I marked another birthday recently (“marked” seems a more appropriate description than “celebrated,” I think) and my mother and siblings all chipped in to get me a truly one-of-a-kind gift:
In case you’re wondering what makes a baseball “cool,” as you may be able to tell, this is a “game-used” ball, one inscribed by Hall of Famer and Number 8 of the Boston Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski. Further, “Yaz” annotated the ball in commemoration of his Triple Crown win in 1967.
Baseball’s Triple Crown occurs on those rare instances when a player leads his league at the end of a season in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (RBIs). Yaz’s Triple Crown made him the last player to accomplish the achievement for for forty-five years, until Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers “hit the trifecta” during a stellar 2012 season.
Yaz’s Triple Crown was especially significant, because ’67 was the year of the “Impossible Dream,” when Boston rebounded from a ninth-place finish the year before (in the days before leagues were divided into divisions based on geography) and won the American League pennant. In any team endeavor it takes the contributions of many to achieve a goal, yet those 1967 Red Sox were clearly following Yastrzemski’s lead. In tight race against the Minnesota Twins that decided the pennant winner on the last day of the season, Yaz had seven hits in eight at-bats, with six RBIs, during the dramatic final two games of the year. It exemplified his play for that entire campaign — more knowledgeable students of the game than me have proclaimed it, “the greatest single-season performance by any player in the modern era.” Though the Sox lost to the Cardinals in the ’67 World Series, Yaz hit .400 with three home runs and five RBIs for the Series.
Wag that I am, I’ve said the stains you see on the ball in the picture above were probably nicotine stains from Yaz’s fingers — in those less-enlightened times, he was one of many athletes who were known to regularly puff away on cigarettes. The tobacco certainly didn’t affect his longevity. Having previously shifted from patrolling left field to playing first base, a broken hand suffered in September 1975 by regular left fielder Jim Rice sent Yaz back to his familiar haunt in front of Fenway Park’s storied “Green Monster.” He played like a frisky young rookie instead of a fourteen-year veteran when the Red Sox returned to the World Series that year. The Red Sox again came up just a bit short: Yaz made the last out of a hard-fought Game 7, giving the championship to the “Big Red Machine” from Cincinnati, and he’d repeat that feat in 1978, during a dramatic one-game playoff against the New York Yankees after the two teams ended that season with identical records, tied for first place and forcing the one-shot, winner-take-all game.
Yaz retired from the game at age forty-four, in 1983; he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and the Red Sox retired his jersey number 8 in 1989 (at the time, only the fourth retired number in team history, placing him in the company of Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr — who is currently the oldest-living Hall of Famer — and the immortal Kid, Ted Williams).
So as you can see, for a baseball and Red Sox fan like me, my extended family did indeed find a special birthday gift for me. I’ll give you a last look, one that will also give you a look at the wallpaper I use on my computer screen — its creator is central to our next topic …
Long-time readers in this space may remember I also have a handful of close friends; we’ve been together for over thirty-five years now and we try to stay in touch as much as possible. It’s not as easy as one might think, given we’re now scattered across the Eastern Seaboard. One of these amigos who reside closest to me is someone to whom you’ve previously been introduced a time or two: Mike Dudley, who was best man at my wedding, and is the best man in just about every group in which he participates.
When Mike and I carve out time to get together, he typically shows up with either books he’s read that he thinks I might enjoy borrowing, or books he hands to me as gifts. Here’s the cover of one of Mike’s most recent finds:
This hardcover, copyrighted in 1946, is inscribed in a feminine hand on the inside to “Jimmy Asher” and dated “February 28, 1949.” One wonders how many hands this book has passed through and how many locations it has occupied in the almost eight decades since Jimmy Asher received it as a present.
It’s a prose story interspersed with black-and-white spot illustrations. Some illos are taken from Caniff’s Terry run. As three examples: the image on page 51 was lifted from the second panel of the March 23, 1936 strip; page 75’s art came from the last panel in the September 25, 1937 installment; and page 58’s picture is from the final panel of the April 11, 1936 daily. The latter is shown below, and if you compare it to that April 11th Terry you’ll see a certain amount of re-inking has gone on (look at Burma’s face, for example) …
Some of the illustrations are original to the book, but are clearly not from Caniff’s hand. I speculate they were done by longtime Caniff associate Ray Bailey, but so far I’ve yet to find corroboration of my theory.
The plot of the text story is an interesting mash-up of Terry plotlines and spans much of Caniff’s time on the series. It begins with backstory about both Terry Lee (age seventeen as we meet him here) and his traveling companion, Pat Ryan. Terry “had been reared by his grandfather Cyrus in a small Midwestern town.” Following his grandfather’s passing, Terry had stumbled upon the old man’s mysterious map promising “Manchu treasure.” He then sent a telegram to Ryan (“who had traveled extensively throughout China as a salesman and trouble-shooter for Cyrus’s importing firm”) and the two adventurers found themselves in the Mysterious East, where there was no treasure, but plenty of adventure, to be found.
Teamed with Connie, the trio crosses paths with Burma and continually cross figurative swords with Captain Judas. In a surprise revelation it turns out Pat is a member of the Secret Service, on Judas’s trail, and eventually Pat leaves his compatriots to track down the elusive Captain. Connie and Terry also part company, just in time for the book to finish with Terry earning his pilot’s wings at an air base run by Phil Corkin (“He’s a former Flying Tiger, and what a man!” one of Flip’s men informs Terry. “If he can fly like he can give orders, the Jap air force better give this field a wide berth!”). Nurse Taffy Tucker is also in the mix, as this image shows (again, it’s a lift from the August 8, 1942 Terry daily strip):
The story ends with Flip giving Terry his “Pilot’s Creed” speech, but just as the artwork in the book differs from that in the comic strips, the “Creed” text has also been subtly reworked. In that inspirational October 17, 1943 Sunday page, Flip warns Terry, “Don’t ever let me catch you being high-bicycle …” whereas in the book Flip says, “don’t ever let me catch you playing hotshot …”. In the book Flip drops the lighthearted reference to the Lord of the Underworld he used in the comic when he said, “You’ll get angry as the devil at the Army and it’s so-called red tape …”
It’s a fun “alternate universe” version of Terry Lee and his adventures, one I’m indebted to Mike for providing me. I’d heard of this book’s existence, but until this year had never owned a copy. It’s a pleasure to have it now, and on the remote chance he’s out there to read this, Jimmy Asher, I promise your book is in good hands!