h1

Ed Ott

November 7, 2007
 

 

The Yazmobile(Continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1981)

Epilogue

 

Good feeling,
won’t you stay with me
just a little longer.
–Violent Femmes

In 2004, the day after the parade, my brother and I drove from his in-laws’ house in Brookline, where we were both staying, to Fenway. I forget why. Maybe to buy a couple souvenirs, maybe just to bask a little longer together in the glow of victory before we went back to our separate lives. On the way there, another driver passing us on the right lay on his horn and leaned his face out his window. He was about our age.

“Yazmobile!” he shouted, beaming.

I didn’t want the good feeling to end. My brother and his wife had to get back to Brooklyn. It was Halloween, and their route home was back through the Bronx, where anyone in the mood for a little Halloween car-pelting would be sure to enjoy a target festooned with red and blue signs with Red Sox lettering singing the praises of victory and Yaz. My brother’s wife wisely instructed my brother to turn the car back into a nondescript gray sedan. I still have the main Yazmobile banner, folded up and stored in a plastic container with other personal keepsakes. I like to hold onto things like that, especially now that I’m older and have had so many things like that disappear that it makes me wonder if I would still have Carl Yastrzemski’s autograph had he ever written back to me. I think I would still have it, but who knows? Sometimes it seems as if even things you make a point to hold onto slip away when you’re not paying attention.

Maybe this is one reason why my midlife crisis has taken the form of paying an insane amount of attention to my childhood baseball cards. It’s a way to hold on, I guess. The card at the top of the page is one of the very few cards I have from my last season of buying them, 1981. A couple years earlier, during our annual summer visit to see him in New York City, my father had taken my brother and me to Shea to see the Mets get pummeled by the Pirates. Before the game several Pirates ambled over to the stands and signed autographs. My brother and I got in on the action, our very first real contact with the world we’d been worshipping for years. I don’t remember which of us got which autograph, but one of us got Omar Moreno and one of us got Ed Ott. It was a good feeling, holding the pages that held these somewhat random but still godly names. But my point is I don’t know what happened to those pages.

Anyway, the day after the parade, as the former Yazmobile was heading south, I was on a plane bound west, to Chicago. The plane got delayed for a long time on the runway. I had a commemorative Sports Illustrated celebrating the Red Sox, and even though the lights in the cabin were on low I managed to kill some time leafing through it, revisiting the long history of the team from their early successes in the dead-ball era all the way up through the end to the 86-year championship drought. In the magazine, as in almost every printed version of the team’s story, the drought was referred to as a curse, a curse that began when the team sold its star, Babe Ruth, to the Yankees. There was a photo of the Babe in the magazine looking young and thin in a Red Sox uniform. The picture made me happy.

The runway delay went on so long I gave up on finding any unread tidbits in the magazine. I put it back into the holder on the back of the seat in front of me. I don’t remember quite how we started our conversation, but I began talking to the woman beside me. She was a soft-spoken woman in her 40s who worked as a remedial reading teacher. Her name was Anita. We talked about where we were going (we were both going home, she to Nevada by way of Chicago) and about what had brought us to Boston: me for the parade, she to visit her daughter. Eventually the delay went on long enough to allow those facts to expand into deeper stories about our lives. She learned that my trip to see the parade was in some ways a trip to infuse my relationship with my brother with a booster shot of joy. I learned that her daughter was working as an intern for the Red Sox. And then I learned that her daughter had been able to get the internship because she was the great-granddaughter of a certain former Red Sox player.

“My husband is Tom Stevens,” Anita explained. “Babe Ruth’s grandson.”

Ever since I wrote a book called Classic Cons and Swindles, I have been on the paranoid lookout for someone planning to put one over on me. So it occurred to me that the woman was a professional grifter who had seen me leafing through my Red Sox magazine and had then tailored a way to get me awestruck and vulnerable for some sort of fleecing. I held onto this faint suspicion even as the warm feeling between the two of us grew with her family stories of Babe the doting, tender family man. But I didn’t need to have worried about a set-up. Sometimes these nice things just happen, I guess. As it turned out, Anita never asked anything of me. But she did give me her address and urged me to write to her mother-in-law, Babe’s daughter Julia, who lived with Anita and Tom Stevens in Nevada.

“Sometimes it takes her a little while to respond, but she loves getting mail,” Anita said.

A few weeks later I did write to Babe Ruth’s daughter. I told her that I had been moved by her daughter-in-law’s stories of Babe the loving father. I told her that my wife worked in a group home with children who had grown up with little or no parenting, as Babe had, and that his ability to be a caring parent after growing up that way seemed to me as big an achievement as any of his miraculous feats on the diamond. In some ways the letter was like a bookend of the letter I’d written decades before, to Yaz. I’m still waiting for a reply to that earlier letter, but within a few weeks of my letter to Babe Ruth’s daughter I got a brief, gracious letter from Nevada, thanking me for writing and wishing me the best. I framed the autographed picture she enclosed with the letter, and even to this day it has the ability to make me feel as if I’m hanging on to that good feeling just a little longer…

19 comments

  1. 1.  That was great, just great.

    Looks like that Barnes & Noble writeup refers to you once as “Wilder.”

    Nobody asked, but Ed Ott is the man who ended Felix Millan’s career. Millan took exception to a hard slide at second base and while still holding the ball in his bare hand, punched Ott in the face. Ott then picked up Millan and slammed him to the dirt onto his shoulder: That turned out to be Millan’s last MLB game (tho he resurfaced briefly in Japan).


  2. 2.  Poor Ed Ott. He had the shortest name in MLB history, so he never got to have a cool nickname like Yaz!


  3. 3.  1 : I didn’t see the “Wilder” reference, but I think that link is one of many that has an erroneous has middle initial in it (in this case, “D.”). A few years ago a book somewhat similar to some of the nonfiction young adult books I’d written appeared with my name (and the made-up middle initials “D.G”) attached to it. I’ve never figured out why, but now in many internet listings of the young adult books I actually DID write my name now has “D.G.” or “D.” in the middle of it. Weird.

    As for Ott, I think he also once wrestled Rob Dibble to the ground during a brawl. Not someone to mess with. The back of the card featured above notes his wrestling background. (It also states in a cartoon that he “bicycled to spring training” the previous year.)


  4. 4.  Wow


  5. 5.  I work in a relatively small building that used to be an inn where Babe Ruth stayed during the off-season. We know for a fact that he stayed here. It’s an amazing feeling to know that the Babe hung around here and walked the same halls and rooms that I work in.


  6. 6.  That, Josh, was a great story, start to finish. Thanks for sharing, especially the photo.


  7. 7.  Looking now at that photo, Julia could be Felix Millan and the Babe, Ed Ott, moments before the tragic bodyslam.


  8. 8.  A freakin’ great story Josh. Absolutely loved it.


  9. 9.  Plane companions can be great. My brother met his wife on a plane, 15 years later they are still flying well together.

    Loved the whole storyline. Thanks for sharing your gift with us.


  10. 10.  I don’t comment much, as all I ever have to say is “man that was great.”

    Here’s the thing: I’d buy the book form of the Cardboard Gods. Maybe that’s been a plan all along. Anyway, I’m glad you share all this on the Toaster, a place already filled with exceptional writing.


  11. 11.  I recall that Omar Moreno’s nickname was “Omar The Tension Maker”. I learned that when he was on the Yankees. My father loved that nickname.


  12. 12.  loved it from beginning to end.

    from the Violent Femmes to a girl in boxing gloves.

    With Babe Ruth, the Red Sox, and Ed Ott in between.

    i got the feeling the good feeling got a little bit more widespread. thanx!


  13. 13.  josh, as always, when i read your work, i am speechless, moved, in awe…. i feel like i should send you some money or something. why don’t you take these writings and have them published with quality reproductions of your carboard gods? i would gladly pay top dollar to put a book like that in my collection.
    regards,
    will


  14. 14.  Man, that’s great reading. Thanks for sharing.

    Wow is right, Jon.


  15. 15.  As always, brilliant, insightful, evocative. I’ve said it before, and I will echo the others by saying it again: Cardboard Gods needs to be a book. I would absolutely buy it, and probably force it on some of my friends, too.

    I like rereading pre-2004 books, like Red Sox Century, and just reflecting on how DIFFERENT it all feels, in light of the last 4 years.


  16. 16.  That was a sweet series of posts.
    You got all of that one.

    Ed Ott showed up here in Allentown a couple years ago, managing an independent-league team called the Allentown Ambassadors.
    He had put on a whole bunch of weight but was still a firebrand, jawing with the umpires.
    He might have become an A’town folk hero except his taem drew fewer than 100 people on a lot of nights (through no fault of his own) and is now out of business.

    Oh, and one more classic Ed Ott memory:
    He once admitted to a sportswriter from the local paper that he hit his last MLB homer with a corked bat.
    Apparently he was desperate to keep his big-league job.
    As Ott crossed the plate, he said the ump murmured something to him like, “I’m not gonna open my mouth, but if I were the other manager, I’d be asking for a look at that bat.”


  17. I love this one (more than usual.) Leaving a comment to bump this buried gem.


  18. Thanks, Shannon!


  19. More evidence that The Babe controls everything good in the world.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers

%d bloggers like this: