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Rick’s Cafe: Andy Taylor and the call at home — was Opie really out? Our investigation may shock you

Jul 19, 2012, 7:30 PM EDT

theballgameandyclose

When one reflects on all the good that the late Sheriff Andy Taylor has done for the town of Mayberry, it boggles the mind. Without him that tiny hamlet would have been wiped off the map in a tsunami of crime and malfeasance: by my count he foiled seven bank robberies, caught six escaped fugitives and busted 23 confidence men in his 12 years in office — not to mention limiting Barney to one bullet, which no doubt saved countless lives.

But sadly, all of this was forgotten in an instant when the entire town viciously turned on him in one hoary incident. It was Mayberry’s most shameful moment, when an entire community turned to The Dark Side. And even with the sad passing of Sheriff Taylor last week, the scars persist there to this day.

The date was Oct. 3, 1966, and for some reason it was still baseball season in North Carolina. Mayberry was playing arch rival Mt. Pilot in “The Championship Game”, which is all the exact information we have. But one assumes it was the District Finals — the first step on the road to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Needing an impartial umpire, the community recruited Andy, whom they trusted impeccably. In my opinion he deserves a statue for one act alone: saving the community from Aunt Bee’s kerosene pickles two years before, which he selflessly consumed himself so others didn’t have to. That’s like throwing yourself on a grenade.

Cut to the bottom of the sixth, and Mayberry is down by one run with two out, no one on. Opie Taylor then lashes a ball to left, which sails over the outfielder and bounces to the fence. It’s unclear who was coaching third, but Opie isn’t looking anyway — with Willie Mays ambition but Boog Powell speed, Opie attempts to stretch a triple into a home run … with disastrous results for Mayberry. The throw from left and Opie arrive at the plate at the same time, and after a dramatic slide, Andy calls his son out.

Chaos ensues. Here is that moment, captured on film:

In the huge kerfuffle that erupted, we notice several things:

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Mayberry coach Goober Pyle grabs Andy and spins him around (above) — surely an offense that warrants a lifetime ban from youth sports, and perhaps a week in jail. And just how did Goober get this job? What are his credentials? Was there a background check? Was Ernest T. Bass unavailable?

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That Mayberry banner must have taken weeks to make. I see that Mt. Pilot arrived in style in an Econo-Line bus, and I also see that Floyd got a front-row seat. But who’s that fine tomato seated next to him? Thankfully this was before TMZ.

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Let’s look at that play again. Hard to tell where the plate is, but it looks like the catcher is doing a pretty good job of blocking it. It’s quite possible Opie never reached home — that’s a pretty weak slide.

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Here we see the other side of Aunt Bee — the dark, vicious side she only shows during sporting events, and when stubborn stains will not wash out of certain fabrics. Poor Andy — there are so many “accidents” that can occur in the home. Do you really want to anger a woman who has access to toxic cleaning liquids and also prepares your food?

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Mayberry Field: the Camden Yards of its time.

The result of all of this, of course, is that Andy is instantly ostracized by the community for costing Mayberry the game. Shunned by all, including his own son, he becomes a virtual leper. He’s welcome only at the barber shop, where Floyd’s eyesight is so bad he cannot distinguish large shapes. Andy is the most despised man in Mayberry.

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“Grrrrr!”

But Howard Sprague, who is covering the game for the local newspaper, saves the day. In a hard-hitting editorial, Howard shames the townsfolk who have been giving Andy a hard time, reminding everyone that it’s only a game, and for God’s sake have some perspective. And since as County Clerk Howard had access to everyone’s tax returns, that did the trick. Andy was accepted again.

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But then, in an M. Night Shyamalanian twist to our story, it seems that “camera bug” Helen Crump somehow was able to snap a photo of the play at the plate. Even though the scene was chaos and no one in their right mind would have chosen to view the biggest moment in Mayberry youth sports history through a tiny lens. And in another miracle, Helen managed to get a crystal-clear photo of the play. Look at the quality — she invented Instagram!

You see, it appears that Opie was safe all along. But Helen keeps the evidence to herself, not wanting to reopen a Pandora’s Box of hatred. If that photo ever got out, not even Howard’s magic typewriter could save Andy. The answer was simple: the truth must be covered up.

Sadly, it is always thus.

But wait … let’s take a look at the photo placed alongside a still of the play from the video:

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Nothing alike! Not only is the slide different, but the photo looks posed. And close inspection seems to show that Opie is wearing a batting helmet in the photo, where in the screen shot he’s wearing a cap. Helen’s photo is some sort of cheap forgery … she also invented Photoshop!

No doubt this was done to have something to hold over Andy — a little insurance in reserve to liven up the marriage negotiations. And even after they do get hitched, who needs a prenup when you’ve got evidence like this tucked in a safety deposit box down at the Mayberry Bank?

Helen is always thinking. Never cross her.

Conclusion: Opie was out. Andy got it right, and all these years he’s been wrongfully accused of blowing the call. I’m glad that he can finally be exonerated, and his record wiped clean of its only black mark. That is, if you don’t count this:

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***
“The Ball Game” first aired in Oct, 1966, in the seventh season of The Andy Griffith Show. It was co-written by Ron Howard’s father, Rance Howard.

Rick’s Cafe Americain appears on Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com. Twitter: @Rickchand.

  1. danandcasey - Jul 20, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Rick – thanks for the hard-hitting investigative journalism. The story had drama, heart! Take that, Frank Deford! (http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/06/25/frank-deford-laments-the-passing-of-journalism-that-frank-deford-likes-and-which-hasnt-passed/)

  2. Glenn - Jul 20, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Great post! That tomato next to Floyd is Helen Crump, Andy’s girlfriend, who you reference in the story.

    My favorite episode, and surely Andy’s only cruel moment, was the one when Opie shot a mother bird who had a nest outside his window. Andy’s punishment: to make the motherless Opie sit in his room and listen to the baby birds call to their mother until they die. Think about that for a moment. The story has a happy ending as Opie gets the idea to rescue the birds, raise them, and release them. I still think the punishment was way to cruel.

    • jon623 - Jul 21, 2012 at 11:09 AM

      I say the punishment was awesome parenting.

  3. mybrunoblog - Jul 20, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    I’ve been involved in youth sports and it’s always a disaster when you ask parents to umpire or referee a game. Just have the league pay the $30 or $40 to get a paid official to do the game. Makes life so much easier.

    • jon623 - Jul 21, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      I was a youth/middle school aged umpire for five seasons. (We call the age when kids move up to the big diamonds “Junior Baseball of Oregon.” 80 foot bases, full rules, leadoffs, all that fun stuff. I’m not sure what it’s called elsewhere.) We always had two umpires per game, and sometimes three if it was a tournament or playoff. I had to work with a parents once because our umpire never showed… one of the worst experiences of my years of umpiring. That fool was terrible.

      • jdillydawg - Jul 22, 2012 at 2:43 AM

        We had 15 games scheduled for our Little League season. In 8 of them, the umpires never showed. Parents have to know how to umpire games, or the games may never happen…

  4. skids003 - Jul 20, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    I always knew down deep Aunt Bee was a nasty old coot.

  5. ray1950 - Jul 20, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    A real investigative reporter would have noticed Opie hit the ball to center, not left :)

  6. southernpatriots - Aug 3, 2012 at 7:40 PM

    I am late to this thread and posting, but all posts on this thread either bring me back to my youth, or remember the episode or are just funny! Thanks all, I needed to laugh.