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Old 07-18-2019, 06:03 PM
droid714 droid714 is offline
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Default Remembering Johnny Romano (Funny, true story!)

Remembering Johnny Romano

I’d like to apologize up front for the length of what I’m about to write, but a certain amount of back story is necessary in order to completely understand it.

I was saddened to hear that on February 24, 2019, Johnny Romano passed away. As a fan of the Cleveland Indians growing up in the early 1960’s, he was my favorite player. He spent five seasons with the Indians but only played the full schedule in 1961 and 1962. As a young player, he caught 108 games in 1960, after joining the Indians prior to that season and was the starting catcher the next two seasons. Early in 1963, he suffered a badly broken hand. Since he was the most potent offensive weapon on a very weak Indians team, he was rushed back into the lineup after only two weeks, rather than the six weeks that the doctors had recommended. As a result, his hand never healed properly, which affected his batting stroke and likely ended his career prematurely. He missed much of the 1963 season and his production suffered in 1964 to the point that he was traded, along with Tommy John and Tommy Agee, to the White Sox to reacquire Indians’ fan favorite Rocky Colavito.

At a time when catchers and middle infielders were coveted for their defensive skills, Romano was a catcher who could hit for average and power. Despite only playing two full seasons as an Indians catcher, he put up some impressive numbers. When he was traded to the White Sox following the 1964 season, Romano held many single season team records for Indians catchers, including most home runs (25), most RBI (81), most runs scored (76), slugging average (.483) and OPS (.860). He was tied for first in walks (73) with Steve O’Neill (in 1922), was second in hits (152) behind Steve O’Neill’s 157 in 1920, was third in average (.299) behind Steve O’Neill’s .321 in 1920 and .311 in 1922, was third in OBP (.377) behind Steve O’Neill’s .423 in 1922 and .408 in 1920.

Victor Martinez tied his home run total (25) in 2007 but played 30 games at first base and three at DH. Carlos Santana hit (27) homers in 2011 but played 66 games at first base and one at DH. Sandy Alomar surpassed his RBI total with (83) in 2007, although he played for a much better offensive team and had more RBI opportunities. Martinez had three seasons with more hits, but in two of those seasons he played a significant number of games at 1B/DH. Santana scored more runs in 2011 and Martinez scored more runs three times, but in each case, both played significant numbers of games at 1B/DH. Santana surpassed his walk total in 2011, but as noted, played many games at 1B/DH. Martinez beat his average three times (.301, .305 and .316), his OBP twice (.378 and .391), his slugging average twice (.492 and .505) and his OPS once (.879), but with the same caveat.

Romano was also an excellent defensive catcher with a good throwing arm. He played so close to the plate that on several occasions he was struck on the back of the head during the batter’s back swing.

He was also a member of both All-Star teams in 1961 and 1962. For those who don’t know, MLB played two All-Star games each year from 1959 through 1962. Of the four A.L. catchers who played in the four All-Star games in 1961-62, Romano had the only hit. Romano was the starter in both games in 1961 and a reserve in both games in 1962 and went 1 for 6. Earl Battey started both games in 1962 and went 0 for 4. Elston Howard and Yogi Berra were reserves both years; Howard went 0 for 4 and Berra went 0 for 1. To be fair, the A.L. managed only 4 hits in each of the first three games.

Keeping all of the above in mind, let’s go back in time to the summer of 1966. I was an 11 year old boy who collected baseball cards and was a huge Cleveland Indians fan. At some point during that season, several of my friends and I decided that we were going to start collecting autographs of the players after the games. Remember, this was a much different time. There was no Internet, no eBay and autograph collectors collected them to keep and cherish, not to sell for a profit.

We would go downtown to the old Municipal Stadium and wait outside the players exit for the players to come out so that we could approach them for their autograph. Most were more than happy to sign and I got some pretty cool autographs that year, including Rocky Colavito and Emmett Ashford. For those of you who don’t know, Ashford was the first African-American umpire in MLB.

By this time, my favorite player, John Romano, had been traded to the Chicago White Sox. One weekend, the White Sox were in town and I convinced my friends to go to the game on Saturday so that I could get his autograph. Romano wasn’t in the lineup that day, but one of my friends always brought binoculars to the games and I was able to see him in the visitor’s dugout.

Determined to get his autograph and not wanting to risk missing him if he left early, I left my friends and went out to the player’s exit around the seventh inning. The game finally ended and my friends joined me to try for some autographs.

At first, the parking lot was swarming with people and cars as they left the parking lot. Before too long, the players began to exit the stadium and all the kids who had waited began to chase after them for autographs. Since I didn’t want to take a chance on missing Romano, I stayed patiently at the door and ignored the rest of the players.

After about a half hour or so, the crowds had thinned and the parking lot was nearly empty, yet Romano had not yet come out of the stadium. The kids who hung around after the game for autographs had mostly gone and my friends were getting anxious to leave too. I told them to go ahead and leave, I was going to wait for Romano. To their credit, my friends hung around for about another half hour before giving up and heading home. By this time, the parking lot and the area surrounding the stadium were completely deserted. Even though it was a much different time, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, being alone in that deserted parking lot.

It was nearing 5:00 P.M. and the game had been over for hours. I was about to admit defeat and turn around and head home when the player’s door suddenly opened and out walked Johnny Romano! My patience had paid off! He had some sort of luggage in each hand and I walked up to him and asked very politely: “Mr. Romano, may I please have your autograph?” To my chagrin, he replied just as politely, “Sorry kid, can’t do it.”

I don’t know how many of you remember the old Municipal Stadium, so try to picture this in your mind. It sat on a peninsula of land with Lake Erie on one side and the other three sides were surrounded by a concrete parking lot. There was absolutely nothing else for miles around. When I asked him for his autograph, we were the only two people who could be seen in any direction. There wasn’t a car or another person anywhere to be seen. It’s not like if he had agreed to sign an autograph for me he would have been swamped by autograph seekers and been tied up for an hour while he signed. In fact, in the time it took him to refuse my request, he could have already signed.

Having waited this long for this opportunity and not quite understanding why he would refuse, I asked him again, very politely, “Please Mr. Romano, could I please have your autograph?” Again, he politely declined, saying: “I gotta carry these bags.” Not willing to give up after getting so close to my objective, I replied: “I can carry the bags for you!” He replied: “Sorry kid, I gotta go.”

Again, I’m not sure how many of you remember the old Municipal Stadium, but there was basically only one way to access it and that was to cross the West Third Street bridge. So there we were, just the two of us, walking the three-quarters of a mile in silence from the Stadium to the Terminal Tower on Public Square, with Romano in the lead and me walking silently a few steps behind him. Talk about awkward!

Fast forward about 30 years. I’d stopped collecting autographs after the 1966 season and had long since thrown out my baseball card collection, although I was still a huge Cleveland Indians fan. I had a friend who collected baseball memorabilia and on occasion I used to scan through his copies of a publication called the Sports Collector’s Digest which used to advertise sports collectibles for sale and ran ads for card shows, both local and national.

One day, I noticed an ad for a card show in the Chicago area that was celebrating the 1959 Chicago White Sox AL pennant winning team. There were going to be many members of that team signing autographs for a fee. As I scanned the long list of signers, I was stunned to see the name “Johnny Romano.” Next to his name it read “Very tough autograph!” I thought to myself: “Boy, you ain’t kidding!” No other signer had this written next to their name. As the show was going to take place over a weekend, I made plans to go. I figured I’d get a chance to ask Romano why he would refuse a kid his autograph so many years ago.

I want to take a moment to explain that I wasn’t emotionally damaged by his refusal to give me his autograph; I didn’t lie awake at night plotting ways to get my revenge. I hadn’t thought about Romano or the autograph incident for decades. But now that the opportunity presented itself, I had grown extremely curious.

The card show was scheduled to begin at 11:00 A.M. Chicago time so I planned on leaving Cleveland at about 6:00 A.M. for what should have been about a five hour trip. The morning of the card show came with one of the worst thunderstorms I had ever seen. Visibility throughout the entire white knuckle trip was practically zero, but I finally arrived at my destination.

I entered the card show and immediately made my way to the autograph tables in the back. I had brought a couple of items to have signed by Romano and I bought a baseball at the show to have him sign as well. The show had just opened up and there were very few people milling about and there was no one, beside myself, at the autograph tables.

The way the autograph tables were set up was that there were two players at each table, each seated near one end. Seated at the table with Romano, was pitcher Dick Donovan who had also spent time with the Indians. Coincidentally, Donovan pitched for the Indians at the very first MLB game I attended at age 7 in 1962. I approached their table, trying to think of a way to ask Romano why he stiffed me back in 1966 without sounding like a crazed and dangerous stalker. So I handed him the items I had wanted autographed and turned to Donovan and mentioned that he had pitched the first game I had ever attended. He remembered that game well because he had hit two home runs in that game which is uncommon for a pitcher. Amazingly, Donovan was able to recall details from that game as if it had just taken place the day before! He remembered which players had gotten hits off of him and what the game situation was at the time and what pitches he threw!

Almost immediately, Romano joined the conversation. He was not at all like what I had anticipated. He was open and jovial and was cracking jokes with Donovan and seemed like a genuinely nice person. Since so few people had arrived at the show to this point, I spent a good half hour talking and joking with Romano and Donovan and had a great time. Both were very friendly and seemed to enjoy reminiscing about their time with the Indians and both had great stories to tell. Romano, jokingly, told of how he blamed Joe Adcock for his poor performance in 1963. Romano explained that since joining the Indians in 1960, he had worn uniform number 11. Adcock, who had joined the Indians prior to the 1963 season and was nearing the end of a very solid major league career, wanted to wear number 11. Romano was in no position to refuse his request and ended up wearing number 9 in 1963. Romano claimed that it was the change in uniform number that was the beginning of the end of his career!

Finally, others started to line up for autographs so I said goodbye and left, without ever asking Romano the question I had drove in from Cleveland to ask.

But I was still dying to know the answer to my question. Romano was born in 1934, so he would have been 60 years old at the time of the show. I figured that now that he was doing autograph shows, I would have plenty of opportunities to see him at another show and I could ask him then. Maybe he would even do a show in Cleveland. Despite scouring various publications and keeping my eyes and ears open over the coming years, I never had another opportunity to see Romano. And now he’s gone and I’ll never know why he refused to sign an autograph for an 11 year old kid back in 1966.

If anyone reading this has any insight into why Romano would refuse to sign an autograph, I’d love to hear it!
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Old 07-18-2019, 09:54 PM
56Horsehide 56Horsehide is offline
J!m Be@m
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Default J. Romano

I can not answer your question but I really enjoyed reading your "1st" post. Well done.

Jim
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Old 07-19-2019, 03:05 AM
pclpads pclpads is offline
Dave Foster
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Thanks for posting a great personal story. As to your last sentence, I'd offer that Romano was simply being a total turd to an adoring kid for whatever his dubious reasons. Encumbered by luggage? Please! Just the two of you and he refused to sign? That's ridiculous. And unforgivable. FWIW, you likely weren't the first, or last that he pulled this shameful act on.
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Old 07-19-2019, 04:39 AM
barrysloate barrysloate is offline
Barry Sloate
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It sounds like he simply didn't sign for anyone, until he got paid for it. Then he was a happy signer. Good story.
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Old 07-19-2019, 05:17 AM
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LuckyLarry LuckyLarry is offline
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Nice story thanks for taking the time to post it
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Old 07-20-2019, 03:26 PM
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Al Richter
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Great post.

Don't know if you are familiar with the humorist Jack Handey who is known for his SNL Deep Thoughts, one of which was "Always carry two big sacks of something with you because then when someone asks you to give them a hand you can say, sorry, I would like to, but I have these two sacks". Maybe Handey got the idea from Romano
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