Gene Burd v. History pt.1
Saturday, May 14, 2011
It’s not uncommon for my family to use our memories as ante in games of one-upmanship. No sooner can I recall watching Kung Fu and eating pizza in the basement of our house in Woodbridge, VA when I was three years old than somebody else remembers some obscure occurence that predates that, and then somebody else brings up something even older. It can get pretty vicious in a metaphorical wanna-choke-your-siblings sort of way. We all play along and enjoy the nostalgia except for my brother Chris; his cool disdain is best embodied by his quip that his memory is so good that he can recall going to a picnic with dad and coming home with mom.
My oldest brother Mike, though, is a ruthless contender in the memory game, and seldom does he adhere to the strictures of Truth, preferring instead to recall events through his lenses of Truthiness. This was no more apparent than when he claimed to have played little league baseball with Alan Trammell when our family lived in Indianapolis. He wouldn’t surrender his claim until we proved that while they are similar in age, it would have been difficult forMike to share the diamond with Trammell since the former Detroit Tigers second-basemen grew up 2,000 miles away in San Diego. To show that we aren’t completely heartless in regard to manufactured memories, though, we allowed Mike to save face by agreeing that he could very likely have played ball with another person who coincidentally had the name Alan Trammell.
You might be tempted to think that Mike’s penchant for hyperbole was inherited. If it was, it probably didn’t come from our father, Gene. Gene has made tons of claims over the years, almost all of which are backed up with solid evidence. We know he’s personal friends with Franco Harris through business dealings, and Gene has pictures of himself in the company of the former Steelers running back. We know he went to the Super Bowl through his connection to Harris. We know Gene went to two games of the 1968 World Series–he has the ticket stubs from Busch Stadium, and a few years ago I found a scorecard that he inexplicably abandoned after the 6th inning of one of the games. He’s told some other tales that we can’t verify but have no reason to doubt; one of my favorites comes from the late 1950s when he worked in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. He and a few roughneck friends took a bus to a Chicago Bears game at Wrigley Field. Dad said he drank so much beer that he was vomiting out the bus window on the way home. It’s because of those types of stories and dad’s willingness to tell his tales warts-and-all that I give him a pretty high rating in reliability.
But Gene is in advancing in years, and even he recognizes that his memory isn’t what it used to be. I got to thinking about this last week when he mailed me a Wall Street Journal review of George Vecsey’s book, Stan Musial: An American Life. He included a note:
Saw the “Man” play in a double header at Forbes Field in PGH.
He hit an inside the park homerun in the nightcap!
Also had dinner at his restaurant in St. Louis in a later year.
Note: 3630 Hits; 1815 at home, 1815 on the road.
The idea of Musial hitting an inside-the-park round-tripper got me to scratching my head and wondering if that really happened or if the old man’s memory is finally as jammed up as Grand Central Station. I knew Musial was a power hitter (475 career HRs), and thought that by size alone he probably didn’t have enough speed to pull off an inside-the-park job. Besides, the inside-the-park home run is an endangered species. I’ve been to a hundred MLB games, but I’ve only ever seen one inside-the-park home run, and that was from speedster Juan Pierre in 2005 when he cracked a shot that snuck under the diving right fielder’s mitt at Comerica Park and rolled all 365 feet to the wall.
Not being one to let an old man tell his story (or one to pass up a chance to win a round of the family memory game), I set to the task of looking into Gene’s claim to see how well it stands up. I’ve done a ton of baseball research over the past six or seven years, and knew right away that if I dug around enough at baseball-reference.com, or retrosheet, I could uncover the facts. (continued…)