The Slice

The autograph

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During the time that my father was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the 1960s, my family lived in a nondescript suburb outside Dayton, Ohio.

One afternoon, a rumor circulated among the boys on our street that a major league baseball player was visiting at a house on our block. I can't recall the year, but I think it was autumn.

Eventually a few of us summoned the nerve to go knock on the door of the house in question. The man who lived there, a horse's ass, opened up. We said we heard Tommy Harper was there and we wondered if we could get his autograph.

The homeowner asked us to genuflect or something. But eventually he disappeared back into the house, re-emerging a bit later with the baseball player. Harper signed his name a few times and that was it. He didn't care one way or the other. But his host, who had a Dickensian view of children's worth, wanted us to act as if our previously useless lives now had meaning and we all owed him our first born.

(In the years to come, I would learn that adults also loathed this man.)

If I had it do over again, I never would have set foot on that porch. But it was too late. The bowing and scraping had happened.

As I recall, Harper had some Air Force reserves job in the off-season that kept him out of the military draft. I think he handed out towels at the officers' club gym or something equally distant from the Viet Cong. But exacty how he wound up on our street that day, I couldn't say.

The jock-sniffing old coot he visited had a civilian job on the base. Though I have no idea what it involved other than, presumably, scowling.

And, of course, people knew about the baseball player's visit because that grouch on our street made sure neighbors knew about it. No way he would have passed up a chance to be the Big Man.  

The bad taste the autograph caper left in my mouth took awhile to go away. In fact, I still had it even after my family had moved to another state.

A couple of years later, in 1969 -- when Tommy Harper stole a lot of bases for the terrible Seattle Pilots -- he played in the all-star game. Or maybe that was the next year, when the Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers. In any case, I still remember pumping my fist with satisfaction when Johnny Bench gunned him down. In my illogical kid brain, it was as if that imperious man across the street back in Ohio had been thrown out trying to steal second.




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