I don't remember my father as much of a baseball fan. I knew he'd been a pretty good left-handed pitcher in prep school, throwing against some future big leaguers. I also knew that Dad, having grown up in St. Louis, later in life worshiped Cardinal's Hall of Famer
So, not long ago, it came as a surprise to discover that my father had not only once been a baseball fan, he'd been a fan of the most rabid kind, an autograph hound. Dad died of cancer in December 2002. That year, ill and closing in on 80, he'd begun to arrange his affairs, completing a detailed family history, parceling out personal effects to his four children and cataloguing his beloved library of several thousand books. He did a thorough job of it. Once Dad left us, there was a minimum of family fuss about sifting through the artifacts of his life.
Still, when he passed, my father hadn't fully completed the tasks of his last days. Among the items left not dealt with on his desk was a manila envelope. Inside, was a small green book with a cracked leather cover. In my sisters' and my last rush to sort through everything before returning to our respective homes, the envelope went to me. Then, within the month, I had a heart attack. Shortly after that I underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Then my cat died. I forgot all about the little green book.
Not long ago, I came across the envelope again when rummaging through a drawer. The book was still inside. I now noticed that on its cover was labeled in ornate gold letters AUTOGRAPHS. Folded into it was a slip of paper. This read:
The list that follows is a veritable who's who of a bygone baseball era --
Opening the now-fragile book, I saw the oversized boyhood scrawl inside the cover announcing, "This book belongs to CHAMP CLARK." What follows are the penciled autographs of the great, the not-so-great and the up-for-a-cup-of-coffee ballplayer alike, four or five names often indiscriminately grouped together on one of the pastel pages. Babe Ruth lives forever on a field of egg blue alongside
That was Buddy, all right. Once, when
1. Schreiber pitched 10 innings for Brooklyn in 1923, the year I was born. He did not appear in another major league game until 1945, just as I was 22 and about to get out of the Marine Corps after World War II. Surely, that's baseball's longest interval between appearances.
2. Between those playing dates, Schreiber, as an employee of the Yankees, became the game's first full-time professional batting practice pitcher. As such, throwing marshmallows day after day to Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio & Co., Schreiber probably served up more home-run balls than anyone in history.
"Well," replied Newsom, "you just tell Daddy to go f--- himself."
That may be my favorite of Dad's comments. It was the only time I ever heard anything about my father crying.