Episode 54 — Chapter 60
Atlanta at New York
With no score in the game, Cobb led off the third inning amid cheers and jeers. As he dug into the dirt and looked toward the pitcher, he wondered what had happened to the big red apple just over the centerfield wall, which had been present during batting practice; it had completely disappeared. Perhaps he had he just imagined it. Once fireballing southpaw Virgil Simmons went into his wind up, the apple was forgotten, and Cobb took the first pitch for a Ball. Four pitches later, Cobb trudged back toward the dugout with disgust, after being called out on strikes.
In the field, Cobb handled a routine fly ball along with a line drive base hit during the first three innings. In the fourth inning, the big red apple began to rise from its cavern behind the centerfield fence after a Mets’ batter knocked the ball over the fence; the apple then slowly returned to its hidden berth. Cobb shook his head at the sight, wondering who the hell had dreamed that one up!
Cobb led off the fifth inning, with the score tied at 1. He ran the count to three and two, before receiving Ball Four. After he reached first base, he kept his eye on the third base coach, waiting to see if he would be given the green light to steal second, while taking his usual, exaggerated lead off the bag. Simmons kept a close eye on Cobb, tossing severals balls to first base.
After going to home plate twice and bringing the count to 2 and 0, Cobb was dismayed that the steal sign hadn’t been given. With the pitcher behind in the count, it seemed like the perfect time to go. Certain that he could make it, Cobb decided to go down on the next pitch, sign or no sign. Simmons came to a stretch, Cobb extended his exaggerated lead to eighteen feet. As Simmons went into his motion, Cobb exploded toward second. No sooner had he started than he became aware that Simmons was not going home, but was throwing instead to first base. Without hesitation, Cobb continued his charge toward second base, his feet moving at a furious pace. The Mets’ first baseman hurriedly threw to second and the ball arrived chest-high. Cobb slid into second, evading the tag. The umpire’s perspective had been shielded by the second baseman and he hesitated an instant before crying, “You’re out!” while thrusting his fist high in the air.
Cobb leaped to his feet in disbelief. He ran toward the arbiter and began screaming wildly, pointing to the spot where he had ended his slide. He vigorously gestured that the tag had missed him by a foot. The Braves’ third base coach, who had also observed the umpire’s erroneous call, stormed over to join the fray.
Colin Perkins, the play-by-play announcer on Atlanta’s flagship television station, chimed into his TV audience, “I’m not sure Cobb’s aware of instant replay. Surely, Carpenter’s going to challenge this call. The replay leaves no doubt that Cobb slid in safely.”
Carpenter was ready to explode. The steal sign hadn’t been given and he was seeing red. A couple of players came over and urged him to alert the umpires of the challenge.
“No damn way I’m going to let him get away with that,” Carpenter responded to his surprised players.
Perkins was stunned. “I can’t believe it. Carpenter isn’t challenging the play. Look, players on the bench are motioning for him to come onto the field and give the sign to the umpires. What’s going on here?”
“Colin, Cobb’s liable to be tossed from the game the way he’s cavorting around in front of Bird Hollahan. Someone should let him know that the call will be overturned.”
By now, Cobb was out-of-control, within a few inches of the umpire’s face, while the third-base coach grabbed Cobb by the arm, trying to pull him back. Cobb pushed the coach away and continued his stinging indictment of the umpire’s decision.
“You’re outta the game!” the umpire finally yelled at Cobb as he thrust his arm in the air, fed up with Cobb’s nonstop histrionics. The crowd cheered at the umpire’s gesture, but Cobb was indignant and had to be restrained by the Braves’ third base coach, who grabbed him by both arms and forcibly turned him away from Hollahan, dragging him back to the dugout.
“Simmer down, or you’ll be suspended for more than this game,” the coach admonished. Cobb continued yelling back at the umpire on his way to the dugout, as the boos crescendoed.
Carpenter stepped toward him as Cobb entered the dugout, yelling, “How dare you show me up, you sonofabitch! In my office after the game, understood!”
Cobb disappeared from the dugout, walking into the locker room.
The Braves failed to score in the top of the sixth, but the Mets exploded for five tallies in the bottom half. What had begun as a pitcher’s duel ended with New York on top by a final score of 8 to 3.
Carpenter sat in his office, leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk. His blood was boiling. He blamed the loss directly on Cobb getting called out at second base. He was fuming at Bolt for having been ordered to play Cobb, but he was particularly incensed that Cobb had argued with the ferocity and arrogance of a seasoned veteran when he was nothing more than a half-baked rookie with a grand total of three and-a-half professional games under his belt.
Cobb stood at the entrance of the door to Carpenter’s office, still dressed in his uniform and knocked. “Get in here, ya freakin’ fruitcake! What in hell were you thinking out there! What gives you the right to try and steal a base without the green light?”
“I was as safe as the Bank of England,” Cobb responded emphatically.
“The Bank of what? Look, on this team, you don’t take a crap without a sign, understand!”
Cobb glared back at Carpenter and remained silent.
“You know what the steal sign is!” Carpenter fumed, giving Cobb the finger. “What good’s a sign if it doesn’t mean a damn thing? Where’d you learn your baseball? You don’t steal in that situation, period! A scoreless game. The count is 2 and 0 on Martinez. Simmons, after walking you, is afraid of another walk, because he knows he may get the rope. If Martinez walks—which he did after you were thrown out—there’s two men on and the pitcher bunts both of you over. You don’t steal under those conditions… ever! Billy Martin would have thrown you off the team for that move. In my book, you cost us the game. You may be Bolt’s baby, but he’ll support me a hundred percent on this one, you just wait and see…”
Carpenter wasn’t as convinced inside as he sounded about the last statement. “Get the hell out of my sight! You’ll be gettin’ nothin’ but splinters from the bench, until you learn who’s boss.”
A short time later, Carpenter received the phone call.
“What the hell is wrong with you?! Why didn’t you challenge the play? It was obvious Cobb was safe!”
“Boss, I never gave the steal sign. Cobb went against direct orders when he tried to take the base. It was a close call and the last thing I wanted this rookie to get was vindication. It may have cost us an out, but I guarantee he won’t be acting on his own in the future. I need to maintain order, keep the troops under control, or there’ll be chaos.”
“Then you take him out of the game. You sit him on the bench for a game or two, if he violates protocol. But you never jeopardize a game. Never! Do you understand?”
“I understand, boss. Poor judgment on my part. It won’t happen again.”
“It better not. You’re on a short leash here, Thud.”
The line went dead.
Later that evening in his hotel room, Cobb opened the sheer window curtains and looked out at the New York skyline. He’d never seen such a sight before; the city lights seemed to extend forever in every direction. He slumped down in the nearby couch, unable to sleep; he remained inflamed by the game’s events. He had been reckless and he chided himself for jumping the gun on his attempted theft of second base. A rookie’s mistake; he hadn’t done that in years, unless it had been an intentional maneuver with a man on third base and less than two outs, hoping to draw a throw that might enable the runner on third to score. Carpenter had every right to be angry.
Cobb also scolded himself for losing his cool. Here he was, playing in just his fourth game and his failure to reign in his temper had led to the ejection. He recalled bitter memories from his first full year in baseball, when he had been a lone man unto himself, with his own teammates attempting to sabotage his every move. At least then his manager, Bill Armour, had been fair to him and treated him with respect. Now, he had a manager who resented him as much, if not more, than his teammates. As Cobb stared out the window, he perceived the future with dark foreboding. He was homesick for his wife and kids and the world he had come from. He also felt an ache for Savannah’s friendship and her unwavering support; he wanted desperately to hear her voice. He had her number and she had left instructions as to how to call from the hotel room. But, it was 1:30 in the morning. It would just have to wait.