The inevitable effect of the passage of time, the absence of several familiar faces, only served to fortify the assembly's appreciation for those who did appear. Though it surprised everyone that he passed away only two days earlier, St. Louis Cardinal Historian Erv Fischer presided in spirit. A charter member of the Browns Fan Club, Erv served as its first president. A moment of silence honored his memory and that of recently deceased Browns player Jim Delsing and club member Chuck Dewitt. Additionally, a moment of prayer for Art Richman and Bill Borst silenced the room just before dinner. Vice President of the New York Yankees, and the man Erv Fischer always called the "Browns' number one fan," Richman recently suffered a stroke. And club founder Borst's illness kept him at home.
Following a pleasant dinner, the main reason for the gathering commenced - reflections on their playing days by former Brownies. Club president Fred Heger took on the task of host and MC. But Emmett McAuliffe, local attorney and host of the KMOX radio show "Friday Night Fracas," delighted everyone by introducing Rolland Stiles.
Looking forward to his 100th birthday this coming November, Stiles is the oldest living American League ballplayer. He pitched for the Browns in 1930, '31 and '33. Following a resounding applause of genuine respect, the vintage athlete strode slowly, like a cat, to the podium. His self-assured countenance permitted a glimpse into what the likes of Babe Ruth saw from the batter's box. Stiles still contends that though the records state otherwise, he does not remember Babe Ruth ever hitting a home run off him. McCauliffe interjected that Bob Costos' statistician says that Stiles is right.
Though obviously touched by the crowd's warm welcome, Mr. Stiles maintained his composure. His plain-spoken recollections spurred some hearty laughs, especially when he commented "Those pesky second basemen and shortstops don't hit the ball out of the infield." McCauliffe noted that (in 1933) Stiles played on the same club with Hall-of-Famers Goose Goslin and Rogers Hornsby.
Big leagues veterans, the speakers that followed all competed against and/or along side some of the greatest in the game. Bill Jennings, Dick Kryhoski, Ed Mickelson, Bud Thomas, JW Porter and Ned Garver all played for the Browns at one time or another. Jennings observed that major league baseball is still basically the same game…"run, hit and throw. "
Kryhoski talked about the only game winning home run of his career, and said "It makes us old guys kind of excited that someone remembers who we are after all these years." Joking about how the other guys (speakers) were his high school heroes, Mickelson recalled reverently how in 1953 the great Satchel Paige once complimented him. Satch said "Hey kid, that was one hell of a play!" That incident will surly appear in Mickelson's book, soon to be released by McFarland.
Former Browns shortstop Bud Thomas, who drove up from Sedalia, Missouri for the reunion, commented that it was "heartwarming to see the gals and fellows who came from all over the country." Following his remarks, JW Porter entertained the fans with a tale about trying to get Eddie Murray's autograph for a pal. Baltimore GM Sid Thrift told him that he could get him the pope's, but not Murray's. "Bob Gibson was a pussy cat compared to Murray," Porter quipped. "Eddie Murray hasn't given out an autograph since Pearl Harbor."
Last, but best of all, featured speaker Ned Garver entertained everyone with his salty jokes and insightful observations. He noted today's lack of loyalty on the part of owners and players. "The Browns paid me to do what I liked to do," he said. "Bill Veeck and Satchel Paige were two very special people that ever drew breath. And I got to know them both," he added. But Garver is no small potatoes in baseball. He is the only big league pitcher ever to win twenty games with a team that lost a hundred. Moreover, he is even honored on a postage stamp.
When the event ended, nobody wanted to leave. Including myself. Most of the group adjourned to J Buck's lounge on the first floor. A passing stranger might have thought a lot of name-dropping was going on. In truth, it was more like a class reunion. Any baseball aficionado would have enjoyed being there.
I happened to sit next to JW Porter, and engaged him in conversation. He mentioned that when he played for the Cardinals at the end of his career (in 1959) his locker was next to Stan Musial's. I related my elation on a recent return trip home from visiting my sister in Omaha. In the airport waiting room, I looked up and recognized none other than Bob Gibson sitting directly across from me. I told JW, "I was so thrilled, Gibson has always been my favorite ballplayer." He's mine too," Porter said quietly.
In the end, it seems that ballplayers are probably the best baseball fans of all.
This article appeared in the July 2006 issue of Prime Life Circuit. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Joan M. Thomas.
For more information about the St. Louis Browns check out the Fan Club's website at www.thestlbrowns.com. A Mileur Media Group website.