I got some questions mailed off to the daughter of the 96-year-old former baseball player I want to interview. I’m interested in writing a book on one of his former teammates on the 1940 Philadelphia Phillies, Joe Marty, and this man is one of three people still living, all over 90, who played in the majors with him. The daughter said she will review my questions with her dad and then call when he’s near the phone. He sounded lucid when the daughter and I spoke last week and he was in the background.
The questions I wrote primarily centered around what life was like on the last-place Phillies that year, his sole season in the majors and if he had any interactions with Marty. When his daughter and I spoke, I could hear him in the background, correctly remembering that Marty was an outfielder, and I wonder, in general, how vivid his memories are. A part of my mind keeps circling back to this thought that he will be like the elderly Rose in Titanic, white hair and wide-eyed, self righteously telling Bill Paxton she can remember what the fresh paint smelled like on the doomed, maiden ship. I like to think we remember the things that matter to us for a lifetime.
But I also know the realities of Alzheimer’s Disease– something like half of all people over 85 suffer from it. I recognize there’s a 50-50 chance this man has the disease, though with that said, I’ve heard that people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s actually have more intense long-term memories. They may not remember what they had for lunch yesterday but they can strongly recall details of life from 1924. The daughter told me her dad had some kind of issue back in August; I suppose I’ll learn more when we talk.
Regardless, I know that old ballplayers love to talk about the past. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from a retired MLB scout from Sacramento who I’ve quoted here before, Ronnie King. He told me in essence, when I was doing researching for my high school senior project on the Sacramento Solons, that I needn’t worry about getting the old-timers I would be interviewing to talk. All they needed was the opportunity. It’s a lesson that’s stayed with me, even if I sometimes have forgotten it.
Anyhow, I mailed the questions Monday evening and am awaiting a call. The hope is that I’ll enter some sublime time warp with this old man, getting a broad window into his brief life as a ballplayer. At this point, though, I’m grateful for any insight whatsoever that he can offer.