Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quite Simply, "The Greatest Baseball Ever"

2008 "Blackened Gold" award winning story

I’ve had many opportunities over the years to meet some very interesting people and one of the most interesting ones ever was fellow bad golfer Kelly Ireland from Tyler, Texas. Kelly was one of four finalists in the 1985 “Worst Avid Golfers” Tournament that was sponsored by “Golf Digest Magazine.” The four of us subsequently became lifelong friends.
I had a chance in the 80's to visit Tyler along with the rest of the original WAGs, Jack Pulford of Moline, Illinois and Joel Mosser of Aurora, Colorado. We were in town to play in the “Eisenhower Invitational Golf Tournament” at Kelly’s hometown club, Hollytree Country Club. Of course we "left our mark" on Hollytree that day as we were wont to do.

(Above Right) The world famous "Tyler Rose"
We stopped at Kelly’s law office (he had been a former prosecuting attorney in Texas) and it was there that our story began. Kelly said that, “He had to show me something very special,” so my interested was immediately piqued.

After a couple minutes he came back with a baseball, a very old baseball. It was loaded with autographs, but they weren’t just any old autographs, these were the autographs of the people who made baseball what it is today…all on one ball.

I was floored as I began reading the names…”Ruth, Gherig, Cobb, Mantle, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Musial, Aaron and on and on. “How did you get all these?” I asked him excitedly. He then began to explain that his father, a rabid baseball fan, had actually gotten most of the autographs as he traveled around the country on business.

The next part of the story though really sparked my imagination. In his folksy, Texas drawl, Kelly began to explain how he had obtained his first autograph on the ball and the trouble he had encountered doing that.

“I was in Chicago on a case and they were playing the Braves. I had made arrangements with Aaron’s agent to have him sign the ball after the game. When I got to the locker room, I told the security people that Henry Aaron was expecting me so that he could sign my baseball. After a few minutes, he came back and said, ‘Henry Aaron don't want to sign yer ball.’ I was very disappointed and most dejected and when I was getting ready to leave, a tall, good-looking black man who had overheard everything said, ‘Let me see that ball’. I recognized him as Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub" and most likely the greatest Cub ever.

Ernie was most impressed with my ball and he turned to the security guard and asked, ‘Why wouldn’t he sign this?’ The security guard said that Aaron, ‘Didn’t want to sign some white man’s baseball’. Banks, his anger rising further said, “Well we’ll see about that, come on.”

"I followed him into the training room," Kelly continued, and there lay Henry Aaron, face down getting a rubdown.

‘Henry’, said Banks addressing the slugger. ‘What’s wrong with you? Why wouldn’t you want to sign this ball? Look at it! All the greats of the game are on it. Now this man wants you to join them. This is something you’ve earned as a great black ballplayer’.

Aaron sat up, and begrudgingly said, ‘Aww Gimme it, I’ll sign it.’ But the story doesn’t end there. Kelly, in gratitude and out of profound respect for the great Ernie Banks said, “Mr. Banks I would be honored if you too would sign my baseball,” to which Ernie Banks replied, “That would be one of the greatest thrills of my entire career to have my name on this ball with these baseball immortals."

And so that’s how Kelly Ireland came to get Henry Aaron and Ernie Banks’ signatures of his Hall of Fame caliber baseball. But wait, the story’s still not over yet!

A few weeks ago attached to an email from Kelly's lovely wife, Nancy, were these two pictures.

Somehow or other Kelly had contacted the great Nolan Ryan to also affix his name on this greatest of baseballs. You see Kelly’s still at it, MS or not. Still out there adding names to one of the greatest baseballs ever. He's been approached many times by the Hall of Fame to include his ball in that great collection, but so far, he's resisted the temptation. Any why not? Heck, he's still busy getting autographs on it, that's why!!!

Nolan Ryan (left) and his catcher Jim Sundberg ponder signing this greatest of baseballs at a recent Tyler Rose Festival. Kelly Ireland (right in wheelchair) soaks in the scene. Today, Ryan is the Texas Ranger's President while Sundberg is their Executive Vice-President of Public Relations.

Nolan Ryan (left) poses with Kelly Ireland (center) and Kelly's good friend, Tom Deal (right).


HotDog_Zanzabar said...

Great story!!

Kelly said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story! If I remember correctly, Dad's got another great one about how he got Mickey Mantle's signature.

Better to get the whole story from him of course, but I think it was soon after dad finished law school, when he was working as a clerk for a prominent Judge in Austin, and the judge, understandably stunned, came to him and said: "Mickey Mantle is returning your call, something about a baseball?"

Kelly E. Ireland
Los Angeles, CA
(I'm Kelly's oldest daughter)

Matt H said...

Thanks for sharing!