A guy born in Glasgow, Scotland, hit a home run often called “the shot heard ’round the world.” It sent the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series.
As a Scot by birth, I would like to say that Bobby Thomson (no “p” by the way), known as the “Flying Scot,” inspired me to become a baseball fan.
Sadly, Thomson’s homer has been cheapened by a sign-stealing scheme detailed and finally admitted to years later. It would have been too easy, in any case, for me to peddle such a fantasy.
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the post-war years, a pretty bleak time in Britain. My father was a baker and one of a dozen children. My mother’s father had died when she was 5 years old, and she and her three brothers were raised by a single mom. My parents decided that life — for me at least, their only child – might be better in America. So just after Christmas in 1951, we boarded the Queen Mary and sailed the North Atlantic to the U.S.
My father had a sponsor, a wonderful prominent citizen of Washington, D.C., who spent summers in Edinburgh and had established a social welfare fellowship there for blue-collar families, so we didn’t have to disembark at Ellis Island. Our sponsor helped my father get a union job at a large bakery in Washington. My parents decided to restart their lives in the Nation’s Capital. I lost my Scottish brogue when I went to kindergarten.
We lived in Southeast D.C., near the city line. In my first two years in elementary school, my class was all-white. In second grade, after Brown v. Board of Education, my teacher and most of my classmates were African-Americans. I didn’t mind. Our red brick apartment complex on one side of Hillside Road was all-white; an identical one on the other side was all-black. Change didn’t come easily in those days.
An old school bus converted into a rolling market would stop regularly on our street. Copying the other kids, I recall buying my first baseball cards there – a penny for a single card and a slab of gum – even though I knew nothing about baseball or the men pictured on the cards.
When I was in third grade, my parents joined the white flight to the suburbs, in our case to rapidly growing Prince Georges County, Md. I was bused past two older schools to West Lanham Hills Elementary. My classmates were all white. Two of my new friends, Charley and Larry, were baseball fans. They got my interested in the original Senators, then in the team’s most woeful days after Clark Griffith had died and his heir was anxious to get out of town. My interest didn’t translate to any physical propensity for playing, however.
The truth is I didn’t own a baseball glove until I reached sixth grade. Even then, my teacher confiscated it until the end of the year because of my bad classroom behavior. It wasn’t much of a glove anyway. It did little to help me catch a ball, other than to keep it from hitting me in the face.
So, no, I didn’t play Little League, whatever or wherever that was in my home area. But my friends kept trying to teach me to throw, catch and hit. It didn’t help that I was left-handed, but by emulating the other kids, I ended up batting right-handed – if you could call it batting.
When my next door neighbor, two years older than me, got two free bleacher tickets to a 1959 game at Griffith Stadium, our parents gave us enough money to get food. I can’t recall who played the Nats that day, although I remember Harmon Killebrew hitting a homer near us in the bleachers. My friend’s dad was able to drive us to the game, but we were supposed to take a street car back home. Of course, we spent all our money on soda and popcorn, so we had to walk and hitch-hike back, not the safest thing to do.
By 1960, I was listening to nearly all the Senators games on radio. Bob Wolff and Chuck Thompson (yes, that guy — the “voice of God in Baltimore”) were the announcers that season, the last one for the Griffith franchise in Washington. My parents even took me to a game. This time, we sat in the lower deck on the third base side. I was totally unaware of the impending move. Not quite 12, I cried when I heard the news.
I was foolish enough to believe that the bunch of castoffs picked by the hastily formed expansion Senators would be adequate replacements for the improving team that left for Minnesota. (My team ownership histories of both franchises are posted here and at SABR.org .)
As much as I agonized over the awfulness of the new Nats and suffered insults from my Yankees-fan friend John, the team’s ineptitude had an upside. General admission to the new D.C. Stadium was just $1.50. When so few fans showed up to see those last-place Nats, the ushers would let us move into the reserved seats down the left-field line.
My friend Charley got us tickets to 1963’s opening day, usually the only sellout of the season. President John F. Kennedy threw out the first pitch. I still have my ticket stub and the Washington Post’s photo of JFK. We were so far behind home plate in the lower bowl, we couldn’t see high fly balls. Young Ed Brinkman made a nifty play in the first inning, but the Nats still suffered the first of their 106 defeats that season. (I wrote the SABR bios of Ed and his brother Chuck, a backup catcher for the White Sox.)
John and I started getting players’ autographs after the games by waiting outside the clubhouse entrance with a handful of other fans. After I got my driver’s license, we decided to try waiting outside the clubhouse entrance in the early afternoon in June 1965 on a day the Yankees were in town.
John, a huge fan of Mickey Mantle, wanted to get his autograph on a nice color photo. I wanted to get as many of the Senators as I could on the black and white photos sold in the team pack at the stadium. The wait was a long one, but we both succeeded beyond our expectations. No one else was around as the Yanks got off the team bus. John and I both got Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and Jim Bouton. I got Gil Hodges, Frank Howard and several other Nats as they arrived one by one — still have them all and many others from those days.
By then, I had begun thinking about trying to become a sports writer. I edited my high school paper and became a correspondent for the Washington Daily News’ Scholastic Sports Association, writing about Prince Georges County high school sports.
My family not having much money, I enrolled at the nearby University of Maryland in College Park, driving 15 minutes or so every day to classes. Eventually, I started working on the campus paper, the Diamondback, which I was astounded to learn came out five days a week. I wasn’t writing sports, however. After doing some general news and feature reporting, I started running the copy desk and then the overall nightly production of the paper. The war in Vietnam was raging.
I was becoming more politically aware. Having drawn a low lottery number, chances were good I’d be drafted when I graduated. I covered a couple of the massive anti-war demonstrations in D.C. In the fall of 1969 and spring of 1970, students took over U.S. 1 and the National Guard occupied campus. Students were shot at Kent State and Jackson State.
Obviously, baseball had become an afterthought, although I did write a stream-of-consciousness piece on the college team for the yearbook when I was editor of the Diamondback in ’71. I had a reporting internship with the Evening Sun in Baltimore, but my draft status still was unresolved and I had decided by then that I liked editing better than covering a beat. In any case, the Nats were moving to Texas.
Being in the D.C. area and reading the Washington Post every morning as the Watergate story was unfolding was exhilarating. To earn a living, I was reporting and then editing the news pages for the Northern Virginia Sun, a small Arlington-based daily. I stayed there for a year before landing a copy desk job in 1974 with the Asbury Park Press on the Jersey Shore, which became the last stop in my professional career. I worked there for 40 years.
When my college girlfriend and I broke up, I bought my first color TV at a time when WOR in New York was still broadcasting every Mets game. Watching rekindled my love for the game, but there was no way I could become a Yankees fan. Thankfully, a couple of my colleagues at the Press were big Mets fans, too.
Every time I made a move to leave Asbury Park, I got promoted as the paper kept growing. I met my future wife, a star reporter, there. I made it to assistant managing editor running the night operation and later to editorial page editor. We bought a house and had three sons.
I wrote a few baseball features, mostly related to the Senators, but what really got me back into the game was my shock when my youngest son showed some talent for playing. By the time he was 9, he was in demand for the four teams in our local Little League Majors, which meant ol’ dad was in demand to coach. I had fun doing that for the next six years as my son developed as a pretty good pitcher, although I never expected him to advance beyond his high school varsity or perhaps a small college team. Sadly, by throwing more than he should have for different teams on consecutive days, and not telling me or the other coaches that he had, he ended up with a torn labrum by the time he was 15.
Still, he enjoyed playing until he was 17. He and one of his brothers became serious baseball fans. We all followed the Mets. My wife even developed a love of the game, thanks to Game Six of the 1986 World Series. “It’s over,” I told her when Keith Hernandez flied out for the second out in the 10th. “No way the Mets can win this.” Shows what I know.
When the Internet came along, I joined Big Bruno’s Yahoo group dedicated to the Senators. I tried to keep up hope that someday, D.C. would get a team back. The day it was announced in September 2004 that the Expos would relocate, I told my closest friend at the Press, a one-time Brooklyn Dodgers fan who followed the Mets since their inception, that I would henceforth be a fan of the as-yet-unnamed Washington team. I felt the pain of the Montreal fans, naturally, and was sorry that the new D.C. team would be in the same division as the Mets, but I was still overjoyed. My decision was reinforced when the team became the Nationals and adopted the expansion Nats’ Curly W.
I drove down from New Jersey and wore an old Senators jersey to a game at RFK early in 2005. An usher gave me some ribbing. It was good to be back. I was at the game when the new Nats were five games up on Atlanta in first place in early July. When Nationals Park opened, I took the shuttle a couple of times from the RFK parking lots. That the Nationals were bad then made it even more like old times.
After having put it off for years, I finally joined SABR in 2006. A message on the SABR-L daily list early in 2007 said an outfit named Baseball Info Solutions was looking for people to chart games in several minor league cities, including Trenton, where the Eastern League stadium was less than 20 minutes from my house. I began scoring and doing spray charts from the BIS seats behind home plate. The games had to be entered later on the BIS software. The data, from what I’ve heard, is provided to most MLB teams and other clients. BIS data also is used for Baseball Reference’s advanced fielding metrics. People like me are partly to blame for those blasted infield shifts.
Nothing beats getting paid to attend a professional baseball game, which I did through 2019. The Trenton Thunder was, until then, the Yankees’ AA farm team. I would do 25 to 30 games a season. All the Yankees players’ who came up through their system played there. I saw them up close from Bret Gardner through Glyber Torres. Judge, Sanchez, Severino – it’s a long list. And of course, I always signed up to do the games against the Harrisburg Senators.
Since January 2017, I’ve been writing biographical essays for SABR’s BioProject. It’s given me a chance to talk to the sons and daughters of the players and managers I’ve written about. Now I also write game stories for the Games Project. I do some editing for SABR, too. I started this web site in the fall of 2017.
All of this is a labor of love for a boy from Scotland who discovered America’s game. I hope some of what is here gives you as much pleasure reading as it gave me writing it.