By Bill Simons, Professor History and UUP Representative, NYSUT/AFT Conventions
(Earlier versions of this account appeared in The Mountain Eagle and UUP-date.)
August 13, 2020
The Coronavirus Era is far from over even as SUNY Oneonta moves forward to take some initial, calibrated steps to open up. The SUNY Oneonta community has demonstrated dedication in preparation for our first full, but perhaps not last, semester of distance learning. With restrictions and new responsibilities, we have all found our internal gyroscopes challenged. UUP (United University Professions) members have shared accounts of activities, including pet bonding, special recipes, gardening, performing music, and photography, that keep them centered. Here’s mine: a baseball chat group.
Chat group membership has fluctuated, but our current roster lists 26, the same number of players carried by a major league team. We communicate by email list serv. Our bond is an enduring love of baseball. All of us have prior history with at least some of the others. One of the connections is participation in the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. The latter association means that a core of us have also played together in spirited town ball games. Although MLB, with a July start, commenced a hoped for 60-game regular season, the reality is that many levels of baseball in the U.S., including Little League, camps, and the minors are currently shuttered. Cardboard faux fans account for the fictive attendance at MLB games. From the convening of pitchers and catchers in February until autumn chill announces the final game of the World Series, we usually find balance in our lives from the rhythms of the game. Hence, as a substitute, our baseball chat group emerged.
Mark is the founder of the group, initially presented as a platform for baseball trivia questions. Although that continues, the network has come to also include sharing of information, video and text links, well-told stories, witticism, debate challenges, proposals for reforming baseball, nostalgia, all-time ethnic all-star teams—and eloquent digression. Structure, of sorts, evolved with the appointment of David as the Commissioner. David also carries the sobriquet of “The Batboy,” earned by serving in that capacity for the St. Louis Cardinals during the prime of Curt Flood and Lou Brock.
No day passes without robust chat group communication, and some days bring a lot of it. Baseball trivia questions still form the spine of the back-and-forth. Although there might be a couple of strikes—or more—before a correct answer emerges, a winning response will invariably come. Protocols preclude Googling for an answer or consulting a baseball reference book: such a breach might, if discovered, lead to the suspension of the miscreant by the Commissioner. In terms of baseball IQ, this is a very erudite group, whose membership, through the years, has published books and articles about what we still stubbornly claim is our national pastime. As the passage of the baseball seasons attest, we are not a young group, but we are still passionate.
Here are a few examples of trivia questions —some exceptionally trivial—that chat group members have challenged their compatriots with:
1. Who was the first Latinx to win a Most Valuable Player Award? (Answer: Ted Williams. Although his ethnic antecedents were not widely publicized, Teddy Ballgame was the son of a Mexican-American mother.)
2. What seven players had 20 or more home runs, triples, and stolen bases in the same season?
(Answer: Wildfire Schultz, 1911; Jim Bottomley, 1928; Jeff Heath, 1941; Willie Mays, 1957; George Brett, 1979; Jimmy Rollins, 2007; and Curtis Granderson, 2007. In 2002, Granderson began his professional baseball career patrolling the outfield for the Oneonta Tigers of the Single A New York-Penn League.)
3. Who was the most famous person in the audience at the first public performance of “Casey at the Bat?” — baseball’s iconic poem — on August 14, 1888, in New York City? (Answer: Former Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Civil War generals have important connections to baseball, notably the myth, long widely believed, that Abner Doubleday, who fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, invented the game.)
We also do virtual celebrations and did so on May 6th to honor the 89th birthday of Willie Mays, the Giants’ legendary centerfielder and arguably the greatest living ballplayer. Amongst the stories told on that special day was the following, perhaps apocryphal: “Willie went in to see Giants owner Horace Stoneham to get a raise. Stoneham refused. Departing, Willie instead of turning left to go home, turned right. Willie went to the local Chevrolet dealership, bought a car, told the salesman to bill the car to the Giants, and then went home.” Our devotion to baseball—and need for a baseball chat forum during the battle against the coronavirus—is exemplified by memories of Willie circa 1954 playing stickball with kids in the streets of Harlem.
For many of us, the love of the game came early. My sister recently rediscovered and forwarded old family film of me, aged 7, swinging at baseballs. Nearly 65-years later on these shuttered corona days, I daily hit baseballs into a backyard net, a vignette I shared with my baseball chat group.