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Going back to the long-lost days of my youth, I have always been captivated by baseball lore and anecdotes. In one of the first books I devoured on the subject listed the players that were found worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. I was fascinated by this list, reading over and over again the names of baseball’s immortals, as well as their statistical exploits. At the bottom of the list was a ballplayer named Robert (Rabbit) Maranville. I couldn’t quite understand how a player with a .258 lifetime batting average and no appreciable power, could have been voted into this elite group. After doing considerable research, I continue to have some issues with his worthiness. However, I also discovered Rabbit to be one of the most engaging eccentrics in the history of our National Pastime.

Maranville was the Harpo Marx of the infield. He would mock slow pitchers, yawning, and stretching on the mound. He checked an illusory stopwatch. He stretched out against an imaginary wall when on first base, and would slowly topple on the bag, pretending to fall asleep. He also would make fun of large, ponderous sluggers at the plate, mimicking their motions. Of course, he didn’t neglect the umpires: he would mimic every move the umpire made; from shifting his mask, going down in a crouch, sweeping the plate. The crowd would laugh with glee. He once pulled out a pair of eye glasses when up at bat, to assist the ump in calling balls and strikes. Once, when legendary umpire Bill Klem was calling the game, Rabbit stepped out of the batter’s box, lining himself in back of the catcher. “I just wanted to see where you stood, Bill, to call that last one a strike.” (Let it be noted that Klem once stated that eyesight was overrated in evaluating an umpire’s expertise.) Even the umpires at times had to call time out, as they couldn’t control their laughter. Once he was thrown out of the game for throwing a roundhouse punch at an ump – a not uncommon occurrence in those days. He later returned to the field, apologized profusely, offered to treat the bruises with iodine, and smeared streaks of iodine all over the ump’s face. But his most outrageous antic on the ball field was when he staged a murder, complete with gunshot, in Ebbets Field during a game. Even the Brooklyn crowd, who were used to daffy incidents such as three men on a base at the same time, was in a state of shock.

Rabbit also performed more dangerous acts under the influence, like walking hotel ledges. On one occasion, teammate and drinking buddy Jim Thorpe allegedly held him by one arm as Rabbit dangled 15 stories from a hotel room. On one occasion, the diminutive 5’3″ Rabbit needled the powerful Olympian to such a rage that he chased him throughout Boston; Rabbit escaped by climbing up a tree.  Thorpe waited at the bottom of the tree. However, the alcohol had its effect, and Thorpe fell asleep. The agile Rabbit climbed into an upper story window, and started bombarding apples off of Thorpe’s noggin. An enraged Thorpe tried to uproot the tree while Rabbit quietly escaped out the back door. Of course, the most famous escapade was the night that Thorpe and Rabbit were observed swinging from the branches of trees, yowling like banshees, with Jim shouting “I’m Tarzan” and the Rabbit “I’m little Tarzan.” They apparently kept this up all night.

Rabbit had his own version of Willie Mays’ “bread-basket catch” or “vest-pocket” catch of infield pop-ups. He would cup his hands, resting on his belt buckle as the ball skimmed by his peaked cap, strike him in his chest, and roll down his shirt into his glove.  One may call this the ultimate in showboating, which of course it was, but old-timers of that period could not report a single instance where Maranville botched the play. He was that good.

Pete Browning is considered one of the outstanding sluggers of the 19th century. Browning is best known for ordering the first custom made bat from the Hillerich & Bradsby Company in 1884, known then and now as the famous Louisville Slugger. He apparently single-handedly kept the company in business throughout his career. His collection included something like 700 bats; each one he cherished, spoke words of encouragement to, and was otherwise lovingly attentive to, and christened each with a Biblical name. Pete later retired them in his home; he believed that each bat contained a certain amount of hits – these were what he deemed his “active” bats – and he examined each Louisville slugger in order to see whether it was a “magical” stick with hits in it. The bats themselves were enormous: 37″ long, and 48 ounces in weight.

Browning displayed behaviors which could best be described as outlandish. He was known to stare at the sun for long periods of time, believing that by doing so, he would strengthen his “lamps” (eyes). He also believed that his eyes periodically needed to be “cleansed,” which could best be accomplished by sticking his head out the window when traveling on a train, in an effort to catch cinders in them. His eccentric behavior later devolved into psychosis, and he unfortunately spent his last years committed to an asylum.

Insanity is a frequent theme in baseball lore. More than fifty years after Browning was wasting away in a psychiatric institution, a colorful outfielder named Jimmy Piersall roamed centerfield with grace and skill. Piersall was always a popular flake, but at some point his eccentric behavior became bizarre and frightening. On one occasion, Piersall was ejected by the umpire for arguing after striking out. Prior to his at-bat, he had acknowledged teammate Milt Bolling’s home run by spraying a water pistol on home plate. Piersall then moved to the grandstand roof to heckle home plate umpire Neil Strocchia. Soon afterwards, he was committed to a psychiatric institution. After discharge, he continued his delightfully eccentric behavior:  he once stepped up to bat wearing a Beatles wig and playing “air guitar” on his bat, led cheers for himself in the outfield during breaks in play, and “talked” to Babe Ruth behind the center field monuments at Yankee Stadium. On one occasion, when playing against the Yankees, the preceding two batters were hit by the Yankee hurler. When Piersall came up to bat, he turned around to catcher Yogi Berra, and stated: “Yogi, if your pitcher hits me, I am going to charge the mound and brain him with my bat. Everyone knows that I am crazy, and I will be let off the hook.” Yogi calmly replied: “I wouldn’t worry about it. We never try to bean .250 hitters.” In his autobiography, Piersall commented, “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?”

During the time of the Great Dust Bowl, Sportsman Park in St. Louis was often covered with a fine layer of dust. The heat during this period was brutal and constant.  At one point, for 30 straight days, temperatures were 100 degrees or more. One day during this intolerable spell, St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Dizzy Dean built a fire in front of the Cards dugout. He procured two blankets, stomped the earth, and let out blood-curdling war cries in between yips. Dean then pantomimed rain coming down from the skies, took out an imaginary umbrella, and received applause going back to the dugout. During the World Series of 1934, Dean was sent into the game as a substitute base runner. On a ball to the shortstop Billy Rogell, Dizzy roared into second base but did not slide. Rogell’s throw hit him squarely on the head and Dizzy fell “like a marionette whose string had snapped” and lay motionless on the infield dirt. The ball was thrown so hard it bounced 50 ft. into the air. But Diz revived and left the field, and was taken to the hospital. The headlines next day read:

“X-Rays taken of Dean’s head – nothing found.”

Several days removed from the hospital, Dean came back to pitch game five. When he reached the mound, a fan raced onto the field to present him with a mediaeval armor helmet.

One can’t write an article on baseball flakes without including Rube Waddell, described by John Thorn as “The Peter Pan of Baseball.” There are literally scores of tales concerning Waddell’s exploits, on and off the field, and most of them are true.

“(Waddell) began that year (1903) sleeping in a firehouse in Camden New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men’s Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt, courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion.”

Lee Allen – Cooperstown historian, describing a year in the life of Rube Waddell.

Rube Waddell often showed his delight in striking out the side by doing cartwheels on the field. He would  be distracted by the opposition, who would wave shiny objects in his face. He would change his uniform as he ran across the diamond into the clubhouse after games, which usually drew roars from the crowd, as the Rube never wore underwear. He sometimes disappeared when he was scheduled to pitch; he could be found playing marbles with the kids outside the park, or at times in the village saloon; or sometimes at his favorite fishing hole. One time, he disappeared for several days in the midst of a tight pennant race, and returned to the team as if nothing had occurred, offering manager Connie Mack several catfish he had caught.  When a fire truck passed by mid-game, he was said to drop everything and run after it; his favorite hobby was putting out fires. (Rube allegedly saved the lives of 13 people, assisting in various disasters.) He would pour ice over his arm before the game, stating that if he didn’t do so his speed would burn a hole in the mitt of his equally flaky catcher, Ossee Schreckengost.  When he felt especially frisky, he would call the outfield in, and proclaim that he was going to strike out the side. And most of the times he would. Often Ossie would catch Rube’s heater, rated to be the equal of any in the game, bare-handed.

Rube also loved to wrestle. In 1904, the Boston Red Sox and Waddell’s Philadelphia A’s were in the midst of a tough pennant race. The Red Sox conspired to have their biggest player, Candy LaChance, challenge Rube to a wrestling match before the game. LaChance slapped Rube first in the belly, then the shoulders, and the match began. They wrestled for quite awhile, until Rube picked up LaChance, hoisted him over his head, and slammed him to the ground. Candy begged off playing the game; Rube went out and pitched a two-hitter. In 1905, Waddell engaged the great Cy Young in one of the greatest pitching duels of all time: Rube gave up two runs in the first inning, Cy returned the two in the 6th, and then both threw blanks, until an Athletic crossed the plate in the 20th inning. Rube won the game 3-2, pitching 20 consecutive scoreless innings. Waddell later parlayed the ball for free booze at the local tavern. It was said that more than 50 bars across the country claimed to have the ball that beat the Cyclone.

Connie Mack, Waddell’s manager and caretaker, called Rube the greatest pitcher, in terms of pure talent, he had ever seen—and Connie had seen them all, from Hoss Radbourne and Amos Rusie through Cy Young and Walter Johnson, on up to Lefty Grove and Bob Feller. Mack once said, “The Rube has a two million dollar body and a two cent head.”

Waddell died in 1914 at age 37 after contracting a viral infection while stacking sandbags at a flood site. His battery-mate Ossee Schreckengost, who once had a stipulation put in Waddell’s contract that forbade him from eating crackers in bed, and also once nailed a steak to the wall of a tavern when it was not to his liking, was the only player at his funeral. He provided the insightful epitaph for the headstone, “Rube Waddell had only one priority, to have a good time.”

From Around The Web

  1. leroy says:
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    Great read boss!

    You got any book suggestions for some more of em’?

  2. Keith says:
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    Fantastic article! Baseball lore – particularly that of its “flakes” – could not be a more interesting topic to read about… thank you for sharing… and curse you for now I shall be stuck reading up on these characters on Wikipedia instead of finishing my work for the day!

  3. brett says:
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    Best thing I’ve read in ages. I miss these anecdotes probably more than anything else about out league last year. Cheers Paulie, hope your season’s going well.

  4. Giant JJ says:
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    Would you trade Motte for Belt? 20 teams. Thanks!

  5. Up in this Mug says:
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    Thanks Paulie. I could use one of these every week.

    Appreciate the time and effort you put into this!

  6. Chris says:
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    Great job, Paulie. Hope we’ll see another edition soon.

  7. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @leroy:
    Thanks, Leroy!
    A terrific book on humourous remeniscence from baseball’s past will be publicsed (hopefully) by Christmas time by yours truly! Razzball cranks will get 25% off!

    Other books I have enjoyed which are in a simliar vein:
    Rube Waddell, by Alan H. Levy
    Baseball Anecdotes – Daniel Okrent
    The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstracts have numerous bizarre and humerous stories in between the statistical analysis
    A true gem: Tales from the Dugout
    The Greatest True Baseball Stories Ever Told – Mike Shannon

  8. xopchipili says:
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    absolutely loved this! I grew up on stuff like Nash and Zullo’s “Baseball Hall Of Shame” books, Bob Uecker’s “Catcher In The Wry,” and stories like this; I think it’s a big part of why I fell in love with the game. None of the other sports come close to baseball in the richness of its lore.

  9. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Keith: Thanks! Rather then Wikipedia, check out some of the materials authored by SABR. Another great read – Fifty-Nine in ’84, about Old Hoss Radbourn , by Ed Achorn@brett: Thanks, Brett – i miss our old league as well. As I told Tony, I stole his concept of the money RCL, and had to form my own league, because my nephew, brother, and lovely wife Sandra wanted to participate.@Giant JJ: I would, but you had better ask Grey, Rudy, or another expert on the site, as presently I am in the cellar of our RCL@Up in this Mug:
    Thanks – It is an effort of love.@Chris: If Grey wants more articles for the site, I would be glad to contribute

  10. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    I also want to thank two Frequent Commenters, Kelly D. (ALCOHOLIC) and especially Fred B (Simply Fred), both of who were instrumental in my efforts to establish a new career. As Brett related above, I attempted to entertain our RCL the last two years with interesting tales from baseball’s past. It then became a hobby, and soon an obsession.

  11. Panic says:
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    What’s as good as these personalities is the fact that the baseball community and public embraced it without demonizing it. Today these acts would result in being banned from flying, multiple arrests, community service..etc…..

  12. shibboleth says:
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    I enjoyed this more than words can express. Thank you so much for posting it. You’ve inspired me to dust off my Ken Burns Baseball DVDs.

    I feel like those legendary days will never return… how close can we get in today’s game? Manny auctioning his outdoor grill?

    ;-)

  13. Urban Achievers says:
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    Excellent! You should write a book

  14. Urban Achievers says:
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    Excellent! You should write a book. Another great who used to call in his outfield and strike out the side was Satchel Paige

  15. Wake Up says:
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    Great read! I like reading about baseball lore. Last year a leaguemate named his team the Maranville Rabbits.

  16. Steve says:
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    Great stuff Paulie (happy emoticon).

    Morneau out again (sad emoticon).

  17. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Panic:
    They wouldn’t let any of these characters within a mile of the ballpark. At least without ensuring that they were on tiralin or on antipsychotic medication.@shibboleth:
    My wife and I had the opportunity last summer to see Ken Burns and crew in Washington DC lecturing, answering questions from the audience, and previewing the 10th Inning. The last true eccentrics in the game were Mike Fidrich and Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
    @Urban Achievers:
    Thanks!
    You are absolutely correct about Satch. In the Ken Burns Series, Buck O’Neill tells a great story about Satch and Josh Gibson. Josh was looked on as the greatest hitter in the Negro Leagues, and Paige the greates pitcher. They played on the same team for some years, but Paige always said that he was going to go head to head with Gibson at some future time and they would see who would prevail. Some years later, they met as rivals in the Negro League World Series. I believe that Satch retired the first two batters, but then allowed a hit. Satch called out his manager and catcher, and told them that he was going to walk the next two batters, loading up the bases, and face off with Gibson. And so he did. When Josh came to the plate, he proceeded to taunt him, telling him what pitch he was going to through, and where he was going to throw it. He struck Gibson out with 3 pitches.

  18. Steve says:
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    @Paulie Allnuts: Can’t imagine the next three batters up in Paige’s team thanking him for that.

  19. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Wake Up:
    Thanks! Great name for a team. As his career was winding down, someone on the Cubs had the idea that Rabbit would make a great manager. One day he was out on the street outside Ebbets Field in Brooklyn hawking papaers, crying out “Read all about it! Maranville fired.” His prophecy rang true, as he was canned the next day.

  20. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Steve:
    Neither the manager nor catcher was thrilled with the idea, but Satchel do what he was gonna do.
    Paige’s control was legendary. Before games, he often would place a piece of plywood in back of home plate, and notch five nails in the board. He would then go to the mound, and punch the nails through the board with his formidable heater. He never needed more then nine pitches to complete the task.

  21. xopchipili says:
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    “The last true eccentrics in the game were Mike Fidrich and Bill “Spaceman” Lee.”

    Don’t underestimate Turk Wendell!

  22. Greg says:
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    please rank these 2nd baseman. I playing roulette with them

    Neil Walker, Kelly Johnson, Macier Izturis, Jed Lowrie, Aviles, Epinoza. It’s an obp and slugging league if that helps.

  23. Steve says:
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    Kershaw and the Dodgers just made me cry.

  24. Casey Blake's Beard says:
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    Dunn and Soria or Gardner and CJ Wilson?

  25. the bat rastard says:
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    Great job bro. Keep up the good work, this is classic stuff. If only your Razz team was doing as good…lmao.

  26. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @xopchipili:

    Ah, Turk! When he was successful hinting, he would dress the animal, and take a take a bite out of the creatures heart in order to become one in spirit. Yeah, he belongs.@Steve:
    Thanks for the reference. I haven’t read October 64, but have read Halbertson’s Summer of 49, which is a terrific read as well.
    @Greg:
    I like Walker, Johnson, Lowrie, Izturis, Espinosa, Aviles. But Grey I am not. I am just your average schmohawk fantasy schmuck.
    @Steve:
    Well, the Mets make me cry. I can only pray that MLB does to the Wilponzi’s what they have done to the Dodgers.

  27. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @the bat rastard:
    Hey, Rico, are you LMAO at the article, or at the sad state of my team?
    @Casey Blake’s Beard:
    Dunn and Soria seems obvious. Again, check out all questions with Grey/Rudy

  28. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    Thanks, Rastard. Maybe my next effort will focus on athletes urinating in their hands to soften them up. I used to think that Moises Alou was the only player to use this dubious technique, but Jorge Posada recently stated: “you don’t want to shake my hands during spring training.” Kerry Woods uses urine to ease blisters. For a severe headache, he recommends taking a “crap in you hat.”

  29. Philomath says:
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    Thanks for this article. It was a great read, and break, from the obsessive and compulsive stat crunching, opinion gathering and fingernail biting that is the fantasy baseball season. Look forward to more of these.

  30. AL KOHOLIC says:
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    awesome my friend,you write with such a passion for the game,you know im a fan of your articles stories or experiences,Keep up the great work and always send them my way if you can,thanks again.

  31. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Philomath:

    Thanks! I am a fantasy baseball addict, fo sure, but I also love the game and its history.

    @AL KOHOLIC:

    You will always be amongst the first I share my material with.

  32. Urban Achievers says:
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    @Steve:

    If something will make you put a bullet in your head faster than drafting Hanley Ramirez, David Wright and Justin Morneau as your first three hitters, I don’t know what it is.

  33. Urban Achievers says:
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    @Paulie Allnuts:

    I’ve also heard that ‘ol Satch would knock lit cigarettes out of his teammates’ mouths with that fastball of his on request. Another time he was playing in a ballpark that had a small, 6 inch or so hole in the fence in center field. Satchel bragged that he could throw a ball through it from second base. When his teammates challenged him, he threw and the ball rattled in the hole and fell out. His second attempt, however, never touched the fence.

    Great stuff. Which Ken Burns series are you referring to?

  34. Nomar Mr. Nice Guy says:
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    Rube Waddell sounds like my future fantasy baseball team names.. Thanks for this, great read.

  35. tHe sHiT says:
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    Great stories! Very fun stuff to read. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  36. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Urban Achievers:

    The Series called “Baseball” As Buck O’Neill used to say, “There are many stories about Satch, and most of them are true.”

    @Nomar Mr. Nice Guy:

    Great name. Thanks!

    @tHe sHiT:

    Hope I get the opportunity. Thanks!

  37. Ro Bauti says:
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    Great read Paulie. Looking forward to your book and will def check out your suggestions from earlier comments.

  38. Ian says:
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    Great stuff. One of my favorite books is “The Glory of Their Times” by Lawrence S. Ritter. A collection of old timers talking about the game that once was.

  39. Princess Sparrowhawk says:
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    Sweetheart, you are such a terrific writer! I am so proud that you are getting these well-deserved accolades.

  40. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    For some reaon, hon, I think that you might be a tad bit biased. Not that I mind! It is wonderful to have a wife how not only is beyind me 100%, but enjoys playing fantasy baseball! And is a hotsie totsie as well! How lucky can a guy get?

  41. Lizzy Lizard says:
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    It is too bad that in today’s baseball these antics would not be tollerated! sounds like they use to have fun out there on the field like in the days of my Softball Years!!!!!!

    Lisa

  42. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Lizzy Lizard:

    THE LIZARD SPEAKS! Grey will be happy as there is yet another female reader at the Razzball site!

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