For Father's Day this year the family gave me a wonderful baseball novel, The Three-Two Pitch: A Bronc Burnett Story by Wilfred McCormick. It's a classic 1948-vintage "boy's book", full of cheerful young men and sensible adults. Hardly anyone is mentioned who doesn't have a Y chromosome. The prose is at times pedestrian; the plot is predictable; the characters are mostly caricatures.
But the spirit of the book is solid: hard work plus good sportsmanship triumph over adversity. The baseball content is also extraordinary in its depth and technical accuracy. The Three-Two Pitch is an enjoyable, educational read.
I was absolutely mystified, however, by one facet of McCormick's novel. Virtually every one of the high-school boys have nicknames: our hero James "Bronc" Burnett, Jr.; his buddy catcher "Fat" Crompton; rival fielder "Peedink" Harrell; lead-off hitter "Bucket" Baker; first baseman "Slow Molasses" Smith; and so forth. These are all semi-plausible appellations for kids to use on each other --- with one exception. The most obnoxious lad in the book, a transparently feckless villain, is called by everyone "Fibate". His true name is "Reginald Jones".
What kind of a nickname is Fibate? How is it pronounced? Who would make it up? What could it possibly mean? It wasn't until I was more than halfway through the book that I finally caught on. Young Mr. Jones is the team statistician-scorekeeper, a glasses-wearing bookish genius-weasel who computes baseball stats in his head, who takes great personal pleasure in harassing protagonist Bronc Burnett, and who (like Eddie Haskell on the TV sitcom Leave It to Beaver) for unknown reasons is never slapped down by any of the adults who witness his misbehavior.
Fibate is thus, I belatedly deduced, a derogatory abbreviation for Phi Beta Kappa --- the academic honor society. Apparently it was risky business to be seen as too scholarly in Bronc Burnett's neck of the woods ...