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Reflections on the Game

April 24, 1989
April 24, 1989

Table of Contents
April 24, 1989

Soccer
Show Biz
Marathon
Mark Langston
Kevin Johnson
Baseball Lives
On The Scene
Spotlight
Point After

Reflections on the Game

When the national pastime is your work, your passion becomes your profession. Listen now as five people talk about their baseball lives

Hugh Alexander

This is an article from the April 24, 1989 issue Original Layout

A scout for the Chicago Cubs, Alexander, 71, wears a huge gold ring given to him in honor of his 50th anniversary in scouting. He's a legend; just ask him.

I'm recognized as being the No. 1 guy who ever scouted the game of baseball. When I was an area scout for 33 years, signing free agents, I signed something like 63 ballplayers who went to the big leagues. For the last 18 years I've been a big league scout. I scout all the clubs, report on 650 ballplayers a year. You ask me about any ballplayer that played in the big leagues in the last two years and I'll tell you all about him—and I don't have to get out my book.

You have to love the life. You have to go home and have it out with your wife so she'll go along with your being a baseball scout, because there's a lot of divorces in baseball. I've had six wives because I've never had one that really loved the game.

I signed in 1935 with the Cleveland Indians. I played a year and a half in the minor leagues and then I went to the major leagues. I had just turned 18 when I signed, and I'm not trying to brag, but I put some numbers on the board that were out of this world. The first year in the minors I hit .348, hit 39 home runs, drove in 125—things like that. The next year Cleveland sent me to the Springfield Indians in Springfield, Ohio. I played in 81 ball games and hit 31 home runs, hit .344, drove in over 100 runs and went to the big leagues. It was almost unheard of in those days to go to the big leagues in a year and a half. Six or seven was more normal.

Then I went home to Oklahoma in the fall of '37 and caught my sleeve between two big gears in the oil field, and they pulled my left hand down and crushed it off. I had just turned 20. Out of the kindness of the Indians' hearts—and it had to be, because there were only about 20 scouts in all of baseball back then—they gave me a job scouting. I'm sure they just felt sorry for me because of my being that kind of a prospect and then losing my hand real quick.

To show you how fate will play an important part in your life, I'm scouting for Cleveland at age 20, and the first player I signed was Allie Reynolds, the great pitcher. The second player was Dale Mitchell, who played leftfield for the Cleveland ball club for 10 years. So I got off to a lucky start. My area was Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi. I scouted 14 years for Cleveland, then I went to the White Sox for four years, Brooklyn and Los Angeles for 15, the Phillies for 16, and this is my third year for the Cubs.

We didn't make any money back when I started: $3,000 a year scouting. I think the hardest job in baseball is being a scout. It's hard work driving up and down the damn highway 60 to 70 thousand miles in a seven-month period. When I went to the Dodgers in 1956, I became the supervisor of 22 states, mostly in the Midwest. I'd check out players, or if a scout needed help signing a player, I'd fly in and I'd sign 'em. I knew the ins and outs of signing. Some of those ballplayers I helped on—I'm not taking credit for these players, because other guys signed 'em, I just helped—are Frank Howard, Steve Garvey, Billy Russell, Davey Lopes.

Frank Howard was a basketball player at Ohio State, and the Dodgers tried to sign him all the summer of 1957. We must have had 20 or 30 meetings with him. The next spring another Dodger scout, Bert Wells, and I were up in our hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, and the phone rang at two o'clock in the morning. It was Howard. He was all excited.

"Calm down," I said. "What's the matter?"

"I have to see you and Mr. Wells. I have to see you right now."

"Well, where are you?"

"In the lobby!"

He came up the stairs, and I said, "What's the matter?" and Howard said he'd been talking on the phone for the last hour and 20 minutes to Paul Richards, the general manager of the Houston club.

Howard said, "Richards said to me, 'Well, how much would it take to get you to sign with the Houston club?' I finally decided that if I put the money up real high, the Houston club would back off. So I said the lowest money I would possibly take would be 120 thousand. And Richards said, 'I just signed you.' I said, 'What do you mean?' And Richards said, 'If you want 120 thousand, that's what you're going to get from the Houston ball club, so I just signed you.' "

Howard told Richards no, he hadn't meant that. So then Richards said that Howard's word was no good. So now Howard wanted to sign with us, with the Dodgers. Right then. He was really excited. I said, "What kind of money are we talking about?"

He said, "If you guys right now will give me a $100,000 bonus and an additional $8,000, I'll sign right now."

He was 21 years old. That was an awful lot of money back then. Wells or I said, "Well, why the odd figure?"

He said he wanted $100,000 for himself and an extra $8,000 to make a down payment on a home for his mother and dad. So Bert and I went into the bathroom, and Bert said, "What do you think?" We were supposed to go only to $90,000, but Wells and I usually had the leeway of about $10,000, and what the hell's the difference between 90 and 108, anyway? There's no difference. So we went out and said, "You got it."

I never worked for a club that didn't have any money, or I couldn't have signed any players. It wouldn't have been any fun.

There's a lot of tricks in signing. When you go in the boy's house to do your preliminary work, you must find out who is going to have the final say in that family. About 75% of the time it's the mother, and you'd better figure it out. But I've been in the situation a number of times when I thought the mother was going to be the deciding factor, and it turns out she wasn't. Could be the boy himself, could be the father. Sometimes I'd sit there and talk and talk and listen and the mother wouldn't say a word, so I'd think, She's not going to have any say in this, but the last day, that's when she came forward. This happened 50 times.

I've seen 20 scouts hanging around a house. What I used to do—and a lot of people thought I was wrong in doing this—I'd go in the house early, during the winter, and say to you and your family that you're a bona fide good prospect, and you're gonna have a lot of clubs in here after school's out, trying to sign you.

"Here's what I'm gonna do," I'd say, and it wasn't against the rules. "I'm gonna keep out those ribbon clerks, those guys who are only going to muddy the water, who will come out here and spend five hours of your time and talk, talk, talk, and when all the talking's over offer five, six thousand dollars. I'm going to start your money at 40 thousand in bonus. Right now you've got that offer. It's my first offer, not my last. So when those scouts call you on the phone, you tell them real quick that you have an offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers for 40 thousand, and unless they want to go that high or higher, you'd rather they didn't even come out to the house."

Immediately that would get it down to six or eight clubs. Then we'd fight like hell over a player. I signed more than half of my top prospects. I was working for the clubs that had the money!

Most scouts in the winter would take an off-season job, be a substitute teacher, carpenter's helper, sell automobiles. But I never did. Then in the spring the other scouts would come and say, "You signed that so-and-so kid!" and I'd say, "I damned sure did. While you guys were out working, I was working baseball."

If you're a prospect and I look at you and then I get in a car for 200 miles, I'm going to break you down right in my mind, going at 70 miles an hour—your arm, your speed, fielding, hitting, power—five things for a regular player. About one out of 10 players signed makes it to the majors. The way I figured it out mathematically—and without a computer—the good scout has got to be right seven out of 10. I always was. The prospect who just goes to Double or Triple A, hell, he's a liability. He's costing you money.

But you're dealing with human beings. Always remember that. You're not dealing with animals you can train. Lots of fathers have asked me to go see their sons. "This boy really wants to play," he'd say. And I've gone to watch him play and then gone back to the father and said, "Your boy is a gung-ho player and he loves to play, but he just does not have enough ability to play professional baseball. It's that simple."

I've had to tell a lot of fathers that, and it's hard to do, because the father loves the boy.

Stephanie Vardavas

Until recently, Vardavas was a lawyer in the commissioner's office. Originally from Baltimore, she has been a baseball fan all her life.

My sophomore year in college at Yale, in 1974, I was I trying to think of a really good Halloween costume. It occurred to me that wearing Brooks Robinson's uniform would be a great thing to do. I picked Robinson because he was my favorite. I thought he was cool, terrific. I got some nice engraved Yale stationery and wrote to him: "Dear Mr. Robinson, If your uniform isn't doing anything near the end of October, would you consider letting me borrow it for Halloween? I promise I'll take really good care of it and send it right back."

I received a letter from him, in his handwriting, a week or two later, saying that he thought it was a great idea but the uniform didn't belong to him, it belonged to the Orioles, and I should write to vice-president for business affairs Jack Dunn and tell him Brooks said it was O.K. That letter—I don't know what it would be worth now on the collectors' market. I showed it to a friend, and he said, "Wow! That's like getting a letter from God!"

I wrote the letter to the Orioles, to Dunn, and then I received this package with Robinson's home uniform, and the cap, the socks, the stirrups. You could tell it was real because there was a button missing and the leg was worn from sliding. I had it for about a week before Halloween, and every night after dinner I would lay it out on my bed and people would come over and just look at it. I was on cloud nine. I didn't actually put it on until Halloween, and it was a thrill.

I sent it back, and a couple of years later I went to photo night at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and brought along a picture taken of me in the uniform, and asked Robinson to sign it. Maybe someday I'll be the answer to a trivia question: "Who's the only other person to wear number 5 for the Orioles?"

William Weiss

Weiss, 63, is the statistician for the five minor leagues west of the Rockies. He works out of his house in San Mateo, Calif.

I learned at a very young age, growing up in Chicago, that I was no athlete. If I wanted to have anything to do with baseball, it certainly wouldn't be on the field. I was very much interested in baseball records and players' records—not just watching the game, but the statistics of the game. Statistics just seemed like a natural for me, and it's what I decided I wanted to do in life.

As a kid, I used to hang around the American League office in Chicago on Saturday afternoons and go through the library of old record books and look up players' careers and that sort of thing. I was always more interested in minor league players than in major league players, because you could easily find the backgrounds of the major league players in Who's Who in Baseball and The Sporting News, but with the minor league players you had to go back and pick them out year by year, going through the old baseball guides.

After World War II, when I was working in Chicago at a lot of odd jobs, the National Association, which ran the minor leagues and was located in Columbus, Ohio, sponsored a seminar for front-office personnel in the game, and also for hopefuls—because there was a burgeoning number of minor leagues employing young men who had never had any contact with the business rules of baseball.

At the seminar I struck up an acquaintance with another aspirant, Jim Burris, who later became president of the American Association. Jimmy and I were standing on the street corner in Columbus waiting for a bus, and a man not much older than ourselves—I was 22 at the time—came along and asked, "Is this where you get the bus to go to 696 East Broad Street?" Well, that was the National Association address. We said yes and introduced ourselves, and this fellow turned out to be from Texas. His name was Howard Green and he was president of the Class D Longhorn League, which he had single-handedly organized the previous year. He was also half owner of the Abilene Blue Sox in the West Texas-New Mexico League. So we got to talking, and before I got off the bus I had a job.

He hired me to do the statistics for the Longhorn League and to work as his assistant with the Abilene Blue Sox—mainly running the box office out at the ballpark. That was my first job in baseball, and I'll tell you, it was a summer I'll never forget. Blue Sox Stadium is a great name but slightly grandiose for the facility, which had a big sign on the press box on the top of the roof that said: DANGEROUS FOR OCCUPANCY BY MORE THAN six PERSONS. The offices of the Longhorn League and the Abilene Blue Sox were on the second floor of an old house, which was also where Howard and his wife lived. I had the spare bedroom, which also served as my office. It was also where the team stored the surplus bats and tickets. Since there were twin beds in the room, I got to share the room with stray ballplayers that came and went, usually for their first night in town before they got situated.

I don't think I'd trade that experience for anything. That Longhorn was quite a league. It had clubs in Ballinger, Del Rio, Big Springs, Midland, Odessa, Sweetwater and Vernon—Texas towns most people never even heard of.

That was a great year, 1948, the year a big, tall outfielder named Bob Crews had 69 home runs for Amarillo, which tied the existing record in organized baseball for the most homers by a player in a single season—which had been set in 1933 by Joe Heuser of the Minneapolis Millers. Crews should have had 70, and the 70th would have been in the Abilene ballpark, but you know how bad lights were back then, and the outfield lights in particular. The Abilene ballpark had a scoreboard above the center-field fence. If a ball hit the scoreboard, it was a home run, even if it came back on the field. We had a centerfielder, a young man from Sacramento named Gus Stathos who had the nickname of Grandstand Gus, the Galloping Greek, and Crews hit a ball out to centerfield. From the stands you couldn't pinpoint exactly where it hit. The umpire said it hit the fence and was in play, and Crews only got a double. After the game, Stathos said the ball had hit the bottom of the scoreboard. It should have been a home run.

We had probably the two most one-sided consecutive games in baseball history, between Midland and Del Rio. Del Rio was in last place from the day the season opened. Midland defeated Del Rio 31-0 and 40-4. In that 40-4 ball game, one pitcher went the whole game for Del Rio. Only 29 of the runs were earned. I didn't see it, but I've got the score sheet.

The year after I was in Texas, the Ballinger franchise was transferred to Roswell, N.Mex., and when I say "transferred," I mean everything. They dismantled the ballpark and put it on flatbed trucks and hauled it across West Texas, into New Mexico, and rebuilt it.

In the winter of'48-49, I was hired by the California League and the Far West League to do their statistics and also to work in the office in San Francisco. Then the next year I got the big plum, which was the Pacific Coast League. I also picked up the old Sunset League. So I bought this house in San Mateo and settled in. That was in 1950, and I've been here ever since.

I can't say that I've ever been that fascinated with the type of thing that Bill James is so well known for: a greatly expanded idea of what statistics are and what they mean. I don't think you can do much in the way of predicting from statistics. Statistics tell you what has happened, period. It's a tool. A friend of mine once worked for the Oakland A's and likes to tell the story about Charley Finley and the late Ray Swallow, his farm director. This would be probably around 1966, 1967. Ray would come into Finley's office and give him all these statistics about a particular player they were thinking about bringing up, and Finley would sit there and listen and fidget and then say in this stentorian voice of his. "Cut the crap. Can he play or can't he?"

Part of the fascination with this whole thing is watching the players day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year—how they progress or fail, how well they do in certain circumstances, the streaks, the spurts, the slumps. The basics of the job are still the same: batting records, pitching records, fielding records. There has been an expansion in the number of statistical columns, such as the sacrifice fly, which didn't become a part of the official rules until the early '50s. Or saves, which didn't come in until 1969.

But the biggest change is in the transmission of information, rather than in the information itself. Everything used to come by mail, so it couldn't be real up-to-date. Now, after the games each night, the official scorers send the score sheets here to the house on the fax machine. Then sometime between midnight and 2 a.m., I sit down and go over each report to see that it proves out, to see that there isn't some mistake. After we get the score sheets checked, the information is entered onto the individual player's record.

After the season is over, it takes a couple of months to get the final official averages ready and bring the record books up to date. In the off-season you don't put in as many hours and there's more freedom. If you want to shut up shop for a day or two and go somewhere, you can.

I enjoy historical research, and last winter I was doing something on the old California League, going back to the 19th century. For example, in 1892 the San Jose ball club played a 177-game season, and except for three or four games, two pitchers pitched the entire season. One pitcher pitched over 800 innings. That's a career for most pitchers nowadays. I don't know what their arms were made of. One of the two actually got to the majors. His name was George Harper. The one who pitched the 800-plus innings, J.D. Lookabaugh, kind of disappeared a couple of years down the road. Probably threw his arm out.

Pat Santarone

Santarone's office is the playing field of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, where he is the head groundskeeper.

I got started in baseball because I was born into baseball. My dad was a professional baseball groundskeeper in Elmira, N.Y., in the old Eastern League. Twenty feet past the rightfield fence is where I was born and raised. My two brothers and I would go with our dad—sweep the stadium, shag balls.

We had a herd of goats right in the ballpark, where we used to pasture them. We had anywhere from four to 12 goats. The players bellyached about the droppings, so we had to clean that up before batting practice. The old Eastern League scorecard had a picture on the cover of the goats in the outfield.

My dad was a helluva groundskeeper; really, really good. He was from the old country, of course, a man of the earth, a farmer, a laborer in Italy. He got into groundskeeping when he emigrated to the United States, and he taught me. He understood dirt and what dirt did. He died in 1952 and I took over the team in Elmira, in the Dodger organization. I was 22 or so.

In 1959-60 Baltimore took over the franchise, and that's when Earl Weaver came to Elmira as the manager. Weaver moved up to the big leagues during the '68 season. We had guys in Elmira who moved quickly up to Baltimore—Davey Johnson and Mark Belanger and those fellows—and they raved about my infield. So Earl thought, "Why not transfer that to Baltimore?" The Orioles called and asked if I would come up to the big leagues.

I played 17 years of semipro baseball myself—pretty fair pitcher, back when we got $35 if we won, $25 if we lost—so I know what it takes to have a decent infield: what the dirt should consist of, what makes a bad hop, that kind of thing. Hands-on knowledge and intuition. It's just getting a feel—it's hard to discuss.

If I see a bad hop, I remember it and take a look after the game, hoping it's not a matter of the infield being too dry or too wet, too hard or too soft. I can tell by walking on it. I'm a big fan, darn right. I love baseball. I really do.

But the players aren't the same. Way back in my earliest time, most of the players weren't college players. They weren't spoiled as much as these players are. In those days if you came to the park with a briefcase you'd get your head knocked off.

The game itself has changed. Watch these players; almost every batter after every pitch takes a walk out of the box. If you tried to walk away back then the umpire'd say, "Hey, sonny, we play ball here. Where're you going?"

The funniest statement I hear is the pitcher telling the manager, "I lost my concentration." I knew managers 20, 30 years ago who were likely to hit you while you were standing out there on the mound if you said that to him. Can you explain to me how, in the middle of a baseball field in front of thousands of people, when you're throwing a ball at a guy who's trying to drive it right back down your throat, you can lose your concentration? What the hell are you talking about?

I've never had much money, but I've learned how to do things that don't cost a lot of money. I'm a doer. Full of nervous energy. I do photography and color printing. I've learned how to scuba dive. Can't get enough of it. I could go down to the bottom and just lay there and stay there. No one to bother you. I'm a published chef. A lot of my recipes—French, Italian, anything—have been published.

I've got a big garden at home, north of Baltimore. Earl Weaver and I had tomato contests every year. We planted them in the grounds crew area. He had his tomato plants and I had mine. Hell, he never come close. He accused me of doing all kinds of funny things to his plants when they went on the road.

"Earl," I said, "I haven't touched your plants. I watered your plants exactly when I watered mine."

I didn't have to cheat to beat him. I pruned mine differently, fed them differently, cultivated them differently. I was close to my plants.

Andy Strasberg

Strasberg is the director of marketing for the San Diego Padres, but when you ask him to talk baseball, he's likely to talk about Roger Maris.

I grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium, but one of my fondest memories is of when my dad first took me to the Polo Grounds. In the middle of Harlem was this immense cathedral and inside was all this green, green grass. Incredible.

On that particular day the Giants were playing the Phillies. My dad had purchased general admission tickets for the upper deck. In about the fourth inning my dad slipped an usher some money, and we moved down and sat about four rows from the field. I just fell in love with baseball. That was 1957. I was eight years old, and throughout my life, every time I started to drift away from the game, something brought me back, something very special.

In 1960 Roger Maris came to the Yankees from Kansas City. I had been burned in a fire that August, so I was laid up for a while. I followed baseball even more closely because of that. I remember a headline in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that said that Roger Maris "rejuvenates" the Yankees. I had never heard the word "rejuvenate" before, but it made me think that this Roger Maris was someone special. That's just like yesterday to me. That was the year, you may recall, that he won the Most Valuable Player award.

For me, there was just something about the way he swung the bat, the way he played rightfield, the way he looked. I had an idol. In 1961 the entire country was wrapped up in the home run race between Maris and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth's ghost. I cut out every single article on Roger and told myself that when I got older and could afford it, I would have my scrapbooks professionally bound. About eight years ago I had all of it bound into 11 volumes.

I always sat in section 31, row 162-A, seat 1 in Yankee Stadium. Rightfield. I would buy a general admission ticket, but I knew the policeman, so I would always sit in that reserved seat. I'd get to the ballpark about two hours before they'd open up and I'd remain two hours after. I would see Roger park his car and I would say hello and tell him what a big fan I was. After a while, he started to notice me. He threw me a baseball in batting practice, and I am embarrassed to say that I was so stunned, I couldn't lift my arms. The ball fell and somebody else got it. I yelled to Roger that I didn't get the ball, so he stopped on the way in and spoke to Phil Linz, a utility infielder, and Linz comes over, takes a ball out of his back pocket and says, "Put out your hand." I put out my hand and he said, "This is from Roger Maris."

He put the ball in my hand. But you know how cruel kids can be. My friends said, "That ball's from Phil Linz, not Roger Maris." So later on I asked Roger for a ball and he gave me one.

After that, my friends kept pushing me, challenging me. "Why don't you ask him for one of his home run bats?" Well, one day Roger was standing by the fence during batting practice. I made the request for a bat, and he said, "Sure, next time I break the bat."

This was in 1965. The Yankees had a West Coast trip, and I was listening to their game against the Angels on the radio late one night, in bed, with the lights out. And Roger cracked a bat. He had to go back to the bat rack. The next morning my old friend from high school calls me: "Did you hear Roger cracked his bat? That's your bat."

I said, "We'll see."

When the club came back to town my friend and I went to the stadium, and during batting practice Rog walked straight over to me and before I even opened up my mouth he said, "I've got that bat for you."

I said, "Oh, my God, I can't thank you enough."

He knew who I was. Before the game started I went to the dugout. I went up to the great big policeman stationed there and just poured my heart out as quickly as I could—"You have to understand, please understand, Roger Maris told me to come here, I was supposed to pick up a bat, it's the most important thing, I wouldn't fool you, I'm not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, you gotta let me...."

"No problem. Stand over here."

I thought, geez, this is too easy, because I was expecting the worst. Just before the game starts, Rog comes up out of the runway and hands me the bat. One of the most incredible moments in my life. Here is the bat from my idol and he thought enough of me to bring it back and give it to me.

I brought the bat home and told all my friends, and they said, "Now that you have the bat, why don't you ask him for one of his home run baseballs?"

So I asked Roger for one of his home run baseballs, and he said, "You're gonna have to catch one 'cause I don't have any."

Maris was traded to St. Louis for Charley Smith on Dec. 8, of '66—a real dark day as far as I was concerned, because Roger Maris was no longer a New York Yankee. In 1966 I went off to college at the University of Akron, in Ohio. My roommate had a picture of Raquel Welch on his wall and I had a picture of Roger Maris. Everyone in the school now knew that I was a big Maris fan. Some of my friends said, "You told us that you knew Roger Maris. Let's just go see." So one day six of us drove 2½ hours to Pittsburgh to see the Cardinals play the Pirates. It was May 9, 1967. We got to Forbes Field two hours before the game, and there was the red number 9. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen Roger Maris outside of Yankee Stadium, and I figured he wouldn't know who I was because the setting was different. I was very, very nervous. Extremely nervous, because I had five guys with me. I went down to the edge of the fence, and my voice was quavering as I said, "Ah, Rog...Roger...."

He turned around and said, "Andy Strasberg, what the hell are you doing here in Pittsburgh?"

That was the first time I knew he knew my name. I looked at him and I looked at my friends and I said, "Well, Rog, I'm with some guys from college. They wanted to meet you and I just wanted to say hello." The five of them paraded by and shook hands and they couldn't believe it. I wished Rog the traditional good luck and he said, "Wait a minute. I want to give you an autograph on a National League ball." And he went into the dugout and got a ball and signed it. I put it in my pocket and I felt like a million dollars.

I'm very superstitious when it comes to baseball. That day I sat in row 9, seat 9 out in rightfield. In the third inning Roger hit his first National League home run, off Woodie Fryman.

I caught the ball.

It's the most amazing thing that will ever happen to me in my life. I caught the ball and tears were rolling down my face. I couldn't believe it. He came running out at the end of the inning—you've got to remember that Rog knew where I was, and it wasn't crowded that particular game—and he said, "I can't believe it." I said, "You can't? I can't!"

Back at school, I was afraid that someone was going to steal the ball, or hide it, so the next morning I didn't go to class. I went to the Akron Dime National Bank, explained the situation to the president and asked if he would put the ball in a safe-deposit box until I left Akron. He did, no charge. After I went home for the summer, the Cardinals came into Shea Stadium, and Maris signed the ball.

You would think that the story of my relationship with Roger Maris would be over now. I had caught the baseball. But it just goes on from there. In 1968 I flew out to St. Louis to see his last game. For me it was a real tough time because I knew my childhood was coming to an end. I got very emotional at the end of the game. He ran out to rightfield, and then they sent in a substitute and Roger came running in. I was sitting somewhat behind the dugout, watching the proceedings, and he didn't acknowledge me. By then I felt that we had a pretty good rapport, and I felt a little bit bad. But he must have seen me because he then popped his head out and winked and went back in. This really touched my heart. I was interviewed by The Sporting News, who found out that I had made that trip from New York expressly to see Roger retire. The reporter asked Maris about me specifically, and Roger said, "Andy Strasberg was my most loyal fan."

I continued with my life and Roger continued with his. We started exchanging Christmas cards and the relationship grew. I graduated from college in 1971 and traveled around the country for two or three years, looking for a job in baseball. When I was hired by the San Diego Padres, I contacted Roger, telling him that I had gotten the job. He wrote me a nice note of congratulations.

I got married in 1976, at home plate at Jack Murphy Stadium here in San Diego. I had promised myself I was going to get married—if I ever did it—at home plate. Rog and his wife, Pat, sent us a wedding gift, and we talked on the phone once or twice a year. In 1980 Roger and Pat were in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game. That night we went out for dinner—my wife, Patti, my dad, Roger and Pat. I sat next to Roger throughout the dinner; I hadn't seen him for several years.

Roger started talking about his first National League home run and how I caught it. I had told the story many times and usually the response was, "It's not true. You're lying." It was great to hear his version. When he was through, Jim Weigel, a fellow from our office who had joined us for dinner, said to me, "I've got to tell you, Andy. Up until now, I never believed that story."

Roger passed away in December 1985. He had lived in Gainesville, Fla., but had grown up in Fargo, N.Dak., and I made arrangements to go to Fargo for the funeral. It was brutally cold. I went there not knowing anyone but Roger's wife. After the ceremony I sat and waited because I didn't want to go up to Pat when everyone else was there. I went to her and expressed how sorry I felt. She hugged me, and then she said, "I want you to meet the rest of my family." I had never met the kids. Six children. She turned to them and said, "I want to introduce someone really special. Kids, this is Andy Strasberg." And Roger Maris Jr. said, "You're Dad's No. 1 fan."

I couldn't keep my composure. The family reached out to me and I reached out to them, and I thought it was just a nice ending to a great story. But it wasn't the end. It was just the beginning. I have gone back to Fargo every year for a charity golf tournament and auction held in Roger's name to benefit the Hospice of the Red River Valley. One year I asked for the opportunity to address the banquet. There were about 700 people there. I said, "You've heard from Roger's family, Roger's friends, his teammates, but there is another side, and that is Roger's fans, and this video tells it all."

The lights went down and on came a 3½-minute video I had put together with a friend—pictures of Maris, of Maris and me together, with Lou Rawls singing in the background, "Did you know that you are my hero?/You are the wind beneath the wings of my feet." It gave me an opportunity to tell everyone about Roger Maris, the man.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONPETER GREGOIREPHOTOPETER GREGOIREAFTER HIS OWN PROMISING PLAYING CAREER WAS CUT SHORT BY FREAK INJURY, ALEXANDER WENT IN SEARCH OF OTHER BUDDING PHENOMSPHOTOPETER GREGOIREFOR HALLOWEEN, VARDAVAS TURNED TO HER HERO AND DONNED THE BROOKS LOOKPHOTOPETER GREGOIREFOR 42 YEARS, WEISS HAS HAD A MAJOR OBSESSION WITH MINOR LEAGUE STATSPHOTOPETER GREGOIRELIKE HIS FATHER BEFORE HIM, SANTARONE IS AN ARTIST WHOSE MEDIUM IS GRASS AND DIRTPHOTOPETER GREGOIRESTRASBERG'S LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS IDOL, MARIS, WAS THE STUFF OF BOYHOOD DREAMS

This article is excerpted from "Baseball Lives," by Mike Bryan, to be published in the U.S. by Pantheon Books and in Canada by Harper & Collins Publishers Ltd.