R.I.P. Robert Weiss

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My grandfather Robert Weiss passed away last Saturday at the age of 91. He was an avid sports fan, even if by the time I came along, his golfing seemed to overshadow all else. In 2008, though, I taped a long conversation with him about his relationship with sports as a kid in Uniontown, PA. Here are a couple of my favorite anecdotes. Thanks to Michael Mannheimer for the emergency transcription. 

BASKETBALL

"Our big thing was the church league — every church in Uniontown had a league, and the synagogue had a team and all the Jews in town where on the synagogue team. There were about 10 teams in the league. The lineups would be in the paper the next day — who got how many points, who fouled out. That was my pride that I made the church all-star team every year usually. Maybe that’s just because they had to have one Jewish kid on the all-star team."

[Weren’t Jews supposed to be extremely good at basketball back then?]

"Only the Jews in New York."

"I was sorta the leader of the basketball team. We managed to put a pretty good team together—we’d get kids that were Jewish but were vaguely Jewish. Maybe the father was Jewish and the mother wasn’t Jewish. One day I’m up there dressing and lacing up my shoes getting ready to play and this kid comes up and he’s got our uniform on. I’d never saw him before and I didn’t know who he was. I said, 'Oh, are you playing with us tonight.' Yeah. I said, 'Are you Jewish?' He said, 'Yeah I’m Jewish.' And I said, 'What’s your name?' and he said 'Cohen.' A town like Uniontown maybe had three Cohen families so I said 'Which Cohen family are you?' And he said, well such and such is my father, and I said 'you mean the guy that owns the dress shop? I didn’t know he had a son.'"

"About my junior or senior year in high school they went to where the defending team got the ball after you scored. But the court was so small there wasn’t any room at either end to play that way, the guy could rarely find a place to stand at the end of the court. And by the time you ran back and lined up after every shot there wasn’t very much playing time. If a guy scored 10 points in a game it was awe. If you got, say, five field goals and two fouls you got 12 and that was a big night. I remember we had a star player in high school that once got 10 field goals in a game and scored 22 points or something like that. It was unbelievable."

BASEBALL

"I went to my first major league baseball games in Pittsburgh at Forbes Field in 1931. I was 11 years old the first time they took me. And this game that I went to they played the New York Giants. Carl Hubbell pitched for the Giants. He was probably the best pitcher in the National League. The game was over in less than an hour and a half. It was an hour and 21 minutes or something like that. Hubbell just stood out there and threw the ball. If he didn’t throw it over the plate it was so close. "

"I had fantasized this thing into such a... I was such a fan, I started as a fan when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. And I went to this, and I’m sitting in the stands and these guys come out and they were human beings, and I couldn’t believe it. They are these little people. The first thing I said to [my brother] Harold was the only players I could recognize were the ones that I had seen pictures of because they all had just plain uniforms. I guess Bill Veeck started the thing about wearing names and numbers. But I said to Harold, “How do I know who they are?” You gotta buy a scorecard. So they bought me a scorecard and every player had a scorecard number and when he came up to bat they put his number up on the scoreboard. So you’d say well number 10 is at bat and you’d look at your card. It was considered bush to have numbers on the uniforms. You knew Paul Waner or Lloyd Waner but until you had that experience you didn’t know [anyone else]. It was considered to be bush to have numbers on the uniforms. Golfers still don’t have numbers. The caddies wear a jacket with your name on it but the golfers won’t wear numbers."

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