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The Herb Plews decision

This is a Christmas story wrapped up in a baseball story - a story of faith, belief and redemption.

I finally got around to reading a book given to me several years ago by my friends and former Boulder Daily Camera sportswriters Bill and Leo Hirsch. The book, "It's Not Who Won or Lost the Game-It's How You Sold the Beer," is an autobiography of Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff, who happens to be the only broadcaster to call the World Series, the NFL championship game, the NBA championship game, and the Stanley Cup finals.

I started the book last summer, but I'm a slow reader, and on Christmas morning, I decided to read another chapter, not knowing that it would be a touching story about a long-time friend.

Chapter 36 is called "The Decision." Wolff was the broadcast voice of the Washington Senators in the late 1950's. The chapter opens with Wolff talking about all the baseball games back then that were not on Game of the Week, games which were not televised or taped or recorded, and in his words, were "emotional moments, eventful because they involved feelings and compassion affecting players and fans alike, linked together in a sports drama. Like the Herb Plews decision."

Plews was one of Wolff's favorites on the Senators, and I had the good fortune to get to know Herb Plews and his wife Shirley in 1989, through my lifelong friend Mike Manion, the Hirsch brothers, Herb's Longmont neighbor Larry Stauss, and baseball cards.

Wolff wrote, "Herb was a team man, modest and dependable. He could play second, third, or shortstop, always with a top effort."

The second game of a double-header in Washington on June 3, 1958, against the Kansas City Athletics was not Herb's best day. The Senators had an early lead but it evaporated "in one nightmare late inning." Wolff wrote that Herb "attracted baseballs like a magnet, only they didn't stick to him."

"... With two outs, another Plews error and the Senators now trailed by a run with men still on base." Wolff wrote that the Senators' manager bolted out of the dugout. Would he keep Plews in the game, knowing that another blown opportunity would put the game out of sight? And an even more burning question. Would he subject his third baseman to the humiliation of removing him from the game? Or would he consider that Plews' future might depend more on a vote of confidence?"

Manager Cookie Lavagetto motioned for Plews to join him on the mound. Wolff wrote, "There wasn't a sound in the ballpark as the fans realized that a young man's career might be at stake. I mentioned this on the airwaves. I could feel the tension in the ballpark. [The manager] patted Plews on the back. Gave a thumbs up sign to the pitcher, and trotted off the field to unrestrained applause."

"Believe it or not, the next ball was hit to Plews. He bobbled it, picked it up, threw to first for the third out."

In the bottom of the inning, the Senators rallied, with men on first and second with two outs. And Herb Plews was coming up. The manager let him hit with the game on the line.

Wolff wrote, "The pitch was on its way. Herb swung, and his scorching drive to right-center provided the sweetest sound of bat meeting ball I had heard all season." Both runs scored and the Senators won the game.

Wolff continued, "A rare sight took place after the game was over. Hardened ball players had tears in their eyes as they rushed up to congratulate Plews. Herb's wife Shirley, clutching a handkerchief to her eyes, rushed up to hug her man."

Herb Plews made four errors that day, three in the seventh inning, but went on to play a solid four years in the major leagues for the Senators and Red Sox, hitting .262. He was humble and gracious all of his life.

In his later years, Plews had an impact on the Niwot community, and particularly Niwot High School, both through the theater program and the baseball program. In 2001 after a special recreation district proposal failed at the ballot box, Plews agreed to attend a "Dream of Fields" event held at Niwot High School to raise money for needed improvements to Niwot Youth Sports ballfields.

Plews spent the day talking with youngsters and adults alike, signing autographs, and telling stories of playing an exhibition game managed by Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, as well as his exploits as a major league baseball player, playing with Hall of Fame players Harmon Killebrew and Ted Williams among many others. The event raised over $40,000.

A few years later, Plews was invited to return to Niwot High School for the school's production of the 1955 musical, "Damn Yankees," in which a young man sells his soul to the devil to become a Washington Senators player who would help the Senators beat the hated Yankees. Plews attended and was introduced to the audience as a player who had originally signed with the Yankees, and was then traded to the Senators after a stellar year playing for the Yankee's Denver Bears AAA team in 1955.

Later, Plews attended a Niwot High School baseball practice during Coach Craig McBride's tenure, and spoke to the players during a break. After practice resumed, Plews stayed until the end, and each player came up and personally thanked Plews for coming out. Plews was touched by the players' unprompted gesture.

Shirley Plews died in 2009, and Herb Plews passed away in 2014. Their son, Reese Plews, named after their friend, former MLB player and coach Jimmy Reese, who was Babe Ruth's roommate on road trips, lives in Japan with his wife Kaoru and their two children.


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