Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

This is another rerun of an older post--but this time with a link to the actual episode.

Gunsmoke: "Ball Nine--Take Your Base" 8/2/59

We don't normally connect baseball with the Old West, but it was during the post Civil War years that baseball really boomed in popularity and became our national pass-time. So, though we might not hear anyone shout "Play Ball!" very often in Westerns, it did happen fairly frequently in real life.

So it's always fun to run across a Western that acknowledges this. And this really fun episode of Gunsmoke does a nice job of capturing the flavor of the game in the 1870s--a time during which the rules were evolving and the game was becoming more popular every year.

A touring pro team arrives in Dodge City. Doc Adams agrees to be umpire in a game between the pros and a team of locals. But Doc's memories of the game go back to his Antebellum living in the East, when he watched gentleman clubs like the Knickerbockers and the Mutuals play friendly games.

Marshal Dillon tries to set Doc straight--explaining that the modern day professional players played hard and often brawled hard. And the fanatics--those watching the game who were sometimes called "fans"--were often just as bad.

Doc soon finds out Dillon is right, but plans for the game continue regardless. There's a wonderful scene in which Doc facilitates a meeting between the managers to agree on the rules. (Can you catch a fly on one bounce and still get an out? Can the pitcher chew liquorice and smear it on the ball before he pitches?) Doc and the local manager learn of a new rule involving the concept of the walk, which happened if a total nine balls are thrown outside the area to which the batter had asked it to be thrown (high, middle, or low). "That makes it hard on the pitcher," complains the local team leader.

Of course, there's something for Dillon to do as well as he looks into a scheme a couple of gamblers dream up to rig the game. And that part is cool as well. But it is the accurate and entertaining look back at the early years of baseball that make this episode stand out.

Click HERE to listen or download

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