Friday, October 26, 2012

My Cousin (Twice Removed)


We're in the midst of the World Series so baseball is on my mind a little more than it usually is.

In truth, it has been years since I actively followed major league baseball.  I grew up in Washington DC and was a fairly rabid Baltimore Orioles fan back when the O's fielded stars like Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and regularly competed for championships.  Since moving to New York City in the early 1990s, I've left behind my loyalty to the O's, but I have never managed to summon much enthusiasm for my adopted hometown's teams;  the Yankees and the Mets tend to be either unlikable or unwatchable -- and sometimes both.

In recent years, the slim line keeping me tethered to our national pastime has been a family tie.  It turns out that my grandmother's cousin was a big-leaguer: Morrie Arnovich.  Arnovich is remembered by few without a blood link to him, but he played for several seasons in the 1930s and 1940s, even making the All-Star team.  I like to joke that he's the 5th greatest Jewish baseball player of all-time, since most people can only name two famous Jewish players (Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg), but the truth is that Arnovich was nowhere near that good.  (See, for example, this list of the best 18 Jewish ballplayers of all-time, which scandalously fails to even mention my first cousin twice removed.)

Anyway, I've started to compile a small collection of Morrie Arnovich cards and paraphernalia.  (I realize it is a banal observation, but it is amazing what you can find on eBay.  I just paused to do a quick search and found multiple Morrie Arnovich autographs on sale, although the price tags -- typically around 150 bucks -- deterred me from making an impulse buy.)

The Internet is also a great place to find the occasional Morrie Arnovich anecdote.  Here's my favorite: the story of how Arnovich, who was mostly a singles hitter and weighed in the neighborhood of 170 pounds, hit the longest home run in baseball history.  I desperately want to believe this story is true.

Addendum: Sadly, just hours after I wrote the above post, I learned that one of the biggest baseball fans that I have ever known, Jimmy White, passed away.  Jimmy was a hard-core Boston Red Sox supporter.  He lived through decades when this meant an annual dose of misery, not to mention derision from other teams' fans.   Jimmy lived most of his life behind enemy lines in Washington DC, serving as a lawyer at the Department of Energy -- and a close friend of my parents.   I loved talking baseball with Jimmy -- his love for the game was infectious.  He brought a wry sense of humor to the Red Sox' foibles, and to the rest of his life as well.  I will miss him.