I learned a valuable lesson growing up. I found an old San Francisco Giants oral history book at a garage sale, and in the preface, the author spoke of fruitless attempts to interview Willie Mays, noting he had better experiences interviewing many less-famous players. A lot of these former Giants, the author noted, had listed phone numbers and were happy to talk. I took the message to heart, and it’s led to several interviews off cold calls over the years.
I was reminded of this Tuesday evening when I located the number of a former player living in Sacramento, where I grew up and my family lives. At some point, I’ll call this guy as well as the grandson of a Deadball Era star who lives about an hour from me. These calls are rarely bad experiences, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that old ballplayers generally love to reminisce about their careers. I don’t have to do much beyond ask decent questions and listen.
Here are a few players I’ve interviewed after getting their number from the phone book or online yellow pages:
Cuno Barragan: I did my high school senior project on the Sacramento Solons and interviewed Barragan who caught for the team before going on to the Chicago Cubs of the early 1960s. He might have been the first ex-big leaguer I ever interviewed, and I appreciate his willingness to invite me out to his home. If memory serves correct, we sat on bar stools made of baseball bats and base cushions.
Dario Lodigiani: I wrote a college term paper on all the Italian American baseball players who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I had designs after I submitted my paper of turning it into a magazine story. It never went anywhere, though it gave me an excuse to talk to a few former ballplayers, the most notable Dom DiMaggio, who I tracked down in person at a wharf front memorabilia story. I found Lodigiani through online yellow pages, and I remember the then-87-year-old former third baseman, who played six seasons between 1938 and 1946, as a nice fellow.
Joe DeMaestri, Rugger Ardizoia: Two more nice guys who I called about the Italian American project. DeMaestri, like another of my interview subjects Gino Cimoli, worked for UPS after his playing days. Ardizoia had a one-game career for the 1947 New York Yankees and may be at the upcoming Pacific Coast League reunion.
Art Mahan: I started research in early 2010 on a book on Joe Marty,who played from 1937 to 1941 with the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. When I began research, Mahan was one of four living ex-teammates, and I didn’t have much luck at first. The Art Mahan in the phone book turned out to be his son, and it sounded as if the senior Mahan didn’t like interviews. Still, the son passed my number on to his sister who in turn called me and gave me an address to send questions to. This led to a call a week or so later from another Mahan who, with his 96-year-old dad standing by and periodically coming on the line, talked with me for two enchanting hours. (Mahan died in December, and I noted his passing here.)
Billy O’Dell: I put together a Where Are They Now?-style piece on O’Dell and made my initial call from home, though I had to do a follow-up from work. I was sitting in the break area on my cell when the CEO of the company my firm was renting space from walked by. He gave me a look that said, Who exactly are you speaking to about the last out of the 1962 World Series? The CEO and I got to talking after I finished my call, and he said he knew former Giants outfielder Ken Henderson. I wound up interviewing Henderson, too.