Legend of Bobby Lee
A “go devil” – that tiny little twister that stirs up dust around the infield on a hot summer day. Like a genie popping out of a lantern, Bobby Lee Clark stepped out of a twister around second base. He proceeded from memory, this statue of clay, to announce the starting lineup of the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates along with each player’s lifetime statistics.
And so went the legend of Bobby Lee. That story started somewhere around 1939 in Bobby Lee’s hometown. The Pirates, on their trip from spring training, stopped off in the little West Virginia town to play the locals. In all the excitement of seeing real major leaguers for the first time, even the town elders forgot that they did not have a real scorekeeper – someone that could do it just like in the big leagues with all the X’s, O’s, and K’s. That would really impress the big time stars and show them this little town knew its baseball. Bobby Lee came to the rescue that day.
The old timers that were present for the game told the story repeatedly. Some of the younger people put their twist to it and the legend of Bobby Lee stuck. It became a part of tradition at the local high school and local Legion games to point out Bobby Lee and relate the story to some visitor at the park. Opening day of baseball for the semipro team was now referred to as Bobby Lee Clark Day.
And now the real story
Nineteen thirty-two was a tough year in the coal hills of West Virginia. Bobby Lee, a young lean kid just out of high school, was the one ray of sunshine for the tiny mountain hamlet in the throes of the Great Depression. He grew up hitting coal with a broom handle off the side of a hill. There wasn’t a pitcher in the valley that could put a fastball by Bobby. When the team traveled to the big city of Charleston for the playoffs, he captured the heart of everyone at the game. A sure shot at the big leagues, he signed with his beloved Pirates.
She was seventeen when she waved goodbye to Bobby Lee at the Trailways bus station. His long skinny face was framed in the window of the bus. Everyone in town showed up for the sendoff. Off to some town he had only read about in school. A town that was far away in the stars that danced in his head. Some say she went to Pittsburgh. Others had a more exotic story of auditions in New York. Whatever the true story, she tired of waiting for Bobby Lee.
When the hero arrived from his first season, the crowds were at the same bus station with the exception of one. That winter found Bobby tramping the streets of Pittsburgh, searching. One followed one lead after another with a bar in between. He staggered out into the cold streets. They took him for dead when his body was found crumpled in an alley beneath a fresh fallen snow.
Brain damaged or heart broken, only Bobby knew. When the faithful come to the ballpark Bobby Lee is always spouting statistics or straightening bases, mumbling to himself. Still a town treasure and local hero, they remembered his familiar pose swinging his arm around his head at the centerfield scoreboard that made a home run even more exciting.
“Who won the batting title in 1934”? The argument raged on beneath the bleachers between two kids. “Let’s ask Bobby Lee”.
A “go devil” that opening day stirred up the outfield. The silver maples were ruffled by a soft spring wind. The players took the field. All stood for the national anthem. Bobby Lee was noticeable by his absence. They found him behind the scoreboard; his lifeless body slumped where he fell. Some still swear they saw him step in the “go devil” just before the game. And the legend of Bobby Lee Clark lives on.