My introduction to Sam’s love of baseball was a tale he told of his days at the 12th Street YMCA in Washington D.C.. Sam spent his days as a youth at that YMCA, and with his band of brothers he played sports as they came in season. When baseball season rolled around, this crew took their bats and balls to the alley behind the “Y.” Because of the placement of back yards and garages they had to learn to bat left handed. This served Sam well later on when he faced serious competition.
His love of baseball took him to Griffith Stadium and the Washington Senators, where he became a “go-for” for the players. He would shag fly balls in the outfield, go to the cleaners and the store for the players and sell peanuts in the stands during the games. His favorite job was the selling of programs. In those days there was no TV, so programs were necessary for fans to identify players on the visiting teams. Who knew the seed was being planted for Sam to one day be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As a teen, Sam won the reputation of being a quality pitcher. Since he was of Native American descent, White teams would recruit him and bill him as an Algonquin Indian. Sam’s mother wouldn’t allow her son to travel all around the country until his older brother intervened and he agreed to write home every day. On one windy day, Sam settled in under a foul ball caught in the wind. At the last minute the ball swerved and broke Sam’s finger. Until that finger healed, the nightly letters were the product of a left-handed Sam.
After his career took off in the sports writing field, he covered the Negro League teams playing against the Homestead Grays. I was just a nip, but I attended these games with him. Before game time we would wander around the field, and while he was talking to players I would stand around trying to look important. At game time I would join my Grandpa in seats behind home plate. I heard some salty language and witnessed some heart-stopping baseball.
My travels with Sam have brought me to a coin toss for my rooting interest in the current World Series. I attended Spring Training with the Indians. We were in Tucson, Arizona and because of the climate in America during the 1940’s we stayed in an approved home with a very nice family. The upside of this arrangement was the fact that my roommates were Larry Doby and Minnie Minosa. Larry Doby was the second Colored player selected to play Major League Baseball; he was hired by the Cleveland Indians 11 weeks after the Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson.
Doby was no big deal for me, because whenever the Indians came to Washington to play, he would stay at our house. However, Minnie was another story. He was an entertainer and loved kids. Despite the attention he gave me, my favorite thing was to watch him mix all of his food together on his plate and tell me it was all going to the same place.
Every baseball fan knows the story of the Chicago Cubs—the Cubs haven’t been in the World Series since Thomas Jefferson was president. I have a penchant for rooting for underdogs so at the moment I am juggling my loyalties. Go team!!!
When Sam was inducted into the Hall of Fame I gained a brand new respect for my father. I was aware of how popular he was locally. But when I arrived at the Hall of Fame, he was standing outside waiting for me with a line of fans stretching the length of the block wanting autographs and pictures. When the car arrived to take us back to the hotel, Sam wouldn’t budge until every fan’s autograph was signed and sealed.
The Hall of Fame trip brought me a little notoriety. I played in the Hall Of Fame Golf Tournament and I was really on my game. I called Ms. L that night to tell her of my good fortune. I explained that I had won a set of golf clubs and the same crystal trophy Se Ri Pak had won earlier that week at the Women’s Open Championship. Ms. L responded, “Se Ri Pak got a check for $160,000, did you get a check?” I promptly fell back to earth.
Some of you readers know that Sam worked until five months before his 100th birthday. During the later years he wasn’t so active, but just enjoyed his baseball on TV. I can remember one year when we were hit with an early heat wave. Sam’s apartment complex wasn’t prepared and had to perform maintenance on the air conditioning units, and relief was a week away. I hustled off to the local retail outlet and purchased a fan. The fan was called the “Cyclone,” and I prepared the setting for comfort and left Sam to enjoy his TV. When I returned, Sam had cranked that fan to its highest setting and he was sitting with his hair blowing in the wind.
When Sam departed for his Heavenly reward, I am sure his first stop was at the Pro Shop to pick up a baseball glove.