Gary W. Moore had lots of dots to connect about his father’s life. The problem was that, for many years, Gene Moore refused to talk about them.
Gary Moore will be participating in a handful of local events related to his 2006 book Playing with the Enemy as part of the Scott County Reads Together program April 12 through 15, and you can get a sense of the connections from the hardcover’s subtitle: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, & a Field of Broken Dreams.
Gene’s story itself is fantastic, but so is the tale of the book’s becoming – with a curious son and a reticent father, and with tantalizing bits of information finally put together into a narrative that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
There was, for example, the January 1949 letter to Gene from the Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league baseball system, promising to “give you every chance and our ablest assistance in making a capable ball player.”
Gary Moore found the letter when he was 12, and it aligned with other things he’d heard.
He remembers visiting his father’s hometown of Sesser, Illinois, when he was seven or eight, and a man stuck his head out of the bar and asked if he was Gene’s kid. A group of older men pulled him into the bar and talked to him about his dad.
In a phone interview last week, Gary Moore recalled telling his father: “They said you were the greatest baseball player to ever play” in Sesser. He continued: “My dad kind of laughed and shrugged and he said, ‘This town has 700 people in it. If you’re the best baseball player in the town, that really doesn’t mean much.’”
When Moore was about 16, an older cousin was talking to him about baseball uniforms. “He said, ‘When your dad came home from his first season with the Dodgers, he gave me his jersey. I wore that damn thing until it just fell apart.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘My dad never played baseball for the Dodgers.’ And he said, ‘Go home and ask him.’ I went home and asked my dad and he just kind of shrugged and said, ‘Don’t pay attention to him.’”
Moore said that as he got older, he was increasingly unwilling to accept those dismissals. But his father was equally stubborn. As a teenager, Moore said, he demanded: “‘Tell me about that letter you got from the Pirates.’ And he said, ‘I told you never to ask me about that again.’ And that was it; he just shut down.”
That’s one set of dots. Gary Moore knew his father was a good baseball player who’d gotten a look from at least two major-league baseball organizations.
The other dots are smudgy. There was a visit to the Moore home by a German man in 1959 – when Gary Moore wasn’t yet five. “I don’t remember any details other than ... my sister and I hiding behind a chair and giggling,” he recalled. “I think I was laughing at his language; he talked different than anybody I’d ever heard before.”