Bob GallagherMarch 7, 2009
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.