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Bob Gallagher

March 7, 2009

bob-gallagher-74

You wouldn’t know it from Bob Gallagher’s expression, which seems to suggest that he is trying to decide if it is in fact his rusty car that is, off in the distance, in the process of being stolen, but this card signals the pinnacle of Bob Gallagher’s major league career. In the season to come he would hit just .172 in limited play, and in the season after that, mercifully his last, he fared even worse, hitting .133 in 15 at-bats. But here he stands, having batted a respectable .264 in 148 at-bats while playing, as the patch on his left shoulder attests, in one of the worst ballparks for a hitter that has ever been built.

***

But before I consider Bob Gallagher some more I have to confess that I got the goldpanning story I told in relation to Orel Hershiser wrong. In the story I guessed that my brother and I had set out to find riches in the stream near my house because we’d seen someone do something similar on television. But after I posted the story I spoke to my stepfather, and he gently suggested that my brother and I had first panned for gold with him during a camping trip somewhere in or around Middlebury, a Vermont town an hour or so west of where we lived. The funny thing is, I still couldn’t remember this trip after he mentioned it, but then he began explaining that he’d panned for gold himself during the time that he’d lived in Alaska fighting forest fires. He also reminded me that his own grandfather (or maybe great-grandfather; clearly, my mind is a Bermuda Triangle for all information that ventures within its reach) had set out for Alaska to find gold many years before. Suddenly it all became so plausible that my brother and I would learn of panning for gold, and not from some random TV show but from a much closer source, from the lessons and stories of one of the adults raising us.

***

The back of the card improves upon this respectable campaign by presenting Gallagher’s full minor league records, during which he hit above .300 twice, just below .300 once, and in his other season, his first, batted a promising .270. This portrait of a man who has been traveling in a straight line toward the incredibly rare fate of being a true major league hitter is completed with a cartoon and two lines of bulleted text. The caption in the cartoon states, “Bob’s grandfather, Shano Collins, was active in the majors.” One line of bulleted text relates his 1967 Winter League batting average (.437), and the other points out that he “helped lead Alaska Goldpanners to 3 straight state titles in semi-pro competition.”

***

When people speak of memory I think they are mostly thinking of visual data, as if memory is a rack of old videos that we can play on the grainy screens of our remembering minds. But other senses may provide a stronger conduit to the worlds we’ve left behind. For example, one bite of a piece of pastry got Proust going for nine billion pages of undying backward-gazing literature, apparently (I tried to start reading his remembrances but kept falling asleep on the bus with the tome in my hands, which was actually sort of pleasant, if a hopeless way to ever get through a book). For another example, the visual perusal of any single baseball card will not, for most readers of this site, be as effective a transport back into childhood than the remembrance of the smell and feel and taste of the hard, powdered gum from a pack of baseball cards.

I still don’t remember the camping trip when I learned to pan for gold; that is, I can’t “see” it. But when my stepfather started describing the process of panning for gold the other day, a process he’d learned in Alaska, the same place where his grandfather had learned it, the same place where Shano Collins’ grandson had gathered the gold of championships with the semi-pro Goldpanners, I remembered it in my body. This is what happens when you’re taught something by somebody who loves you. You remember it in your fingers, your limbs. In your blood.

***

I wonder if Bob Gallagher was taught to hit by his major league grandfather, Shano Collins, a champion with the 1917 White Sox (and an untainted pennant winner with the disgraced 1919 club). It seems likely that he had at least some part in it; what grandfather wouldn’t want to play with his grandson? Gallagher was only seven years old, just edging into little league readiness, when his grandfather passed away, so he may not have clear memories of his grandfather’s batting advice, but even if his mind can’t remember, his body will. When he was at his peak as a player, winning those championships with the Alaska Goldpanners, Bob Gallagher must have felt as if there were flecks of gold in his veins. He had learned how to hit, perhaps learned so well he forget where he’d learned it. It all felt as natural as water running down a stream, as blood flowing from the heart.

6 comments

  1. A rare 1974 card. I think this might be the first one you ever featured. It must have belonged to your brother and you picked it up through another skill valued even more than panning and certainly put more to effective use in the boom towns of 1849: Thieving. I must say, Josh, I’m disappointed in your five year old self, Josh.

    When it comes to cards, I must say, I disagree with you, my memories are all visual. I remember the excitement and feel of the wrappers as I opened them and the delight with which I viewed the generic scenes on the wrapper ( http://hubpages.com/hub/Unopened1970sScarce) and the delights they hid behind their wax, but that’s about it. I actually still have an unopened couple of packs stored away from 1982, my last year of buying cards. I figured it would thrill me to have sitting there, unopened for years to come as I let my imagination run wild with what might be contained in there. It was sort of my own way of panning for gold. I wondered how long I could resist the urge to open my personal treasure chest. I’m still resisting.


  2. It’s fair to assume I swiped this ’74 card from my brother, but I actually bought my first few packs that year–I have two or three ’74 cards in most of my rubber-band team stacks.

    That’s a great story about the unopened packs. I wish I had done the same.


  3. When cards became more interesting to me in unopened packs than in opened packs, I knew I was done with them. I think of those two unopened packs as messages in a bottle from my childhood.


  4. Talking about other senses and memory; I’ve read articles that state that the sense of smell is the strongest sense in terms of being able to evoke memories, and I would totally agree. I can still “smell” in my mind the homes of childhood friends. I really notice this with people’s homes, how each one leaves a nasal fingerprint, that, even if you haven’t smelled it for years or even decades, can transport you back the instant you smell it again. I’ve also experienced this with museums recently visited that I hadn’t seen since I was a child.

    Taste is closely related of course. I love that scene in the Pixar flick Ratatouille, when the food critic has his first bite of the eponymous dish and is instantly transported back to his childhood, sitting at his mother’s dinner table.


  5. I hadn’t realized the power of the memory of smell until once, driving across country a few years ago, I stepped into a supermarket in Nashville and caught a whiff of a sweet cooking smell that took me immediately back to my childhood in East Texas. I don’t know what was actually on the stove, but it evoked a closeness to my “Big Mama” that harkened back to when I was four years old. In retrospect, in reminded me of that scene from “Peggy Sue”, when Peggy is talking on the phone to her long deceased grandmother (Jeez, what’s that actress’ name?)


  6. I can remember the thought process of my nine-year-old self clearly.
    Vividly. Precisely. As if it were no more than an hour ago.

    “This?!? This is what we got for *Ken* *Boswell*??? THIS?????!?”



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