In 1902 Kattell,
who came from a line of Yankee traders, was sent off to sailing school. At that
time the school system of New York City owned an old wooden sailing vessel, a
retired sloop of war named the St. Mary's, which was used to train promising
youngsters for the sea. Kattell spent two years aboard the St. Mary's,
including a pair of round trips to Europe.
Though he liked
the sea, he found ships have a grievous defect. You can't play baseball on
them. At about the time he was becoming a second-year man on the St. Mary's,
and thereby entitled to the rank of old mug, with the privilege of being waited
upon by first-year scholars (new mugs), he was also becoming aware of the
enticing world of sports in general, and baseball in particular.
Sailing back from
Southampton on his final cruise, he made a decision a lot of 15-year-olds have
made—he would devote his life to sports. The difference in Kattell's case was
that he never wavered from that decision in the nearly 60 years that
followed—years that saw him plunging ecstatically into, in turn, baseball,
boxing, basketball, golf and collies.
For a period of
better than 20 years, Kattell earned his living chiefly by playing baseball in
the summer and basketball in the winter. Those were the days when sports events
were almost entirely home-town affairs, when the Bingham-ton, New York team was
the only baseball team that people of Binghamton really gave a hoot about.
Major leagues were in existence, of course, but they hadn't begun to devour the
minor and semipro leagues. And actually, with one thing and another, a
journeyman semipro like Kattell made about as much money as most professional
players, with considerably less effort.
In those innocent
days townspeople supported their athletes in a cooperative way, like a local
militia. Kattell would breeze into a town on a bright Saturday afternoon in May
and make his way to the local ball field. He would exhibit some clippings to
whatever dignitary seemed in charge, and would then volunteer to pitch to the
local Casey. Casey would almost always strike out—Kattell would usually blow a
fast one a quarter of an inch past Casey's chin, and then, with the mighty one
suitably enraged, two more fast ones just beyond the end of his bat, and when
he caught on to that, a final, infuriating, slow one.
After that the
civic dignitary would announce that Kattell was the new starting pitcher, at $5
or $10 a winning start. But he would also see to it that Kattell went to work
in the dry goods store, at the prevailing wages, but better than the prevailing
hours, with board and room at sharply reduced rates.
basketball through the winter under much the same conditions. At 6 feet 1, he
played center, because he was usually the tallest man on his team or even the
floor. Those were the days of the standing guard, the center jump after every
basket and other cautions, which made basketball more a defensive game and less
a mad, faster-than-the-eye scramble. Thirty-five or 40 points would usually
win, and a skilled center like Kattell, who was good for 15 or so points a
game, was a priceless community asset.
In 1910 Kattell
drifted to California on word that basketball fever was unusually high there,
and indeed it was. In 1911 he played on the Los Angeles YMCA team that won the
state semipro championship, and 12 years later, when he was a mellow 36, he was
center for the Riverside YMCA team that captured the same championship. Between
those dates Kattell made a couple of forays back to New York and one into the
Navy, where he was commissioned an ensign in honor of his days in sailing
In his mid-30s,
Kattell, who had also had some brief and painful flings at boxing and
wrestling, became entranced with the problem of knocking a small ball into a
small hole with small wands. Again he excelled. He won many small golf
tournaments, and he became the resident pro at a Riverside, Calif., club. Then,
in the space of a few months, his wife and 5-year-old son died of the same rare
brain disease. It is a tragedy he never discusses. An older daughter continued
to live with relatives in Riverside, but Kattell moved on again in his lonely
From golf to