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  • Bill Chastain

Stories. A Few Baseball Favorites

When you do anything for a long time, you’re going to come away with some stories. Here are a few of mine from being around baseball for a number of years.

First, there’s Al Lopez.

Al Lopez as manager of the White Sox Al Lopez as manager of the White Sox

Lopez gave me so much insight to the game. The Hall of Fame catcher and manager lived in my neighborhood and allowed me into his inner sanctum on many occasions, where I heard countless stories. Oddly, my favorite didn’t come from a diamond, rather Ybor City, which served as the setting for his humble beginning.

In rich detail he once described how he delivered bread in the early morning. By design, all of the houses had nails located high on the doors He go door to door, pressing the loaves into the nails to keep away the rats.

Lopez later got discovered when the Washington Senators were in Tampa and they needed a catcher to help out. He ended up catching Walter Johnson. Yep, “The Big Train.”

Al was the man.

Speaking of neighbors. Johnny Vander Meer of back-to-back no-hitter fame lived two blocks away. Whenever anybody pitched a no-hitter, I always watched with Vander Meer when that pitcher made his next start (if the game was televised) in the off chance somebody might repeat his feat, he remains the only major leaguer to do so. I loved his take on his mark: “Somebody might tie my record, but they won’t break it.”

Jerome Holtzman, who covered baseball in Chicago for decades, took a liking to me because he’d covered Lopez when he managed the White Sox, and I knew Lopez. Even though he knew me, he called me “Dave” for some reason. Anyway, I love the story about Holtzman getting called into the sports editors office and being told he used too many cliches. To wit, Holtzman told his editor: “Yes, but they’re my cliches.”

More on the contemporary side, Jonny Gomes once talked about playing in a 16-and-under league when he was 18. Was the unflappable Gomes embarrassed about breaking the rules? No way, as he explained: “Man, I raked.”

Nick Green, who played for the Devil Rays, lived in Atlanta and during the offseason, so he occasionally worked out with Greg Maddux, a former teammate of his on the Braves. At times Green would even catch the future Hall of Famer, marveling at his control. After Maddux hit the mitt on every pitc