The Konformist

KON4M 99
May 1999

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Greg Bishop (exclmid@primenet.com)

Psychologist Edward DeBono once proposed a novel method for producing new ideas and juxtapositions. List anything that interests you in two columns. Take something from each row and put them together with the neutral and meaningless word "po" in between. "Einstein po toast" for instance, might make you wonder about what the great scienist might have had for breakfast to get his brain going, or contemplate the ultimate outcome of the human race when faced with nuclear weapons aimed at every city.

If the writers of the Sunday, April 25, 1999 episode of The X-Files used this method, they may have come up with the unlikely phrase "Roswell po baseball." Some background may be in order before we go on.

If Joe Bauman had been at bat on the night of July 2, 1947, he might have knocked something out of the sky that later crashed northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. Bauman was first baseman for the minor league C-class Roswell Rockets in 1954 when he set a home run record that would put Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Mark McGwire to shame. During that season, he smacked 72 homers over the right field fence, a feat that has yet to be equalled.

The Rockets team logo could not have been more perfect if The X-Files art department had thought it up. Twinkling stars and baseballs float on a dark blue field and a flying saucer hovers in the backgound while a space alien winds up for a pitch. Their team name derived from the fact rocket pioneer Robert Goddard located his test base there in the 1930s, or perhaps that the White Sands missile test range was located not far away. It is nearly certain that some defense workers and soldiers who experienced the events of July, 1947 in Roswell also attended Rockets games.

In a 1995 interview at the age of 73, Bauman held his big hands together around an imaginary cantaloupe and said that all the pitches that summer looked as big. "I was on fire" he said. In 1954 only about 800 fans saw each game, and the west Texas/ southern New Mexico Longhorn League was quite small, as minor league organizations went. Bauman is still proud of that season, and admits he never really cared to step up to the majors anyway. With every home run, fans would stick one- and five-dollar bills in the backstop fence to congratulate him. He averaged about $40.00 per grand slam.

This sort of legendary hitting was also found in the Negro League baseball teams of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Josh Gibson was called "the black Babe Ruth" and although no one ever bothered to keep statistics for Negro League players, anecdotes of his hitting power survive in legend and lore. Gibson is said to have hit a line drive so powerful that it split the flesh between the thumb and forefinger of an unlucky third baseman, right through his fielder's glove. He is said to have beat Bauman's record with a comfortable margin, although this can never be proven of course. Gibson died at age 35 in January, 1947 without ever getting a chance in the major leagues.

From these stories and others like them, The X-Files fashioned a whimsical tale of Roswell aliens and black baseball. Gibson had some of his best seasons playing for the Negro National League Homestead Grays team of Pennsylvania. The X-Files used this as a clever plot twist, naming the fictional Roswell team the "Greys" and their parent organization the "Cactus Negro League." The star player is an alien so fascinated with the game that he shape-shifts into human form just to play. He sets a season home-run record as well. One character, a local policeman, mentions that "all the great players were aliens" --but that they didn't want to reveal their identities.

This could be a commentary on the plight of the negro players before 1946, who didn't have the luxury of shape-shifting to suit the times. One of the first black players to try and break the color barrier played for the Ohio Wesleyan University team under crusading manager Branch Rickey in 1903. Star first baseman Tommy Thomas often took to the field with the protests and taunts of the opposing team ringing in his ears. Many teams refused to play until Ohio got "that nigger off the field." Games went ahead as scheduled only after Rickey loudly protested "You play Thomas or you don't play OWU!" After a pitiful scene in a hotel that nearly refused entrance to his best player, Rickey vowed to do something to see that it wouldn't happen again. He kept this promise to himself at age 54 when he moved former negro leaguer Jackie Robinson up from Brooklyn's minor league Toronto Royals to play for the Dodgers in 1947.

Wait a second, isn't 1947 the same year that something fell out of the sky near Roswell, New Mexico?

"Aliens po Prejudice"

Greg Bishop is the editor of The Excluded Middle : http://www.primenet.com/~exclmid/

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