Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student
I grew up with a talking baseball mitt. You don't have to take my word for it. That is the testimony of my whole Little League team. They heard my mitt talk, chatter, pep-up, and downright scream. That glove made great plays possible. Are you still skeptical? Maybe you would believe me if I told you I had a coal-black, three-fingered Rawlings "Billy Martin" infielder's glove.
Shortstop is no place for manners, and Billy Martin never had to worry about that. He was fast-living, quick-tempered, and mouthy, and so was his glove--and mine. Those gloves were compact and tightly-strung, like Martin himself. The two middle fingers went into the same finger socket, just as Billy's eyes, when he was really ticked off, seemed to blaze out of the same socket. Once in a pre-season benefit practice, Billy snagged a screaming grounder off his left hip which spun him completely around, but he threw Phil Rizzutto out by a mile, and everybody heard him yell, "Feed THAT to your sister, you lousy Dago!" Both players were benched for what followed, and Martin was yelling that he never said a word.
I met Martin--now manager of the Yankees--at a Dodger game in Los Angeles, and while getting his autograph on a ball I had found, I mentioned that I had a mitt just like his. Never one to mince words, Martin said, "Bullshit, kid. Nobody will ever have a mitt just like mine." I explained that I had a coal-black Rawlings "Billy Martin" three-fingered infielder's glove, but he just shook his head and waved his hand as he turned away. "It talks." I added, and he stopped so fast a cameraman almost stepped on him. Martin turned and shoved the CBS guy into the wall. "What did you say? Hey, you! What the hell did you say?"
Just like Martin, my glove talked most when it was freshly oiled up. During one game, we were ahead by a run in the ninth, with one out and three on. Bob Dunning was playing third. Larry Caster was up, and he could get a grounder past any infield with a quick move of his hip. He placed his left foot way inside, but I didn't notice, and the low, inside fastball was almost on him when the mitt screamed, "GO LEFT, YOU IDIOT!" I bolted left, and the ball was hit behind me, right to Dunning, who was dashing madly toward my old position. He flipped the ball to me, by then on second, and I relayed to first, and we had the game over with a surgically-precise double-play. The coach was very glad Bob heard the mitt, though I was somewhat confused.
Billy grabbed me by the collarbone with both eyes flashing from the same spot. "Did you say your damned mitt talks?" I told him about shagging a liner right in the palm of my hand--that one stung for a week--and the mitt said, "Shit, kid, when you gonna learn to catch a liner?" We had lunch at Norm's in Alhambra.
I used to use that black mitt against my white uniform to confuse the batters. Along with a fast-paced infield chatter from all of us, that glove could really unnerve a batter. Once, during a Babe Ruth game when my "Martin" was in its eighth season and very well-oiled, we started razzing the batters pretty seriously. The opposing coach called "time," and he and the umpire went to talk with my coach. Our coach came out to me and told me to lay off the batter. The whole infield got into the deal, so I asked the coach to put on my mitt for a minute and just stand there. He did, and all the color drained out of his face. When he finally shook it off, he handed me back my mitt and said, "Poynter, one of youse is gotta knock it off, or the ump is gonna toss both of youse outta da game!"
Our lunch conversation turned to Billy's old glove, which had been stolen by a souvenir freak shortly after the start of the '52 season. He offered me two hundred bucks for my mitt, but I said I wouldn't part with it for money. After some vein-popping Martin haggling, I settled for some photos of him and me together, autographed, of course, and a season pass to the Yankee home games. After we shook on the deal, Billy excused himself to use the phone. With an old-timers' game coming up in Yankee Stadium the next week, he needed to prime Rizzutto. If those three got really oiled up before the game, Phil was going to need a warning.