Deleting the four-minute men… Sigh…

One thing I needed to do with this revision of my historical baseball novel was condense the timeframe from a couple of years down to just one season. As a result, I went from a story that started before World War I to a story that started a year after America got involved in that bloody conflict.

As a result, I had to chop out a mini-scene that took place right before a key game. So I’m gonna share the stuff I deleted here — it’s a bit with a group of guys called the four-minute men, who were hired by President Woodrow Wilson’s administration to convince people that America should enter the war (up until April 1917, we’d been trying to remain neutral).

Before the game started, my good mood was interrupted by a trio of white men, two in suits and one in an Army uniform, marching out to the pitcher’s mound to address the crowd. I groaned and felt in my pocket for my absent pouch of tobacco. This was the second time in a week we’d run into such men.

“We need to take up this slack of idleness in the industrial field and substitute a period of helpful discipline,” the first man said, spraying the field in front of him with each spittle-stressed word. “Our country’s people have grown lax and soft with excess, and we bring to you today a solution.” He went on in this manner for a few minutes more, stirring the crowd to life until his partner took over.

I looked down at my players, most of whom were simply ignoring the three men. Boles, however, was standing at the edge of the dugout, listening intently. The fool. Next to me, Mack stared at the men with a look of dismay on his dark face. Today, his skin had a yellowish tinge to it, and the look of consternation on his face was changing to fear and disgust. I almost gave him a nudge to distract him, but reconsidered.

Americans,” the second speaker claimed, talking even faster than the first man, “need the sense of purpose that Europeans are finding in their grim, yet ennobling, struggle. And remember, no country was ever saved by just any old fellow on the street, somewhere in the world. It must be done by you, by a million American yous, or it will not be done at all.”

He continued at breakneck speed, priming the crowd for the war. Preparedness, they called it. Though Mr. Wilson still claimed we would remain neutral, these men wanted the country to mobilize now, to gather an army for America’s inevitable entrance into the war in Europe.

No thank you, I wanted to tell them, looking once more at Mack, then Boles. I’ve got enough to prepare for right here, gents, without getting into some other man’s war.

The last man, the soldier, finished up with a simpler exhortation: “People in the city have grown fat and drunk from riding around in their automobiles and partaking of their sweet drinks and watching their insipid ‘movie’ shows! They have no discipline, no morals. You fine people are far better than that. Like me, if you join up now, you can earn the right to say ‘I helped save the world!'”

To my surprise, I saw many heads nodding along with the speakers, mostly those in the white stands behind us, as well as Boles outside the dugout. Boles was always outside the damn dugout. Long after the trio had left the field and piled into their dusty car, the white boy kept repeating the phrases the fast-talking men used to stir the crowd. Finally No Small Foot told Boles to shut his mouth before someone shut it for him.

I looked down at my roster, but couldn’t read it for the shaking of my hand. This damn war was going to infect us all. It would take a miracle to avoid it. Or magic. Probably both.

There you have it, right off the cutting room floor. You can also read this snippet, and the game that follows it, in my story “A Miracle at Shreveport,” in Electric Velocipede 12 (in slightly different form).

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