A Sports Ethics Father’s Day Story

New York GiantsI’m an old guy who loves sports. When Chuck Gallagher invited me to join-up with him in this Sports Ethics adventure, my first inclination was to say, “Maybe you should find someone who is not so shopworn.”

However, I am inspired by Chuck and his message. He has helped many people. Also, I owe a few things to sports. On this Father’s Day a memory or two comes back to me I feel compelled to share.

This isn’t one of those Field of Dreams stories. My dad never played professional baseball or collegiate or high school ball for that matter. In fact, they made him drop out of school in the eighth or ninth grade so he could work in the family business. After the stock market crashed in 1929, no one got a free ride; at least not in my father’s crowd.

There is another part to the story. My father was born with a club foot and because he was one of twins, and because he was not delivered until after they unsuccessfully tried to revive his twin, he was oxygen deprived. It would slow his reflexes. He never learned how to catch a baseball growing up; he could not run a race; he could not shoot a basketball or pass a football.

His parents hid him away like he was cursed. In their twisted logic, they blamed him for his sister’s death. The man taught himself to walk without braces. He taught himself how to go up and down a flight of stairs.

He had one noble athletic accomplishment that he shared. Some bully made fun of his religion. With one good leg and lousy reflexes, my father pounded away at the bully and bloodied the SOB until they broke it up. My father had one, really good friend. A tall, powerful black kid who everyone mocked. The two kids saw something good and decent in one another and they looked out for one another. That is the way friendship is supposed to be.

He met my mom in the early 1940s. In fact, he proudly remembered he took my mom to the Stanley Cup finals to see the New York Rangers play.

When WWII broke out, my father was the first in line at the draft board. They told him he was 4-F. He pleaded with them, “I’ll do anything,” he said. “You want someone to take out the garbage? I’ll take out the garbage.” No son, this isn’t your war.

I was born as the war came to a close. I told you I was an old guy.

As I was growing up, I got to see my dad as a man who was deeply scarred and angry by what life had thrown at him. He had a kid (me) who had two relatively good legs, and reflexes and just a tiny hint of athletic ability. He could never teach me sports. Yet one day, a kind of tiny miracle happened.

I had two baseball gloves and some baseballs and I convinced my father to play catch with me. In our first sessions, I would estimate he dropped, missed or flubbed 95 percent of every ball I threw to him. I was slightly embarrassed and also felt really bad for him. I covered my face with my glove as he picked up ball after ball because I did not want him to feel ashamed. Yet, we didn’t quit. Over many months, his atrophied reflexes learned to adjust and compensate until he caught pretty much everything thrown at him.

I let him pitch to me, as I squatted like a catcher. He enjoyed that. It was one of the first times I had seen him smile a true smile.

In terms of baseball, we shared another common love: the Giants. Hold on there; I am talking the New York Giants and good Lord, how he loved the “Say Hey, Kid,” Willie Mays. We got a kick out of seeing Leo Durocher jaw away at the umpires, and we were crazy for Sal “The Barber” Maglie, and Alvin Dark and who could not help but like Hoyt Wilhelm and Joe Garagiola. Yes, that Joe.

I remember “the catch” by Willie Mays in 1954 and how my father cheered.

My dad and I didn’t have many “great years,” but I think the best of them were when I taught him to play catch and when he could repeat the batting averages and RBI of the entire Giants roster with me.

Maybe my Field of Dreams was in teaching a man crippled by his parents and by life how to enjoy a summer’s day. We all come to love sports in our own way, and that was mine. It gave a man a chance to be the boy he had never been. It gave the boy the chance to better understand what life can do to a man.

Sports is the great equalizer, I think. Oh sure, some are better than others, but that doesn’t take away from our love of the game.

Chuck Gallagher and I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the men out there a Great Father’s Day.

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