NOV: THE BASEBALL GURU ARTICLE FROM
Sixteen years of ONE MORE INNING: Part Two
Over the years there have been moments in the publishing of ONE MORE INNING that have been difficult to deal with. They have involv-ed baseball friends and people in the field that were either friends or
acquaintances that passed away.
Some I had been very close to & their death left a void in my life that could not be replaced. Almost all of them are ballplayers that I inter-viewed at one time or another and continued to correspond with or meet every once in awhile.
In some cases they were relatives who spent time with me and were kind enough to share their memories of their husbands or fathers.
Let me share some of my memories with you:
When I was a boy I would sit in the stands next to rightfield in the old Yankee Stadium and would talk to Cliff Mapes while he was on the field. He was always very obliging and never turned me down when I would ask him a question or two. About 50 years afterwards, when I started publishing One More Inning, I got in touch with Cliff & he was the first person I interviewed for the magazine. Over the years we corresponded quite often, became very friendly and whenever he came into New York for an Oldtimers Day game we would meet and have supper together. That was always fun because invariably we would be joined by people like Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, Billy Johnson, Mike Torrez and others. The stories that I heard of their days in the game were priceless.
The last time I saw him he mentioned that he was afraid he was losing sight of his remaining good eye ( he lost sight of his right eye when he fell on a horseshoe spike shortly after he left the game). About a month after that his wife Gert called to tell me he had passed away. She mentioned that he always talked about the fact that it was so nice to have somebody like me who remembered his days as a Yankee and would even bother to write about him. Well, I was the one who felt flattered to have been included in his circle and must say that several years after his passing I miss his company:
Same thing about Dick Bartell.
Got to know Dick when I was doing an article on the first ever All Star Game. Got in touch with him to talk about his being the first shortstop to be elected to play in that contest. Talked to him for awhile and for the most part was getting kind of general answers to my questions. His wife broke in and said that Dick was needed on the other phone and while he was gone she mentioned that Dick was in the early stages of Alzheimers and was aware of it and didnt mind her helping out with some questions. We continued the rest of the interview that way.
Over a two year period I corresponded with him and Ivy and experienced how deadly Alzheimers could be. There would be moments where Dick would hold long, lucid conversations with me. But as time went by they would grow less and less. He did mention that he was disappointed that he was never elected into the Hall Of Fame (if you check his stats, its a compelling case). He did often mention how proud he was when a baseball field he played on as a kid (and now used for Little League) had been named after him, with a plaque erected in the front entrance.
And then of course I got the expected phone call from Ivy telling me he was gone.
And then a year later she was gone too.
Johnny Gee was one of the tallest pitchers to play ML ball. When he was traded to the Giants the media made a big to do about it and also talked about his blazing fastball. He never made it and had a short career and then went on to do better in professional basket-ball. Theres more to the story though and I didnt get it until I talked to his wife.
15 years ago I sent away for his autograph. His wife, Doris wrote back and said Johnny was gone for some time now but she could answer any questions I may have about him. For the next two years we corresponded often and I learned a great deal about Johnny. She told me how it felt to be war bride and one particular incident when she had visited him when the war was over and they rode home from camp together. There were no seats available on the troop train and they were forced to sit on long wooden crates. Suddenly she noticed that there were name plates on the crates and realized they were the coffins of soldiers returning home.
She also mentioned how her husbands career was ruined by Frankie Frisch. When he was traded to the Giants he received a lot of attention from the press because of his size and they played up the fact that he would probably be able to help them a great deal. Frisch took exception to all the publicity he was getting and did everything possible to belittle him and not use him much during games. Early in the season, on an extremely cold and blistery day, the Giants were losing badly and Frisch told Gee to come right in. When he pointed out that he hadnt warmed up Frisch yelled out that he didnt care and if he didnt go in now hed be in the minors the next day and besides that he wanted him to pitch all fast balls. Gee went in, faced two batters and on the third he heard a loud pop in his arm. Frisch wouldnt take him out and used him, bad arm and all, to come in for relief two more days in a row. That effectively ended his career.
Then one day I received a letter from her telling me she had Lou Gehrigs disease and probably would have to curtail our correspondence. I called her, but her sister answered and said she was in the hospital and was in very bad shape. Two months later her son called to tell me she had died a few days ago.
Sixteen years of doing the magazine have given me other moments like the above. There are some more that Ill share next month.