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The Stars Took 20, Thank You
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Paul came to my desk with an urgent rhetorical question: "Used to play ball, didn't you?"

Paul was news editor at The Associated Press bureau in San Francisco. I was a reporter, fresh out of college and certain I was starting out on a brilliant career in journalism. Sure I used to play ball, but I now concerned myself with serious matters.

Paul was not in his usual good mood. The sports editor was already out with an ulcer, and word had just reached Paul that the editor's assistant had broken his leg skiing the previous weekend.

"You know what that means -- right in the middle of baseball season," Paul growled. I knew. But, I explained timidly, I was not a sportswriter. My future lay in political reporting that surely would lead to an important overseas assignment. I was going to be a foreign correspondent!

Sports, well ... sportswriting just wasn't important enough for someone like me.

Sure, sure, said Paul, but no need to buy a trench coat just yet. "We need a sportswriter and we need him now! You're it."

Suddenly I was covering what turned out to be the final season of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, for it was 1957, just one year before the New York Giants of the National League would move to San Francisco and send the Seals packing to Honolulu. Not that it mattered to me. I had grown up with the Seals, my hometown team, had even had a tryout with them. But I had been ignoring the Seals since turning to loftier pursuits.

At least I didn't have to watch the team. The Associated Press was much too efficient for that. I reported the Seals' remaining games by listening to them over a radio in a corner of The AP bureau office.

In a display of timing that would have won me honor on the baseball diamonds where I once played, I'd dash over to the corner just as each half-inning was completed, listen to the announcer's summary, scribble a few notes, and dash back to my desk for other chores, including a nightly roundup of Pacific Coast League games sent over our wires with my Seals game stories to papers throughout the West.

I relied primarily on a Western Union ticker tape for the roundups; it provided me with inning-by-inning summaries from the other cities in the league, much like those I heard on the radio from the Seals games, but giving me a greater opportunity to use my imagination.

"Saffell ground out to Wills ... Battey pop out to Basinski ... Bilko fly out to Bevan," the ticker would inform me. "Bilko fly out to Bevan" became, "Slugger Steve Bilko nearly won it for the Angels with a towering blast to left field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but the Rainiers' Hal Bevan raced back to snare the ball at the fence."

"Hollywood 20 Seattle 2" became: "Seattle, in its final home game of the year, played the perfect host last night, passing Hollywood runs like so many hors d'oeuvres. And the Stars took 20, thank you."

A few years later I left The Associated Press for a reporter's job at the San Francisco Chronicle, where I was careful to hide my baseball-playing past, lest I again be pressed into sportswriter service.

I forgot myself only once. I told Jayne Mansfield what a great ballplayer I had been.

The Chronicle had this promotion, a street carnival in the city's colorful North Beach neighborhood, and the spectacularly endowed actress was the guest of honor. As one of the paper's newest reporters, I drew the assignment to cover the carnival, and I was righteously indignant.

Ferris wheels, booths where you could win kewpie dolls for popping balloons with darts, things like that. Imagine; and me a would-be foreign correspondent. Worse than covering sports. I calmed down fast, however, when a perpetually grumpy assistant city editor, actually breaking into something resembling a smile, explained that part of the assignment was squiring the guest of honor as she wiggled and jiggled around North Beach.

Jayne Mansfield didn't seem all that knowledgeable about foreign affairs, and I had to talk about something. I mean, how would it have looked, me staring wordlessly at her? Besides, she had been the official mascot of the Hollywood Stars -- Miss Hollywood Stars of 1955. She had, in fact, been a major participant in the 1957 ceremonies that marked the end of the Stars, when the coming of the National League Dodgers to Los Angeles had forced the Pacific Coast League Stars to move to Salt Lake City.

"Hey, Jayne, I used to be a ballplayer ... Yeah, really ... And, you know, I probably could have made it pretty big. Not a bad infielder, if I do say so myself ... But, well, I had more important things to do. Know what I mean?"

Jayne giggled a lot, but she didn't seem impressed with my rambling recollections. I don't think she even knew what an infielder was. She must have been a lousy mascot.

Copyright Dick Meister