Finally I got
some unexpected help. Emerging from yet another Wisconsin town not on my list
of directions, I found myself being hauled over by a state trooper. "Didn't
you see-that stop sign back there?" he asked upon arriving at my
answering, I, in my frustration, blurted out a recounting of my recent
wanderings. He listened patiently and then asked where I was going.
"Holcombe," I said. "I'm going to interview Burleigh Grimes."
And, wanting to give him the whole picture, I told him, "I'm writing a book
policeman's face suddenly relaxed into a pleasant smile of recognition.
" Burleigh Grimes?" he asked. "The pitcher?"
Baseball is the
second language of America. By introducing the game into conversation, you can
end the silence of a stranger, find acceptance in a group and even get
impeccable directions to Holcombe instead of a summons.
the cop said before waving me on, "ask him who was the greatest player he
I did. It was the
first question I put when finally I settled into the hospitable confines of
Grimes's living room. Personal aside to a certain Wisconsin state trooper: He
said it was Honus Wagner.
In 1966 I found
myself at Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets. My prey this day was a man
nearing the age of 90, John Tortes Meyers, the old catcher known as Chief for
the full measure of Indian blood that surged proudly through his veins. An
intelligent man, good-natured with a sly wit, he possessed an imposing personal
dignity. As Emerson had once heard someone say of Thoreau. you would sooner
take hold of a tree limb than the arm of Chief Meyers.
Chief was a
favorite of Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. Not only was Meyers a
frequent guest at Dodger Stadium, but he had carte blanche to travel with the
L.A. team whenever he wanted. This summer Chief decided to go with the Dodgers
on one of their eastern trips.
My purpose in
wanting to meet him was to ask him about the great Christy Mathewson, whom
Meyers had caught when he was with John McGraw's New York Giants from 1909
through 1915. I would hear some "splendid true happenings of the olden
days," Meyers assured me, but first there were to be the presentations.