By Chip Walter
Billy C was different from the rest of us. He moved a little slower. When he hit the ball in our pick up baseball games, it rarely traveled far. And the “ol’ pill” eluded his glove even more often than it did the rest of us, which was pretty often. His speech was labored and wheezy without a lot of sing or song to it. But we loved having him around because he had a stunning talent for numbers.
When we gathered in the mornings, trying to scare up a pick-up game, he’d stand around swinging that Orlando Cepeda bat of his again and again and again while he rattled off statistic after baseball statistic. It was uncanny, almost mesmerizing. Willie Mays’ fielding percentage, the number of assists Roberto Clemente had from right field. Sandy Koufax’s earned run average, for the past four years. Maury Wills’ current base stealing total and how that stacked up against Ty Cobb’s record day-by-day. Who the last guy was in the National League to hit over .400. (Bill Terry – New York Giants – 1930; he batted .401. Who knew that!).
Most of us had working knowledge of the basic statistics of our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates – Bill Mazeroski’s double plays, Roberto Clemente’s batting average, Bob Friend’s wins and losses, but all these other esoteric stats from all of these other teams and players, well it was kind of like music when Billy droned on, swinging that bat heavily and incessantly, gazing through his coke-bottle thick glasses with occasional breaks to wipe his perpetually snotty nose. How did he fit all of that information in that slender, boney head? And how did his knobby shoulders manage to stand up to all that swinging? I thought, sometimes, he might wear his bat down to a toothpick with shear wind erosion.
But the bat remained constant as the summer sun, and so did Billy; always there. Always ready for a game, even though he knew he’d be the last one picked. Him and his battered Cepeda and tattered old glove that looked like something Honus Wagner’s dog had played with. We were fine with that even when it took some time for him to run down a ball hit to right field, and then laboriously return it with his high looping throw, inevitably short. Because the thing was, when the inning was over and it was time to bat, he always had a new statistic for us that none of us knew. And even if he never hit a homer or threw a runner out, we thought that was good enough.
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