As I was thinking about this week’s program, I found myself recalling a particular ballplayer I hadn’t seen in a couple of decades. When I’d seen him pitch in what was certainly his worst day in the Major Leagues, I’d been inclined to regard him only with sympathy. But then I heard another part of his story from someone who knew him much better than I did, and better than any of the people who’d ever bought a ticket to see him pitch.
Back in 1986, when the Red Sox began to lose a World Series that had looked unlosable, Bob Stanley was on the mound for Boston. He threw a wild pitch. Unless it was a passed ball. Didn’t matter. Lots of Red Sox fans came to regard Bob Stanley as one of the guys responsible for perpetuating what was then a streak of almost 70 years without a World Series championship.
Ken Coleman was doing play-by-play for the Red Sox then. He’d been in the booth for a long time. And some years after that extraordinary World Series, probably because Ken Coleman had written a book, I had the opportunity to talk with him at some length. He met with me after he’d come out of the dentist’s office. We talked in his car. He sounded just like he did on the radio, so he probably hadn’t had Novocain.
Anyway, for some reason I don’t remember, Bob Stanley’s name came up. Stanley looked more like the proprietor of a small-town bed-and-breakfast than a major league pitcher who’d signed a $1 million contract, back when $1 million was serious money, and he knew it. He once said something like, "God gave me a great right arm. I wish he’d paid a little more attention to the rest of the job." I liked that.
And I guess I also mentioned to Ken Coleman that once after a speaking engagement, a guy in the audience who blamed Bob Stanley for that World Series loss had told me, "I got no more Stanley screwdrivers or Stanley files. I threw 'em out. I hate him."
When he heard that, Ken Coleman smiled and shook his head. He said it was a good thing the guy hadn’t said that to him. He wouldn’t tolerate a bad word said about Bob Stanley.
"Why’s that?" I asked him.
"For years, I worked with the Jimmy Fund," he told me. "I was the guy who — when there was a child sick in the hospital, a kid with cancer, and we wanted to get a ballplayer to visit him, I was the guy who called the ballplayer. And Bob Stanley never said 'no.' When I called him, all Bob ever said was, 'What room number? What time?'"
That may not have been heroic. It may not have been. But it was good, wasn’t it? I mean, every time? Not one time saying, "Hey, Ken, I got a lot to do. See if you can find somebody else."
Just "What room number? What time?" and maybe, "Oh, and what’s the kid’s name?"
Ken Coleman died almost 15 years ago. Bob Stanley last pitched in the Majors in 1989, and last time I looked he was the pitching coach for the minor league Buffalo Bisons. And he sort of doesn’t belong with the other athletes whose stories we’ll tell this week, because — according to Ken Coleman — Bob Stanley didn’t see what had happened during that World Series game as something he had to overcome. He already had it together. Still, not a bad story to tell, maybe, in a show about how three people found their way to that end.
This segment aired on August 19, 2017.