Baseball Has Been Very Good to Me

By Don Rollins

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has come and gone, which means the season is a shade past half-over. If your team’s name starts with a Y and ends with an s, it’s just another year at the office. But if you’re reading this in, say, Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Baltimore, chances are you could invoke the mercy rule right about now.

Me, I’m a member of the Church of Baseball. (“Play ball!” is my Call to Worship.) Oh, I know, big league ball is a corporation — worse yet, a veritable conglomerate of corporations, rife with greed, cheating and inequity. But in this world of dirty wars, dirty oil spills and dirty politics, a body needs something to believe in. For some of us, it’s the sound of a round bat on a round ball.

The All-Star game (coupled with the passing of longtime Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner) has me ruminating about a couple of old duffers who lived and loved the sport. They remind me why so many of the fans of the game say that baseball is more than a pastime; it’s a teacher.

Judge Morgan and Eddie Comer were two grownups a kid could trust. Judge and Eddie were dirt poor when it came to the things of this world, but they told some of the best stories a kid could ever hear. And we loved them for it.

Judge lived just up the alley. He’d let me read old Reader’s Digests. He’d let me sit with him and listen to the Reds, telling me things about baseball no play-by-play man could. And he’d let me use his best glove when we’d step out in the alley to see if my curve ball was getting any better.

Eddie lived down next to the post office, where he would stand and wave at school bus kids on their way across town clear, fall Ohio mornings. We’d run across him in town; often as not he’d tell a cheesy joke or crack all ten knuckles or cut off a piece of “Under the Double Eagle” on a rusty old ten-hole Marine Band harmonica – the one Eddie tried to make us believe saved his life when a piece of Tojo’s shrapnel hit him in the chest over on Guam.

Judge and Eddie both played minor league ball, though they never played for the same club. Judge was a catcher and Eddie pitched. Judge said only fools tried to steal on him, and Eddie said he was the first minor leaguer to strike out Stan Musial swinging. Baseball was baseball back then, one of the few things on which they could agree.

I asked Judge if Eddie ever stole second on him. Judge just spit. Through gritted teeth, he told me that Eddie Comer never hit a baseball hard enough in his life to make it to first, let alone steal second. Said Eddie Comer couldn’t hit an ant with an atom bomb.

And when I asked Eddie about Judge, Eddie said he never worried about his hitting on account of he wasn’t paid to pop-up them Texas League, excuse-me-bloopers like Judge Morgan. No sir, Eddie told me, he earned his saw buck per month, plus meal money. And he did it by striking out slow slugs like Judge Morgan.

Like I said, we loved those two old ballplayers. So I asked my old man why Judge didn’t have a left hand. Seems Judge lost it working in the brick factory in the off-season. And after he got it stuck in one of the kiln parts, he lost his job. And he lost baseball. And that’s how he started the drinking.

The old man told me that Eddie always did drink too much. Said he drank when he was playing ball so he could stand the pressure; and he drank when he wasn’t playing ball because, well, because he missed not playing ball.

Eddie Comer died first. And they say that the day Judge Morgan marched with the American Legion Post to carry Eddie to the bone yard was the day Judge swore off the whiskey for good. Judge told Mom that he’d spent the better part of forty-odd years numb or looking to get numb, just to forget his dreams. And he said it was time to see what life was like the other side of numb.

Judge took a part-time job at the hardware store. He shaved real regular and even set foot in church now and then. He said he was there for the praying. He told Mom he didn’t give a hoot in hell about the rest of that carryin’ on – said that it was worse than any third-rate USO show ever put on for the dog faces in Italy – but that praying part was special. Judge just liked to pray.

I don’t remember much about Judge Morgan’s funeral, save that it was heavy on prayer.

Folks, baseball is not just about plays; it’s about players. Save for some poor kids from a poor town, you won’t find the names Eddie Comer or Judge Morgan in anybody’s Hall of Fame. But those old men were once young men, chasing, living and losing a dream.

Next time you see a number on a jersey, you’re looking at a story. Something way beyond chalk lines and box scores. Something about a dream.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2010

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