Play Ball — You Guys Are Embarrassing Yourselves!

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Am I the only one sick of the painful, back and forth negotiations between owners and players over whether we will see any baseball this season?

Didn’t think so.

As usual when these two sides square off, it will come down to how they divide up the money, and my best guess is the billionaires and the millionaires will both give just enough as time grows short to get us some semblance of a season started by the middle of July.

So, if we all know this is the likely outcome, why must we go through this awful dance, listening to jackasses from both camps posture on a daily basis, whining and pointing fingers, with the only real outcome being that both sides look like selfish assholes?

I wonder what Bert Shepard would think of all of this?

You’ve likely never heard of Bert Shepard, despite his retiring from Major League Baseball with a career E.R.A. of 1.69, which, if he had enough innings to qualify, would be an all-time record.

However, Shepard isn’t remembered for his E.R.A. He is remembered as being the only major league baseball player to ever appear in a game with an artificial leg.

Shepard was a minor league left-hander with a blazing fastball and a penchant for walking hitters. He did stints with, and was released by, both the White Sox and Cardinals organizations in the early-’40’s, before enlisting into the U.S. Army Air Force in early-1943.

He ultimately became a pilot, earning the rank of second lieutenant, and was stationed in Wormingford, England. On his 34th mission over Germany, Shepard’s plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. One of the shells hit him in the chin, knocking him out, and another tore through the bottom of his right leg. His plane crashed into the Hamburg ground at an estimated speed of 380 MPH.

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German doctors amputated the leg eleven inches below the knee, and Shepard was sent to a prison camp in Meiningen, Germany. It was there Shepard met Dr. Errey, an imprisoned Canadian medic, who made Shepard an artificial leg. While a prisoner of war, Shepard first learned to walk on his new leg, and then taught himself to throw again on the wooden leg, using a cricket ball during exercise time in the prison camp yard.

In February of 1945, eight months after being captured, Shepard was part of a prisoner exchange and ultimately returned to America. He landed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he was fitted for a new prosthesis. While at Walter Reed, Shepard was visited by the Undersecretary of War, Robert Patterson, who learned the former pilot had been a baseball player and wanted to resume his career. Patterson was close friends with the owner of the Washington Senators, Clark Griffith, and passed this information along.

Shepard received his new leg on March 10th, and four days later was in College Park, Maryland, for a tryout with the Washington Senators. Shepard always liked to tell people he was “lucky” that it was the right leg he’d lost in the war, since as a left-hander it was the left leg that he pushed off with while driving toward the plate. At the end of March, Griffith had seen enough to sign Shepard to a major league contract. Shepard would work on his control in exhibitions and on the sidelines, with the goal of being added to the staff later in the year.

He started a couple of exhibition games, including one against the Brooklyn Dodgers on July 10th to raise money for war relief, and General Omar Bradley pinned the Airman’s Medal on Shepard’s uniform in a pre-game ceremony. Shepard went out that day and only allowed one hit through the first three innings, before being relieved in the fourth.

On August 4th, 1945, his opportunity finally came. Washington manager Ossie Bluege brought Shepard in to mop up in the 4th inning, with the Senators down 14-2 to the Red Sox. He entered with the bases loaded and two down, and struck out the hitter to end the inning. He would go the distance from there, throwing the next five innings and allowing only one run on three hits.

After the game, Shepard had this to say about his outing:

“There was much more pressure on me than it seemed. If I would have failed, then the manager says ‘I knew I shouldn’t have put him in with that leg.’ But the leg was not a problem, and I didn’t want anyone saying it was.”

Unfortunately for Shepard, the Senators were involved in a pennant race, and Bluege was unwilling to use Shepard in any more contests. Shepard was released on September 30th, and with players beginning to return from active duty, he was unable to make the big league club out of spring training in 1946. The Senators asked him to be a part of their coaching staff, but his bug to play wouldn’t die, and Shepard requested to be sent to the minors to continue his career. He never made it back to the bigs, but the left-hander continued to take the mound and fire away in the minors for another seven years.

In short, Bert Shepard was a complete and utter badass.

One more note about Shepard.

In 1949, he signed to pitch and manage a team in Waterbury, Connecticut. He said the reason he wanted to manage was because “always before I’ve had a manager who was afraid to take a chance on me. Now it’s up to me. Every fourth day when I make up the lineups, that ninth man is going to be B. Shepard, pitcher.”

Shepard was so confident in his ability to pitch, that he even offered to play for $1 for the season. However he also requested to be paid $400 for every win that came with him on the mound. The team ended up signing him to do both jobs for $4000, but by August the club said they could no longer afford to pay him, and Shepard was released.

Now get this — the Waterbury players threatened to go on strike if Shepard was let go. Ultimately a players committee banded together with some local merchants and they raised enough money for Shepard to complete the season.

Bert Shepard was a total badass.

We bring up Bert Shepard now, because despite the fact that MLB has become a multi-billion dollar business enterprise, we’ve got to believe that at their core, at least a few of the owners, and most of the players are still “true” baseball folk. They’ve got to see the rampant destruction taking place as this ridiculous game of chicken goes on, don’t they?

Because baseball isn’t their game, it’s our game.

Baseball was played during the World War II years because the national pastime was deemed essential to keep up the spirits of the nation. Many of the biggest stars were sent overseas — the Yankees alone lost Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Henrich, and Red Ruffing for parts of seasons during the war — and doors were opened for players like Shepard and Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder who hit .218 in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns.

Baseball was deemed necessary during World War II. It remains “essential” today.

So please, no more talk about what percentage of pro rated salaries should the players expect. And yeah, we’re all really tired of the owners crying poor over the lack of games, attendance, parking revenues and concessions. Quit the crying and get back to the negotiating table. And don’t leave without a deal in place.

The sad thing is, all this squabbling over how to divide up the MLB billions has overshadowed the discussion that ought to matter most right now. You know, the one about what protocols will be needed to keep the players and all those involved in the game safe and healthy as this global pandemic rages on?

Right, there’s bigger issues out here MLB, in case you haven’t noticed while doing your damndest to get as much of “yours” as you can.

Bert Shepard died a few days before his 88th birthday in June of 2008. I’m glad he’s not here to witness this embarrassing MLB shit show that is all about the money, when there is so much more to tend to in the world today.

Shut up and play ball.

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