Archive for October, 2013

2013 Awards: MVP

October 31, 2013
NL MVP trophy from 1988 (Kirk Gibson)

NL MVP trophy from 1988 (Kirk Gibson)

Been gone a while. Our eldest grandson just joined the US Army and we went to see him off. Always a bittersweet moment. The kid is no longer a kid, he’s leaving on the first of his adult adventures, but he’s now a man. Also got to see our son, daughter-in-law, and other grandkids. That was grand, but it means I left all of you hanging waiting desperately for my take on this year’s MVP races. Well, not being one do disappoint fandom, here we go. In both cases I’m fairly sure who I think the writers will pick, but I’m not convinced of either choice.

AL: I think the writers will again go with Miguel Cabrera. He led the league in average, slugging, OBP, OPS, OPS+; was second in runs scored, hits, total bases, home runs, RBIs: and was third in walks. I think that line of stats will put him over the top with the writers, especially considering he was hurt the last month and a half of the season. And it’s that month and a half that worries me. We saw Cabrera as a shadow of himself for a while. He was still decent, but he wasn’t Cabrera. That may cost him some votes. The choice to replace him is, however, all over the place. Trout has a higher WAR, but only leads the AL in walks and runs. Donaldson? The only thing he led the AL in was errors by a third baseman. Davis led the AL in homers, RBIs, and total bases, but like Trout, his team didn’t win anything. I think ultimately all that will lead the writers back to Cabrera. Reluctantly, I would also cast my vote for him also.

NL: This is almost a “why not” vote. No one had a great year, especially compared to what was going on in the AL. Take a look at all five playoff teams for just a moment. Who on the Reds is worthy of an MVP? Votto, Choo? Maybe, but how good were they actually (Votto led the NL OBP)? How about the Dodgers? Kershaw maybe, but it isn’t a Verlander type year. The Braves? Freeman maybe, he is, after all, second in RBIs and third in average. The Cards? Well, there are too many players there that are too much alike. Carpenter led the NL in both hits and runs plus doubles, Molina had a terrific year but was hurt and while he was out the Cards still rolled. How about Pittsburgh? McCutchen led in offensive WAR and Alvarez won part of the home run title but do you really think the writers will vote for someone who hit .233 with 186 strikeouts? Of the non-playoff teams, Goldschmidt leads in runs, RBIs, home runs (tied with Alvarez), slugging, total bases, OPS, and OPS+. But of course his team didn’t win (they finished second at 81-81).  So who do you like? Well, none of them are bad players or anything, but no one just dominated the NL. My guess is that the Pirates revival will get McKutchen the MVP vote as the best player on a playoff, feel good story, team. Normally, I like to go with a player from a playoff team, but I think I’d cast my vote for Paul Goldschmidt.

Now in a couple of  weeks (11 November starts the awards period) we’ll find out how I did.

Two Sport Man

October 23, 2013
Ace Parker in Athletics uniform

Ace Parker in Athletics uniform

It’s an age of specialization. People only do one thing, frequently only know one thing well. Maybe that’s not bad, maybe it is. But it’s death to the two sport star. I remember Gene Conley in the 1950s playing both baseball and basketball professionally. George Halas, Jim Thorpe, and Greasy Neale all played baseball (Neale did it best) and went to the football hall of fame. Ace Parker was another one of those.

Clarence Parker was born in Virginia in 1912. He was good enough at both baseball and football, that he was in demand for college. He started at Duke in 1933 (where he added basketball to his athletic accomplishments). He was good. He was, in fact, good enough to make All-American two seasons (2nd team in 1935 and 1st team in 1936) in football and played well in baseball. Upon graduation he was drafted by the National Football League.

But Parker liked baseball as well as football. So in 1937 he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics for $2000 to play short and second. He also played a little in the outfield, getting into a total of 38 games. He hit .117, slugged .202, and had an OPS of .355. He managed two home runs (one a pinch hit homer in his first at bat), 13 RBIs, scored eight runs and struck out a lot more than he walked.

All that got him an OK to play professional football during the off-season. He was better at football. He had one more year in Philly, hitting .230, slugging .274, and putting up an OPS of .567 in 56 games. There were no home runs in 1938, only 12 RBIs, and 12 runs with his strikeout/walk ratio being much better.

It was the end of his baseball career. He remained in football for the rest of his athletic career, became an all-star and NFL MVP in 1940. He went off to war in 1942 (navy) and came back in 1945. By this point the All-American Football Conference was operating as a rival to the NFL. Parker joined the AAFC, won a conference title, lost the league championship to Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns, and retired.

In retirement he became head baseball coach at Duke, served as assistance football coach (also at Duke), then served as a Minor League manager from 1949-1952 (Durham).  All these cross-sport accomplishments got him elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the Duke Sports Hall of Fame.

You don’t find players like Parker any more, at least not above the high school level. The ability to play more than one sport is discouraged at college level and is really frowned upon in the pros. That’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ll never get to see a true athlete like Parker again.

So It’s These Two Is It?

October 20, 2013
A pair of socks

A pair of socks

Well, we now know it will be the Cardinals in Boston on Wednesday night for game one of the 2013 World Series. As a Dodgers fan, I’m disappointed. But as a baseball fan it looks to be a good matchup. Here’s a few reasons why:

Birds on a bat

Birds on a bat

1. it will be the fourth time St. Louis and the Red Sox have squared off in a World Series. The Cards won the first two (1946, 1967), the BoSox the last (2004). So there’s a certain amount of tradition in the matchup and baseball loves its tradition.

2. Both are baseball towns. When the Rams won the Super Bowl, I recall the coach complaining that although he was congratulated, the next words out of  people’s mouths were “But wouldn’t have been great if it were the Cardinals.” Robert Kraft is supposed to have said pretty much the same thing about Boston each time the Patriots won. I always like to see towns that truly embrace baseball get a chance at the Series.

3. The teams were the best in each league during the regular season. Both ended the season with the best record in their league and had home field all the way to this point. That’s kind of nice to see.

4. Ever notice how alike the players are on each team? Take a look down the stat chart of the Cardinals and essentially, excepting Kozma at short, you’re looking at pretty much the same player. All seven non-shortstop every day players have OPS+ between 101 and 144 (I’m presuming here that Craig is going to play in the Series. They say he will, but we’ll have to see.). All have OBPs .339 and .392. There aren’t a lot of big home run numbers (Beltran has 24). If you do the same thing with the Sox, leaving out one player, in this case Middlebrooks, and excluding the DH–Ortiz–because the Cards don’t have a regular DH (they used four in their interleague games) you find that Boston is pretty much the same. There’s a bit more pop in Boston and no Card steals a lot of bases unlike Ellsbury and Victorino (and Pedroia who on a lot of teams would hit 2nd rather than 3rd). I think that will make for a good Series.

5. Other than Wainwright neither team has a particularly outstanding pitcher. The Dodgers and Tigers had those and they’re sitting at home. Having just said that, I’m not sure what to do with Wacha. He had only 15 games during the regular season, but he’s been a revelation in his last regular start and in the postseason. I think following him could be one of the best stories during the Series (or he’ll get shelled and become an afterthought–who knows).

Those are reasons I think it can be a great Series. We’ve had a lot of blowouts lately (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012) and few really compelling confrontations (2001, 2002, and 2011 are the only 7 game Series’ in the 21st Century). Hopefully for fans and casual viewers this will be one of the latter. As to who’s going to win? I’ll quote, as I’ve done before, Winston Churchill, “It is always easier to prophesy after the event.”

25 Years On

October 16, 2013
Dodgers first baseman Franklin Stubbs

Dodgers first baseman Franklin Stubbs

Normally I do a post about this time each year dealing with what happened 25 years ago. I’ve held off this year because the post would involve the Dodgers and they happen to be still playing (although for how much longer is a question). But it’s time to remind you what happened a quarter century back.

It was supposed to be a matchup between the “Bash Brothers” of Oakland and the Mets. Everyone agreed that the World Series would be between the two best teams in baseball and those were the Athletics and the Mets. The A’s were dominant in the American League. Led by MVP Jose Conseco who became the first player with both 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire only one year removed from his Rookie of the Year performance, a fine pitching staff, and Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley Oakland rolled over Boston to keep up its end of the bargain.

In the National League the Mets, two years removed from their World Series win, rolled to the NL East title and had only to dispatch the Dodgers, a team they held an 11-1 record against, to meet the A’s in what was a hugely anticipated World Series. On the way to that Series showdown, the Dodgers pulled off one of the greatest upsets since David took out Goliath in the first round.

It was a fairly nondescript Dodgers team. Most were players no one had heard of prior to 1988. The infield was, first around to third, Franklin Stubbs, Steve Sax, Alfredo Griffin, and Jeff Hamilton. Sax was a former Rookie of the Year (1982), Griffin was a Toronto cast-off who’d failed to cross the Mendoza line with his bat, and Stubbs and Hamilton were, at least to most fans, unknown. The outfield had Mike Marshall (not to be confused with the 1970s relief man) who had some power, John Shelby (another cast-off, this time from Baltimore), and Kirk Gibson. Gibson was new to the team, a free agent from Detroit. He’d become the heart and soul of the team and was destined to pick up the NL MVP award at the end of the season. Mike Scioscia was the catcher. The staff consisted of Orel Hershiser, having his career year and destined to win the NL Cy Young Award, and a pair of Tims, Leary and Belcher. Fernando Valenzuela was hurt, Don Sutton had just retired. John Tudor was over from St. Louis, but had pitched only nine games for LA> Although Jay Howell had emerged as the primary closer, Alejandro Pena (not yet a closer for the Braves), and Jesse Orosco (a Mets cast-off) had, together, as many saves as Howell. Other than Hershiser, it was a less-than-stellar staff.

But then they beat the Mets. It took seven games, but they did it. Scioscia and Gibson had big hits, Hershiser picked up a win, and of all things, a save (only his second relief appearance of the year) and the Dodgers won the playoff. Along the way, Gibson’s injuries mounted and it was considered unlikely that he’d play in the Series.

Of course you know the result. Conseco smashed a grand slam in game one putting Oakland ahead 4-0 and confirming people’s belief that the Series would be short and one-sided. Then Gibson’s sub, Mickey Hatcher hit the first of his two home runs (he’d had one all season) and the Dodgers clawed back to 4-3 before Gibson pinch hit one of the two most famous home runs in Dodgers history (Bobby Thomson hit the other) and win game one. Hershiser was magic in game two throwing a three-hit shutout . The A;s managed a win in game three on McGwire’s walk off home run.

The key game was game four. Using what Bob Costas described as the weakest lineup in World Series history, the Dodgers pulled off a surprise. With backups Hatcher, Mike Davis, and Rick Dempsey (Scioscia got hurt during the game) playing and Danny Heep as the designated hitter, they beat Cy Young candidate Dave Stewart 4-3. Then Hershiser came back to win game five, the Series, and the Series MVP the next evening.

For the Dodgers it was a great one year run. they dropped to fourth in 1989 and didn’t get back to playoff baseball until 1995. They have not been to the World Series since. Oakland, on the other hand, won two more AL titles, and the 1989 World Series. They won one more division title in 1992, then slid back.

It was a fascinating Series, dominated today by Gibson’s magical home run. But each game was individually interesting with three games being decided by one run. It’s kind of a shame that has become known for one play.

2013 Awards: Cy Young

October 14, 2013
Koufax, the only 3-time unanimous Cy Young winner

Koufax, the only 3-time unanimous Cy Young winner

To me, the 2013 Cy Young Awards are the easiest to figure. I have my choices and I believe the will coincide with the writers.

NL: Does anyone serious expect someone other than Clayton Kershaw to win the National League Cy Young Award?

AL: It’s a little trickier in the American League. There is going to be a lot of support for new stat guys like Felix Hernandez, but I think the writers will ultimately go with Max Scherzer of Detroit (without reference to his bullpen letting him down last night). There was one 20 game winner in the Major Leagues this season and Scherzer was it. I think that stat alone will give him the writers nod. I’ll go with him too. I recognize the devaluing of the “win” stat, but Scherzer has a lot of other things going for him. His WHIP is impressive (and first in the AL), as is his FIP. His ERA is 2.90, which is good in this era, and is fifth this season. His ERA+ is 145 (tied for second). He’s third in pitcher’s WAR behind Iwakuma and a guy with a losing record (Sale). He’s second in strikeouts. All of that together puts him first on my ballot.

About the picture. As people are constantly comparing Kershaw to Koufax, thought you might like to see a shot of the real thing in action.

A Question of Identity

October 13, 2013
The picture in question

The picture in question

Back on 24 January 2011, I published a post titled simply “The Knickerbockers”. At the end I posted the above photo and provided the traditional identities of the six men pictured.  Recently a reader commented on that post that the identity of the people in the picture has been called into question and should be rejected. If you are interested in the issue of early baseball, the Knickerbockers, or how identifications are made from old photographs, I suggest strongly that you go to the 24 January post. At the bottom you will find two comments by a bmarlowe. The first has links to two pdf files which lay out the case for the misidentification of the picture above. Both are excellent articles and deserve to be brought to the attention of any reader interested in the issues mentioned above. A thanks to bmarlowe for bringing this to my attention.

“What’s in a Name?”…

October 11, 2013

…William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2)

All the fuss about the Washington football team name “Redskins” is beginning to dominate the American sporting world. I guess it’s fair to question the validity of the name. It’s a football problem; but baseball has its own problem with team names that offend some people. I mean “Indians” and “Braves.”

Before getting there, a note about my terminology. I don’t use “Native American” to describe the guys who had feathers in their hair at Little Big Horn. Heck, guys, I’m a native American, born in Brooklyn, raised in Oklahoma and Texas. I can trace one relative back to 1609. Try getting much more “native” than all that. And I don’t have “Native American” or “Indian” blood in me (at least I don’t think so). Therefore I don’t like using the term to describe one group of “Natives” while ignoring another group of “Natives.” Indians is just incorrect, although I grew up using it (as in playing Cowboys and Indians). I know a number of people who are “Native American” and not a one uses either “Native American” or “Indian” to describe themselves. They use their tribal name. “Hi, there, I’m Frank and I’m Houma (or Apache, or Navajo, or Cherokee, or…pick a tribe).” You see, all the “Native Americans” I know consider themselves members of a particular tribe and are proud of same. So I use “Tribal American” to describe them generically. I don’t expect anyone else to do so, but I do and that’s what you’ll find in this post. Got all that?

First, the Braves. The name comes from way back when the team was in Boston. They’ve been called a lot of things, Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves, Bees, Braves (and a few other things by irate Yankees fans). A key to the names is that many of them start with a “B”, giving you Boston Beaneaters, Boston Bees, Boston Braves. It’s a nice bit of alliteration and apparently that was what it was meant to be all along. Braves was a militant sounding “b” word and that worked in Boston. But when you move to Milwaukee and then Atlanta, the “B” alliteration goes by the way. So the original basis for the name has “gone with the wind” (just for Atlanta).

But there’s a problem with the attack on “Braves.” It’s not just Tribal American types who can be brave (besides Brave being an English word and never something any tribe would have called its members). Firemen are brave, soldiers are brave, cops are brave, heck pilots can be brave. So in many ways the problem isn’t the word, it’s the symbols that go with it, the tomahawk and the “tomahawk chop”. You know, if they took the tomahawk off the uniform and inserted a firefighters helmet or a police badge you’d still have “Braves” without an overt symbol of tribal Americanism. The chop on the other hand is something that has to be stopped by fans, not just management. In fact, the quicker they stop the chop the better. I think it’s the most annoying chant in American sports.

Indians is an entirely different issue. According to the story (at least the one I heard), when they decided to put a new team in Cleveland no one wanted to use the old National League name “Spiders” because it was associated with losing, especially the 1899 disaster. So a new name was needed. Someone suggested (apparently in 1901) they name the new team for the Spiders best ever player, Lou Sockalexis. Turns out Sockalexis was a Penobscot  and no one thought the Cleveland Sockalexi or the Cleveland Penobscots would work, so Cleveland Indians was born. OK, maybe. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, Sockalexis only played two years with the Spiders, one good and one awful (he apparently had the stereotypical “drunken Indian” problem) and everyone knew that their early 1890s pitcher, guy named Cy Young, was better. And of course the main problem is that Cleveland joined the American League in 1901 as the Blues, went to Broncos, then to Naps (for manager and best player Napoleon LaJoie) before becoming the Indians in 1915. It seems to have taken a long time to decide that Sockalexis was the best ever Cleveland player. And of course this shoots down the idea that they decided early to go with Indians, making the “no one wanted to use the old name and Sockalexis was immediately brought up” theory ridiculous. If you’re going to name the team after your best player I suggest you should stay with Naps, Cleveland.

Another problem at Cleveland is the logo. It’s ugly, cartoonish, clownish, and frankly if I were a Tribal American I’d be offended. So it needs to go, without reference to the name. But the name is still the major problem. What do you change it to? I dunno. The original Cleveland entry in the old National Association was the Forest City (don’t guess there’s much forest around Cleveland now). The Negro League team was the Buckeyes. There’s Lake Erie for Cleveland Eries. Heck, name it the Fire Rivers for the Cuyahoga fire disaster. My personal choice would be Buckeyes, but I wouldn’t be upset with another name.

I guess all this means I favor leaving Braves alone (but dumping the tomahawk) and getting rid of Indians. I’d be interested to know what Cleveland and Atlanta fans think of this entire mess. On the other hand, I think baseball has a lot bigger problems to deal with than team nicknames. So if they do change the name in Cleveland to Fire Rivers (or River Fires), remember, you heard it here first.

Shutting Out in Game 7

October 9, 2013
Babe Adams about 1909

Babe Adams about 1909

There is nothing in baseball quite like game 7 of the World Series. It is the ultimate moment for two teams, one of which is going to be overjoyed while the other goes into deep mourning. Over the history of the World Series, there have been 36 times that the Series went to a game 7. This does not count the handful of best of nine Series’. That’s about a third of the time, which is  a number that somewhat shocked me. I presumed there were more. I wanted, in conjunction with the playoffs, to look at the game 7 phenomena. When I began  doing so, I noticed something interesting (at least to me). If about a third of all World Series’ climax with a game 7, a quarter of those game 7’s have been shutouts. Here’s a quick look at the game 7 shutouts in World Series history.

1909–Babe Adams, a really obscure deadball pitcher for the Honus Wagner led Pittsburgh Pirates threw the first game 7 shutout in the very first game 7 (not counting the game 7 that was part of the 1903 best-of-nine Series). He defeated Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers 8-0. He gave up six hits (none to Cobb), walked one and struck out one.

1934–The next game 7 shutout occurred in 1934. The St. Louis Cardinals “Gas House Gang” led by starting pitcher Dizzy Dean corralled the Detroit Tigers 11-0.  Dean gave up six hits (like Adams), struck out five and didn’t walk any. This is the game made famous for Tigers fans throwing fruit at Joe Medwick.

1955–We next have to skip all the way to the first Brooklyn Dodgers World Series champion to find the next game 7 shutout. Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0, on eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and a famous catch by Sandy Amoros.

1956–The Yankees returned the favor the next season when journeyman Johnny Kucks gave up three hits and three walks while striking out one on the way to an 11-0 beating of the Dodgers.

1957–For a decade known mostly for its hitters, the 1950s produced three consecutive game 7 shutouts. This time Braves right-hander Lew Burdette shut out the Yankees 5-0. He gave up seven hits, walked one, and struck out three.

1962– After a five-year break, the baseball god’s decided it was time again for another game 7 shutout. This time the Yankees defeated the Giants 1-0 in a game most famous for Bobby Richardson’s grab of Willie McCovey’s liner to end the game. Ralph Terry picked up the win by striking out four while giving up four hits and not walking a man.

1965–This game became the standard for judging Sandy Koufax. On two day’s rest he tossed a three hit shutout, walking three and striking out 10. The Dodgers scored two runs.

1985–Bret Saberhagen shut down St. Louis on five hits and two strikeouts without a walk, as Kansas City won 11-0 in the aftermath of the Don Denkinger blown call game.

1991–Jack Morris pitched the only game 7 shutout that went into extra innings. The Twins knocked off the Braves 1-0 with Morris giving up seven hits, walking two, and striking out eight. As a great little bit of trivia, Lonnie Smith participated in both the 1985 and 1991 games (obviously a number of Yankees and Dodgers participated in the 1955, 56, and 57 showdowns). Smith won one (1985) and lost one (1991).

That’s the list. A couple of quick observations are in order. Only the Dodgers and Yankees win two of these, 1955 and ’65 for the Dodgers and 1956 and 1962 for the Yanks. The Dodgers win the only two pitched by left-handed pitchers (Podres and Koufax). The three biggest game 7 blowouts (’34, ’56, and ’85) all ended up as 11-0 shutouts (wonder what are the odds on that). Finally, only Koufax and Dean are Hall of Fame pitchers (Morris has a year left on the ballot, plus the Vet’s Committee, so maybe there will be three). Some pretty obscure pitchers (Adams and Kucks) have also won a game 7 shutout. Want to take bets on whether there will be one this season or not?

2013 Awards: Rookies

October 7, 2013
Wil Myers, Tampa Bay

Wil Myers, Tampa Bay

This is  second look at the upcoming postseason awards. This time I want to weigh in on Rookie of the Year. Same format as with the previous post on managers.

AL: I think Wil Myers at Tampa Bay will win the American League Rookie of the Year award. He hit .293, slugged.478, and put up an OPS of .831 (OPS+ of 132). He was tied or second in home runs with 13, one behind Oswaldo Arcia of he Twins, led all AL Rookies in RBIs, and was second in runs. I think all that will get him the writer’s nod for the award I agree and would also vote for him.

NL: The fun is going to come in the National League where it seems to have come down to a choice between the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and the Marlins’  Jose Fernandez (I see no particular support for either the Braves’ Evan Gattis or the Padres’ Jedd Gyorko). The Dodgers were dead in the water when the brought Puig to the big leagues. He responded by becoming the spark that started the team on the road to the NL West title. He hit .319, slugged .534, and had an OPS of .925. He scored 66 runs, had 42 RBIs, popped 19 home runs, and stole 11 bases. Add to that a terrific outfield arm and you have a player who can lead a team out of the doldrums. Fernandez couldn’t lead his team out of the basement. With that lineup Walter Johnson would have trouble getting a win. But Fernandez put up great stats with a terrible team. As a rule I believe that failure to get your team out of the basement is death for awards purposes. But Fernandez went 12-6 with an ERA of 2.19 over 172 innings. His WHIP was 0.979 and his ERA+ was 176. I think Puig’s help in resurrecting the Dodgers will get him a lot of votes, but I also think ultimately that Fernandez’s year was better. I’d vote for him. I think just maybe the writers will also.

The Moonshiner and the Church League

October 2, 2013
The best stuff comes in jars like these

The best stuff comes in jars like these

Between about 1930 and 1960, my Uncle Joe (not his real name, he has relatives who may read this and would scream to high heaven) was noted for producing the highest quality moonshine in the county where I grew up. There were other moonshiners and other stills, but Uncle Joe was, by general consensus, the man who made the very best “stuff” in the county. He ran a small produce stand that was literally only a few feet out of town, which meant the police department had no jurisdiction at the stand. There was this old green awning that stretched over the front so that he could sit out seasonal fruits and vegetables for his customers to see (and occasionally taste). Inside there were shelves for eggs, a cooler for milk and cream, and a counter with one of those old-fashioned cash registers that made you punch the keys and showed the money as 70 and 5 for 75 cents. He and Aunt May (again not her real name) lived in some rooms behind the stand and back behind their rooms was “the stash.” Originally the “stash” was directly behind the stand and they lived in the rooms behind the “stash” room. Aunt May pitched a fit about having to walk through the den of iniquity that was the “stash” room every day, so Uncle Joe moved them into the “stash” room and the “stash” went into what had been their bedroom. Customers would show up, check out the onions, buy a pound of  beans, and pick up a couple of Mason Jars full of Uncle Joe’s best. The County Sheriff was in on it too. The local Sheriff and his Chief Deputy were two of Uncle Joe’s best customers (they got a jar of each batch, but I’m not sure if money changed hands).

My grandfather had access to a plot of land about a mile or so off the main paved road. You went down this dirt track and turned off just before you reached a low-water crossing. There was a nice little creek with trees on each bank down in a swale about a quarter-mile off the dirt track and my grandfather helped Uncle Joe set up his still there (they never let me visit it). The owner of the property finally caught wind of the arrangement, but a jar of Uncle Joe’s newest batch each time a batch was ready solved that problem. Uncle Henry (again, not his real name) was the driver (gotta keep this in the family). He’d drive his old pickup down to the creek, load up the “stuff” and head back to Uncle Joe’s produce stand where the three of them (Uncle Joe, Uncle Henry, and my grandfather) would stash it away until they could make the necessary deliveries or the necessary contacts for pick up. I never knew how much Uncle Henry got, but my grandfather got a jar (and a cut) for each batch he helped create.

My grandmother, my Aunt May, and my Aunt Louise (Uncle Henry’s wife and again not a real name) were horrified at all this. They just knew the men were going to be caught and it would bring shame to the family (apparently they didn’t understand how bribing the County Sheriff worked) and they wouldn’t be able to hold their head up in town or go to church (you get a scarlet A for adultery, do you get a scarlet M for moonshiner?). And what would happen to their immortal souls? Well, that was beyond comprehension. I heard the three of them complain about it time and time again, usually while canning peaches or snapping beans that had been bought with the moonshine money.

Me? I thought it was great fun. I got to stick my finger into one of the full jars a time or two. They say on some of the booze ads around here that you can taste the hint of pears or apples in the liquor. After my grandmother’s admonitions, all I could taste between the tears and the burning throat was brimstone.

One of the better ways for Uncle Joe to make money in the summer was to show up at the local church league softball game. Back then towns our size had church softball leagues. The various churches would put together a team made up of congregants and an occasional ringer (the local Assembly of God church got in trouble one year when they showed up with two ringers), someone would concoct a schedule (no games on Wednesday night as half the churches in town had Wednesday services), and the teams would play each other with the league winner getting a trophy at the big picnic bash that was held at the end of the season.

The softball park was on the edge of town (it’s still there), in fact left field of one of the fields was just outside the city limits into the county. There was a big stand of trees beyond the left field fence of this particular field and Uncle Henry would park his truck between a couple of trees just in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction and just outside the city police jurisdiction. He and Uncle Joe would wait there while my grandfather and I went to watch the game. There were some wooden bleachers on either side, so we would get on the third base side and I would watch the game. The theory was that “surely they wouldn’t be selling illegal liquor with that small child around, would they?” My grandfather’s job was to watch for who was heading out to the trees. If he didn’t know or trust the person, he’d wave to Uncle Joe and Uncle Henry would get in and move the pickup. If he did know the person and trusted him or her (some were women) he’d do nothing and the loyal church member would end up out by the trees with my uncles and come back with either a jar full of liquid or wobbly legs. Uncle Joe had a cardboard tube full of approximately shot-sized Dixie Cups for customer use and he always picked up and carted off the used cups (He was environmentally aware).

You had to be careful about when you went. If the Free Will Baptists or the Pentecostals were playing they would send someone down to stand in the trees and raise such a stink that Uncle Henry had to move the truck and anyone who wanted a snort wouldn’t be able to get one. On the other hand if the Methodists and Presbyterians were playing, Uncle Joe could make a week’s profit in a night. He said he always rooted for the Lutherans, they spent the most.

I moved away when I was 10 and Uncle Joe died in the late 1960s. Aunt May sold the produce stand and moved in with her daughter. Uncle Henry found other uses for the truck (I didn’t ask). As for the still, I have no idea what happened to either it or to the “stuff” recipe. I did get to watch some pretty fair church league ball over the years. I only remember the winning team one year. It was the Presbyterians. I’d like to think Uncle Joe’s moonshine helped them over the hump.