Bat boy, now 100, gets birthday gift from Red Sox
BLOOMFIELD, Conn.—"Hi ya, young fella."
Babe Ruth greeted Arthur Giddon as he did most 13-year-olds, even those in uniform. Giddon chatted with the Babe for a moment but tore himself away because he had a job to do. It was 1922, and as the Boston Braves bat boy, Giddon had to break out the bats, polish some spikes and otherwise outfit his players for that afternoon's game at Braves Field.
Eighty-seven years later, on Saturday, Giddon will reprise his role for his now-beloved Red Sox -- as a special 100th birthday present, he will serve as the team's honorary bat boy prior to the game against the rival Yankees. The same hands that delivered bats to Billy Southworth and softened Rube Marquard's glove will do the same for Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester.
Now bat boying for the Red Sox: No. 100, Big Pappy.
"I'm going to do whatever they tell me to do, like any good bat boy," Giddon said in his home in Bloomfield, a suburb of Hartford, before referring to the Boston leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury. "I'm hoping that after Ellsbury gets the first hit I can go out and grab his bat, but I don't think they're going to allow me to do that."
Sure enough, liability issues will keep Giddon, however sprightly and willing, from bat boying during the game. But the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona are delighted to have him help out during batting practice.
"Baseball itself is a celebration of generations, and a celebration of bringing them together," said Susan Goodenow, the team's vice president of public affairs. "The ability to bring someone here who has such a history in the game, such a unique experience, it's just great."
Even Youkilis is pumped.
"That's pretty cool," he said when told of Saturday's special visitor. "The clubhouse guys always have good stories. A lot of the time you get the best stuff from the bat boys."
Giddon is actually turning 100 on Sunday, but his birthday party back in Connecticut pushed his Sox cameo up a day. Along with those bats, Giddon will hand over a whole different era of Boston baseball that took place one mile west at old Braves Field.
Giddon's father, Abram, was in the horse business -- commercial hauling ones, the type soon to be replaced by trucks -- but Arthur was more interested in baseball. After classes at Brookline's Edward Devotion Grammar School he would walk 10 minutes up Naples Road, Commonwealth Avenue and Babcock Street to the home of the Braves.
"You could walk in if you got there early," Giddon recalled. "I got to know the workmen at the clubhouse. I'd run errands for the players -- I got a job picking up tonic bottles and putting them in the case. One day they asked me if I wanted to be a bat boy, so I said sure."
One of Giddon's jobs was to deliver baseballs to the umpires -- not directly, but by placing them in a box buried in the nearby dirt from which umpires would grab them when necessary. He would take throws back from fielders during fungo practice.
"A couple of times I even went out into the field to catch," he said. "If they weren't too high I did OK."
The Braves of 1922 and 1923 were dreadful, going 54-100 and 53-100, never higher than seventh place. But the players took a liking to Giddon, particularly first baseman Walter Holke. He lived in Brookline during the season and often walked home with Arthur -- even one day teaching him how to make a kite.
"When my grandchildren were born," Giddon said, "I knew how to make them a kite because of Walter."
All the National League greats came through town: Rogers Hornsby, the .401 hitter from St. Louis; the Cubs ace Grover Cleveland Alexander; and Giants manager John McGraw. And on one day in 1922, Giddon met two all-timers at once: Babe Ruth and baseball's new commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
What was Ruth -- then with the Yankees of the American League -- doing in Braves Field? Giddon isn't sure, but Ruth's being there with Landis suggests it was during the first six weeks of 1922, when Landis had suspended Ruth for barnstorming the previous October. Giddon ended up talking with Landis more.
"He said to me, `What are you going to do when you grow up?' " Giddon said. "I didn't know -- I wasn't even in high school. But he said, `You ought to be a lawyer' -- he'd been a judge, you know."
Giddon did as he was told. He stopped being a Braves bat boy after 1923 -- he thinks he went to summer camp instead -- later attended Harvard Law School, and became a successful lawyer in Hartford. He retired in 1985. Only recently did he move into an assisted-living facility with his wife of 61 years, Harriet, who during the living-room interview stopped by and exclaimed, "Oh, the Red Sox! That's the best vitamin for him!"
Giddon follows his Sox avidly despite eye trouble that leaves him squinting even at his huge projection television. "But I can tell David Ortiz from Dustin Pedroia," he said proudly. "And I know Kevin Youkilis is bald." And with that, Giddon popped up and demonstrated Youkilis' distinctive batting stance, complete with the bobbing hands.
On Saturday, Giddon will hand Youkilis and his fellow Red Sox their bats, just like he did Holke and other Boston ballplayers almost nine decades ago. The Red Sox had heard through some mutual friends about Giddon's 100th birthday and immediately invited him to celebrate with them. His daughter Pam even made him a uniform with No. 100 and, of course, "Big Pappy" on the back.
"I'm exhilarated," Giddon said. "I'll be more exhilarated if they give me an autographed ball of the team -- including the bat boy. Maybe he'll live to be 100, too."