We often speak of “baseball immortals,” but of course they aren’t. Former major league players are mortal, just like the rest of us. When we read that one has died, we may say to ourselves, “Oh, I remember him,” perhaps picturing a baseball card we had as a kid.
Sometimes, for some reason, we identify more strongly.
On the desk next to me at this moment is a baseball glove, which I moved this morning from a shelf otherwise occupied by baseball books. It measures just over seven inches, top of the middle finger to the bottom, just slightly bigger than my hand. It lies flat, as unlike today’s snap-jaw gloves as a wood-shafted mashie is to what Tiger Woods swings.
The glove was a gift, some years ago. When I hold it angled just right under the light, I can see the name Andy Pafko etched in neat cursive along the side.
Andy Pafko died this week, at 92. For me, that news fell into the category of “identify strongly.”
My first heartbreak as a Cubs fan (count ‘em) involved Pafko. I swear to you that I didn’t have to look this up: In June of 1951, the Cubs traded him, along with Wayne Terwilliger, Johnny Schmitz and Rube Walker, to the Dodgers for Gene Hermanski, Eddie Miksis, Joe Hatten and Bruce Edwards. Not Brock for Broglio, but in the ballpark.
They’d peddled Handy Andy, the slugger who’d finished second in the league in homers (to Ralph Kiner) the year before. The Boy from Boyceville (in nearby Wisconsin), a member of the Cubs’ then-and-now last World Series team, was gone as the Cubs rebuilt. Ha!
That’s just half the memory.
Sharing that bookshelf with the glove is a slim novella describing a radio broadcast I listened to four months later. From the book:
Russ says, “There’s a long drive.”
His voice has a burst in it, a change of expectation.
He says “It’s gonna be.”
There’s a pause all around him. Pafko racing toward the left-field corner.
He says, “I believe.”
Pafko at the wall. Then he’s looking up….
On the front of the book’s dust jacket is a photo of Pafko indeed looking up, standing next to a sign that says “315 FT,” dwarfed by a wall whose top is unseen. On the back we see Bobby Thomson‘s swing, the ball, and a dotted line showing where it will go.
Pafko at the Wall became the prologue to Dom DeLillo’s wonderful novel, Underworld. Andy Pafko will live long in those pages.