‘ Lost two of my favorite baseball cards recently, and each will be irreplaceable. I read their obits and my heart travelled back.

We started collecting in the late 50s. Five in a pack — plus gum – and the world was our oyster. These were pre-cable days, when access to the Tribe pretty much meant just radio. As kids on South Euclid’s mean streets, opening a pack of Topp’s cards brought the world to our doorstep.

Everyone collected: from Mulberg to Masseria to Gelfand. (OK, maybe not Gelfand). Moreover, most of us would flip them. One by one they’d flutter downward, and when one of ours landed on another’s…why we’d keep everything on the ground! Could the world get better?

I still picture Ernie Banks. Eyes shining brightly, he’d smile in his white uniform. Ernie Banks. ‘Musta been long before the “Let’s play two” thing, but I still see the card…and his smile. There were only eight teams per league back then, and difficult it wasn’t to name each team’s roster— and with baseball cards, picture each face.

Ernie Banks. ‘Though his team never won…I think it even experimented with eight coaches and no manager one year…yet each season I’d open the pack and there he’d be: smiling. Ernie Banks!

And then there was Minnie—Minoso that is. If you had his card –and we all did – then you knew his real name was Orestes. We never thought of him as Spanish, though. Or Hispanic or Cuban, or anything but a player. Ironic (isn’t it), that when the world is black and white, color matters not. No, Orestes Minnie Minoso was just a ballplayer— and a Cleveland Indian at that.

(Ed. Note: Regardless of his uniform, Minnie Minoso WAS one of us. He’d move on to Chicago and make his home there—but he was one of us, and we considered him ours).

Indeed, I was driving in Chicago a year or so ago with the Bohrers. Ahead of us was a car unique by its license plates. ‘MINOSO” it read.

“We had a player growing up,” I noted. “Minnie Minoso.”
“That’s him,” pronounced Jason, so matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean that’s him? That’s really him?”
“Yeah—that’s his license plate. Everybody loves him here. He was with the White Sox”.
“Try to catch him,” I urged, but almost as I was saying it his auto turned left, off our own planned route.
“He was more Chicago than Cleveland,” my son-in-law went on, explaining his fealty. “Everybody knows him here.”
(Ed. Note 2: I can’t tell you how excited I was just to see Minnie’s vehicle. It was like what in the old radio days Bob would have called a “celebrity sighting”).

“His real name is Orestes”, I added, looking for street cred. Jason nodded, all too knowingly. He was ours and theirs, I deduced; he was Minnie.

Yet that’s how it was with our cards growing up. They bred within us a sense of familiarity with the players unfettered by their relative talents.

Take Granny Hamner, for example. I had his card. A lifelong Phillie, he finished up his with the ’59 Tribe. To this day I can picture his face.

That’s just how it was. A familiarity was forged with names and faces of stars and journeymen alike. Watching games in black and white, holding living color cardboard in the palms of our hands, we cemented sounds and images that would remain with us for years. Incredibly, names and faces that would have long been forgotten roll from our tongues and remain in our minds a half-century later:

Willie Tasby. Joey Jay. Walter Dropo. Sammy Esposito
Julio Gotay. Ike Delock, Rip Ripulski. Camilo Pasquale.
Joe Pignatano, Rocky Bridges, Whitey Lockman , Harry Chiti. Don Nottebart.
(Not to mention Marv and Faye Throneberry).

—And the funny names! You know…the weird ones: the monikers not often heard in shul:

Pumpsie Green, Coot Veal. Turk Lown. (And never in Hebrew School was there a kid named Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell).

Ah, but that was then…

I was thinking about Ernie’s loss and Minnie’s death. The heroes of my youth seem to be dropping like flies. It’s hard not to think.

—Especially as our generation heads, inexorably, to the on-deck circle.

Ed Modzelewski died last week. They called him “Big Mo” (to younger brother Dick’s  “Little Mo”.  Each were Browns in the day and urban legend had it that Big was asked to hang on one more year because Paul Brown wasn’t quite certain Jim Brown would make it. I pictured them this week — both Big and Little…and I recalled well the restaurant on Noble near Mayfield.

Football players—football cards weren’t the same, though—by a long shot. Maybe it was the helmets hiding the faces…or maybe it was, quite simply, that baseball was (and is) …baseball!

I remember the names and often the faces…and as I stride through my sixties, I cling to my field of dreams.


  1. Stuart says:

    How could you not mention Rocky? And, did you forget that Ray Renfro lived on the mean streets?

  2. H says:

    Your dog had a baseball card? Is that so?

    Did you name your dog Rocky because he was a miniature collie-vito?

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