He was there to ‘catch’ Teddy Ballgame's 1,000th
I found it such a fascinating story that I never needed the finer details. I’d sit on my grandfather’s lap and listen to him tell how he was one of the few people in the stands the day Ted Williams got his 1,000th extra base hit.
Somehow I always pictured him leaping for the home run ball, but my Grampie, rarely one to make himself look better than he was, would always remind me how he actually reached down between a crowds of kids to snatch it away.
Fenway Park officials whisked Erik Skaanning down to the clubhouse, where they offered him various signed items if he’d give the ball back to Teddy Ballgame so it could be enshrined in the Major League Baseball Hall of fame. My grandfather agreed, and the replacement ball from Williams, signed “in exchange for my 1,000th extra base hit,” would sit in a plastic case on his dresser until he died.
That worn old ball was one of those things I always liked to boast about as a child, like my grandfather snagging Ted’s 1,000th extra base hit all the way back in 1958 somehow made me famous. The Hall of Fame display itself would display my grandfather’s name, an extra tidbit I loved to throw in.
For some reason that I can’t explain, I’d never looked up any other details on the famous home run ball until recently. According to an Associated Press story a day after the big hit, it was a “swish of his bat” that put Williams “into a select group of nine other baseball immortals.” With a runner on base, he “slammed” a Ned Garver pitch into the right field stands in the ninth inning of an otherwise meaningless 11-4 loss to the Kansas City Athletics.
My grandfather, a World War II veteran, worked as a newspaper printer for 53 years before his retirement. I don’t remember ever asking him, but he was probably working the presses later that night after the game. Some may have questioned whether Williams was the best hitter of all time, but for Erik Skaanning, there was no question.
That story I’d hear so often as a child was a big reason I would end up becoming such a fan of baseball and the Boston Red Sox. It was those moments we shared back then that made it even more special when we finally got to see them win it all in 2004.
The ball my Grampie got that April day in '58 would have been worth so much more if the Splendid Splinter hadn’t personalized it to "Erik," he said, but to me it was priceless exactly the way it was.