The lump in Johnny Callison's belly protruded like an air bubble
on an inner tube. It was May 1996, and life was taking another
shot at Callison--this time in the form of an aortic aneurysm.
For a change, though, luck was with him: Doctors were able to
remove the aneurysm in a five-hour operation. "I was all doped
up in the ICU for four weeks," says Callison. "My wife, Dianne,
says I talked about traveling all the time, to crazy places like
Pakistan. But I don't remember any of it."
Unfortunately for him, Callison still vividly recalls the summer
of 1964, when with 12 games left in the season his Philadelphia
Phillies blew a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League, losing
10 of their last 12 to finish behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
The collapse was one of baseball's worst ever and probably cost
Callison, a 5'10", 175-pound power-hitting rightfielder, the MVP
award. Despite his 31 homers, 104 RBIs and league-leading 19
outfield assists, he finished second in the voting, behind
Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer, who had 24 homers and 119 RBIs.
The Phillies never again contended with Callison on their
roster, and he was traded to the Chicago Cubs following the 1969
season. After two mediocre seasons in Chicago and two more with
the New York Yankees, he retired at age 34. "I was going to try
and fake it a couple more years, but I'd lost too many steps,"
Callison says. "And then it got bad."
Cash-strapped because of failed investments, Callison, who had
Dianne and their three daughters to support, endured what he
calls the "toughest years of my life." He drifted in and out of
car-sales jobs he despised but needed and worked as a bartender
until finally, in 1984, his major league pension kicked in.
Stress, however, had taken its toll, and in April '86 an ulcer
that had bothered Callison for years hemorrhaged. Doctors
removed half his stomach, and then, while recuperating in the
hospital, he suffered a heart attack. After having a quintuple
bypass, Callison spent the ensuing years comfortably
retired--until the lump. "My weight dropped to 135 pounds,"
Callison says. "And I still can't walk much."
He and Dianne now spend their days at their Glenside, Pa., home,
visited often by their children, Lori, 41; Cindy, 38; and
Sherri, 36, and eight granddaughters. When asked, Callison
laughs off the misery of Philly's epochal failure in 1964. "It
wasn't a matter of life and death," he says. "It just seemed
Callison the MVP award.