30 May 2011

Legends of the Gipper: The Long At-Bat

Sure, you're familiar with Ronald Reagan as President of the United States and maybe you've seen movies starring Ronald Reagan the actor, but did you know that before he was either of those things, he was Ronald Reagan the sportscaster?  Demonstrating the ability to think on his feet that would serve him so well in public life, "Dutch" was once presented with a particularly challenging task while calling a Chicago Cubs/St. Louis Cardinals game on the radio.  This anecdote is told by Mr. Reagan himself, shared in Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches (pages 70-71).

Broadcasting for WHO in Des Moines, c. 1934.
What isn't in the record books is Billy Jurges staying at the plate, I think, the longest of any ballplayer in the history of the game.  I was doing the games by telegraphic report, and the fellow on the other side of a window with a little slit underneath, the headphones on, getting the dot-and-dash Morse code from the ball park, would type out the play.  And the paper would come through to me--it would say, "S1C."  Well you're not going to sell any Wheaties saying, "S1C!" [Laughter]  So, I'd say, "And so-and-so comes out of the windup, here's the pitch, and it's a called strike, breaking over the outside corner to so-and-so, who'd rather have a ball someplace else and so forth and backed out there."
Well, I saw him start to type, and I started--Dizzy Dean was on the mound--and I started the ball on the way to the plate--or him in the windup and he, Curly, the fellow on the other side, was shaking his head, and I thought he just--maybe it was a miraculous play or something.  But when the slip came through it said, "The wire's gone dead."  Well, I had the ball on the way to the plate. [Laughter]  And I figured real quick, I could say we'll tell them what had happened and then play transcribed music.  But in those days there were at least seven or eight other fellows that were doing the same ball game.  I didn't want to lose the audience.
So, I thought real quick, "There's one thing that doesn't get in the score book," so I had Billy foul one off.  And I looked at Curly, and Curly just went like this; so I had him foul another one.  And I had him foul one back at third base and described the fight between two kids that were trying to get the ball. [Laughter]  Then I had him foul one that just missed being a home run, about a foot and a half.  And I did set a world record for successive fouls or for someone standing there, except no one keeps records of that kind.  And I was beginning to sweat, when Curly sat up straight and started typing, and he was nodding his head, "Yes."  And the slip came through the window, and I could hardly talk for laughing, because it said, "Jurges popped out on the first ball pitch." [Laughter]
This season, there are nine Major League Baseball games scheduled to participate in a centennial celebration of Ronald Reagan, and interestingly enough the Chicago Cubs play in three of them:
  • 2 May - San Diego Padres vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
  • 3 June - St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs
  • 8 June - Cincinnati Reds vs. Chicago Cubs
  • 14 June - Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets
  • 23 June - Washington Nationals vs. Seattle Mariners
  • 4 July - Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets
  • 4 July - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Detroit Tigers
  • 6 August - Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds
  • TBD - New York Yankees vs. TBA