The way Oscar Soule tells it, there may be someone who knows more about baseball than he does, but nobody enjoys it more.
The retired Evergreen State College faculty member and 2008 Seattle Mariners Fan of the Year, is featured in a new book about baseball called “The Diamond Alphabet: Baseball in Shorts.” It was written by former Canadian Poet Laureate George Bowering who has traveled with Soule to watch baseball in Cuba on two of his last five trips.
While the book’s author seems to focus on Soule’s legendary ballpark culinary habits, his love of the game is unmistakable.
This is a man who has collected autographs since he was a kid growing up in St. Louis, taken friends to the Mariners original home opener in 1977 and everyone since, is a charter member of the Negro League Baseball Museum and the St. Louis Browns Historical Society while belonging to the Society for American Baseball Research.
He goes to, on average, 20 Mariners games every year, plus another three Tacoma Rainiers games, five or six in Cuba, a half-dozen at spring training and manages to fit in some random local high school or slow-pitch softball. That doesn’t count what he watches on television.
So, it was pointless to try to stump the Hemingway-esque man with a baseball question, but I gave it try. I asked if he had ever heard of Pete Gray.
Of course he had. Soule rattled off the St. Louis Browns outfielder’s stats: he hit .218 in 1945, without a home run, but with six doubles and two triples. Not bad for a guy with only one arm, Soule said. And, did I know his name wasn’t really Gray? He changed it from Wyshmer, though he couldn’t say why.
He even has a pair of baseballs signed by Gray, in each of the player’s names. Two of close to 100 autographed balls he keeps locked up in a secure location.
Well, how about Bert Shepard. Oh, sure. The World War II fighter pilot who was shot down and became a POW, lost his right leg in the crash. He was signed by the Washington Senators as a left-handed pitcher, but only pitched 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and one run.
And did I know Shepard received the Distinguished Flying Cross later that same year?
Okay, how about Connie Marrero, a name I came across last week when writing about North Thurston High School grad Darcy Fast, one of the older players who fell through an MLB pension loophole.
Too easy, says Soule. In fact, he knows Marrero personally from his Cuba trips. One of Cuba’s greatest pitchers, he is 101 years old and the oldest living ex-MLB player and was oldest MLB rookie, at 40, to ever pitch in the All-Star Game when he took the mound in 1951. And did I know that Marrero was recently reinstated into the pension plan, but baseball has not sent him the money yet because he lives in Cuba.
It was a pointless exercise, so I gave up.
Soule says he is so drawn to everything about baseball because, “every time I watch a game there is the chance that I will see something I have never seen before or something that has never happened before.”
He also likes the timeless beauty of a game played without a clock, which for some South Sound Mariners’ fans means not getting home until after midnight.
Soule’s own playing career is less interesting than his stories about seeing his hero Stan Musial hit five home runs in a 1954 double-header. He played slow-pitch in the Olympia City League for 23 years on a team he founded and named, of course, the St. Louis Browns. But the team went 17 straight years without a winning season. In year 18, magic happened in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Soule’s last-inning hit tied the game, and he later scored the winning run. He still recalls fondly the “utter joy in realizing we had won … after almost two decades of mediocrity.”
Despite his vast knowledge of the game, baseball has stumped Soule on one count: in the 750-plus major league games he has attended over his 72 years, he’s never caught a foul ball.
George LeMasurier, publisher of The Olympian, may be reached at 360-357-0206 or email@example.com.