If you've been losing sleep nights wondering whether this year's baseballs really are livelier than those of years past, rest easy: you will find the answer in the story beginning on page 22. The man holding the controversial missiles below is Staff Writer Larry Keith, who culled observations from computers and humans alike, slogged through reports from every major league team and spent long hours on the telephone talking with experts of various ilk.
The assignment involved no airplane flights to exotic cities or even single-stoplight Podunks: the extent of Keith's traveling was a trip to The Haller Testing Laboratories in Plainfield, N.J., about a 55-mile drive from his home on Long Island. But, for once, staying close to home was the first priority.
This is because the deadline for Keith's story fell on virtually the same day Larry's wife Carolyn had to meet a deadline of her own: the delivery of the Keiths' first child. Carolyn, an SI picture editor, knows all about deadlines, but on June 4, the day Larry completed his story, she was still waiting around in a giant "Big Red Machine" T shirt that Larry brought home from a spring-training trip to Tampa (a scouting report on the Cincinnati Reds). She was surrounded by other inspirational items from her husband's trips: a recording of Paul Anka singing repeatedly, "You're having my baby...," bought in Cleveland (a Yankees-Indians game), a Mickey Mouse bank from Disney World in Orlando, Fla. (a scouting report on the Minnesota Twins), a tiny North Carolina Tar Heel T shirt from Larry's beloved alma mater and a stuffed beaver from a college basketball assignment at Oregon State.
The beaver has special significance, being the nickname (as in "Eager...") by which Larry has been known since his days as a young journalist in North Carolina. Though he now claims (with a dozen others) to be the leading career hitter on the SI Softball team, Keith traded bat and ball for pen and pad early in life. To be exact, on the day he, as the 12-year-old second baseman on "the worst Little League team ever assembled," completed a play at home by throwing the ball over the backstop. Soon afterward his byline appeared in such impressive publications as the Ram's Rambler, the J. Mason Smith Jr. High School newspaper, there beneath the headline SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS: THE RAMS' BASEBALL SEASON.
Later, while working as a part-time reporter for The Charlotte News, Keith assigned himself trips to Atlanta Stadium for his first taste of the big leagues. It was a day on which the Braves were playing the Dodgers that Keith knew he had arrived. "When I actually heard the voice of Vin Scully talking to someone behind me I knew I was in the majors," he says.
As for that baby, Robert Browder Keith was born on June 5. His father can now check his theory that "baseballs and babies are both lively to some degree, no matter when they are made."
LARRY KEITH HAS HIS SUBJECT IN HAND