This COVID 19 stuff is messing up everyone’s schedules. Sitting at home gives us time to ponder many things, As Johnny Carson used to say “I harken back to my days on the Nebraska plains.”

Considering my advanced years, there is a lot to ponder. As a youngster, I was sick a lot so I had to stay at home from school. Remember this was prior to television and radio had not been around long. I developed an intense interest in the Fort Worth Cats, particularly in their battles against the hated Dallas Eagles. I regularly kept score, probably in preparation for those long days and nights in cold, drafty press boxes.

Because the rivalry was so intense, you almost felt you were a part of the family. You know what that means. You hate all the people your relatives hate. This was especially true of umpires, because they had personalities of their own and that meant they were household recognizable.

Radio meant you had to use your imagination. You know like today’s games with cutouts in the stands.

Bob Smith of San Antonio was at the top of my list because when he called a Texas League game, it seemed Dallas always got the better of the calls One incident involved Manager Bobby Bragan, the white knight of the story, and a game in which he was asked to leave. Dallas had a crack double play combination and often walked batters to add to their record.

On this occasion, Wally Fiala, Cat second baseman was on the end of a”questionable twin killing. Bragan went to the third base and then first base umpires to argue before going to Smith behind the plate. When we became friends during my college days, Bob said if Bragan had gone to him first the play would have been overruled but as it was Bragan was gone.

Bob Smith and I became good friends during college days and I realized he was a pretty good old boy after all. In describing the incident in Dallas later, Bob said he told the Cat catcher how the incident would play out and even said what Bragan would say. He added that the quote from Bragan was accurate, therefore the ejection.

Baseball was not Bob’s only talent. On one occasion in the second half of a high school basketball game in the old Howard Payne gym, Bob saw that one of the teams could not make a basket and was dropping further behind. Bob called time and requested both captains to meet at the scorer’s table. He asked me for a quarter and proceeded to give it to the hapless captain. “You can buy a basket now,” he added. After a moment of silence, the captain threw the ball into play and his buddy launched an arc into the basket. Play continued without a break.

On another occasion, two high school centers were going after it hot and heavy fighting for rebounds. Bob called time and said someone would get hurt and the pair should shake hands. A deadly silence claimed the court until the pair shook hands, The game proceeded without incident. Using a little common sense was not something we generally associated with arbiters.

Bob’s son, Denny, played round ball for the Jackets while I was in Brownwood but I really missed the give and take with the refs. By the way, I never got my quarter back. Live and learn.

Vandagriff is a retired Democrat managing editor and college history professor emeritus, who still writes, teaches and speaks. Contact or 817-341-3719.

Recommended for you