Grab Bag

Page 11

The Most Interesting Thing About the Pirates This Year...
is that in 1891, Louis Bierbauer, born and dead in Erie, PA, who had been a star with the National League's Philadelphia Athletics before jumping to the upstart Players League in 1890, jumped to the Pittsburgh Nationals team instead of jumping back to Philly, which everyone seems to have expected, and the Philly fans began posthaste calling the Pittsburghers "Pirates" for stealing him away.

Now I know this name origin and its Erie connection has long been considered mere rumor by many, but I am here to tell you that it is the truth. First of all and least impressive of my findings, on page 251 of Harold Seymour's landmark work Baseball: Volume I, The Early Years: "Pittsburgh's president, J. Palmer O'Neill, was immediately tagged J. Pirate O'Neill, and his club nicknamed the Pirates—as they have been known ever since." But the real capper, and almost less impressive, is that on wowing my way through the John G. Carney Collection at the Gannon University Archives here in town (and by the way if anyone else is familiar with these materials drop me a line wouldja?) I came across an amazing quartet of late nineteenth-century photographs. They were taken shortly after Bierbauer's traitorous deeds made national headlines, with the dank grey lagoons of our local Presque Isle State Park as backdrop, the big send-off underway.

Three of the scenes depicted show Louis Bierbauer, local boy gone big-time, on the short porch of what seems to be a floating duck blind or doomed and quietly sinking raft with ducks and bunnies tacked here and there to the wet planked wall, a cumbersome woolen cape and overcoat o'er his shoulders, his hands just full of shotguns, and his drunken swearing pals, who likely have spent the morning berating each others' mothers and throwing up gallons of warm beer, have propped him up with a little ballcap on his head, a "P" for pirate on it, and are gesticulating and mugging like boxers and criminals all over the place, fists and fisted jugs and everybody's bad breath in his lowered face. He looks like a forlorn and droopy José Ferrer, about to burst into tears.

There are three variations of this scene—yapping beagle dogs appear here and there, much healthier and more sober-looking than the humans; in another, two of the men have a two-man saw in hand, feigning labor (big black rubber kneeboots seem to be the rage); and Conrad "Dell" Darling, an Erie lad who did six respectable years in the majors himself, appears besotted and dangerous in the wings. Bierbauer and Darling played for The Jareckis of Erie in 1884 (along with Charlie Strick, who played a few years of pro ball in the 70s) and in '85 they both played for the Erie Olympics (along with Mike Morrison, who, despite intense control problems, pitched for Cleveland in the late 80s.) This town just pumped 'em out in those days, you can look it up.

The fourth picture in the series has our boys back on shore, now trying to keep their balance in an Erie driveway. Trees and houses, a good number of rotting ducks hung from a long stick between the revelers, and no real edge as to who had the longer weekend.

(Sincere apologies to all my Pirate-fan pals for that lead-in.)

Horticulture 101

— "Potratz' Greenhouse..."

"Yes, hello, I'm looking for a birch tree, I mean I used to have one in the front yard
 when I was growing up, and now I just bought a house, so I need a birch tree. Tell me
 what to do."

"Well, do you want a birch tree or a birch clump?"

"Clump? What's a clump?"

"Well, a birch tree is a single trunk, like a sapling—but a birch clump can be five or six
  branches coming out of the ground..."

...and here my eyes glaze over as a word creeps in, accompanied by some lovely pictures,
and the word is "stand"—a stand of bamboo, a stand of birch, in the moonlight, glistening
in the moonlight, and suddenly there we are, two disparate and unknown human beings
connecting on some ethereal level where everyone comprehends perfectly, and she says,
in a hushed and exultant voice:

"A clump birch now, is a tree you want to put lights on at night..."

...and his heart was going like mad and yes he said yes I said "YES!"

"Man wants to know, and when he ceases
to do so, he is no longer man."

—Fritdjof Nansen, 1861-1930.


By the way, any photos that don't have credits, like this one, or the sweet Jackie Rob portrait on page 6, or the ballpark configuration in the header on page 9, are mine all mine.

Unblind Me With Science Whydontcha?!?

The other week my son points at a recent issue of Scientific American lying on the coffee table whose cover looks like a photo of some hallucinatory kitty kennel, all fluorescent colors and glowy creepiness. A pair of cat in it—one supine, one upright and reaching—with a scattering of strange objects keeping them company in the dimly lit box. And he asks me "What's that?" And I say:

math "Oh, that's Schrödinger's Cat," and as soon as his eyebrows do that rising thing they do so appealingly I'm off and running: "See, this is just the kind of thing that fits under the heading 'Every Schoolboy Knows,' or should know, and these things somehow get past everyone, I mean this should show up in elementary school nowadays, get those little muscley brains twisting and flexing at an early age, this is multi-decades old, it's basic. So here's the set-up: You got your room; you got your cat, or rather Erwin's cat, in this box; you've got a little jug of radium or some other energetic substance, just enough so that after exactly one hour's time you have an exactly 50-50 chance that the stuff will decay by throwing off a hot little electron; a shiny Geiger counter that will—do nothing if there is no decay / drop a hammer if there is; and a fragile vial of deadly poison below the hammer whose vapors, if released, will stiff the cat. Got that? So after an hour there's a 50-50 chance that the cat is either dead or alive. But what Erwin Says is that what really exists, before you open the door to peek in, is both, together, in some kind of cloudy-probabilistic-dead-and-alive-at-once state of being, and that it becomes either a dead cat or an alive cat only when we open the door and observe it, I mean our looking actually causes one or the other to "become" out of the two possibilities wrapped up together dammitt. So that the act of observation is more or less an act of creation. And this may sound far-out to you, but half-a-century's and a good-sized library's worth of experimental evidence may support this, oh my goodness. So I remember the fat styrofoam balls suspended by wire that my chemistry teacher put forth as atomic structures, 'these balls here is particles, they's atoms.' Well no they ain't neither! What they is are more like events or processes than things, more verbs than nouns, and this—(and here he looks at me, lovingly I think, and says: 'You're so crazy...' and I take note of this, as I remember taking note of it so many times before: If you know something, Then you're crazy)—leads to all kinds of whacky stuff, like (and now I'm getting to the point where I'm all over the room, grabbing books and spinning wildly) the Many World's Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, which you can only get to page thirty or so before it goes to formulas I can't read but here the universe is an infinitely branching tree flowing in an infinite number of different versions out of each little probable/possible becoming bit of matter—so that in one version Nine Inch Nails is the deserved house band at DisneyWorld and in another we're blind cave-dwellers in the literal rather than the figurative sense and in another Buckner makes that play in '86 and Boston wins the World Series and somewhere there are no Cubs or Cubs' fans for mercy's sake; 40,000 children do not starve to death each and every day; cedar waxwings rule the noonday sky; human beings never grew out of primordial stew; you and everyone else already know all of this..."

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