Bill Christine’s Al Oliver Story

Maybe we need to write a little amendment to Wee Willie Keeler’s early 20th century line about how to get a hit. Remember that one? Willie said, “Hit ’em where they ain’t!”

What? But how can they be true all the time?

If a ball falls safely to the ground without every being touched by a fielder, as Alex Bregman’s home plate pop fly did Saturday for the Astros, and no fielder has even come close to touching it, that’s a hit – right?

Not in every case – as Wee Willie’s axiom clearly states. – Nope. The rules point to instances in which balls fall safely, but should have been caught. And the rule intention is unmistakable by implication. – You don’t give a batter credit for a hit he doesn’t deserve. – You don’t leave a fielder blameless for a ball he should have handled. – And you don’t hang a loss on a pitcher at the same time by calling the winning score that resulted “a hit” – making it the producer of an earned run that also hikes the ERA of the pitcher who did nothing to deserve the extra discredit.

All those violations of the rules resulted from the Hosmer Play call. Astros batter Bregman got credit for a game-winning hit he did not earn. Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer got off the hook for a pop fly ball fall to earth he should have caught. And the San Diego pitcher took both the game lose and a hike in his ERA because the play was ruled a hit.

Then legendary Pittsburgh Pirate official game scorer Bill Christine found out about it from the Pecan Park Eagle and all of the national media that were also hitting the Hosmer Play story like a swarm of Gulf Coast mosquitoes slamming into the bug zappers of our fair city every July.

Our local scorer had given Bregman a hit and an RBI. “No way” was the tempered essence of Christine’s appraisal. He also provided documentable support from the official rules of baseball in not form:

“NOTE (2) It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs or a pop fly falls untouched and in the scorer’s judgment the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, an error shall be charged.”

He also called the Bregman/hit, Hosmer/no error call in three spartan sentences what he thought of it:

“There have been some bad official-scoring decisions over the years. I even committed a few myself. But this is the worst of all-time.”

Larry Dierker also added his own implicit comment of support in one sparse, but clearly written sentence:

“That was an error on Hosmer. Period!”

Saturday, April 6. 2018, Minute Maid Park, Houston.
Eric Hosmer stands in front of his missed pop fly, but is not charged with an error on the play that cost the Padres the game in the bottom of the 10th to the Astros, 1-0.

Then I awaken this pre-crack of dawn Monday morning to this wonderful follow up story from Bill Christine about his own personal experience with former Pirate outfielder Al Oliver when he once had to apply the correct interpretation of the rule on a play from a game with the Braves when the two mental Atlanta middle infielders were both “Hosmerized” by a ball hit up the middle that fell safely when both men deferred to each other for any catching to be done. And neither did. The ball fell safe. And Oliver had reached first base safely.Thinking he had a hit.

Here’s how Bill Christine describes the rest of the ride – once Al Oliver gets the ruling and decides that Christine has taken a hit away from him.

Bill Christine’s Al Oliver Story

Al Oliver, a hothead but a helluva ballplayer, is batting for the Pirates on a Friday night in Pittsburgh.

He hits a dying swan just over second base, high enough for both the second baseman and the shortstop of the Atlanta Braves to converge. They might have been Felix Millan and Sonny Jackson.

This is an old story.

The two infielders look at one another as the ball drops. In this morality play, Millan plays Alphonse and Jackson plays Gaston.

Oliver, loafing all the way, is safe at first base.

In the press box, Official Scorer Bill Christine intones into the mike: “That’s an error. I’ll call down to the Atlanta dugout when they come in, to see if somebody will take the blame.”

Oliver, doing a not-so-slow boil, trots out to his position at the end of the inning. He thinks he’s been jobbed out of a hit. He’s going to hit .312 instead of .313.

In the Atlanta dugout, there’s no problem. One of the Braves’ infielders volunteers a mea culpa. “Give me the error,” he says.

The Braves end their at bat, and Oliver returns to the dugout. He picks up the phone and gets Christine in the press box.

“That was a f-in hit,” he yells. “You’re taking money away from me.”

“The rulebook says nobody has to touch it,” Christine says. “I could have caught that ball if I had been out there.”

“I wanna see you in the f-in runway after the game,” Oliver says.

No hero, no dummy, Christine says:

“I won’t be there.”

“You’re not a f-in man if you’re not down here,” Oliver says.

“I don’t care what it makes me, I’m not gonna be there,” Christine says.

“Start without me.”

“F-U,” Oliver says, and hangs up.

The next afternoon, before a day game, the Pirates are taking batting practice. Christine is around the batting cage, and he can’t help hearing Oliver still grumbling about the hit-error call the night before. But Oliver doesn’t go over and confront the scorer.

Roberto Clemente pulls the still-steaming Oliver aside. Clemente knew the rulebook inside out. He’s worried that Oliver will spend the rest of the day cursing Christine instead of concentrating on

that afternoon’s pitcher.

“You know,” Clemente says to Oliver, “I don’t agree with that guy a lot of the time. But he’s right this time. It’s in the rules. That wasn’t a hit.”

“No shit,” Oliver says.

The following spring, Bill Virdon is managing the Pirates. The club is leaving its Florida training base for a few games in Venezuela.

Before a get-away exhibition game, Christine and Virdon are talking in Virdon’s ballpark office.

“OK if I leave my suitcase next to yours in here?” Christine says. “They won’t forget yours, and if mine’s next to yours, I should be OK.”

“Sure,” Virdon says.”Go right ahead.”

Christine starts to leave, and as he reaches the door, Virdon has an after thought and calls out:

“Hey, Bill.”

“Yeah?” says Christine, turning around in his tracks at the door.

“Maybe,” Virdon says,”you better ask Oliver if it’s all right.”


Oh well. If young Alex Bregman goes on to have the long MLB career he appears prepared to handle – and if hits a career .300 on the nose, many of us will remember where he got the extra hit he needed to get there by the rounding up of his precise BA from its previously deficit mark of .2994.



Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle



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