The doors of baseball's Hall of Fame will open early next month to admit a trio of immortals, only one of whom will be around to hear the lavish praise - Eddie Mathews, a superb ball player and later an ordinary manager.
The other two - Larry MacPhail, a great innovator (night baseball, for one), was in his 80s when he died; Addie Joss, a turn-of-the-century pitcher, didn't make it much past 30.
Now is about as good a time as any to relate a first-time Cooperstown-oriented story about how a phone call probably changed baseball history - or rather a call being returned. It involved the late Paul Krichell, the greatest of Yankee scouts, a couple of Philadephia Athletics Hall of Famers and a Yankee general manager who ruled with the proverbial iron hand, especially where money was involved.
Krichell's big find was Lou Gehrig, a local boy who became a baseball immortal. Krichell got off a New York-to-Philly train one afternoon at New Brunswick to see Columbia play Rutgers. It was the only college game available that day and he had grown tired of sitting around the office. He saw Gehrig hit a couple.
Later that week, when Columbia played at home, he went to see him again. This time the Lions were playing the University of Pennsylvania and Gehrig hit one right out of the field and up on the steps of Lowe Library. That was good enough for Krich. He recommended the front office give the big kid all of a big $1,500 bonus to sign.
"That was the year that I missed two good ones," Krichell said. " Maybe I didn't miss them. Maybe that was the way it had to be." Baseball scouts are supreme fatalists or they wouldn't be able to stay on the job six months.
"We didn't have too many men covering the country in those days, so we did a lot of traveling ourselves. I used to have to plan my year so that I'd cover about the whole Eastern part of the United States. I laid out my work so that I'd get around to the Eastern Shore League in June. That used to be down around Maryland, with a lot of towns like Dover, Cambridge, Milford and Salisbury.
"I worked down to Dover, where there's this big overgrown kid fooling around with the Dover club. He isn't even ready for this kind of competition yet, but everybody knows he's going to be a big-leaguer some day. His name is Jimmie Foxx.
"There's another kid and they tell me his name is King. He's a catcher like Foxx, but he can play anywhere else and he's very fast. He's still a kid in college.
"I didn't tell the office where I was going when I took off, but they know that after a while I'd be in Dover. When I got ther the hotel clerk tells me New York has been trying to get me on the phone. I find out the calls are all from Ed Barrow (Yankee general manager, also in the Hall of Fame.)
"When I called him back, Ed says, 'Cliff Markle has jumped the club.' This is a little late at night so I say, 'So what?'
"So what? says Barro. 'We can send him back to Minneapolis for $10,000, that's what. Get him and bring him back.
"But I'm down here to get this Foxx kid.' I tell him. 'What about that?'
"'Forget it,' Barrow says.
"I'm talking fast now. 'There's another kid down here who's pretty good. His name is King, or something and he's a pretty good catcher.'
"'Never mind King,' says Barrow, 'go get Markle.'
"'All right, where is he?' I ask.
"'He lives in a town called Frnaklin Place, Pa., and it must be somewhere out in the coal fields.'
"So I go out to Pittsburgh and register at a hotel and sit down to wait for Markle. But before I leave the Eastern Shore I leave messages for all the managers and owners like, 'Don't do anything until you hear from me.'
"In Pittsburgh Markle finally shows up and I convince him to report to Minneapolis and that makes our ten thousand bucks safe and Barrow is happy. Then I get back to the Eastern Shore as fast as I can.
"All this has taken about a week, though, and when I get back there I find out the A's have signed Foxx and hae bought this King kid, too. They paid $1,000 for King and they're shipping him out to Portland, Ore.
Krichell became reflective at this point of his narrative, "I saved ten thousand, But I missed two pretty good ball players. I don't have to tell you about Foxx, but about that King kid.
"Well, King wasn't really his square name. He was in college up around Boston and he was playing summer ball under a fake name because he didn't want to lose his eligibility. His real name was Cochrane - Mickey Cochrane."