You don’t get too many cold calls when you’re a self-proclaimed baseball-history lunatic.
Calls mostly come from creditors or money-starved alumni associations, rather than from potential employers, friends or girls, for that matter.
The only e-mail squatting in my inbox this morning, for example, was an ad for inflatable, team helmet-and-tunnels — the kind the college and pros run through to take the field.
I’m thinking of getting a University of Arizona one.
It was June of 2007 when my cell phone flashed a foreign, Florida area code.
The man on the other end of the digital line was cold calling the sports writers of Tucson, in a quest to locate an old, yet lost, friend.
“Billy Loes,” the Floridian said. “He was a pitcher; won a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Ever hear of him?”
‘Um, do you mean the same Billy Loes who famously “lost a ground ball in the sun” during the 1952 World Series?’
The man’s quest to track down his lost friend led him to an Old Pueblo nursing home. And from what little he’d deduced from the tight-lipped nursing staff, it seemed that good old Billy wasn’t his affable self.
In fact, according to the caller, it sounded as if Loes had two outs in the ninth inning of the game of life and had just gotten himself into a run-down between the bases.
The timing of the call couldn’t have been worse. The next morning, I tossed the last of my belongings in the back of my truck, jumped on I-10 and didn’t stop until I reached a new job and life in South Carolina.
The opportunity to chat with the infamous Brooklyn Dodger right-hander slipped through my fingers like an over-petroleumed spit ball.
Loes, 80, passed away on July 15 in a Tucson hospice.
I wanted to talk with Loes, to look him in his quirky face and ask him firsthand if he really lost that ball in the sun. Several of his Dodger teammates came to his defense, affirming that the late-day sun poking through the pillars of Ebbets Field, did, indeed, cause sun spots.
I wanted to know which hitter was the toughest he faced in the pre-steroid era of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial.
I wanted to know if the Dodger really predicted in the New York press that the Yankees would win the 1952 series against Brooklyn in six games. He later proclaimed that he was misquoted. He actually said ‘Yanks in seven,’ to which he was correct.
I wanted to see what shell a former player wears when his legacy isn’t held together by stats, but rather by dubious anecdotes — the kind only the game of baseball can concoct.
Loes allegedly has claimed that he didn’t want to win 20 games in a season, because that meant having to reach the benchmark every year. And that was just too much stress for the Queens, N.Y. native.
He needn’t stress too much. In 11 seasons (including stints with the Orioles and Giants) he finished with a forgettable 80-63 record and a clunky 3.89 ERA.
I wanted to ask Loes about yakking up one of the most notorious balks in baseball history.
It was in that fabled 1952 World Series and Loes was on the mound with a lead in game six.
An anxious Brooklyn crowd on the edge of their seats clasped their hands together in prayer, as if to will their Dodgers to the first World Series title in its seven-decade history.
Instead of becoming a hero, he balked, moving a runner into scoring position. That set up the infamous “lost ground ball in the sun,” to the next batter, which gave the Yankees the win.
The very next day, the Bronx Bombers snatched another World Series trophy away from the Brooklyn ‘Bums.’
According to the legend of the balk, while standing on the mound, the ball simply fell out of his hand.
And a golden opportunity literally slipped through his fingers.