In his book Strike Four – reviewed here – Jeff Archer dedicates around half of the pages to describing his experiences of playing, coaching, and administering British baseball in the 1970s. If you have read the book, you will know that after his time in Britain, Archer moved to The Netherlands in order to tackle Dutch baseball in a managerial capacity. This included taking on a role with the HCAW club of Bussum. Jeff recently sent me this amusing story from the end of his Dutch spell. Scott Donop and Pat Burke are a couple of the players that Archer worked with in the Hoofdklasse. The photo below shows Donop (left), Burke (middle), and Archer (right) in a rare moment out of uniform. The fourth team member pictured is Shannon the Irish Setter, who was team coach. Now, over to Jeff…
At the end of the 1982 season, the eighth team of the HCAW softball program wanted to show their appreciation to me, Donop and Burke because we were all going back to the U.S. They were horrible, but the nicest people in the world. Most were revolutionary Communists and for two years used to visit me almost daily in Bussum.
I put forth the idea that Burke, Donop and I would play them in a softball game. We would only have four men and they could have nine. One 18-year-old guy from Bussum used to pal around with Donop, so we took his as our fourth man. In the 1970s, I had a nationally known fast pitch softball team. I only coached, but before games, I used to attempt to pitch underhand. Over the years, I practiced occasionally and picked up a fair rise ball and drop. However, I had never pitched in a real game. I pitched against the HCAW softball team. About 300 fans showed up just from word of mouth. Because of the politics, the HCAW board members did not like the fact that many of the club members still liked Donop and me.
Of course, we thrashed them. The score was something like 23-4. After the game all the fans came to us and hugged us. It was emotional.
In the U.S., we had a touring fast pitch team called the California Cuties. They were great and also comedic. They played in dresses and wigs. One of their gimmicks was for the pitcher to ask for a new ball. The umpire walked toward the mound and gave him a new ball while taking the other ball and putting it in his ball bag. The pitcher would then denigrate the hitter. Really piss him off. Then, he would say, “You’re so bad that I’ll just lob this one in and you still won’t be able to hit it.” By now, the batter was ready to show the pitcher he was wrong. The pitcher walked closer to the batter, about 30 feet away, and just lobbed it in. The batter would take a tremendous cut at the ball and when he hit it, it was smashed to smithereens. It was a grapefruit painted white and splattered the batter with pieces of grapefruit. Everybody, except the batter, laughed like hell.
I decided to do the same. The night before our game, I bought a perfectly round grapefruit. I went home and took a couple of bottles of white-out (they probably don’t even sell the stuff today. It was used to cover up typos on typewritten documents in pre-computer days. When it dried, the typist would put the paper back in the typewriter and type the correct letter in the space). I put about four coats of white-out on the ball and it was perfect. From more than three feet away, no one could tell it wasn’t a softball.
During the game, one of the players came to the plate. I called time out and walked toward the umpire, asking for a new ball. He was in on the act. Af first, he said the ball I had was okay. I then spit on it and rubbed it into the dirt and said, “It’s not okay now. Give me a new ball.” He looked in his bag and picked out the white grapefruit. Everything was going according to the script. When the batter came to the plate, I hollered to the fans and the opposition, “This guy is terrible. He can’t hit his hat size. I’m going to just lob this in and I bet you he won’t even be able to hit this.” I lobbed the ball in and he missed it by two feet. I was not ready for this. Nobody ever missed such an easy offering. The catcher walked to the mound and handed me the ball. I then said, “I told you he stinks. I’m going to give him another chance to hit the ball.” I was about 30 feet away and again lobbed it in, similar to the way a slo-pitch pitcher throws a ball. He missed again. I began to sweat. I had never seen this trick before with the batter missing two times. Every time I saw it, the batter hit the first slow pitch. I was thinking to myself, “What the hell am I going to do now? He’s supposed to hit such an easy pitch, yet I have a count of 0-2 on him.” I told the batter, “You really are bad. Take your time, keep your eye on the ball and at least hit something so you don’t embarass yourself in front of all your friends.” He dug his feet in. He looked determined. I threw the pitch and he hit the grapefruit, which splattered all over. I even got some on myself. Everybody laughed like hell. The batter did as well. He appreciated the joke. But, he was so bad that he almost screwed up the whole gimmick.
Whether you enjoyed Strike Four or have just been introduced to its writer through the above story, you should be happy to learn that Jeff is currently considering the possibility of putting together a short follow-up book, which would be known as Strike 4.1. This would contain stories from Britain that he missed out in Strike Four, with more of a focus on his involvement in youth programmes in the country.