Betting, Blindness, and Baseball

Baseball is a game of sounds.

The crack of the bat.  The roar of the crowd.  The shouts of the vendors.

Radio announcers, of course, provide sonic backdrops from optimism lacing spring training to tension surrounding the World Series.  Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, Red Barber, and scores of other broadcasters became civic fixtures by keeping fans informed of balls, strikes, and outs.

In the M*A*S*H episode “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce imitates an Armed Forces Radio Network announcer to deceive the deceiver—Major Frank Burns listens to a late night broadcast of a Dodgers-Giants game, makes bets with unknowing colleagues at Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 before the rerun of the broadcast, and collects generous windfalls.

Blinded by an accident when an attempt to fix the nurses’ “temperamental gas heater” results in an explosion, Hawkeye adjusts to his newfound sightlessness after being treated by Major James Overman, the ophthalmologist from the 121st Evacuation Hospital.  A patient blinded by a grenade blast, Tom Straw, a high school English teacher from San Francisco, bonds with Hawkeye, who gets assistance from his colleagues in navigating the challenges of blindness—Radar, the Company Clerk, reads his mail; Maxwell Klinger, a corpsman trying to get a Section 8 discharge by dressing in women’s clothes and Margaret Houlihan, the 4077th’s Head Nurse, guide him around camp; and Dr. B. J. Hunnicutt, Hawkeye’s bunkmate and fellow surgeon, offers emotional support.

It’s a journey of revelation for Hawkeye, who queries Dr. Overman whether he would get to keep his nickname.  To Hawkeye’s wonder, blindness elevates the acuity of other senses.

“When Dr. Overman comes in here and unwraps my package, I hope to God I’ll have my sight back.  But something fascinating has been happening to me,” he reveals to B.J.  “One part of the world is closed down for me.  But another part has opened up.  Sure, I keep picturing myself on a corner with a tin cup selling thermometers, but I’m going through something here I didn’t expect.  This morning, I spent two incredible hours listening to that rainstorm.  And I didn’t just hear it, I was part of it.  I bet you have no idea that rain hitting the ground makes the same sound as steaks when they’re barbecuing.  Or that thunder seems to echo forever.  And you wouldn’t believe how funny it is to hear somebody slip and fall in the mud.  It had to be Burns.  Beej, this is full of trap doors, but I think there may also be some kind of advantage in this.  I’ve never spent a more conscious day in my life.”

Hawkeye deduces the gambling scheme devised by the persnickety Burns by recruiting B. J., Radar, and Klinger to broadcast a fictional play-by-play of an Indians-Yankees game through the camp’s electronic equipment.  The next day, Dr. Overman returns from the 121st Evac, removes Hawkeye’s bandages, and, along, with the 4077th’s staff, celebrates the restoration of sight.

When the bettors learn the real score of the game, they chase Burns for their winnings.  As B.J. and Hawkeye witness the pursuit, the former declares that the previously blinded surgeon is a lucky guy.

“Yeah, I got lucky twice,” responds Hawkeye.  “First, I got the chance to see without my eyes and then I got ’em back.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 14, 2016.

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