Buddy Montcrief is Called Out
By Jeff Baker
Sure I remember the Wilkins League. Hell, I played in the damn thing from the time I was nineteen until I messed my leg up in ’28, just after I turned thirty. You have to remember, this was ten years after the last of the Great Oil Wars. We even had the ruins of an old refinery at the edge of town (and some smart-ham had painted the big tank to look like a beer can.)
Anyway, I saw Old Man Wilkins once; he came to town to look the young players (including me) over and said some nice things about “the youth of the Upper Fifty-Eight.” We all knew what he was talking about. We were the first generation to grow up in peacetime during the Great Economic Bust. Wilkins and some of his friends had hit on national baseball as a way to not only boost morale and help the economy but keep the kids out of trouble. I don’t know how true that last part was. It certainly wasn’t true of Buddy Montcrief.
Buddy Montcrief was (to hear him tell it) our star player. He was a darn good hitter and base runner. We all knew when we saw him rounding third base nobody had better get in his way when he slid into home. And he played dirty too; he put some of that banned gunk on his shoes to make it easier for him to round the bases, he pulled the old switch with the balls and got the ones that were juiced up. Everybody knew he was doing but none of us said anything, mainly because we’d all get fired and the other teams could never prove anything. We would have been just as happy if he’d hit home plate and had just kept running.
And that was how it went until the big Baseball Scandal of ’23 which was in Arizona but Old Man Wilkins decided to do something. You remember the Patrollers they had during the last of the Oil Wars? Incorruptible, efficient, ever-watchful (that’s how they billed them.) Yes, robots. Old Man Wilkins bought a bunch of the decommissioned Patrollers, had them reprogrammed and put one in every ball-field. Yes, he installed them as umpires. And their word was law. They saw through any bit of trickery and soon just about every player knew he had to be on the up-and-up. Except Buddy Montcrief, of course. Oh, he stopped juicing the balls all right, but he got an idea in his head that he could juice the new umpire. As he put it: “It’s just a big tin can with arms, eyes and a mouth. It doesn’t walk anywhere but it sees everything, but what if we tell it what to see?” Whatever it was, it was better than my idea to pour water on it. (Wouldn’t have worked.)
It didn’t take much for Montcrief to sneak in and tamper with the programming of our new umpire. I know because I was there watching in case anybody stumbled across two players where they didn’t belong in the sub-basement of the ball-field on an off-day. As Montcrief said “A little re-programming here, a little switching here and we’ll see who throws who out of the game.”
The games on Saturday afternoons in the summer were always our big sellers and attendance was usually high. There was a big crowd for the first game after Montcrief’s bit of re-programming, and we didn’t disappoint. After a slow start, we had the score tied and Montcrief was up to bat. He gave the crowd what they wanted; hit the ball way out to the back fence, rounded first base, shoved the second baseman out of the way as he was about to catch the ball and then barreled to third and then headed for home plate, half the crowd booing and the other half cheering his name. I’m sure he firmly expected the reprogrammed umpire not to call him out. That wasn’t quite what happened. He was a few feet away from home plate when the robot umpire swung to face him and a greenish beam of light from its chest struck Montcrief who promptly evaporated in a puff of dust.
The crowd went wild.
Buddy Montcrief had re-programmed the Patroller all right but in the process had re-activated some of its programming from the Wars and he had been atomized as a result.
And, the umpire called him out.