There was a standing-room-only crowd on Nov. 30th at the Grove Manor Estates assisted living facility in Braintree. People were there to celebrate a great baseball institution.
Mary Pratt turned 100 years old.
Mary was a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was immortalized a quarter of a century ago in the movie ''A League of Their Own.''
A left-handed pitcher, she played from 1943 to 1947 for the Rockford, Illinois, Peaches and the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Comets. In 1944, she won 21 games for Kenosha, including a no-hitter. Previously, she had played for the Boston Olympets, a long-forgotten team that played its home games at, of all places, the Boston Garden. Following her five years with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, she resumed her teaching career, which lasted 48 years, mostly for the Quincy Public School System. She also spent 50 years officiating softball, basketball, field hockey and lacrosse games. In addition, she served on the AAGPBL board of directors. A life well-spent.
Her suitcase from her time with the AAGPBL, adorned with stickers of the places she visited, is housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. To honor her centennial, the Red Sox sent a goody-bag that featured a World Series T-shirt, a Red Sox cap, and a Xander Bogaerts bobble-head doll.
Like Fenway Park, Mary has reached triple digits in age and is more beloved than ever.
Little things mean a lot
I wonder if ballplayers realize the impact that even small gestures can have on people. The other day, while speaking in Somerville, I asked those in the audience who their favorite player was. A woman in the second row immediately raised her hand and she said, "Dustin Pedroia." When I asked why, she explained that some years ago, to celebrate her mother's 82nd birthday, she took her to a Red Sox game. They were seated behind the dugout while some of the players were warming up before the game, and she called out to Pedroia that it was her mother's birthday. Pedroia looked at her mother, smiled, and mouthed the words, "Happy birthday." I'm sure he has long forgotten the incident, but that woman and her mother will never forget it.
The Big Fella, Jane Leavy's riveting book on Babe Ruth and the groundbreaking way he was marketed to the American public, is the ideal Christmas gift for anyone who likes baseball and/or American history. Reading it brought to mind a posthumous story about Babe that I have never seen in print. There are two statues on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York: one is of Babe Ruth and the other is of Ted Williams. Each was sculpted out of a single piece of basswood by renowned artist Armand LaMontagne.
LaMontagne once told me that when he was commissioned to do the Babe Ruth statue, one of his first chores was research. He studied hundreds, if not thousands of photos of Babe in action; and he noticed that in some pictures the Yankee cap he was wearing appeared to have a white button on its crown while in other photos it did not. None of the other Yankee players seemed to have a white button on his cap. He checked with the Yankee office and was assured that their caps never had a white button, that the button was always the same color as the cap itself. That's the way LaMontagne sculpted it.
In 1984, when it came time to unveil the finished work of the Babe taking his stance at home plate, a preview unveiling was held for Babe's daughter, Julia, George Steinbrenner, and a few baseball bigwigs. When the sheet covering was pulled back, Ruth's daughter had one comment. She said, "Where's his gum?" Apparently when he came up to bat he'd take out his chewing gum and plunk it on the top of his cap.
Incidentally, if you ever want to see footage of Ted Williams overcome by emotion, check out on YouTube his reaction at the unveiling of his statue at the Hall of Fame.
Did you know that Bing Crosby once looked into buying the Boston Braves? Neither did I, but, according to a new biography, Bing Crosby Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946, that's what happened during World War II when the team was known as the Boston Bees and was managed by Casey Stengel (before Casey became a genius; it's amazing what good players can do for a manager's reputation). But commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, taking note of the fact that Crosby owned and bred race horses, put the kibosh on the deal before it ever got off the ground. Later, after he got out of the horse racing business, Crosby did buy a 14 percent interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nowadays baseball is proud to do business with gambling interests. Times change.
Do you think that Bryce Harper will regret turning down the Washington Nationals' $300 million offer? That's 30 big ones a year for ten years, guaranteed! I think he'll rue the day he didn't snap it up. He's still young, only 26, but he's got a career batting average of .279, only .249 in 2018. He's got power, but if this year's market for free agents is as lousy as last year's, my guess is that he'll be spending a lot of time this winter waiting for the phone to ring.
It's no surprise that Craig Kimbrel turned down the Red Sox' qualifying offer of $17.9 million on his way to free agency because he's looking for a multi-year deal. But he damaged his reputation as an elite closer by getting consistently knocked around during the playoffs, and that's just when everyone is watching. It makes one wonder if he would have been better off taking the $17.9 million for a year and using the time to rehabilitate his standing in the game.
Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers on Feb. 13. My God, that's only about a week and a half away.
Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.