My true love and I share most interests and agree on most things in life, from politics to art.
When asked to rate Hillary Clinton’s liberalism from 1-100, we landed on the same number with no prior discussion. We love classical music, travel to unusual places, believe in the primacy of good food among life’s pleasures and adore dogs.
One area shows enormous discrepancies: baseball. I’m a baseball junkie who has virtually memorized the baseball encyclopedia and remembers statistics that most people never knew, including Wee Willie Keeler’s lifetime batting average (either .341 or .343, depending on the source) and Warren Spahn’s rank for strikeouts among all pitchers, living and dead (25th).
My true love is more interested in a 1700 earthquake than she is in in the Mariners’ current record. She knows more about Hernando Cortez than Felix Hernandez.
I was therefore amazed at the document she dropped on the dining room table. Typed on onionskin in all caps, it dated from the mid-1960s, her responses to a high school assignment. It first listed “Famous baseball players,” then a smaller number of current baseball players, followed by a list of baseball executives. It represents a historical statement on the sport and a collection of unexpected arcana.
This emanated from a woman who spends less time on the sports section than the comics, expresses dismay when I watch a meaningless game on TV and who really did say when we arrived in the sixth inning of a scoreless game where one pitcher still had a no-hitter going, “I told you we wouldn’t miss anything.”
Her lists included pitchers and position players from the 1880s to the 1950s, including Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Lloyd Waner, not to mention George Sisler and Mickey Cochran. And Arky Vaughan.
Arky Vaughan? He played for the Pirates and the Dodgers in the 1930s and ’40s. His given name was Joseph, but he hailed from Arkansas and spoke with the local accent. One of his Pirates teammates christened him Arky, and the name stuck.
A stock photo from 1941 shows a man looking older than his years, with eyes underlain by the pouches of a man who’s spent too much time in the sun. He had the broad shoulders of laborer or farmer and an impatient mien reflecting someone who’d rather be out on any kind of field than posing.
By 1965, he’d been dead more than a decade, having drowned in frigid mountain lake waters while trying to save a friend who couldn’t swim. He’d quit baseball in 1947, after his only appearance in the World Series, unwilling to accept the abuse his manager (Leo “Nice guys finish last” Durocher) doled out with the Dodgers.
He’d joined the Dodgers after taking three years off from baseball during World War II, returning to his farm, where he provided labor while most farmworkers had been drafted.
Vaughan batted over 300 for his first nine years in the league and was named to the All-Star team eight times. In 1936, he batted .385, one of the highest-ever figures for a shortstop. He also led the league in errors several times. In 1985, the special committee for Old Timers chose him for entry into the Hall of Fame.
His life and career speak to a different era of baseball, when players were essentially chattels. He was one of the few who chose to take an independent path, walking away from teams twice for personal reasons. The money wasn’t good enough to keep him tied to the sport, and other things meant more to him: maintaining his farm and his dignity.
My true love has no idea why she included Arky Vaughan in her school assignment. At the time, she hung out with some of the players who played in her town’s minor league team, a Cubs’ farm club. This perhaps explained her inclusion of Hobie Landrith and Ernie Banks, both on the Cubs during that era. But not Arky Vaughan.
But that’s irrelevant. Her long-ago research allowed me a glimpse of a time when baseball was more of a pastime and less of a business.
Stuart Grover lives in Tacoma, where he passes time writing, doing yard work, working with nonprofit organizations and lamenting the fate of the Mariners.