Baseball in the Year 2044: A look at “Rockets on the Mound”

The internet is a great place. Really, it is. And one of the reasons it is great is that you can find practically anything on it. Take, for example, short stories. There are countless stories that are in the public domain, either because they are really old, or because nobody bothered to renew the copyrights on things from cheap pulp publications. It’s from one of those that “Rockets on the Mound” comes from. First printed in 1954 in Super Sports magazine, and written by one Jim Moore, it is the tale of a baseball team in 2044 and it’s star, Rockets Rigby, who is in a horrible hit-and-run flying car accident. Seriously.

But before all of that, check out this picture that goes with it:

First, let’s note the field itself. It has a lot of space, almost circular in appearance. I mean, look at all of those players practicing to the left of the diamond, where they are conducting warmups as the umpires descend with their jet-packs from the stratojet. As this huge amount of foul territory can show, Moore was foreseeing the rise of multi-use facilities, and the Oakland Coliseum in particular. Either that, or whoever was hired to do this image hadn’t seen a baseball field in their lives. Also notice how the fans are dressed. Apparently, in the 2040s, women will all wear pointed witches’ hats and gigantic collars, while all of the men will wear space-cadet helmets. Nobody wears plain-old baseball caps, nor even the hats men wore in public before President Kennedy made them go out of style. Also, the “stratojet” used to bring the umpires in seems to be powered by a rocket and has swept wings. An F-16 flyover it isn’t…

Anyway, a few things to keep in mind before we start:

A) It’s not a very good story. The characters and dialogue are flat as a pancake. The plot is stupid and hinges along the assumption that the reader has the knowledge of a five year old when it comes to how the human body works. There is at least one occasion where a Latino player is portrayed as speaking with a heavy accent where every “I” sound is replaced with a “ee” to show how foreign he is.

B) That said, it can be found at this link.

C) The teams in Moore’s 2044 don’t have the names of real teams, but the nicknames given to them usually give away what he means: the main character plays for the Detroit Bengals, for example. Presumably, this was due to legal issues or something.

Okay, so let’s get started. Here’s how the story is introduced and teased:

Sad, sad were the hearts of the Bengals, star team of the 21st Century Leagues, when Rockets Rigby showed up with a broken arm. And their standings in the league sank as rapidly as their spirits – until Rockets showed them once more that he could do the difficult at once, and the impossible after a little time!

“He could do the difficult at once, and the impossible after a little time!” is a good way to describe Josh Hamilton’s season so far, by the way. But as we will see, Josh Hamilton has nothing on the great Rockets Rigby.

The story opens with a game between the Detroit Tigers Bengals and a team called the Solons (Moore doesn’t mention the name, but since Solon is a old synonym for a legislator, I’m guessing he’s referring to the Washington Senators- whose AL staying-power he vastly overestimated) where Rockets hits a walk-off double to right-center field. Post-game, Rockets is described as someone who is a “throwback to a 20th century athlete,” and that, in his four years in the league, he’s “done everything there is to do.” It is early in the season: “this was the sixth game of the 2044 season,” Moore writes, but already this was the “the fourth time that Rockets’ bat had been responsible for victory.”

We also have this interesting passage:

“That makes it about .600 for the year, huh, Rockets?” put in Larry Steen, a guy who antedated Rockets on the club, and who could remember when baseball had been a pampered, spoiled, thoroughly dead sport—dependent upon conveyor belts on 550-foot fences. That had been before Rockets had started his Cobb tactics. Larry had been a big man in the Bengal scheme before Rockets had come along to eclipse everybody—enough to make some guys jealous.

Clearly, Moore didn’t like the long ball. And, although there is a mention later that baseball is now big enough to have minor leagues in Siberia (proving that the “thoroughly dead” likely means spiritually instead of financially), he must have thought that many others would think the same. No, in the future, Moore claims, only players like Ty Cobb will be stars, while the sluggers will be looked upon as old selfish people who sit bitterly making comments post-game. On the other hand, perhaps this is a veiled prophecy about the steroid era and how important fundamental hitting would be after it ended and the pitchers took over again. I mean, it’s still more likely than the most prophecies involving Mayans or Nostradamus.

Continuing on, just before Rockets leaves the park he receives a pat on the back from Pushbutton Parker, his manager, who he rescued from a minor league post in Siberia and who knows that Rockets is the one responsible for the Bengals’ World Series titles the past four years. Yes, Detroit fans, sit well in knowing that in the 2040s the Tigers will be a Yankeesesque power. However, I suggest that you invest in air conditioning, as I think professional baseball in Siberia will only be possible after significant global warming.

Now that we’ve seen a average day in the life of Rockets Rigby, however, we must see it upended, we must have drama introduced into the story. That drama comes in the form of a horrible traffic accident. Of course, by the 2040s we will have flying cars (although, come to think of it, we are supposed to have flying cars by 2015 as well), so when Rockets gets into a hit and run as he tries to return to his LA-area home, he ends up crashing somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, badly injuring his right arm.

There are three notable things about this:

A) Flying cars that are fast enough so a person could commute between Los Angeles and Detroit would radically change the way the world works. Problems of distance would disappear, and with them so would regional differences and, possibly, loyalties. This would bring up interesting repercussions for sports. If you are an hour or so away from every team in the league by “hydrostatic jetmobile”, every team would, essentially, be able to draw fans from anywhere in the country. You could live in Seattle but have season tickets for Boston. Off-days for travel would cease to exist. The ability for visiting fans to go to road games would be so great that stadiums would likely have to set aside separate sections for them, for safety reasons. Sports teams in European countries, where distances between teams are usually far less than in the expansive North American leagues, have done this for years. Of course, this assumes that anybody but old-timers keep regional loyalties to home town teams to begin with: if you spend your nights in Milwaukee but your days in Dallas but were born in Maine and went to school in California… what would you consider your hometown team? Finally, if every team can easily draw fans from anywhere in the country, what does this mean for TV blackout rules? Crud, I’m over-thinking it again.

B) Moore actually makes a good point of saying how relieved Rockets is that he misses residential areas and business districts. This is why we probably never will have flying cars: if you crash a regular car, you and whoever you hit is in danger, but if you crash a flying car you could be taking out entire buildings and neighborhoods.

C) I wonder what the bottom line of ESPN says the day after an accident like this. I’m guessing something like Tigers place 3B Rockets Rigby on 15-day DL (Broke arm in flying car accident).

And so, injured, the great Rockets Rigby is bedridden at home as the Bengals lose 7-2, where we get this scene, one of the most inaccurate predictions of the future that Moore includes:

“Rockets, you shouldn’t worry so,”Jan insisted, prettier than ever since she had become a mother. “It’s only a year; you’re still young. Next year you can come back and hit .400, just to show them you haven’t slipped. You know we can get along just fine this year without your playing. You can thank your smart wife for that. And you said women couldn’t handle bank accounts; hmph!” Her nose crinkled the same old way.

How many things are wrong with this scene? Is it the casual misogyny, the stilted dialogue? No, actually it’s the fact that apparently the players in 2044 are paid so little that a little injury is enough for them to even consider worrying about paying the bills. Even in 1954, the average ballplayer was getting paid three times the average national wage (nowadays it is something like 80 times more than the national average, it could conceivably be up to 100 or more times the national average by 2044), only hilariously bad money management or some other vices would plunge them into financial difficulty. As the players got richer, it’s become even less likely that such a thing would happen without stupid decisions being involved. Now, the finances of athletes after they retire is another matter, but, well, that is for another time.

Anyway, back on the field, the Bengals are reeling, not because they are missing Rockets’ bat or glove. No, no, what they miss is his clubhouse chemistry:

Rockets’ bat—and his rifle arm—and even his basepath speed, weren’t what the Bengals missed—not most of all. Guys in the batting order who used to be taking full cuts, relaxed in the knowledge that Rockets was around to clean up anybody they left on, were pressing now. Guys like Carlos Ampara, a long-ball poker, Steen and Teddy Dale—solid .300 bangers—all tried too hard to get that single; consequently, nobody got the hits that produced runs.

So, in addition to being Ty Cobb, Rockets apparently is also Derek Jeter: his mere presence makes all around him play better! Intangibles!

So anyway, after a bit Rockets and his wife go to a game, where he calls the rest of the Bengals a bunch of quitters for giving up once he got hurt. Some rookie outfielder named Joe Cordery asks Rockets if he could use his right arm at all, and he says he could use it to catch things if he were a lefty.

And, what do you know, Cordery then suggests that Rockets play left-handed catch with them. Because, obviously, if your star player is already hurt, why shouldn’t he be throwing with his unnatural hand? What is there to possibly lose? Well, besides the possibility he could end up injuring that one too. And probably other people as well. Well, guess what, Rockets doesn’t think about this, so he comes down in his “tweed plyolon suit” (in other words, just what a well-dressed man from the old days would wear, only more futuristic sounding) and does so. You can probably see where this is going: after awhile, Rockets starts to throw well lefty. And then he starts tinkering with the idea of maybe making a comeback… as left-handed third baseman.

Yeah. A left-handed third baseman. Now, the claim that in 2044 there wouldn’t have been a lefty 3B in 110 years isn’t true. There have been lefty third baseman. Only they have rarely ever have been anything more than emergency type of things: a inning here at the end of a game, for example. The last lefty to start a game at third was Don Mattingly and the last lefty who played more than ten games at third was Mike Squires back in 1984. They weren’t career third baseman, obviously. They just played third due to other circumstances. For regular third baseman lefthanders, you have to go back to people like Hick Carpenter and Lefty Marr. As all fans know, this is because a lefthander would need time to get themselves into position to throw from there, and time, so often, is not something they have much of.

Anyway, back to the story. He keeps coming to the ballpark whenever he can to play left-handed catch with Cordery and others. However, without him, the Bengals still stink, falling behind the Seattle Bombers in the standings. Wait, Seattle Bombers? Given the fact that many of the teams in the story are thinly-veiled versions of real teams (Tigers= Bengals, Senators=Solons, Browns=Pixies, etc.) this could be Moore predicting that the Yankees were going to move to Seattle. Seriously. Obviously, Moore must have been a Dodger or Giant fan, still smarting from World Series defeats earlier in the decade, who came up with the ultimate way of getting back at the big bullies from the Bronx: move them to the West Coast, forcing their fans to sit team-less remembering lost glories. Ironic.

Okay, back to the story, where we reach the one thing weirder than a left-handed third baseman: after the road trip, Cordery realizes that Rockets is throwing the ball all nasty when he changes the delivery a bit, with breaking balls that seem to defy the laws of physics. So they quickly come to the realization that this can only mean one thing: Rockets would make a excellent left-handed pitcher. Or, as I like to call it, “The Reverse Babe Ruth Gambit”. So the day of a game in St. Louis (the Pixies, who almost certainly are a stand-in for the Browns), Rockets just kind of shows up with Cordery and asks to pitch. And the manager just sort of says “fine” after seeing him warm-up, and agrees to Cordery being his catcher.

Seriously. Not only that, but Rockets has what would presumably go down in history as one of the greatest pitching debuts of all time. Through 6.1 IP, Rockets has a perfect game going with 12 Ks. Proving that the superstition of not mentioning the no-hitter extends into fiction, he promptly gives up a home run after the narrator mentions this. He then sets down the next nine. So his final line ends up being a one-hitter with one ER and 17 strikeouts. Under Bill James’ game score metric, this would be a 98 (the highest ever is 105).

If this short story were to be made into a movie, now would be time they start a montage of how Rockets becomes an unstoppable pitcher. We’d see him throwing in various stadiums, with players swinging and missing in the most embarrassing ways. We’d see pennants (although, since this is the future, they’d probably be hologram pennants) indicating the many cities Rockets is pitching against, and who Detroit is passing in the standings: Chicago! Los Angeles! New York! San Francisco! We are told he’s averaging 15 strikeouts a game, and has thrown four shutouts, and is generally playing like a kid with video game cheat codes on.

But then Moore reveals to us the horrible truth: Rockets is slowly rehabbing his right arm… and as his right arm gets stronger, his left arm is getting weaker! Yes, by the 2040s, we will have apparently discovered that it is possible to transfer the strength between our arms, so if one is useless, the other will have the strength of two arms! And without the wonder-arm, Rockets Rigby begins to have trouble, until finally in a game against Philadelphia he has a really bad game and they go into the ninth down 6-3. But, as you probably expected by now, the Bengals stage a miracle rally until finally Rigby hits a game-tying inside-the-park home run, at which point everyone realizes he’s good to be a hitter again. So by the time they are playing the New York Sonics, everything is normal again.

Seriously, that’s how it ends. Crazy, huh?

As I said, it’s not a very good story. But it is something of an interesting look at how the 1950s baseball fan saw the future of baseball. Here’s a rundown of some of the predictions Jim Moore made in the story and how they look like as far as being true (either now or in the future):

Baseball will become a game of fundamental hitting, with fewer home runs, which according to Moore make the sport “pampered, spoiled [and] thoroughly dead.”

Outlook: Not likely. Sure, last year there were some articles about how homers were at low levels and we have entered an era that seems to favor pitching, but mankind has yet to devise a more efficient way of scoring runs than getting men on base and then slamming the ball over the fence.

Baseball will have farm clubs in Siberia.

Outlook: Highly unlikely. While baseball has continued to grow internationally, Russia isn’t one of those places. And even if it was, it’s highly unlikely that it’d be a place where the Tigers would have a farm clubs… especially in Siberia.

Flying Cars.

Outlook: Highly unlikely. It’s never going to happen, and if it does, it won’t be something for the masses. Sorry, Mr. Jetson.

If a player were to suffer a major injury in the future, his family’s financial future would be at stake.

Outlook: Highly unlikely. I covered this earlier.

All games will be on TV in the future.

Outlook: It happened. In “Rockets at the Mound,” there are a few references to people watching games on the “FV,” which presumably was supposed to stand for some futuristic acronym of what we know as TV. TV was still in it’s infancy in the 1950s, and what games were on varied wildly depending on what team you were near. But the idea that anyone, even somebody in LA, could watch every game on TV every day really didn’t happen until the rise of cable, which was decades away in 1954.

Newspapers will be the main source of news in 2044.

Outlook: Not papers as we know them. In 1954, Jim Moore would have had no idea that the internet, cable news and smartphones were on their way. There will probably be newspaper organizations still around in 2044, and there will be plenty of sportswriters as well, but newspapers won’t be the main source in 2044, unless they are those cool newspapers from Minority Report that updates as new news happens.

Umpires will use jetpacks and arrive at stadiums by jumping out of jets.

Outlook: Ridiculously unlikely. I don’t even need to expand upon this.

New York teams will move to the West Coast.

Outlook: It happened! Only not with the Yankees, as Moore implied with his “Seattle Bombers.” He was right in there being a MLB team in Seattle, though.

St. Louis will have two MLB teams (again) in the future, as the St. Louis Browns will rise from the grave.

Outlook: Very unlikely. Let me first note that this is only a prediction to begin with due to the fact that the name of the St. Louis team that the Rockets play is called the “Pixies”, which essentially describes the Browns’ logo in their final years before moving to Baltimore. It’s entirely possible that Moore had written this story before they moved but hadn’t been able to get it published until after. Either way, the small size of St. Louis as well as the devotion that area has to the Cardinals makes it highly unlikely an American League team will exist again in St. Louis.

Los Angeles will have a MLB team in the future.

Outlook: It happened. Two, actually.

Uniforms will be thermostatically regulated to take care of the heat.

Outlook: This seems likely eventually. In fact, it already is happening in certain ways. Think about how baseball uniforms have changed over the years to be more comfortable and deal better with the heat. If somebody were to find a way to have air conditioned baseball uniforms without making them bulky or overly expensive, you can be sure they’d enter widespread use in the majors.

San Francisco will have a MLB team in the future.

Outlook: It happened. Wrong league, though.

The DH will not exist in the future.

Outlook: Unlikely. To be fair, Moore probably didn’t see the DH coming in the first place.

So, there’s the future of baseball according to some pulp fiction writer in the 1950s. He was right on a few things, but was wrong on many things as well, especially outside of certain cities getting teams (and, given how there was talk of allowing the Pacific Coast League be raised to MLB level before the Dodgers and Giants moved there, those weren’t exactly reaches).

Anybody else want to comment on this 1954 view of the future of baseball? Go right ahead.

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