Listening to stories from the major leagues in the 1950s is everything anyone could ever hope for during an entertaining afternoon.
As a very little boy nearly 50 years ago, I began hearing about the O’Brien twins. How Johnny and Eddie beat the Globetrotters while at Seattle U, how Johnny scored at will on passes from his brother, how they played major-league baseball. And how they did all of this while being only 5 feet 9.
I heard enough about them that I felt like I knew them, but I could not have imagined ever meeting them. I thought about that during a recent two-hour lunch with Johnny O’Brien, finally meeting the legend my grandfather, father and uncles had told me about. My only regret was not doing this before Eddie passed away four years ago.
Johnny began telling me stories, and he started to worry that he was taking up too much of my time. I told him I could sit there for hours listening to him. I heard stories about Elgin Baylor, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron and more.
Listening to this warm, funny and remarkably humble legend was a labor of love and one of the highlights of my career.
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I felt like I did nearly 30 years ago when I interviewed Mark Koenig, the last living member of the 1927 New York Yankees, when I listened to stories of him partying with Babe Ruth and spending time at Lou Gehrig’s house. I knew that was something I would never forget and would one day tell my grandkids about.
I had the same feeling about talking to Johnny, and the first thing I did afterward was call my dad, and share some of the stories with him. Ones like these:
What, I’m pitching?
It was 1956, and when O’Brien got the call to get his arm loosened up in the eighth inning, he assumed it would be as a defensive replacement at second base for Curt Roberts. But Pirates manager Bobby…