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Granny Hamner
By John Poff

In the late '50s and early '60s I curled up nightly with Big Time Baseball, a
collection of baseball anecdotes which was my actual bible, where I read about
Granny Hamner playing in the big leagues at sixteen and Goose Goslin's three
errors on one play and Jim Bottomley's twelve-RBI game.

In 1974 I received $500 and an invitation to play professional baseball in Pulaski,
Virginia. I drove into town from the north and found the diamond instinctively,
walked onto my first ball field to see Granny Hamner throwing batting practice
and thought: "This is the real thing."

Over the next few years, he threw batting practice to me in dozens of minor
league ballparksóa decent b.p. guy for an aging middle infielder. The signature
of his ball, like hundreds of other pitchers, still resides in me somewhereó
impossible to realize as a dream of Indian tobacco.

In 1974 he walked through the clubhouse in shower shoes and a towel trying to
scrounge up a cigarette: "Do you all want to live forever?"

Tragedy had already hit him, his wife dying some years earlier. This was talked
about, if at all, in tones unfamiliar to ballplayers. Dan Boitano in '76: "He truly
loved that woman."

His minor-league roving instructor partner was Bob Tiefenauer: drinking
buddies. Smoking buddies. Tiefenauer from the Ozarks. Hamner from Georgia.

He talked once of growing up close to a tobacco factory and getting free smokes. "They were so fresh you could twist them in patterns like pretzels."

He was forty-six when I met him and I thought of him as an old manóthick waist and sagging jowls. I could no more picture him turning a double play than my
kids can imagine me with a full head of hair.

In 1974 he said, "The easiest thing in the world is getting to the big leagues. The hard part is staying there." He said this to me and Don McCormack and Ramon Lora and Kevin Saucier and others.

On umpires: "At least now they try to get it right. In the old days, they just
wanted to get the game over and get the hell outta there."

He was my manager in Reading in 1976. I had a bad year, a prospect-to-suspect year, and I asked him if I still had a chance. In a Bristol hotel room in late August: "I'm a John Poff fan."

In 1979 he was driving to a spring training game when a rainstorm forced him to pull over just short of the St. Petersburg causeway. Several cars passed him as a freighter hit the bridge and took it out. The cars disappeared.

I can't remember the last time I saw him. He died in late summer, years ago, in a hotel room in Philly. The local paper carried a paragraph about it.


JOHN POFF, like his friends mentioned here, appeared briefly in the big leagues but found it difficult to stay.

© 2002 John Poff


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