Author: Daniel, Bert

Eddie
 

After my junior year in college, I got a summer job as a hospital orderly. That's how I met Eddie. I'm really glad I met the guy because Eddie was a real character. If you're going to spend your last free summer as a kid working at a menial job, the guy you want to work with is a guy like Eddie. Eddie will keep you in stitches the whole time and time will fly on wings. Before you know it, it's five o'clock and you've made another fifty bucks.

Before you read on, let me make the obligatory no actual bluegrass content disclaimer here. Some of you hard core bluegrass fans are still soaring from your great experience at Grass Valley a few weeks ago. You want to soak up anything and everything related to bluegrass and you can pass up a good story with NBC (no bluegrass content). That's fine. Eddie probably had no interest in bluegrass at all. Baseball, yes. Bluegrass, I don't think so.

I landed my summer job because I had connections. My dad was a surgeon on the staff at our local hospital and he thought the experience as an orderly might increase my chances of getting into medical school. The job was pretty straightforward. You waited around until one of seven operating rooms got finished with a procedure. Then you rushed in there with a mop and cleaned up all the blood and guts and you restocked the shelves with sterile saline.

Eddie showed me the ropes on my first day at work. I was a little nervous about entering a sterile operating room, but Eddie showed me how to don my mask and get in and out of there efficiently with my mop so that the next operation on the schedule could begin on time. I shadowed Eddie for the first week or two. He was my role model and I liked him right from the get go.

Just so you get the full picture, allow me to inform you that this summer job I landed was in the south in the mid seventies. Eddie and all of my other orderly coworkers were black. I'd be a college graduate in another year and most of these guys had never made it through high school. I stood out like a sore thumb. As a hospital orderly for this particular summer, I was part of an interracial dynamic that was in the process of changing and I was aware of that.

I mopped extra hard every time I went into a surgical suite with another orderly. I wanted to show them that I wasn't just a privileged white guy who'd gotten his job through connections (even though I had). For all I knew, I was taking the place of one of their buddies who really needed the work.

But I never felt like I was a fifth wheel. Eddie and his friends treated me like one of the family. Maybe it was because of my dad. Some of the surgeons at the hospital were extremely temperamental. But everybody seemed to like my dad.

In between operations there was a lot of down time. As a pre-med student, I was expected to cruise the operating suites in search of good learning opportunities. Maybe I could peer through a window and figure out how to cure a disease. Every now and then a doctor, usually a good friend of my dad, would invite me to come watch part of an interesting operation.

But mostly the down time was spent with my fellow orderlies, Eddie and Roger, waiting for the next call to clean a room. We spent the time talking about whatever came to our minds. Roger and I talked about jazz. He introduced me to Grover Washington and Weather Report and I introduced him to John Coltrane and Clifford Jordan. With Eddie, I told a lot of jokes. Dozens. But Eddie told scores and they were funnier than mine too. Eddie had a real knack for humor. He was a practical joker, con man and jester. He made everybody laugh.

It didn't take much talking for me to discover that Eddie was a huge fan of major league baseball. He especially liked the African American players from Jackie Robinson on. His favorite team was the Dodgers, because they had broken the color barrier. But his favorite player ever was Monte Irvin, who played for the rival Giants. Eddie and I swapped baseball trivia questions all summer. And I think that both of us came away impressed with the other's knowledge. Two guys, different races, different ages and with very different backgrounds. But we had this common bond. Through jokes and baseball, we became fast friends that summer.

Jokes didn't by any means take a back seat to baseball that summer and Eddie was a consummate jokester. One of the jokes he tried to make a go of was the contention that he had at one time played shortstop for the New York Yankees. Everybody kidded Eddie about his claim and when they did he'd dance a step to the right, crouch down and act like he was scooping up a ground ball with a smooth throw to first. Graceful, to be sure, but this ruse from a 5 foot 5, 260 pound man was a lot more hilarious than it was convincing.

I tried to trap Eddie with questions about the real Yankees team that he had supposedly played for. But his knowledge base was pretty sound. The Yankees had spent a lot of time training in the south and he knew the team's history pretty well. I never found the smoking gun that would expose Eddie's lie for all to see. Not that I wanted to. As I said, Eddie kept the whole surgical staff in stitches (pardon the pun). Everybody enjoyed Eddie's antics.

September came around and I had to return for my last year of college. I said goodbye to Eddie and Roger and I promised to stay in touch. I sent them a post card from Boston after I got back and in October, when my Red Sox reached the World Series, I thought of Eddie.

It was a great World Series. People remember that series today because of Carlton Fisk's home run in game 6. But I remember it because of an incident in game 3. The Red Sox lost the game to the Reds 6-5 because an umpire failed to call interference on Ed Armbrister, who crashed into Fisk on a play and caused a wild throw.

I was outraged after that World Series loss and I took the time to write a formal letter of complaint to the office of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. "With all those cameras watching the game, can't you just let the umpires use the instant replay to get the call right?" I knew nothing would come of my complaint but I still felt better after writing the letter.

A short time later, I found an interesting letter in my mail box. It was from the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. They had actually read my letter and gotten back to me! I remember the letter well. Official color stationery with the now familiar, but then new logo of a batter zeroing in on a pitch. I read the letter. It was a very eloquent apology to me as a Red Sox fan and a very sincere promise to look into my suggestions and by the way thanks for your support of baseball, etc. etc.

I felt so much better that major league baseball took my beef seriously. Then I looked at the name of the guy who wrote this nice letter. It was Monte Irvin, Eddie's favorite player! The Giant's first black player and part of the first all black outfield in the major leagues. A Hall of Famer! I had to write this guy back.

I wrote back to Monte and thanked him for his very understanding response to my complaint. I really admired Monte Irvin. Here's a guy who had been booed in Atlanta because he happened to show up in place of Bowie Kuhn to be a witness to Hank Aaron's record breaking home run. (Kuhn had tried to meddle with the Braves lineup so that Hank would have an equal chance of making history at an away game). Monte Irvin was one of the greatest Negro League players ever, and he hit close to .300 in the bigs as well.

In my letter, I told Monte about his biggest fan, my friend Eddie. And I suggested to him that he could make Eddie really happy by writing to him and going along with the "I played shortstop once for the New York Yankees" thing. I never thought he would, but wouldn't it be great if he did?

When Christmas vacation came that year, I went home. And I stopped by Self Memorial Hospital for a visit. I found Eddie and I told him a few new jokes. But before I could start the first joke, he thanked me profusely for that letter he had gotten from Monte Irvin. The letter was hanging in a special frame on his living room wall for all of his guests to see. He grinned with pride from ear to ear.

Monte Irvin is still alive and in his nineties now. And he will definitely always be one of my favorite players.
 
Posted:  7/8/2012



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