EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations last year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
One of my most cherished honors is being among some pretty good Wildcat athletes in the “University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.”
I’m a member because I could snatch rebounds like a machine and get the ball in the hoop as a routine. But what does it really mean? For me, it hasn’t been something I’ve thought that much about day to day.
But a few months ago I got a little excited seeing a very familiar name on the list of super-jocks who were to join the club this year.
Dave Baldwin is the name. Pitching a baseball was his game. And I’m stoked that he and I are going to be in such a place of esteem together – because we go back before our college days, back to the Class of ’56 at Tucson High. Back to when I was stepping high, doing teenage boy things, testosteroned to the bone.
Oh, we represent times that stand tall in my rich store of memories:
In my mind I can see Miss Strack, one of my favorite teachers of all times, patting me on the back, with feedback for some tall tale I had written, or responding to some wisecrack of mine with that “Now, Ernie” look and that lovely smile that drove me wild;
I can see the “Jeepers” on the lips of some dudes pitching pennies when they looked up into the face of Mr. Gridley, the VP;
I can see Sharon G laughing at my silliness in period 3.
I can see Dave walking down the hall wearing a sweater with the big red “T” and a smile he has maintained to this very day, a smile that’s simply warm and inviting.
We weren’t in the same circles back then but we said “Hi” as he was and still is a nice guy, friendly, quiet, like his smile. A gentleman.
Watching him setup a batter with a changeup, that the batter misses by a mile, and then throw a blazing fastball that freezes him in his tracks with his bat resting on his back as the ump calls “Strike Three!” was a thrilling sight to see. He, like a man among boys, made it seem easy.
He, of course, did it at Arizona too where he threw a two-hitter against Fresno State in the 1959 College World Series.
Shortly after that he turned pro, going on to pitch with the Washington Senators, Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox.
But baseball is just one facet of this man’s worth to society. He’s a Renaissance Man to the highest degree.
I mean he’s got a Ph.D in genetics and a M.S. in systems engineering.
He’s published in publications like American Scientist and the Harvard Business Review.
He’s got a painting “Fugue for the Pepper Players,” that has a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and in John Thorn’s book on baseball too.
His poetry is under the name DGB Featherkile with credits in the American Poetry Journal, Blue Unicorn and the Atlanta Review, to name a few.
He’s been interviewed on “All Things Considered” on PBS and on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and has discussed the dynamics of pitching on Comcast and Major League Baseball telecasts a number of times.
His book “Snake Jazz,” a baseball memoir, reconnected us a couple of years or so ago. I liked the way his words flowed, the messages like: “Lose a game? Practice more. Fail a quiz? Study harder. Find new ways to succeed.”
He wrote the book in hopes that it would be something worth listening to, something wise that would keep his spirit alive. What he had to say was well worth listening to.
What a man. I’m so proud that Dave and I, two true contemporaries, landed in a place at our hometown’s beloved university for athletes who had some special kind of pizzazz, who had dug in and honed their skills to a level that was pretty to see.
“BEAR! DOWN!” it’s called in Wildcat Territory!
I’m honored to know this man, and to know, Hall of Fame aside, that both of us, in our late 70’s, are still doing well, still active givers to our world, writers, artists, loving people …
Because we know the game ain’t over until the fat lady sings and she doesn’t seem to be warming up her voice just yet.