About 10 years ago, the late Bobby Thomson and I had dinner in Manhattan at the now departed Il Menestrello restaurant. It was one of my favorite restaurants because of its consistently tasty food, ambiance and class waiters. Bobby became a legend after he hit that home run and was idolized by his fans until the day he left us at age 86.
When we got to the subject of his fan letters he told me he’d been personally responding to them, by hand, since his retirement. He also told me it was a full-time job, and sometimes he almost ran out of gas, but felt it was his duty to respond to each and every one of them. Though I didn’t ask him, we must be talking about thousands of letters.
He did, however, have one pet peeve. We must appreciate the fact that he was not a wealthy man like today’s baseball players. In the letters many fans asked him for a signed baseball expecting him to pay for it as well as the mailing cost. Multiply that by many thousands of baseballs, and we’re talking about big-time potatoes!
During martini time, I asked him about some of the common themes of the fan letters. He unexpectedly paused and drifted off into the world of thought. For the record, his general public image is that of a good guy with impeccable credentials of character, which is certainly true. But let me add that he was a very wise man and a superb reader of people. After all, he was my friend!
When he returned from outer space, he didn’t look like a happy trooper. He said that up until recently most of the letters dealt with baseball issues such as how did he feel about hitting that famous home run or some with practical problems frequently seeking advice such as making career decisions. But awhile back the pattern had dramatically changed, and fans began, in large numbers, to write about very personal problems forcing him into the uncomfortable and unwelcomed position of becoming a therapist. Many of the letters dealt with downer man-woman problems ranging from jealousy to infidelity.
Now I’m a firm believer that dinner should be an upper event, so I changed the subject. Fortunately, the white asparagus parmegiano arrived along with two glasses of cold Vernaccia. Boy, was that combo a gustatory hit! As we were talking about lighter subject matter such as golf – which would you believe, he was not good at- the tagliatelle with truffles was served. ( They were, of course, black truffles and, though expensive, not the really expensive and world’s best tasting white ones from Alba, Italy).
After dinner, Milan, the genial owner, offered us a grappa on the house. We accepted but asked him to make it a small one along with some tasty biscotti. I then told Bobby about my interest in the broad impact of the sexual revolution on America and whether he could recall one letter which dealt with sex that disturbed him the most. Without hesitation, which surprised me, he said there were a number of them but the one that jumped to mind involved a 16-year-old girl.
She was desperately in love with an 18-year-old guy who, however, was having a sexual affair with her best friend. The guy was also an avid fan of Bobby’s. She asked him to send her a signed baseball with the guy’s name, and she would offer it to him as bribe to relinquish his affair with her friend and switch to her, instead.
We then both sipped on the grappa and I then asked, Bobby, “How did you answer that one?”
He leaned back, took a deep breath and replied, “I didn’t.”