Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wiffle World, Part 2

My millions of readers (How many do I have now? Eight million? Nine million?) are just dying to know one thing: did I really go ahead and pull off the truly malevolent, malicious act of blowing up Rick Riccardi’s Wiffleball bat in the summer of 1976?

No. I didn’t. In retrospect, I don’t think I seriously considered it, despite what I wrote in Wiffle World, Part 1. Maybe I thought about hiding it for a while. But blowing up someone’s Wiffleball bat? Would you? Why not just castrate the guy while you’re at it?

No, there would be no explosion involving Rick’s bat.

But that’s not to say it wasn’t…um…damaged a little.

“Hey Bob, check this out,” said Steve Hostetter excitedly in the Hermans’ yard. He was displaying Rick’s bat. Al, his brother, was smiling as well. They pulled me behind the Hermans’ garage. Oh, oh. Did he carve a hole in it for an M-80 insertion? He held the bat out horizontally at arm’s length, one hand on the handle and one on the top. No hole. Nothing was wrong with it. Intact. But not for much longer: in one swift motion he brought it down on his knee.

Holy shit! He bent the bat in half! There it was, Rick’s prized black bat, now a perfect right angle. A big black letter L. Al, Steve, and my brother Dan roared with laughter. I started cracking up.

“Oh my God! What the hell did you--? Whoa!” I exclaimed. “He’s gonna freak! Really freak!” Rick loved that bat, and it wasn’t available in stores any more. This, I concluded, could end up as a fight on the Rickman Fighting Strip. I glanced around the corner at the Riccardis’ house. Nope—Rick wasn’t out yet. But he would be soon.

“No, check it out,” said Steve. He proceeded to bend it back to its original straight condition. Snap. Just like that. Good as new.

“Wow. Look at that,” I said. “That’s…incredible. I didn’t know a bat could do that.” I inspected the bat. I could barely see two tiny dents where the bat had folded, but otherwise its structural integrity was fine. Weird. You’d think it would fucked be up forever. “It’s perfectly good,” I said. “Rick won’t even notice.”

“Oh, he’ll notice—’cause I’m gonna do it right to his face,” said Steve.

“Really? Oh, man, I don’t know,” I said.

“Come on,” he said. “It doesn’t wreck the bat. Look. It’s fine. Yeah, he’ll be pissed. But then I’ll bend it right back.”

“Yeah, like he ain’t gonna do nothin,’” I said.

“What’s he gonna do?” asked Steve. “Boycott Wiffleball? Good. Aren’t you sick of his cheap home runs?”

“Yep,” I said. And I started laughing. I probably could have convinced Steve not to do it. I likely could have prevented the unfortunate scene ahead, but at the time it seemed like the stunt had so much momentum behind it, and I didn’t have the “energy” to stop it. I was afraid that Rick would surge ahead in the home run race, and so was Steve. And I was curious to see how Rick would react to this “magic trick.”

I heard the Riccardis’ porch door slam. Here he comes. Here we go. My heart started pounding.

Snickering, I stepped away from the crowd, and I prepared to take batting practice by stepping into the “batter’s box,” wiping my hands in the dirt, and grabbing my own yellow bat. In case you missed that oh-so–subtle symbolism, I was washing my hands of the affair, like Pontius Pilate, giving the scheme tacit approval with not only my inaction, but also with my laughter.

“Hey Rick, check it out,” said Steve. Rick stared at his bat. Rick brought the bat down on his knee. Jesus. Bent to shit… again. Rick’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. But instead of grabbing the bent bat or going after Steve, he frowned, pouted, and walked back to his house empty-handed.

“Rick, look, the bat’s okay,” said Steve as he snapped it back into straightness. “See? Rick! Don’t be a fucking baby.” But Rick didn’t look back. Did he flip us the bird? Probably. I have an outstanding memory, but not a photographic one. But what I do recall clearly about the moment was that this was when his boycott of Wiffleball had officially begun. Taunting him and calling him a weasel because of his cheap home runs was one thing, but bending his bat was the straw that broke the weasel’s back.


This was the headline I wrote the next day in the Maebeth Enquirer, a scandal sheet I penned every day in the summers of 1975 and 1976 about our exploits on and off the field. In the beginning of the summer, our gang on Maebeth Street had patiently waited for me to finish the daily issue before the morning’s Wiffleball games commenced, but by late June they began playing without me while I worked on the “newspaper,” which had set me back even further in the home run race.

Funny, though, on the day after the bent bat incident, the game was delayed until the Maebeth Enquirer was hot off the press. This stuff was just too good to miss.

In part one, I wrote that Wiffleball was our religion. Our daily bread. And we forgave each other our trespasses—the taunting, the insults, the arguments—even the bent bat incident was finally put in the past. Rick’s faith was too strong to let this prank keep him away from the game for too long. He soon ended his boycott and returned to the fold.

To be sure, his protest certainly was an amusing affair: when were playing Wiffleball, we could see him in his yard, throwing up his ball and hitting it. Once in a while someone yelled something like, “Rick, quit playing with yourself. You’re gonna go blind,” and “Hitting any cheap home runs over there?” Such taunts were inevitable, but in a way we missed his cheap home runs. What the hell else were we going to bitch about? What the hell else was I going to write about in the Maebeth Enquirer?

I couldn’t recall how long the protest lasted, so I recently enlisted Rick’s help in establishing exactly what led to boycott and the length of its duration. I also wanted to give him a chance to defend his cheap home runs, since I was in essence questioning his integrity—and downright sabotaging him with my blog. In the interest of being as objective as possible (yeah, right), I emailed Rick and warned him of my impending cyberattack on his cheap home runs in the 1970s and informed him of the plot that triggered his strike.

“Plot?!? What plot?” he wrote. “Who put a bomb in my bunker?”

Nobody, dumb-ass. But as you’re undoubtedly discovering now, Rick, there was a plot to put a bomb in your bat. But the bombing ended up being a bending. Nonetheless, the bent bat was the swizzle stick that stirred a toxic cocktail: its ingredients consisted of the cheapness of Rick’s home runs and the bitterness of our complaints. The volatile mixture needed a catalyst, and we had provided one: the bent bat.

The question remained: how would Rick justify his cheap home runs? “I will give Mr. Riccardi a chance to defend these Bucky Dent boinks as bona fide homers, and his spirited defense might just be published, so he better choose his words carefully,” I wrote to Rick. “What would Mr. Riccardi say about the legitimacy of these chip shots into the Foleys’ yard vs. the real home runs in the power alleys?”

Rick thought about it for a while, and then launched into an email tirade about the “false cries of ‘cheap home run’ and ‘Rick Riccardi home run’ ranking among the biggest “injustices of the 20th Century.” He gloated about how he “rounded the bases, leaving his peers screaming these phrases in a tone of bitter defeat.”

He then continued his response, referring to himself in the third person—weasel propaganda was obviously meant to “blend” into my narrative. Fair enough. This is what he wrote:

“In Herman Stadium, the whiffle (sic) ball field was a backyard that had a 7 foot hill that the third base line climbed up. Third base itself well up the hill as was all of left and left-center field. Home runs down the line to left were considered ‘cheap’ home runs by those who couldn’t pull the ball well, usually big lumbering types (think Dave Kingman). Anywho, being that the 3rd base line ran up a seven foot hill and that the whole yard was surrounded by a four foot fence, the ball needed to clear a fence that was eleven feet higher than home plate—a green monster if you will. Many of Rick’s homers not only cleared the fence, but also sailed high over the fence and were knocked to the ground by a tree in the neighbor’s yard, preventing them from traveling even farther. These scientific matters of fact seemed to be lost on all the other children except Rick. Home runs from center field to the right field line were never considered cheap, although trees made such shots difficult. Center field and to the right need only clear a fence that was only 4 feet higher than home plate, a FACT (Rick’s emphasis, not mine) whose lack of recognition led to the Whiffle (sic) Ball Strike by Rick.”

But wait. There’s more. Reader: beware. You might need a barf bag for this part. He gleefully writes about his strike upsetting the “delicate balance” of our three-on-three games:

“Rick Riccardi staged a mid-summer strike that lasted over a week. He picketed the games from his own property, which happened to be adjacent to Herman Stadium. This action would force games to contain an odd number of participants. The league, instead of calling for a general strike, wrongfully adopted a policy of two-on-two with an automatic pitcher (one player pitched for both sides and was neutral). Furious, Rick picketed the games for over a week and the strike ended as both sides became bored. The league was bored with the reduced format and Rick was bored with not playing. A half-hearted apology was issued, accepted and play resumed. Rick wanted all the home runs during the strike to not be counted, but was refuted—too bad we didn't know about asterisks back then!”

Asterisks shmasterisks.

A seven-foot hill? GMAFB. How about four feet at the very most?

As for his sheer temerity in comparing his home runs to others, I submit the satellite photo below of the now-defunct Herman Stadium that shows just how dinky his home runs down the line were.

An aerial view of Herman Stadium (click to enlarge).

Also, I don’t recall a half-hearted apology. I don’t remember a lot of things, such as how many homers I hit during his absence, or, for that matter, who finished second to Steve in home runs that summer.

What has become more vivid in my memory, however, was the collection of our misadventures that accumulated when we weren’t playing Wiffleball.

Wanderings from Our Wiffle Worship: Our Wayward Ways

With the greatest game on earth beckoning us to Frank Herman’s yard every day, how could we not play Wiffleball? I mean, aside from our fireworks shenanigans and bike rides to Sixteen Acres Center and beyond, what could pull us astray from the holy confines of Herman Stadium? What led us into temptation? Why would we stop playing Wiffleball on a sunny summer day and start hanging out in Craig Stewart’s house?

The answer isn’t complicated. It can be summed up in two words: “latchkey kids,” a term that came into vogue during the late 1970s describing the rapidly rising phenomenon of children being left unsupervised in a home in which both parents worked. Indeed, while Craig Stewart’s mother and father were at their full-time jobs, they were under the mistaken assumption that their son was playing Wiffleball all day, and for a while they were right. But soon the food in Craig’s fridge and cabinets—as well as the allure of watching Hollywood Squares, and, yes, Match Game ’76 while feeding our faces—was just to much to ignore.

And this cornucopia of food wasn’t just for eating. No sir. Some of it was perfect for throwing at cars on Sunrise Terrace. An egg here, a tomato there—splat! What could be more fun than Wiffleball? Well, how about nailing a car with a tomato from the woods that surrounded the pond known as Putnam’s Puddle? You tell me what’s more exhilarating: hitting a home run, or firing an egg at a car and then disappearing into the safety of the woods? We had it down to a science: nail a car, escape into the woods, and when the coast was clear, sneak back to Craig’s house to reload with another food item.

Fastball grip on a Wiffleball.

Fastball grip on a tomato.


In case you’ve never the sound of a tomato hitting a car, that’s what it sounds like—just the way you’d thunk it sounds like. Thunk! We all laughed our asses off when Stan Janek threw it, and when the car didn’t stop or turn around, we walked out of Craig’s house and called Stan out of the woods. The tomato was deflated, flattened, and its insides were leaking out, but it was still throwable. It was decided that Stan should make good use of the remains and chuck it at another car, so we returned to Craig’s house and Stan slipped behind the trees for another go at it.

Another car whizzed down Sunrise Terrace, and Stan stepped out from his forest cover and whipped the tomato right at the windshield. It was more of a shot-put motion than a baseball throw, since the tomato was falling apart, but it was right on target. A different sound: “fwap!” Yes! Direct hit! This one didn’t bounce, but stuck right to the glass.

Perfect. Except for one thing. A familiar car was coming from the other direction. The victim that he had hit a few minutes earlier had returned to the scene of the crime just as Stan let loose with the tomato scraps. Our laughter turned to silence as an older teenager jumped from the car and went after Stan, who disappeared into the woods. Oh-oh. The chase was on. A woman, who was evidently the teen’s mother, inched the car along Sunrise Terrace and peered into the woods while we debated Stan’s fate.

“He knows those woods like the back of his hand,” said my brother Dan. “That lard-ass’ll never catch him.”

Or so we hoped. We were also counting on the probability that Stan would eventually snake his way through yards back to Craig’s house without being followed. Surely, he wouldn’t inadvertently lead his pursuer back here, right?


Stan came back, and while we were laughing our asses off, the doorbell rang. I peeked out the window to see a middle-aged woman. No, it wasn’t the Avon lady. It was the driver the first tomatoed car, and she was standing there with her son.

Ding dong!

We ignored it.

Ding dong!

We tried to pretend there was nobody home, despite Monty Hall and Let’s Make a Deal blaring from the television.

Ding dong!

Shit. They weren’t about to go away.

Stay tuned for Wiffle World, Part 3.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wiffle World, Part 1

June 1976

“Fucking son of a bitch!” I screamed. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuuuuck!”

Rick Riccardi’s Wiffleball pitch was nice and slow and fat and just begging me to smack it 65 feet over that little chain-link fence in the Hermans’ yard. Oh, it was a lob to end all lobs. It loomed as large as a beach ball as it floated to the plate, and I took a Carl Yastrzemski cut it. But I hit a hard goddamn motherfucking grounder to Craig Stewart for a sure out. “Shit!” I added for good measure. Boy did I swear a lot when I was 13 years old—especially when I hit a piece of shit (Shit! Shit! Shiiiiiit!) instead of a home run.

Craig fielded the ball and threw it to Steve Hostetter’s younger brother Al, who was covering first base. But I threw my shoulder into Al, knocking the ball out of his hands and practically bowling him over. Who says Wiffleball is a non-contact sport?

“Safe!” I yelled as I overran the base. But my satisfaction was short lived. Bam! I was blindsided with a body slam, which sent me sprawling on my back and crashing on top of the metal bulkhead leading to the Hermans’ cellar. I got my bearings and looked up—it was Steve Hostetter who had nailed me, and I knew that I had deserved it for the cowardly hit on Al.

“Interference,” said Steve. “You were out.”

I was out. There was no argument. And there was certainly no need to take this dispute to the Rickman Fighting Strip in the front yard. Steve was a year older than I was and he was a bit bigger. And after all, I had careened into his little brother.

We kept playing. We forgot all about it. We certainly weren’t about to let anything get in the way of Wiffleball. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. There were distractions that interrupted our perpetual Wiffleball lives in 1976, but we didn’t take them too seriously.

Although the summer of 1976 was remembered by most of the country as the celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial, it was Wiffle Summer for our crew on Maebeth Street. There is no other way to describe it. I have played a lot of Wiffleball, but never as much as in ’76, when I was 13 and Wiffleball was our religion. In the name of the plastic bat, the holey ball, and the home run, amen.

I have played the game since I was six—hell, I still do—and when I play, I am always in danger of taking Wiffleball a little too seriously. But I never took it as seriously as I did in 1976. Maybe it was because of the beginnings of my raging hormones, producing energy in me that had to be released in some way besides masturbation and vandalism.

Yes, we did play Wiffleball in the summer of ’77, and I remember a fair amount of Wiffleball even by the summers of ’78, and ’79, but by then we were obsessed with sex, not Wiffleball, and the sport understandably took a back seat to other activities. For example, in 1979, if a gaggle of girls were walking down the street, we certainly didn’t want to be seen throwing and hitting a plastic ball, for Christ’s sake. Playing basketball on the Hermans’ driveway “court” was okay, but Wiffleball was on its way out by then.

In ’76, though, we in our own Wiffle world. And we were in deep.

The funny thing about our Wiffleball obsession was that if we had played real baseball all those years, in the various pickup games that took place in Sixteen Acres all summer, instead of being caught up in our Wiffleball daze, we would have been incredibly good ballplayers. Most of us were on little league teams, but our time playing hardball was a small fraction of the hours upon hours we spent grinding out our backyard Wiffle marathons. So, if we had devoted all that time on a real baseball field, hitting real baseballs that were thrown fast instead of plastic balls that were lofted, we would have undoubtedly ended up being stars on our high school baseball teams, and getting all the chicks we wanted.

Oh well, we didn’t think it through. We were young. We were lazy. It was easier to hit a lobbed Wiffleball than a baseball thrown at a blazing velocity. And, on the positive side, we learned valuable life skills. We learned conflict resolution (how to argue about a small matter until both teams walked off the field in disgust). We learned about teamwork (There was no such thing. I didn’t care about my teammates—I just wanted to hit home runs). We learned how to handle winning and losing (I didn’t care whether we won or lost, as long as I hit home runs.)

In our Wiffle summer of ’76, as was the case in ’75, we played our games in a couple of locations, but the majority of our contests took place in Frank Herman’s backyard, because his parents, for some reason, could actually put up with our incessant bickering, taunting, and foul language. The games started in the morning, some time after the Leave it to Beaver reruns were over (10:00 a.m.?) and went on continuously until nightfall.

Though, as I mentioned, I use the term “continuously” very loosely here, because in truth our play was rife with such interruptions as lunch, dinner, blowing something up with an M-80, bike rides to the Fenway driving range and Pine Knoll Par 3 golf course, and bus rides to Eastfield Mall or downtown Springfield to hang out at Baystate West. And, when the days got too hot, our diversions included fishing in a polluted neighborhood pond known as Putnam’s Puddle, jumping in people’s pools in a sport known as the Splash and Dash, and drooling over the waitresses at Friendly’s in Sixteen Acres Center.

To be sure, there were other distractions that interrupted our Wiffle play. During a game, if an argument between two kids got too personal, the beef was moved to the front yard, and they settled their disputes with their fists (or, more likely, mother-ranking that evolved into pushing and wrestling). Here were the rules for fighting: the two combatants had to stay within the confines of the four-feet-wide grass strip dividing the Riccardis’ and the Hermans’ driveways—close confines that made it difficult to either party to chicken out. The arena was known as the Rickman Fighting Strip—Rick Riccardi coined the name, which was a combination of his last name and that of Frank Herman. In retrospect, we probably settled these donnybrooks in the front yard, close to the street, so some neighbor—usually Rick Riccardi’s mom—could see what was going on and put a stop to the fight before someone got hurt. It’s funny, the only fights I clearly remember on the Rickman Fighting Strip were Stan Janek vs. Craig Stewart, Stan Janek vs. Ron Williams, and Craig Stewart vs. either Ron Williams or Frank Herman.

The Rickman Fighting Strip (click to enlarge) has been shaved down in modern times due to expanding asphalt borders. (After all, the driveway has to be wide enough to fit a boat now!)

And then there was our occasional vandalism that caused us to stray from our Wiffle world. It was seldom more serious than blowing up someone’s mailbox, but sometimes we did go beyond the pale. Yes, we had our share of shameful moments. To put our horseplay with fireworks into perspective, you have to understand that this was the summer of the country’s 200th birthday, so it was acceptable for each of us to have a sizable arsenal of illegally bought salutes, bottle rockets, M-80s, Roman Candles, red peonies, fountains, baby fountains, Thunderbomb firecrackers, ladyfingers, jumping jacks, Roman Candles, parachute rockets, whistling rockets, pinwheels, giant pinwheels, and buzz bombs (Remember buzz bombs? Fucking flying M-80s! Who could beat that for danger?)

“So, whaddaya say we shoot some bottle rockets at cars?” asked Al Hostetter when we finished a game.

“Sounds good to me,” said Craig Stewart as he walked off the pitcher’s “mound.” Craig was always up for mischief, and it was one of those incredibly hot days that sometimes made playing Wiffleball—dare I say it?—a chore. We were playing our umpteenth Wiffleball game that day, and it was about time to nail some cars with something: tomatoes, crab apples, eggs, fireworks—whatever. It had been about a week, and we were due.

Al pulled out some bottle rockets. The Hostetters had taught us a trick: if you put a bottle rocket on the street and lit it, the sucker would glide along with the asphalt for about 30 yards, leaving a cool little smoke trail, and then explode on Sunrise Terrace, sometimes in front of a speeding car. These reckless drivers really needed to slow down in such a residential area, and we were more than happy to help them. On rare occasions a rocket blew off right under a car, but we somehow didn’t think that was incredibly dangerous. An explosion right under the gas tank. No big deal, right?

“You kids just can’t…shoot…th-those at cars!” stammered some wide-eyed woman in her thirties. She stopped in terror and started losing it. I don’t what shocked her more, the rocket sliding right in front of her car—or us laughing at her after she rolled down the window and started lecturing us. So, lady, you’re going to try to reason with a bunch of guys shooting bottle rockets at cars. Okay…good luck. Are you done, yet? Now, hurry up and drive away, before another “errant” bottle rocket finds its way through your car window.

We knew full well that this kind of activity wasn’t without its risks. Earlier that summer, after my brother Dan and Rick shot a bottle rocket at a car driven by an older teenager in the neighborhood, the guy jumped out and slapped Dan around a little. But what the hell is wrong with a little mischief? We can’t play Wiffleball all day, can we? Especially with all those fireworks.

“Bottle rockets in flight,” sang Al as he prepared to light another one. “Afternoon Delight!” He was mimicking, of course the song Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band. That one-hit wonder was a catchy tune when it first came out, but it was starting to grate on our nerves.

“Hey, that Starland Vocal Band. Isn’t the guy from that group from Springfield?” I asked. A car was coming and Al lit the wick, but it was a slow burn, so the rocket whizzed and exploded long after the car had driven by.

“You should be listening to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and shit,” said Al. “What station you listen to? Fucking Wacky 102?”

“You’re the one who was singing it,” I countered. “Whadda you listen to? WHYN?” Ooh, that's got to hurt. The crappy AM station!

“Fuck you,” said Al.

“Fucking Starland Lame-ass Vocal Band. They sound like a bunch of hick country singers—like a bunch of country bumpkins on Hee Haw,” said Stan Janek.

“You know what ‘afternoon delight’ is?” asked Steve. “They’re talking about gettin’ down, man. A little afternoon delight.”

“God I’m sick of that song,” said Stan. “They played it three times in one hour yesterday. I mean, what the—how much is a radio station allowed to do that?”

No one answered. We were out of conversation. Were we going to continue to fire bottle rockets at cars, or get into some other mischief, or return to Herman Stadium and resume our Wiffle world.

“Well, I guess we can play another game of Wiffleball,” I said.

“Yep,” they responded.

The Starland Vocal Band (above). Bill Danoff, at right, graduated from Cathedral High School in 1964. The popularity of this one-hit wonder was so out of friggin control that the group was even given a TV show! In 1976, the band opened for John Denver at the Springfield Civic Center. Wow, how did we miss such a must-see (not) event? Were we playing Wiffleball? "Weeeee can play a lot of Wiffle before the sun goes dowwwwn.”

So we played more Wiffleball...until it was time to buy some fireworks.

“Goddamn! Look at that!” yelled Stan Janek. The Hostetters’ oldest brother, Larry, had just opened the trunk of his car. It was filled to the top with fireworks—all for sale, and Stan’s eyes were popping out of his head.

“Jesus, will you keep it down?” chastised Larry. “Okay. What do you want to buy?”

Wow. If the cops ever saw what was in that trunk, I thought. And I could only imagine if someone had tossed a lit cigarette in there. People would hear the boom all the way from downtown.

Needless to say, thanks to Larry, we all had bricks and bricks of firecrackers and an assortment of flying missiles. Boy, were we all going to have a hell of a show on the fourth of July—especially if we were able to limit our fireworks activity in June and save up most them for the big day. But it was difficult to hold off, especially when we had so many of them, and so many good ones.

So we bought a few, blew off a few on Maebeth Street, and then we made our way down to the woods next to Putnam’s Puddle to light a couple of M-80s. Sometimes we lit M-80s in the street, but the neighbors had started hassling us about these stupendous explosions—the kind you could feel in your chest, the sonic booms that rattled windows and sent dogs quivering under tables. Yes, we had to move the heavy artillery into the woods. And after a few M-80s, it was time for Wiffleball again.

The curveball grip.

We played Wiffleball games with teams of three players against three, or four-on-four, depending on who showed up and left during the course of the day. We kept score and kept track of innings—barely. What we really counted were home runs we hit over the course of the summer. Each of us kept a running tally of his own home run total, and we were all well aware who were the top power-hitters. By mid-June Steve Hostetter was in the lead with 43 homers, and I had 32—hopelessly trailing, but at least I was in second. Rick Riccardi, however, was closing in fast with 27, thanks to his “cheap” home runs.

Truth be told, it didn’t take much of a swing to hit a 65-foot home run to left center—the power alley, where the majority of us whacked ’em, and it took even less of a drive to hit the ball 45 feet right down the left field line. And that’s where Rick Riccardi tallied the vast majority of his home runs.

Rick was a dead pull hitter, and with his black plastic bat he constantly squeaked his line drives and pop flies over that four-foot-high fence in left field. Since there was no “foul pole,” the question of one of his efforts being a foul or fair was the source of constant arguments. The hitter had the best vantage point, but we were sick of his cheap home runs, and we let him know it.


“Another cheap home run,” announced Steve. It had become our mantra. Another cheap home run.

“Fuck you,” replied Rick. “That’s a good shot down the line.”

“You and your cheap home runs,” I chimed in. “Rick’s cheesy little cheapo jobs. Fucking weasel.”

“If they’re so easy, why don’t you guys aim ’em down here?” he said as he hopped the fence to retrieve the ball. We always made him fetch his own home runs after he rounded the bases.

“Because I don’t hit cheap home runs, weasel,” said Steve.

“Whoop-dee-do,” replied Rick. “Well, these are still home runs, and that part of the yard’s uphill, so fuck you.”

I had forgotten to mention that the far left side of the field sloped upward—into a steep hill, in fact. This required the Rick’s home runs to have some height to them. Oh well, we weren’t about to let the truth get in the way of our tirades.

For quite some time, Rick had been threatened a protest—a sit-out of indefinite length, evidently—if he kept needling him, and of course, we said, “go ahead, weasel.”

It occurred to me that I stood the most to gain by Rick’s threatened protest, so I kept up the taunting: “You know, I think I might just check-swing a ball out there. Right over the fence, for a cheap-o.”

“Be my guest,” he said as he threw it back to my brother Dan, who was pitching. “You better do something, because that’s number 27,” said Rick.

Damn! He must be stopped! Fucking weasel with a capital wease!

To make matters worse for me in the home run race, on many days I insisted on watching the Gong Show at 12:30 after I had lunch, and by the time I came back the Herman Stadium, invariably another game had already begun, and I would have to wait until it was done. There were no inning limits to these games—Christ, I don’t think we even kept track of innings—so I would have to wait not-so-patiently until everyone got bored and decided they were playing the last inning.

“Come on, you guys,” I pleaded. “Start a new game.”

“We’re not through yet,” said Rick. “By the way, when you were watching the Gong Show, I hit number 28.”

“Son of a bitch!” I screamed. “And I bet—”

“Yep,” said Steve, “another cheap—”

“Fuck you,” Rick interrupted. “If you guys keep it up, I swear I’ll go on strike.”

“Go ahead,” said Steve. “We only want real home runs hit in this stadium.”

“Yeah, yeah. Home run number 28,” I scoffed. “Just make this the last inning. All right?”

“We’re not through yet,” said Rick.

“You wouldn’t be hitting home runs if I was pitching,” I said.

“Yeah, well, you’re gonna have to wait,” said Rick.

Fucking son of a bitch.

My TV watching was costing me dearly in terms of Wiffle Ball at-bats. Indeed, my addiction to Match Game ’76 set me back even further. I simply had to watch it every day at 3:30. I don’t know why. It was a ridiculously dumb game show. Blame it on the “so bad it was good” phenomenon. That was undoubtedly the attraction. Whatever the reason, when the Ding Dong cart came down the street at around 3:00, we suspended our game, swarmed the truck, bought ice cream, and then I wandered home to chow down some more snacks—come to think of it, I was getting kind of chunky when I was 13. And then I would inevitably grab a bag of Doritos out of the cabinet and watch Match Game ’76.

As soon as the show was over, when credits started rolling and the funk guitar theme song started playing, and just as fast as the announcer could say, “This is a Mark Goodson/Bill Todman production,” I ran my fat ass back to Herman Stadium, and time after time after time I would yet again find that everyone was in the middle of a game, and they were in no hurry to wrap it up.

“Come on! New game!” I would yell.

“Not ’til we’re finished,” said Rick, who was batting. He wielded his prized black bat that he had bought the previous summer, one that you couldn’t find at Parker Drug—or in any store any longer.

Rick’s precious black bat. It turns out that the Wiffleball Inc. made only black bats for a while in 1975 because of a plastic shortage in the mid 1970s—black was the only color available for bats during the Gulf oil crisis. Did the black bat have special powers? Was it better than the traditional yellow bat—the one with the smooth handle— that was made between 1964 and 1974? Was it better than the yellow bat with the pebble grip, which was manufactured for the first time in 1976? (Yes indeed, I did my research for this screed.) Probably not. But the black bat was never made by Wiffleball Inc. again, and now the 35-year-old “antique” is worth as much as $75 to Wiffleball aficionados.

I lit a firecracker and tossed it on the ground just as the pitch came to him.


“Cut the fucking shit, Bob!” Rick screamed. He was particularly sensitive to on-field pyrotechnics, especially after I almost burned down his garage the previous summer.

“Guess what, Bob,” said Steve. “I hit number 44 when you were watching Match Game.”

“Fantastic,” I said.

“Oh, and guess what,” added Steve. “While you were gone, Rick—”

“No way.”

“Yes way,” he answered. “Another cheap home run.”

“Number 29,” said Rick with a smirk.

Fucking son of a bitch bastard.

“Why do you watch that shit anyway?” asked Craig before he pitched to Rick, who swung and missed. Good. Strike one.

“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know. It’s funny.”

“Are there any babes on the show?” asked Craig.

“Um, I don’t know,” I stammered. “Usually there’s at least one babe.”

“Like who?”

“Like, what the fuck’s her name? Loretta Swit. Chicks like that.”

“Who the hell is that?” asked Craig.

“You know, Hot Lips from M*A*S*H.”

“Aah, she’s losing it. She got a fat ass now,” said Steve.

“More cushion for pushin’” I said.

“And a fat face,” continued Steve.

“More cushion for pushin’ there too,” I countered.

“Man, she’s a dog,” said Steve.

“Yeah, like you wouldn’t fuck her,” I said.

“I’ve fucked hotter girls than that fat shit,” said Steve.

I was going to say, “Like who?” but I didn’t want to get into a debate that would end in my admitting that I was a virgin. For that matter, I knew that we all were, except possibly Steve. He was going into the ninth grade at Duggan, and it was possible he banged a slut or two at that school in eighth grade. Anyway, I wasn’t interested in talking about Hot Lips Houlihan. I was interested in them getting this game over with so I could hit some home runs. I tried to light another firecracker for the next pitch, but it was a dud. Damn!

Rick drove a ball that flew dangerously down the third base line, but thankfully hooked foul. Strike two.

“Seriously,” said Steve. “You are one Match Game-aholic. That Charles Nelson Reilly still on the show?”

“Yep,” I said.

“He still smoking that pipe like a fag?” Steve asked. “You know what he’d rather have in his mouth.”

Smack. The sound of a hollow plastic sphere hitting a hollow plastic tube shut both of us up. The ball hugged the third base line and went over the fence. Rick rounded the bases, hopped the fence, and retrieved the ball, and tossed it back to Steve.

“Number 30,” he announced.

Fucking weasel.

“Yeah, 30 cheap, chintzy home runs,” I said.

“You know, maybe it’s time I sit a few games out,” he barked bitterly. “I don’t need this shit. You guys are fucking assholes.”

He was bluffing. There was no way he was going to sit, especially when he was so close to me in the home run race. Unless…we gave him a damn good reason. Steve and I had joked about blowing up his bat with an M-80, but we never had the balls to do it. Now I was reconsidering the prospect of sabotaging his rare bat. Or was I? Could I really do it? Taping an M-80 to the bat and lighting the sucker would surely blow it in half, or at least put a hole in it. And then, putting another M-80 in the hole…oh man. It would turn the fucker inside out.

Did I go through with this Machiavellian maneuver? It would be a truly dastardly deed, if indeed I had the nerve to go through with this Faustian bargain. This wasn’t just a matter of blowing up Craig Stewart’s GI Joe Jeep with an M-80, which we did the previous summer. I mean, this was Rick’s Wiffle bat. Would I jeopardize our friendship just to curb his home run total? Well, would you?

Stay tuned for Wiffle World, Part 2, same Wiffle bat time, same Wiffle bat channel.