THE BIG FRIENDLY COP

THE BIG FRIENDLY COP

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Big Friendly Cop

“MEET THE HOME RUN TWINS, LOU AND BABE.”

Paul Simonitsch saw that headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press one morning in 1927 and took it literally: Meet The Home Run Twins. . . .

Young Paul was ten years old the day he saw that headline with accompanying photos of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, and he did what most any boy would do—he clipped it out.

Then he folded it neatly in half, carefully tucked it inside his shirt next to his chest and told his mom he was off to see the New York Yankees play a barnstorming game against the Yankees’ local farm team.

Out the door Paul hurried and started walking to Lexington Park. One and one-half miles later he arrived at the ballpark only to discover a problem in his plan. “I didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket,” Simonitsch, now seventy-eight, recalls from his California living room. “I only had fifty or sixty cents in my pocket. I think the cheapest ticket was seventy-five cents.”

What happened next is enough to make you believe in guardian angels. No, an extra quarter did not fall from the sky and land at Paul’s feet.

Paul Simonitsch’s guardian angel in the outfield did not wear wings, he wore a badge.

“A big friendly cop was standing by the turnstile and for some reason he spotted me,” Simonitsch continues.

“What’s the matter, fella?” The big friendly cop asked.

“I don’t have enough money for a ticket,” the sad little boy mumbled, almost through tears.

A big unfriendly cop would have told the sad little kid to “Scram!” But the big friendly cop replied in a deep whisper: “You get in front of me, Son, and just do what I tell you to do.”

You can see a twinkle in Simonitsch’s steel-blue eyes, a twinkle magnified by the lenses of his glasses, as he repeats the big friendly cop’s orders—“You get in front of me, Son, and just do what I tell you to do”—and then he continues with his very favorite story from childhood, perhaps of his entire life.

“He nudged me forward and forward. I was up to maybe his belly button. He pushed me right through the turnstile without anyone asking me for my ticket.”

The big friendly cop then took the little lonely boy by the hand and led him inside the ballpark, led him down a flight of stairs, and then down some more stairs until the two reached the box seats directly behind the Yankee dugout.

Then the big friendly cop sat Paul down on the very front cement step in the aisle, an aisle that was right in front of a miniature gate that opened up to allow access to the playing field.

“Stay right here until the game is over,” the big friendly cop said. In the fifth inning, Babe Ruth came out of the dugout to coach first base. First base, remember, was right in front of Paul’s seat on the cement steps. And the miniature gate leading to the playing field was also right in front of the boy.

“I said to myself, ‘By gosh, I’m going to try it,’” Simonitsch recalls.

“I opened the gate slowly,” the seventy-eight-year-old grandfather who was that ten-year-old boy continues, “and snuck right out to the first base coaching box.”

“I was scared spitless but I pretended I was king of the walk as I went out on the field,” he goes on. “I pulled the newspaper clipping out of my shirt and said, ‘Mr. Ruth. Will you autograph this for me?’

“He said, ‘Well, Son. I sure will.’ And then he said, ‘Would you like Lou Gehrig’s signature, too?’”

Paul, of course, replied, “No thanks,” and went back to his seat. No. I’m kidding. The boy looked up at his great hero and replied with a nod—because when he tried to say “yes,” nothing came out.

“You come with me now,” Ruth told the young gate crasher and then took him by the hand—Babe’s enormous hand gently engulfing Paul’s little hand just the way the big friendly cop’s had—and led him to the Yankee dugout just as the big friendly cop had earlier escorted the boy to a front-row seat.

You get in front of me, Son, and just do what I tell you to do.

“Lou was right inside the dugout in the very first seat,” Simonitsch remembers vividly. “Babe handed him my newspaper clipping and said, ‘Lou, sign this for the kid.’

“Lou said, ‘I sure will.’”

True to his word, the Iron Horse autographed the clipping and then handed it back to Ruth who gave it to Paul.

“Then Babe said, ‘Now go back to your seat, and stay right there until the game is over.’”

“I don’t think my feet were touching the ground anymore,” Simonitsch says of his walk off the field and back through the miniature gate to his seat on the cement steps. “I had an autographed picture of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.”

And what beautiful autographs at that! Unlike today’s superstars who scribble autographs—if they sign at all— Ruth and Gehrig signed in the smooth cursive script of an elementary school teacher.

Ruth, who would blast an unworldly sixty home runs that very coming season, didn’t hit one out of the ballpark that barnstorming day. But young Paul could not have cared less.

“I met the Home Run Twins, both of them! And got their autographs! What a prize!” Paul Simonitsch recalls, still thrilled by the memory all these decades later.

The prize, the proof of that priceless encounter, the yellowed newspaper clipping with the unfaded and perfectly legible signatures, no longer hangs framed on a bedroom wall—first Paul’s and then later his son’s—as it did for so many years.

Instead, it is hidden away where no one can enjoy it, locked inside a safety deposit bank box, too valuable— “I’ve been told it’s worth five thousand dollars, but it’s priceless to me”—to display.

Too bad.

And what about the big friendly cop?

“I never saw him again,” Paul Simonitsch says, a trace of sadness creeping into his voice and eyes for the first time all afternoon. ‘‘He disappeared. I wish I would have gotten a chance to thank him.”

Maybe Paul did. Maybe the big friendly cop was really the Babe in disguise on his way to the ballpark.

Woody Woodburn

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