Memories of a baseball hero
Letter No. 150 | September 29, 1999
News of Detroit Tiger Stadium, originally built in 1912, getting the wrecking ball after the 1999 season, brought back memories of attending Tiger Stadium during the summer of 1951. I worked in Detroit then to earn tuition money for college, and stayed with an uncle and aunt. As a youngster, I wished for the summer to swiftly pass for I was homesick to return to Nanty Glo. On several Sundays I attended the ballpark to see the Detroit Tigers, my favorite team. Tiger Stadium was located in a seedy part of Detroit (what part of downtown Detroit isn't seedy), and I envisioned easily getting mugged if one ever attended a night game. A daytime visit to a game was exciting enough. Once inside the stadium, however, there was an excellent view of the players and the playing field, and one could really enjoy the game.
The sports news discusses old Detroit Tiger players like Al Kaline, Jim Bunning, Cecil Fielder, etc., but no mention is made of my boyhood hero, a pitcher named Hal Newhouser. I guess the time goes too far back. I kept a scrapbook of his exploits (a 29-9 win-loss record in 1944, 25-9 in 1945, 26-9 in 1946). He was elected Most Valuable Player in the American League for those first two years. (Ironically he was not elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame until 1992. He was labeled as a "wartime player" and was deferred from war service because of a heart problem.)
Hal Newhouser led the Tigers to victory in a seven-game series over the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series (the last time the Cubs were ever in the World Series). Several years ago my boyhood hero attended a baseball autograph signing session near my home in Alexandria, Virginia. I decided to attend and carried along my scrapbook of drawings and pictures of him. He viewed my scrapbook and was impressed enough to give me a free 8x10 autographed picture of himself during his playing days and declared "he was a fan of mine" for my scrapbook effort. He died in late 1998 at the age of 77. The story is related that he signed with the Tigers for a $500 bonus. A Cleveland Indians representative arrived just 10 minutes later at his parent's house offering $15,000 and a new car worth $4,000. The moral must be you win some, you lose some.
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