Thursday, July 14, 2005

Baseball legend Mickey Owen dies

Some of my favorite memories of the many years I played baseball took place at the Mickey Owen Baseball School near Miller.
The owner of that school, former St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen, who also served as Greene County Sheriff, for a long time, died Wednesday at age 89.
Owen, of course, founded the baseball school, which according to the account in today's News-Leader produced such future big leaguers as pitcher Steve Rogers and catcher Joe Girardi. I didn't attend the school, but there were times when I felt like it was a second home. During my teen and young adult years, the baseball teams I played on visited the school many times to provide cannon fodder for their teams to play against.
Actually, we probably won as many games as we lost there and the fields were big, with plenty of hitting room, which was great for a little guy who sprayed the ball to all fields. We always played doubleheaders, which was great, and played on well-manicured fields, which were better than the fields we were used to playing on at Midway, Stella, and Granby. They even had dugouts, which were actually dug out.
I probably remember three events from those games at Mickey Owen more than any other. None of us ever let Granby's Stan Johnson forget when he hit a majestic fly ball that smacked off the top of the center field fence...and got a single out of it because he was so busy admiring it. (Poor Stan, he was also the pitcher who gave up the only home run I ever hit and three decades later he can tell you what the pitch was that I hit)
I also remember a 2-1 game that I scored the winning run in the eighth inning (which was extra innings because the games lasted seven innings). I was having no luck with the Mickey Owen pitcher, so when I led off the eighth, the coach, Brad Letts, told me to get on base anyway I could. The first pitch was a little inside and somehow I failed to get out of the way. I then stole second and third, and scored on a wild pitch and we held the home team scoreless in the bottom of the eighth for the win.
My other favorite moment came as an adult player. Sometimes, the Mickey Owen teams liked to schedule adult teams to play their 16-18 year olds, when American Legion and Senior Babe Ruth teams were not available. We usually played two or three doubleheaders there each summer from the time I started playing adult baseball at age 15 in 1971 until my baseball days ended 14 years later. To even up the odds one time, former Chicago White Sox pitcher Gerry Nyman, who was on the staff at Mickey Owen that summer, pitched the nightcap. After that game, I was able to say that I had three hits off a big league pitcher (the team had four if I recall). All right, one of them was a bunt single and one of them was a weak popup that landed smack between the right fielder, the center fielder and the second baseman. That other one though, was a line drive double to right-center. We didn't win, but it was hard for the other players to be around me for the next few days.
That doesn't have anything to do with Mickey Owen himself, but just hearing that name conjured up some vivid memories.
As for Owen himself, he was remembered most for the passed ball that lost the 1941 World Series for his Dodger team, but that was not the quite the whole story. The pitcher for the Dodgers in that game was famed reliever Hugh Casey, and more than one of Owen and Davis' contemporaries say that Owen may have had that passed ball because Casey was throwing his best illegal spitter. But you never heard that story from Mickey Owen. He always shouldered the blame for losing that World Series.

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