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Back home in Indiana for the first time in a long while, I got to
spend a few days with my dad. We cut the grass, raided the ice box,
fixed the oven door and watched ball games on cable TV. One night we
got to talking about his baseball career, which we hadn't done for
years. This led us to the basement, where Dad's scrapbook was stashed
in a plastic trash bag.
Dad was a crafty lefthander who played in the minors from 1944 to
1952. I knew a few details of his career: that he had given up a home
run to Ted Kluszewski, which Dad claimed was still in the air, and
that the crook in the little finger on his pitching hand was the
result of a line drive back to the box. I also knew he had won 21
games once, had hurt his arm and then had come home to teach, coach,
raise a family and fight a long battle against water in the basement.
He had been winning the battle lately, which is why the scrapbook was
smelly but dry.
One early entry was a Birmingham newspaper clipping from 1944. On
the left- hand side of the page was a picture of Pete Gray, the
one-armed St. Louis Browns outfielder whose life story was told in a
recent TV movie. In Dad's scrapbook, Gray is a Memphis Chick, waving
a bat in his left hand, his right sleeve empty. On the right-hand
side of the page is a picture of Art Cook -- not yet known as Dad --
wearing a cap with a B for the Birmingham Barons.
''You faced Pete Gray?'' I asked. ''How'd you do against him?''
''Got him out,'' Dad said.
According to the game story, Gray -- who stole 68 bases that year,
hit .333 and was the Southern Association's MVP -- went 1 for 2 in
the first game of a doubleheader against the Barons, hitting a single
off Dick Kraft. Dad entered the game in the third and pitched 4 2/3
innings of one-run ball. He retired Gray once; the next time,
knowing what he was up against, Gray sacrificed. COOK DOES OKEH reads
a subhead on the story.
Paging through the clippings, I remembered the long home runs Dad
used to hit in father-son games and also the five-dollar bill he
slipped under my bedroom door after he hit one off me. I remembered
his quick swing, a little creaky by the time he was 40 and I was
10, and the way he'd break off a screwball that I couldn't catch. I
remembered him showing me this scrapbook when I was 16 or so, but I
hadn't paid much attention then. At 16, girls meant more to me than
box scores. I didn't know then that fielding a Pete Gray sacrifice
was a bigger deal than taking Vicki Rumford to the prom. Now, at 29,
my head is on a bit straighter.
We brought the book up from the basement, opened a couple of beers
and perused the faded clips from newspapers in Birmingham, Kingston,
Ont., Ogdensburg, N.Y., Union City, Tenn., and Indianapolis. Dad was
a good-looking dude. He looked something like I do now, only
handsomer and cockier. He looked like the kind of guy who might
refuse to pitch around Kluszewski, get burned, then dust off the next
two hitters.
On page 10 of a 1948 edition of the Kingston Whig-Standard are
two headlines. The first tells of a Joe DiMaggio grand slam. Next to
it is a photograph of Dad and the headline: ART COOK WINS 21ST GAME
WATCHES. According to the story, ''Art Cook, greatest lefthander in
the Border League, turned in his 21st victory of the season when the
(Kingston) Ponies blanked the Ogdensburg Maples. . . . Cook's
brilliant shutout effort in the opener and the courage he exhibited
in the next game were highlights of the show. In winning 21 games he
performed a remarkable feat and it was fitting that during the
intermission he was given a watch.''
In the course of the 100 or so pages in the scrapbook, I found Dad
scattering footnotes to baseball history. He gave up that homer to
Kluszewski, which I had heard was airborne ever after, but which the
beat reporter consigned to another element, describing it as ''hit
into deep water.'' He warmed a roster spot for a sore-armed
17-year-old named Camilo Pascual, who would go on to play 18 years
in the majors. And he was released to make room for a demoted Joe
Nuxhall, who would pitch in 16 big league seasons. Larry Pennell,
who later gained trivia status as Dash Riprock on The Beverly
Hillbillies, was a teammate on the Evansville Braves. Twice in one
year Dad pulled off the Iron Man stunt, winning both ends of a
doubleheader, and the year he went 21-9 for Kingston, he pitched 21
complete games. He surrendered a hit to Gil Hodges in an exhibition
game, and shut out an Ottawa team managed by Daffy Dean. And in
1942, Warren Spahn, another obscure lefty in the Boston Braves
organization, was called up to the majors instead of Dad -- perhaps
because ''Cook and Sain and two days of rain'' was not euphonious.
In July 1949, on Art Cook Appreciation Night, Kingston fans
saluted the Border League's greatest lefthander. He was shelled in
the third inning.
My favorite clipping in the scrapbook, a story from a 1946
Kingston Whig- Standard, is headed: NEW HURLER MYSTIFIES ATHLETICS,
DEBUT. This was early in Dad's career. He was pitching under an
assumed name because he still had a year of college eligibility.
''Koch,'' the story says, ''who had been erroneously introduced as
Art Cook of Indianapolis, hurled hitless ball during the first five
and two-thirds innings.'' And won 9-1.
Then, toward the back of the scrapbook, there was this story from
an off- season edition of the Whig-Standard: ''Art Cook, one of the
most popular players ever to wear the colors of the Kingston Ponies .
. . is keenly awaiting the opening of the baseball season and has
announced that he will be one of the first to report to the Ponies
for spring training. It will be recalled that he arrived in midsummer
in 1949 and gave his best in a losing cause despite the fact that his
hurling arm had been beset by injuries.''
Dad told me about blowing out his arm. He remembers releasing a
pitch and feeling the snap of a tendon or ligament. There were no
rotator cuffs in those days, only sore arms. Sore arms went home.
Some sore-armed pitchers became bitter. Others became teachers and
coaches and dads, put away their clippings and tried to help their
sons deal with teenage girls.
Dad used to tell me to treat girls the way Seaver treated hitters.
''You have to be in control,'' he'd say when I was in the throes of
a teen infatuation. ''Change up on them, make them think you don't
have a care in the world. If they hurt you, don't show it, because
you're the pitcher. You're in control.''
The girls never fell for that, but what the heck. Reading about
what he did 40 years ago in the low-to-middle minors is all a new
love affair for me. And looking at his cocky expression, I found out
that my dad as a young man was very much like me, only he had that
After I spent two hours with his clippings -- hours in which he
appeared disinterested but corrected me when I said he threw a
one-run game at Ogdensburg when it was really a shutout -- I asked
him how he approached pitching.
''I never threw that hard,'' Dad said. ''I'd take a little off,
put a little on, move it around. I'd pitch inside to lefthanders,
throw a screwball to a righthander.''
He can still throw that screwball. It doesn't move the way it did
40 years ago, but I still can't catch it. END