Saturday, March 24, 2007

Heading for home

The old man leaned back in his chair. A quick smile came to his face. He didn't have to think long about the reporter's question. He already knew the answer.

"Marichal," he said. "He was the best pitcher I ever caught."

I'll never forget that interview with Lonas Edgar "Ed" Bailey. You might not know the name, but back in his era, Ed Bailey was one heck of a catcher.

Marvin West can tell you about the time Ed was named to the All-Star Team. Something about Cincinnati Reds fans stuffing the ballot box. It's a good tale.

What I remember most from that interview is Ed's personality. He had this great gravelly voice. Upstairs in his West Knoxville home, he showed me a promotional photo of him and his wife Betty from back in the day. He was young and strapping; she was beautiful.

"The kid looked good, didn't he?" Ed said.

Ed Bailey died yesterday, a victim of throat cancer. He was 75.

Born in Strawberry Plains, Bailey played college ball at UT. He joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1953. A career .256 hitter, he once hit three home runs in one game and banged out 28 homers in 1956. He also once caught his brother, pitcher Jim "Hop" Bailey, making the Baileys one of the few brother batteries in the major leagues.

Traded to San Francisco in 1962, Bailey later played with the Giants in the World Series against the New York Yankees. He also had stints with the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago Cubs and California Angels.

After his baseball career ended in 1966, Bailey became an aide to the late John J. Duncan Sr. He later served on Knoxville City Council from 1983 to 1995. His son Joe is a current member of city council.

I always thought Ed would have made a great TV color commentator had he not had that raucous voice. As it was, he seemed content to be a storyteller. The two hours I spent with him in '03 remains my favorite Shopper interview.

When I heard the news about Ed this morning, I couldn't help but think back to something Ed's onetime Reds teammate, pitcher Joe Nuxhall, always said.

Cause today Ed Bailey has completed his journey. Now, he's rounding third and heading for home.

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