Missing a moment of baseball history but getting more out of life

Since I’m parked for some time to come in my new home office that doubles as our guest room, I’ve spruced up my Zoom background by building the baseball wall. With permission from my wife, I’ve hung up several items with a baseball theme.

One of the showcase pieces is a treasured photo from early in my career. It’s the black and white image in a black frame showing two future Hall of Famers, Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics and Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The photo is unique among my personal memorabilia in that it has not one but two special stories behind it.

Rickey Henderson and Robin Yount (at top, center) are major features of the “baseball wall” in my home office. Other highlights include a photo I took of a Yale-Princeton baseball game and my first leather mitt, circa 1961.

For the first, I take you, dear reader, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1982, the year the Brewers would win the American League pennant only to fall to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven hard fought games of the World Series.

But on Aug. 26 that year, those future exploits were only a twinkle in the eyes of the good burghers of Milwaukee. On this evening, the A’s were in town and Rickey Henderson was one shy of tying and two shy of breaking Lou Brock’s single-season stolen base record of 118.

I was in my second year as a newsman in The Associated Press, and it was also my 26th birthday that Thursday evening. Having worked a day shift, I headed to County Stadium for the game to “run film” for our crew of photographers. These were pre-digital days. The photographers were stationed in pits along the foul lines, behind home plate and in the outfield. They would shoot a roll of film and hand it to a runner, who’d dash to the darkroom in the bowels of the stadium where an editor would develop the film, bang out a print and transmit the photo over a telephone line to newspapers across the country.

Rickey Henderson ties Lou Brock’s single-season stolen base record Aug. 26, 1982

Rickey tied the record that night, and I don’t recall seeing him do it. I believe I was somewhere between the darkroom and the third base line when it happened. But I was jubilant to be there for a moment in baseball history and to have played a small part in recording it.

But Rickey didn’t break the record. That presumably would come Friday evening, and the next morning I told the bureau chief I’d be delighted to go back to help.

“No,” he told me.

But you don’t have to pay me overtime. I’ll just do it on my own time.

“No. We don’t need you.”

So much for my birthday buzz.

I groused about not going to the game for much of the day and skulked home in my maroon 1980 Chevy Chevette. I trudged up the stairs to our upper flat in the Bay View neighborhood, and when I opened the door, there stood my boss, drink in hand, grinning from ear to ear.

My wife, assisted by our 1-year-old daughter, had planned a surprise birthday party for me. Several members of the bureau were on hand, although photographer Steve Pyle couldn’t come. He was back at the ballpark, there to record Rickey swiping No. 119.

Steve rang the house from the park and without even identifying himself said simply, “He did it.”

Some days later, Steve made me the 16″x20″ print that hangs on my wall. Here’s where the second story comes in.

I didn’t frame the photo right away, and that was a mistake. A year later, I was transferred to Omaha. The movers swooped in to pack. When we finally unpacked in our new home in Nebraska, I discovered that the crew had folded the photo in thirds.

I was distraught, as was my wife, whose decorative cat tails we had liberated from a gully in Kenosha had been folded in two. While the cat tails were a total loss, the print had not cracked. I was able to flatten it and put it in a plastic frame in which it stayed for nearly four decades until this month, when it went into its new frame.

I love that photo. I love my wife and daughter (and our two sons who would come along). Baseball is bound up in that love.

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