year I got the book, “Strange But True Baseball Stories” _ which contained the story of Harvey Haddix _ from the Arrow Book Club at school.
That was an unbelievably huge deal to me in fourth and fifth grades: to buy books. The catalogues would go around the classroom, and I would wait impatiently until one got to my desk so I could scour it. I’d usually want all the sports books, “Dynamite” magazine, some of the Disney movie books (only action adventure, though, not stupid romance stuff) and whatever horror books were available.
But I couldn’t possibly have everything I wanted, so it came time to make excruciatingly tough choices. You always knew somebody else would buy “Dynamite,” and you might be able to talk them into letting you look at it after they were done. But nobody was as much of a baseball nut in my class as I was, so I had little hope of other kids buying baseball books and then loaning them out. Thus, they became the top purchasing priority. (Although any book that referenced zombies, vampires, mummies, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, or all of the above, was way, way high on the desired list, too.)
Then it was up to whether I could talk my parents into giving me the money. My sister and I didn’t recieve an allowance and we were not accustomed to getting many non-essential things unless it was a holiday or a birthday.
Still, it was always worth a try. There was a buttering-up process that usually consisted of doing chores before you were told to do them. You had a couple of days of this, as there was a short period between the circulation of the catalogues and the deadline to place orders.
Then, the begging started. I would beg to buy at least a couple of books most cycles of the Arrow Book Club – seems like the catalogues went around every couple of months – and usually my mom (who made all such decisions) would say OK, if I kept the dollar request small. Looking back, I bet I never spent more than $10 on any order – although that seemed like a lot of money back then. She wouldn’t always say yes, though, and let’s just say I knew better than to ask twice after getting a no.
The boxes of books arrived in the mail usually in the early afternoon, and then sat on the teacher’s desk until near the end of the school day, when she would finally distribute them. (Because once you got a book, you weren’t going to be paying the slightest attention to class.) These days went one of two ways.
If you did not order anything, it was utterly miserable. The boxes taunted you. Then, you were dying of envy and grimacing as the books were distributed to others.
But if you had ordered something, you were just about falling out of your seat with excitement and hyperventilating about your new books. I’m fairly certain that I will never be as absurdly giddy about anything the rest of my life as I used to about getting those books.
As soon as the teacher opened the boxes, you could smell that wonderful new-book aroma waft through the room. Then you would smell the books again, up close, when you finally got your hands on them. It took a little while for me to actually crack the bindings, wanting to just stare at them and keep smelling them for an appropriately reverential time.
Occasionally, the books turned out to be disappointing. Such was the case with one called, “Beyond and Back,” which I deduced from the catalogue was a collection of stories about ghosts and the places they haunted. Instead, it was mostly religious malarkey about near-death experiences and “seeing the light.”
Usually, though, the books met expectations. Or they exceeded them, as was the case with “Strange But True Baseball Stories” by Furman Bisher, columnist of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I read it over and over and over.
Years later in college, I knew that my pal Mike Holtzclaw – mentioned previously in this blog as the guy who does arcane top-10 lists – and I were truly meant to be friends when we discovered we both remembered every chapter in “Strange But True Baseball Stories.” Starting with “Immortal by Accident” about Stan Musial and ending with “The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff” about Bobby Thomson’s famous “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” home run.
We remembered, “The Catcher Who Pitched All Night” (a mouthy catcher who kept bragging he was really a great pitcher, then blew out his arm trying to prove it), “Lt. Shepard of the Big Leagues” (a war veteran who lost his leg after his plane was shot down, but still came back to pitch for one day in the majors), “The Dog that Made a Box Score” (a squash-colored canine who would hang out at a minor-league ballfield and befriended a lonely player from Cuba who didn’t understand much English. One day, the player hit a triple, and the dog got so excited, he bolted out on the field and ran the bases side-by-side with the player. Earning the pup a place in a newspaper box score the next day as a sort of “pinch runner.”)
There are many more, including, “The Greatest Defeat,” which was the story of Harvey Haddix.
As you can see from the picture, I still have the book. Frankly, being a pack rat, I still have virtually all my Arrow Book Club books. But not all of them are quite so “special” and always easily findable, like “Strange But True Baseball Stories” is. (I can’t put my hands on “The Island at the Top of the World” quite as quickly, but it’s here somewhere.)
When I saw today was the anniversary of Harvey Haddix’s feat, it made me think about being a sports writer. That game happened in 1959, six years before I was born, and yet by reading about it as a child, I made it part of my childhood. I remember it and can see the game in my mind, almost as if I had been there.
Sure, many of the tales in “Strange But True Baseball Stories” have a degree of anecdotal mythology to them. But there’s something wonderfully sweet about that, too, especially if you’re a kid reading them – or an adult recalling them.
Women’s sports doesn’t have very much tradition of story-telling, really, but from the time I got into journalism, it’s been my goal to be part of changing that. I hope that all the stories we do help provide the mortar that joins the building blocks of women’s sports history. Writing about an event or a person, giving either a historical record, can make it a memory for everyone who might read it, no matter when or where they were born.