Bobo at Dusk

The big man looked out the window. Illinois countryside rolled past in the gathering dusk. Click-clack, click-clack, clickety-clack, click-clack.

How many trains had he ridden in his time, the big man wondered. How many miles?

The big man reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat, and removed a silver flask. He unscrewed the cap, and took a short pull.

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

The big man caught his reflection in the window. Despite the mileage, the face looking back at him wasn’t a bad one. He was carrying, he knew, a few more pounds than he used to, but just a few. A hair under six-feet-three, he packed his 225-or-so pretty damn well, considering as he was now just a month shy of forty.

Deep brown eyes still dominated his visage. The square jaw, the strong regular features, were still present. There were hints of bags under the eyes, a bit of chubbiness under the chin, but the face the big man saw in the window wasn’t very different from the one that had greeted him in the mirror for years. Still not a bad-lookin’ mug. The big man was never hesitant to adorn it with a grin, to tell a joke or two.

He knew there were some who considered him a loudmouth, but the big man knew for sure that a confident manner and a very strong right arm had taken him quite a long ways in this world. Quite a long ways.

Click-clack, clickety-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

Jesus Christ, the big man thought to himself. I should be feeling happy right now, but I just ain’t feelin’ it.

Clickety-clack, click-clack, clickety-clack, click-clack.

A sudden image from long ago came to the big man. He closed his eyes, and was tramping through the South Carolina woods, the faint aroma of hickory smoke in the air. He felt himself moving quietly and purposefully, the familiar heft of the big old rifle in his arms. His big-eared hound, Reddy, was moving swiftly with him, both of them eagerly following a warm trail and scent through the rich dark forest …

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clackety.

Aw, hell, the big man thought. Them days is long gone. I’m on a train to St. Louis, to join up with the New York Yankees.

I should be feeling happy about that. I should be feeling happy right now. But I ain’t.

Click-clackety, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

The big man took another pull on his flask. The whiskey warmed his gullet and belly.

The big man sat back, and took the pack of Chesterfields from his shirt pocket. He lit his cigarette, and wondered again just how many train rides he had taken over all these years. How many suitcases, how many stations, how many Pullmans, how many long days and lonely nights.

Click-clack, click-clack, clickety-clack, click-clack.

Good old Bobo, they always called him. Good time Bobo. Always the fella for a good time, a laugh, a party.

Sometimes he wished everyone would only call him by his other nickname: Buck. He liked the sound of “Buck” more than “Bobo.” But folks had always seemed to like to call him Bobo too, ever since he was a boy. He couldn’t remember where either nickname had come from; folks had called him Bobo, and folks had also called him Buck, since way back in wood-smoky South Carolina. He had always been cheerful about being called Bobo, though he could never remember liking it. It made him sound like some kind of a clown, and he didn’t want to be a clown.

Just about nobody ever called him Louis, at least since his Mama. And Mama had passed, years ago. He couldn’t remember now exactly how many years.

Click-clack, click-clackety, click-clack, click-clack.

How many years. Well, he was sure how many years he’d been on the road since he’d signed his first contract. This was year number twenty; the big man knew that for certain, for some reason. The number of baseball years was somehow easier to remember, even though all the teams and the cities over those twenty years blurred together.

He was the player traded more times than any other. That he knew, because the reporters told him so, over and over. He was the player who had played for more teams than any other. The big man didn’t need the reporters to tell him that. He had lived it; its reality never left his memory.

He still remembered his first game in the big leagues. Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio, way back in ’29. A cloudy September weekday. Fat old Wilbert Robinson telling him that morning, “Why don’t you start today, kid. Show us something.” He’d been nervous, but he pitched pretty good, though. Pitched pretty good, but lost a close one, 4 to 2.

Pitched pretty good, but lost a close one. The big man wondered how many times that had happened again, over the years.

Way back then he’d imagined himself staying with Brooklyn for years, maybe pitching his entire career for the Robins. He liked fat old Wilbert Robinson. But the next spring fat old Wilbert Robinson had sat him down and told him, well, they were going to have to send him down to Jersey City. Just for a little while, probably. Just to get him a chance to pitch some more games, to sharpen up his control. And then a few weeks after that he had found himself back down in Macon, Georgia again. Back in the Sally League again.

So many teams, so many cities. There were plenty of good times along the way, of course. Winning 30 games out there in the Coast League for Los Angeles. The big man smiled, remembering that sun-drenched summer, with good restaurants and pretty girls.

So many teams, so many cities. The big man would never forget one game in Comiskey Park in Chicago, the last day of the season. 1938, it was. Striking out Kreevich to end the game, with the tying and winning runners on, becoming a twenty-game-winner in the big leagues for the first time. And boy howdy, winning twenty games for them St. Louis Browns, that was a feat, all right.

The Browns had traded him the next spring, the second time they’d traded him away. But at least he got to go pitch for Detroit, his first really good ball club in the big leagues. The next year they won the pennant, that Tigers team. The big man had started the first game of the World Series, 1940 it was, back in Crosley Field in Cincinnati for the first time since his first big league game. His Daddy had taken the train all the way from South Carolina, had telephoned and said he wouldn’t miss this game for the world.

The big man remembered his Daddy in the stands for that game – this was after Mama had passed – that first World Series game in Cincinnati. The big man had pitched the complete game and won it, and after the game, all that evening as they had dinner with a few of the boys, his Daddy just never stopped looking at him and smiling.

The very next day, it was, Daddy had the heart attack, and died. In Cincinnati Ohio, right in the middle of the World Series.

The big man had never cried so much, not since he could ever remember, not even when Mama passed. And the big man had come back, just three days later in Detroit, and told all them reporters that he was going to win this game for his Daddy, and then he went out there and pitched a shutout, a three-hitter. And he had cried again in the locker room after the game, he couldn’t help it, and them reporters just kept takin’ his picture with them flash bulbs, takin’ his picture even though he was crying.

And then two days later, back at Crosley, the seventh game of the Series, the big man had pitched again. Pitched another complete game. Pitched another hell of a good game. Lost, 2 to 1. Pitched real good, but lost.

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

A year or so later, the Tigers had sold him to Washington. Clark Griffith getting him for the second time …

Goddam Clark Griffith. The first time he ever met him, Griffith had said, you’ve found a home here in Washington, son. Then Griffith had gone and traded him. And then got him back again, years later, bought him from the Tigers. “Now I’ve got you back!” Griffith said. And before that season was even over, Griffith sold him to Brooklyn.

And then the next summer, ’43, it was, durin’ the war, Clark Griffith got him back a third time. And then that winter the big man had gotten the telephone call, Griffith telling him he’d traded him away, lettin’ him go for the third time. In that telephone call Griffith had told him he hated to do it, but sometimes in this business you just have to do what you have to do, and if he ever had the chance to get him back again he hoped he could finish his career with Washington.

So just last June, when the big man had heard from some reporters that Griffith wanted him back, he had gone to Mr. Mack of the Athletics and asked for his release. Mr. Mack had looked at him with them big old white bushy eyebrows, and said, “Mr. Louis Newsom …” (Mr. Mack was just about the only person other than his Mama who ever called him Louis.) “You’ve always given me your best. If you think Mr. Griffith will do right by you, I’ll let you work your best deal out with him. Good luck, son.”

And so old Mack had let him go, and two days later Griffith had signed him. The understanding, or so the big man had thought, was that this would be the final stop on the long crazy tour. “I’m glad to have you here again, Bobo,” Griffith had said. “Back where you belong!”

And he’d pitched real good for Griffith, damn good, better than any old fastballer with so many campaigns under his belt could be expected to do.

And then that telephone call from Griffith, this afternoon at the hotel in Chicago, just as the big man was about to go out to the ballpark for the Friday night game. “I’ve sold you to the Yankees, Newsom.”

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, clickety-clack.

Good time Bobo, everyone always said. Always talkin’ a good game, and never missin’ a party.

Well, damn right. No sense not having what fun you can in this business. But what folks never seemed to get around to sayin’ was that the big man was also always ready to work when called upon, never shirking a start, always taking the ball, clear-eyed and ready for business on his day to pitch.

He had his aches and pains, sure. Sometimes his shoulder hurt like hell, sometimes his back was stiff, sometimes his knees throbbed. But he never was one to complain about it. His job was to pitch, and he always pitched when they gave him the ball.

Sometimes he wished that maybe instead of always talkin’ so much about good time loudmouth Bobo, they talked some about the way the big man always took the ball and sweated his big old country behind off out there, always givin’ it everything he had to give.

Click-clack, click-clackety, click-clack, click-clack.

Griffith had given him Larry MacPhail’s telephone number in New York. Said that Mr. MacPhail wanted the big man to call him collect, right away. So the big man had called MacPhail. Turns out the Yankees were going to be heading up from St. Louis to Chicago tomorrow night, to play the White Sox a doubleheader on Sunday. So the big man started to say that he could just wait there in Chicago, but MacPhail interrupted. “Take the first train you can get down to St. Louis tonight, Bobo. Never mind the expense. Bucky wants you to join the team down there right away. You’re a member of the New York Yankees now.”

So the big man should have been feeling happy about it all, he supposed. All those years, all those teams, and now he was finally a member of the one-and-only New York Yankees. Good chance he’d be able to pitch in the World Series again, for the first time since his Daddy had been in Cincinnati.

Why wasn’t he feeling happy about it? The big man wasn’t sure. Bein’ let go again by that goddam Clark Griffith had a lot to do with it, for certain. He might be good time Bobo and all, but the big man knew, better than anyone, that it didn’t feel good to be let go. Even as many times as it had happened to him, it still didn’t feel good to be let go.

But somehow that wasn’t quite it. There was something more to the way the big man was feeling right now. Goddam Clark Griffith or not, maybe the big man was just now realizing that he had kind of accepted, in his mind, that this one last time with the Senators was gonna be it. No more of those telephone calls. No more catchin’ the next train out, no more joinin’ up with the new ball club right away. The big man had been through that drill time and again, and maybe he’d kind of been thinking he’d never have to go through that one any more.

Clickety-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

One last short pull from the flask. The big man leaned way back in his seat. It was full dark outside now. He was tired, that’s all it was. He was just tired, twenty years of telephone calls and train rides, and maybe for the first time he was beginnin’ to get tired.

The big man closed his eyes. Hickory smoke and South Carolina. The familiar rocking of the train. The big man’s breathing grew slow and regular, and he allowed himself to catch some sleep.

Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack.

References & Resources
In addition to 600 games and 3,759 innings in the major leagues, Louis Norman “Buck/Bobo” Newsom pitched 351 games and 2,067 innings in all or part of nine seasons in the minor leagues, for a total of 951 games and 5,826 innings of official regular-season professional baseball, in which he won 350 games and lost 327. He was a very hard thrower with erratic control. A formula developed by Tangotiger to estimate pitch counts, suggests that Newsom may have thrown about 62,300 regular season pitches in the majors, and 34,200 in the minors, for a total of nearly 100,000 professional pitches between 1928 and 1953.

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