To understand the true spirit of the marvelous California game and summer rite known as Over the Line, one only has to know that The Incredible Spinny Bunch set a personal record this year by advancing to the fourth round of the world championship tournament on the strength of a bye, a loss and a forfeit. Spinny also caught a ball for the first time and got a hit too. "They announced it over the loudspeakers," he said.
As if it were not already obvious, The Incredible Spinny Bunch is called The Incredible Spinny Bunch because Spinny is always spinning out. He wears a green cap with a propeller on top. He used to have a string that you could pull and the propeller would spin off into the distance. Now there is no string and the propeller must be spun by hand. Friends say this is a sure sign that Spinny is growing up. He is 43. He drives a lumber truck in the off-season. The Incredible Spinny Bunch says his only worry is that if his propeller ever starts going in reverse, he will spin himself into the ground.
At the other end of the Over the Line spectrum is Ron Trim, 28, a shoring-equipment salesman who takes the game seriously. He has fractured his leg playing OTL. Twice. Trim says, "People think this is a loose deal played by freaked-out fools. No go. We're dedicated. Twenty-five teams out here, you won't see a beer can in their hands. Guys can't sleep at night playing Over the Line."
Somewhere in the middle of all this are Mr. and Mrs. Over the Line, Royal and Debbie Clarke, a May-December couple who work the T shirt stand at the OTL tournament. Royal, a San Diegan who is 40 and delivers laundry to the underwater demolition teams "at the base," helped invent the game 23 years ago. His team won the championship in 1962, and he has been trying to repeat ever since. In the meantime he married Debbie, 25, a beach star whom everybody was pursuing, then watched as her team took the women's crown two years running.
Debbie, who looks like she was born on a sand dune, is kind of healthy. Royal appears to have burrowed out of the ground. His sun-destroyed eyes have been operated on four times and are considered one of the medical wonders of our age. He suffered "gut aches" from eating some bacon left in his van for two weeks. His closest friends call him Weasel. Sources claim Clarke can detail the history of OTL only if contacted before 6 p.m., inasmuch as he is rumored to sip a cocktail or two and is somewhat incoherent past that time. The sources are wrong by about an hour.
But this report is not designed to blow the lid off OTL. No CIA plotting or scandalous Cher and Gregg stuff here. Over the Line is simply a softball game played on the San Diego beaches by three-person teams that are invariably in some stage of undress and inebriation.
The team at bat furnishes its own pitcher, who sits a few feet to the side and tosses the ball to the hitter. The result is sort of a two-person fungo. There is no base running, which is fortunate because there are no bases. The object is to hit the ball on the fly over a line about 20 yards in front of the batter and into a court about 22 yards wide that extends indefinitely.
The three fielders on the opposing team patrol the court in various defensive formations—only girls are allowed to wear gloves—and attempt to make putouts by catching the ball on the fly. There are two kinds of hits—singles and occasional home runs, when the ball goes past the deepest fielder.
The only other rules to worry about are three outs to an inning, five innings to a game and no throwing beer cans or disrobing completely on the playing field. These last two rules were made to be broken.
Over the Line began in 1953 when a few lifeguards and a fellow named Ron LaPolice found the volleyball courts at Old Mission Beach so crowded they had to come up with another game. LaPolice stepped off the court and a diversion (some say a perversion) was born.
Though official boundaries are still measured in "LaPolice steps," the founder has gone on to lesser things. He was discovered recently laying tile at The Pennant, an establishment that features a special Tuesday night spaghetti dinner for 19¢. Though LaPolice's feet are said to be preserved in Coors year-round, so that he will be ready to boogie at tournament time, he disavows any further allegiance. "We've created a monster," he moans. "What an evil thing."
Indeed, as the OTL tournament grew from an eight-team round robin to its present world-class status, it has moved three different times. The game is now-so big it has had to leave the beach.
The 22nd annual renewal (no tournament was held in 1958 due to the closing of the Redondo Court parking lot—you figure it out) imbibed its way over two weekends of double eliminations and concluded a fortnight ago on Fiesta Island, a clump of weeds and dirt in the middle of Mission Bay. When it was over, 594 teams in three divisions had played 1,190 games on 18 courts in front of an estimated 24 million astonishingly non-hideous women, a few men and a child with a live snake around his neck.
This was merely the culmination of the OTL season. The game has a veritable circuit now, extending from Manhattan Beach near L.A. to San Felipe, Mexico. There are OTL sponsors, trophies, T shirts and fan clubs. There is OTL little league. There are OTL deaf teams ("They scream their hands off," says Bill Winship, whose girl friend Denise Denn is a deaf player). OTL is running out of sand. Next year the tournament committee is considering renting Yuma, Ariz.
"Over the Line was originally designed to be your basic RF," says Ed Thile, a speech therapist who lives beside the beach and conducts his own invitational tournaments. "Now it's a legitimate avocation." Dr. Thile later defined RF as "anything cathartic but socially unacceptable."
To put the blame where it belongs, the OTL tournament is run by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC), one of whose directors, Mike Curren, expressed skepticism about publicity. "Why are you doing this article?" he asked an investigative reporter who was in the process of falling off a bar stool one evening in The Beachcomber, which is next door to The Pennant. "I get the impression you're looking for wild stuff. We're not a bunch of buffoons conducting an orgy. This is an athletic event."
Since Curren, a five-time winner of the OTL tournament and a land surveyor in real life, subsequently was observed in a state of near-derangement attempting to crawl through a dog's door about 10 inches square, interviews with other OMBAC members seemed in order.
The club is as much a state of mind as a physical presence, having relied for years on irreverence and rum-and-Cokes to keep the membership together. OMBAC was considered just another bunch of rowdy, drunken misfits when it was doing things like initiating members by "burial at sand." But then it demonstrated civic-mindedness by sponsoring 12 athletic teams.
San Diego's city fathers put great trust in OMBAC's ability to control things during the OTL tournament; through the years there has been only one arrest, a miracle considering the possibilities inherent in thousands of beach nuts gathering to drink from radiator caps and smoke each other's newspapers.
Not that OMBAC has advanced too far toward propriety. It still holds to the kind of traditional values exhibited in the club golf tournament, which keeps getting kicked off local courses because members tend to play the closing holes without any pants on.
Moreover, OMBAC's entry in a frog-jumping contest, the heroic OMFROG (club member Bill Cheng in disguise), was disqualified not because of 5'5" Cheng's Chinese ancestry, but because he was ruled "a tree toad."
OMBAC's spirit is never more apparent than at the Over the Line tournament, where, towering above the shouting and liquor and dust, its members operate the scoreboard and carry on a running commentary over the PA system that defies the laws of logic, not to mention Supreme Court rulings on obscenity.
OMBAC has always looked askance at attempts to commercialize its product. At this season's event, a Tin Man and a clown had the audacity to mill through the crowd promoting themselves. "Get the Tin Man out of here," Curren screamed. "Next thing you know we'll have Dorothy and Toto littering the place."
Jocko the Clown was more discreet. However, he seemed offended that everyone kept referring to him as Bozo. "These people only know one clown name. It's another distressing example of our automated society," he said.
As part of the Herculean task of running the tournament, certain OMBAC members are required to perform annual duties. Rick Spicer is expected to walk around with a cardboard-and-tin-can television camera on his head doing live remotes for "internationally renowned O.K.-TV." And OMBAC Vice-President Grant Simkins always runs the concession stand, Grant's Grill and Piano Bar, where he "auditions crooners and mooners" from behind his toy piano. Simkins is also a judge of the annual Miss Emerson contest.
Miss Emerson was discovered three years ago when Simkins asked a passing lady of astounding proportions if she was the elusive Emerson, then told her an old knock-knock joke. When she answered, Emerson Who? Simkins provided the punch line. Ever since, OMBAC members have held up placards numbered from one to 10 when unusually voluptuous girls pass the scoreboard. The leading point scorer becomes Miss Emerson.
This year's winner, Marcia Weir, claimed to be ignorant of the competition. She said of her award-winning moment, "All of a sudden I found myself surrounded by people gasping, screaming and pointing at my shirt." Weir was asked if she earned all 10s from the judges. "Heck, no," she said. "I got one 11."
Miss Emerson was not an Over the Line player, but the women participants have been the objects of grumbling from male competitors, who claim the distaff side gets all the attention.
The cameramen's favorite women's team this season wore chocolate-brown string bikinis. Formerly topless mermaids at the Reef Lounge, the three girls expressed displeasure that the Reef had "gone Country and Western." But Susie Ellis admitted she had found gainful employment elsewhere, "feeding the hummingbirds at the zoo."
The women notwithstanding, the chief drawing card at Over the Line was, as usual, the team names, which, linked end to end, would have given Lenny Bruce a decade of material. Some of the less raunchy included: Healing Scab and the Sophomore Favorites; Flying Pimento Brothers; The Sky Is Falling; Damn Rabbit Died; Deaf Jubilants; Winkin, Blinkin and Nude; the Oral Roberts Waist-High Revival; Compared To What?; and, in the girls' division, McCovey's Mistresses, sponsored by Padre First Baseman Willie.
A general rule is, the better the team, the less gross the name. With the exception of the women's champions ("Just call us the Uns if you're too chicken to use the complete name," said Debi Ballatore, a phys ed teacher) and the men's third-place team, this year's top finishers ran strictly to form. And the better teams also demonstrated the genuine athleticism of the tournament. Versatile individuals such as Tom Nettles, who is a cousin of the Yankees' Graig and has played in three pro football leagues and on the PGA tour, and Doug Hogan, a safety on the Southern Cal football team, showed the batting finesse of Carew, the speed of Brock and the hustle of Rose in the field.
In the Century Division for teams whose members' ages totaled 100 or more, a dynasty was toppled. The two-time defending champions, Mom's Saloon, fell to the uproarious cheers of "Mom's dead! Mom's dead!" Mom's demise helped Andy's Ancients totter through to the championship without a loss.
That left the Men's Open Division, where probably the two best teams on the beach, Top Shelf Ramblers and George Brown's Hot Rocks (featuring none other than Ron Trim, showing no ill effects from his two leg fractures), met for the championship.
That morning, after Top Shelf had been ordered to play at 8 a.m. by OMBAC and was knocked out of the winners' bracket, curly-haired Jim Williams fired two balls at the OMBAC scoreboard and roared, "You can take your starting times and...!" While OMBAC was deciding to table that motion, Top Shelf came through the losers' draw to get another chance at the undefeated Hot Rocks.
In the first game, Williams hit 11 for 14 and made terrific diving catches as Top Shelf prevailed 22-2. But the wily Trim had ordered his team into a split defense, to get Top Shelf accustomed to hitting against it. In the final contest, the Hot Rocks switched to a vertical defense and stifled Top Shelf's attack. Despite the continued brilliance of Williams, the Hot Rocks rolled to the championship 14-4.
Nonetheless, everybody agreed that the truly great alltime dazzling Over the Line move came after Williams had robbed Trim of a hit in the final game. Shrugging his shoulders and turning tail to the field, Trim doffed his red shorts to his rival. He broke a rule, but that probably cinched it. OMBAC gave him the sportsmanship trophy.
THE FESTIVITIES on Fiesta Island attracted SRO crowds for the 1,190 three-person games
McCOVEY'S TEAM DID NOT SIT OUT OF THE NAME GAME
CAMERA-MAN RICK SPICER DOES A REMOTE
THE BATTERS TOOK BIG SWINGS, MISS EMERSON CUT A WIDE SWATH AND THE WOMEN'S WINNERS CHOPPED THEIR NAME TO 'THE UNS'