The letter to John Underwood was signed "Dan Chandler," and it said his father had been much impressed by the first-person stories that Underwood had done with such sports celebrities as Bear Bryant and Ted Williams. Maybe, the letter suggested. Underwood might like to talk to his dad about the old days. The question had an obvious answer, for Underwood and SI were certainly interested in the recollections of Dan Chandler's father, who is A. B. (Happy) Chandler, a former Kentucky governor, U.S. Senator, commissioner of baseball and one of the most colorful figures ever to enliven the grand American pastime. The result of the letter and subsequent meetings between Underwood and Happy Chandler is the reminiscence beginning on page 72 with How I Jumped from Clean Polities into Dirty Baseball.
To obtain the story, Underwood spent weeks traveling back and forth to Chandler's home in Versailles, Ky., driving through the Kentucky hills with his subject and idling with him on the beaches and golf courses of Marco Island, Fla. He found the former commissioner garrulous, active, proud, emotional, politic, alert, boastful, patrician, ruminative, expansive and almost totally retentive about the past.
"At one point he allowed me to rummage through his basement filled with memorabilia and scrapbooks," Underwood recalls. "Later he amazed me with his ability to recall things from those scrapbooks that he had said or others had said to him 25 years ago."
Underwood was charmed by the refreshing directness of Chandler's home-life, particularly that portion of it ruled by Chandler's wife Mildred. One morning she made him grits, ham and redeye gravy, then ordered him to "get yourself a plate and take that spoon and help yourself out of the pot." If she tried to correct her husband's account of a past incident, Chandler would suggest, gently but firmly, "Mama, let me tell it, please." At night the two of them sat at the piano and entertained Underwood with duets, she as Jeanette MacDonald and he as Nelson Eddy.
But Chandler's main tune has long been, and remains, political. "In our walks and rides together," Underwood reports, "he was always shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with shopkeepers and waiters, many of whom he called by name." This behavior is instinctive as well as practical: Chandler is running for governor again—this time on the Commonwealth Party ticket—and despite the odds against any third-party candidate, he is undaunted. "I have never lost a final election," he says. "My record is 13-0."
When Underwood suggested after a somewhat similar boast that people might take him for a braggart, Chandler shrugged and told a familiar country parable. "There was this preacher who stopped off at Farmer Brown's place to solicit funds. He started off by telling Brown what a fine crop he and God had grown. Brown, sensing the pitch, said, 'Yes, sir, this sure is a fine crop. But you should have seen last year's when God had the place all by himself.' "
In short, as his reminiscences suggest, if you got it, flaunt it.
DAN, HAPPY AND AUTHOR UNDERWOOD