I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
When I was a young, I didn’t know too many other kids who were into comics. I had no one to commiserate with about the latest developments in the Marvel Universe, nor anyone who could turn me on to new and different stuff by sharing issues and titles that they loved to which I’d been previously unexposed. There were rare exceptions, which made them memorable. And if one of those exceptions happened to be one of most infamously gruesome comic book stories of all time that also exploited knowledge of the sport that was a concurrent personal obsession, the experience of staring at those foreign panels is understandably forged into my brain.
I don’t remember the kid who introduced me to the story “Foul Play!,” written by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein and drawn by Jack Davis. Truthfully, my peer may as well have disappeared in a puff of smoke after pushing the comic across our fourth grade desks. I was mesmerized by the story. Originally published in a 1953 issue of the EC Comics title Haunt of Fear, there’s no question I was looking at some sort of reprint. How this fellow elementary school twerp got his hands on such lurid material — which was still startling almost thirty years after originally infiltrating spinner racks — also remains a mystery. I’m guessing it was an older brother. I was always an older brother when it came to stuff like this.
The “BLOOD-CURDLING, SPINE-TINGLING, FEARFUL FUNGO-FABLE” hinged on a fateful September baseball game played with the bush league pennant on the line. The creepy circumstances are set into motion when Central City’s slugger Herbie Satten in hit by a pitch and awarded first base. Moments later, he steals second base, adopting a sliding methodology from the notorious ruthless Ty Cobb.
Though it seems Herbie is primarily trying to deliver a few debilitating scratches, it turns out there was a far more nefarious plan in effect. The next inning, a woozy Jerry Deegan steps to the plate with the game on the line. As a called third strike blazes past him, Jerry collapses on home plate, mysteriously dead. In the clubhouse, his teammates figure out what caused the sudden, fatal ailment.
Since this is an EC horror comic, a fitting revenge is naturally in order. The Bayville Nine spend their off-season plotting. By the spring, they’ve got their plan sorted. They mail a letter to Herbie, shrewdly designed to play to his ego.
When he arrives at the ballpark, deep into the evening, Herbie finds no admirers. Instead, it’s the surviving pals of Jerry Deegan. They want to play a little baseball, but they’re short on gear. Luckily for them, and unluckily for Herbie, there’s a handy solution before them.
Setting aside the pedantic but valid concern that a human head is far too large too sizable to be a truly adequate substitute for a baseball, there’s a sadistic elegance to the solution concocted by the angry ballplayers. It’s not the kind of thing likely to get these guys into Cooperstown, but it does represent an undeniable innovation in the sport.
Images courtesy of the fine individual who posted the full story online.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.