Bill Cosby played football at Temple, ran track for the Owls and still attends their basketball games.
But baseball? Not so much while growing up at the Richard Allen projects in Philadelphia.
“No, no, no. I wasn’t any good,” the comedian told The Associated Press recently. “But I was fast. I think I held the record for the highest batting average – maybe .300 or something – for someone who never hit the ball out of the infield.”
There was the time he stole, too. A high school classmate’s glove, that is.
“I got caught,” he said. “I learned I wasn’t a very good lookout for myself and better find something else to do.”
Those stories aren’t in his book that came out last month, “I Didn’t Ask to Be Born (But I’m Glad I Was).” There is a delightful tale, though, of the day his pal Peanut Armhouse got called home by his mom while playing softball and dared to ignore her. While the other boys stood petrified by her shouts, ol’ Peanut picked up the ball, hit a weak grounder and did his own play-by-play while rounding the bases.
Just the way By Saam would’ve called it, Cosby wrote, referencing the famed Phillies announcer for four decades.
Back in the 1940s, schoolyards and sandlots in his neighborhood were full of kids playing baseball and softball. Or step-ball, with players tossing a bouncy ball off the angled steps of Philly’s row houses. Or even hose-ball, a game he recalled that used a cutup, four-inch piece of garden hose as the ball.
At 74, Cosby doesn’t see crowded inner-city fields anymore.
“Look at how desperate we were to play. We’d be out there trying to catch a rock, in the dark,” he said. “But schools cut out gym classes. Schools cut off recess. We’ve got a lot of chubby kids now.”
Some of those kids, he observed, prefer to play baseball on a computer screen rather than with real bats and balls.
“What they’re building are remedial gyms,” Cosby said.
Cosby is concerned many would-be ballplayers are being priced out.
“Those gloves don’t cost 12 cents,” he said. “What do they cost now, $400? And it costs $600 or something to join some of these leagues.”
“And remember, there are places now where you can’t just go running around, the bullets are flying,” he said.
Quite a difference from when he’d show up to play in the Police Athletic League. There, at the 69th PAL, bats and gloves and uniforms were provided. Everything except the shoes.
“Mine were cardboard and leather,” Cosby said.
No matter, he was a pretty slick-fielding second baseman in those days. That’s his story, anyway.
“I could turn the double play. I’d come across, put my foot against the back left corner of the bag and sidearm that throw,” Cosby said. “That I could do.”
Cosby neatly ticked off the names of the Phillies from his youth – Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Granny Hamner and Puddin’ Head Jones, stars on the 1950 Whiz Kids.
They also were the favorites of his grandfather, a devout Phillies fan who kept two radios cranked up at home so he could listen to games from every room. When Cosby began to succeed in show business, he bought him a special present: season tickets on the third base side at Connie Mack Stadium.
Sometime that season, Cosby called from the road and asked an uncle how the seats were working out.
“He told me granddad went to one game, didn’t like how people were yelling at the players and said in the fourth inning that he wanted to go home,” Cosby said. “And that was the end of the season tickets for the Phillies.”