He was a career .249 hitter with just 8 home runs in more than 250 games played in the major leagues. But to me, he was the most important professional baseball player who ever lived.
His name was Al Rubeling and he deserves more than a footnote in the pantheon of baseball players not necessarily for what he accomplished on the field but for the kindness he showed to a young boy off of it.
I don’t remember how we met — I was only 7 years old at the time — and I don’t remember many specifics about the conversations we shared. He was our neighbor and while the details may be hazy, I do vividly recall sitting on the old man’s front porch for hours listening to him wax nostalgic about playing for legendary baseball manager Connie Mack in Philadelphia in the 1940’s. He eagerly showed me his old uniforms and precious artifacts and as I attempted to soak up every morsel of knowledge about the game I loved.
As a boy, baseball was my life. I played it, I read about it constantly and fantasized about making a diving catch to clinch Game 7 of the World Series. I routinely listened to the games of my beloved Baltimore Orioles on the radio each night, drifting off to sleep with the sounds of my trusty AM radio sitting on my bedside table. I awoke to notes from my father describing our team’s inevitable comeback, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It was a glorious time to love baseball.
Mr. Rubeling provided the kindling to stoke the passionate fire that burned within me. In hindsight, I can see the seeds of my future in those moments in the distant past. As I peppered Mr. Rubeling with questions about life in his glory days, reveling in his stories, I was conducting my first interview. Today, as a journalist, I put those skills to use everyday. And it was on his steps, where I brought those skills to life.
I learned much from him — that history is everywhere, that asking people to talk about themselves usually opens pathways to knowledge and that we should always be kind to those who want to learn from us. Mr. Rubeling was a gentleman and he was a man who impacted my life far beyond anything he could have imagined.
In my book, he was a Hall of Fame friend.