Sherlock Holmes Umpires Baseball (223B Casebook)

Monday’s entry from the files at 223B appeared in the Feb. 25, 1906, edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. There are two notes to appended to this story:

* The reference in the story to the famous cartoon “Three Strikes and Out” is to Charles Dana Gibson’s “Two Strikes and the Bases Full” and “Fanned Out” that appeared in Collier’s Weekly the year before (clicking on them will embiggen):

1906-two-strikes-and-fanned-out-1

1906-two-strikes-and-fanned-out-2

* Secondly, the practice of adding numbers to the uniforms began with the Cleveland Indians in 1916. The reason behind this note will become clear in the story.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

A bunch of old-time fans were sitting in the rear of a downtown cigar stand the other day, talking over the good old times of the past, when baseball was the real goods and everybody would turn out to witness an exhibition of the national sport without too much regard to the quality of the article.

The discussion finally wandered into the umpire line when one old-timer that looked like a reproduction of the character of the fat man portrayed by Gibson in his famous cartoon “Three Strikes and Out” broke into the conversational game.

Illustration from "Sherlock Holmes Umpires Baseball"

“Hardly a game passed without ending in a free-for-all or mobbing the umpire.”

“Did any of you ever hear of the time Sherlock Holmes umpired a baseball game?” No one had, and so he continued. “I was playing on a nine in a small town in Iowa one summer and was mixed up in a way in the first and only exhibition ever given by Sherlock Holmes of the correct way to umpire. We were playing a series of games with another town about thirty miles distant, and the feeling between the two teams and their following was at a high pitch. Hardly a game passed without ending in a free-for-all fight or mobbing the umpire. There were two twins playing on our team that looked so much alike that even the players that worked with them every day were unable to tell them apart except by looking at their feet. One of the twins had a very slight deformity to his right foot; so slight that it would never be noticed by a casual observer.”

“In order to keep the records straight on the batting order, we named one of the twins ‘Left-Foot’ and the other ‘Right-Foot.’ Right-Foot had been batting like a fiend ever since the opening of the season, while Left-Foot was somewhat weak with the stick, but the best fielder on the team. Left-Foot played center field and Right-Foot covered the right garden. Whenever it looked as if we were in a pinch it was the custom to ring in Right-Foot in place of Left-Foot occasionally to even up matters. He was always good in a pinch, and many a time had won the game by taking the place of Left-Foot at the bat.”

“We called our team the Knockers and the other bunch with which we were playing the series answered to the name of the Pickle-Eaters. The Pickle-Eaters had grown suspicious that we were working a smooth game on the batting order and were getting very particular about the selection of an umpire.”

“We had a game scheduled at home one Sunday afternoon and were looking for a large bunch of trouble when the Pickle-Eaters entered a protest against the regular umpire acting and refused to start the game until someone else was selected. Just as the controversy had reached the stage when it looked as if it would be necessary to dish back the money to the crowd, a tall, cadaverous-looking man, leading a dog that looked like a cross between a bloodhound and an Irish setter, stepped from the bleachers and volunteered to take charge of the ceremonies.”

“Without even waiting for an answer, the tall stranger walked out to the position back of the pitcher’s box and called the game. The assurance of the man won the point, and both teams went into the game without further argument.

“Talk about science in umpiring a ball game, that guy certainly had everything skinned that ever came over the pike. He could outrun any man on either team and was always at the spot when it looked as if the decision would be close. There was no disputing his decision, because he was always in the proper position to hand out the right dope.”

“It was in the last inning that the real sensational decision of the game occurred, which marked the stranger as the greatest exponent of the baseball umpiring art and assisted in revealing his identity.”

“We were up for the last crack at the ball, with the Pickle-Eaters two runs in the lead. There were two out and all of the bases full when the scorer called Left-Foot to the bat. It was a tight hole and the captain decided to take a chance on ringing in Right-Foot. He gave the signal and the chief willow swisher went to the plate. He swatted the first one that came over squarely on the nose and landed it over the center-field fence, and went trailing around the bases, bringing in all of the men ahead of him.”

“Almost as soon as Right-Foot landed on the ball, the head guy of the Pickle-Eaters was out with the big protest. claiming that it was the wrong man up. The lanky one listened to his tale of woe and was at the bench to meet Right-Foot when he wandered in from his little canter. Before the startled player had time to draw his breath, the umpire had grabbed his foot with one hand and sliced a piece off the heel of his shoe with a sharp knife that he was carrying in the other hand. He performed a similar operation on Left-Foot, and then started for the outfield like a shot.”

Illustration from "Sherlock Holmes Umpires Baseball"

“Examined the ground for several minutes with a microscope.”

“When he reached the spot where Right-Foot was accustomed to stand in the right garden, he went down on his knees and examined the ground for several minutes with a microscope, then made for the center pasture, where he repeated the performance. Without saying a word he rushed back to the bleachers’ stand, where his dog was fastened and, after releasing the queer-looking animal, rubbed the piece of leather that he had clipped from Right-Foot’s shoe over his nose and ordered the dog to ‘go find him.’ The hound went around the bases at a modest canter, almost perfectly imitating the gait of Right-Foot, and wound up at the players’ bench by taking a firm hold on the surplus bottom of Right-Foot’s trousers.”

“Right-Foot out for batting out of his turn,” shouted the umpire. “Side out and the Pickle-Eaters win.”

“Not even a protest was entered to the decision. All was all done so quick and in such an amazing manner that no one thought of disputing the decision. The players gathered in a crowd to discuss the strange proceedings. but when they looked for the stranger, both he and the dog had disappeared. No one had noticed them leave the grounds, and just how he got away is a mystery that is still being discussed by the old-timers back in the little village.”

“We were asking each other who the man could possibly be when the town constable came forward and volunteered the information that the erstwhile umpire was Sherlock Holmes, who had been investigating a strange murder case in an adjoining hamlet.”

n a personal note, I have to confess that I have committed the crime of writing a Holmes pastiche of my own. “The Adventure of the Whyos” compounds the felony by adding Mark Twain as the writer, acting (albeit reluctantly) as Holmes’ Watson. The roughly 26-page story (8,000 words) also contains excerpts from my other books, and can be found at Amazon, Smashwords and other e-retailers.