Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page
 Chapter 18

Stuffy Scanlon

Tom's tryout, arranged by Coach Kowalski, was maximally simplified by the fact that the scout, Stuffy Scanlon, was an old catcher. When Tom took the mound in Harvard's indoor practice field, he, Kowalski, and Scanlon were the only persons in the vast dimly lit structure.

Kowalski had told Tom that scouts paid attention to form, even on easy warm-up pitches. He was therefore careful with each toss, following through until he could almost pick up dirt while trying to put it in the center of the squatting Scanlon's mitt.

Scanlon, a red-faced man with scrambled features who seemed to say very little, gave no instructions. Tom, resisting the impulse to throw too hard too soon, took what he considered a full warm-up. Then, looking to Kowalski, who nodded, he reached back, kicked high, and let go a fast ball. It was high and inside, but Scanlon, showing no expression, reached up and stabbed it with one hand. He threw the ball back noticeably harder than before, perhaps as a sign of irritation.

Tom got most of the following pitches over the heart of the plate. Scanlon then set up a target on the outside. Tom decided to throw what he thought of as his alternate fast ball. He came down a little from his normal high overhand motion, and it caused the ball to ride away from a right- handed batter. The ball went in perfectly, letter-high, and then tailing, possibly moving a little outside the strike zone. It seemed to fool Scanlon, the ball popping out of his mitt and rolling away. Scanlon pounced on it with surprising agility and fired it back. As he took his position again, he signalled for a curve.

Tom had never had a good curve, but he had a let-up which he threw with a fast ball motion, slipping it at the last moment. It had been surprisingly effective, even though it usually didn't curve at all. He threw it now, the ball dropping almost into the dirt, but high enough to tempt a batter to swing. Whether or not he thought it effective, it wasn't what Scanlon wanted. He again signalled for a curve and said something Tom didn't catch.

Tom did get the next ball to curve. But he had learned not to throw the pitch even to high school batters, and he could imagine what major leaguers would do to it. Scanlon seemed to agree, standing up to end the session. As Tom came in, Scanlon was speaking to Kowalski,

"He's got a live fastball and nothing else. He'll probably have control problems. But he could go to class B and get batters out. After that, it's hard to say."

Kowalski said,

"He could pitch for us for two years, but he wants a contract now. Will the Red Sox give him one?"

"A minor-league one, sure. If he wants to drop out of college."

With that Scanlon gave Tom a look of contempt and walked off with Kowalski. The two were talking, apparently about old times, and it was obvious that they didn't want to be joined.

Tom walked back over the Lars Andersson bridge with confusion in his head. It was a wonderful thing to have a live fastball. It meant that, if it were well placed and timed, even the best hitters, perhaps even Ted Williams, would have difficulty with it. On the other hand, Scanlon certainly hadn't sounded as if he thought that Tom would ever pitch in the major leagues. Perhaps it was because young pitchers with live fast balls and nothing else were a dime a dozen. Why did Scanlon think that he'd have control problems? Tom had only thrown one pitch, the first fast ball, that was far off the plate. Perhaps it was something uncontrolled in his motion. And, then, there was the probable assignment, Class B.

In the minor league scheme ranging from AAA to D, it was two from the bottom and three from the top. Probably fewer than ten per cent of the players at that level ever made it to the majors, but almost all would believe in their own future success. As Scanlon's general demeanor made quite clear, it was a waste of time and dead end for most young men. On the other hand, Tom, against considerable odds, had passed the tryout! If Scanlon was to be believed, he'd be offered a contract. Many would be envious to be in his position.

K-Entry was, on the whole, supportive and congratulatory. Many of them had once had similar dreams, and Peter, for example, always had it in mind that, if he could only learn to shoot, he could play in the NBA. Kent was sceptical, but he was sceptical about everything these days. It was Eric who said,

"The thinking here has always been that you'd be a professor if you didn't take decisive action in some other direction. Is this it?"

"I'm not sure. Anyhow, I haven't yet seen a contract."

"What do you think your tutor will say?"

"MacDuff's always complaining that his job leaves him very little time for his own work. I'll continue in philosophy no matter what, but I might prefer to make my living playing ball. It's at most a six hour day, and there's the whole off- season."

"Even playing Ivy League basketball, I found that I couldn't do much in the hours before and after a game. It's the emotional tension before the game and the release after it."

"It helps if you're a pitcher. You don't play at all most days."

"But, then, you might not be able to do anything the whole day before you pitch."

"MacDuff will be surprised if I drop out, but I hope he won't be angry. He might even take seriously my idea for an alternative philosophical career."

Eric laughed and replied,

"That may be because he doesn't know what high pressure athletic competition is like."

That night, Tom called Sharon, who was unavailable, and spoke to Ann. She said,

"Sharon's had a little relapse, but, earlier, she got great news for both of you. Your paper's been accepted."

"Wow! That was quick. The editor couldn't have had it more than a week."

"It must have been so good that he decided as soon as he read it."

"Well, this editor wants very much to please Professor MacDuff. His recommendation probably carried the day."

"He still wouldn't have accepted it if he hadn't liked it."

"I guess he probably did like it. Sharon's not back to square one, is she?"

"By no means. She was almost to square ten, and she may have slipped back to six or so. But we expect that. The next time, she'll only drop back to eight."

"And this was after the good news?"

"Yes. She was quite thrilled when she got the air letter. But, you know, good news is often ambiguous for Sharon."

"She might also not want to leave Allwyn. She might then unconsciously produce some symptoms."

"Yes, that has occurred to us. She has every comfort here. She swims, reads, and doesn't have to wash dishes. You may also have noticed that Sharon loves to wear beautiful clothes, and that's encouraged. We have that problem with many patients."

"It sounds as if no one in their right mind would want to go back to the real world."

"The director has also taken to playing tennis with Sharon. She lets him win occasionally."

"Goddamn! He's making moves on my mother, and now Sharon. Does she wear one of those little tennis dresses that lifts when she reaches up to serve?"

"Now, Tom, calm down. She plays in shorts. And, anyway, it's getting too cold for tennis."

"He'll play if it's ten below as long as she plays with him."

"She really likes tennis, you know. And he's better competition than some of these women who swing at her serves after they've gone by. And she can hardly refuse to play with him because her boy friend is jealous."

Tom laughed and replied,

"I could give him a bloody nose and claim that I'm doing it to protect my mother's honor."

"That won't be necessary. Sharon imitates him and makes fun of him, not only to me, but to Debbie, one of the secretaries."

"Is that the one who lets her use the electric typewriter?"

"Yes. Sharon and she have become friends, and I've encouraged it. Debbie's a nice young lady."

"Good. Does she respond with her own imitations of the director?"

Ann laughed and replied,

"If I knew that, I wouldn't admit it. Although, to be quite frank, my tenure here may be rather limited."

"I hope you don't leave soon."

"No, there are just some problems. For one thing, the director is making somewhat suggestive comments to me. I may soon take exception to them."

"So he's after you, too. I do see that a reasonable man would be attracted to all three of you, but aren't these psychiatrist chaps supposed to restrain themselves?"

"Most don't. Some have multiple marriages like movie stars."

"Well, I still don't want him messing with Sharon. Perhaps she should just leave."

"It may be time for her to go back to school. But I wouldn't worry about the director. On Sharon's side, there's nothing but curiosity about the man who's courting your mother. And, of course, I'm there to see that he doesn't get too pushy."


Tom had almost forgotten his reason for calling, but then told Ann about the tryout. She sounded quite pleased, and said,

"It's nice to be more than just an intellectual. Have you decided what to do?"

"Not really. And I may not have long to decide."

"I'll make sure Sharon calls you soon. You might also like to come out and swim in our heated outdoor pool. That'll let the director know about you, and you can also see Sharon in a bathing suit."

The next day, a Thursday, Eric was out on the porch when Tom got back from his afternoon classes. Eric said,

"Your mother called. She's pretty upset about your Red Sox tryout."

"How did she know? I haven't heard from them myself."

"She read it in one of the papers. Apparently the Red Sox publicity department makes a big thing of it when a local boy is offered a contract. As nearly as I could make out from Mary Ellen, you're being assigned to some southern team."

"Was she hysterical?"

"Close to it. There was something about your throwing your life away before it had hardly begun. Needless to say, she wants you to call her immediately."

"When she calls back, tell her you haven't seen me."

Eric agreed, seemingly reluctantly, and added,

"There was also a message from Sharon. She wants you to swim with her tonight. She said to come out about seven thirty."

"Great. I hope no one needs the car."

"Peter had it last night, so I think you can lay claim to it."

When Tom arrived, bathing suit in hand, Sharon was in the lounge, still dressed for dinner. Greeting him, she said,

"Let's sit down a minute. All kinds of things are happening."

"Apart from our paper?"

"Yes. That was lovely. I'll go up and get the letter later. However, this was your mother's day for visiting. She's read about your baseball contract, and she's practically going beserk."

"So she finally mentioned me to you?"

"Complete with incidents from your babyhood and dangerous ways in which you resemble your father. Irresponsibility and short-sightedness were among them."

"She must have been way off the rails to pour all that out to someone she thought didn't even know me."

"It was as if I were the therapist and she the patient. I made a lot of sympathetic grunts, and that kind of thing."

"I've more or less been avoiding her. I guess I can't much longer."

"No, but there was another twist. At the end of her diatribe, she said that she wanted me to meet you. She thought I might steady you down. This was a little odd, since I might reasonably not have wanted to meet the person she'd just been describing. But she was too upset to notice that. I told her that I was considered crazy, and not likely to steady anyone down. She said that you were much crazier."

They both laughed, and Sharon said,

"At this point, I spilled the whole beans, starting with Professor MacDuff and ending with our joint paper. She quieted right down and looked very thoughtful. At the end, she asked me if I thought it was a good idea for you to become a baseball player."

"What did you say?"

"I thought very quickly. If I had said yes, she would have consigned me to the Inferno, besides which I wanted to be honest. I guess I don't really think it's a great idea, even though you have every right to try."

"So you said no?"

"No, that would have been disloyal to you. I said that I thought you were far from committing yourself to baseball, and that you'd certainly talk with her first. You do pretty much have to do that, don't you?"

"I suppose so. I didn't dream that you could be a model of tact, Sharon."

"I'm not usually. I generally speak first and think afterwards. But Mary Ellen was giving me some powerful looks with those big blue eyes of hers. You're the one and only for her."

"Much too much so, unfortunately."

The pool was in the middle of a wooded grove, many of whose leaves were falling through the steam rising from the water. It had rounded ends and elaborate tile terraces with delicate designs on all sides. Sharon remarked,

"The whole place was built by a big-time captain of industry. As you can see, he had good taste."

"This scene might inspire some folks to poetry."

"But not hard-deaded analytic philosophers like us. Anyhow, I understand that it costs a fortune to heat the pool at this time of the year. Since I'm the only one to use it, I have to sweet-talk our lustful old dotard of a director pretty intensively to keep it open."

There were changing rooms nearby, and Tom came out quickly in his trunks. It was cold, but he was rewarded when, a few minutes later, Sharon came out in a one-piece blue suit. She called out,

"This is the cold part. Let's get in."

With that, she dove in, and, swimming powerfully, began to do laps. Tom got only a brief glimpse of a well-shaped long white body, and then got into the water himself.

He soon discovered that he could do only about two laps to Sharon's three. However, by ducking his head under at the right times, he could see more of Sharon than he had before. When she had done her mile, she stopped and said,

"I'm getting out now, but you can swim as long as you want."

Tom, not used to swimming much, was more than ready to stop. They both made swift dashes for the dressing rooms.

When she emerged, Sharon was in jeans and a man's shirt with a towel on her head. She said,

"It's ridiculous to go back into the lounge all dressed up with wet hair, so I go in the back way and go upstairs to get my hair dry."

It was clearly time for Tom to go home, but Sharon darted forward and gave him a tiny kiss, full on the lips. As she fled, waving, he made his way to the K-Entry car in a state of euphoria.

The odd thing about Mary Ellen was that it was so hard to predict her. Tom was holding the telephone receiver some distance from his ear in expectation of an explosion when she said in a reasonable tone,

"There are some things we ought to discuss, dear."

"Yes. I haven't so far received any kind of offer from the Red Sox. The scout seemed to think I would, but there was nothing in the mail today."

"There's also the matter of Sharon, a delightful girl if I may say so."

"Yes. She didn't originally realize that we were connected. Williams is such a common name."

"Well, I'm not going to ask any questions which might be embarrassing. I'm only going to ask you to talk with a dear friend of mine before you do anything, either about baseball or Sharon. Will you do that much for me, dear?"

Tom had a very uncomfortable feeling, but he couldn't think of any way out. Having agreed, she replied,

"He's a psychiatrist, but he won't be seeing you professionally, just a friendly talk with no commitments. You'll like him, Tom, and, since I never managed to provide you with a proper father, you ought to have some man you can talk with."

The dear friend was, of course, the Allwyn director. Tom suspected that that gentleman was no more enthusiastic about the proposed talk than he was himself. But it turned out that Mary Ellen had one more thing to say,

"You know, dear, that you can't possibly take Sharon to one of those awful little southern towns. Your father did that to me, and you can't imagine what revolting things the idlers on the courthouse steps will say to a respectable young woman."

Tom agreed meekly. It had always seemed to him that Mary Ellen was more to blame for choosing his father than he was for having his genes, but this was no time to argue that point. The extraordinary thing was that Mary Ellen seemed to assume that he was going to marry Sharon.

Bill Todd -- A Harvard Story
Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page