Lucky Strike Green was home from the War and so was Dubble Bubble gum. You could buy pink Spaldeens again too, but for ten cents now instead of the pre-War nickel. There weren’t many new cars on the streets yet, so there was still plenty of room for punch ball, stickball, association football and all our other games.
We thought the end of the War meant that all war was over forever. We didn’t know that our envoys had agreed to divide Korea along the 38th parallel, that the Soviets had put Kim Il-Sung in charge north of the parallel, or that he intended to reunify the peninsula under communist control. Even if we had known we wouldn’t have imagined that any of that could have any effect upon any of us.
In fall and winter we played roller hockey and association football. Starting in March we switched to punch ball and stickball. Marble season started the Saturday after Halloween, but stoop ball was all year round. The only thing that stopped stoop ball was too much snow on the ground.
We followed the usual rules: one infielder, one outfielder; nine inning games; if the ball hit the sidewalk you hit from, got caught before it bounced, or went outside the foul lines, you were out. One bounce was a single, two a double, etc. If you hit the wall of the building across the street on the fly and the ball didn’t get caught before it hit the ground it was a home run. Imaginary base runners advanced one base on a single, two on a double.
The only difference was that, instead of a stoop, we hit off the S-shaped cornices that ran three feet above the sidewalk on the wall of the 88th Street side of 575 West End Avenue. They were perfect for hitting–white seven-inch-high S-curves that extended out from the face of the wall between the ground floor windows. If you hit the sweet spot on the convex part of the cornice, the ball shot out on a clothesline too high to catch before it hit 585 on the other side of 88th. Hit above the sweet spot and you either popped up or the ball hit above the third floor of 585 and was easy to catch as it bounced off. Hit the concave part of the S and the ball went to the infield.
Just as 575 was perfect for hitting, 585 was perfect to have in the outfield. It had crenulations up to the third floor that made the ball bounce off in fluky ways outfielders couldn’t predict. Matt –tall, big hands, good jumper, stood with his back to 585 ready to jump, or turn, back away and catch the rebound. He was our best outfielder, but had a weak arm and couldn’t hit.
The two hardest guys to get out were Blue Book and Esau. Blue Book hit with a submarine motion, and could usually drop in singles unless Nate who’d been a soccer goalie in Switzerland and had the fastest hands on the block, was playing the infield.
Esau was our hardest thrower. He hit straight-down from so close to the wall he sometimes skinned his knuckles. Spaldeens were very lively. Bounce one on the sidewalk and it would go up to the third floor. When Esau hit the point at the bottom of the cornice the spaldeen rocketed off going ninety and bounced two inches past the edge of the sidewalk. Nate had to play back in the middle of the street just to hold him to a single.
When Blue Book and Esau were on the same team, they’d load the bases with singles the first few times they got up, then either go for homers or keep singling runners in until they got fifteen runs ahead and won by the slaughter rule. If Esau had been taller and a better outfielder, he might have been Number One in Blue Book’s Stoop Ball Hall of Fame. As it was, he only made it on his hitting.