A Post Halloween Killer Story..

A Post Halloween Killer Story..

Firebrand AL

A Post Halloween Killer Story..

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Well, as we wait into November for an October Surprise to be announced from the Fenway Fortress (also now known as the Shaughnessy-Free-Zone) and our attention is happily drawn towards another Patriots Reign, I was thinking about baseball cards. Those little things that for some reason mothers seem to abhor, throwing so many collections away that those of us still left with them tend to guard them with the ferocity of a rabid mongoose. I’ve got about 100K of the little suckers, and even still have all those old ones from the 70’s that my mom never ferreted out while I was away at college. The George Brett rookie card, the Jim Rice rookie card that I stuck inside the visor of my Red Sox batting helmet for good luck, the entire Topps ’79 set that my dad got me for my birthday that year, and many others. I don’t buy them much these days, maybe a few packs to see what the designs are like, but the boom in the late 80’s really sucked the fun out of the hobby, it became all about the money and not the game. They even stopped putting in the gum.
But back then, in the midst of the speculation boom (I recall BusinessWeek magazine once doing an article on them and concluding that the average increase in value of any rookie card was 42% annually), it was immense fun. I learned alot about the history of the game from reading the stats on the backs of those cards, seeing older players like McCovey and Aaron and Killebrew and the numbers they amassed. Reading my ’74 edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia to look back even further. This was a primitive time remember, there was no internet, pc’s themselves were expensive and clunky creatures; remember those old black and white MAC’s with 4mb RAM?
Back in the late ’80s I knew this guy who was a baseball nut and a bit of a character. He was a SABR member, and a sax player in a number of bands in the club circuit where I was in Ithaca NY. He had quit drinking some years before, but his social life was so centered around the clubs and bars that he would often do his own sober version of a pub crawl, checking in with friends at each spot every night, and never staying for longer than it took him to finish a club soda. When he came to the bar I worked in, or the one i frequented, we would always talk baseball. He was a savant at finding obscure statistics, once spending an insane amount of time (remember, no internet, everything was done with paper and pencil…) figuring out the all time home run king for players who’s last name began with each of the letters of the alphabet. Jamie Quirk had the record for Q, with 13, and I was pulling for our old friend Carlos Quintana to smash the record until the Q, as we called him, got himself shot or something in a crazy ‘party’ in South America and disappeared from our baseball world. At one point he discovered that the Giants were about to become the first franchise to have all of its players combine to amass 10,000 homers and 10,000 stolen bases. He called the Giants, who were unaware of the impending milestone, and they were able to announce the feat when it actually took place. My friend went by the name of Fluffy, which was never explained to me, and since he looked like he could do unpleasant things to anyone he chose to do them to I never asked.
One day Fluffy was telling a story about Harmon Killebrew. He was doing an interview with the Killer for The Sporting News, and it seemed that Killebrew was feeling down. He was living out in Montana or somewhere in the NW and had been feeling that he had been lost in the collective memory of baseball. He never got to play in the big media markets, or in the spotlight of the Series (except for way back in ’65) and being away from everything he had told Fluffy that he was, well, sad. This struck me as well, also sad. 573 homers and an MVP award should get a guy a little bit of attention (just look at Manny….). That year I had collected a small baseball card set of ‘all-time’ all stars. It only had about 100 players, and the selection was a little odd, with Mark Fidrych and a few other interesting notables slipping in, but then again there was a Ted Williams card (!!), and a Willie Mays, even Mickey and the Duke. And Killebrew. Earlier that day I had opened a pack of these cards, and it was in my shirt pocket. And it included a Killebrew card. Fluffy had been talking about how he had to actually mail the interview paperwork to Killebrew for his signature. I pulled out my cards and handed Fluffy the Killebrew card (I already had 5 of ’em) and told him to put the card in with the papers, and to tell him that he was not forgotten at all, that this was a recent card, and that I was one of a great legion of fans who all knew full well what he did, and that he was not even close to being forgotten. Fluffy said sure and tucked the card into his leather jacket and it felt good to know that in maybe a week the Killer himself would be holding that same card.
A few weeks later I saw Fluffy on his rounds and he told me that he had finally heard back from Killebrew and that his interview was therefore going to be published. He said that Killebrew had, indeed, been happy to know that people still knew who he was, that it meant alot to him. In fact, a few years later I smiled each time I saw his name listed as a signer at a card convention. Guess he finally got out of Montana, or wherever, after all.
As Fluffy left he said to hold on a sec, and fished around in his jacket and all the scraps of paper he seemed to always have and pulled out a card. My Killebrew card. He handed it to me and said that Killebrew had asked him to give it back to me. It was signed “Best Wishes Chris, Harmon Killebrew”. I have a bunch of signed items, but only one was something I just bought (it was a signed Willie Mays ball, and it was only $20….). The others all have a story.
So here’s to baseball cards and autographs and little acts of kindness.
And a toast to you too, Killer.

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