Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don't worry; Ernie's coming

It pays to be a baseball fan.

In 1988, I was working as a sports copy editor at the Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier, and the sports editor asked me to go to the Turtle Pointe GC to do a story on 16 former major leaguers who were playing golf with airline employees. He said he chose me because I wouldn't have to look up the names of any of the players.


I didn't know it, but I was about to have one of my great days as a newsman.


I watched Enos "Country" Slaughter kibitz the gigantic Willie McCovey at the putting green. Slaughter said that "us left-handers ought to stick together," and I wondered if McCovey realized that Country was, at one time, one of the biggest bigots in baseball. By '88, Slaughter was a shrunken old man wearing a funny hat with a ball on the top.


A woman pointed to McCovey and said, "Isn't that Calvin Peete?" I said, "No, ma'am, that's Willie McCovey. Calvin Peete's not six-five and 250 pounds." "Sure looks like Calvin Peete," she insisted.


I watched Boog Powell and Joe Morgan warm up and tee off. Eight of the players that day were Hall of Famers, and I believe Morgan was about to join them.


I talked to Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson, two of the Hall of Famers, but I didn't get anything good. They were polished but dull, and I wasn't sure what I'd write about. A PR guy told me, "Don't worry; Ernie's coming."


Seconds later, I looked up to see Ernie Banks swinging his club and smiling at me. Mr. Cub, one of the great Hall of Famers, looked just like his pictures.


"I don't have time to talk," he said, "but would you like to walk nine holes with me?"


Well, sure. Yeah. That would be fine.


So Banks teed off and we headed down the first fairway. I asked him if his favorite song was "It Takes Two" by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. He said, no, he hadn't heard that one. So I walked along teaching Banks "It Takes Two" and drawing stares from startled bystanders.


We passed a construction site, and Banks decided he wanted a closer look. The two guys working looked up -- we were still singing, I imagine -- and one told his friend that the black guy looked like Ernie Banks. The other guy looked up, then said, no, too tall.


So we walked on, and Banks regaled me with stories. We were having a great time, but it was obvious that his cohorts weren't thrilled with us, since we were slowing them down.


On No. 9, I finally met the other men in the foursome, and I shook hands with Early Wynn, yet another Hall of Famer. When I left, Banks and I shook hands again, and he gave me a golf ball.


I turned to go, but I thought a moment and said, "Next time, let's play two."


Banks took a second to realize what I meant. He gave me his famous eye-twinkling smile and said, "You got it."


Turns out it was one of the easiest stories I've ever written.



More editing/writing blog entries from Tom Gillispie

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