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The Way Things Used to Be – Stoop Ball – Rules of the Game
Lucky Strike Green was home from the war, as was Dubble Bubble rubber. You could also buy pink Spaldeens again, but now for ten cents instead of the pre-war nickel. There weren’t many new cars on the streets yet, so there was still plenty of room for kicks, sticks, association football and all our other games.
We thought that the end of the war meant that all war was over forever. We did not know that our emissaries had agreed to divide Korea along the 38th parallel, that the Soviets had put Kim Il Sung in charge north of the parallel, or that he intended to reunify the peninsula under communist control. Even if we knew, we wouldn’t have imagined that any of it could affect any of us.
In the fall and winter we played roller hockey and association football. Starting in March, we switched to punch and stickball. Marble season started the Saturday after Halloween, but the ball was all year round. The only thing that stopped the tilt ball was too much snow on the ground.
We followed the usual rules: one infielder, one outfielder; nine inning games; if the ball hits the pavement you hit it from, is caught before it bounces, or goes outside the foul line, you are out. One bounce was single, two were double, etc. If you hit the wall of the building across the street while walking and the ball was not caught before it hit the ground, it was a home run. Runners with imaginary bases advanced one base on a single, two on a double.
The only difference was that, instead of a slope, we hit S-shaped cornices that ran three feet above the sidewalk on the wall of 88th Street, 575 West End Avenue. They were perfect for hitting—white seven-inch-high S-curves extending from the face of the wall between the downstairs windows. If you hit the sweet spot on the convex part of the fairway, the ball hit the clothesline too high to catch before hitting 585 on the other side of 88. You hit above the sweet spot and either popped out or the ball hit above the third floor of 585 and it was easy to catch when she refused. He hit the concave part of the S and the ball went into the fairway.
Just as the 575 was perfect for hitting, the 585 was perfect to have in the car. By the third floor, it had slopes that caused the ball to bounce in awkward ways that outfielders could not predict. Matt — tall, big hands, good jumper, stood with his back to 585 ready to jump, or turn, step back and grab the rebound. He was our best outfielder, but he had a weak arm and couldn’t hit.
The two guys who got off the hardest were Blue Book and Isau. The Blue Book hit with a submarine motion and could usually get out in a single unless Nate, who was a soccer goalie in Switzerland and had the fastest hands on the block, was fielding.
Esau was our hardest thrower. He hit straight down from so close to the wall that he sometimes skinned his knuckles. The Spaldini were very lively. Bounce one onto the sidewalk and it would go up to the third floor. When Esau hit the point at the bottom of the cornice, the spaldeen flew to ninety and bounced two inches over the edge of the sidewalk. Nate had to play up the middle just to hold it for a single.
When Blue Book and Esau were on the same team, they loaded the bases with singles the first few times they got up, then either homered or followed up with single runners until they were fifteen runs ahead and won by the slaughter rule. If Izav had been a taller and better outfielder, he might have been number one in the Blue Book Stoop Ball Hall of Fame. As it was, he succeeded only with his shot.
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