Jack Barron's Gigantic Exposé of Obsolete Brain Wash
Ted Williams reportedly called him 'the greatest authority on hitting.' Was he?
Installment 2: Approximately 1 in 13 major leaguers will have a child who plays in the majors.
In 1959, the television show People Are Funny set up a stunt: A junior high math teacher named John Russell would get the chance to hit against Sandy Koufax. The Dodgers’ regulars would play defense and Russell would get three strikes. If he homered, he’d win $10,000. If he tripled, $5,000; doubled, $2,500; singled, $1,000; put the ball in play at all and he’d get $500. Russell had no notable baseball skill or experience, though he did have a coach: Jack Barron, an independent hitting instructor Ted Williams would reportedly call “the greatest authority on hitting in America today.”
Sadly, I’ve been unable to find footage of that episode, despite entreaties to the Library of Congress and other archivists. First I just wanted to see what happened, what Koufax vs. Math Teacher looks like. But over time I grew increasingly desperate for one good look at Barron, of the Barron Method Laboratory, a man whose public persona is the most confounding I’ve encountered in this sport.
1A. The Jack Barron Story.
In 1952, Jack Barron had apparently invented something called the “Hush-Flush Gyro-Cup Tank Ball,” and he was pestering a Los Angeles Mirror columnist to write about it:
When I called and asked you to inform your readers about the “Hush-Flush Gyro-Cup Tank Ball” you said: “How can I write about a toilet?” However, it is not just a toilet we are talking about. Or just an ordinary tank ball. It is the Hush-Flush Gyro-Cup Tank Ball. (signed) Jack Barron, Box 5568, Metro Station, LA
So Barron might have invented a new kind of toilet tank float, it might or might not have been ordinary, and he might or might not have sold some of them. The tank ball is a dead end. I found no other mention of its existence, no explanation of the non sequitur component parts of its name, and no further commercial use of that post office box. It’s probably an important detail—only a particular type of man invents a new kind of tank ball, gives it an over-the-top name, and spreads the word through letters to the editor—but I don’t know much more about it. And I know a lot more about the toilet tank ball than I know about some other parts of Jack Barron’s life. So just know that this will necessarily be a story told about a myth, rather than a definitely real man.
But a few years after his toilet float period, Barron would start to show up in the sports pages, a lot. According to an Associated Press writer named Charles Maher, Barron had been “pestering local writers for years with his complex hitting theories” before Maher happened to witness an extraordinary 1958 encounter on the field at the Dodgers’ Memorial Coliseum:
Friday night (Barron) cornered Gil Hodges of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hodges happened to have a .245 batting average, so he listened.
In fact, he submitted to instruction behind the batting cage, and immediately drew a circle of noisy skeptics, most of them his teammates.
Barron—who had written a 16-page tract on hitting called the Cosmic Swing—began by giving Hodges some tips, adjusted his posture, corrected his balance, and then sent Hodges to the plate. Hodges’ first swing produced a weak pop-up in the infield, and the skeptics burst into laughter.
Maher continues, “Hodges achieved nothing with a couple of more swings, then suddenly…”
The greatest words in storytelling. Then: Change. Suddenly: Surprise. Suddenly, we are in a story. Suddenly, Jack Barron was a news figure. Suddenly, his life was changed forever. Suddenly, he had become the leader of a revolution that he may or may not have been qualified to lead. Then, suddenly, Hodges “blasted the ball far over the left-field screen! Barron was on the verge of apoplexy! He clapped wildly! then danced around! like a man! beset! by! bees!” Exclamation points mine.
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