Tag: sports

His Reach Exceeded His Glove: Marty Marion

“I’d like to throw you out with the trash.”
    –MARTY “Mr. Shortstop” MARION , to the young autograph seeker, 1948

Of course he had bigger things on his mind than signing autographs.
By 1948, Marty “Mr. Shortstop” Marion was in the middle of what would become eight All-Star years with the St. Louis Cardinals. He had already been voted MVP and won three World Series championships. Also by 1948, Marion was suffering from the knee and back problems that would shorten his career. Worried about his future and those of his fellow ballplayers, Marion put his blunt temperament and crackerjack business mind to use, leading the successful fight for Major League Baseball’s first ever Players Pension Plan.

Marty Marion makes Pension Deal
Policy Conference, 1946: Left to Right: Marty Marion (ST. Louis), Dixie Walker (Brookyln) and Bill Herman (Boston)

I was very outspoken in my opinions,” said Marion.

When he was on the team, Marty Marion always put the players first, but it was a different story after he retired. At his posthumous 2014 induction onto the Cardinals Hall of Fame, Marion’s daughter Martina Dill made a revealing comment about his relationship to his fans. “Since his playing days,” she said, “he always had time to answer fan mail and autographs, and even add a little extra postage if necessary.”

“Since” his playing days he had time for his fans. Perhaps he went a little overboard after that, trying to repent for how he may have treated them when he was on the roster.

There are Marty Marion autographs aplenty on eBay written in his shaky, elderly script. These autographs had to have been written slowly. Marion would have had to take some time and concentration. He would have had to care. Even if he had started showing up to baseball card shows primarily out of financial need, Marty Marion could not have remained as “outspoken” anymore.

Marty Marion autograph for sale on eBay ($19.99)

Marion attended a baseball card show with his old double-play partner, second baseman Red Schoendienst, about six months before he died. Imagine Marty Marion, over 90 years old, with a pen in one hand and a brand new baseball in the other. Watch him slowly placing his signature within the ball’s laces, wobbling a big open circle to dot in the “i” in Marion, then carefully scrawling “ ’44 M.V.P.” under that.  How could he have been dismissive with these signatures or his fans?  He could not. In the time it took for him to sign each ball, each fan at the baseball show would have ample opportunity to snap a few pictures and plenty of time to ask “Mr. Shortstop” a long unanswered question.

Then, perhaps somewhere between gawking at his famously long, “Octopus” arms and the now old, gnarled hands that could once turn a double-play in the blink of an eye, you stop wondering about the motivations behind Marion’s late-in-life fan appreciation, and you start liking that he barked at you back in 1948.

More: Stories Behind the Signatures
“The Ox Next Door” – AL WISTERT

 

Stories Behind the Signatures: Sports Heroes of the 1940s

2 Comments

 

Babe Ruth autograph and vintage photo
From the Collection: Babe Ruth autograph, taped and saved with magazine clipping

When my dad was a kid growing up in 1940s Philadelphia, he was an avid sports fan who positioned himself at stadiums, train stations and hotel lobbies in order to get autographs of famous athletes.

My father and his on the steps of their house in Philadelphia, 1940s.

He also sent requests by mail on self-addressed, stamped postcards.

Personalized Postcard from Rogers Hornsby

His collection grew to contain dozens upon dozens of legendary signatures, including Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe Louis.  Also among the pages of his autograph books are the signatures of names that are lesser know today, but giants of their time.

The Ox Next Door: Al Wistert

While playing for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, tackle Al “Ox” Wistert lived in my father’s neighborhood.  He was known and loved not just for his feats on the football field, but for his generous Halloween hijinks. My father remembers Wistert having fun with the kids by heating up a pile of half dollar coins in his oven, then tossing them out his window to the children gathering below, delighting in their scrambling attempts to pick up and hang on to the piping hot treasures.

“Pro football’s a great game as long as you’re able to give more than you receive.
 – Al Wistert, upon retiring in 1951

My father remembers Al Wistert throwing money to children on Halloween, but he also went much further out of his way to help kids.  Although he did not own a car in 1945, Al accepted a job as head coach for a New Jersey High School football team over 50 miles away. For several seasons Eagles Head Coach Greasy Neale lent Wistert his car so Al could teach the high school kids.

Although all three Wistert brothers played football for the University of Michigan, and all three are in the college Hall of Fame, Al was the only Wistert who made it to the NFL, and the first Philadelphia Eagles player to have his number retired. His initial contract was for the 1943 “Steagles,” a temporary merging of the Steelers and Eagles made necessary by the lack of manpower left by the WWII draft.

Al “Ox” Wistert Philadelphia Eagles

The wrist bone ailment that exempted Wistert from military service also forced him to develop an innovative form of blocking, in which he rammed a defender with his shoulder, then headed downfield looking for another victim. He was the smallest tackle in the league, but Al Wistert played both sides of the ball in every game and made All-Pro for eight straight years.

Kazimer Wistert
Kazimer Wistert

Wistert was the son of Lithuanian immigrants. His father, Kazimer Vistartas, arrived in the U.S. from Lithuania in 1895.  He fought in the Spanish American War, then served as a Chicago policeman for 20 years until he was shot, dying of complications when Al was only six years old.

The tragic details of Kazimer’s injuries and long, unsuccessful attempt at recovery are well documented.  Thankfully, so is evidence of his kindness, which gives some insight into the source of Al’s own generosity. Kazimer was known as a helpful “do it all” guy who served as family barber and shoemaker, and often let the neighborhood children ride around on his police horse.

Al Wistert inducted into Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, 2009

At Al Wistert’s memorial in 2016, his handicapped daughter Kathy got up to give a tribute to her dad.  “Anything I was doing, he took an interest in,” she said.  Perhaps fittingly, Kathy’s passion was horses. When Al retired from his post NFL insurance business, he moved the family to a farm by Oregon’s Rogue River so they could adopt and care for neglected horses.

<<<<<>>>>>

Collections to Connections
I have also been a sports fan since I was a kid, and have a vast collection of trading cards of my own. When my son was young and started showing an interest in the hobby, I accompanied him to autograph signings.

Ron Cey card with Autograph
Ron Cey:1977 card & 2007 autograph

One day, 1970s Dodgers All-Star 3rd Baseman Ron Cey showed up on the autograph schedule. I dug my own, “vintage” card out of a box in the garage so my kid would have something to sign.

My father, collecting autographs at fourteen, did not imagine he would one day share them with his daughter. Just as I, at twelve, did not think I’d one day find myself happily standing in a long line with my own son to get a brand new autograph from “The Penguin” himself.

Sharing Stories Behind the Signatures turns collections into connections that tie generations together.

Stories Behind the Signatures
#2 His Reach Exceeded His Glove – Marty Marion

#3 The Knuckleballer Who Helped Kids Go Straight

Field Position – What Women Get from Pro Football

SPORTS

“FIELD POSITION” – What Women Get from NFL Football

Eve playing backyard football

I have been a football fan since I was little. I like the crack of the tackle, and also what that contact represents. It’s the crispness of the aggression. The ballet of steel and power, the driving ahead, the impossible bounce of the ball that swings momentum like a wrecking ball. Grace under pressure, broad shoulders, snug pants, white shoes, and speed. The player is as big and as strong as he can be. He uses one hundred percent gravity to become the opposite of gravity. It is athleticism and power and drama of the game, the teamwork, movement and personality of its players.

Perhaps my childhood football fantasies were bigger still because I was a girl. Because I knew that I would never actually be able to play.

I was a physical, athletic child, refusing the pink Barbie aisle in favor of cowboy outfits and cap guns, but at the same time I was mooning over Drew Pearson’s sweet smile on a Dallas Cowboys rookie card. I could have it all in watching football. And it made me different, it made me feel special. I traded cards with a boy around the corner, and played pick-up football with boys at the park (until they realized I was a girl). Read More