Dan Lewis looks back on season with White Sox as former batboy
Special to The Seattle Times
Watching the Chicago White Sox celebrate after they swept the Boston Red Sox, I realized I was seeing something that I had longed for and dreamed of for many years — the White Sox winning a postseason series.
Any postseason series. They hadn't won one since 1917.
And now, after beating the Angels for the American League pennant, they're in the World Series.
Like millions of young boys, I grew up dreaming of playing major-league baseball. I lived on the South Side of Chicago, and the Sox were my team. And deep in my heart they still are.
Obviously, I never made it to the majors, but I did have one fantastic summer in the dugout — and at times on the field — at Comiskey Park. It was 1963, and I was 13 years old and lucky enough to be the batboy for the visiting teams.
"Are you a man or a mouse?"
Of course, some days were better than others.
I never should have accepted that challenge from Cleveland Indians pitcher Pedro Ramos to spit out my gum to try chewing tobacco.
I was doing my pregame chores — polishing players' shoes, carrying bats to the dugout, taking baseballs around to get them signed by the team — when Ramos approached. With about four other players peering around the corner, he asked, "Hey, boy! Are you a man or a mouse?"
I said a bit timidly, "Well, I think I'm a man."
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a pouch of Beech-Nut chewing tobacco. Truth is, I would have much rather just kept the gum. Against my better judgment I accepted the chew and put it in my mouth.
I chewed — and I swallowed — and I chewed some more and I swallowed some more.
After a few minutes, when the players weren't looking, I spit it out.
I barely made it standing through the national anthem. As I knelt by the on-deck circle in the top of the first inning I started wobbling. I don't know if it was fans I heard laughing just before I fainted. It might have been Pedro Ramos. All I know is I spent the next four innings in the clubhouse, flat on my back in the trainer's room.
I realized no matter what Pedro Ramos was trying to prove, I was just 13 and not quite yet a man. I was also wondering what kind of man Pedro Ramos was.
Oops, he meant Pepitone!
Another day, before a game against the Yankees, I was on the field playing catch. Here I was standing right next to Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford — tossing around a baseball at Comiskey Park.
On a really good day, one of the players would ask if I wanted to play catch with him. What a thrill that was. I would often imagine my reply: "Of course, I'd like to play catch, Mr. Mantle." "Sure thing, Mr. Killebrew, I'll just go grab my glove."
Mickey and Harmon never did ask, but guys like Jimmy Piersall and Al Downing did. I couldn't wait for another player to ask — and maybe that's why I made my next mistake.
I was out there playing catch with another batboy when Johnny Blanchard, Yankees backup catcher and outfielder, came running out of the dugout. He was looking in my direction — with his catcher's glove raised in the air — as if to say, "Hey, throw it to me." Which I did.
I didn't know Joe Pepitone was right behind me and that Blanchard was telling him, not me, to throw the ball.
To my horror, we each sent balls whizzing toward Blanchard. He caught the one Pepitone threw, but mine hit him in an area that even a 13-year-old knows hurts the most.
Blanchard was OK. Catchers wear cups, after all. But he wasn't happy. He walked right up to me and said, "What the heck were you doing? Don't ever let that happen again."
No swear words. No threats. No punishment. Just one of the most embarrassing moments I've ever had.
After the game I was doing more of those chores — picking up dirty socks and jocks and putting them in the washing machine, cleaning up food plates the players left scattered and grabbing another player a beer — when I saw Blanchard ready to hop on the team bus.
But first he was heading my way. I held my ground and prepared for the worst.
Blanchard held out his hand as if he wanted to shake and said, "Hey kid, I just want to let you know I'm sorry."
That's all he said. I shook his hand, and there was a $20 bill that went from his hand to mine. I was a Johnny Blanchard fan from there on out.
The road trip
I'd won my job through a contest in the Chicago Daily News, writing a poem (with a little help from my mom) about why I wanted to be a batboy.
Tim Gardner was the big winner and he got to be the White Sox batboy. I was second and spent the summer as batboy for the visiting teams — not with my beloved White Sox but still a pretty darn nice deal. The third- and fourth-place finishers — Paul Waytz and Michael Grammer — were our assistants. Imagine that, I was 13 years old and had an assistant.
I made $6 a game and $8 for a doubleheader. I had to be there two hours before the game and two hours after. So the hourly wage could be measured in cents, but I would have done this for nothing.
Maybe the most exciting part of the prize was going on one road trip with the White Sox. July 1-7 we went to New York and Boston. Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
Not many players paid a lot of attention to me on the airplane to New York. But one player made sure I felt comfortable, made sure I knew I was welcome. And it just happened to be my favorite player, Nellie Fox.
He sat down next to me on the plane and just started talking. Had I ever been to New York before? Was I excited about going to Yankee Stadium? What position did I play in Little League? We might have only talked for about five minutes, but it seemed much longer to me at the time.
Nellie seemed to be happy I was going along. And as he got up to return to his seat he said, "I sure hope you have a good time," and he handed me a $20 bill.
I remember thinking players must have thought $20 was the going rate to make a young kid happy.
Roger Maris and friends
Roger Maris wasn't going to make this easy.
The Chicago Daily News wanted to get a picture of the two Chicago batboys with the famed slugger at Yankee Stadium to promote its batboy contest.
The photographer was ready. Tim and I were on the field waiting, with our chaperone for the trip, John Kuenster, a sports reporter for the Daily News. The photographer said Maris agreed on a time and said he'd be there. We waited — and waited — and finally, there he was.
Maris made it very clear when he met us out near the mound that he didn't have much time and he was talking only to the reporter and photographer.
The photographer snapped a couple shots of Maris and Tim and I just standing there. This wasn't a lovefest and I guess the photographer could tell — so now he wanted us to do a little posing. He asked Maris to put his arm around Tim and point toward the famed Yankee Stadium stands.
Maris snapped, "And what the hell am I pointing at?" The photographer said, "I don't know. Just try pointing. Let's see how it works."
Maris made it clear he thought it was a pretty stupid idea, but he did it anyway. As I look at that picture now, it does look kind of odd. What the hell is he pointing at, anyway?
Then Maris was gone, back to the dugout, and he never spoke a word to me again.
But I still have that picture — with the newspaper caption underneath that says "Roger Maris and friends."
Let's play two
Like most people who grew up on the South Side of Chicago I cheer for two baseball teams: the White Sox and whoever was playing the Cubs. That's just the way it is in Chicago. You're either a Sox fan or a Cubs fan and never the twain shall meet.
Anyway, I have to confess that even though my allegiance lies strictly on the South Side, in 1963 I couldn't wait for the annual Cubs-White Sox game. This was long before interleague play, but each season the Sox played the Cubs in a game to raise money for charity.
There was just one thing I wanted to do that night — meet Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.
And just as I had always heard, this guy was one class act.
He shook my hand with a smile on his face and asked a few questions about how I got the job and did I enjoy it. He didn't walk away until he could tell I really didn't have any questions for him or anything more to say.
What an honor it was going to be for me that night — to pick up the bat Ernie Banks used. I couldn't wait for that.
I don't know if my memory is playing tricks on me, but I think Ernie was enjoying his visit to Comiskey Park so much that I remember him saying late in the game, "Let's play two."
My mom, Marilyn Lewis, lives in Milwaukee now, but she's still the most devoted White Sox fan I know. She loves the Sox. Always did and always will. She has had a few favorite players over the years. Her favorite Sox player of all time was Sherm Lollar, No. 10.
The only thing my mom asked of me that entire season — other than to do my job well — was to get her a Sherm Lollar souvenir. I waited until the end of the season. When I told Sherm he was my mom's favorite player and she'd like a little memento, he went straight to his locker and grabbed a Louisville Slugger, signed it, and said, "How about this for your mom?"
Wow! I didn't even have an autographed bat. I saved a few broken bats that season that I still have. Cracked and still sticky with pine tar. One from Bob Allison, who hit 35 home runs that year for Minnesota, Max Alvis, Leon Wagner and my prized broken bat, from Brooks Robinson.
My wife Jenn can't believe I still have them, especially since I keep them in the corner of the garage in an old wastebasket.
But, boy, my mom loved that Sherm Lollar bat. She thought it was very cool — and so did my friends.
Unfortunately, in one of my dumbest moves ever, my best buddy Bruce and I decided to use the bat one day. Of course, it cracked, on Bruce's second at-bat.
My mom definitely was disappointed that we broke the bat. She let us know this was a pretty inconsiderate thing we just did and that she didn't want the bat any more.
My disregard for that bat Sherm signed might be why my mom figured I didn't hold autographs in high regard. I got a letter from her recently.
She was going through some things as she planned to move from Chicago to Milwaukee to be closer to my brother. I opened the letter and found a note that said, "Dan I didn't know if you want these or not. If not, just throw them away."
Inside the envelope were several little sheets of paper that I had cut up so many years ago. Little pieces of paper signed by some of the best baseball players ever: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and several more.
Of course I did not throw them away. Seeing those autographs got me thinking about all those good times I had — and what a lucky kid I was — in the summer of 1963.
Dan Lewis is co-anchor for the weekday editions of KOMO 4 News at 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. He has won 11 Emmys, likes to play golf and still roots for the Chicago White Sox.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company