Archive for July, 2018

Gaming the System

July 18, 2018

old Food “Stamp”

Way back in the 1980s I was teaching and my wife was working. We’d just had our son and bought a house, both of which added to the bills. So I took a part time job at a local Convenience Store to help ends meet. It was a standard convenience store that most of you are familiar with in your hometowns and travels. We sold lots of gas, a ton of soda, more than our share of beer. My job was to keep the shelves stocked, clean up the place, take money from the clients, and make change. It’s the last of those that makes the heart of this little tale.

If you’re an American you have at least a passing knowledge of “Food Stamps.” They were originally stamps, but by the 1980s had evolved into “coupons” that looked a lot like dollar bills (see the picture above). Now they’re a piece of plastic. Their job was to help those down on their luck for whatever reason get a decent meal. You went to a store, picked up your items (a lot of things were excluded–like the beer at our place), presented the coupons with the item and you could get groceries to feed either yourself or your family.

The system was prone to corruption because people make bad decisions all the time (Why, even I have made a couple of them over time; but only a couple.). But a second problem, and the one at the heart of this story, was that they were all in “dollars.” There was no “change” in them. So if you bought $1.50 worth of goods, you handed the clerk $2.00 worth of coupons and you got fifty cents in change handed to you. This was legal tender coins we’re talking about. The kind of thing that, if you had enough coins, could buy you something like a beer.

One of the more common things that people did if they patronized our little store and had kids was to hand the kid a couple of dollars (or just one dollar) and send them to the store. The kid was free to use the dollar to buy some sort of treat for himself (It’s a boy involved in this tale.). If a customer was on food stamps, they frequently still did the same using the coupons in lieu of a dollar bill.

We had salesmen come in all the time trying to get the boss to add to the inventory and one of them brought in a box of Topps baseball cards. intrigued, the boss took a box and set it on the counter right by the cash register. It was a slow seller and after a few boxes the store discontinued the item, but it got the attention of one of the kids who came in regularly to purchase candy, soda, or to pick up something Mom needed for the meal that evening. The family used food stamps for their purchases. Baseball cards didn’t come under the rules for food stamps (apparently the gum didn’t count), so you couldn’t buy them with food stamps.

But this kid was a genius (my guess is he’s in the Oklahoma Legislature now). He walked over to the candy and picked out one piece of two-cent candy (it was a flavored jawbreaker and you don’t see them much anymore). He walked up, handed me the candy and a dollar food coupon. He got back 98 cents. Then he reached over to the packets of baseball cards and picked up one (or maybe two, I forget both the number of packets or the price of a packet) and handed me back the 98 cents. I remember giving him change. He thanked me and left.

A couple of days later he was back and we repeated the same little monetary dance. This went on until one day he came in and there were no cards. I told him we were out and the boss said we weren’t getting more. He was deeply disappointed, but took it manfully. He used the food coupon to buy a candy bar.


Don’t Ya Tell Me How it Was Tonight Tomorrow—

July 11, 2018

—Johnny Cash (from “See Ruby Fall”)

boxscore, 1918

One of the problems with being a geezer (Yep, I’m going to do one of those “I used to walk 5 miles a day to school in the snow in July uphill both ways” bits) is that you remember one of the simple joys of baseball back in the 1950s.

Back then you could get late scores on the radio (or TV) and go to bed knowing if your team won that day. Or if worse came to worse you could get the morning newspaper and get all the scores from the day before. Usually they would post a boxscore for each game so not only did you know who won, but you found out how your personal favorites did in their latest game.

All that changed when West Coast baseball began in the big leagues. The games started at somewhere around nine o’clock where I lived (Central Time Zone) and with school I had to go to bed by 10 pm. Without school I had to go to bed at 10 pm (I never understood how “It’s a school night, now go to bed” made any difference. I had to go to bed at the same time with or without school.) so I never knew the West Coast scores until the next day. Then the local newspaper went to press too early to get the late scores either. So there I was waiting an extra day to see if the Dodgers won or lost. The Monday paper might show the Sunday scores for the Cardinals or Cubs but the Dodgers score was from Saturday’s late game.

That’s all changed now. Among other things I get to stay up later (my wife says 10:30 is OK) and the internet gives me the late games as soon as I log on. But I still miss having the entire day’s games laid out for me to look over at my leisure. Sometimes progress stinks.

1908: 4 July

July 5, 2018

Hooks Wiltse

I know I’m a day late, but I was busy yesterday. The fourth of July in 1908 saw one of the strangest games played in the season. It was the no-hitter that was almost a perfect game.

On 4 July 1908 the New York Giants were home against the Philadelphia Phillies for a Sunday double-header. In game one the Giants starter George “Hooks” Wiltse matched zeroes with Phillies hurler George McQuillan. Both were doing well. McQuillan was pitching a shutout through eight innings. He’d given up a handful of hits, walked none, and struck out one. But Wiltse was great that day. Through eight innings he’d struck out one, walked none, and allowed no hits, not a single one. He had a perfect game going into the top of the ninth.

He got shortstop Ernie Courtney (Courtney had replaced starter Mickey Doolin earlier in the game) to start the inning, then retired catcher Red Dooin (note it’s Dooin, not Doolin, as in Mickey) for the second out. That brought up pitcher McQuillan. The Phils apparently left McQuillan in to bat because the game was still scoreless. Wiltse threw a pitch, then another and another running the count to 2-2. The next pitch, one pitch from a perfect game plunked McQuillan to end the perfect game. One batter later Wiltse retired third baseman Eddie Grant to keep the no-hitter intact.

The Giants failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, necessitating extra innings. With the no-hitter still operative, Wiltse set down Philadelphia in order. In the bottom of the tenth, Art Devlin singled and a Spike Shannon single moved him along. Shortstop Al Bridwell then singled to plate Devlin with the winning run. For the game Wiltse (who moved his record to 10-8) gave up no hits, no walks, no runs, and one hit batsman. McQuillan gave up 1 run on 10 hits and no walks. The win put New York a game an a half behind National League leading Chicago and a half game behind second place Pittsburgh in the standings. Chicago played Pittsburgh that day and won 9-3. They held Honus Wagner to a walk in five trips to the plate.

Wiltse would go on to post a 23-14 record in 1908 with an ERA of 2.24 (ERA+108) with 118 strikeouts, 6.8 WAR, and nine hit batsmen. None of the nine was as significant as McQuillan on 4 July.

The Green Corn Rebellion

July 2, 2018

The Green Corn Rebellion

Oklahoma is, today, noted very much for its Conservative tradition. And that’s fair. But the State also has quite a radical tradition. With a high number of poor and working class citizens, radicalism can come pretty easily. My grandparents were tenant farmers (for most of their working life) and had a radical touch in them that flared up sometimes. Take, for instance, the Green Corn Rebellion.

Back in August 1917 the United States was newly at war with Germany. The federal government instituted a draft that many in Oklahoma thought disproportionately targeted the poor. The tenant farmers of Seminole County (that’s just east of Oklahoma City), a rather significant number of which were Socialists, decided the draft, and the economy, was rigged and rebelled against the draft. They actually made something of an alliance with the local black and American Indian community to form the Working Class Union. It was radical, it was Socialist, and it didn’t like the way things were going in Oklahoma. On 2 August a group of farmers attacked the local sheriff and the “Green Corn Rebellion” was on. It lasted all of two days. The farmers were stopped by a local group and a handful of people were killed and others arrested.

My grandparents were living in northeast Oklahoma. They’d been married three years and when word got to them about the “Rebellion” they decided to help the union men. My grandmother packed some food, my grandfather hitched up a farm wagon, and they started off. Along the way they went by several other farms, found a number of like-minded tenants and something of a procession started to Seminole County. My grandfather liked to say they had twenty wagons on the road (my grandmother said it was more like 10) when word got to them that the rebellion was crushed and heading on southwest was useless.

What to do? Well, you have a bunch of people, including, apparently some children, a lot of food baskets, there was a river nearby (in August it didn’t have much water in it), and some open fields. So the procession pulled off, set up the baskets on the bed of a couple of wagons, and had an impromptu picnic. And after you finish eating at a picnic in 1917, what do you do? Well, someone had brought along a ball, there were tree limbs around, and the men started playing baseball in the big field. My grandfather said he even got one hit with an elm branch that cracked when he connected with the ball. I never heard a score.

It seems the local sheriff paid a call on the caravan. They convinced him they were out for a picnic, offered him some chicken, got him to umpire the game, and managed to stay out of the local jail. They spent the night sleeping in the wagons, got up the next morning, and headed back home. That seems to have ended my grandparents radical days.