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On our ride back home, as Mom told me a little bit about Max, I became more impressed with him. In retrospect that first meeting was truly extraordinary. I was shy and a bit of a mama's boy. Being grabbed and hugged by a stranger, let alone one who seemed to be the biggest man in my world, wasn't something that I normally would have relished. Yet I wasn't scared. I still recall the feelings of warmth and love that flowed from the giant as he picked me up.
I left my mom to unload the car and raced into the house to consult with my much more worldly 11-year-old brother, whose real name was Bill but who was called Baya. He knew everything going on in America. Surely he could tell me more about Max Baer. My brother didn't disappoint me. Briefly putting aside the disdainful manner employed by big brothers, he warmed to the subject, explaining the mysterious world of prizefighting to me and Max's once-exalted place in it.
"He was the toughest guy in the world 15 or 16 years ago," Baya said. "He could beat up anybody."
"Can he still do it?" I asked with wide eyes.
"Nah, not anymore, he's over 40 years old, but he's still plenty tough, probably still the champ of Sacramento."
My first order of business was to go over to Max's house, which was only a block away, and play catch with him. For the next several years, from the first hint of February sun until the last pitch of the World Series, I'd use any excuse to run to Max's house for a little catch. The cookies, milk, Cokes, chips and sandwiches freely served by Max and his wife, Mary, were wonderful. Being with this great big man, however, was the real treat. Mom and Dad decided to limit my trips to Max's so I wouldn't become a pest. I'm sure I was anyway. There was never, however, an inkling from Max or Mary that I wasn't welcome.
Once, when I was seven or so, I knocked on Max's door, glove and ball at the ready. He opened the door and said he'd love to play, but first he wanted me to meet his brother, who might want to join us. He called his brother to the door. Suddenly there stood Buddy Baer. He dwarfed Max, who I thought was the biggest man in the world; Buddy was nearly four inches taller than Max and must have weighed more than 280 pounds. The sight frightened me and I began to cry. The Baers made me stop crying before we started throwing the ball. There we were on Max's lawn on 8th Avenue, a skinny, white-haired, runny-nosed kid playing catch with two huge men. It had to be quite a sight. Buddy, I'm glad to say, is still around. He's nearing 70 now. Max, were he alive, would be 75.
Max had a number of hangouts around town. One of them was William Land Park municipal golf course. He enjoyed golf and loved the companionship of pals who pretty regularly took bites out of his wallet.
As a golfer, Max was long and wild. The course was short, wide-open and easy, so he had, at least, a slight chance of scoring reasonably well. Still, those of us who caddied for Max spent an awful lot of time scrounging through tall weeds and tules.