July 26, 1991
Before Frank Boggs retired, every newspaper columnist in the country who knew of him envied him If for no other reason than the fact he wrote seven columns a week and usually was two or three weeks ahead. He could turn on the creative tap and write a week’s worth of stuff in one sitting.
Old timers here will remember him as a member of the Capital-Journal sports staff in the 1950s. He moved on to sports jobs in places like Dallas and San Diego, but then became a newspaper executive who wrote columns as sort of a hobby.
He wound up his career where it started, in Oklahoma City, and he seemed to run things with one hand and write columns with the other. While most columnists sweat blood and wring their hands in despair, Boggs would run them off the assembly line without even a furrowed brow. And, what really burned up his colleagues was that the columns not only were numerous, but also good.
Boggs was in town this week, visiting Bob Hentzen. We played golf Tuesday, and then young insurance mogul Matt McFarland chauffeured us to a Royals game. It was a nice, long day, really spoiled only by having to sit through a sloppy 8-7 contest that lasted more than three hours.
We swapped a lot of stories, and along the way Boggs talked about the fine art of writing a column. He said he actually studied the subject, and said one of the best tips came from Russell Baker, the outstanding humor columnist for the New York Times.
Baker pointed out in one of his books that ideas for columns are scarce, and one never should be discarded, no matter how badly it turns out as you try to develop it. He says to just keep plowing away to the end and turn it in, pointing out nobody ever got fired over one lousy piece of work.
At the same time, he strongly advised against a string of these sorry efforts, saying even the best writer can be fired if he is mired in a long losing streak. He didn’t say it, but in this line of work it is better to steal an idea than to go too long without one.
It’s a cinch Boggs never discarded an idea. He could take the flimsiest shred of a thought and turn it into a column or, in all likelihood, a full-length feature movie. He also was helped along by the fact he never forgot a good story.
Since we were into baseball at its slowest that evening, he told an appropriate story, not of the kind you’d find in record books. He said when he was covering the Topeka ball club one year, the manager was Buddy Bates, who once offered the unsolicited statement that some of the fastest games in history were played in the Texas League, specifically in Oklahoma City. Boggs took the bait and asked why. Bates explained that visiting ball clubs stayed in the Wells-Roberts Hotel, which was just across an alley from the women’s wing of the county jail. Bates, who played at the time for Beaumont, said that after a game, the players would throw gum, candy and cigarettes from their hotel windows to the women, who in turn would strip in appreciation.
“We were young kids,” said Bates, “and we thought this was great entertainment, So we got the games over in a hurry. Pitchers threw strikes and everybody hit the first pitch. We played some games there in less than an hour.”
Boggs, of course, didn’t believe him, so he went to the record book. And, guess what. The fastest game in Texas League history was Beaumont at Oklahoma City, lasting only 52 minutes. Bates was listed in the Beaumont lineup.
During the Royals game Tuesday, there was a foul ball that ended up in right field. The right fielder picked it up and tossed it into the stands. That reminded us of Bert Lamb, who owned this Salina ball club in the old Western Association.
Lamb sat behind home plate with the baseballs in his lap. Only when the ball being used in the game was definitely gone for good would he surrender another one to the umpire. Balls cost about $2 in those days and he wasn’t wasting them. Any outfielder of his who tossed one into the stands would have been on a bus to Hicksville before dawn.
I can’t write about baseball in the boondocks without repeating two favorite stories. The first deals with it the ritual that happens when a ball is foul tipped past the catcher. Often, He just puts his hand behind him and the umpire slaps a new ball into it.
In Odessa, Texas, one night there was a man on first when the batter swung and missed, and the ball got past our catcher, Frank Mormino, a husky young man. Mormino immediately put his hand back, and the umpire, not thinking, slammed in a new ball.
Mormino then rose from his crouch to throw to second, where the runner was headed. The umpire suddenly realized his mistake and grabbed Mormino from behind. Mormino tried to break loose and throw. They wrestled each other to the ground before the other umpire restored order. It was one of the funniest episodes baseball ever saw.
Also in Odessa, our “Stretch” Jackson was on third with two out when the batter lofted a towering pop up toward third, which the catcher, pitcher and third baseman started wandering around under. Jackson, hoping to confuse them, strolled toward home screaming, “I got it! I got it!”
It confused them, alright. None of them caught the ball. It came down and hit Jackson in the head. That’s true, or my name isn’t Snidre.