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'It had to be a UFO' (Strange but true baseball story) ^ | RYAN O'LEARY

Posted on 02/18/2008 10:00:17 AM PST by no nau

It is not yet known at what point the citizens of Key West opted to repeal the laws of gravity that govern the rest of us.

But it appears the decision was made on or before Aug. 6, 1974.

It was on that day that America's southernmost community apparently opted to spit in Sir Isaac Newton's face.

On that serene and surreal evening, the forces of nature (and perhaps some other forces, depending on whom you ask) converged with our national pastime on the corner of the Bermuda Triangle, crafting a moment that, in terms of sheer oddity, may have no peer in baseball lore.

Some eyewitnesses have told the story hundreds of times to thousands of people. Most listeners refuse to believe it. Reporters and baseball historians have never taken it seriously enough to run with it -- perhaps in part because one of those present doesn't recall it even happening.

Can't really blame any of them. The tale is, in a word, unbelievable. And it's been buried among baseball's most obscure X-Files for nearly 29 years.

But apparently, it did happen.

It was, at first, a typical Tuesday evening at Wickers Field, a quirky quadrangular bandbox with room for 1,000 spectators. The Key West Conchs, a Class A Cubs affiliate with the worst record in professional baseball (32-79) at the time, were hosting the St. Petersburg Cardinals in a Florida State League game. The Cards came in at 55-57, led by a can't-miss prospect by the name of Garry Templeton.

The Conchs managed a 7-4 victory on this night, scoring three runs in the bottom of the eighth to secure the win for pitcher Donnie Moore in his final game with the team.

Strangely enough, nobody in attendance can remember that part. Most of the players don't even remember who won the game.

But they remember Newton being exposed as a Floridian fraud.

By the time the first pitch was thrown, twilight and fog had joined in a slow dance above the islands, creating a backdrop that St. Petersburg left fielder Ernie Rosseau still describes as "eerie."

Considering the ghost stories that have come out of Key West over the years, eerie may have been par for the course.

Only one reporter was at Wickers that evening -- Eric Lincoln of the St. Petersburg Times. Since his account of this event, a three-paragraph aside in a larger piece on the Key West baseball experience, is the only one known to exist, we'll let him tell the tale.

We join Lincoln in the bottom of the first inning, with Lonny Kruger on the mound for the visitors:

...Joe Wallis, the Key West right fielder, hits a high fly ball that seems to be drifting toward the glove of the Cardinal right fielder, John Crider. But the wind is gusting at more than 20 knots and the ball seems to disappear as it falls into its final closing arc.

Crider ducks. He has lost sight of the ball. Jimmy Williams, the Cardinal second baseman, races to his assistance. He ducks, placing both hands over his head for protection. The center fielder, Claudell Crockett, is on the scene with his hands held outward as if to say, 'Well, where the hell is it?'

Templeton, now the manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats, was playing shortstop for St. Petersburg that day. He was among those who drifted toward the play to provide assistance -- or try to.

"I took off running for it because I thought I had a shot at it," Templeton said. "It was like a popup to right center. Next thing I know, everyone's running around like chickens with their heads cut off."

Wallis, meanwhile, doesn't hear an umpire call the ball foul, and he sees no one make a play, so he tentatively makes his way around the bases.

He crosses home plate with nine frantic Cardinals flapping their wings behind him.

Nobody ever saw the ball come down.

"It was a weird feeling," Kruger said. "The second baseman's thinking he's going to have a play, the right fielder's thinking he's going to have a play, and the guy winds up getting a home run out of it."

Home run?

The baseball was nowhere to be found -- so the umpires convened and handed down their ruling based on what little evidence they had: Wallis circled the bases safely, nobody caught the ball and nobody saw it go foul.

Home run.

While Key West players rolled around their dugout in laughter, according to Rosseau, the Cardinals argued against the call. Despite a lengthy plea, the case was thrown out.

"There was a big argument," Templeton said. "The players were arguing pretty good and our manager went berserk. ... I don't have a damn clue where it went, but it wasn't a home run."

To this day, no one has stepped forward to explain where the ball landed -- if it ever did.

Wickers was surrounded by a macadam parking lot, some scrub oak and a few palm trees. Nobody heard a kerplunk, a splat, the rustle of branches or the shattering of glass. People searched the area all evening and found nothing.

"Nobody knows what happened," said Rosseau, now the baseball coach at Brevard Community College in Florida. "From the fans to the coaches, umps. ... No one knew.

"They estimated that it went out of the park, but that's impossible."

"Players don't just go toward a ball, where they think it's going to land, and nothing lands," agreed teammate Tito Landrum, who later won back-to-back World Series rings with St. Louis and Baltimore.

So where did the ball go?

"It went up and never came down," Rosseau said. "Nobody can give me an explanation."

There may be no legitimate explanation, but everyone has theories.

"It had to be a UFO that got that ball," Templeton said.

Or maybe a ghost? If you believe local residents, that wouldn't be a first.

During the game, Lincoln recalls speaking with Dr. Julian DePoo, an elderly Cuban expatriate and a friend of Key West's favorite son, Ernest Hemingway. DePoo was the Conchs' owner.

"Papa has that ball," the old man told Lincoln, referring to the legendary author. "His spirit is everywhere around here. He took that one home."

Someone -- or, more likely, something -- took that ball. But who, or what? And where did they take it?

"Obviously, when you think of Key West, you think of the Bermuda Triangle," Rosseau said.

And when you think of the Bermuda Triangle, you think of strange disappearances. This would certainly seem to qualify as such.

But with Wickers set almost one mile inland, it's not possible.

Or is it?

None of the eyewitnesses recall a particularly windy evening -- but keep in mind that these folks are half a lifetime removed from that night. The mind tends to collect dust over the long haul. So when Lincoln's account, which ran a mere 12 days after the fact, says that winds were gusting at 20 knots, it's fair to assume that this is close to the truth.

One of the writer's theories was that trade winds took the ball out to sea. Officials at the National Weather Service in Key West, none of whom were willing to put their speculations on the record, said that Lincoln's thought was a bit far-fetched.

Then again, it's no more of a stretch than any other possibility.

Eyewitness accounts and hypotheses differ -- but there is one common thread that ties everyone's memories together.

Everybody who remembers what happened at Wickers Field that August evening, without exception, still says that it was the most peculiar thing they ever saw in their baseball lives.

"It's hard to top that in terms of weirdness," Kruger said.

"It had to be the strangest thing I've ever seen," Templeton agreed.

"Nothing even comes close," Rosseau added.

Which might be why this story has gone nearly 29 years without being printed -- no one else believes it.

Unless they were there to see it, that is.

"I was mentioning the story once in the dugout in St. Louis," Landrum said. "No one believed me. And then a voice comes from the other side of the dugout. 'It happened. I was there.'"

Landrum's Cardinal teammate, Bruce Sutter, verified the story. Sutter was in the Key West dugout when it happened.

Had he not spoken up, Landrum may have been hauled out of St. Louis in a straitjacket.

Oddly enough, Lincoln's Key West feature devoted more time to Moore's departure than it did to Wallis' eternal popup.

But in a way, that makes sense. The story, much like the ball itself, has essentially remained hidden for the better part of three decades, and a lot of memories have faded over time.

Landrum recalls playing center field that day for the Cards. But both of the box scores in existence -- from the St. Petersburg Times and the Key West Citizen -- have Landrum in the dugout. Crockett was in center. Key West manager Q.V. Lowe doesn't even remember the incident at all.

Some pieces of the puzzle were forgotten immediately.

The Citizen's game story on August 7 said that Wallis' homer cleared the right-field wall, but according to everyone else involved, the ball never got there.

Key West's story has no byline -- again, the only reporter in attendance was Lincoln -- so the best guess is that the Citizen made one assumption too many from reading a press release.

The Times ran a very brief account of the game on Aug. 8, with no mention of the disappearing ball. Only in Lincoln's Key West feature, which didn't go to press until Aug. 18, is the story documented.

And it hasn't been told in full until now.

"Obviously, not too many people saw it," Kruger said. "If it had happened in the major leagues, it would be a very different story."

Instead, it happened at a Florida State League game in front of fewer than 1,000 people.

But it's still a very different story.

TOPICS: Sports; UFO's; Weird Stuff
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1 posted on 02/18/2008 10:00:18 AM PST by no nau
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To: no nau

that’s it. aliens abducted roger clemens and...

2 posted on 02/18/2008 10:05:54 AM PST by the invisib1e hand
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To: no nau
Cool, let's blame non-existent wormhole-traveling space monsters for losing a baseball.

Since non-existent space monsters can manipulate baseball games, perhaps they can next manipulate our presidential election so that a conservative candidate magically appears and wins in November.
3 posted on 02/18/2008 10:07:33 AM PST by mysterio
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To: no nau

Interesting story.

FWIW, Tito’s aunt & uncle lived only a few blocks away.
I used to buy most of my gas from his aunt. This is the first I’ve heard about this one. {but I’m not doubting anyone’s word}

4 posted on 02/18/2008 10:14:43 AM PST by labette
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To: no nau; The Spirit Of Allegiance

The obvious explanation is that the ball entered an access gap flux node of the western parabolic curve entry gate of the parallel time space continuum warp of the Bermuda triangle.

5 posted on 02/18/2008 10:17:12 AM PST by Rennes Templar ("The future ain't what it used to be".........Yogi Berra)
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To: no nau

Flying Spaghetti Monster

6 posted on 02/18/2008 10:17:24 AM PST by Hazcat (We won an immigration BATTLE, the WAR is not over. Be ever vigilant.)
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To: no nau

Great story! Thanks for the post!

7 posted on 02/18/2008 10:18:41 AM PST by JennysCool (They all say they want change, but they’re really after folding money.)
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To: Hazcat

It’s up on the roof, stuck in the gutter. Get the Frisbee while you’re up there.

8 posted on 02/18/2008 10:18:59 AM PST by massgopguy (I owe everything to George Bailey)
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To: no nau

Pelican was flying above the fog layer... saw the ball fly up and thought it was a fish... pelican catches ball and flies off.

9 posted on 02/18/2008 10:22:45 AM PST by So Cal Rocket
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To: no nau

So, no one saw the big seagull?

10 posted on 02/18/2008 10:26:37 AM PST by wrench
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To: Rennes Templar; LexBaird; mikrofon; martin_fierro; lowbridge; trooprally; Larry Lucido; ...
Nothing mysterious here. Game called on account of albatross.

It caught the ball in the air, thinking it was a fly. Who gives a hoot owl now anyway?

Or, since this was baseball, maybe it was a Giant Bat...

Pun for All and All for Pun....
Funners & Punners
ping list PING! (see keyword FReePun)
If you want either on or off
this family-safe occasional ping list,
you must be out of your minds....

I don't ping the list to threads that are sacreligious or tacky or seem likely to become so.
(on or off requests, just FReepmail, enclosing a nominal $217.95 list processing fee).

11 posted on 02/18/2008 10:27:14 AM PST by The Spirit Of Allegiance (Public Employees: Honor Your Oaths! Defend the Constitution from Enemies--Foreign and Domestic!)
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To: mysterio
Since non-existent space monsters can manipulate baseball games, perhaps they can next manipulate our presidential election so that a conservative candidate magically appears and wins in November.

Pfft. Space aliens are liberals. Always forcing people to do things they don't want to, jambing things into their behinds, attacking ranchers, etc.
12 posted on 02/18/2008 10:44:11 AM PST by Jaysun (It's outlandishly inappropriate to suggest that I'm wrong.)
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To: no nau

Because there's no more baseball in the 24th century...

13 posted on 02/18/2008 10:44:41 AM PST by mikrofon (Cmdr. Sisko - ST:DS9)
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To: no nau

Great story and funny solutions.

14 posted on 02/18/2008 10:45:23 AM PST by mtbopfuyn (The fence is "absolutely not the answer" - Gov. Rick Perry (R, TX))
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To: no nau

The best plausible NATURAL explanation I can come up with is...between the fog and the wind, everyone lost track of the ball and it fell in a spot where *nobody* was looking. It sounds like it was a very moist atmosphere, and if the ball hit some soggy soil, it may have just plopped there without a bounce and not much of a sound. Additionally, fog greatly muffles sound, which is another plausible explanation of why it wasn’t heard.

The idea that everyone looked all over and couldn’t find a baseball anywhere in the vicinity of a ballpark during and immediately after a baseball game is, of course, ridiculous. Unless, that is, we’re supposed to believe that they were only playing with 1 baseball. Obviously, they weren’t since the game continued after the pop-fly “disappeared”. No doubt there were various baseballs in the dugouts, perhaps by gloves on field along the fence/wall, such as where the bullpens might have been.

In light of these facts, again, I think the ball landed in a spot where nobody was looking. All eyes were probably on the fielders chasing the ball, but they were probably in the wrong spot. Well, obviously they were. On a clear day, everyone would be watching the ball as well, but with the fog, NOBODY could see the ball, so the only thing to watch was the fielders. While the players were running around, yelling, it’s quite possible the ball could have fallen harmlessly near a wall, fence, or dugout by a glove or rolled a few feet to such a spot after hitting the ground. I don’t know the field, but maybe it rolled UNDER the stands.

Maybe it hit a bird in mid-air before coming down, making it really go off course from where the fielders were expecting it. Maybe a big bird caught it in the fog and flew away with it.

I can come up with many natural scenarios which could possibly account for the missing baseball. It might seem like a stretch, but I’ll believe that before I believe it was the BT or a ghost.

You want a good baseball trivia question? How about this can a team pull off a triple play WITHOUT EVER TOUCHING THE BALL?

Supposedly this happened in a minor league game a long time ago as well. Might win yourself a bet or 2 with this one, as most will say it’s impossible.

15 posted on 02/18/2008 10:47:05 AM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: The Spirit Of Allegiance

Thanks for the ping!

16 posted on 02/18/2008 11:02:07 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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Hmmm... runners on first and second and nobody out... hitter pops up and is automatically out via the Infield Fly Rule... ball falls untouched in front of the shortstop... the runner on first, confused, starts running and passes the runner standing on second... so the runner on first is out for passing a runner in front of him... runner on second panics and starts running to third, and runs into the ball before the shortstop can play it... third out.

How’s that?

17 posted on 02/18/2008 11:03:34 AM PST by So Cal Rocket
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Runners on first and second, no outs. Batter hits into an infield fly rule out. Runner on first accidentally passes runner on second, out for overtaking the runner. Then the man at second is struck by the fly ball as it lands, so he's out too. No fielder touched the ball.

I'm with you on the missing ball. That field (especially a minor league field) is COVERED with stray baseballs, especially out around the bullpens (if they're out in the outfield). It just landed where nobody expected and was mistaken for just another stray ball. It's like "The Purloined Letter" - it was hiding in plain sight.

18 posted on 02/18/2008 11:06:27 AM PST by AnAmericanMother ((Ministrix of Ye Chase, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment)))
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To: So Cal Rocket

You beat me (I went to check Rule 7!)

19 posted on 02/18/2008 11:06:59 AM PST by AnAmericanMother ((Ministrix of Ye Chase, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment)))
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To: no nau

wasted away again in margaritaville

20 posted on 02/18/2008 11:08:40 AM PST by kingattax (99 % of liberals give the rest a bad name)
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