THURSDAY, APRIL 1, 1954
1. THE OBJECT OF THE GAME
Eliminating the opposing players was the object of the game. The boy with the ball got to bounce it once and take one step before he threw it, trying to hit one of the members of the other team. If he succeeded, that boy was out and had to retire to the sidelines. But, if the targeted player caught the ball while it was still in the air the thrower was out. Or, if the thrower, in the process of throwing it, crossed the centerline of the gymnasium, he was out, because he was off sides. When all of the players from one of the teams had been hit and were offside, or had had one of their throws caught, the game was over.
The Tigers finished sixth in '53. '54 was a rebuilding year. They were down in the Florida sun, playing out the last days of spring training.
The temperature in Detroit was in the 30s. The boys in the third period were restless. It was still too cold for gym classes to be held outdoors on the playground. They had been imprisoned in boots and wool coats and caps and earmuffs, gloves, and scarves and sweaters and corduroys since November. They were restless and tired of climbing the monkey ropes or hanging by their knees from the chinning bars or playing box hockey or shuffle board or jumping jack or running relay races from one end of the gym to the other. So, Mr. Moore, the boy's gym teacher, decided on a game of dodge ball to let them work off a little steam.
E. Robert Lee, whose mouth was going to get him in trouble one day, and Walter Armstrong, one of the school's twins, were chosen by Mr. Moore to be team captains His method of choosing was to simply point twice, saying, "You," each time. Walter Armstrong won the odds-even match and got first choice.
"I'll be dog," E. Robert Lee said.
Walter Armstrong chose the new boy.
It was the new boy's first day and nobody even knew his name. He was big. They knew that. Maybe only an inch or two taller than most of the other eighth graders, but he was broad. Solid. Looked strong. Strong as a Georgia mule, Mrs. Beasley would say. Looked mean, too. Not just first-day-in-a-new-school mean. But like he could look like that for a whole game of dodge ball. That was the reason E. Robert Lee chose him; plus the fact that there was an element of mystery about him: why was he coming in so late in the semester? It was half over, having begun after Christmas vacation. They had already had their first report cards. Had he gotten put out of some other school or something? All of them wondered. None of them knew.
Eddie was the second to be chosen on Walter Armstrong's team. Walter's team. Walter's first choice was Yudell. Yudell Dixon was left handed and played fist base. They also called him Luke, after Luke Easter, the first baseman half of the Cleveland Indian's Gold Dust Twins. Yudell was a home run hitter, probably the best in the whole school.
In a dodge ball game Eddie relied on speed and dodging ability when being thrown at, and accuracy, when throwing, a carry over from his talent for pitching. Eddie moved to E. Robert Lee's side, smiling, and looked the new boy over, as Walter Armstrong was making his second choice.
The new boy looked like he would be strong and accurate with the soccer-sized ball. Able to launch knee high "rockets" that could cut his victim's legs out from under him, and almost eliminate the possibility of their being able to catch the throw. Eddie noted that the new boy was going to have to play in his stocking feet because he didn't have gym shoes. The boys at Dwyer wore their street shoes back and forth to school, carrying their gym shoes slung over their shoulders.
When it was E. Robert Lee's turn to chose a player, those who remained would, because of the new boy's intimidating presence, try to place themselves into a position so as to discourage being selected: they avoided E. Robert Lee's eyes, and tried to somehow make themselves invisible, or, at least, less visible, by turning sideways or seeing to it that there was a body between theirs and his. Or suddenly thinking of something to say to E. Robert Lee's team would bring an, in most cases, inaudible sigh from the chosen, and an almost visible slump to his shoulders as he took his place on E. Robert Lee's side of the floor.
Until finally even the slowest and weakest were chosen, and the game began.
The first time the new boy got the ball, on a ricochet off of James Madison, one of his team mates, he got off a good strong throw. It got Thurston McLloyd, who had a reputation for being clumsy, and was one of the last chosen. James and Thurston were glad to be out of the game.
The game continued until there were only about five left on each team. Then four against two. Then two against one. Eddie and E. Robert Lee against the new boy.
Several times the new boy had been thrown at by bolder members of Eddie and E. Robert Lee's team, and each time, rather than trying to dodge, he had stood his ground and caught it, like Roy Campanella did in the World Series against the Yankees, bringing it into his bear-like grasp. He caught E. Robert Lees throw that way, dropping to his knees and catching it against his stomach and lap, eliminating the team captain. Making it one against one. The new boy and Eddie.
"I'll be dog," E. Robert Lee said. He slapped Eddie on his shoulder. "Get him."
The new boy hurried his throw and missed by a good distance as Eddie faked to his left and then did a button hook to his right as when he was playing football in the street.
"Stop on a dime," E. Robert Lee shouted, "give you nine cents change!"
The ball hit the wall near the corner, scattering several of the already eliminated who were cheering and making mostly make believe wagers on who would emerge the winner. The ball caromed and Eddie caught it and whirled like a discus thrower, or outfielder about to peg one in to the plate, but he faked the throw, bringing the ball back into his body. The new boy was fooled by the fake as he began one of his own. In his attempt to stop and change direction, his socks slipped on the wooden floor. Both feet went out from under him and he fell flat on his behind and the palms of his hands.
"Sitting duck!" E. Robert Lee shouted.
2. GOT ME FAIR
"Your foot slipped," Eddie said, as they put on their street shoes.
"But you got me fair," DeWitt said. DeWitt was the new boy's name