I didn’t expect the Mickey Mantle biography to bring back such a strong memory of a now-departed friend.
But these days, I never know what will spur memories. I was reading Jane Leavy’s “The Last Boy” when I came across an exchange between Mantle and the author in which a fan said that he had been there in 1950 when Wes Ferrell struck Mantle out five times in one game. Mantle didn’t contradict the fan, but after he left, told Leavy that it hadn’t been 1950, it was 1951, and it hadn’t been Ferrell, it had been Walt Masterson.
Hello, old friend.
Walt Masterson was one of the most interesting people I ever met. We were collaborating on a book when he died of a stroke three years ago, and unfortunately, it’s a book I really can’t finish. He pitched 14 seasons in the American League, mostly for losing teams, and he won 78 games and lost 100. That may not sound all that impressive on the face of it, but he was an American League all-star twice, and in fact was the starting pitcher in the 1948 All-Star Game.
Probably his most memorable game came in June 1947 in Chicago, when he pitched 16 scoreless innings against the White Sox in a game that wasn’t decided till the 18th inning.
Like many men of his era, he lost three seasons to World War II, but when he returned in September 1945, he outdueled Hall of Famer Bob Feller in a 1-0 shutout.
I met Walt in 1980, when I was editor of the George Mason University student newspaper and he was the school’s baseball coach. We had some wonderful, long conversations after games that ranged far beyond baseball. In 1983, when I was trying to get a really good job in Oklahoma City, he called the sports editor of the paper for me and gave me a stellar recommendation.
I didn’t get the job, but only because there was a hiring freeze. After that Walt and I lost touch with each other for more than 20 years. I’m not sure what made me think about him, but I was going through a period when I was looking up a lot of old friends through a service we had at work. I found him in North Carolina and I wrote to him. I’m so glad I did.
We re-established contact, and as I said, we actually worked on a book together. I wish I had been better about finishing it more quickly, but I did visit him twice in North Carolina and somewhere I’ve got a video tape of about an hour’s worth of conversation we had one one of those visits.
When we met, he was 60 and I was 30.
When we got together again a few years ago, I was nearly 60 myself. He was 87 when he died, and I still miss him. But I’m glad for the time we spent together near the end of his life.
He was a heck of a guy, a really fine man.
And hey, I’m pretty sure he was the only pitcher ever to strike out Mickey Mantle five times in one game.