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The Glove Boat
Roy Blount Jr.
February 10, 1992
THE AUTHOR, A WANNABE BIG LEAGUER, NEVER WAS HALL OF FAME MATERIAL, BUT HE CAUGHT A FEW LEGENDS ON A CARIBBEAN BASEBALL CRUISE
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February 10, 1992

The Glove Boat

THE AUTHOR, A WANNABE BIG LEAGUER, NEVER WAS HALL OF FAME MATERIAL, BUT HE CAUGHT A FEW LEGENDS ON A CARIBBEAN BASEBALL CRUISE

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He also said, "I never got a hit off Fergie that I can remember." And the expression on Jenkins's face, as he nodded slowly in agreement, was the same no-kidding look your father gets when he talks about money or a dog gets when he sees his food, ft was funny, just for a moment there, watching Maury talking about not hitting Fergie, and Fergie eyeing him. It was almost as if Fergie thought Maury might try something, suddenly turn on him and claim some wily little single, and Fergie had the ball behind his back, ready to come up with a pitch that would throw his challenger off balance.

And maybe Maury would bunt it. Put a little bottomspin on the top of it. You've got to watch those pesky guys.

You want to know whom the legends admire? In San Juan, Sanguillen (who is a Latin-relations man for Tom Reich, the Los Angeles and Pittsburgh-based agent) and Merced visited the house of Sanguillen's old teammate Roberto Clemente. Both of them are friends of the family—Merced played catch in the Clementes' trophy room when he was a kid, and Sanguillen walked the beaches after Clemente's plane crash in 1972, hoping that some trace would wash up.

But Jenkins said that of all the great players he had played against, the only one he regarded as a superstar was Clemente. ("The only thing I ever saw Sandy Koufax do was pitch a no-hitter against the Phillies," Jenkins said. "The Cubs used to hammer him.") Wills said Clemente was much better than Willie Mays. And Sanguillen said, "When I came to Pittsburgh, I met the late Roberto Clemente. I remember after my first year when I play Class A and hit .235. In spring training Roberto Clemente stay after the practice game and work with the hitters. He didn't have to. He move my weight, he shift my feet. That year I hit .328, and next year I went to the big leagues. And I thank God I had the chance to play alongside the great Roberto Clemente."

But Bob Feller, now. Bob Feller was my first boyhood idol. And there I was on a ship with him. (And incidentally, the water was really impressive, there was so much of it, and every now and then we would go past something and it would be, for instance, Cuba.) Bob Feller's Strikeout Story was the first sports book I ever read. There was something intrinsically friendly about the name Bob Feller—and he played in the big leagues before he finished high school! So why couldn't I? I mused when I was nine, 10, 11. True, I hadn't built up my sinews as an Iowa farmboy carrying heavy pails of milk. That's what Feller had done, and he had such an arm that in 1946, after nearly four years of wartime Navy service, he came back and pitched 36 complete games.

But I did yardwork, didn't I? And I lived and died with Bob Feller in the sports pages the last four or five years of his career. A scant 37 years later, this cruise put me in the same boat with him. But I felt at sea. I have prodded many a superstar for information over the years, but when it comes to a superstar who was one when I was a kid, my natural reaction is to look down at my feet and scuff my toe in the dirt (or on the deck). Because if I'm old enough to be asking Bob Feller man-to-man questions, and he's 73, chances are that my own shot at a playing career has passed.

I did question Bob. That's what I called him, although it felt like calling Lincoln Abe to his face. I told him I was writing up the cruise for SI, and he said, "Your paper hasn't said anything about me in four years." I apologized.

Feller got out on the deck and gave a pitching demonstration. He showed us the old pump-handle windup, reaching way back and way up with both arms and kicking way up with his left leg, and even though he dismissed that windup as wasted motion and deservedly obsolete, it gave me a period thrill, like seeing Ring Lardner bang out a few sentences on an old typewriter. There on deck sunbathers in little bikinis basked all around, but nobody paid them any attention as Feller said that pitchers today are overcoached and overanalyzed: "They second-guess themselves, they don't take charge. If you aren't born with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball, there's nothing anybody can do for you, including God."

He also said, "I got a funny thumb, folds way back, makes it easier to throw the curveball. I got that from my mother. I also got my dimple from her."

He talked about umpires: "I had a way of judging umpires. If you don't know what he's going to call it, he's not a good umpire, because he's not consistent. I'd say to them, 'If you don't miss more than 12 pitches, we'll both have a good day.' "

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