Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Heroes of Their Time

A thread on a message board I often visit led me to make the following post about the summer when I turned five (a year after the photo on the left):
In the spring and summer of 1930 we were living in a brick apartment building only a stone’s throw from Navin Field, home of the Detroit Tigers. I didn’t know what it was about, but sometimes on spring afternoons I could hear people cheering inside the big enclosure that to me looked like just another building. There were other boys in the neighborhood, most of them a year or more older than me, and I would watch their games and sometimes be allowed to join in. But around four o’clock on days when cheering could be heard down the street, I was left behind as the older boys trooped down to Navin Field, which in later years would be called Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium until the final game was played there in 1999. After being left standing alone a few times, I decided to tag along. At first I was chased away, told to go home. When I persisted, they decided it was easier to let me join the party than it was to keep shooing me away. I had a very basic knowledge of baseball from the games we played in the neighborhood, but I wasn’t prepared for Navin Field. After the seventh inning, even earlier if it was a long game, the ticket takers quit manning the gates and anyone could walk in and stand behind the seats. This resulted in little if any loss of revenue because in 1930 a crowd of two- or three-thousand people seemed lost in the cavernous ballpark.
My first view of the expanse of green, the white lines and circles, the men in white or gray uniforms, the vendors calling out their wares, was overwhelming to say the least. Like the Fox Theatre, it was a magical world, a fairy tale world in which grown men played with an intensity I had not seen before and boys cheered, hooted and booed for reasons I gradually came to understand. The local hero was a lanky second-baseman named Charley Gehringer, but the older boys said it was a team called the Philadelphia Athletics that was the best. By listening, I learned their names: Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Max Bishop, Mickey Cochrane, and my favorite, Mule Haas. Was there ever a boy who wouldn’t admire a man named Mule?
The other boys expressed scorn for lesser players and teams. The St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians were worthy of the short walk to Navin Field, but just barely. The Boston Red Sox were held in contempt. Two other teams were highly respected, The New York Yankees with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, and the Washington Senators, a group of men with fascinating names like Goose Goslin, Ossie Bluege and Heinie Manush, which all knowledgeable young fellows such as myself correctly pronounced “blue-gee” and “ma-NUSH.”
It was at Navin Field that I first became interested in rhythmical names, an interest that would continue throughout life. Marty McManus, Lu Blue, Joe Judge – how fascinating they were to a young boy.
After a game the kids would gather at the gate where the visiting players came out to pile into waiting cabs that would take them back to their hotel or, if it was their get-away day, to the railroad station. They looked so different in business suits, neckties and hats. More often than not they wore straw hats, a type that many years later were seen only at political conventions, and then mere cheap imitations of the real thing.
As a group approached, the older boys would call, “Hey, Max,” or “Hey, Mickey.” Most of the players would reply with a wave of the hand, a grin, sometimes even a word or two. Then one afternoon I became somewhat of a celebrity when I wandered out in front of a group and, suddenly aware of my precarious position, looked up to see a giant of a man in a brown suit and straw hat bearing down on me. He scooped me up under the arms as if I weighed no more than a pound or two and set me back down where I belonged, saying, “Watch yourself, kid.” The older boys were in awe. One said, “That was Jimmie Foxx,” in a tone that would have led a bystander to believe the man was capable of walking on water. And I, the youngest and least worthy of the bunch, had actually been touched by him. My stock rose considerably in the eyes of the others.
Yes, those were magical afternoons to a boy who might not understand the intricacies of the game, yet was very aware that he was close to men who were the heroes of their time.


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