Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Alas Poor Lollar (MPR Essay 7/13/10)

I am holding my 1958 Sherman Lollar Sport Magazine All Star baseball card. Sherm Lollar, Catcher, American League. He’s wearing an uncomfortable smile—as if he doesn’t think himself worthy of being an All Star—or maybe someone left the cold cuts from the clubhouse lunch table out a little too long and they turned on him.

If I hold the card just right and squint through my reading glasses hard enough, I can still see the halo around Sherm’s head where I used to worship him. Nine All Star selections. Three gold gloves. To me, he was Joe Mauer long before there was a Mauer—a lion in an unexpanded American League—and a simpler time.

I turn the card over and read from the back.

“Sherm’s great strength lies in his ability to handle pitchers,” some overworked, down at the heels public relations man wrote. “His experience of the hitter’s weakness is invaluable to members of the Sox staff…”

“His experience of the hitter’s weakness…”

Alas poor Lollar had a well known hitter’s weakness all his own. He was slow afoot and tended to ground into inning ending, rally killing double plays.

Even Joe Mauer goofs up and hits into a double play now and then. With Lollar, though, it was double play, double play, double play all the time. It’s etched into my brain. I see Mauer ground one to start a double play and I flash back to Lollar running to first as hard as he can, still out by fifteen feet.

“It’s his knee tendons,” my father would say sadly. He’d shake his head, “All those years catching…”

And it may have been Lollar’s lack of speed that cemented the bond between us. I, too, was a lead-footed catcher. I, too hit into far too many double plays.

“It’s my knee tendons,” I took to telling my Little League coaches. I’d shake my head… “All these years catching…”

Tonight, when Joe Mauer takes the All Star field, I’ll be in my groove on the sofa. And Sherm Lollar’s 1958 Sport Magazine All Star card will be propped up at the base of the lamp on the end table.

“Do a couple of old catchers and their knee tendons proud, Joe,” Sherm and I will be thinking. “Swing for the fences—and no double plays.”