In a town crazy talking baseball, Sam Gould tells a story that sounds like the opening scene of a movie:
Summer day, mid-1920s. Bright sun. A breeze blows in from left field at Muehlebach Field on Brooklyn Avenue. The Kansas City Blues and the Louisville bunch are wrapping up pregame workouts.
As the players come in from the field — bantering, spitting, spikes scraping the concrete — workers set about clearing the place of fans who had come to watch the sessions for free.
That’s the cue for Sam, age 8 or so, and other boys from the neighborhood to hightail it into a restroom, jump up on a toilet lid and pull the wooden stall door shut. A stadium worker checking for stragglers peers inside. Finding none, the man proclaims, “All clear!”
The box office opens. Paying fans soon fill the stadium for the afternoon game. Sam and his buddies climb down and join them.
Anything to see a ball game, Sam Gould said last week in his living room at Village Shalom in Leawood. He’s 97 now, and if we’re keeping score on telling baseball stories, he — to borrow a pennant-race phrase — may run away with this thing.
“I’ve been a baseball nut since day one,” he said. “How could I not be? It was right across the street.”
His father, wanting to move the family “out south,” got a house in the 2200 block of Brooklyn across from the stadium that was home to the minor-league Blues and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.
Sam sold newspapers at the stadium, worked as a bat boy, cleaned up, sold popcorn and peanuts and fetched sandwiches for players. He remembers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the New York Yankees coming to play an exhibition game after a World Series.
He used to “watch” cars for a dime. He advanced to operating Sam’s Stadium Parking for 22 years. He knew Blues players Phil Rizutto and Mickey Mantle. Then came the Athletics and the early Royals.
He became a fixture for generations of Kansas City baseball fans. A businessman, yes, but always a fan. And always listening to games on a radio.
Just like he will Tuesday night. He thinks this postseason run by the Royals is more exciting than even 1985. That year followed a long string of success, he said. Fans back then were conditioned to October play.
“This just came up new,” he said of this year’s Royals.
His daughter, Susan Barrows, is sure hoping the Royals can get past the Baltimore Orioles. She said it’s been an up-and-down year for her dad, but one constant all season has been the radio at his bedside.
Sam’s mother didn’t want him hanging around the stadium across the street.
She didn’t know anything about baseball but figured players to be shifty. She and her husband had emigrated to America from Eastern Europe. Neither spoke much English. She kept busy running the house while Sam’s father peddled produce.
“But there he was out there, just a little boy jumping on running boards offering to watch cars for a dime,” Barrows said of her father.
Gould said he and other boys in the neighborhood mainly wanted to get inside and watch the game.
“Subterfuge was often involved,” he said. “We played hide and seek with those guys working the stadium.”
As he got a little older, Sam figured out the stadium was a great place to make money in hard times. The stadium operators were always looking for kids to show people to their seats. Bat boy, ball boy. And ballplayers were always hungry. Gould would run to get sandwiches from a drug store down the block. For pay.
“I was always thinking of a way to make a buck,” he said.
Sam loved getting to know players. Like Joe Hauser, who played here in 1927. When the first baseman later set the professional baseball single-season record for home runs, he sent Sam a chart detailing each tater and each pitcher.
Every ball fan in the country knew the Yankees. Seeing how the Blues were a farm team for the Yankees, Gould knew a lot of those players first.
In 1950, he started Sam’s Parking behind the left-field fence. He charged 35 cents per car. He added other lots.
Then in 1955, Gould jumped to the big leagues when the A’s moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. The upper deck was added to what by then was Municipal Stadium.
So for 22 years — with the exception of the 1968 season, when the city had no baseball — Gould and his wife, Lucy, served as constants, friends even, to Kansas City baseball fans. He worked one parking lot and she another.
Blues, A’s, Royals, Chiefs and even the Beatles. Early on, he supervised parking at the Truman Sports Complex, taking pride that first Chiefs game in having everyone in their seat by kickoff.
“People still recognize Sam when he’s out in public,” said Jason Gladstone, his caretaker. “He was part of the game. They yell at him, and he waves back. Even now after all this time.”
Here’s some math:
Say Gould jumped on that first running board when he was 8. He still was going out to Surprise, Ariz., for Royals spring training as recently as five years ago.
He’s 97 — his daughter thinks he might be 98 — so that’s at least 84 years of watching Kansas City baseball.
And he still is listening to games. His vision is not so good and he has some health issues, but his sense of humor remains strong.
His cardiologist recently told him, “Sam, your heart is good.”
“Can you replace everything else?” Gould asked him.
His wife died in 1992.
“I’m going with a girl now,” he said last week. “But we don’t do much going anymore. Lack of transportation kind of put us out to pasture.”
He likes to talk baseball, sometimes with his daughter. She thinks he’s surprised she knows so much.
“My dad never tried to teach me anything about baseball, but he taught me everything by putting me in it,” Barrows said. “My parents didn’t get a baby sitter for me. They took me to the stadium with them. I was there and just being in that environment, I learned about baseball.
“And I’m glad we have that now.”
Gould spends time now with his philanthropic work. He’s made generous contributions to the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, including helping with new lights for the ball fields.
The walls in a room at his apartment are covered with photos of players and newspaper front pages:
“Kansas City Gets the A’s” — Nov. 2, 1954.
“32,844 see A’s win opener” — April 13, 1955.
He doesn’t see well enough to pick out a picture, but provide a few details and he’ll tell you all about it.
Shelves in a closet are covered with white photo albums containing all sorts of memorabilia. “A’s can’t handle Maris,” one story says. An ad shows Jackie Robinson in his Dodgers uniform hawking Chesterfield cigarettes.
Another newspaper ad says: “Let Sam Park It.”
A lot of fans did. That’s why people still yell his name when they see him.
The shouts make him happy. And 90 years after he jumped on that first running board, Sam Gould is glad to be in a town still talking baseball in October.