EX-PITCHER ELDEN AUKER
By Joe Capozzi
For Elden Auker, there are so many wonderful years to remember: 1933, when be broke in with the Detroit Tigers; 1934, when he struck out Babe Ruth and pitched against Dizzy Dean in the World Series; 1935, when he helped bring a championship to Detroit; 1939, when he roomed with Jimmie Foxx.
But for Auker, 2004 will go down as a year he would rather forget. As Hurricane Jeanne's 120-mph winds tore through Vero Beach on 25 September, Auker, 94, and his wife took shelter at a neighbor's house. The next morning, they returned to their home on Sailfish Lane to find part of the roof missing. "The only place the roof came off," he said, "was right over my den where I had my memorabilia."
Auker's collection was a baseball time capsule, a 60-square-foot room full of old baseballs with legendary signatures, wool uniforms and yellowing photographs. "It was just full of baseball memorabilia going back to Babe Ruth," said Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner who is a neighbor of Auker's.
"There was a desk and a chair, and the stuff surrounded you. We'd sit and talk. I'd ask him. 'What was Mickey Cochrane like?' And Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Grove. I was really heartbroken when I heard." Exactly how much of it Jeanne destroyed is unclear. Although Auker thinks and talks like he's 50 years younger, the tentativeness in his voice suggests it's difficult for him to recite his losses. "Autographs and photos of Mickey Cochrane and Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez. Bob Feller. Some of it I packed away. Some of it was destroyed. We tried to save what we could," he said.
"Fay Vincent came down. He looked at it. He said, 'How much did the insurance company pay you ?' I told him a thousand dollars. He said it should have been a hundred thousand." Vincent said, "I don't think Elden really knows what he lost. I think he's turned away from it, on the theory it might be better off not to focus." James Emory Auker. who was named after his father's roommate with the 1939 Boston Red Sox, James Emory Foxx, flew down from Michigan the next day to help his parents clean up.
"When I got down there, they both were sitting in the living room, and they were stunned. My mom just burst into tears. We really look at all of that as our heritage. My wife's grandfather played against my dad in the 1935 World Series. His name was Kiki Cuyler," James said.
"(The water) came through his office, of all places. Just poured right in there. When I first heard, I thought it was going to be a total disaster. But they were lucky. All of his baseballs were bagged up. It could have been a lot worse." Just how bad was it? "There were plenty of things destroyed. I couldn't name it all," James said.
"His office was covered from floor to ceiling with pictures from the 1930s. The water came right down a wall where he had a 90th birthday card that everybody had signed. I don't know how many ballplayers were on that thing. That was destroyed. There was a picture of Ted Williams, signed in 1939 when my dad played with him. That got very wet. It will probably be OK, although it's not the way it was."
"I know there was a picture of dad playing golf with Babe Ruth and Dizzy Dean. That was ruined. The problem with the water and moisture, a lot of the photos are still in their frames. It has dried to the glass so it can't ever be removed."
Auker's house didn't suffer much damage from Hurricane Frances, the category 2 storm that hit Florida's East Coast on Sept. 5. So when Jeanne approached two weeks later, he admits he felt so complacent that he didn't bother to protect much of the room.
"Do I regret it ? I'll say I regret it,' said Auker, who sold his home last month. He hopes 2005 will be kinder. Not long after New Year's, he and his wife will move into a new place, an efficiency in an assisted-living facility. As for his baseball time capsule, what's left is in storage.
"I lost a lot of it," Auker said, "but I still have my memories."
Special to Canadian Baseball News 26 December 2004