Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Unnatural

General manager: Want to look at a pitcher?

Mouth McGarry (Jack Warden): At this point, I'll even look at you.

General manager: He's a lefty.

Mouth McGarry: Lefty, schmefty. What's the difference? If he's got more than one arm and less than four, he's for us.

Twilight Zone is absolutely one of my favorite TV series of all time. But no series is perfect, and Twilight Zone certainly had its share of misfires. I have mentioned before how I always watch the Syfy Channel's semiannual Twilight Zone marathons on New Year's and the Fourth of July and how there are certain episodes I always make it a habit to watch, whenever they happen to be aired.

Likewise, there are episodes I avoid. Those are the episodes I loathed the first time I saw them. Oddly enough, those episodes often turn out to be the most popular among other Twilight Zone fans. (I've never been able to explain that. It's kind of like being in my own personal Twilight Zone episode.)

That seems to be the case with the episode that first aired on this date in 1960 — "The Mighty Casey," a title that was inspired by Ernest Thayer's 1888 poem "Casey at the Bat." Now, I will admit that I have always liked baseball — more when I was a boy than now, I suppose — but I just never warmed up to this episode.

Others did, though.

The tale was about a fictional down–and–out baseball team called the Hoboken Zephyrs that was so bad it had to call a single victory a streak. The story opened with the team holding tryouts — and drawing a pretty motley crew.

Jack Warden played the beleaguered manager. He was convinced there were no — ahem — diamonds in the rough.

And then an older man came to the dugout. Warden thought it was a joke — a middle–aged man angling for a role as a rookie pitcher? No, he was a scientist who wanted to introduce Warden to the pitching prospect, s somber–faced fellow named Casey. The older man was Casey's creator. Casey, you see, was a robot.

Warden sent him out to the mound to throw a few pitches. His fastball scorched the catcher's mitt.

His off–speed stuff bewildered batters who tried to hit it. Granted, they were Zephyrs — and wannabe Zephyrs. The real test would come when he faced legitimate big–league batters.

Warden figured he had nothing to lose — his club was already 31 games out of first place — so he put Casey on his roster.

And it really seemed to pay off. The mysterious Casey appeared unbeatable. He went on a shutout binge; he put together a real winning streak and had Warden dreaming of winning a pennant.

Then disaster struck. Casey got beaned in a game and was taken to the hospital for evaluation. While he was there, it was determined that he had no pulse, no heartbeat.

Baseball rules clearly state that a lineup must be made up of nine men — and Casey didn't qualify, but his creator said he could give Casey a heart if that was what was necessary to earn the designation of human.

And that's what he did.

But, when Casey rejoined the club, there was a problem. The addition of a heart had given him something he had never had before — compassion.

It was obvious right away that something was different. He was smiling.

And when he took the mound, it was crystal clear that something was different. His pitches didn't baffle hitters. They were connecting — and frequently, spraying hits everywhere and driving in runs in bunches.

In the locker room, the scientist and Casey tried to explain to the manager that he no longer had the killer instinct that had served him so well before.

Casey said the scientist had urged him to go into social work, and that was what he was going to do. "I want to help people," he said as he left the locker room.

And the Zephyrs were back where they had been before Casey came along.

The scientist left Casey's blueprints with the manager — and it was strongly implied that those blueprints eventually were used to create a pitching staff that enjoyed great success.

As I say, I just never really cared for this episode. There were times during its run that Twilight Zone dabbled in stories about robots, and I never really liked them.