Brushes with greatness
A couple of obituaries caught my eye over the historic weekend just passed. Here were two remarkable people who were in my presence just briefly, but who truly impressed.
Kathryn Hall Bogle died last Thursday at age 96. Mrs. Bogle was an accomplished author who chronicled life as an African-American woman in Portland beginning in the 1930s. She lived here since 1911 and was prominent in her community all her life. Among many other activities, she worked for civil rights, promoted literature and music, did everything she could for children, helped found an Episcopal church, and travelled the world.
I met Mrs. Bogle at a neighbor's house on Christmas morning about 10 years ago. She was part of a small group that convened in that house every year on that feast day. Already well up into her 80s at that point, she was truly delightful company. My wife and I both immediately sensed the enormous strength and spirit within and around her. Her enthusiasm for life was contagious, and we were glad to share it with her, if even for a short time.
Mrs. Bogle's son, Dick, is familiar to long-time Portlanders as the former TV news man and ex-city commissioner. Every once in a while I catch his jazz show on KHMD radio. You can tell it's Dick right away, just by the music that's on -- always just a pleasure to listen to -- and once I know it's him spinning the disks, I don't touch the dial 'til he signs off. My sincere condolences to him and to the rest who mourn her loss.
The other passing I read about was Bobby Bonds, baseball star of the late '60s and '70s, who died Saturday. He was only in his 50s. Perhaps best known toward the end of his life as the proud father of baseball's greatest current slugger, Barry Bonds, the senior Bonds was one of the best all-around ballplayers ever to play the game. He combined great power hitting with speed, and set records for combining home runs and stolen bases. He could steal second base as well as any one, and he knocked out 30 or so home runs regularly.
Bobby Bonds played his early career for the San Francisco Giants, but he had one season as a New York Yankee, in 1975, before being shipped around to a number of other teams. His Yankee year (an all-star year for him) was when I saw Bobby in action. I was on my way from New Jersey to California to go to law school, and I stayed about a month and a half with my friends in Milwaukee. (Portland-area folks, that's the one in Wisconsin, not the Portland suburb with the too-similar name.) One of the many things we liked to do was attend Milwaukee Brewers baseball games at County Stadium. The town had just gotten major league baseball back not too long before, after having lost it for a while, and the left field side of the stands wasn't even fully built yet, as I recall.
There were lots of good games that summer. One night (July 2) a young fellow on the Boston Red Sox by the name of Rick Wise pitched 8 and 2/3 innings of a no-hitter before geting knocked out of the box. For a long while there, we thought we were going to see him take it all the way, but a home run -- and then, improbably, another home run -- broke up his bid for history. (Turns out, the guy was from Portland. Who knew?)
But the best games were some tightly fought battles between the Yankees and the Brewers. I was probably the only Yankee fan in the place, screaming my head off (no doubt under the influence of "brats" and Pabst) for the Bronx Bombers. I remember one play in particular, when a Milwaukee player hit a single into a gap in center field, where Bonds was playing for the Yankees. A Brewer base runner tried to advance from first to third, but Bonds fielded the ball cleanly and threw a deadly accurate rifle shot to Graig Nettles at third, who tagged the runner out. I nearly jumped out of my skin, it was such a good throw. The Yankees lost that night (July 1) but I also recall seeing them get their revenge in a later game (Aug. 4), in which Bonds, then playing right field, hit a crucial sacrifice fly to knock in a key Yankee run. New York took that one, by a score of 2-1.
My hat's off to the nice people of Milwaukee, who allowed me to leave the stadium alive that night, hoarse and with a big grin on my face. Yankee Stadium crowds would not have been so, shall we say, respectful of diversity.
And my hat's off to Bobby Bonds, who had such a tremendous throwing arm to go along with all his other skills. He left this world way too soon, but God bless him, he got to take pride not just in his accomplishments on the field, but also in his accomplishments as a dad.