It was alarming to see a Facebook post yesterday with the headline, “Today is the first Memorial Day without a Major League Baseball game since 1880.” A 140-year old tradition wiped out by virus. Even World Wars couldn’t stop baseball! I read the article by Jean Chery. When it does come back, there will be a Universal designated hitter, not just in the American League. This means another strike against the traditionalists, who believe the game should never change. Well, it at least has to adapt – that’s what asterisk (*) is for! If baseball does have an opening day in 2020, it will mean many an asterisk next to shorted season statistics. It might also mean no fans in the stands or restricted crowds and no hot dog vendors. Peanuts may be allowed in sealed packages as will Cracker Jack, but Popcorn will be Out!
Will others now have to wear masks, instead of just catchers and umpires? Coaches will certainly have to if they intend to “get in the faces” of umpires. At least, we won’t be able to read lips. Will players have to practice social distancing on the base paths? These are all questions that are currently being tossed-around the horn, even in jest. The players are ready, as are the TV crews. “Play Ball!” We should at least be watching the game at home where we can eat all the hot dogs we want. Then, once everybody gets warmed-up, we can start to think about fans at the ball parks. Play it Safe!
I missed my last five baseball games due to a rain-out, a funeral, and the Spring Training virus. It’s been over a year since I’ve been to Wrigley Field and nearly two years since I saw at Cub’s W there. It will soon be time for the All-Star Game. Will we still not see a pitch by then? The fans are getting restless and the economy is suffering. I’ve been doing some collecting to keep my love of the game alive. It’s good that the magazines and sports channels have focused on the history of the game these past few months. Even Armando Gallarraga has been in the headlines, still fighting for his perfect game from ten years ago. Historians are having a field day, while signs remain posted at the gates, “No Baseball Allowed.”
In these times of no baseball or other popular sports, it’s important to savor the past and why a silly game has so much personal meaning. I blame it on my dad, taking me to games as a kid. High school basketball in our hometown, Notre Dame football, and occasional trips to Chicago for the Cubs or White Sox were bonding moments for us. I used the same magic on my son. I can remember fiddling with the TV antenna to watch a game with either of them, although we had an electronic rotor by the time I became an adult. It sure beat aluminum foil or climbing up on the roof. My son also got to see NBA and college basketball, NFL football, auto racing, and soccer with me. We still share an interest in baseball cards, but he’s more for the Cubs than my White Sox.
My dad started as a Tigers fan, but eventually became a die-hard Cubs supporter. As a grandfather, he lured my son to the Cubs side. I had no choice but to play along, although my loyalties still lie with the Sox. It all comes down to one man, that I’ve never met, but a childhood memory keeps our relationship strong. In the 1959 World Series in glorious black & white, Sherm Lollar hit a home run against the Dodgers, and even though they lost the war, it was at least a battle won, and a lifelong attraction to the number 10 that he wore on his back.
Some may joke that I’m still obsessed with this man who has been dead for 43 years. I did see him play with my dad several times at Comiskey Park, and still know the line-up of those White Sox teams of the 60’s. It wasn’t for another 46 years before they got back the World Series and actually won. I was there for two of the games in the sweep of 4. It’s too bad Sherm couldn’t have been around. Cancer took him at the early age of 53. Although, he did get a World Series ring in New York before he joined the Sox, and one more with the Orioles as the bullpen coach. It’s also a shame that more catchers have not been voted as Hall-Of-Famers, because they are the heart & soul leaders of any team. The glory always goes to the pitcher. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will ever get the defensive credit that he’s long overdue.
I’m not a wealthy man that can spend a lot of money on baseball cards and memorabilia. They were like gold to me growing up, even though I abused a few Yankees on my bicycle spokes. If I had extra money, I would spend it at the neighborhood store on bubble gum packs and trade the duplicates with my friends. As a retiree, I reverted back to childhood and joined a group of collectors, knowing that I couldn’t compete with their high-priced Mickey Mantles or Ty Cobbs. Fortunately, for me Sherm Lollar was not on the Cooperstown wall and therefore his cards were relatively affordable. As it turns out, however, there were hundreds of them made by various manufacturers over his 28 years of playing and coaching, not to mention photos, articles, ticket stubs, yearbooks, score cards, cartoon likenesses, promotional items, and ads. He was even a Trivial Pursuit question, beanie pin, card game, and coin. Sadly, he never got his own bobble-head or figurine, but there were glasses, plastic cups, mitts, catcher’s masks, and stamps bearing his likeness and/or signature. At the end of his career he owned a bowling alley, and provided a post card for patrons to get his signature. I was able to secure one of these, after his nephew sold some of his personal collection.
I have Sherm Lollar’s signature on cards, photos, scraps of paper, and baseballs. My rarest find is his uniform #10 from the first four games of 1956. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve spent over $4,000 on items that mean little to anyone but me. I will probably never recover that investment even if he somehow gets into the Hall. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a movement on his behalf. I care for his memory and family, but I could have never gathered so much of his past on my limited budget. Granted, there are famous teammates and fellow All-Stars of his on some items, adding to their value. I have him in photos along side of Yogi Berra, Bill Verdon, Al Lopez, Marty Marion, Minnie Minoso, Early Wynn, Frank Hayes, to mention a few.
Over the past month, with little to do, I’ve added to to my Sherm Lollar collection, that has to be one of the largest in existence. A photo of him with Billy Pierce showing off #10, another with Frank and Brooks Robinson, plus a couple of magazine pictures have been recently added to my bulging notebook. A 1960 ticket stub, a team photo from the 1951 St. Louis Browns, and a couple additional magazine clippings are in the mail. Within reason, I’ve vowed to add whatever I can, because within my circle of fellow collectors, that I have been separated from during months of social distancing, I’m known as the “Sherm Lollar Guy” and have the t-shirt to prove it!
A sad reminder of the state of our sports world arrived in the mail yesterday. I had ordered the Topps Now Opening Day card sets for the Cubs and White Sox, hoping to have them in time to take to Spring Training. Maybe use them for autographs? Needless to say, I’ve been anticipating their long-overdue arrival for months. The kid in me was excited to see which player had personally autographed his card, which is why I paid the overinflated prices. It was like a cheap prize in a Cracker Jack box, a unique bonus only because you found it. Last year, I got one signed by Ian Happ of the Cubs. Who would it be this year?
I still haven’t gotten my money back from the tickets I bought for that March Spring Training game that was canceled between the Sox and Cubs. When the cards arrived yesterday, it prompted another angry e-mail to the broker. Ticket-centers.com had assured a full refund in two to four weeks. It’s now been more than six weeks since the virus struck-out baseball, and they’re still stalling on reimbursement. In the meantime, Major League Baseball is already starting to issue refunds on regular season games that were missed in April. I feel bad for everyone associated with the game from both the financial and “love of the game” standpoints. The current state of the season is still up in the air, like a game-ending pop-up that never seems to drop.
It was supposed to be Christmas, but when I finally unwrapped my card sets, I was immediately filled with disappointment. First, there were no autographs as I anticipated. Some of the photos looked like they were thrown together at the last minute, while there were definite short-cuts in the player descriptions on the back. This was on every Sox card: “With a burgeoning youth movement in full swing, the Chicago White Sox are ready to take the next step in 2020, after adding several key pieces to their promising core.” The Cubs offered: “With fan-favorite David Ross now at the helm, the Cubs will look to reclaim the top spot in the NL Central Division.” In my opinion, it was a pretty lazy effort in highlighting each respective player. Even though Topps surely struggled with player access, I still feel they need to do some make-goods to keep me as a customer.
Baseball, like everything else, will never be the same, even when “normalcy” eventually returns. Discussions continue on playing this season without fans in the stadiums that surround Phoenix. It will be a far cry from my most memorable Opening Day at Wrigley Field on April 3, 1998 when they honored Harry Caray and topped the Expos 6-2. I still have the ticket stub and commemorative pin. Without people in the stands, at the least there won’t be annoying lawsuits from disengaged fans struck by foul balls. I suppose it would be better than no baseball at all, but the real experience is in going to the ballpark. I’m afraid the televised games will be as uneventful as the player descriptions on the back of my new cards. Plus, even if we could go to the games, it would take a six-foot pen to get an autograph. There may be an Opening Day, but there’s really no “open” about it.