Roy Sievers was a good player on some not-so-good Major League baseball teams from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1949, and was named to the American League All-Star Team five times before his career ended after the 1965 season.
He didn’t make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame, but when I was a kid he did something for me that I think makes him one of the greatest players of all time.
In 1959 Sievers was playing for a perennially hapless Washington Senators’ team that inspired comedians of the day to quip that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”
The Senators, who had a Class AA Southern League farm team in Charlotte, were scheduled to open the 1959 season on April 9 against the Baltimore Orioles. On April 6, the Senators played their final spring training exhibition game in Charlotte’s old Griffith Park against the Chicago White Sox.
I was in the third grade. I had a classmate named Keith Douglas whose father was a professor at Pfeiffer College in my hometown, Misenheimer, about 40 miles from Charlotte.
Keith and his parents were from New England, loved baseball, and were passionate Boston Red Sox fans. Keith’s dad got tickets to the Senators-White Sox exhibition game, and Keith invited me to go along.
The game was on a Monday afternoon, so Keith and I had to get permission to miss school. That request went to the principal of Richfield School, C.P. Misenheimer, who was such an avid baseball fan that he’d spent part of his honeymoon with his new wife watching a New York Giants’ game at the old Polo Grounds in New York. I don’t think he had a problem letting Keith and me duck out of school to see a big league game in Charlotte.
Keith’s dad got us to the ballpark well ahead of game time, and then turned us loose to seek autographs from the players. Recordings of Broadway show tunes were playing over the Griffith Park public address system. To this day, when I hear Judy Garland singing “Meet Me in St. Louis” I see the grandstand and feel the sunshine on my face and the grass under my feet as Keith and I set out at a dead run to chase players.
Most of the players were cooperative when asked for an autograph, and many of them were mingling with the crowd. Keith and I recognized them from their baseball cards.
We spotted Nellie Fox, the White Sox second-baseman, getting a drink from a water fountain beneath the grandstand. He was holding his trademark chaw of chewing tobacco in one hand while he drank. He was glad to sign for us.
Somehow, Keith and I got split up and started chasing players separately. I spotted White Sox pitcher Early Wynn in the grandstand, chatting with his wife. “Mr. Wynn,” I said, “can I please have your autograph?”
Wynn seemed to be amused by a little kid with a twangy Southern accent politely asking for his autograph. He teased me a little, asking his wife whether he should sign his name for this guy. His wife, however, didn’t much care for her husband’s teasing a child. “Oh Early, stop it,” she said. “Give him an autograph.”
I went over to the Senators’ side of the field, but by now game time was approaching and they’d gone into their dugout. I spotted Roy Sievers, leaning back on the bench with the bill of his baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes.
I leaned over the grandstand railing and yelled to him, “Mr. Sievers, can I have your autograph, please?”
He pushed up his cap and looked up at me, and grinned. He motioned for me to come down into the dugout. I was astonished. “I can’t,” I said. “They’ll kick me out.”
“Don’t worry, kid, I won’t let them kick you out,” he said. “Come on down.”
I shook my head. He motioned to me again, more emphatically this time. So I climbed over the railing, jumped down onto the field, and ran into the Senators’ dugout. I handed Sievers my pad and pencil. Still grinning, he signed it, but instead of handing it back to me he called out to the other players standing around him. “Hey, guys,” he said. “Sign this.” And the pad was passed around to every player in the dugout.
I was stupefied, and I think I just stood there speechless with my mouth hanging open. Everyone, including Senators’ manager Cookie Lavagetto, signed the pad. Sievers handed it back to me. I finally managed to say something like “Wow, thank you, Mr. Sievers,” then ran up the dugout steps and scrambled back into the stands.
Sievers hit a home run over the left field wall that day, which I remember clearly, but the Senators still lost, 9-6, to the White Sox, who would go on to win the American League pennant in 1959.
That pad with Roy Sievers’s and other players’ signatures became one of my most prized possessions, but somehow, over the years, it disappeared. Still, the memory of Sievers grinning and motioning me to come into the dugout is as vivid as if it had happened a few days ago.
Photo: The Topps 1959 baseball card for Roy Sievers.