Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Going through the years to find favorite Indians players

As I have said so many times in the past, baseball is the greatest game ever invented.

It is better than football, basketball, bridge, whist, parcheezi, Old Maid or two-card monte.

I never even knew Monte. The only Monte I ever knew of was Monte Pearson, who pitched for the Yankees. And, of course, Leon (Monty) Montgomery, who was police chief of Wickliffe when I was a lad, and who parlayed his skill as a policeman into being a scratch golfer at Pine Ridge. But I digress.

So imagine my elation the other day when I picked up the paper and discovered inside it a 48-page tabloid section devoted to the history of the Cleveland Indians. Sheer excitement coursed through my veins. I read the section twice before putting it down.

Those sections are still a hot over-the-counter item at The News-Herald. The picture on the cover shows Omar Visquel wearing a batting helmet with Chief Wahoo on the front. On many of the Tribe’s new baseball caps, the Chief has been replaced by a Block C. Did they forget to put the P in front of it?

I will give you a minute to think about that. OK, time’s up.

I was sitting at the team’s home opener, an inglorious loss to the Yankees, and we were talking about Indians history. Greg Sanders, who runs the Foundation for Lake Health, asked me who my all-time favorite Indians player was. I answered without hesitation, “Ken Keltner.”

But I have a lot of all-time favorite Indians. There is nowhere near enough space to list them here without resorting to the type size they use in Friday’s paper to report the foreclosures.

But here are a few of them. I remember them well, some because they were massively talented, some because of absurd things they did and a few merely because they had wonderful names.

My favorite pitchers were Bob Feller, Mel Harder and Herb Score. I have a great picture of Herb and me taken at a Willoughby Police golf outing many years ago.

But how about Bob Lemon? And Ray Narleski and Don Mossi? And then there was Willis Hudlin. And don’t forget Earl Whitehill. I used to do an impression of him warming up.

Everybody loved the shortstop/second base combination of Lou Boudreau and Ray Mack. But another shortstop I liked was Broadway Lyn Lary. And for second base, how about Odell (Sammy, Bad News) Hale?

And for a first baseman, there was nobody like Hal Trosky. He could really crush the ball. We don’t have any hitters like him any more. I liked the way he dug in his spikes at the plate when he batted.

Eddie Robinson was another guy who dug in as if he were drilling for oil. Sort of like Reggie Jackson and Richie Allen, to mention a couple of guys on other teams.

The Indians had three catchers I admired for their bravery – Rollie Hemsley, Frankie Pytlak and Henry Helf. They once stood on the sidewalk outside the Terminal Tower as the strong-armed Keltner fired baseballs down from the top.

I think Helf was the only one who caught a ball. The others missed them and they bounced several stories high off the cement. If anybody had been hit by a ball, he would probably be buried next to Ray Chapman.

I was at a game at League Park with my grandfather, and during batting practice Joe Vosmik, an incredible batter, was leaning against the screen waiting his turn. Billy Sullivan hit a ball about a mile, straight up in the air. When it eventually came down, Vosmik casually reached out and caught it with one bare hand. I never forgot it.

Joe’s widow, Sally Vosmik, lived on Gardenside Drive in Waite Hill. I used to see her at a lot of parties. She was a very good dancer.

One of my favorite outfielders, beside Rocky Colavito, Rick Manning and Jeff Heath, was Earl Averill, the power-hitting centerfielder. My dad took me to Municipal Stadium on Earl Averill Day. It must have been 1937 or ‘38. The team gave him a new Cadillac with EA-3 on the license plate.

On the Fourth of July, Earl had a firecracker go off in his hand. His picture was in the paper, sitting up in a hospital bed, holding up two bandaged fingers like a V for Victory. After he was released, my dad took me to his home, I think it was in Cleveland Heights, and he autographed that picture for me.
Guess what? I still have it.

The good stuff you just don’t throw away.

It’s too bad Hal Lebovitz is no longer around. I would tell him these stories and he would just nod and say, “Yes, I remember.”


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