Baseball, brothers and loyalties that never die

Bill Barker (left) and brother Robert show their baseball allegiances. This was their last photo together before Robert’s death in 2017.
Bill Barker (left) and brother Robert show their baseball allegiances. This was their last photo together before Robert’s death in 2017. Courtesy photo, Bill Barker

Robert was special - something about his heart.

Every year around this time, with the leaves falling and the baseballs flying during Major League Baseball’s pennant races, I think about my late older brother and what it was that made him so special.

Especially when the Yankees and Dodgers are in the running, as they are this year. (Or were in the running until Wednesday night, in the Dodgers’ case.)

It was Mom who first told me about Robert’s specialness and his heart, some time around the summer of 1955. It was soon after we moved into the project - the Duncan Public Housing Project in Jersey City - just across the Hudson River from the Big Apple.

That would’ve made me 4 going on 5, and Robert 10 going on 11.

See, Robert and I were real close growing up, and with me being so young at the time, I just didn’t see how us moving into a new place was going to change things. But Mom sure did.

For one thing, there were a whole slew more kids living in that housing project than around our cozy little apartment on Bergenline Avenue in West New York, from whence we had moved.

And Mom knew many of those kids would look at Robert and likely say something about him. And it wouldn’t have anything to do with his specialness or heart.

“Mom, what’s a retard?” I remember asking her soon after hearing some of the kids in the project calling Robert one. That’s when Mom explained to me about Robert.

And for the longest time, Mom’s explanation sufficed. Still, it never quite explained why otherwise nice little boys and girls would often call him such hurtful names. I’d think to myself: Don’t you know Robert’s special!

Our family were big baseball fans, and the New York Yankees were our team. All of us, that is, except Robert. He rooted for “Dem Bums,” aka the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Why the Dodgers? I asked Robert. Simple. Once our dad had taken us to the circus and this sad sack of a clown by the name of Emmett Kelly came by the stands and shook his hand.

And since the Dodgers had hired Kelly to be their most eminent “Bum of Bums” for promotional purposes, Robert felt duty bound from thence forth to pledge his undying baseball allegiance to Dem Bums till the bitter end - which he faithfully did.

Robert passed away in 2017 at age 72. He not only survived all his years being tormented inside that public housing project in Jersey City, but then went on to honorably serve his country in the Navy for two years.

Then he contributed significantly to his local community in Elko, Nevada, for decades before his passing.

It’s funny how I always think about my family, and my brother Robert, and the Dodgers and Yankees, every October now. And of course Mom’s ever-haunting words to me:

Robert was special - something about his heart.

Bill Barker is a Postal Service retiree, writer and occasional News Tribune contributor residing in Shelton. Email him at billsnorthwest2002@yahoo.com