August 20, 2014

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Baseball researcher and historian to offer personal history of ‘America’s pastime’

Baseball fan Stephen Johnson III poses for a photo next to a memorial of his favorite player, Mickey Mantle, at the old Yankee Stadium; you know, the one that Ruth built.

OBERLIN — The approach of the World Series is a wonderful time for Stephen Johnson III, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

But afterward, he said fans of America’s most popular pastime will have to deal with a long, long wait for baseball to return.

“The time between the last World Series game and the first day of spring training is to be referred to as ‘the dark time,’” Johnson joked.

Johnson, a trustee of the Oberlin Heritage Center, will give an illustrated talk at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at Kendal at Oberlin, 600 Kendal Drive, one block east of state Route 58.

His talk, called “Baseball: Personal Stories of the Game,” is free and open to the public.

Johnson’s program will touch upon a number of topics, including his friendship with a major league umpire and his volunteer work at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

He also will speak about baseball sites he has visited and the great and not-so-great players he has met through the years.

As the son of a diehard Yankees fan, he grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle, and he got to meet the slugger.

Accompanying his talk will be a display of vintage photographs and memorabilia from Johnson’s private collection.

He has memorabilia involving circus midget Eddie Gaedel, who was hired to pinch hit in 1951 by St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck because of his tiny strike zone. Gaedel was paid about $100 and lasted only one game before the league instituted a minimum height requirement, Johnson said.

But perhaps his favorite story on a team trying to draw a crowd involves 10-cent beer night in Cleveland on June 4, 1974.

Rowdy fans were blitzed, and Cleveland had to forfeit the game, he said.

“It just got worse and worse with people throwing things onto the field and they finally ended the game,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who served as Oberlin High School band director from 1977 to 2002, said he tends to root for underdogs, so he is hoping Baltimore or Oakland goes to the World Series this year.

In all his years as a baseball fan, Johnson said he will never tire of the sport.

“I’ve never been to a baseball game in my life that I didn’t see something I’ve never seen before,” he said.

Send your Wellington and Oberlin news to Cindy Leise, 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.