Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Missouri
Published 2:47 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Owing to a golf friendship, there was an annual trip to Kansas City in
June for several years, which allowed for an opportunity to explore the
“Show Me” state whose geography is almost identical to the Peach State.
Grab a map and look at the two states, and you will find that the
western borders of the two states are very similar in configuration and so
are the eastern borders. You likely are familiar with the “hanging toe” in
Southeast Georgia which incorporates the Okefenokee Swamp. Well
Missouri has a “hanging toe,” too, and it is also in the same spot in
Missouri’s Southeast section.
Like Georgia, Missouri has produced or provided residency for
several big-league baseball players, the headliner being Satchel Paige,
who was born in Mobile but lived out his adult life in Kansas City.
I was able to spend time with Satchel, not in KC but Springfield,
Illinois of all places. I had arranged to drive over to St., Louis one day for
lunch with Cardinal icon, Stan Musial, at his restaurant in St. Louis. His
lunch partner was a minor league owner of repute, A. Ray Smith.
When I explained to A. Ray that I frequently sought out baseball ole
timers, he suggested that I come to Springfield and spend time with
Satchel. That turned out to be one of the most fortuitous invitations I ever
had. On my next trip to Kansas City, I arranged to fly to Springfield and
spend a day with Satchel. One of my prized possessions is a taped
interview with Satchel pontificating—unbridled. Such insightful
commentary, what fun!
Trips to Missouri allowed for time with Mickey Owen, the Brooklyn
catcher who dropped the third strike against the Yankees in the 1941 World
Series, game four, that led to a rally by the Yankees which enabled New
York to come from behind to win the game and start a tradition of World
Series heartbreak for the Dodgers that lasted into the fifties.
At the time, Owen was the sheriff of Greene County. We talked about
baseball for most of the afternoon. He noted that the Brooklyn fans did not
turn on him, especially girls who sent photos of him in bathing suits. His
wife, he laughed, ripped them up.
From Springfield, it is 110 miles to West Plains, the home of the crafty
Dodger pitcher, Preacher Roe. He compiled a 127-84 record with three
big league teams, once posting a 22-3 record with Brooklyn. He later
admitted that he threw the spitter. He neither confirmed nor denied
throwing the spitter in my interview with him, as I recall.
Not only was the interaction with these famous names in baseball a
fulfilling personal experience, I got the biggest kick out of traveling the state
and seeing the fields, farms, and small towns. I stopped at many
crossroads general stores and initiated conversations with locals.
You’d see kids, like all other kids across the country, weather
permitting, playing games at recess. Farmers on big green John Deere
tractors preparing the land for spring planting.
In the Amish community near Seymour, they still use horses to farm
or that is the way I remember it. I didn’t see a lot of mules on my drives
through the state which is widely known for this hearty farm animal.
For many farmers throughout the nation a Missouri mule was a prized
possession. A few high school teams in the state have chosen the mule
as team mascots and then there was “Charlie O,” the A’s long-time mascot
when Charlie Finley was the colorful owner of the Kansas City A’s. One
of my regrets was that by the time I began hanging out in Kansas City,
Finley had moved the A’s to Oakland where his teams won three World
Everybody seemed to dislike, even hate, Finley who advocated
orange balls and bases but couldn’t pull that off. He did succeed in getting
the owners to play night games in the World Series and influenced the
adoption of the designated hitter rule. I hated him for that.
He chose the draft picks for his team, he wrote copy for the team
yearbook, he made out the song list for the organist and designed the
uniforms. He bought white kangaroo shoes for his players. It was all about
With a phone phobia that never subsided, Finley always tried to keep
a phone within arm’s length. He even had phones installed in the office
bathrooms. According to an A’s public relations officer I once met, it
became a source of great joy to staff who loathed the owner, to see him
make a bathroom stop; they would then dial the phone and hang up as
soon as he answered.
“As his temper erupted,” the former employee said, “we had the time
of our lives knowing there was nothing he could do but cuss a blue streak.”