Lolita Ruth had to concentrate. The New York Equals had to lose this baseball game to go to the World Equity Series. It was a cold, cloudy evening, in October. A steady breeze blew in from left field. Lolita rubbed her hands together to get them warm and then wound up for the delivery. The pitch, off the fingers of av’s left hand, was almost down the middle, slow at only 71 MPH and almost completely straight. It was a major league baseball hitter’s dream pitch, easy to hit, drive and power over the wall for a home run. The batter didn’t swing. Av’s bat didn’t move. Av was taking all the way.
“ Strike one,” shouted the umpire.
It was the last game of the season between the New York Equals, the successor team to the 31 times World Champion, New York Yankees, and the Seattle Equals, successors to the one time World Champion, Seattle Mariners. The uniforms of both teams had light and dark grey stripes. Being the home team, the New York Equals had vertical stripes and a huge equal sign on the back of their jersey. Seattle, being the away team, had horizontal grey stripes with the word “DIFERENCES” struck out on the back of their jersey. Of course, there were no names or numbers on the uniforms.
Lolita’s second pitch was even slower and straighter than the first and right down the middle. Again, av didn’t swing.
The two equity umpires, 8743 and 3248, whose names were hidden, even from each other, so that no one could bribe them to not enforce equal and fair play rules, were watching from their separate concealed suites. They were tasked to make sure no one was cheating, which was most often done by intentionally playing poorly. They had seen this combination of easy pitches not being swung at, many times. It was often hard to tell intentional cheating from incompetence. These After Equity players could be so uninspiring, 8743 thought. But in this case, it was clear. Neither the batter, nor the pitcher, seemed to be trying at all. Both 8743 and 3248 hit their yellow “competition suspicious” button. Since they agreed, a yellow competition caution light went up on the scoreboard. They’d need more definite proof of cheating before they both hit the red “likely cheating” button, which would force them to take serious action. They hoped the warning would be sufficient.
Lolita saw the yellow light on the scoreboard and thought what the heck? More violent thought had been discouraged since the After Equity Era, usually denoted the A. E. Era, began. Lolita was a firm supporter of the Equity. Only two pitches and they’ve turned on the competition light. They’re really serious. What do I have to do to let this player get on base and score? They’ll turn on the red light if I make it too easy. Lolita called the catcher, Hector, to the pitcher’s mound for a conference.
Hector walked to the mound slowly, not sure how they should handle the situation. After all, the yellow light might be for the batter, not the pitcher, but they’d need to figure out what to do next.
Hector recalled their manager, Sylvia’s, talk before the game. Both the New York and Seattle teams had the same record of 82 wins and 81 losses. The team that lost this game would have a perfectly equal, 82 win, 82 loss season and have a chance to play in the World Equity Series. It would be the team’s first appearance.
“It’s going to be hard,” Sylvia said, “because even if we lose and have a perfect equal record, the Miami Equals have an 81 win, 82 loss record. If they win, they’ll not only have a perfect 82, 82 even record but will be more average in the five tie breaking categories and will go to the World Equity Series. Our only hope is that both we and Miami lose. That game starts an hour before ours, so we’ll be able to see how it goes.”
Team members often had personal goals that conflicted with their team goals. Players were paid based on how average they were. The more average, the higher the pay. Lolita could win this year’s Most Average Pitcher Award by pitching a complete game shutout. If av did that the New York Equals would win their game and thus be out of the World Series.
Joseph Jones, better known as Average Joe, of the Seattle Equals, was the four-time Most Average Player Award winner. Av could win this year’s Most Average Player Award by hitting a home run. If av did, Seattle might win the game and thus would be out of the World Equity Series. Both Lolita and Joe tried to put these disturbing facts out of their minds. They were team players.
In the broadcast booth, the two radio announcers, who referred to each other as One and One-A were calling the game. “It’s um a kind of important game,” said One.
“Two sort of evenly matched teams, well that’s what I well think well anyway,” said One-A.
“Looks like a conference on the um mound. We should um go to commercial.”
“Well, I forgot who the next commercial, well, is for …”
When Hector got to the mound, Lolita said, “What a marvelous job you did singing the A. E. Anthem. You’re the best singer I ever heard.”
“Take it back. I will not be called a singing super star.”
“I’m sorry. It just slipped out. I didn’t mean to insult you. You, at least, have earned the singular pronoun av for, average.”
“Thanks for the compliment. I do like to sing. Too bad, I tested so high. But I’m happy. It’s much more equitable to have people do what they’re average at.”
“Yeah and for us, average was baseball. You do sing well though.”
“How can you tell it was good? The Star Spangled Banner was hard to sing but the A. E. Anthem is easy. No high or low notes, no loud or soft sections and no key changes. Any old av can sing it well.”
“Still I Iike the words,” said Hector. “The song has no drama and little poetry. Just what we’re aiming for.”
We live in a perfect world today
Equal is Equity; Equity is Equal
No divisions, no false pride
No one swims against the tide
Before Equity – everything was bad
After Equity – everyone is glad
All praise Equity; All hail Equal-ableness
A. E. After Equity Forever,
A. E. After Equity Forever,
A. E. Forever.
Lolita stomped her feet to keep warm. “It was the ten millionth best song of twenty million entries in the song contest. Just goes to show that everyone is average at something. It’s freezing today.“
“Yeah, we’ll have to make a decision soon.”
Sylvia, the New York Equals manager, who was watching Lolita and Hector talk from the top step of the dugout, was concerned. They should have decided what to do by now. Av strode out.
“How did you decide to pitch?” Sylvia demanded.
“Sorry, we were talking about music,” said Lolita. “I could just walk av.”
“Make it at least seem you’re trying. Don’t want to get a red competition light.”
“Yeah, then they’d throw out our worst player and make us play someone better. That would make it even more likely we’d win.”
“I think the yellow light was for the batter,” said Hector. Av didn’t swing at two easy pitches. Why don’t you give av one more easy one?”
“Too risky,” said Lolita. “Av could just not swing and it’d be an easy strike out.”
Up in the owner’s box, Audrey Steinbrenner, the descendant of George, was talking to av cousin, Ronald. “It’s starting already with the competition light. I’ve never seen it turned on so early. “
“I wonder which team they lit the yellow light for?”
“Equity judges are strange. Have you ever gotten one of them drunk and started asking how they make their decisions?”
“That is not recommended. We’re not even supposed to know who they are. Don’t let anyone know we’ve found out.”
“It was so much easier before equity. All you had to do then was win more games than the other teams.”
“The commissioner will be here in two minutes. Better not say that. Av might take our team away.”
“Small loss,“ said Ronald. “Attendance is down once again.”
“But so are injuries now that pitchers are forbidden to throw curves or fast. They’re so average they probably couldn’t do it anyway.”
“The worst is having to tell someone they can’t play because they’re too good.”
“The yelling when a talented person gets cut is awful. You’d think they didn’t believe in equity.”
“Some of the really talented don’t. There are some people who are good at everything.”
“How can you place such trash? There ought to be a law.”
On the field, the umpire walked to the mound to break up the conference. They’d decided to try to walk the batter. No such luck. Lolita missed and av’s pitch was over the plate. The batter, who still didn’t swing, was struck out.
Over the next innings the strategy of the two teams became clear. Each side had their pitcher throw easy to hit pitches, interspersed with lots of pitches way off the plate. The batters, who couldn’t risk striking out every time, sometimes had to swing. They didn’t want to get on base or score, so they took to softly tapping an easy to field ground ball at an infielder.
There was no scoring with two outs in the top of third when Average Joe stepped to the plate. Av batted ninth. Ninth was the most prestigious place bat because before the A.E. Era, the nine spot went to the worst batter. Now it was the place reserved for the most average batter on your team.
This was the first confrontation between the Lolita and Average Joe. Lolita was now so cold that av first pitch almost dribbled off of av’s fingers and bounced in front of the plate. The next pitch was so far outside that Hector couldn’t catch it. Good thing av threw that now. It will look more natural if av does it again with a runner at third. That would score them an easy run. The equity umps will never know.
When it was 3 balls and 2 strikes, Lolita threw a pitch three feet over Joe’s head, hoping to walk him. Joe jumped up, swung and missed. Strike three. “You’re out,” yelled the umpire.
Lolita could see Joe had a huge, taunting smirk. Before av could walk back to the dugout, Lolita saw the umpire say something to Joe.
Watching Joe swing at a pitch so far over his head, Equity judge 8743 thought Joe had to be cheating. Av pushed the red competition button. 8743 replied by hitting one of allowable explanation choices, “Cheating?” They only had twelve choices and couldn’t type in customized messages because they didn’t want to give away the judges identity based on their poor spelling or grammar. 3248 replied by hitting the key that said, “Not sure.” Since the two equity umpires couldn’t agree, the competition light on the scoreboard stayed yellow.
Up in the owner’s box, Audrey and Ronald continued talking. “Next season we should pull the outfield wall in another ten feet,” said Audrey. “That will make it fifty feet so far.”
“Being an average ball player is wonderful,” said Ronal, “but I’m starting to get terrified when I see my average doctor. Av wanted to be a painter but was too good, so they insisted av become a doctor. I told av, I’ve been dizzy lately. Know what av said?”
“How do you know you’re dizzy?” said Ronald. “Can you believe that stupidity?”
“Sounds like equity to me. Pipe down now. It’s the bottom of the sixth and Average Joe’s up again. We can’t let that damned av win the Most Average award. Strike him out.”
“There’s still no score. Let him hit the home run. Then we’ll lose the game and go to the World Series.”
“I forgot,” said Audrey. “The teams more important than any award.”
Hector went to the mound to talk to Lolita. “What should we do with Joe this time?”
“I’ll get him on base,” said Lolita. “I’ll throw right at his head.”
“You aren’t allowed to do that intentionally.”
“We’ve got to lose this game.”
“Don’t do it on the first pitch. Surprise av.”
Lolita started the first pitch, slow and outside. To av’s surprise, Joe didn’t swing. Lolita wondered what the umpire had said to av after av’s last at-bat. Joe must have been thinking about strategy too. Av couldn’t obviously cheat to get avself out.
Lolita considered what to do next. Av had it. Av threw the next pitch behind Joe’s head. To av’s complete surprise, Joe didn’t flinch but quickly moved the bat up and back. Lolita was shocked when Joe hit that ball. A slow tapper came back to the mound. Joe ran slowly. Lolita picked up the ball and threw av out. Lolita could hear Joe laughing hard as the inning ended. There was still no score.
Up in the owner’s suite, Audrey and Ronald continued talking. “I can see the commish coming. What a stupid name he took. John Smith on even number days and Jane Smith on odd number days.”
“Sorry didn’t mean to use any of those archaic pronouns,” said Audrey. “Av’s absolutely average.”
“I wonder if the commish had to cheat to get av job.”
“Impossible. We test children for talent at two years old, before they can lie and then make sure they work in an area where they’re just average. We’ve proved that almost everyone’s average at something. That’s equity.”
“I think you could have let John Smith hear that. What you just said is orthodox.”
“It’s Jane Smith today. Remember it’s the 18th.”
“Sorry. Forgot. Thought it was the 19th.”
“Hello Jane,” said Audrey. “Great game so far.”
“Great game?” shouted Jane. “Let’s hope it’s an average game. Remember After Equity forever.”
“That’s exactly what I was going to say, A. E. forever,” said Ronald.
Audrey looked over to Ronald with daggers in av’s eyes.
At the end of the seventh inning there was still no score. The New York Equals had two hits, three walks and no errors and the Seattle Equals had no hits, no walks and two errors. Both equity umpires were concerned but couldn’t agree that action at this point was necessary.
As they watched the scoreboard, the hopes of the New York Equals and the Seattle Equals were slowly being crushed. Their non-rivals, the Miami Equals, were winning and by the eighth inning were up 7 to 2. If they won, both New York and Seattle would be out of the World Equity Series.
In the New York bottom of the eighth, there was still no score. Both the Seattle starting pitcher and Lolita were still pitching. Neither of them had ever pitched a complete game but both managers believed that if they left them in, the equity judges wouldn’t be able to distinguish between their not trying and fatigue. The yellow competition light was still lit on the scoreboard.
In the owner’s booth, Jane Smith was starting to fall asleep. This is a very boring game av was thinking and besides I’m not that interested in baseball. Both Audrey and Ronald talked loudly to try to keep Jane from dozing off. They couldn’t risk the bad publicity of having av shown on television asleep.
In the broadcast booth, One and One-A, soldiered on. “Um, I think that was a ball. Should be a walk,” said One. Av’s eyesight, which wasn’t very good, was about average for av’s age. Av refused to wear eyeglasses. No, that would create better than average vision and av wouldn’t allow avself to be accused of that. So av often couldn’t see clearly what was happening on the field.
“Well, no,” mumbled One-A. “That was, well, a strike. The count could be, well, 3 and 2.”
They were interrupted by the still peppy voice of John Sterling, who was now over a hundred years old. Av had been the radio voice of the Yankees for fifty years and had been forcibly retired at the start of the A. E. era because av favored bare knuckle competition and maximum striving. His verbal virtuosity disqualified him from being a broadcaster. One-A had seen John on the street one day, recognized av and invited av to come to the booth for a few innings. Av’d asked John not to call the game but old habits die hard.
“Neither of you has mentioned that Lucky, Lefty, Luminous Lolita Ruth, is pitching a perfect game,” said Sterling. “She has a chance for baseball immortality. When I called Boomer Well’s perfect game in 1998, we talked about it steadily from the fourth inning on. What a performance that day. I’ll never forget it.”
One broke in, “Yes John, well … Now I remember. Never remind people, well, of those horrible old days. Everything was so unequal.”
“I’m still in awe of the break on Boomer’s curve ball that day, and that slider; devastating …”
“Don’t you well, remember that breaking balls, like stealing, are now well forbidden?” asked One-A. “If you can throw a curve, um, you’re not average.” One-A wished John Sterling would disappear.
One took a different approach to shutting Sterling up. “You’re um over a hundred years old now, I’m um, sure, the audience, um will love to congratulate you.”
“Yes,” said John. “Anyone over a hundred is allowed to say and think anything they please. Let’s get back to talking about this game. What lousy pitching. I bet I could go out there and get a hit.”
One-A kicked John in the shins.
“Why did you kick me in the shins?” asked John. One could only shake av’s head
It was two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. There was still no score. On the out-of-town scoreboard, the final score of the Miami game was put up. Miami won 9 to 2. Miami would go to the World Equity Series. As far as that Series went, the game between New York and Seattle was now meaningless.
8743 and 3248 saw the Miami score posted and realized their work was no longer needed. It didn’t make any difference which team won this game. They both hit the “Turn off the alerts” button. Since they agreed, the scoreboard “All clear to play as you like,” sign was turned on.
Hector was at bat. Av noticed the “all clear “and saw the final Miami score had flashed on the scoreboard. Av would never admit it, but av really loved to play hard, homer and win.
The Seattle pitcher hadn’t noticed either of these developments and grooved an easy, slow pitch down the middle. Hector took a mighty swing. John Sterling had figured out how to have his radio commentary broadcast over the stadium’s loudspeakers. His sonorous voice rang out over the stadium “It is high. It is far. It is gone. Heroic Hector hammers another huge historic homer. He Hectored the Heck out of it. And once more the incredible New York Yankees take a late lead.”
Announcer One grabbed John’s microphone away and said, “Yes, well John, I guess that, well was a home run. The next batter is up.”
“ No need to make a big deal about a home run. It’s not average,” said One-A.
“Next batter tapped a slow well grounder to well second base,” said One. “Well the score is 1 to 0, well in favor of the New York Equals.”
At the top of the ninth Lolita suddenly felt warm from her cap to her shoes. Av stepped to the pitching mound knowing that if Miami didn’t score, av would win the Most Average Pitcher Award. Lolita painted the corners three times and struck out the first batter. The second batter did no better. Is this the same pitcher we saw earlier? most spectators wondered.
Up stepped Average Joe. Av could be Seattle’s final out. Av still needed to hit a home run to win the Most Average Player Award. Only one of us can win now and it’s going to be me, thought Lolita. “I’m Babe Ruth’s descendant. I can do this. I may be average but I can throw curves. It’s not all that hard.”
The first pitch started out looking like it would hit Joe head. Av backed off the plate and the pitch curved right down the middle.
Strike one, yelled the umpire. The crowd began to cheer. No perfect game had ever been pitched in the A.E. era. Up in the owner’s box, the shouting had woken Jane Smith up.
Average Joe turned to the umpire and said, “That was an illegal curve ball.”
The umpire looked up at the scoreboard. “The unfair competition light is off. Only they can call an illegal pitch. Play ball.”
The second pitch was a hard slider on the inside corner. Joe swung hard but missed. Strike two,” yelled the umpire.
The third pitch started far outside and then curved over the plate.
“Strike three,” screamed the umpire. “Ballgame over.”
“Don’t shout it so loud. That isn’t equity,” mumbled Joe.
The crowd started to cheer and jump up and down. The stadium began to shake.
John Sterling grabbed the microphone and called out “Ttthhee Yyaannkkeess Wwiinn. Thhhee Yankeees Wiiinnnn. For the Fifty-fifth season in a row, the New York Yankees have had a winning record. The Lanky Lefty, Lucky Lolita Ruth, the great, great, great Grand Daughter of the greatest player of all times, the Yankee hero, the Bashing Bambino, Babe Ruth, has pitched the twentieth perfect game in baseball history. Luminous, Life-affirming Lofty Lolita Ruth has achieved baseball immortality.”
In the owner’s box, Jane said to Audrey and Ronald, “That was an illegal curve ball. I’m going to suspend Lolita for a year. Get me a microphone.”
“I’m not sure you should do that, Jane,” said Audrey. “She just won the Most Average Pitcher Award. It’s up there on the scoreboard.”
“She? Not av for average? You said she? What kind of a-hole remark is that? You mean av’s won the Most Average Pitcher Award. ”
“That’s what I said. But don’t suspend Lolita now. Wait till we’re out of the park. The fans will kill us if you suspend av now. “
“Good idea Audrey.”
“You’re always right Jane.”
“No Audrey. I’m right only half the time. Remember, we’re aiming for the average.”
“Long live Equity. A. E. forever,” chanted Ronald.
“A. E. forever,” seconded Audrey.
Up in the broadcast booth John Sterling continued, “I haven’t seen a curve like that, since A.E. started. I’ve been saying, for years, that women can throw curves.”
They went to commercial. One turned John’s microphone off and shouted, “Well, shut up you darn old fool. You can’t use a well abusive term like women. Do you want to, well, get us fired?”
“You’re not average,” muttered One-A. “No wonder they fired you. You’re an idiot. You’ll well never be invited back.”
“Better to be an idiot, an old fool, with two eyes that see than a young fool with two eyes that could see but who always keeps both eyes voluntarily closed.” Sterling got up, left the booth and joined the crowd celebrating the perfect game.