George Altman, Man of Many Talents / by Dale Wiley

I have good news and bad news. The good news is I found a great first subject for my newly-expanded vlogging. The bad news is, I stupidly left my iPhone on camera mode, so I caught a picture at the beginning and end, and nothing in between. It’s too bad, because my first subject is a really interesting man, but I’ll do my best to write about the experience.

I had one of those “Right place, right time” moments today, which happen to me often. My friend Mike Tyson (no, not the boxer – the baseball player) asked me to go with him to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame induction. Mike played for the Cardinals when they were not exactly the juggernaut that they are now, but it was when I was just getting involved in watching baseball, so it’s essentially the coolest thing ever for me to get to go to a game and meet Kenny Reitz or Danny Cox or people I great up watching.

Today was especially like that, as we watched the induction and got to meet all kinds of interesting people, including Mike’s old teammate and one of the inductees, Ted Simmons, and actor Jon Hamm, who was there as a guest of Ted’s.

Don Draper

Don Draper

But the interview was another former Cardinal, a man who lived in many different worlds. His name is George Altman. He is 82 years old, but you would swear he was 60. He started his baseball career in 1955 with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues (in their last year of full operation), played with the Cubs, Cardinals and Mets in the Major Leagues (including making the All-Star Team in 1961 and 1962), then went on to play in Japan, Cuba and Panama. He also bought a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and worked as a broker for thirteen years.

George said that despite hitting two home runs off him in a single game (“he was just throwing where I was swinging”), he said Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher he faced. He thought Willie Mays was the greatest player he ever saw, and said his most talented teammate was Ernie Banks.

George said it was hard living and playing baseball in Cuba because Castro was so unpredictable. He described one time when Castro came to the baseball game and dissidents created a ruckus, including significant property damage. Having been there and seen what actually happened, George said he was a little alarmed to see the next day’s newspaper headline: US BOMBS CUBA AT BASEBALL GAME.

George recounts these and other stories in his book My Journey From the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues and Beyond. It covers a career which may have led him to play in the most leagues ever.

George now resides in Wentzville, MO. He is a fascinating man whose life has been lived in the most interesting places.

Next time, I promise to learn how to operate my phone.