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Monday, August 20, 2012

Happy 87th Birthday, Larry Miggins! 

Happy 87th Birthday, Larry Miggins!

His Original Birthdate was August 20, 1925.
Happy, Happy 87th Birthday, Larry Miggins!

The party for family and friends was held yesterday at the new Houston home of Maureen Swanson and her immediate family. As one of Larry's daughters, Maureen did things up right and, as with all things Miggins, there was an overflowing of love, laughter, fun, and good times, even theatrics. With the help of another guest, Larry and his lovely wife of nearly 69 years, Kathleen, acted out a side-splitting "Irishman Goes Courting" skit that was the highlight of the day, even if I cannot begin to recreate what you really had to see and hear with your own eyes and ears to fully appreciate.

With some help from Kathleen, Larry Miggins blew out the candles on his 87th baseball birthday cake just fine.

The actual 87th birthday for Larry Miggins, the former Houston Buff and St. Louis Cardinal is actually today, Monday, August 20th. The actual birth year (in case you don't have that many fingers or a calculator handy was 1925. Larry's parents were Irish immigrants, but he was born and raided in The Bronx, NY. When Larry and Kathleen later married after meeting in Chicago, they actually kept the family Catholicism and Irish bloodline in the family about as purely as possible. Like his parents, Kathleen is also a native of Ireland who immigrated to the USA and "just happened" to meet the 6'4″ outfielder for the Cardinals on a road trip to the Windy City. – See Larry and Kathleen together and it should erase any loose notion that they met by accident. These two loving souls have belonged together since the beginning of time.

For those who don't know, Larry Miggins is one of the last few remaining Houston Buffs from the period of great rejuvenated interest in minor league baseball that followed the end of World War II. The other two from my period of close Buffs adulation are Solly Hemus.and J.C. Hartman, and maybe, if we care to get technical, a few really famous ones like HOF outfielder Billy Williams and former Colt .45 pitcher Dave Giusti and catcher Hal Smith.  All others have either passed on from this earth or moved out of the area and our collective conscious memory. I've never done any formal research on the list of surviving Houston Buffs still above ground anywhere, but I would be surprised by any list that exceeded 15-20 names.

Still, the deepest blue names of former Buffs I idolized as a young impressionable kid today are only two: Larry Miggins and Solly Hemus. J.C. Hartman and the only mentioned here came along after I was already in college – and a little beyond the hero-worshipping stage of my love affair with baseball. My other two deep blue Buff heroes, first baseman Jerry Witte and catcher Frank Mancuso passed away in 2002 and 2007. Those men also were irreplaceable on my shelf of childhood baseball role models.

 Larry Miggins played professional baseball for 9 seasons (1944, 1946-54). He played two full seasons as a left fielder for the Houston Buffs (1949 & 1951) and two partial seasons (1953 & 1954). His major league career consisted on only two partial seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 ( 1 time at bat) and 1952 (99 total plate appearances), working itself out as a .227 MLB batting average that did include home runs off HOF pitcher Warren Spahn and also the great Preacher Roe. In his 9 minor league seasons, Larry hit 143 home runs, including 27 for the 1951 Texas League champion Houston Buffs. Miggins hit those blue-streak liners that just took off on a straight line for the fastest, shortest, lowest trajectory they could find to get out of the park.

Later in life, Larry learned some things about hitting that could have turned his professional record on its ear had he met the right hitting mentor earlier, but that's treading upon a path of common human regret. A lot of us have something we've learned that we regret not having with us at an earlier point in our lives, but Larry Miggins, at least, did something with later-in-life discovery. He wrote a wonderful instructional book called "The Secret of Power Hitting" that has helped a lot of young players improve their game. The book is still available at Amazon on the Internet.

Larry Miggins has experienced three direct brushes with baseball history that we should note here. When he was breaking in as a baseball player for the University of Pittsburgh during World War II, he showed up early for the first spring practice, eager to get started and make an impression. When he got to the practice diamond, however, the only other person there was an old man who offered to play catch with Larry and help him warm up. Eager Larry dove right into the invitation, not even wasting time on the ordinary business of personal introductions.

By the the time others started arriving, Larry had picked up on the identity of his partner in the game  of catch. Larry had been throwing the ball around with a fellow named Honus Wagner, one of the volunteer coaches at the University of Pittsburgh during Larry's freshman season.

Larry eventually signed with the New York Giants and was assigned in 1946 as a third baseman to their Jersey City club. As a result, Miggins was playing third base for Jersey City on April 18, 1946 when Jackie Robinson of Montreal became the first black player to break the color line of Organized Baseball since the late 19th century. There's is a photo somewhere that shows Robinson stealing his first base in the former segregated-from-identifiable-blacks world of professional baseball. Robinson is sliding into third base, beating the throw to third baseman Larry Miggins.

Finally, and this story leaves chills when you you hear Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully telling there is the tale of Scully's connecting prophecy about Larry Miggins. It goes like this: Vin Scully and Larry Miggins were high school classmates in New York. As larry left to play baseball and football at the University of Pittsburgh, and Vin was moving out to begin his broadcasting career, Vin says he made this prediction to Larry:

"One day, Larry, you are going to be breaking into the big leagues and I will be one of the broadcasters on hand calling the game. You will hit your first major league home run in that game and I will be there to make the call over the air." (The preceding was a parenthetical representation of Scully's claim.)

Larry Miggins hit his first major league home run off Preacher Roe of the Brooklyn Dodgers as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals and Vin Scully was there as the rookie broadcaster for the home club Dodgers who made the call.

Larry & Kathleen Miggins
August 19, 2012

What more can I say? Maybe I could just sail away on a funny line that Larry threw out there yesterday in response to a personal question that one guest asked of him. The guest wanted to know why Larry had fathered twelve children, which, of course, he did. Most people who have just met the Migginses don't feel the need to ask about the larger family.The hear and see "Irish Catholic" and just assume that the ethnic and religious- cultural situation speaks for itself.

Fortunately, some people fail to realize an even more basic truth: "Never ask an Irishman for a straight answer when a funnier one is possible." Here's how that exhange hit the ground running:

Guest: "Larry, whatever possess you to think you could ever afford to raise 12 children? How did this happen?"

Larry: "It happened because my dear wife Kathleen was hard of hearing."

Guest: "Hard of hearing?"

Larry: "Yes. she was hard of hearing."

Guest: "How so?"

Larry: "Simple. – You see, every night we went to bed, as I was turning out the light, I would softly whisper to Kathleen: 'Are you ready to go to sleep or what?' She gave me the same answer every time. She'd say, 'What?' "

Good fun. Good Friends. Good people. Hope you have a second day of celebration on your actual birthday, Mr. Miggins. Give Kathleen another kiss for me too.

Slainte O m'anam







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