Ex-Big Leaguer Werber Has Many Stories to Choose From
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
CHARLOTTE -- To get an audience with the oldest living ex-major leaguer and the last remaining ex-teammate of Babe Ruth's, you agree to show up at the retirement community where he lives, at a precise time that falls between his morning and afternoon naps, and that also happens to be lunchtime. In the clubhouse dining room, you take a seat to his left, because that's his good ear. And of course, you'll have what he's having -- a hot dog with onions and a little bit of ketchup, and an iced tea -- because, hey, he's nearly 100 years old and ought to know by now what's good.
You turn down the ice cream, because he does.
After lunch, you follow along behind his wheelchair to his apartment and wait until he has lifted himself into his recliner, and then you plop yourself down where he has motioned you. And you sit there in Bill Werber's wheelchair, which is actually quite comfortable, and you wait for him to ask you what it is you want to talk to him about.
And then he talks about whatever it is he wants to talk about -- which, in roughly chronological order, is:
His upcoming 100th birthday on Friday; his youth in Berwyn near College Park; his friendship with Shirley Povich; his late wife, Kathryn, whom everyone knew as Tat; his hijinks at Duke University, where he was the school's first all-American basketball player; the house he and Tat bought in College Park, where they lived for 30 years ("The address," he says, "was 4513 Amherst Road"); the amputation of his left leg due to complications from diabetes several years ago; and his many memories of an 11-year baseball career with the Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics, Reds and Giants, and especially Hall of Fame teammates such as Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove.
And occasionally, he doubles back to add something to a previous story.
When he does this, you do not interrupt.
And when he is finished, and the afternoon nap appears as if it is going to occur whether you are there or not, you thank him for his time and let yourself out. And you marvel at the astounding recall Werber possesses in telling what seemed to be about a hundred stories in roughly two hours, but which you later determine was not a hundred, but in fact was exactly 28 stories.
And you decide, it being pretty near impossible to speak to any of Werber's former teammates or managers, you have little choice but to sift through the stories and decide which ones most warrant retelling to a larger audience. And you decide the best way to do that, without leaving out any good ones, is by multiple choice.
Story No. 1: Which would you like to hear -- A) The time Werber got kicked out of the Berwyn School, which is how he wound up going to school in the District, eventually graduating from McKinley Tech?
B) The time Povich, the longtime Washington Post sports columnist, was working as the timekeeper for high school basketball, and the gun he used to signal the end of the game failed to work, forcing Povich to grab a pair of cymbals from the band and throw them onto the court?
C) The time pitcher Paul Derringer and outfielder Ival Goodman, Werber's teammates on the late-1930s Cincinnati Reds, got into a fight in the clubhouse when Derringer accused Goodman of not having any guts after the latter allowed a fly ball to drop in?