By Joe Yates
It seems odd to write about baseball at Thanksgiving, but I blame the proximity of that holiday to the end of the modern baseball season. When I was a kid if your team had the best regular season record in its league it went to the World Series, and it was all over by early October.
Anyway, knowing that I have shrewd opinions on all things, my friends will often…sometimes…well, almost never, ask me: Joe, if you were dictator of the world, what is the first thing you would do? Well, since you asked, I would outlaw the designated hitter and ban all interleague play. There would be no more night baseball on weekends and doubleheaders would be mandatory on all summer holidays. Can I get a witness? But I digress…
In 1935, the Detroit Tigers played the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, and a young boy from a small town in South Dakota was fortunate enough to see some of those games. His father was a successful attorney and an avid baseball fan. The two traveled by rail from South Dakota to Minneapolis, then on to Chicago and Detroit. Late one night, the boy’s father shook him gently. “Get up, son, there’s someone I want you to meet.” The youngster held his father’s hand as he was led to the train’s club car. In the midst of the blue haze curling up from several expensive cigars sat…The Babe. Arguably the greatest ballplayer of all time, Babe Ruth had played his last game in May of that year, and was now a spectator. Introductions were made and, after some perfunctory conversation, now long forgotten, the Bambino pulled a new baseball out of his pocket, signed it, and stuck in the boy’s hand. You can almost hear the Babe say, “Here ya go, kid.”
The next morning, at Chicago’s famous Palmer House in a room high above the city, the kid was bored. He noticed that one of the windows in the room opened to the brick wall of an adjacent building just a few feet away. Hmmm…if I open the window I can get a better view of what’s below. You know, I bet this baseball would bounce off that brick wall and come right back to me if I threw it just right. The boy threw the ball against the building and, sure enough, it returned to him.
About the fourth time, it did not. The ball hit the corner of the windowsill, caromed off and lazily dribbled its way down the sides of the buildings to the alley below, never to be seen again—by the kid, anyway. A bit of research reveals that today an unblemished, mint-condition Babe Ruth autographed baseball may be worth well over $10,000.
The boy is Pat “Sunny” Morrison of Mobridge, South Dakota. He is my wife’s uncle and was quite the ballplayer himself in his day. He pitched for the University of Michigan and coached in South Dakota’s old semi-pro Basin League. He will tell you that his best pitch was one he invented; he called it the “manure ball.” (I will have to tell you in person about its origins, because it can’t be printed here.) One of the baseball players he coached was a tall, gangly kid named Phil Jackson. Yep, that Phil Jackson of the NBA. Sunny refereed approximately 2,500 basketball games from 1951 to 1986.He says: "Yes…I’ll admit I made one bad call, back in 1953. I can say that because I've outlived everyone or they're in a home someplace."He’s worked at KOLY Radio in Mobridge—a town just a bit larger than Eminence—since 1956, doing the play-by-play for local high school basketball for over 50 years. He was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
After many years of Sunny hopping on a plane to visit us at Thanksgiving, this year—at age 88—he has decided that it would be best for him to stay on the ground. Now, we’ll just have to go to him.
And, just so you know, Sunny, we’d rather have the Palmer House story than that old baseball anyway.