- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2012


Thursday morning, after their 19-year-old prodigy had blasted two homers against the Miami Marlins, the Washington Nationals tweeted the following tidbit: “Elias [Sports Bureau]: Last night, Bryce Harper became only the 3rd teenage CF to post a multi-HR game, joining Ken Griffey Jr (‘89) and Brian McCall (‘62).”

Griffey’s name seems to ring a bell. Didn’t he hit 630 home runs or something? But Brian McCall, now there’s a trivia answer for you. And being an alleged journalist, I just had to find out more about him. Exactly who was this McCall guy?

Who would have guessed his story would take us to a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, King Street Blues? Who would have guessed he’s the artist behind the paper mache train that looks like it’s coming out of the wall there?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to Brian McCall the baseball player, the bonus baby who didn’t turn into Ken Griffey Jr. or Bryce Harper. In fact, why don’t we start with this: Those two homers he hit for the White Sox on the last day of the ‘62 season? They were the only two homers of his major-league career (which consisted of just 15 at-bats that year and the next).

The game, as fate would have it, was played at the original Yankee Stadium, a ballpark built for left-handed hitters like McCall. It was 296 feet down the right-field line, 344 straightaway. Even a 19-year-old fresh up from the minors could knock one in the seats.

McCall had made his big-league debut 12 days before as a pinch hitter. Two games earlier, in the opener of the Yankees series, he’d gotten his first hit, a ground single to right off Tex Clevenger. (That appearance, too, was as a pinch hitter — for Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio.) The only reason he played in the season finale, he said Thursday, “was because my mother [Brenda] flew in from Southern California. I introduced her to one of the coaches, and he told [manager] Al Lopez. Lopez said, ‘Well, let’s let him play. His mother came all this way.’”

In the third inning, Yankees starter Bill Stafford threw a fastball up and in. McCall socked it into the right-field stands, driving in two runs. His next time up, Ralph Terry hung a curve on the outside part of the plate. McCall pulled that one into the bleachers, too. Those were his last hits in the majors. By the age of 23, he was out of the game — and embarking on his next career as an artist and sculptor. (You can admire some of his oeuvre on his Flickr.com website.)

“Both of those pitches were pitches that normally I’m not going to hit that well,” he said. “I was a low-ball hitter, pretty much a pull hitter. On the first one, I was just sorta throwing my bat out of the way, and I hit it solid. As I watched it go, I just started laughing. On the hanging curve, I’m usually going to hit that up the middle, but I just connected.”

Naturally, Brenda McCall was thrilled to see her boy slam two homers in the most famous ballpark in the land, homers that had helped the White Sox beat the World Series-champions-to-be 8-4. The New York Times was so remiss, though, that reporter Robert Lipsyte didn’t even mention the feat in his game story. (Though he did mention Mickey Mantle’s 30th home run and the error committed by Chicago second baseman Nellie Fox, his first in 72 games. Go figure.)

Anyway, that was Brian’s One Brief Shining Moment. He got into three games with the White Sox as a 20-year-old the next season, went 0 for 7, and disappeared into the minors. An arm injury in 1963 was the beginning of the end.

“I went in the Marine reserve [that year],” he said, “and I didn’t throw at all for three months. But as soon as I got out of boot camp, I had to go immediately to spring training. So I didn’t get a chance to do the [preparatory] throwing. I knew I had to take it easy [at first], but I was in the midst of battling for a position. So within a week I couldn’t lift my arm, and I never could throw again. I had to try to throw straight over my head. I couldn’t throw from a normal throwing position.”

Who knows? It might have turned out differently for him if he’d gone to Southern Cal and played for the famed Rod Dedeaux, which had been his original intention. Problem was, he’d been a hotshot high schooler at Long Beach Poly, and the White Sox dangled a lot of money in front of him — $40,000.

“I was going to go to USC because all my buddies from high school were going there too,” he said. “But I knew I was going to be talking to some scouts and they’d be making offers. So I asked [Dedeaux], ‘What’s college worth?’ And he said, ‘Thirty-five thousand [dollars]. If you get more than 35 thousand, go ahead and take it.’”

Still, McCall — he goes by Brian Allen McCall these days — doesn’t regret taking it. His bonus, he said, enabled his older brother Brent to study music at Juilliard. (Brent is now a composer living in Germany.) Once his playing days were over, Brian enrolled at the California College of Arts in Oakland and learned to draw, paint, sculpt and express the nonathletic part of himself. He even lived for 25 years in Old Town, working at the Torpedo Factory and doing drawings for the Warehouse Bar and Grill and the aforementioned sculpture at King Street Blues.

Half a century after he hit two homers in a game at age 19, baseball is far, far in his rearview mirror. Except, that is, “when I need to get in a door,” he said. “Then baseball is used. ‘I used to play with the White Sox.’ ‘Come in!’ Everybody wants to meet me.”

In 1993, he and wife, Joanna, had just begun a family and were looking for a place to live. “In Alexandria, you couldn’t even buy a garage for under $250,000,” he said. So when they were visiting her parents in Greensburg, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, they decided to spend $22,000 instead — on a Catholic church that was on the market, Our Lady of Grace.

“We renovated it, and we’ve lived here for the last 17 years. It gave me a big studio downstairs. You know how churches are: big, huge basement.”

Half a century from now, people probably will be drawing portraits of Bryce Harper. But Brian McCall is perfectly content to sketch others. No, it isn’t the afterlife he might have envisioned in 1962.

“Here I am in this economic downturn fighting for survival as an artist,” he said. “But it’s total freedom, at least.”



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