Episode 17 — Chapters 19 & 20
The smell of alfalfa invades my nostrils. I knew I wasn’t too far away, once I came to the fork in the road. There it is!—I’ve found my way home, at last. But why is there so much smoke rising from the roof. Why is light flickering through the upper windows?
In a panic, I run to the house and bound up the steps to the front door. I tug at it, but it won’t open. Ah! I remembered the lattice and I am soon standing on the second floor porch.
Through the window pane, I see the figure of the same woman I remember from before. She is facing me, but I can only see her silhouette in the brightness of the burning blaze. I hear her scream. I raise up the window pane and enter.
Once inside, the nearby wall bursts into flames. I can now see the woman’s face.
Why is she aiming a pistol at me? Why is there a look of hatred on her face?
Her fingers press the trigger and a violent force crushes my chest, propelling me backward.
I am falling…
“Mr. Cobb… Mr. Cobb… You’re looking fine today.”
The patient looked down at the gaping hole in his chest, only to realize, to his immense relief, that he was still whole. The dream quickly faded from memory as reality set in.
“Doctor said the procedure went very well.”
He wondered what she was talking about. The pain in his face had disappeared; he felt numb. He heard himself breathing loudly through the bandages—so loud, it startled him.
“Soon, you’ll be as good as new.”
A familiar tiredness came over him. Remnants of the dream troubled him, though try as he might he could no longer remember any details.
It didn’t matter any more.
He closed his eyes and drifted off into another world.
Savannah looked at her watch.
Where has the time gone? It was only 10 o’clock the last time I checked.
Strewn across the table in her study were pages printed from her online research, many from archived newspapers more than a hundred years old. There were ancient articles from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, New York Times, Boston Herald and others. It was a treasure trove of information, but it needed to be assessed and organized. In the morning’s early hours, the task seemed too monumental, too overwhelming.
Savannah took a deep breath. She told herself to relax. After all, she had plenty of time before the article’s submission deadline and most of her other projects were nearly completed.
Though she had often daydreamed of watching some of baseball’s immortals from a century before, she had never really studied yesteryear’s game. She was astonished at how much quicker the game had been played at the dawning of the twentieth century. According to Baseball Reference, the vast online resource, the length of the modern game averaged nearly three hours and ten minutes. To her shock, the early twentieth century version averaged just half that time.
Savannah felt like a sleuth trying to uncover why the game’s length had doubled during the past hundred years. Some reasons were obvious, but others were ambiguous. One striking discovery was that the number of pitches thrown per game had increased an astonishing fifty percent, as batters went much deeper into the count, largely due to their failure to make contact as frequently. With most batters swinging for the fences along with their upward launch angle, strikeouts occurred nearly three times as often as in the ancient game—that had been no surprise. Savannah had remembered reading, a few year ago, about a new statistical milestone that had been reached in the game—not a welcome one either: strikeouts were now out-pacing base hits for the first time in the game’s history.
Savannah learned that the modern team averaged four to five pitchers a game, more than double the former rate, and that rate was also on the rise, especially with the advent of relief pitchers often starting the first inning or two of a game. Nor had she been surprised to find that the break between half innings was significantly longer in the modern game with the advent of radio and television commercials. The pace of the early game was also quicker, with pitchers taking less time between pitches and batters generally remaining in the batter’s box after each pitch, instead of constantly adjusting their body armor.
Savannah was aware that the early twentieth-century version had been designated the deadball era, since the ball was more dense and required a herculean clout to reach the seats in most parks. But, she was stunned to learn that home runs in the modern game occurred a staggering ten times more often than their ancestral counterparts. And that figure was also growing.
Ten times as often!
It seemed inconceivable that there wasn’t a vast gap in the number of runs scored between the two eras. Fortunately, it was a simple task to retrieve team and league batting records from a hundred years ago and compare them with today’s. The modern team averaged around 4 ½ runs per game, compared to the ancient version’s 3 ½. With the home run so rare, Savannah wondered how teams were able to score so frequently. As she studied further, she learned that batting averages in the early twentieth century were just as low as the modern game, but the higher frequency of errors put an extra man on base per team each game. In addition, stolen bases were far more prevalent in the old game—nearly three times as common as today. Bunting was also much for frequent, with sacrifice hits in yesteryear’s game occurring six times more often.
It all made sense. With the home run so rare, teams had to devise creative ways to advance a runner around the bases.
Lost deep in her thoughts, Savannah pondered what it would have been like watching a game from the dead ball era. It was a far more intimate experience, with fans sitting much closer to the game, even sometimes standing in the outfield or near the foul lines when the bleachers couldn’t contain them. Ten thousand fans in an intimate park could eclipse the sound of fifty thousand in the modern game, with fans actively hurling insults and offenses against visiting teams while cheering lustily the home charge.
Savannah reflected on the comment that had come to her in the boardroom: No one ever called the early game of baseball boring! She made a note to highlight that phrase in her piece. There wasn’t time to slip into a stadium corridor for a hotdog or beer back in the day, or you might miss something extraordinary on the field; quite frankly, you barely had time to blink your eyes—of course, all the refreshments were served in the bleachers anyway. She imagined the infielders always on high alert, especially with a runner on base, knowing that a steal or bunt could occur at any moment, with any player. And when a home run did occasionally result, it was more often than not, an inside-the-park clout, with fielders sprinting into the deep recesses of the outfield, desperate to retrieve the ball before the runner completed the circuit.
She thought to herself: It was the way the game was intended to be played by the game’s founders. So, how do I bring the old game to life? How do I help readers understand the intensity and excitement of baseball a hundred years ago?
At 2:30 in the morning, the task seemed too daunting. It was time to go to bed. She would start fresh the following day.