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Hustle Fixation: A Play in One Act

New St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ryan Theriot poses for a picture prior to the 2011 season.
New St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ryan Theriot poses for a picture prior to the 2011 season.



TONY LA RUSSA, who is seeing
THE GHOST OF ROSS BARNES, who is being seen by
RYAN THERIOT, who is seeing
THE LEAGUE OF GRIT, who is pointedly not seeing
THE MASKED SHORTSTOP, who is just too tall. 


THE SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST has seen a number of strange cases in his day. He's the sports psychologist who convinced an 18-year-old Rick Ankiel he should give pitching a shot. He suggested to Joe Morgan that maybe he was so resentful because he wanted to be in Moneyball. He recently told David Freese that the ankle problems were psychosomatic, which he's beginning to regret. 

But he has never seen a case quite like TONY LA RUSSA.

PSYCHOLOGIST: So you hustled, yourself. 

LA RUSSA: I don't know why we keep going back to this. Yes, I hustled. I scrapped until I was so covered in grit that it was only the bigness of my heart that kept me going. If we're going to—this just doesn't seem relevant to me. 

PSYCHOLOGIST: Well—I. I'm going to show you some baseball cards, and I just want you to tell me the first thing you think about when you see them. Is that all right?

LA RUSSA: Yeah, I love this thing—with the sex pictures, right? Go on. [Mike Gallego] Playing the game the right way, definitely. [Joe McEwing] Heart. Out the wazoo. [Ryan Theriot] Just doing the things that don't show up in the box score, you know? [Aaron Miles] Oh, that's two guys doing it. 



LA RUSSA: Sorry, you were holding it upside-down. That's true grit. John Wayne true grit, not Coen brothers true grit. 

PSYCHOLOGIST: Now I want you to tell me what you see when I show you—this. [The PSYCHOLOGIST produces a gem mint 1970 TONY LA RUSSA card.] 

LA RUSSA: I see a—a failure. A six-foot tall failure. I thought it was the gritty move to falsify your listed height, but once they saw that on my baseball card I was done for good.


LA RUSSA: I've already said too much. I—I think I'm finally making some progress, doc. It's starting to make sense to me, now. I need to impress them, so I've been hiring them, but really I—I just want to have been one of them. Doc?

[THE PSYCHOLOGIST is distracted because two ghosts have appeared at the doorway. THE GHOST OF CHRISTY MATHEWSON appears to be explaining something to THE GHOST OF ROSS BARNES, who doesn't seem especially impressed by it.] 

MATHEWSON: I say, friend La Russa, that it is I! The Ghost of Christy Mathewson! Here once more to offer a steadying hand on the Perfecto tiller! Why—I'd like to swear an oath, Barnes, the Sicilian appears to have ignored me as though I were a racketeering law...

BARNES: I knew he wouldn't be able to see us, Nancy.

MATHEWSON: Christy. Or Matty. Or—why is it he can't see us, Barnes? 

BARNES: I can sense a man of eighteen hands from fifty furlongs!—we're on league business, Mathewson, and in-visible to this six-footed impostor! Get me to the Cajun, that I may teach him the ways of the League of Grit. 

PSYCHOLOGIST: You—you're not hearing the two English gents behind you?

LA RUSSA: I only wish I were.

MATHEWSON: Englishmen? You re-prehensible cur, you, ha, ha, Freudian Fraud, you—sure as Captain Matty's an American I'll—[BARNES, looking a little disgusted, vanishes them both.] 


[RYAN THERIOT has never been inside the Cardinals locker room, and he was surprised, when he poked around this afternoon, to see that it wasn't empty. THE MASKED SHORTSTOP, emerging from a dark corner of the  introduced himself and suggested he pull up a chair.]

SHORTSTOP: Yeah, I was just really excited to meet you, is all. I was wondering if you could, you know, tell me your plans. What positions you like to play, how you feel about Skip Schumaker, whatever. Do you like videogames?

THERIOT: I, ah— [THERIOT jumps, as though he has seen a ghost. THE MASKED SHORTSTOP does nothing, as though he has seen Joel Pineiro.]

SHORTSTOP: Joel! How've you been! It's me, the—the masked shortstop!

BARNES: That man's 18 and a half hands sure as I'm Charles Roscoe Barnes! What's he doing here, Cajun?

SHORTSTOP: Are you a ghost? I think I saw you hanging around Aaron Miles's locker a few years ago. I see ghosts basically all the time, it's no big deal. I was the last person to see Brad Penny alive, and then the first person to see Brad Penny dead.

MATHEWSON: It's—it's nice to see you again, Mr. Shortstop. What-say you and the old Pop-Gun of Rio Piedras "chew the fat", "as-it-were", in the visiting team's parlor? [They depart.]

BARNES: Cajun, I think you know why I'm here.

THERIOT: Commander Barnes. [THERIOT gives a stiff bow.]

BARNES: I've been sent here especially by the League to educate you in the fine art of slobber-knockery. I have prepared a list of methods with which I assume you are familiar, starting with the fair-foul bunt—

THERIOT: Not legal anymore.

BARNES: Not legal—why, I daresay I do not know whether to be more concerned with your respect for the law or the fact that the most dangerous play in base ball has been out-lawed! I once bunted a ball so foul that the other team's catching-stop collapsed of exhaustion chasing it behind the grandstand! Now, then, if I could just see your bunting-bat I am proud enough to say no White, Italians excepted, has ever shaved a flat bat so successfully as I—

THERIOT: Also banned.

BARNES: Garfield's corpse this boils my blood. Are your spikes sharp?

THERIOT: I'm more a rubber-spike guy.

BARNES: Have you practiced the Baltimore Chop? The Troy Harangue? The Providence Icepick? The Keokuk Guillotine?

THERIOT: Are those all places?

BARNES: I daresay the League will hear about this. Just open your locker that I may see that your revolver is in order and you and I will go down to "Old "Hoss's"" saloon and learn all about—

BARNES: By Franz Mesmer's god-forsaken whiskers I am beginning to suspect you aren't carrying a revolver. Just what did the League tell you about grittiness upon completion of the initiation rites? Or did the cat-o-nine-tails make you deaf? Dickey Pearce and "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson made me so delirious I thought for some time that I had joined the freemasons.

THERIOT: I just went into their offices and they told me to go out there and play hard every day and give these guys all that I've got. Other than that I pretty much just play baseball.

BARNES: God's teeth, they've turned you all into Nancy Mathewson. Go volunteer at the orphan-yard, Cajun, or however it is you spend your sober hours. I'm going to see if that masked short-stop can stoop. I once saw a man dressed just like him wrestle an orangutan behind a tenement in the Five Points. That's true grit. Orangutan-fighting true grit, not John Wayne true grit.

SHORTSTOP: Did you know that orangutans have been known to use tools to escape from their enclosures?

MATHEWSON: Fascinating!

BARNES: I'm leaving. None of you follow me.