The tale of Jim Mudfish Hunter and the legend of Tommy Appleseed

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I received a letter in the mail the other day with the return address of George E. Sayer. My father, my dad… Pop.

Now, Pop doesn’t really call, doesn’t really write letters (unless you’re a candy company and you left his favorite green jelly spearmint out of the variety pack of sugary jellied treats that he received while serving as a surveyor in the U.S. Army in Korea. True story, he wrote a letter from active duty to the candy company to complain! He may have been in boot camp, not sure.) and he is a man of short conversations often ending with, “well son, I’ve run out of things to say, here’s your mother.”

So, when I got a piece of mail from him, I knew it was going to be special in some way or another.

Chuckles immediately commenced as I tore open the top and pulled out the above scanned copy of an article from his local paper, the Tampa or St. Pete Times, which are owned by the same folks. (Oddly, I’m wondering now if Chuckles was the name of those jellied candies?!)

Flashback early 1970s. I was likely wearing a BoSox cap and my Carl Yastremski glove, standing all of 3 feet tall ready to play catch at a moments notice. Dad was talking about the game coming up saying it would probably be a pitchers dual since it was Luis Tiant against Oakland’s Mudfish Grant.

Now, my dad is a good story teller, but don’t ever put money on him getting the names right.

I was a savvy baseball nut who collected baseball cards and I corrected him immediately. I don’t think he believed me and gave me one of his other famous lines (well famous in the family), “If you say so… can’t prove it by me!” I’m sure I dug out the card to show him that it was the star long-haired, mustached pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter that he was trying to name and I know we would’ve laughed hard and long about it. (We always found ways to laugh long and hard). We had no idea how he came up with Mudfish so we moved on. (And this was way, way, way, before Google or Siri, so we didn’t spend the next few minutes not paying attention to each other as we looked at our phones.)

Except, now it stuck and for years he’d say “Mudfish Grant” before catching himself,  and never really remembering Catfish Hunter. I think we were relieved and also disappointed when Catfish retired because we wouldn’t hear Pop butcher his name any more.

Now, we learned sometime later that there was a terrific barrier-breaking pitcher in Cleveland a decade or so earlier named Jim “Mudcat” Grant and my brother and I got the biggest kick out of this, and so did Pop. (Side story, the fun my brother and I had with this paled in comparison to the first time my brother and I ever heard the song “O Sole Mio” sung professionally and not by our dad. We both had the same reaction, they are singing the words wrong. Obviously, our dad was singing it right. “O solo mio, a pahhstay whilyo!” as he worked in the basement on a lawn mower or the furnace or something. I still belly roll laugh that we fell for it all those years! Pop was a master.)

So, this was an inside joke kind of letter from my father.

Of course it was! I should’ve known as soon as I saw return address.

With his one or two lines of hand writing on a scanned newspaper article, that I’m sure mom helped him scan, stating succinctly, “I kid you not! There really was a “Mudcat Grant!” (Actually, apparently, there still is since he was interviewed for the article.) and the follow up acknowledging line, “This has been sent to Bob and Dick” (I’m Dick.) so that we knew he included us both in this laugh.

This, of course, sent me into nostalgia mode.

As I said, don’t trust my father to get names right in his stories. I grew up playing a game called lawn bowling with my dad, grandpa and brother. We would travel for an hour or more to play in tournaments. On the way up, we would talk about old stories of bowlers on the green. On the way back, we would talk about the games we played that day. For years, dad struggled to remember the names of the bowlers in his stories. Usually these struggles were accompanied by a funny stalled hand gesture he would use when trying to think of a name or a word, almost like he was turning a crank on old wind up toy or model A car. Over the years, I actually got pretty good at helping him tell the stories because I would remember the names from previously hearing the story and after he’d finally remember the name of the person in the story, sometimes in the middle of the night when we were sleeping.

“Joe Briscoe,” he’d blurt out of nowhere.

“What?” we’d ask.

“Joe Briscoe, that’s the name of the bowler I was trying to remember earlier.”

Usually, we’d start laughing and then we’d be back to more stories for another hour or so.

So, next time he’d tell that same story he’d get to a point in the story where he’d stop and that hand would start its stalled cranking motion and I’d say from the back seat, “Joe Briscoe” and he’d continue on. We began sleeping through the night at these tournaments!

A great gentleman Scotsman bowler named Tommy McIntosh has appeared in many of dad’s stories as Tommy Appleseed. We found it so humorous over the years that we finally even told Tommy, though not sure he found it as funny as we did.

About the Author

Richard Sayer
Staff photographer at the Derrick and News-Herarld newspapers in North Western Pennsylvania.