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The Fan Who Knew Too Much
By Robert Rubino
They say knowledge is power. I say knowledge is bloody. Take my baseball trivia knowledge. Please.
Joey, Harold, and me, we're thirteen years old and it's the middle of the summer of 1961, the season of the great Mantle-Maris home run duel, and it's raining and humid with thunder and lightning and we're bored to death hanging out in my house. Joey flips through Sport magazine, finds something that interests him, and asks me and Harold a trivia question.
"When Don Larsen pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, who was the losing pitcher?"
"That's too easy," Harold says. "Roger Craig."
"Nah, it's not Craig," I say. "It's Sal Maglie."
"Maglie was on the Giants, moron, not the Dodgers," Harold says.
"Not that year," I say. "That year he was a Dodger."
"Hey, I ought to know," Harold says. "I was there. With my dad."
"I don't care if you were there sitting on Jackie Robinson's lap," I say. "It wasn't Craig. It was Maglie."
Normally I don't dare talk like that to big Harold, but even back then, as a kid, when I'm right I'm right and nobody is going to intimidate me.
"It says here the answer is Maglie," Joey says.
Bam. Out of nowhere. Ouch. First my nose, then my whole face goes numb. Everything gets kind of fuzzy. Then the pain kicks in, and I'm blind with the pain so I don't even see all the blood. But there's got to be a lot of blood because Joey says the word "shit" for the first time, as in "Holy shit!" and Harold hightails it out of my house and into the rain and the lightning. (Harold is unafraid of the lightning but hates the sight of blood, which is weird for a tough guy.) My mom hears the commotion and comes in from the kitchen and for the first time I hear her say "goddamn," as in "Goddamn, Rudy, there's goddamn blood all over your goddamn white T-shirt!"
It's not like I want to embarrass Harold Sawchuk, a thirteen-year-old who passes for sixteen. He's not only big but he's kind of hairy, too. Me, I'm the kind of thirteen-year-old who passes for eleven. Joey, he's just Joey, a thirteen-year-old who looks exactly thirteen, not a day older or a day younger. We're new kids on a new block that isn't even a block; it's just one of several spic-and-span streets-in-progress, with oversized dollhouses and dirt lawns because the grass isn't even planted yet. It's where all the kids are new kids because all the families are among the white-flight pioneers, leaving our apartments in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan for the swampy suburban splendor of Blanton, Long Island, which lacks the playgrounds, sandlots, alleys, stoops, and other city hangouts where we played a dozen variations of baseball. We find out it sucks to try and play any of those variations in the suburbs. In the summer of 1961, Blanton lacks sidewalks, so we canėt even play box ball. It also lacks Negroes and Puerto Ricans, which, I guess, from our parents' perspective, is the whole point.
The weird thing about Harold giving me a bloody nose, besides actually getting a bloody nose just because my Sal Maglie answer is right and his Roger Craig answer is wrong, is that the next day Harold apologizes.
"Hey, Rudy, I'm sorry," he says. "Let's forget it. Okay?"
I think Harold's father tells him to apologize. I think Harold checks with his father and his father probably says: "Yeah, dumbbell, the magazine is right. It was Maglie. Don't you remember? We were there. I even let you skip school that day."
I think even though Harold is there the day Larsen throws his perfect game, he somehow remembers Roger Craig as the losing pitcher. After all, he's only eight years old when Larsen throws his ninety-seven-pitch masterpiece. Well, that's too bad. I've got no sympathy for people with lousy memories when it comes to baseball history.
Even though Harold apologizes, it pisses me off that he does it in private and it's pretty clear he doesn't want anyone knowing about the apology. Me, I want everyone to know I'm right and Harold is wrong, but I keep my mouth shut.
The next day, after the apology, Harold is my friend again, or at least he hangs out with me, like he never gave me a bloody nose in the first place. It's weird but it's okay with me because I don't want big, hairy Harold to stay mad at me, although I've got to admit the bloody nose pisses me off and in the back of my mind I hold a grudge, but I never do anything about it except dream of giving Harold a bloody nose, or sometimes I dream of giving Harold worse than a bloody nose. Sometimes a lot worse. But I know that's never going to happen. Still, I hold the grudge a long time. Like forty years. That's right, even today, if I somehow run into Harold Sawchuk, I'd want to get even for that bloody nose. Plus interest.
To read the rest of this story, click here to order a copy of the Summer 2002 issue.
ROBERT RUBINO writes a Sunday sports column for the Press Democrat
of Santa Rosa, California, a New York Times regional newspaper. Regarding
baseball fiction, he believes you can't find much better than Robert Coover's
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.
© 2002 Robert Rubino
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