Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Having a catch in New Orleans
I don't know if I've mentioned this before ... Every year, I attend the annual convention hosted by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).*
* Well, almost every year. My first convention was in Cleveland, in 1990. I met Charles Alexander and Mike Sowell, two of my writing heroes. Since then, I've missed two conventions: San Diego in 1993 (when I was poor) and Washington, D.C., in 2009 (when I was sort of poor).
For a few years now, the convention has been part of what my friends Mark Armour and Jeff Bower dubbed "the Boondoggle" ... Every year, we turn what should be a four- or five-day trip into a seven- or eight-day trip, with a stop or two along the way to the convention city. When the convention was in St. Louis, we started in Kansas City. When it was in Cleveland, we started in New York, saw a couple of games there, then drove to Ohio by way of Cooperstown.
Trust me, it's all quite the gas.
Mel Ott's grave site at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.
This year: Atlanta, by way of New Orleans. And here's another of our little traditions: Every year we take our baseball gloves along and find somewhere historical for a catch. In Kansas City it was Satchel Paige's gravesite; in St. Louis it was the site of old Sportsman's Park.
As best we can tell, there's one Hall of Fame baseball player buried in New Orleans: Melvin Thomas Ott.
Actually, that's not quite right. If you've got any money, you don't get buried in New Orleans; you get placed in a personal mausoleum. So yesterday Jeff and Mark and I went hunting for Mel Ott's interment site in Metairie Cemetery. (These expeditions are possible only because of the research that's been done by (mostly) SABR members, particularly Stew Thornley, who got the ball rolling with his list of Hall of Fame grave sites.)
We found it, and pretty quickly (which is a good thing when it's 95 degrees and the sun is unmerciful). If you've ever been to New Orleans, you've probably found it, too. Though unwittingly. Ott's spot isn't more than 50 feet from I-10, easily visible from the highway, with a corner spot shaded by a large oak tree. If you're heading into the city from the airport, Ott's tomb is easily seen on your right, the first as you pass Metairie.
Mark and I had a catch -- Jeff left his mitt back home -- with our old-style gloves. Mark's got a vintage Joe Cronin model. I've got a reporoduction of Bob Feller's glove from the late 1940s. We might have left our baseball as a small offering, but there are more catches scheduled for the next couple of days as we wend our way through Alabama and Mississippi.*
* By the way, if you ever want to really appreciate what those old-timers were up against, try playing catch with the old-time gloves. In the heat of a mid-summer day. While wearing woolen jerseys and pants. Granted, we weren't wearing woolen uniforms. But the old gloves weren't much use and the heat has you sweating after a few minutes of walking slowly. Those old-timers didn't have things easy.
It's those gloves that you can see in the photo, along with a baseball that we might have left there, except there are more adventures as we work our way across Mississippi. Meanwhile, all the talk about Mel Ott raised the story of his premature death. In 1958, Ott was involved in an auto accident that left him mortally wounded and killed the other driver ... Who has always been accused of crossing the center line and causing the accident (perhaps while intoxicated).
Not long ago, though, the son of that driver contacted SABR -- which includes an article about Ott in its massive BioProject -- to suggest that it was Ott who caused the accident (and might himself have been intoxicated), and that his father has been unfairly held accountable for all these years. Whether because Ott was famous or because the other fellow was African-American in Louisiana in 1958 ... Well, it's been more than 50 years now, and a lot of things have changed in Louisiana. We'll probably never know what really happened that night.