Homer-Catching Sal Durante Salutes Roger Maris

Durante’s baseball fame continued into 1962.
Check out the Seattle PI website’s great vintage
feature about the movie 61*.  Durante was hired to
catch a baseball off the Space Needle. See how the
stunt ended, and the major leaguer
included in the World’s Fair doings!

Even if you never rooted for the New York Yankees, you’ve got to cheer for Sal Durante.

In the 50th anniversary celebration of the Roger Maris home run in 2011, Durante participated in the team festivities. The man who caught historic homer #61 could be bitter he never had a memorabilia auction house make him rich. Instead, Durante took every opportunity to salute the man he never stopped admiring.

Durante wrote:

“I met Roger three times when he broke Babe Ruth’s record. He told me to keep the ball and make some money.

We met in Sacramento, Calif., in Sam Gordon’s Restaurant. I received $5,000 for the ball. Sam gave the ball to Roger as a gift.

When everything was completed, we were leaving the restaurant. Roger reached down, put his hand to mine. He said, ‘This is for you.’ It was his New York Yankees lighter.

My wife asked the Yankees if it was OK to come to the stadium to take a picture with our 3 yr. old son and my wife. Roger was it would be fine with him. He was a real Gentleman.”

Anyone who saw the HBO movie 61* about the historic season may have wondered what Durante thought of being a real character.

“It was exciting being played in the movie 61*. They did a great job.”

Lastly, how did Durante feel about the other fan’s fame when a certain Yankee captain made more history?

“When Christian Lopez caught Derek Jeter’s H.R. for hit #3,000, he chose to give it to Derek. He felt Derek deserved it.

I believe he made the right choice.

Sal Durante”

Coming Wednesday: My ’10 Most Wanted List,’ Baltimore Orioles edition

Hollywood, Remember Pitcher Lou Brissie!

To get through the long winter, I seek out baseball movies and documentaries. Here’s one that needs to be made: The Lou Brissie Story.

Everyone knows (or should know) the story of Lou Brissie, the World War II veteran who won the Purple Heart. He won my heart by continuing his dream of major league baseball, even after a wartime attack shattered one leg in 30 places. he became a 1949 All-Star, winning 16 games.

A great place to learn more is the fine SABR biography by acclaimed researcher Bill Nowlin. Then, check out the book The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie.

I asked about a triple Brissie hit. (Nice work, http://www.retrosheet.org/.) Imagine legging out a triple with just one good leg. He replied:

“I do not recall the triple. I think the ball took an odd bounce off the wall. I’m just not sure.”

Brissie’s book details his friendship with infielder Hank Majeski. They stayed in touch for years after retirement, until Majeski’s death. Brissie’s tribute:

“Hank, a great player, came through in tough situations, Quiet but 100 percent all the time. A great person and friend.”

Can Brissie imagine a player today, someone who reflects the determination of his teammates like Majeski, someone he could even have served with?

“The one player I can think of plays shortstop for the Yankees, Derek Jeter.”

I was moved by this 2007 ESPN profile of Brissie’s devotion to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, in Nowlin’s SABR biography, he reveals how Brissie nixed a movie during his career.