Each installment of this new WFNY series is presented as a snapshot of a specific recollection from a particular fan involving the Cleveland Indians; along with thoughts on what (s)he was driving and the music (s)he was listening to. Today, our edited discussion is with Jerry.
GREG: Can you tell me a story that comes to mind involving the Cleveland Indians?
JERRY: In 1962 or so I was taking pilot lessons at Concord Airport with my high school friend. My goal was to be a professional pilot, a goal that was soon thwarted because at the time you had to have good, uncorrected vision, like 20/20, something I did not have since I was about 7. My friend went on to be a pilot for Pan American Airlines and when that airline failed he became a pilot for Delta Airlines. An interesting aside, his sister married Dennis Kucinich.
Bob Feller kept his own airplane at the Concord Airport.
GREG: I found a couple of first-hand accounts of Feller’s piloting during his career.
From Lou Boudreau’s book, Covering All the Bases:
But I must confess, there was something about Feller that bothered me, especially since I was his manager.
He flew his own plane, which was okay as long as I wasn’t with him. Once was enough.
It was 1940 and we were in Chicago, with an open date the next day. I stayed over to visit with Della’s family and I accepted Feller’s offer to fly back to Cleveland with him. We climbed into his little single-engine plane, getting ready to take off.
He handed me a list of about twenty-five things to do and told me to read them off. As I did, he’d check this and that, push this switch and that one, and I finally said to him, “Wait a minute. If you don’t know what to do without somebody reading the directions, let me out of here.”
Feller laughed and explained it was just a safety precaution. We took off and it was a good flight back to Cleveland, but I never flew with him again – and I used to worry every time he went up.
I read elsewhere that flying a plane was in defiance of Indians management due to the danger. Some years, like when he and Satchel Paige were leading opposing barnstorming teams, he’d log over 10,000 hours. Barnstorming wasn’t new: the Negro leagues had been doing it for years. But the biracial nature of the games was new. And the fact that they were now flying instead of taking trains and buses was new, as well.
Feller held his pilot’s license until he was 75 years old (1993).
JERRY: Of all the times I was at the Concord airport, I never ran into him but heard many times the following story. His plane had retractable landing gear. If the landing gear was still retracted when landing, a very loud buzzer and a flashing light would go off when the plane descended to a low altitude just before landing, to remind you to put the landing gear down before you touched ground. Feller forgot to do this on a landing, even though the buzzer was blasting loudly along with the flashing light, and he dropped the plane on its belly. This actually is not that dangerous, it just gives you a big jolt when the plane drops rapidly the last 3 feet before hitting the ground, the propeller snaps off, the bottom of the plane gets a little mangled and there is a lot of terrifying noise. The biggest effects are that it costs quite a bit to repair the plane and it creates some embarrassment for the pilot. This story would not be that unusual except for the following: Bob Feller did this same thing two more times!
GREG: Eddie Robinson is the last living player from the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians. He made an appearance in Cleveland during the 2016 Series. This is from his book, Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball:
Bob Feller owned his own plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza. An airport was located about a half-mile from Municipal Stadium near downtown Cleveland, and once in a while Bob would commute from his home in the suburbs to the game by plane. He had a small collapsible motor scooter he’d then ride over to the ballpark, right up to his locker in the clubhouse. One day, however, he flew in and forgot to put his landing gear down, landing on the Beechcraft’s belly. After that, he didn’t fly to the ballpark anymore.
JERRY: Wow! It is amazing what can be discovered online- I do recall that Feller did pilot a Beechcraft Bonanza. When we used to fly all over the northeast it was in a Piper Apache which was very special because it was a twin engine with a longer range, much faster, and could hold 5 including the pilot so we could split the cost to get it lower per person. When taking flying lessons, I used a much simpler plane than either of those, a Cessna 172.
GREG: So what airports did you fly to?
JERRY: Yes, many local airports including Burke Lakefront, Allegheny County Airport in Pittsburgh and even Hopkins. It was very scary flying a small plane into Hopkins among the large commercial jetliners. My experimentation with flying used to drive my mom crazy. She would say, “What did you do last night?” and I would say, “Went to Pittsburgh,” so I had a smart mouth even then.
I gave up flying in the early 1960s and never even got into another small plane until 2003 when I took a chartered business flight from St Louis to Indianapolis. I was amazed that the plane looked no different from the ones I flew in the 1960s except that the navigation system now had a large LED display that showed the weather. Everything else about the plane was identical – I felt that I could easily have flown it. The production runs in the Wikipedia articles show that they were produced for very long times.
GREG: What were you listening to around that time?
JERRY: My favorite popular musician was Ray Charles. I recall that when Ray Charles died in 2004, I actually cried, something I do not do for anyone I do not know personally. Ronald Reagan died the same day and I had no reaction whatsoever though this is not a fair comparison because I have never been a fan of Reagan’s.
GREG: Did you ever attend a Ray Charles performance?
JERRY: The first concert I attended was Ray Charles, in 1960. It was at Public Hall in downtown Cleveland. I went on a double date with a girlfriend and another high school couple. It never occurred to us when deciding to go, but when we got there and looked around I saw that we, plus possibly only 6 other people, were the only white people of the many thousands in the entire auditorium. Another big difference was that we were from the suburbs and everyone else was from the city. We felt out of our element until the concert started and then we felt completely at home.
Some digging online shows that the Raelettes, the Drifters, and Redd Foxx performed that night. I clearly recall the Raelettes, and I have a faint memory that the Drifters were there. I do not remember if Redd Foxx was there but he could have been. It was a great concert.
The only other rock concert I went to was Elton John in Louisville, KY, in 1970. I almost went to Woodstock in 1969 but was in college and did not have any cash.
GREG: Ray Charles’ music was so diverse. Rhythm & blues, gospel, country. I always think of his part in the Blues Brothers movie. I loved that.
Around 1962, he was about at his most popular- agree? My impression is that he was one of the long list
of performing artists that were kind of swept aside once the Beatles broke through.
JERRY: He may have been at his peak, although he really endured throughout his entire career. The advent of the psychedelic music era did prove to be a factor in artists’ popularity.
GREG: Do you have a favorite album? And if you were to YouTube Ray Charles, what would you look for first?
JERRY: Singles were more popular than albums, then. “What’d I Say” was, and still is, a huge favorite of mine. This recording quality is the best, especially compared to the poorer quality of the original recordings at the time it was released (those are also on YouTube). I still play this on my high end stereo.
GREG: So what were you driving at the time? What images come to mind when you think about that car?
JERRY: I was driving my blue 1962 Chevrolet Belair at the time. There aren’t many images that I’m willing to share.
GREG: Haha ok. Ignition in the dash? Bench seat in the front? How many could you seat in the front? What is your record for the most people stuffed into the car?
JERRY: Yes, yes, three, and six. These photos are not of my actual car but of one exactly like it. The only difference was that I mounted the exact same tach on the top of the dash, not the steering column.
GREG: I have heard that that car was way too powerful for its weight and you and your friends had to repair the rear end all the time due to hot rodding. Also, your friend apparently liked to peel out in front of your house, and you liked to peel out in front of your friend’s house, so each of your sets of parents thought the other kid was a bad influence.
JERRY: (incriminating silence)
GREG: What kind of trips did you take in it?
JERRY: Five of my buddies and I drove to Niagara Falls for a long weekend. We spent a night in Rochester, NY because the drinking age for all liquor was 18 in New York instead of the 21 criterion in Ohio (except for 3.2 beer). We went to a place I remember as Tony’s Bengal Inn, a large dance bar with more women than men.
It appears the establishment was actually called Tiny’s Bengal Inn.
GREG: I see that the house band was The Invictas, who apparently enjoyed some national popularity back then.
JERRY: That is the kind of music we were dancing to- songs like “Shout,” etc. It was great fun.
Thank you for reading. If you are interested in corresponding for a possible future installment of this series, I’d like to hear from you! Greg.firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can let me know with a comment below.