Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Dave Abbruzzese, Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Vs.
Definitive Version: Dissident Vol. 3: Live in Atlanta, 1994, with Doug Pinnick from King's X sharing vocals
When I decided to play with The Journal men’s team in fall 1993, it was the right decision. I played a lot more than I had in the spring and summer, because fewer people played then. With Bill and Jared also from the coed team around as well as Doug as manager, I had a good time and was assimilated effortlessly.
That said, I remember only a few of the games—one because while playing catcher, I suffered a jammed neck in a collision at home plate. (I held onto the ball and made the play.) One game I particularly remember was as close to a racial incident in which I ever was (superficially) involved.
I can’t remember the name of this particular team, but it was all-black. This fact will be important later. Anyway, they could hit the hell out of the ball, as in over the fence with little effort. When we played this team, they beat the crap out of us in the first game of a doubleheader, like 20-5 or something ridiculous.
In the fall season, the league played doubleheaders to maximize the games in the short period of time. I don’t remember whether we played with a one-strike rule, like in the coed fall league the year before, but the games moved fast, because the American Legion fields where we played weren’t lit. We had a finite amount of time before the sun set.
In the second game, however, we got the jump on them right out of the box. A bunch of the guys, some of whom were our best players, didn’t make it to the game for various reasons, so I ended up playing the whole game at second base. I’m not the smallest guy in the world—6 feet, 180 pounds (ding)—but that day on that field, I was one of the smaller guys. Their left fielder played me close.
The first at bat of the second game, I cranked one over his head. He was fast and had a good arm, so the base coach held me up with a triple—only my second on a Flint softball diamond. I soon scored, and before the dust had settled, we were up 4-0. The other team couldn’t get their bats going this time, and we piled up our lead. When we finished the fifth inning, we were up 11-4.
The sun was setting, and it was getting dark fast. There had been the expectation that we’d play just five innings due to the light conditions. This was going to be, in my opinion, a major upset for us.
Well, one side of the field wasn’t too happy about that. As you can imagine, it wasn’t our side. The ump, who said earlier that he probably was going to call it after the fifth, now merely said, play ball.
We groused a bit. It wasn’t impossible, but it was getting difficult to see the ball, and we had the disadvantage of being in the field in the bottom half of the inning, which, of course is later—and a little bit darker—than when we batted.
Well, this HAD to be the last inning. We didn’t get any runs, and their balls started to find the holes—or we had more trouble seeing the ball than we thought we would. In any event, we got out of the inning still ahead 11-7. And that really should have been that.
It wasn’t. Doug argued with the ump. We can’t see the ball any more. The ump said nothing but play ball.
At this point it was obvious what was going on. When I said one side wasn’t happy about the decision to call the game early, you’ll note I didn’t say one TEAM. The other team might have wanted to play longer, considering they perhaps they could rally to win—particularly in the dark—but they didn’t say much about it. It’s just a softball game, right?
Their wives and girlfriends, however, had been riding the ump since the fourth inning, and their complaints had a definite racial tinge to it, saying that they were being robbed by a white ump helping out the white team. (We had two black guys on our team.) Believe it or not, they invoked the name Malice Green.
Malice Green, for those of you who forgot, was the Rodney King of Detroit—beaten to death by Detroit cops in 1992. (Save your outrage; I know there were mitigating factors.) Pearl Jam wrote this very song with Malice Green in mind.
This was outrageous. Really? You’re going to compare a softball game to a murderous beating? Yes, they were. By the sixth inning, even the guys on that team were turning around and telling the women to the shut the hell up.
But it worked: The ump clearly was intimidated, and we were just going to have to win the game in seven innings if we were to win at all. I don’t have the best eyes, and when we took the field in the bottom of the seventh, I couldn’t see the ball come off the bat—as in at all.
Softball never should be a matter of life and death. Like I said, these guys could hit the hell out of the ball, and I wasn’t about to take a line drive off the old pumpkin. I backed up until I more or less played second base from short right field. Any ground ball hit to me was going to be a single.
To no one’s surprise, the other team came back and won the game, scoring the tying and winning runs when our right fielder dropped a ball hit right to him because he couldn’t see it.
As you might suspect, the ump got out of there as soon as he could, and the post-game handshake was subdued, but instead of just saying “good game,” the other team kept saying “sorry.” They knew the truth, even if the women didn’t: It was just a softball game, or at least it should have been.
Even after the win had been secured, the women still were bitching in the parking lot about the game and still comparing it to Malice Green. My guess is Malice Green would have thought: Gee, overreact much?
Anyway, the next spring, as luck would have it, we played the same team in the opening game of the season. This time we had sunlight for the entire game. We won 10-5.