I pointed to the star imbedded in the sidewalk along Delmar Boulevard, home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
“I know that guy.”
Sue and I had stopped for a visit the other day on our way to the east coast. She had heard the story about how I knew the guy, so I kept my reminiscing to myself.
It was the summer of 1970. I was 18, loving another visit to Dodger Stadium. Before I began my college years, I yearned for more memorable events that marked my three years as a sports journalist.
Bill Clark, my Oxnard Press-Courier newspaper colleague, sat next to me in the Dodger Stadium press box. In the row in front of us, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner baseball writer Bob Hunter, a former colleague of Bill’s, took his usual place at Dodger home games. After the game, Bill drove us to Hunter’s bar near the stadium. My 21st birthday was a lifetime away, so I waited in Bill’s white Chrysler Imperial while Bill went in for “a drink.”
An hour ticked by. A knock on the car window jolted me awake. Bill peered in.
“Bob said you can come in.”
In a world of grownups, I sat at the bar next to Bill. I sipped a Coke, wishing it was spiked with a couple shots of rum. I downed several Coke refills while Bill drank a few more of his drinks. We talked baseball with Bob as he worked behind the bar. At first, I hardly noticed the middle-aged guy who pulled himself onto the barstool to my right. The auburn-haired man and I exchanged friendly words; I shared that I had just seen the Cardinals beat my Dodgers. He asked me all about how I got into sports journalism.
It was well after midnight when Bill and I walked toward his car.
“Here.” He handed me his keys. “You’d better drive.”
The V-8 engine roared to life. I pushed the “D” button next to the steering wheel and the car lurched forward a bit faster than I intended. Bill didn’t seem to notice. He said he was not looking forward to his sports desk shift that would begin at 6 a.m.
“Now, Reg, you know who was sitting next to you in the bar, don’t you?”
“Nah. Kinda dark in there.”
Bill shook his head. “Jeez! That was Red Schoendienst! You do know who that is, I hope.”
I had to think quick. “Just kidding.” I chuckled. “Of course I knew who he was.”
As I steered the huge car toward the freeway, I wondered if I had disguised the fact that I had not recognized the man who would be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. He wore a major league uniform for 74 years as a player, coach, or manager. On the night we chatted, he was the winning manager.
I was the kid without a clue.