(Above, Mike signs while flanked by Yogi, Piersall and Ellie Howard at the Greenwich Old Timers banquet in the 1960’s.)
On March 19, six of the contributors to our book about Mike Sandlock met with the old catcher at one of his favorite places to socialize: Innis Ardens Golf Course in Greenwich, CT.
Alan Cohen, Stan Dziurgot, Peter Seidel, Don Harrison, Tom Monitto and I joined a dozen members of the Sandlock family in the Grill Room of that private club.
Mike endured bone cancer for some time. It reached a dangerous stage last September when his son, Mike, Jr., told me that hospice care was at the ready.
There were few signs of illness this day. Mike looked great for 100.
Old Sandbags was well attired and sweatered as he sat in his wheelchair at a Round-top with the six of us. Bright sunshine bounced off the fairways outside and streamed through the windows onto the white linen covered tables.
We were at a most unusual event, parties to a book presentation in honor of the 100 year old subject of that book. We each got our personal copy signed by Mike and engaged in chit chat with him. “Do you miss the Polo Grounds?” “How good a pitcher was Don Newcombe, really?”
Alan snapped photos and recorded videos that he has since shared on our Facebook page.
I sipped decaf and took measure of the process while formulating what I would ask Mike.
Don engaged Mike in a literate and substantive discussion because he is, after all, a real writer.
Mike was amiable throughout the gathering, which lasted about one hour. It was followed by a private luncheon with his family.
Before we excused ourselves, we presented the book to Mike. We offered congratulations. We offered hope that we had somehow done him justice. We also wished him love, a better year for his Braves, and many future blessings. He seemed to soak in the applause and good will.
Even though I knew Mike was very sick, his passing late last night (April 4) caught me by surprise. He looked as trim and strong as any centenarian could be expected to look. He was fully alert and conversant. If you asked a question, taking care to speak into his left ear, he replied directly and with detail.
His daily battles were somehow manageable, I thought, and his illness was slowly taking down this big man with the large rugged hands of a backstop. We would celebrate another birthday with Mike Sandlock, I believed.
But, it was not to be.
I sent to Mike, Jr. our thoughts and good wishes.
Today I am grateful for the team work of the contributors I mentioned earlier as well as Bill Nowlin, Len Levin, Steve Krevisky, Stew Thornley, Scott Ferkovich, Ray Miller, Lon Garber, James Ray, Norm Hausmann, Brian Wood, Ronnie Joyner and Gilly Rosenthal.
We started on the book project 10 months ago.
We presented the manuscript to Mike on Oct. 17 at his 100th birthday party.
We presented the book to Mike a smidge more than two weeks before he passed.
We were lucky.
RIP, Mike. It was an honor.