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Bill Melton

September 1, 2010

My grandma came to this country from central Europe as a young mother in 1920. She raised four children (a fifth child died as an infant) and lived to see those four children have eleven children of their own. I was the last of that latter group, and I didn’t get to know her very well before she passed away, but I certainly felt her love, which was so fierce that it scared me. I preferred as a child to relate to inanimate mass-produced Americana, such as this 1975 Bill Melton card, rather than to a stooped old woman with a thick accent who was always trying to get me to eat her frightening Old World food.

That fierce love allowed her to shepherd her family along through the First World War and the death of a child and immigration to America and her husband’s early passing and the Great Depression and another world war that pulled all three of her sons into the service and virtually emptied the continent she came from of her people. After that war, her children began raising children of their own. I recently saw a picture of my grandma at the bar mitzvah of one of the first grandchildren, my cousin Lewie, and the pride emanating from her, even through all these years, was palpable. She stood near the center of the picture, her chin upraised, Lewie beside her, flanked also by her three sons: my father, my uncle Joe, and my uncle Dave.

Joe lived well into his nineties before passing away a few years ago. In the last two weeks, both my uncle Dave and the bar mitzvah boy, Joe’s son Lewie, passed away, too. Dave’s health had been in decline for a while. He was 87. I hope to find the words to talk some more about him, but I don’t really have them now. Lewie’s death was unexpected. He was 59.

Lewie grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. I only got to know him in the past few years, after moving from the east coast to Chicago. He was a big White Sox fan. He was eight when the White Sox won the pennant in 1959—the perfect age to fall forever in love with a team. He had to wait almost a half a century for his team to get back to the World Series. But the waiting was worth it. He lived to see them win it all.

On Sunday, two days after Lewie’s memorial and the same day as Dave’s memorial back east, I went to see Lewie’s team play. The man who holds the team record for career home runs that Bill Melton held for many years, Frank Thomas, was getting his number retired. Thomas cried when he was given the microphone to speak. He seemed to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I found myself thinking about Lou Gehrig’s famous speech from many years ago, when he uttered perhaps the most famous expression of that feeling we all have at least once in a while, when we are seeing clearly: we’re lucky to be alive.

I learned two days earlier that Lewie had had some serious health problems a few years ago, and when he got through them he was so grateful to be alive and healthy that he began devoting his life to volunteer service. He eventually became the President of the Board of Directors of the Service League at Lutheran General Hospital. The memorial service for him was packed with people who felt lucky to have known him.

10 comments

  1. Josh, sorry about your recent family losses. Isn’t it a weird jumble of feelings when you find out about great things a relative has done that you didn’t know about? On one hand you’re happy and proud of them, but on the other hand you think, shouldn’t you have already known this, he (or she)’s your relative!

    On a much less serious note, my brain has always registered the White Sox as having black and white uniforms. Whenever I see one of these 1975 White Sox cards, with their weird red and blue uniforms, along with the goofy Topps border color choice of orange and yellow, I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at. A Phillies player with the wrong hat? Some minor league team? Always strikes me as extremely strange.


  2. It’s a good thing Bill escaped barely in time to avoid the mid 70s Chisox shorts and no tucks – worst uni’s ever by a mile —


  3. Bill Melton’s good years were basically done when I started seriously following MLB in’75 but for some reason I always loved him and those red and white uniforms. My favorite Baseball Digest cover had Melton, Dick Allen, and Carlos May with the question, “The new murderers row?”. I loved old Comiskey, Wilbur Wood, Jim Kaat, and early Goose. My favorite anti-Yankee memory is Jim Leyritz dropping a fly ball in LF allowing runs to score in Andy Hawkins’ no-hitter at Comiskey.


  4. Well, I will try to lighten up this somber post with one of my favorite baseball jokes from the 70’s.
    I don’t know if this is still funny, but when I was 10 years old, it used to be hilarious. It goes something like this:

    Hey, did you know that it was so hot in Chicago in 1974 that the third baseman was Melton?


  5. I am sorry for your loss, Josh. I really like this post though.

    What’s with the rogue double quote between Bill and Melton in his signature? Was his original signature William “Bill” Melton but they cut off the William ” at the beginning to fit it on the card? I thought maybe he was #11 but the 4 on his sleeve goes against that, although Baseball Reference has him as 11 in his final days as an Indian


  6. love the observation on his signature……doesnt his M in Melton have one too many humps too?


  7. Update. I checked about 5 other online autographs of bill melton, and none were signed william “Bill” Melton. though they all had the 3rd hump in melton

    Nickname according to the back of one of his cards was Beltin Bill Melton

    Hmmm Interestingly, his 1971 card is signed William Melton

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=350326074396#ht_500wt_928


  8. “My favorite anti-Yankee memory is Jim Leyritz dropping a fly ball in LF allowing runs to score in Andy Hawkins’ no-hitter at Comiskey.”

    A fine addition to any anti-Yankee memory list, but it’s fallen quite a few notches on mine in the last decade…

    GREAT call on the “close quotes” after “Bill.” I have to believe they zoomed in on the autograph to cut off the William part. (You’d think they’d have been able to remove the ending quotes, but maybe they just didn’t think of it.)


  9. FWIW the dot of the i is also over the l not the i.


  10. “My favorite anti-Yankee memory is Jim Leyritz dropping a fly ball in LF allowing runs to score in Andy Hawkins’ no-hitter at Comiskey.”

    Wasn’t at that game, but went to the one before it. It was a spur of the moment thing. I was stationed at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky at the time and drove up on Saturday, caught the game, then drove back on Sunday. Got a ticket for going 101 MPH somewhere on the interstate near Watseka, They didn’t buy that I was doing it as a tribute to my division and I wound up paying a hefty fine. The nearby consolidated school district’s athletic fields are named in my honor. And I drove home on US-41 through Indiana.



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