Close to True

My dad played professional baseball before I was born. When I eventually arrived, I was a captive audience for the colorful stories he’d gild about his career in the minor leagues. As a kid, I was enamored. But over time, my enthusiasm waned and I began questioning the credibility of those stories. Luckily, I experienced a resurgent perspective after coming upon some old news clippings by writers who’d seen him on the ballfield. I was reminded of how good he had to have been to play at that level.
Dementia and heartbreak began getting a grip on my dad in his later years and his stories took a turn for the worse. Their reality went beyond playful embellishment. They inflated to some doozies and carried more severe consequences.
Family members noticed him wearing a ring that none of us had ever seen before. It was a World Series championship ring from 1961. He said he received it as a gift from baseball legend Roger Maris who was his teammate in the minors. Until that story decades later, he had never mentioned Maris.
1961 was also the year Maris hit sixty-one homeruns to break Babe Ruth’s single-season homerun record. However, the record is famous for its asterisk as well. Maris had more games in the season than Ruth to hit those homeruns. So an asterisk was placed beside the “61” in record books to indicate the shortcoming. But some baseball historians argue that the asterisk is a slap in the face, as if the achievement doesn’t count or didn’t even happen.
In reality, my dad did have a roommate in the minors who went on to become a well-known major leaguer. His name was Rocky Colavito. Dad told stories about him often and I got to meet him once. Colavito was a coach for Cleveland at the time. When the team came to Chicago to play the White Sox, Dad took me to a game at Comiskey Park. Our tickets were in the nose-bleeds. But before the game, he sweettalked the usher in the box seats to let us stand beside the Cleveland dugout so Dad could introduce me to his former teammate. I got to shake “Rocky’s” hand. Plus, his uniform number matched his name in the scorecard, so I had proof that Dad’s story was true.
But that’s also why my dad’s story of Roger Maris’ World Series ring didn’t add up. If someone of Maris’ baseball status was one of Dad’s teammates, we sure as hell would have heard about him for years, too, not just Colavito. What’s more, along with the story itself, there were indications that the ring was a fake. In piecing it together, we suspected the ring was purchased from a shyster my dad spent too much time with at a local bar.
Baseball is measured in quantifiable numbers like batting averages, runs scored and pitch-counts. These analytics supposedly translate into winning games. However, they’re so dissected and clinical they exclude joyous intangibles of the game. They don’t measure heart. They don’t offer myth and romance.
Perhaps the most fiercely debated moment in all of baseball history was Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in the 1932 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees at Wrigley Field. The only verifiable fact of that moment happened on film during Ruth’s at-bat in the fifth inning: He raised his arm and pointed—somewhere. Everything after that is a dispute.
Some say he was pointing to centerfield, “calling his shot” to where he was about to hit the ball. Others claim he was taunting the Cubs dugout or the fans behind it. Still other interpretations insist that Ruth was pointing at the pitcher; or showing he had two strikes on him; or one strike left; or just one pitch is all it takes to hit the ball. Even an ego the size of The Babe tap danced around the question for years. “It’s in the papers, isn’t it?,” he said when first interviewed. “Why don’t you read the papers?”
Since then, the Called Shot has been dramatized in books and movies. Actors portraying Ruth theatrically point beyond the centerfield fence. No one will ever know for sure if he legitimately called it. But for over 90 years, the mystery and fantasy of it have delighted millions of fans.
I’ve asked myself if Babe Ruth really called his shot. I’ve pondered if that asterisk should appear beside Roger Maris’ homerun record. And if it did, should I tag my dad with an asterisk because of how he shaped his stories? Did they happen? Do they matter?
I ask, but I don’t answer. The appreciation is in recognizing all of the stories.
For music at my dad’s memorial, I wanted to send him around the bases a final time with “Take Me out to the Ballgame.” It wasn’t listed in the memorial program and only a handful of us were in on it. As we know from the movie League of Their Own, there’s no crying in baseball and I’d been holding my emotions together fairly well until that point in the ceremony. But even though I knew it was coming, I lost it the moment the introductory notes bellowed through the sanctuary. The whole congregation instantly knew what to do and started singing. The organ was so loud, like I was standing with my ear pressed against an upper deck speaker in a major league ballpark but the volume didn’t hurt my ears. It plunked me legless.
I only know three things for sure: He was my dad. He taught me baseball. He gave me his time.
Photo by: The author of the original film is Matt Kandle. Photo/Film copyright is owned by Kirk M. Kandle. - The source of this photo is the book, The Babe: A Life in Pictures, written by Lawrence Ritter and Mark Rucker and published by Ticknor and Fields in 1988.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To help us prevent spam, please prove you're human by typing the words you see here.