Home > The Tibbs Reader > The Tibbs Reader: Schmitz and Douglass

The Tibbs Reader: Schmitz and Douglass

Douglass about 1936.

It was during the Second Great Lankville Slump of 1936 that two fading, alcoholic pitchers named Schmitz and Douglass were assigned to a lower-level club in the Southern Hill Area.

Both were bachelors. Both were unrepentant inebriates. They split a series of dark rooms above a musical instruction studio on Main Street and were awakened each morning, heads throbbing, by the incompetent twang of student guitarists or the flatulent toot of student trumpeters, always and inevitably followed by the hysterical voice of Sternweiss, the owner and teacher.

Schmitz and Douglass were both ugly men- another commonality. A sportswriter had once referred to the pair as “resembling lurking undertakers”. Both were scrawny and not particularly athletic in appearance with angular features, hook noses and perpetual dark stubble.

It was during a May game against the Basin Area that Schmitz was knocked out of the box early, the end-game being a mammoth three-run homer that cleared an abandoned farmhouse a hundred feet beyond the left field wall. The small crowd razzed him mercilessly.

When Schmitz repaired to the cramped, ill-lit clubhouse, Douglass was already waiting, half out of uniform.

“C’mon, let’s blow this bing.”

They drove around for awhile, putting down four beers each, then stopped and bought a bottle of Old Lankville. Eventually Schmitz parked in back of a four-story brick Women’s Hospital.

“All kinds of thatched cottage in that place,” Douglass commented.

“Yeah, but it’s all diseased.”

Douglass thought about that.

“Well, maybe not the nurses.”

“I concede to your counterpoint,” Schmitz proffered.

 

The next day both Schmitz and Douglass expected a chewing out but instead they found that Bragan, the old Island skipper had been fired or had left on his own accord (the matter was never made clear) and a grim little man named Tibbs had been named as his replacement.

Tibbs seemed to derive no pleasure at all from the game. “I’ve told my boys to go into the hotel business,” he said during his first audience with the club which took place in a ceaseless mist during the pre-game batting practice. The park was silent and eerie– no one had bothered to put the lights on. “This here game is no manner of lifestyle. I was in the big league for six years, boys, and even THAT was no manner of lifestyle. Yessir, this game is a nugatory amusement in the most cosmic of direct essences.”

“The hotel business is a grand tradition,” Tibbs said suddenly, after a long pause. His uniform fit him poorly and his striped socks sagged as though they were pulled down by some great weight. He then launched into a long history of innkeeping which he kept up at various points throughout the entirety of the game that followed that evening.

The next night, Tibbs’ son served as bat boy. He looked nothing like his father– he was round-faced, cheery and loud, booming a series of exhortations with each pitch. When the aging slugger Moss homered in the 5th, the boy was sent into a series of nigh-diabolical spasms of joy and was the first to greet the startled Moss at the plate after the obligatory rounding of the bases.

“WHAT A DELIGHT!” he chortled in a voice unnaturally deep for a 10-year old.

Schmitz, drunk, entered the game in the 7th with the score tied 4-4. He struck out a 35-year old opium addict who had once played centerfield for the Capital Bats, then walked two straight and permitted an infield single. Tibbs made his way slowly to the mound as twilight emerged and the lighting flicked on erratically. Moths gathered beneath the dim illumination. The crowd murmured oddly.

“Schmitz,” Tibbs said when he finally reached the mound. “There is no reason for any of this. I’m speaking metaphysically.”

He spat, turned around and walked back to the dugout.

Schmitz proceeded to allow a grand slam home run to the number eight hitter.

 

They were driving around again. “I don’t have anything left,” Schmitz said. “My drop pitch and fade away are gone.”

Douglass thought about that. “You could start loading the ball. Nobody gives a damn.”

Schmitz spit out the window as the cattle fence posts whizzed by.

 

In the clubhouse the next day, the trainer Weintz, a stone bald man whose only remedy for anything seemed to be an alcohol rubdown, had an old copy of The Lankville Baseball Register. Some of the players were looking up Tibbs’ record.

“Batted .314 one year,” Castleman, the second baseman, noted. Schmitz stared at the small printing. It meant nothing to him. He couldn’t read a word.

“Noticed that,” Weintz said. “Even hit .290 in his last year. Wonder why the hell he gave it up?”

Tibbs came in then. He wore a crumpled black suit and a tie. The tie had a cactus on it.

“Well boys. Let’s hustle out to the field. Not that there is any conceivable reason for us to do so. This is everyday being for death.”

The clubhouse emptied into another light mist.

 

It was Douglass’ turn to get hit around. He started and went 3 innings, allowing 8 runs.

“Sorry, skip,” he said, as he handed Tibbs the ball in the 4th. “My fastball didn’t have any zip on it tonight.” He watched as a fresh-faced kid who had joined the team that day jogged in from the bullpen.

“Pitching is just a self-projection upon the actual possibility of being in the world, Douglass,” Tibbs said. He rubbed the ball with his small hands. “Douglass, you need to delimit your range of experienced phenomena.”

“I’m ready skip!” the kid reliever yelled. He was shaking.

“Didn’t you hear what I just said about delimiting your range of experienced phenomena?” Tibbs barked at the rookie.

Douglass walked off slowly to jeering.

 

“I ain’t got anything left either,” Douglass said. They were driving around at night again.

“That umpire was squeezing you,” Schmitz noted.

“Who was that guy? Looked familiar.”

“That was Dressen. You remember Dressen?”

Douglass spat out the window and pulled on the beer.

“Dressen, from the old Interstate League,” Schmitz continued. “You should remember him. He hit a moon shot off you back in ’32. God damn thing hit the Lank-Buoy sign on the building across the street from the park. Longest ball I ever seen.”

“Why do we always drive by this same cow pasture?” Douglass asked after a long silence.

 

Tibbs sat in his room at the hotel. There was a picture of his two boys on the end table. He picked it up and stared at it.

They were both in full Child Scouts regalia. Gump on the left, Lorne on the right. He put the frame back on top of the lace.

“Children have a vulgar concept of time,” he said aloud to no one.

 

 

The Tibbs Reader stories will continue in future issues.

 

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