The Question Box

 By Ray Corio





The great Sandy Koufax’s perfect game for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965







The “shot heard round the world, “ Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 3, 1951. It endures as perhaps the most dramatic play in baseball history. 



Losing pitcher, Ralph Branca.



The Question Box

By Ray Corio


Ever wonder about  the average weight of major league umpires?   Or if a perfect game can include an error  by  the winning  team?   Or why  baseball  players spit so often?

Quite a few readers  were  curious  about  those and other  such sports-related matters,  I learned, during my  ‘’interim‘’ term  tending  to  The  New  York Times  SportsMonday  Question Box  from  1984-1993.

Over a range of more than 400 columns, distilled from an average of 15-20 letters a week,  I answered roughly 2,000 questions.  But  one  I never  answered  stands  out:  which sport elicits the most questions?

Baseball,  unquestionably.  By a city and country mile.  It made up  more than 85 percent of the letters submitted.  Be it Super Bowl week,  Kentucky  Derby  week,  the  N. C.A.A.  basketball  tournament,  the Olympics or World Cup,  readers wanted  to  know  “If a runner  on second  base with  one out leaves the base too soon .  .  .  .’’

The national passion  for  the national  pastime  was  just dandy  for  me , a lifelong  sports  nut  encased  in a baseball shell.    So when  S.  Lee  Kanner  retired  in 1984 as the Question Box editor at The Times, this assistant sports editor,  naturally, was asked to  pinch-hit  until a successor  emerged.

What an at-bat!


By the time the column was retired nine years later,  I had been nicknamed  “Mr. Box” and  designated  as the staff’s  go-to  guy   for any reporter  or editor  in  the  entire  newsroom.

Beyond  the newspaper, friends  and  relatives  also caught on.  “Hey  Ray, I’ve got one  I bet  you  can’t answer,” became a daily challenge, and  nuisance.

The  column,  born when  SportsMonday  was created  in 1978,  invited  readers  to submit  questions  on any aspect  of  sports:  statistics,  records,  rules  or  strategies.   Sounds  dry,  even by Times  standards,  so  I would  enrich  the  answers  with  a  smile  or two.  And  a cartoon by  Tom Bloom with a  witty caption helped, too.
Letters  arrived  from  all  types,  particularly doctors,  teachers  and retirees;  lots  of retirees.

There  were  inquiries from Brazil  (basketball),  Canada  (curling),  and  the entire  United  States  (fencing,  boxing,  six-day  bicycle races,  etc. )   Even a question from my  former  high school mathematics  teacher,  who remembered  me   from  the school  newspaper.  Tha t led to a reacquaintance. 
Another  reader  wondered  if  I  was related  to  Ann  Corio,  the legendary  stripper  from burlesque  days.   It’s  a question  I’ve  been asked  many times,  and  the answer  is still,  ‘’Not  even  barely.”

As  for  sports  questions,  they  often  demanded  research,  which  often  turned  up  an  irony  or interesting  note  that upstaged  the original  question.  This was  all pre-Internet,  so  my  sources  were  record  and rules  books,  as well as  phone calls  to team  media directors  (not so good),  halls of fame  (better),  headquarters  for  the sports  (even  better),  the Elias Sports Bureau  (always  reliable) and  often major  league umpires  like Marty  Springstead   (the  best).  I  learned  never  to disagree  with umpires.

Over  the  years,  I  also learned  how  truly  popular  Babe  Ruth,  Ted Williams,  Joe DiMaggio,  Sandy  Koufax,  and  the Bobby  Thomson-Ralph  Branca dynamic  still are. 


Here’s a sample question:

If a Dodger  fielder  dropped a foul pop  during  Sandy  Koufax’s   perfect  game against  the Cubs  in 1965, would  the perfect  game be spoiled? 

The answer:  Hardly,  so  long  as  Koufax  retired  the batter  and every   other one  without  anyone  reaching base.  But the  fielder would  be charged  with  an error  for  ‘’prolonging   the  player’s   at-bat.”  So  there would be an error for  the winning  team in  a perfect  game by the winning pitcher. 

And  this  one:  Did Bobby  Thomson  hit  any  other home  runs  off  Ralph  Branca  in  1951  before  the pennant-winning   ‘’shot  heard  ‘round’  the  world”  in the playoff  against  the  Dodgers? 

The  answer:  Thomson  hit two  others  off  Branca  that  season,  one in  the first  playoff  game  two  days  earlier.  Interestingly,  Branca  allowed  19 homers  that  year,  11 to  the Giants,  and Thomson hit 8 of his 32  homers  off  the  Dodgers. 

For one  question,  I  got  the  answer  directly  from  the subject,  Dick  Lynch,  whom I met  at  my chiropractor’s  office  (apparently  a frequent   hangout  for  ex –football  players).

Lynch was a former  Notre  Dame halfback  and defensive  back, whose  3-yard  touchdown  run against  Oklahoma  in 1957 ended  college  football’s  longest  winning streak  at 47  games.  A reader wondered  if  Lynch  had  ever  played  at running back  during  his  career  with  the  New   York  Giants  in the  National  Football  League.   
‘’I  never  had  a  down  in  the pros,’’   Lynch  told  me,  pointing out  that  the  Giants  were  so successful  that they  kept  him  at  defensive  back  and kick  returner.  Lynch  managed  37  interceptions and scored 7  touchdowns,  but  the player  who  carried  the day  for Notre  Dame  never carried  the ball from scrimmage  as  a pro.

That  answer was  obtained easily,  but others,  like the weight  of  umpires and  the  penchant  for  spitting  in baseball,  wound  up  in my  can’t-answer  file,  along  with one  I received  a year  after  the  column  had  been  phased  out.   It came from a marketing  consultant  in  Englewood,  N.J.,  a  frequent  contributor: 

“Hey,  what  happened  to  Ray Corio  and  his  Q&A?”  


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