When I was 13 years old and still secretly clinging to an unrealistic dream of playing professional baseball (preferably as an outfielder though I would have gladly considered a permanent move to third base if it would help the ballclub), I discovered a classified ad in Boys Life magazine that I thought may ensure my place (in some distant, silver-lined future which has already passed) in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For a buck, an outfit that called itself Baseball Associates (based in St. Petersburg, Florida) offered the answers I was seeking (beyond having actual talent) to starting a career in baseball. They promised that I would “surprise everyone.” I’d been seeing this ad, or variations of it, for several years in the magazines and comic books that comprised most of my reading material in those days. Some of the Baseball Associates ads called it a “baseball career course.”
That sounded like just the ticket for me, especially since now as a newly minted teen, I was truly desperate. I’d just completed a somewhat successful campaign with the Dixie Youth League Cardinals in Lilburn, Georgia – “successful” in that I managed to play most innings of most games and throw runners out at home plate and we won almost all of our games; “somewhat” in that I could barely hit my weight (I weighed about 130 pounds in full uniform, with fielder’s glove).
I sent the buck and prayed (in lieu of extra batting practice). The picture that accompanies this confession tells part of the story. For my hard-earned dollar, I received a pamphlet of “Paul Waner’s Batting Secrets.” This would have been 1973, maybe 1974. Paul Waner had been dead almost 10 years by then, and hadn’t played ball since 1945. A useful first hitting tip would have been, “don’t be dead.”
Instead, the pamphlet contained pages of cartoon versions of Big Poison (Paul was Big Poison and his little brother Lloyd was known as Little Poison) demonstrating cartoon strike zones, suggesting which cartoon pitches to swing at and which cartoon pitches to ignore. There was nothing that helped me learn how to stand in against a good curve ball, or lay off the high fast ball (or even catch up with one).
At any rate, I headed into the next season with a new team (the Hornets) in a new league with my handy hitting secrets, and new-found confidence, which you can clearly see in this picture from our annual spring photo day. And it also showed in my improved batting performance that year as my weight increased to 145 pounds.
Later, after being ignominiously cut following the first round of tryouts for the high school team, I hung up my spikes and retired from the game to focus on more attainable baseball goals, like watching baseball games and occasionally writing about baseball, which allows me to know it all without actually knowing how to do it all – in short, the kind of work I was born to do. Thank you, Paul Waner!