The strike zone and the little boys of summer

Contributing WriterJuly 12, 2014 

I was watching the game within a game — the daily attempt by baseball umpires to call the balls and strikes as accurately as those electronic devices that now doublecheck umpire decisions.

I found myself wondering whatever happened to the huge strike zone of my childhood. The strike zone of a batter used to be roughly from the shoulders to the knees. But I have finally realized that the top of the zone today is halfway between the shoulders and the belt.

Mind you, not much happens even if the umps turn out to be wrong. Just because the electronic strike-reading device sometimes clearly shows that an alleged strike was way out of the strike zone doesn’t mean that the ump error will be corrected.

The umpire doesn’t quite say to the batter, “Forgive me, my dear fellow, I really blew that one, but you are stuck with my blunder.”

I suppose the device does have some chance of making the umps a little sharper. They can learn from their mistakes. And some of them should.

I am interested because, years ago, my brother and I could have been sort of famous in the baseball world, partly because the former strike zone was larger back then.

The website HowStuffWorks had an article that almost made me feel like part of baseball history. The website told how, in 1951, Bill Veeck, the flamboyant St. Louis Browns owner, sent Eddie Gaedel to the plate to bat. Gaedel was 3 feet 7. When in a crouch, his strike zone was 1.5 inches.

Suffice it to say, Gaedel easily earned a walk by just standing there.

The Eddie Gaedel story was in all the newspapers that year. That reminds me of another little fellow a couple of years earlier who was given a walk by exploiting his short stature. His name is Bob Hall. He is my slightly younger brother, and he was 10 at the time. I was 11. (Irish twins.)

Our father was coaching a southern Idaho American Legion team. Bob and I were the bat boys, complete with uniforms. The opposing pitcher was some huge, unhittable freak of nature destined for the big time. He mowed down all of our batters, one after another.

As the game neared its end, our father handed me a bat and told me to crouch down next to home plate and not even try to hit the ball.

Three pitches later, I was called out on strikes. .

Bob was always a better baseball player than I was and he was also a batter who was better at being short. He stuck his chin out and watched the ball whiz by four times — for a walk.

We all clapped Bob on the back like the hero of the game that he sort of was for a few happy moments that day. We didn’t win the game against that goliath, but our team did the best job of getting on base without lifting the bat off the shoulder.

I suspect we weren’t the first baseball team back then to take advantage of that loophole. Today, Bob is an inch taller than my 5 foot 8. He played ball for years as a catcher with a city league softball team.

I watched him play one year in middle age. I was not surprised when I saw him crouch down in the usual waddle of a catcher, the one player who routinely minimizes his height.

I’m delighted to report that, in that era, for one brief shining moment, Bob and Eddie Gaedel had their way with the big boys of baseball.

Contact columnist Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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