"I have the only father," said Karen Mann, age 15, "who just for kicks pokes through a whole encyclopedia to find guys who bat right-handed but throw left-handed." Her mother was more to the point. She turned off The Late Show and paused to observe her spouse, running his index finger down page after page of The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball and muttering, "BRTL, BRTL...." "Child," she growled, and went to bed.
Some baseball fans do have puerile tendencies, and Associate Editor Jack Mann, for all his blasé posture, has a lot of fan left in him from his formative Ott-Hubbell years. More important, however, baseball fans tend to be serendipitists. Who is so smug as a baseball nut who comes to the Hot Stove armed with some deliciously obscure detail? In a Game of Records, where a fan is dismissed as a poseur if he doesn't know how many shutouts Grover Alexander had in 1916, the precious nuggets must be found by accident. Jack Mann had stumbled upon a lode, and he was mining it.
In preparing a story on the Mets (page 36), he was impressed by the probability that Center Fielder Cleon Jones is a bona fide big leaguer who could still be around in 1975. That would make him the first BRTL 10-year man since Johnny Cooney of the old Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers. Jones could even become the first BRTL .300 hitter since—since who?
That's how it started, and it ends below with Mann's contribution to baseball memorabilia—the first published BRTL Hall of Fame. Whether or not Jones ever does hit .300, all he has to do is last another three weeks to become the 13th lefty-throwing, righty-batting baseball player (other than pitchers) ever to play 100 games in the major leagues. He would even make the alltime BRTL all-stars (below). Hal Chase, the great first baseman, would play second (which he could do if he was as neat with the glove as Grandpa says), and the team would have superb pitching: Eppa Rixey, Nap Rucker, Sandy Koufax, Carl Hubbell, Preacher Roe and all the others we're going to find in the mail this week.
Any BLTR Hall of Fame would begin with Cobb, Williams, Gehringer and Dickey and grow to telephone-book size. So why is the BRTL roster only a corporal's guard? We don't know, and neither does Cleon Jones. The stigma against left-handedness has diminished in recent decades, and nobody in Plateau, Ala. ever chided Cleon about taking the fork in the "wrong" hand. "My mother and my grandma were left-handed," he says. "And all the left-handed kids where I came from batted right-handed. They just did."
Same thing holds in Connecticut. For some time now I've had my eye on a promising 13-year-old who's a BRTL. Name is Lindsay Valk.