Fabian ruled the airwaves and Stan Musial was in his heaven when Shirley hit a baseball through the school-house window. Shirley was, you'll pardon the expression, a horse. She could play. We were all 11 or 12 years old and Shirley, who lived down the street, was bigger than any of us boys.
She batted left-handed. That's why I didn't like her. In Central Illinois, kids were either Cub fans (you could tell because they never smiled) or Cardinal fans (and so in love with Stan the Man). And here I was, afflicted with right-handedness while a crummy girl hit left-handed, just like Musial. Life is unfair.
We played ball in a schoolyard. Memory says the schoolhouse was 400 away in right center. It stood 150 feet high. Inspection 20 years later showed it was maybe 150 feet away from home plate and 30 feet high, which is still a pretty good poke for a 12-year-old girl who knocks a baseball through the secone-story window.
We climbed a fire escape in pursuit of our baseball and spied it on the floor, under a desk. It had broken a small, square window in a door. It seemed right that Shirley, having done the damage, should squeeze through the open space and fetch the ball. If anyone were to be nabbed in this caper, it was only right that it be the girl.
Only Shirley was too big for the little hole in the door. She did help lift me up to the window and push me through. Anyway, from then on, we made Shirley bat right-handed. Who ever heard of Stan the Woman?
Shirley never played in our Little League baseball program, although she would have been terrific, and she never played in our Babe Ruth League. The last time I saw her, 10 years ago, she was playing women's slow-pitch softball and sending out line drives, still with that nice lefthanded swing.
I bring this up because of Sandy Doty, the McLean High School girl, a 15-year-old sophomore who won a ruling the other day that she could try out for the boy's junior varsity baseball team.
Good for Sandy. The school superintendent had said she couldn't play, but Sandy took her case to the Fairfax County School Board. By a 7-to-3 vote, it ruled the baseball program is open to all students. The ruling came after Sandy made a little speech -- "I was so scared," she said yesterday -- about the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
Good for Sandy.
It is nice she knew her rights and stood up for them. It is another little victory that will make the world a little less unfair to girls and women.
But I have to say this. The Shirley I knew when the world was young was a really big girl. Ten years later, seeing her again, I was struck by how little she had become. What happened, of course, was that she never became any bigger or any stronger than she was at age 11.
We are three or four generations away from women competing equally with men in any form of sports that requires strength. Maybe 300 men tennis players -- a conservative estimate -- would run Chris Evert's tennis socks off. Nancy Lopez couldn't win a club championship in open competition at 90 percent of the clubs in the country.
The UCLA women's team that won last season's national college championship would need a 30-point headstart to have a prayer against the boys of De Matha High.
Which is not to knock women's competition. If Tracy Austin and Pam Shriver couldn't win their city championships in open competition, against each other they can produce classic matches full of dramatic conflict. In context, Evert against Navrationva is as compelling as Connors and Borg, and it is right that Evert, for her excellence, makes as much money as Connors.
But Evert doesn't belong on the same court with Connors, no more than Lopez should tee it up againt Nicklaus.
For a few years now, JoAnne Carner has threatened to file suit to gain entry to the men's U.S. Open golf tournament. Her reluctance is taken as fear that a womanhs entry into a man's tournament would leave the women no choice jbut to admit men into their tournament.
That, in fact, is the uncomfortable situation at McLean High School. The day the school board approved Sandy Doty's entry into baseball, three boys signed up for the girls' varsity softball team.
"If the boys are going to take over the girls's softball team, or if we'll be forced to have a boys' softball, or what -- I don't know what's going to happen," said Roger Cole, the school's athletic director.
McLean starts its junior varsity baseball practice Monday. Sandy is a 5-foot-3, 106-pound second baseman with Little League and Babe Ruth League experience ("I do my best in the fielding," she says, "the hitting is not that good.") She's trying baseball ahead of softball because of "the faster pace, and I like the challenge."
She wants to make the team on her ability, "and not be held on because I'm a girl." Just in case, she is contemplating alternatives should she get cut from the team. Among those alternatives is a return to the girls' softball team, where, perhaps, she will have to beat out a boy for her old job.