Last summer I wanted to write to George McQuinn and tell him he had been my hero and that I was pleased to learn that he lived in nearby Alexandria. Even, perhaps, would he like to have lunch one day and talk about the old St. Louis Browns?
The Post had interviewed the former baseball player about his hitting streak (in comparison with Pete Rose's) and his picture and descriptions rekindled memories long lost in the shadows of my mind. Then on Dec. 27th, The Post printed George's obituary and I chided myself for not having done so.
McQuinn was as much a part of my life as roller skates and Moses, our ice man, and I followed every facet of his career as if he had been a family member. In those days, heroes were players who hit well or fielded gracefully or who were from our hometowns or states. Although they were remote by today's saturation coverage, they were as much alive as Tom Seaver and Reggie Jackson and Pete Rose are today.
George's career and my involvement in it vividly illustrates the difference in sports today as compared with yesterday.
For a youngster in Richmond, Va., there were no television interviews, there was limited radio coverage, a few player profiles with long quotations and only occasionally a newsreel clip at the Byrd Theater. Baseball was the big sport without all that. You played it, you soaked it up, you liked it at all levels; excitement was as much for the Richmond Clots of the Piedmont League as the Boston Rd Sox of the American.
There was virtually no way to learn the scores before bedtime. The exciting moment came in the morning when one raced to the doorstep for The Times-Dispatch. And spread before you was not a capsule, but a full story on each game in the majors and the Piedmont League. At the end of each story was the boxscore and one lived by statistics.
Major leagues were not everything. Baseball was everything. The Piedmont, American Legion, colleges, Thomas Jefferson High were all followed. One watched baseball, talked it, traded cards and rattled off the statistics.
Football was important, but the South was the hot bed of baseball. The big stars rose out of the Carolinas, not California and certainly not New England. A few, like George McQuinn, were native Virginians. The Times-Dispatch carried a box each day entitled "Virginians in the Majors" and we looked at it with great pride. We followed players like Babe Young, who had played for our Colts, and Herb Hash and George Lacy, who played at the University of Richmond, and Stukie Hoskins, who was a great catcher.
Even when football was prime, it didn't have to be the Redskins or the majors. The Richmond Arrows were important. In basketball there was no NBA, but enough teams to keep us occupied. There was no soccer or lacrosse. Track was big with Glenn Cunningham, everyone's hero. Tennis was strictly big league with Tilden and Budge. Golf was a rich man's game that commanded little of our attention.
But, most of all, we didn't have to be lawyers or economists to follow sports. We wouldn't have thought twice about option clauses and nocut contracts -- players lived and died for their teams. The owners -- we knew a few names such as Jake Ruppert -- seemed to love the players and the players loved the team and we could occupy ourselves with debates about whether Lloyd Waner was anywhere near as good as brother Paul. ("Big Poison" and "Little Poison," if you remember.)
It is important to remember, too, that your team didn't have to be a winner. As a matter of fact, there was a tendency to pull for some perennial losers -- unheard of today. The St. Louis Browns were just such losers. McQuinn was the hero of that terrible team. In 1944, when I was in the service and the Browns won the American League pennant, I thought for days that Stars and Stripes had pulled a big joke on us when they wrote of the winning Browns.
When I listened to the World Series by Armed Services Radio and George was the big star in the series, which the Browns lost to the rival Cardinals, it only underlined the unreality of the world of World War II in which we lived.
For years I had argued with Stuart Allen and Bushead Burton and Juny Layne that George could play for anyone. When he was traded to the Athletics and then to the Yankees, I knew I had been correct. And when the Yankees won the World Series from the Dodgers and George had hit.304 for the season -- well, my youth had been vindicated.
I seemed to know everything about George McQuinn in those years. At least I knew his batting and fielding averages by heart, the pitchers he hit well, how he handled ground balls and how well he could stretch for a bad throw to first base. I knew it without having heard him say a word to Curt Gowdy or Howard Cosell or without knowing whether he was playing out an option. If I needed more than my local paper, the Sporting News was available at the newsstand with even more statistics.
Yet George McQuinn was alive and human, and a great baseball player and many of us wanted to be just like him. Seeing his picture in The Post brought it all back. I don't know if it was better then. Certainly it was different.
And I'm glad I never saw him dab himself with Brut.