This past Sunday, a white-haired man with a time-worn face and a less than perfect gait walked past an audience of about 50 baseball fans at the Public Library in Pasadena, California. I’m not sure if all of them recognized who this was, but I sure did. Arnold Hano had arrived as one of four individuals to be inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals.
In 1966, when I was just ten years old, I unwrapped one of the Christmas presents my parents gave me. Their second son was excited to hold in his hand a new biography of Willie Mays, written that year by Hano (pronounced “Hay-no”).
My Mom and Dad must have picked up on my adoration for the Giants’ slugging centerfielder. His line in the box score was always the first one I read in the Greensboro Daily News, and the “Say Hey Kid” was the player I wanted to be like when we played in the back yards and neighborhood leagues.
In the years after my childhood, whenever I watched the TV show Jeopardy, the subject of books would occasionally pop up. I was never good at knowing the first lines of the classics, but there was one sentence from a book that was indelibly etched into my mind.
It was a windy, slightly chilly August afternoon, the sun shining brilliantly out of a hard blue sky, while down below on the grass and dirt of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the Giants and Dodgers were having it out.
This book captured me like a baseball ensnared deep into a first baseman’s mitt. In addition to learning about Mays and the Giants, I learned a little something about writing style. Let me give you an example.
Covering the 1959 season, Hano spends a few paragraphs describing a game Mays played that August. Ultimately it would be the boys in blue from Los Angeles who would win the World Series, thereby getting the jump on San Francisco.
But in this contest in Philadelphia, the Giants led the National League by two games and a half. They faced the veteran and future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Annoyed with Mays’s taunting antics, Roberts stormed down to second base and exchanged words.
It was impulsive, immature, and foolish. Even if it were true that Mays had been stealing signs, there is little Roberts could do about it except ask for a catcher with shorter fingers. It all adds up to the staggering truth that Mays had temporarily driven steady old Robin Roberts out of his mind.
Oh yes. On that second pitch, Mays stole third.
Through the years, I have cherished my copy of Hano’s book. On the permanent DL with a cracked spine and missing pages, it has always been at arm’s length, the lead off hitter on my top shelf of books on the Giants.
50 years after I devoured this book, the author was in the news. Not as well known as Roger Angell, who like Hano was brought into the world in the Big Apple ninety-some years ago, Hano has nevertheless earned a level of fame and respect. After dodging bullets and cracking two vertebrae during World War II, he settled into a writing career. Hano penned “A Day in the Bleachers,” his account of Game One of the ’54 World Series between the Giants and the Indians. Among his twenty-some books, Day is his most recognizable.
Hano’s publishing credits include The New York Times, Sport, and Sports Illustrated. He has won several awards, including one for “The Burned Out Americans,” an expose of migratory farm workers published in Saga magazine. In 1963, Hano earned the respect of many Hispanic players when he wrote, “The Latin American Ballplayers Need a Bill of Rights.” Felipe Alou praised the article and the writer for his attention and understanding of these pioneering players.
Trading in the harsh winters of the Northeast for southern California’s marine-layered mornings and otherwise sunny weather, Hano and his wife Bonnie have lived in Laguna Beach since 1955.
Filmmaker Jon Leonoudakis brought Hano back into the spotlight this year with “Hano: A Century in the Bleachers,” a docu-flick that chronicles “one of the most prolific writers of the past century.”
In the film, one learns Hano met and spoke with not only many baseball players, but also Babe Ruth and John F. Kennedy. In the early 1970s, he helped defeat a new zoning law, one that would have permitted high-rise buildings in Laguna Beach. He took a stand for African American rights and environmental concerns, and along with Bonnie, helped rejuvenate a school in Costa Rica.
And this past weekend, at the Pasadena Library, Hano was inducted into Terry Cannon’s Shrine of the Eternals. Roberta and I were visiting friends and family in Los Angeles and decided to go. I spoke briefly with Hano, using my copy of his book as a prop. He signed it and seemed to appreciate the clipped down version of my story.
Two seats down was an older lady. I asked her if she was a friend of the honoree.
She flashed a pleasant smile and said, “yes, I’m his wife.”