Saturday, July 25, 2009

From the Small World Department

Two blogs I wrote earlier this month were quite different: a tribute to the late Gene Carney and tales about needle-in-a-haystack baseball connections. Today I'm here to synthesize those two themes as they merged in a truly remarkable connection made this week.

On Monday (July 20), I got an e-mail from the daughter-in-law of Paddy Livingston's grandson. Livingston was a catcher from a hundred years ago, batting .209 in 205 major league games. She discovered recently that Gene Carney wrote a play about Addie Joss in which a character was based on Paddy Livingston. Not long after that discovery, she learned that Gene passed away on July 5. Someone suggested that she get in touch with me, which she did. She wondered if I could help her locate a script of Gene's play, titled Mornings After.

Why did she want a script? Next week is the 80th birthday of Paddy Livingston's grandson, and she hoped to give him a copy of the play as a present. That sounded like a good idea. The problem was that the Hall of Fame library collection does not include the script of his play, which was unpublished though it was performed once (at a SABR convention). The library does, however, contain a nearly complete collection of Gene's Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown. He began it as a newsletter in 1993, mailing it weekly to a small group of fans that gradually grew into an avid following. When the internet arrived, he found a home for his column at http://www.baseball1.com/, but the earlier issues are tough to find unless you were on his limited mailing list (as the Hall of Fame library was).

I checked the archive of Gene's columns on that website and found that he published Mornings After in nine issues of the "Notes" in late 1994. Why nine issues? Because the play was written in nine acts. He wrote it a year earlier, but in the winter of 1994, in the wake of that summer's disastrous strike, there wasn't much baseball news to comment on, so he published his play. I dug around, found the issues, photocopied the nine acts, sent a copy to the Livingston family, and kept a copy for myself. It seemed fitting that even after his death, Gene, who was a one-man baseball network constantly engaged in getting information and bits of baseball history to people who were happy to receive it, was able to connect with the family of a man he wrote about.

Today, while manning the Media Room during Induction weekend, I had time to read the play, which is about 50 pages. I can tell you that it's very good, and even though Addie Joss is a recurring theme, it is actually about the character based on Paddy Livingston. Gene called the character Paddy Sullivan, and most of the story reflected the facts of Livingston's career. When Joss, the ace of the Cleveland pitching staff, died of meningitis in 1911 two days after his 31st birthday, a benefit game was planned to raise money for his widow and children. That game, essentially an all-star game featuring the likes of Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, was played on July 24 (98 years ago yesterday). Paddy Livingston, though hardly an all-star, also played in the game, partly because he was a Cleveland native.

Gene used that connection to imagine that Paddy Sullivan was Addie Joss' biggest fan. The idolization is in every scene, from Paddy's admiration of Joss' noble character to his wish to be Joss' personal catcher to his obsession over box scores and headlines which formed the proof of Joss' pitching greatness. That is the play's central theme; Paddy, as a second-string catcher who doesn't get to play that much, is even more of a fan than a participant, and he finds joy daily in the spectacle of the game and the achievements of its stars. Joss embodies those joys.

Unlike Joss, Livingston got to live a long life, dying in 1977 at age 97. The play's last inning has Paddy Sullivan on his deathbed, talking baseball with his great-grandsons. That's another theme of the play, his desire to have a career worth sharing. He tells a teammate, "I got married 'cause I wanted grandkids." I got goosebumps reading that line today. There are numerous lines about how Paddy will be able to show this or that box score to his grandkids, and every one of them made me think about the real Paddy Livingston's grandson, who knew the grand old man and will now be able to read a whole play about a delightful baseball character created by another huge baseball fan, Gene Carney.

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