The Gospel Truth

My Baseball Reverie

October 30, 2015
Leave a Comment

In a 1978 segment of Saturday Night Live, Co-anchor Jane Curtin welcomed a new member to our Update team, the former All-Star second baseman for the New York Mets, Chico Escuela. Chico, a Dominican ballplayer, deftly played by Garret Morris has a thick Dominican accent and speaks very little English. He starts by saying Thank you, berry, berry much. … Base-ball … been berry, berry good to me. … Thank you, Hane. …

I can easily second Chico appreciation of how good baseball has been. Especially for a young boy trying hard to get a focus on life and his place in it.

In 1950 my father took me to see John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima in 1950.

Even at age seven, though I found war movies exciting, my concept of hero was reserved more for the baseball diamond than any tale of sanguinary combat.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were the darling underdogs of the 1950s. While they won a number of pennants, they always lost to the Yankees in the World Series — until 1955.

While all the Dodgers were heroes that year, to my adolescent mind, the quiet Kentuckian at shortstop, Pee Wee Reese represented to me everything a hero should be.

He was the team’s leader and he played the game with the same grace and dignity that my contemporaries in St. Louis must have seen in Stan The Man Musial.

These were the players that writer, Roger Kahn called the Boys of Summer. To me they were my men for all seasons.

When Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1984, I was there to honor him.

As a player I calculate that I only had 50 at bats, which might be considered a part of an organized baseball game. Most of my experience was playing with a few friends but hardly ever in a game with two nine-man teams.

My success rate for those games was 12-50, for an even .280 mark, mediocre at best. I could run and I was a fearful but determined player at 3rd base, my favorite position. I had one bunt single and only two extra base hits. One year I did steal 7/8 bases.  A perfect throw nailed me at third base.

Two derivatives came from my baseball participation. During my 8th Grade team in 1957, we had a single man coach us and I use the word coach loosely. I don’t remember any practices or teaching. He basically kept order and assigned who would play where. One night before a game, he called me and asked ME if I would take over the team for the next game.  I was only 13 years old!  The first thing I did was recruit my neighbor who was a year below me in our school and therefore eligible to play.   Gerry lived just down the block and if I had a best friend while I was growing up, he was it.  I knocked out his two front teeth during a roller hockey game years later.

With Gerry on the mound and me at shortstop we prevailed 5-3 and I had my first victory as a manager.

I spent most of my adolescent years in the country, staying with my maiden Aunt Mal as we called her. With my country friend a Jewish boy from the Bronx, named Stevie Gardos I played all kinds of ball.  One year we organized a team to play the older boys from Coolidge Trail. They had such intimidating names as Butch, Whitey, Spider and his younger brother Hoss. Two of their Jewish players were known as Big Beak and Little Beak, names than not even Roger Kahn could have conjured.

We played four games and we did win one of them. That was the game I recruited another pitcher. This fellow was a lanky Italian who had played freshman ball at LaSalle HS not too far from my Xavier HS.

Little did I know that these childhood experiences had prepared me for coaching my two sons and well over a 100 young boys in a modestly competitive league, the Ladue Baseball League, which I served with pride for 13 years. I once calculated my composite record as 110-48 and I can still remember many of the losses.

Several years prior to Pee Wee’s induction (1973-74) I taught what is arguably the first accredited Baseball History course in the Midwest at then Maryville College in Suburban St. Louis.   James Cool Papa Bell, a player from the old Negro Leagues who later enshrined in Cooperstown was my guest speaker.

My first choice had been the aforementioned Roger Kahn but I never heard from him until the following year when he was in town promoting his BOS. While it was too late for him to speak we did have a wonderful leisurely dinner before I drove him to the radio station for his interview. The class also warranted an invitation from NBC’s Today Show.   I spent an exciting 3 and half minutes with Gene Shalit on May 9, 1974.

Local sportswriter, Bob Broeg who is honored in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in the writers’ wing started calling me the professor of Baseball.   I turned it around so that the sobriquet has been part of my identity ever since. It is part of who I am. I treasure that name and have used it ever since in my e-mail ID and on my vanity license plates. I officially registered it as a service mark over 30 years ago.

It was at Pee Wee’s induction that I got the idea for the St. Louis Browns Fan Club, an organization that is still going strong, despite the demise of most of its players, who now number a mere 19 out of 795 men who wore the uniform from 1902-53. It is truly a dying franchise since it is the only team name that has been stricken from the modern history of baseball, save the short-lived Seattle Pilots who moved to Milwaukee in 1970 after just one season.

On August 17, 2015 the St. Louis Cardinals honored my fan club with a night at Busch Stadium. We had 200 people buy tickets.   Our Cardinals’ host, Brian Finch regaled us with an informative history of the Browns. This was quite a big step since the relation between the two teams was never that good when they were rivals for the affections of the St. Louis public.

The owner of the Cardinals, William DeWitt II has a very strong interest in the Browns. His father owned them when he was a little boy. It was his small uniform that they used to clothe the most famous pinch-hitter in baseball history, the 3’7” Eddie Gaedel who had one major league at bat. As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.

While my participation in the game has waned as I have grown older, my passion for the game is still vibrant.  When Walter O’Malley broke a 13-year old boy’s heart with his move of the Dodgers to the Gold Coast for the 1958 season I longed for a team like them.

While the New York Mets probably have broken my aging heart more times than the Dodgers ever did and no player can compare to Pee Wee, save maybe Tommy Terriffic, I feel strongly that God is in His Heaven and all is right with my world.

This past month’s experiences with the Kansas City Royals underscored that my ability to feel and experience the thrill and abject pain of a bitter and devastating defeat at the hands and bats of a superior team has not lessened in any way.  Though it hurt badly, I do not want to lose the inner ability to feel because it is part of what makes us human.  Baseball brings it out every April and October.


Heroes for All Seasons

September 7, 2015
Leave a Comment

While Clint Eastwood’s stark movie, Flags of our Fathers, portrayal of the deadly battle for Iwo Jima in World War II was virtually ignored by his Hollywood peers in 2007, it had a strong impact on the general public who revered the heroism that his portrayal of American troops displayed.

Despite its violence, the main thrust of Flags was the home-front struggles of the three survivors in dealing with the instant fame their heroic act brought. Drafted as spokesmen for war bond sales, they quickly adopted the creditable tag line that the real heroes of Iwo were those men who died there.

Based on the book of the same name Flags of our Fathers sparked many a debate on the meaning of hero.

In 1950 my father took me to see John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima. Even at age seven, though I found war movies exciting, my concept of hero was reserved more for the baseball diamond than any tale of sanguinary combat.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were the darling underdogs of the 1950s. While they won a number of pennants (5) they always lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series — except in 1955.

While all the Dodgers were heroes that year, to my adolescent mind, the quiet Kentuckian at shortstop, Pee Wee Reese represented to me everything a hero should be.

He was the team’s leader, and he played the game with the same grace and dignity that my contemporaries in St. Louis must have seen in Stan The Man Musial. (He did not destroy my childhood ideals when I interviewed him in home late one July night in 1972.)

When Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1984, I was there to honor him.

A number of years ago during an All Saints’ Day Mass the celebrant priest labored unsuccessfully for a proper analogy to underscore the Holy Day.   During the course of his painful musings it dawned on me that when the Church canonizes a saint, it could be viewed as the Catholic equivalent of putting a baseball player in the Hall of Fame.

It was St. Paul who first recognized that faithful Christians could easily be analogized as athletes who had fought the good fight and finished the good race.   An English professor at Holy Cross had used those same parallels during my freshman orientation in 1961.

In effect Catholic saints are our spiritual and moral athletes, who have successfully fought the good fight and run the good race. The Church was recognizing that they had played the game of life with the practiced skills of faith, hope and charity.

Their lives still serve as constant reminders that if we only have the athletic discipline of daily sacrifice and loving charity, we will someday break the ribbon of victory in eternity. Many saints also showed a kind of dangerous courage possessed by many athletes to stare death and evil in the face, ultimately paying the full price for their faith in God.

What Yogi Berra, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle and Musial are to baseball fans, Sts. Joseph, Peter, John Paul II, Theresa, Catherine and Anthony are to Catholics. They are our heroes for all seasons.

After the passage of the Fetal Tissue Use Amendment, I learned that a friend had resigned his position with a prestigious law firm because it had represented one of the principal supporters of the pro-cloning amendment.

I was inspired by his heroic stand in a social atmosphere where apathy is the everyday choice of too many Catholics.

To the point of our mutual embarrassment, I told him he was my new hero.

Had he been familiar with Flags, I suspect, like the survivors of Iwo, he would have said the real heroes of the faith were those who had died for it.

Nonetheless, his principled stand on a culture war battlefield is morally as significant as that tiny volcanic island in the Pacific.

While most of us may never be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, all of us have to suffer these daily small deaths to ourselves to prepare for, if not the Hall of Fame in the sky, at least for a seat in the stands.


Me and Jackie

April 4, 2013
6 Comments

OK the title is more of a teaser.

I never did have a bone fide relationship with Jackie Roosevelt Robinson.

But I did meet him once when I was 11 years old and I got his autograph to boot.

I remember the Dodgers were playing the Reds and Johnny Podres was pitching.  He won the game 4-0, a harbinger of what he would do in the October Classic.

But that one brief moment did produce an array of great personal stories that I would like to share, partly in anticipation of seeing the new movie 42 about his reintroducing black players into the major leagues.

The film opens on April 12th and stars Harrison Ford, as the sometimes sanctimonious Branch Rickey, who could also be penurious at times and a line-up as obscure as the 2013 New York Mets’ array of nobodies.

Hans Solo and Jackie talk

I say reintroduce blacks into baseball because in truth he was not the first black baseball player.

NBC Today host, Gene Shalit picked up on that immediately when I was his guest on the early morning show, May 9, 1974 concerning my accredited baseball history at Maryville College.

I believe that honor of the first black player belongs to the Walker brothers, Moses and later Welday.

Moses Walker was the catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884 in the American Association.

He then played in the minor leagues until 1889 after professional baseball erected a color barrier that stood for nearly 60 years.

After leaving baseball, Walker became a businessman and unsurprisingly  an advocate of Black nationalism.

Moses Fleetwood Walker.jpg

Like Jackie got into racial politics

Walker made his Major League first appearance was on May 1 against the Louisville Eclipse.

In his debut, he went hitless and had four errors. In 42 games, (an omen) Walker had a batting average of .263.

His brother, Welday Walker, later joined him on the team, playing in six games.

Moses Walker was not much of a hitter but was known for having a rocket for an arm.

Oddly enough my guest speaker for that first course in February 1973 was James Cool Papa Bell, a future Hall of Famer, who was relatively obscure when he came to my class for $50 and cab fare.

Bell would be enshrined in Cooperstown the year after appearing at my class.

I can still seem him standing there in front of 17 female students and two male walk-ons, one of whom became and still is my plumber and the other a life-long friend and my discount broker at the bank.

Bell was so neatly dressed… like a banker or even a lawyer,  in a blue-striped suit I could not resist saying to him, Mr Bell you look so ‘cool!’

He told the class that he had scouted Jackie when he was a member of the Kansas City Monarch of the Negro League and found him wanting as a shortstop.

Thumbs down on Jackie

Oh he could play baseball, but defensively his range was modest and his arm too weak for shortstop.

I think Bell recommended against signing him, an honest assessment, given Jackie’s success at every position the infield…except shortstop.

When Robinson came to the Dodgers in 1947 they had to play him at first base, a position he was very unfamiliar with.

His footwork was terrible and it nearly got him seriously injured.

This led to rumors, some of which may have been true, that players were deliberately trying to spike him, especially on his Achilles tendon, which could have been career-ending.

Waist-up portrait of black batter in his mid-thirties, in Brooklyn Dodgers uniform number 42, at end of swing with bat over left shoulder, looking at where a hit ball would be

Had the black fire

Joe Garagiola, the personality-plus catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals had several run ins with Robinson.

From what I read about these incidents they stemmed from the strong competitiveness of both players and not any deep-seated racial prejudice.

Joe had suffered his own brand of ethnic prejudice and accepted it as part of a baptism under fire that virtually every rookie went through.

I don’t believe Robinson totally understood that or Joe Garagiola for that matter.

Joe told me that himself during an afternoon interview session I did with him in 1974 for an article that never got published.

My father had simply called the NBC studios in New York and arranged the interview for me.

I spent the afternoon with him as he taped five episodes of TV game show that was in its beginning stages.

One of the engineers quipped that Joe had shot down more pilots than the Luftwaffe– the Nazi airforce in WW II.

Joe Garagiola 1951.png

Risked his career for Jackie

During the intermissions, I not only got to watch him change his pants four times but listen to him as he talked about Yogi, his St. Louis youth, baseball humor and of course Jackie.

During our chat he told me a story about Jackie and how Joe had nearly ruined his career trying to protect Robinson at first base.

Contrary to rumors that he was out to get Robinson, Joe tried to avoid stepping on his vulnerable ankle.

In doing so he tripped over the base and dislocated his shoulder.

He missed about half of the season, playing just 77 games.  His once high .350 average sank to .257 at season’s end.

I saw the scars to prove his point.

This brings me neatly back to my relationship with jackie Robinson.

My dad had taken me to a game with the Reds in June of 1955 and when we got to our box seats on the first base side just past the Brooklyn dugout, who would be standing directly in front of us, leaning against the fence but Jackie with his back to the crowd.

I waited my turn and when it arrived as he signed I told him with all the courage I could muster, I hope you do today what you did last night, Jackie!

He simply shrugged his broad shoulders and responded: I hope I don’t have to do it like that again!.

I was clueless as to what he could have meant.

Let me explain what I had witnessed on TV the prior evening.

Picture this a little Puerto Rican lefty for the St. Louis Cardinals, named Luis Arroyo had pitched his team into the bottom of the 9th inning with a 4-3 lead.

Jackie took him downtown

The voice of the Dodgers, then and 58 years later still at it, Vince Scully informed us that no lefty had won a complete game in Ebbets Field in..I forget how long he said…but a considerable span of time.

The date was June 6th, a rare Monday night game.

Well with one out and the tying run on, Jackie digs in at the plate.

With two strikes, he sends a shot over the left field wall, maybe 375 feet away and wins the game for Brooklyn in the most dramatic fashion.

I am happy, the fans are jubilant and he doesn’t want to do that again?

My research discovered years later that this had all revolved around baseball politics.

I knew there was no crying in baseball but politics?

As #42  will dramatize Rickey was the one who signed Jackie and gave him a chance at fame and fortune that had been denied to members of race since Chicago White Stocking great Cap Anson told baseball in 1884 he would not play with those….

By 1955 Rickey had left Brooklyn.  Walter O’Malley owned the team and his new manager was Walter Alston.

The Rickey people had never gotten along with the O’Malley clan.

In the aforementioned incident of Jackie’s heroics, manager Alston had ordered Robinson to bunt.

I didn’t remember any of that so intense was the game at that point.

Robinson balked at having to do that.

He wanted end it there and now.

After two haphazard attempts to bunt, Jackie won the game.

Alston fined him $50.

I was not surprised that Jackie did what he did, even if it cost him money.

He had what I have called the black fire in my short monograph, entitled, A Fan’s Memoir: The Brooklyn Dodgers, 1953-57.

It was his inner rage that made him the ball players he became.

I still have a boatload of copies if anyone is interested.  Just write me @ bbprof@sbcglobal.net.

I have seen that kind of determination in only one other athlete and that was Bob Gibson.

The white bigots did everything they could to taunt, humiliate him and make him quit.

He almost suffered a nervous breakdown so great was the pressure.

Rickey had put even more pressure on Robinson when he answered his question about fighting back with the sardonic remark:

No, Jackie I want someone strong enough…NOT to fight back!

His fellow teammates both helped and hindered his historical path.

Some Southerners just could not go against their culture or their bigotry.

Rickey quietly cleaned them out.

Dodger Captain, Pee Wee Reese from the border state of Kentucky, was instrumental in getting Jackie through some of his ordeal.

He tried to keep the rookie loose.

When his life was threatened before a spring training game in Alabama, Reese suggested everyone wear #42 to confuse the assassin.

Now all major leaguers wear #42 on a given day each year.

All teams have or will have retired #42 when Mario Rivera finally retired in the Fall.

When Reese entered the HOF in 1984, they put a reference to his efforts on his plaque.

Linked together forever

Jackie Robinson hit an impressive .297 with a dozen home runs.  He was elected Major League Baseball’s first Rookie of the Year Award, which is now named after him.

The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown inducted him 1961.

Two years later he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

There is so much more I can write about Me and Jackie but I will let the movie provide the physical form for my many words.


The Wow Factor: 49 Reasons for Joy

September 12, 2011
9 Comments

I have often wondered why so many of my fellow Catholics, who are more devout than I am don’t smile more.

Since smiling is usually the product of a clear conscience, you would think that they would smile more.

In fact some of them can be extremely pushy, angry and short-tempered.

Perhaps it’s because they bear the weight of the world on their shoulders or think something is wrong with enjoying life too much.

These people have lost or probably never had what Jesuit Father William O’Malley, S.J called the Wow factor.

I must have that because I am always saying wow,  as I see or do things that just make my spirit soar until I think my heart is going leave my body!

Last Tuesday was my birthday.  I was 68 years old.

A friend told me age was just a number.  Actually it is just a word.

Too many people get old and they never seem to experience that sense of joy.

Joy doesn’t have to be expensive.  Your life might not be going as you would like but you still can experience real joy.

You just have to be open to it and have a beating heart.

What I have written below is a random list of all of other things in my past, present and hopefully present that have given a marvelous feeling of joy, sometimes followed by a serenity that seems almost other worldly.

So here are as the song goes, 49 of my favorite things.  See if you have had any feelings of wow or joy, similar to mine.

Feel free to comment on the page provided.

Why 49?  Two reasons! Anyone can do 50–but the last few can be a stretch.  And besides I am saving that space for you.  Send me your #50–has to be different from my 49 and I will publish and send you a free copy of my last book, The Scorpion and the Frog.  (HB)

THE SENSE OF WOW:

1)  seeing my little granddaughters bungi-jump on a trampoline at the local mall.  Seeing their wide-open eyes recess in their little heads as they soared, nearly to the top of the glass skylight;

2)  smelling the salty air on a catamaran in San Francisco Bay or any other place on deep water;

3)  a long, lingering full-body massage with massive blood flow (all internal) on a Thursday morning;

4)  watching a sunset with Judy in Naples on a February evening;

Image Detail

It's great to be alive

5)  seeing the Mets win at Citifield a few miles from my boyhood home, two birthdays ago;

6)  drinking a banana-chocolate smoothie at Starbucks during a 100 degree day in August;

7) listening to old Carley Simon or Petula Clark CD’s;

CITI FIELD

great way to celebrate a birthday

8)  watching a movie with the unrequited lover getting the girl;

9) seeing my first baseball game on May 29, 1954–Pee Wee Reese hit the winning home run at the Polo Grounds as Brooklyn won 4-2;

10)  smelling the air after a long, cool rain;

my hero

11) spending an hour before the Blessed Sacrament in our church’s chapel;

12) seeing Holy Cross beat anybody in football or basketball;

Jimmy Thomas

Go Cross Go

13) receiving the Father James Hartnett Award several years ago at the St. Louis Ritz in front of my whole family, including cousins from New York…and on my birthday;

14)  reading essays and articles I have written–or thinking about what I want to write about;

15) going to a game with my sons;

17) telling and listening to funny stories with friends–new and old;  works for both the friends and the stories

18)  watching my youngest sink the last seven foul shots in a row during a 7th grade game, his team won 29-28;

19) watching my daughter win the first Kevin Kline Award for Best Actress in a play in St. Louis in 2006;  Separate Tables

20) date night every Friday evening with Judy for Starbuck’s, a movie, and a light dinner;

21) seeing one of my plays produced on the St. Louis stage;

22) having a young pretty girl smile at me as we pass on the street;

23)  finishing my latest and most ambitious play, about a dysfunctional happy family, called In a Family Way;

24)  the sight of a new mother holding her brand new baby;

25) seeing my three children for the first time;

26) every time one of them thanks me for being their father;

27) a surprise gift from my wife or one of my kids that touched me specially, such as Howdy Doody, Rocky card, with my favorite theme, Gonna Fly Now and most recently a Ronald Reagan collectors pin.

28) seeing my oldest son play with or coach his three children; and any other kids that are on his teams;

29) spending three minutes with Gene Shalit on the Today Show and not losing my cool or my breakfast;

Gene Shalit

Three and a half minutes

30) having actually taught something to a goof-off in Brooklyn in 1967; little Joey Ancona learned what the word impaled meant, just before I ran him through with my pointer;

31) watching Ellen dance on her afternoon show during lunch at my favorite restaurant;

Halle Berry On Ellen:Halle Berry Dancing Hurricane Chris “She’s Fine”

I can feel her energy

32) seeing the face of God in a child’s smile;

33) learning something new;

34) hearing from an old high school friend; or college friend;

35)  getting a warm hug from a friend, preferably a female;

36)  having a grandchild hug my leg;

37) seeing my grandson play football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer etc.–all during the same season;

38) hearing my granddaughter sing at a school concert;

39) an even longer, more lingering massage on a late Sunday morning;

40) reading a book that makes me think:

41) watching What about Bob or Planes, Trains…;

42) running into a friend I have not seen for years;

43) receiving an unexpected honor of being named The Mindszenty Foundation Man of the Year–2011 at a small gathering at an elegant luncheon hosted by Eleanor Schlafly, the novogenarian I have worked for nine years and one of the most charming women of any age I have ever encountered;

44) spending Thursday and Sunday afternoons breathing deeply and feeling a sense of exhilaration that leads me to daydream of my past, present and future for hours;  See # 3 & 39

45) a moonlight swim in my own pool;

46) a granddaughter in her  1st communion white dress, with veil, with her eyes cast down;

47) any Michael Connolly novel that features Harry Bosch;

The Black Ice

Harry always knows what to do

48) whenever one of my children or even grandchildren actually listens to me;

49) the innate feeling that somehow God really does love me;


About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof@sbcglobal.net

Search

Navigation

Categories:

Links:

Archives:

Feeds