I admit it, I am a sucker for a happy ending. In that regard, I find myself thinking lately of a lifetime friend of mine, Bob Bolin. Bobby was a member of Smyrna Baptist Church in York County, SC while we were both teenagers. My father, a bi-vocational minister, was his pastor, and I spent a lot of time at his home.
A few of you may have heard of Bob. He was a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants for several years and finished his career with the Boston Red Sox. I remember any number of stories about Bob, one of which had a happy ending.
I will never forget the day when he was throwing a tennis ball against a barn and invited me to try to hit his pitches. Using a tobacco stick, I swung vainly at six or eight of his fastballs, but then he threw a screwball, which breaks from left to right, in other words, toward a right-handed batter. He was timed in the majors as throwing various pitches faster than 100 miles per hour, and the screwball he threw me that day was rapid enough. The ball broke sharply toward me and hit me in my left side. To be sure, it caused incredible pain and left a bright red imprint in my side. That Bob Bolin story did not have a happy ending.
In reference to how hard Bob threw a baseball, I remember the day that Joe Morgan, the Hall-of-Fame Cincinnati Reds second baseman, was doing the color for the major league Game of the Week. Ryan Duren, the Yankees’ reliever, noted for how hard he threw, was on the mound, and Joe and the other announcer were talking about how hard Duren was throwing. Morgan paused to say, “But I have to say that the fastest thrower I ever batted against was Bob Bolin of the Giants. His fastball was easily more than 100 miles per hour.” That is still not the Bob Bolin happy-ending story.
In 1962, the Giants were playing against the Yankees in the World Series. In one of the games, Bob Bolin was called in to face Joe Pepitone, Roger Maris, and Mickey Mantle. He got all three out and saved the game. That was not a story with a happy ending, however, for Maris and Mantle are both in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but Bob Bolin was never nominated for the Hall.
There was, however, a Bob Bolin story with a happy ending. It happened in Chicago on a Sunday afternoon in July. Bob was scheduled to start against the Cubs in a 1:00 p. m. game. He had always wanted to attend a service at the famous Moody Church. When he informed his manager, Alvin Dark, that he would be going, Dark, also a devout Christian, warned him to be at Wrigley Field in time to warm up for the game, and Bobby reassured him he would be on time.
As the Moody Church pastor was completing his sermon, Bob began to edge toward the end of the pew, preparatory to a quick exit. At the end of his sermon, however, the pastor announced, “I have noticed that lately, some people have been slipping out during the closing hymn. I am instructing our ushers to block the exits and to allow no one to leave until after the closing prayer.
Bob did not get to Wrigley until a few minutes before game time. A frustrated Alvin Dark instructed, “You only have time for a few warm-up pitches. Do your best; I will relieve you early if I need to.” Now the happy ending. Bob Bolin, short-changed on warm-up pitches, the object of his manager’s displeasure, and feeling incredible pressure, did not have to be relieved “early,” or at all. That day he pitched a complete game shutout, giving up only two runs, and defeating the Cubs.
As was so like him, Bob gave the praise and credit to God for his happy ending. He passed away three months ago, having lived a life itself that had a happy ending. After baseball, he became a successful businessman, a popular lay preacher, and an inspiration to young people across South Carolina. I have even forgiven him for the tennis ball incident, even though I well remember the pain and the ugly red spot in my side.