Today's Reading

PROLOGUE

THE BIG DAY

League Park, Cleveland, Ohio

On September 28, 1941, Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams became the last Major Leaguer to hit over .400. It happened in Philadelphia's Shibe Field, home of the Philadelphia Athletics. Williams crushed a ball into the right-field speaker to lift his average to .406. It was a monumental achievement, but the newspapers at the time gave it scant notice.

It was another game in another Major League ballpark that had people buzzing that day. One team had a shortstop with a. 600 batting average who could field like Lou Boudreau, pitch right- or left- handed, and was nearly impossible to hit either way. The opposing team's hurler had fanned seventeen and walked none in winning his last game.

It was the first-ever Little World Series in League Park, the storied weekday home of the Cleveland Indians and pro football Cleveland Rams. But this day, it was the Little Indians, champs of the Junior American League, playing the undefeated Little Cardinals, the Junior National League winners. Associated Press stories in newspapers from Florida to Maine to New Mexico extolled the heroics of the young boys they said, "play a brand of baseball far beyond your expectations."

There was nothing like it anywhere. Boys from nine to fourteen looking and playing like mini-versions of their big league heroes captivated the Depression-weary public. Today, Ted Williams's historic achievement is legendary, but only a few former players remember that Little World Series game in League Park—or the leagues—or the woman behind it all.

Her name was Mrs. Josephine Morhard, and she was the founder and undisputed "commissioner" of the boys' leagues, where good deeds mattered as much as the number of wins. Her achievement was grounded in her own turbulent life and driven by a fierce determination to free her son from the clutches of his father's alcoholism and violence that had scarred his early life.

On that day in 1941, she stood in the middle of the Cleveland Indians home team dugout, a commanding figure despite her short stature, surrounded by young boys in Little Indians uniforms just like those of their big league namesakes—white uniforms and navy caps sporting the big red Cleveland Indians "C" on the front of their shirts. The Little Cardinals were across the field in the visitors' dugout, proudly wearing replica uniforms that had two red birds on a branch above the name "Cardinals."

The two-decker stands of the big league park shook with cheering kids, their moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and fans, many of them from other teams in the boys' leagues. In Mrs. Morhard's brand of baseball, everyone participated in one way or another. They were all family.

At fifty, Mrs. Morhard was the same age as the ballpark. She'd added weight over the years, and her waist now was indistinguishable from her bosom. She wore her long reddish-brown hair piled high in a bun, topped with a plain baseball cap so she didn't show favoritism. Only her dress and high heels looked out of place in the concrete domain of Indians manager Roger Peckinpaugh. Otherwise, she was at home. Her bright eyes fastened on the game. Her left hand rested on a fungo bat almost as tall as she was. Her right hand clutched a scorecard. A silver whistle hung around her neck, ready to signal any infringement of her rules or sign of bad behavior among the boys.

The Little Indians had defeated the Little Cards by a score of 21 in a preliminary game the week before. It was a pitcher's duel, and Little Indians pitcher Jackie Heinen was the winner. Today Heinen was playing third base and the Indians other ace pitcher, Dick Kusa, was on the mound. Mrs. Morhard's son Junior was at second base, his best buddy Joey Phipps in right field.

It wasn't looking good for the Little Indians. The Little Cards' Jim Fronek was pitching a no-hitter. His team was ahead 42, with two outs. The only Indians runs were unearned. He'd kept the hard-hitting Little Indians in check. But the Cards' best player, arguably the best in either league, shortstop Marlo Termini, didn't have a hit yet either.
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