Don Blackís GREATEST VICTORY

By Gordon Cobbledick

Donald Paul Black was becoming modest after pitching a no-hit game against the Philadelphia Athletics on July 10, 1947, but his humility took none of the traditional forms.

What he said was-and there was a touch of grimness in the way he said it: "You can chalk that victory up for Alcoholics Anonymous."

To pitch a no-hit game in these days of power-hitting demands a rare combination of skill, endurance, intelligence and plain luck. The pre A.A. Don Black could have contributed none of them.

Like the thousands of other ex-drunks who have banded themselves together for mutual protection in Alcoholics Anonymous, Black asks and accepts no personal credit for the startling reformation that lifted him from the brink of obscurity into the company of baseball immortals.

Black didnít drink because it was fun. He drank because he couldnít help himself. But Alcoholics Anonymous helped him as it has helped thousands.

In his gratitude, Black has voluntarily renounced his anonymity that is one of the foundation stones of A.A., in order to publicize the job that the organization can do for the thousands who are afflicted as he was.

Connie Mack, 85 year-old manager of the Athletics, was easily the most surprised person in the Cleveland Stadium the night Don Black shut out his hard-hitting team without a hit or anything resembling one.

Connie, noted for his patience with base-ballís problem children, lost patience with black after several years of trying to induce him to give up liquor and capitalize on his baseball talents. Connie appealed to Donís pride, to his pocketbook and to his sense of loyalty to his wife and two pretty young daughters. Nothing worked.

The Athletics finally were glad to let Black go to the Cleveland Indians.

In 1946 Black won only one game for Cleveland. He was shipped down the river to Milwaukee where against minor league opposition, he lost five games, won none.

Shortly after Don had been sent to the minors, Bill Veeck, a 32-year-old ex-marine whose father had been president of the Chicago Cubs, organized a syndicate that bought the Cleveland franchise. Veek knew hoe badly the Indians needed pitchers and he knew that the alcoholic Black couldnít help them. But he also knew about A.A.

When the Milwaukee season ended Veeck asked Black to stop off in Cleveland on the way to his Virginia home. He and his business manager talked long and earnestly with the wayward pitcher. They found only one encouraging sign: Black admitted despairingly that the stuff had him licked.

"Not if you can say that," Veek assured him.

He sent for some representatives of Alcoholics Anonymous. They told Don that every one of them had been a drunken sot who had been restored to a respected place in the community through the understanding offices of A.A. With a shrug that said: "What can I lose?" Don agreed to give it a trial.

Veek obtained a winter job for him in Cleveland and the A.A. organization went to work.

Don made his first semi-public appearance at a dance given by Veek. Some acquaintances failed to recognize the good-looking clear-eyed man who, accompanied by a pretty young woman, smiled a hello, asked if he might sit at their table, and ordered a coke.

The acquaintances responded with a vague "good evening," prepared to resume sipping their highballs and then, with a "double take" straight from the Hollywood studios, saw that the late arrivals were Don Black and his wife, Betty.

Donís first pitching assignment in the 1947 season was against the Detroit Tigers. He won 5 to 3, but it was a tough game. In one of the middle innings, when he was engaged in pitching his way out of a jam, a press box cynic speculated: "I wonder what heíd give for a slug of bourbon."

Black answered the question later with a smile.

"All I wanted in that situation was a fresh stick of chewing gum. Bourbon doesnít even tempt me."

Later he was subjected to a stiffer test when he lost a succession of extremely well pitched games through the batting weakness of his teammates. But A.A. was still on the job to encourage him.

"Iím living a new life," Black said recently. "Iím beginning to appreciate friendships I almost ruined. Physically, Iím 100 percent improved. Iím grateful to a lot of folks in and out of A.A. who helped to keep me from sliding all the way down."

Betty Blackís eyes were moist as she added her testimony:

"Itís hard to put into words. Just say were happy now."

With the 1948 season well under way. Black was pitching well for Cleveland and still a total abstainer.

Black is not the first ball player to be saved by Alcoholics Anonymous. Rollie Hemsley was a notorious drunkard when, several years ago, he placed himself in the hands of A.A. At that time there was no A.A. group in Cleveland, and Hemsley had to go to Akron to meetings. Today Cleveland has more than 70 groups with membership up to 300 in each.

Like Black, Hemsley gladly surrendered the anonymity to which he was entitled, and through the publicity attending his reclamation was largely responsible for saving many prominent Clevelanders from alcoholism. Both players agree with medical authorities that alcoholism is a disease and that no stigma attaches to one who allows it to be known that he has been cured.

It is a peculiarity of A.A. that its members make no effort to sell total abstinence.

"If you can drink and handle it," they say, "youíre lucky. We wish we could."

Don Black doesnít even wish he could. He isnít interested.

American Weekly©, September 12, 1948


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