Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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 Chapter 18

More Circles

When America entered the war, there was some talk of infiltrating Sam into Germany as a spy. Sam thought that he had done rather enough spying in Germany, and he also knew how hard it would be a avoid suspicion as a civilian of military age. Jack Morris thought that it would be a dramatically bad idea, and helped Sam get a naval appointment.

After training as a gunnery officer, Sam was sent to join the USS Pennsylvania, the only battleship at Pearl Harbor which was undamaged in the attack. Unfortunately, while the other old battleships were salved and modernized, the Pennsylvania remained, in most respects, a battleship of the last war.

When she was completed, in 1915, there was a concern that battleships could be attacked by destroyers firing torpedoes. The secondary armament therefore consisted in five inch guns in batteries along the sides of the ships. They could effectively keep destroyers at a distance, if not sink them, but, built into the side armor of the ships, they couldn't be elevated. Since there was no credible threat from aircraft in 1915, this was not seen as a problem. Now, of course, the main threat was from the air.

The salved and modernized Pearl Harbor battleships had the five inchers replaced by dual-purpose anti-aircraft guns, but the Pennsylvania was overlooked. As almost an afterthought, a handful of light anti-aircraft guns were scattered about her decks. Having finished gunnery school, Sam was detailed to command this battery.

It turned out to be a pleasant enough occupation. They shot at targets towed by aircraft, trying hard not to hit the planes themselves, and they occasionally shot at seagulls. In the event, they never were attacked by enemy aircraft.

The main mission was to support invasion fleets by bombarding Japenese-held islands. That was certainly useful. A lot of noise was involved, and they could see the explosions on the islands. People were presumably being killed, but, at a distance of over ten miles, it wasn't very personal. Much less personal, in fact, than the strangling of Hokensen.

From Sam's rather unusual view, the war was more like baseball in America than sabotage in Germany. He had no sense of danger, and, while he did his job, most of his energies and abilities weren't being used. Instead of enjoying the sights and sounds of a ballpark, he enjoyed being at sea and inventing various forms of physical exercise.

They were docked for long periods of time, usually in San Diego, to service the tired old engines. When they hit port, the men swarmed into the town, which, at times, amounted to an enormous house of prostitution. Sam, seeing the ladies in question, experienced no temptation. The first time in San Diego, he went to the ball park.

The Pacific Coast League was still playing in wartime, mostly with men declared phsyically unfit for the services. The caliber of play was much reduced, but Sam happily stretched himself out over a couple of seats near home plate. Near him was a large man with a florid countenance whom Sam took to be a shipyard worker. He took the game quite seriously, his huge hands threatening to dismantle the arms of his seat as he gripped them in tense moments. At times, he took exception to the calls of the home plate umpire. As the game progressed, his remarks became increasingly strident. Finally, in the seventh inning, he rose and bellowed,

"Your mother swims out to meet battleships."

Sam thought of remarking to him that no ladies had swum out to the Pennsylvania, but thought better of it.

Ironically, Sam returned from the park to find himself drafted for the ship's baseball team. It was, after all, known that he had been a major league pitcher.

In the games against other service teams, Sam threw the ball, not particularly hard, right down the middle. There were lots of hits, and they lost some games. The ship's captain, who took a personal interest in the team, was disappointed. But that was nothing new. Sam never pitched quite badly enough to be counted as a malingerer, and, when he lost a game, he would shake his head, as if in perplexity at his own ineffectiveness.

It actually felt quite good to pitch what amounted to batting practice without any feelings of strain or tension. And, of course, he enjoyed hitting, winding up as the team's leading hitter. Then, after a long sojourn, it would be back to sea again.

There was, finally, a major battle, that of the Surigao Strait. When the American invasion force landed on Leyte, in the Phillipines, one of three Japanese groups of capital ships tried to force the strait at night and attack the invasion fleet from the south. American destroyers and PT boats attacked as the Japanese came up the strait, and, blocking it at the mouth, were the American battleships and cruisers. The Pennsylvania was in the battle line in what turned out to be, with the exception of Jutland, the largest surface action in history. In the event, due to poor fire control, the ship didn't get off any broadsides at all.

It was, again, a little like baseball. One could play horribly while one's team won. It was a little awkward afterwards, but it was easy not to be noticed. In this case, a massive overall victory virtually wiped out the ship's amazingly poor performance. Except in the minds of her captain and her officers. Sam was virtually the only officer who didn't seem to take it personally. Reminded of his baseball managers, Sam was careful not to whistle cheerfully while the captain was around.

The year 1946 was a buoyantly optimistic one, and a man could whistle cheerfully as much as he liked. Sam surprised everyone by unretiring as a pitcher. It turned out that his arm, exercised but not strained by all that batting practice, had regained its old zing.

He ended up, after being shopped around as an unknown quantity, with the Boston Red Sox. This team had an amazing number of stars, including Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johny Pesky, and Rudy York. The pitching was also good, but there was always room for a hard-throwing lefty who could strike out a left-handed hitter in a tight spot. Sam proved that he could do that in training camp, and his naval experience had taught him to be very careful in his remarks. He even had a go at bench chatter, but knocked it off when Dom DiMaggio, the most intellectual member of the team, gave him a strange look. In any case, Sam was in the bullpen in right field when they opened at Fenway Park.

The Tso family had prospered in America, even before getting their money out of Switzerland at the war's end. Starting out as security guards, they were about to form their own detective agency when Yo-wen discovered that there was more profit in running a nursing home. Gravitating to Belmont, Massachusetts, where she had gone to school, they found a large delapidated nursing home that was about to close. The Tso family negotiated its purchase on extremely favorable terms.

It turned out that General Tso was good at running, not only an army of irregulars, but other sorts of organizations. With his large extended family, including the two German children, he had enough free labor to quickly renovate the building. The residents, who were soon organized along military lines, got used to people painting their rooms while they tried to sleep and having the occasional wall come crashing down while they were at table. There were bright cheery colors everywhere, and the home emerged with a surprisingly Chinese look.

Yo-wen and the general, always trying to bring things together for mutual advantage, got in touch with the others who had escaped Germany with them. Missy had married a rich American in Minneapolis, and Otto was teaching physics at the University of Michigan. However, Brenda and Annaliese, sharing an apartment in Pittsburgh, were available. Brenda was made head nurse at the home, indeed the only registered nurse. Annaliese now had enough English to deal sympathetically and persuasively with people who were thinking of putting their aged parents in the home.

As it happened, Yo-wen was free from her many duties long enough to attend an April game against the Yankees. Any game against the Yankees was a big deal which might ultimately decide the pennant race and Yo-wen, surprising Sam with her enthusiasm, came early enough for batting practice. After running in the outfield with a couple of the other pitchers, Sam spotted her in a box seat near first base and came over for a brief chat. The big Indian, Rudy York, was lifting balls over the left field wall into the screen, and Yo-wen was totally involved, even to the point of waving her arms and giving little jumps.

As a school girl newly arrived in America, she had believed that baseball teams were paramilitary organizations, and Sam wondered if she were still laboring under some sort of illusion. When he probed gently, she replied,

"Oh no, I'm an American now, and I understand. It's a matter of money."

"Well, yes, we do get paid. But, unless you're betting on the games, it's not your money."

Yo-wen replied evasively, and Sam, amused, asked,

"Are you actually gambling on baseball."

"Not exactly. It involves the nursing home, and it's a long story. I'll tell you later."

It was then time for Sam to shag some flies, and he trotted out to right field as Ted Williams entered the batting cage.

There were four other "right fielders", but the first ball, a line drive, came in Sam's direction. As Sam ran in to make an elegant shoe-string catch, the ball suddenly soared over his head. Turning in amazement, he saw it clear the bullpen and land in the seats. Looking back, he saw Williams laughing at him.

The bullpen situation was a little confused. The ace was a left-hander, the Scandinavian Earl Johnson. Ideally, he would be paired with a right-hander of equal ability, but it was becoming increasingly clear that Broadway Charley Wagner wasn't up to it. That betokened a tired arm for Johnson in the course of the season.

Manager Joe Cronin, formerly a first-class hitter and third baseman, had analyzed Sam's pitching and concluded,

"You don't have enough beyond your fast ball to get hitters out the second or third time around. But you can overwhelm them right at the beginning. Give it everything you have, and I'll never leave you in more than an inning or two."

The bullpen was very different from that of the Phillies. No one called down to ask Sam questions, and everyone watched the game. When Williams came up, they all hoped for a ball, but, unaccountably, one of the Yankees' lesser pitchers struck him out twice. There were groans and some cursing in the bullpen.

With the game tied in the top of the eighth and Ferriss pitching, the Yanks got men on second and third with one out. Sam and Johnson had already been warming up when Ferriss, pitching too carefully, walked Henrich. Cronin came out to the mound, and, with the left-handed Keller coming up, it was obviously time for a lefty reliever. Sam expected it to be Johnson, but Cronin waved for Sam. He wanted, not a fly or slow grounder, but a pop-up or strikeout.

Sam noticed Yo-wen as he walked in, finding himself surprisingly calm. Keller was a big man with a whip-like swing. But he was a home-run hitter, particularly on the first strike. The real danger was to get behind him with no room on the bases. As Hal Wagner set up the target low and outside, Sam reached way back and followed through as hard as he could, aiming for the heart of the plate.

The ball came in, just a little high, in dangerous territory. Keller uncorked fast and got out in time to pull the ball, but he was under it. The result was one of the highest pup-ups Sam had seen, right in front of the plate. Wagner was out with his mask off instantly, and Sam ran well around him to cover the plate. The wind was blowing the ball and Sam watched nervously as Wagner maneuvered. In the end, he made it look easy. That left Joe Dimaggio.

There was a suspicion around the league that, unlike the younger Williams, DiMaggio wasn't quite what he had been before the war. Moreover, having his younger brother, Dom, in center field made Sam feel much better. If Joe could be kept from pulling the ball to the short left field wall, Dom would get it.

Wagner called time and came out. Probably he hadn't liked the pitch to Keller. He was a take-charge catcher and he made his point. Nothing inside.

Sam didn't like having to pitch to corners, but he came in a little more overhand than usual. The ball tailed off, ending outside the strike zone. DiMaggio didn't usually hit bad pitches, and he held up, a little too late. The ball hit his bat and dribbled out toward first. Sam pounced on it eagerly. He was actually on the baseline with the ball before DiMaggio got there. When the latter slowed to a stop, Sam tagged the great man as respectfully as possible.

Cronin was an enthusiastic manager, and he shouted,

"Great job, Sam! Two pitches and that's it."

Sam assumed that he would pitch the next inning, but, in the bottom of the eighth, Pesky, with a surprising show of power, hit a bases-loaded triple to the flagpole. When they were finally out, the Red Sox had a five-run lead. Cronin waved Sam to the showers and brought in a young right-hander to deal with the bottom of the Yanks' order.

After the game, Sam met Yo-wen at the Kenmore Hotel for dinner. She was quite impressed with his two-pitch performance, but it nevertheless seemed that something deeper was involved. When Sam asked how the nursing home was going, she replied with enthusiasm,

"Every year has been better than the last one, even when we had to deal with war-time rationing. At bottom, it's my father. I thought he'd never come to understand the world outside of warfare in China, but he was actually ahead of me."

After a quizzical look from Sam, she explained,

"One day at breakfast, he announced that, instead of killing people, we should be prolonging their lives."

"That's nice. Not exactly the General Tso that I knew, but I suppose he must be mellowing."

"Not really. The problem of nursing homes is that people go to them to die. And then, in the ordinary home, they do die fairly quickly."

"Aren't there always more to replace them?"

"To an extent, but there's no growth in mere replacement. We keep people alive longer, keep expanding the home for new patients, and make more money. It's a great success!"

"How do you get them to live longer?"

"By giving them hope. Most have been more or less abandoned by their families and friends. People do show up to visit occasionally, but anyone can see that their hearts aren't in it. There needs to be something else."

Yo-wen mentioned a number of little things that made life more pleasant at minimal cost, but Sam probed further. It turned out that the Tso family had gotten their residents gambling. She allowed,

"It began when we put in pinball machines. They can be operated even by pretty infirm people, and we modified some so that they can be used by people in wheelchairs. We then encouraged them to bet with each other on the games, and we ran tournaments with prizes. The use of the machines tripled within a week, and we got more in."

"So you had a flood of coins coming in."

"Yes. We have to empty them often. But the residents bet on all sorts of things. We have people who'll stay alive to see how their bets turn out."

A good many of these bets turned out to hinge on sports events, and many of the old ladies identified strongly with the Red Sox. Sam was beginning to see why Yo-wen was so interested in his pitching, and asked, in jest,

"Are there ladies who see me as the son they wished they'd had?"

"Oh yes! We'll be taking them to games soon. Will Ted Williams sign autographs for them?"

"He's an interesting man, very smart, but totally focussed on two things, hitting baseballs and fly casting. However, he doesn't like sportswriters and fans, and tries to keep away from them. I guess I might be able to get Dom DiMaggio to do something."

"And yourself, of course. The only trouble is that all the ladies want to bet on the Red Sox, and they can't find anyone to bet against them. We have them betting on which players will score the most runs in the next month, and things like that. But it's not as good."

"Bookies have that problem. So a bookie in Boston will 'lay off' with one in New York whose people all bet the other way. The result is that, whoever wins, they make their profit. They call it 'vigorish', an odd word."

"I hadn't heard that. But Father arrived at a similar solution. We've just bought a nursing home in Long Island, where they'll all be Yankee fans. We may get some vigorish ourselves."

"That's illegal."

"Yes, we're careful about that. But we'll form fan clubs, charge dues, and sell paraphernalia for both teams. You'll see great grandmothers going around in Red Sox caps. There'll also be a lot of calling between New York and Boston as people make bets with one another, and we make a lot on long- distance calls. There's money to be made at the margins without doing anything illegal. Besides, the anti-gambling people and the police just aren't interested in nursing homes. No one causes any problems outside the home, and that's all they care about."

"Where you once perceived baseball players as guerilla fighters, you now see them as potential profit sources."

"I'm now a grown woman. You have to expect that. When we bring our people to the games, we'll have a significant mark- up on the tickets."

"Aren't some of them sharp enough to notice that?"

"Certainly. We mark up everything, but so do the other nursing homes. Our prices are never absurd, and, unlike the other homes, we have a great cook who provides excellent food. You'll have to come out for dinner."

"Okay. I dare say that I'll meet some of the residents when I'm there."

Sam didn't pitch the rest of the week, but, as usual, enjoyed soaking up atmosphere in the bullpen. On Saturday, he met Brenda for dinner at the Parker House. She surprised him by showing up in her nurse's uniform, albeit with high heels and diamond earrings.

"For old time's sake, Sam. We may go further in private than we used to in Pittsburgh, but we're still the same people."

"You have a more important position, and I'm a more serious ballplayer."

"Sure. We're older and I imagine that you don't now crash into bushes on a bicycle. But I bet your new attitude about pitching is just a temporary adaptation."

"A lot of it is being with a good team. If I'm traded back to a bad one, I probably will regress."

"I'm certainly not more serious. It's impossible to be at the Tso nursing home. You just wait every day to see what new angle they'll come up with."

"But it amuses you?"

"Yes. I understand them better than I did in Germany. It's just that they have boundless energy that may come out in a variety of different ways."

"We certainly couldn't have managed without them in Germany, and they don't seem to be doing any harm here."

"No indeed. In fact, they've put more life into a lot of folks, most of them old women. Our only problems come with the families of the patients."

"Do they not want their parents to play pin-ball games and gamble?"

"They don't care about that, but, of course, they're the ones who usually have to pay the bills. Or, at the least, they stand to inherit less because of the money their parents are paying us."

"So they want their parents to die quickly and are upset that you've invigorated them?"

"They don't say that, of course, but they complain in little ways. Some say the atmosphere isn't restful enough."

"How do you reply to that?"

"It's Annaliese who deals with them. She knows what's really in the back of their minds, but plays on the fact that they aren't fully conscious of it, or can't bring themselves to admit it. She then points out that old people who just lie in bed and rest die in short order."

"Which is true, isn't it?"

"Yes. Annaliese goes through all this in her charming accent, the very soul of the thoughtful young woman, and it brings out the better side of people. They wind up recommending us to other families."

When the pepper steak arrived, Brenda said,

"I have some news that you may not like. The general wants me to run the home in New York with Annaliese as my administrator."

"Well, that's okay. It's a great chance for you, and it's not that far on the train. Besides, I'll be there regularly."

"That's what I thought. I'll hire a good nurse, and, between her and Annaliese, I'll be able to take vacations."

"We could go to Bermuda in the off season."

"Sam! That woman over there is looking at us."

"Remember now, we're not the priest and his girl friend, the nurse. She doesn't sense depravity. She just recognizes me as a Red Sox pitcher, and it's okay for me to lay on the occasional hand."


The next baseball outing wasn't so good. Sam's old team, the St. Louis Browns, came in for a three-game series. The Red Sox won the first game 20-4. They won the next 29-4 with their lead-off hitter, Dom DiMaggio, coming to bat eight times. In the third game, the Browns got some runs. Sam came in with runnners on first and third in the eighth and gave up a double off the left field wall which drove in the tying run. Williams, who had learned to play the wall well, threw home strongly to hold the other runner on third. Sam then got the Browns out with no further damage.

In the ninth, Sam walked the first man. With two out, Lenhardt, a big right-handed batter, caught an outside fast ball and drove it deep to right-center. Dimaggio made a nice running catch, and Sam walked to the dugout with a feeling of relief. In the bottom half of the inning, Rudy York won the game with a fly ball that carried into the screen in left. Sam actually got the win, not a terribly pretty one.

Jack Morris was in Boston, and had come out to watch the game. Eating at the Copley Plaza, he commented,

"I was lucky to come on a day you pitched."

"That was about my worst to date. Lenhardt got a good piece of that last ball."

"If that was your worst game, you're doing great."

"Well, yeah, things are going pretty well. I'll probably play for a few years. Any way you look at it, I'm just circling around without any forward progress."

"That's what we all do. Except for a handful of people like Einstein who really do make progress."

"I know. I shouldn't complain. I really do enjoy my circles."

"Speaking of that, Anne is now divorced and a graduate student in physics at the University of Michigan, not far from Detroit."

"That's a coincidence! I have a German friend who teaches physics there. She must know him. Do you think it would be all right if I called her?"

"Yes. She won't try to marry you. She says she's all through with that, and I believe her."

Bill Todd -- DANDERTON: A Novel of the Thirties and Forties
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