Everything you will read, on the next 11 pages revolves around one photograph. The rest of the old man's past, you must understand, is all but gone. The framed baseball pictures were smashed by his hammer. The scrapbook thick with newspaper clippings was fed to the furnace in the basement of the Sears, Roebuck in Paramus, N.J. The trophies, with their figurines of ballplayers and eagles and angellike women, were placed on a portable table in the middle of a ball field and annihilated, one a day, by the old man's rifle arm. Have you ever heard the popping sound an angel makes when it's struck by a fastball?
Surely the other artifacts that survived are too few and too baffling to be trusted. The death certificate of a seven-year-old boy...the tattered letter from the New York Yankees front office... the 1955 Louisville Slugger with the name John misspelled on the barrel. Without the photograph, who could watch the gray-whiskered man with no laces in his shoes rummage through his trailer and not wonder if his tale is too fantastic to be true?
But then John Malangone, with a funny look on his face, a mixture of pride in the thing he's holding and an eagerness to be rid of it, thrusts in front of you the picture, snapped on a sunny spring training day 32 years ago. You stare. No. It wasn't a dream. The old man hasn't gone mad. If it hadn't been for the horror, he really might have filled Yogi Berra's shoes. Look at the picture. Just look at it.
"Kid! Come over here. Wanna take your picture."
"Who, me? You don't want my picture."
"Come on! Gonna put you right between the two Hall of Fame catchers, Dickey and Cochrane. You're gonna be plastered all over the Daily News."
"The Daily News? Naw, get somebody else."
"Somebody else? You crazy, rookie? You're gonna be a helluva star."
How many of us possess a photograph of the very instant when our lives reached the top of the hill and then, with the click of the camera—because of the click of the camera—began their descent? Look closely at John Malangone, in the middle. It's 1955. He's 22. Touching his glove, anointing him, are the fingertips of perhaps the two greatest catchers in the history of baseball: Mickey Cochrane, on the left, a 51-year-old Yankees scout and camp instructor, and Bill Dickey, a 47-year-old Yankees coach. John has just homered in an intrasquad game. He's fresh from leading the winter league in Venezuela in home runs, RBIs and doubles. Casey Stengel has tabbed him "the probable successor to Yogi," even though Berra would be the Yankees' regular starting catcher for four more seasons.