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Don Black's Greatest Victory

By Gordon Cobbledick
American Weekly, September 12, 1948

Donald Paul Black was becoming modest after pitching a no-hit game
against the Philadelphia Athletics on July 10, 1947, but his humility
took none of the traditional forms.

What he said was-and there was a touch of grimness in the way he said
it: "You can chalk that victory up for Alcoholics Anonymous."

To pitch a no-hit game in these days of power-hitting demands a rare
combination of skill, endurance, intelligence and plain luck. The pre
A.A. Don Black could have contributed none of them.

Like the thousands of other ex-drunks who have banded themselves
together for mutual protection in Alcoholics Anonymous, Black asks and
accepts no personal credit for the startling reformation that lifted him
from the brink of obscurity into the company of baseball immortals.

Black didn't drink because it was fun. He drank because he couldn't help
himself. But Alcoholics Anonymous helped him as it has helped thousands.

In his gratitude, Black has voluntarily renounced his anonymity that is
one of the foundation stones of A.A., in order to publicize the job that
the organization can do for the thousands who are afflicted as he was.

Connie Mack, 85 year-old manager of the Athletics, was easily the most
surprised person in the Cleveland Stadium the night Don Black shut out
his hard-hitting team without a hit or anything resembling one.

Connie, noted for his patience with base-ball's problem children, lost
patience with black after several years of trying to induce him to give
up liquor and capitalize on his baseball talents. Connie appealed to
Don's pride, to his pocketbook and to his sense of loyalty to his wife
and two pretty young daughters. Nothing worked.

The Athletics finally were glad to let Black go to the Cleveland
Indians.

In 1946 Black won only one game for Cleveland. He was shipped down the
river to Milwaukee where against minor league opposition, he lost five
games, won none.

Shortly after Don had been sent to the minors, Bill Veeck, a 32-year-old
ex-marine whose father had been president of the Chicago Cubs, organized
a syndicate that bought the Cleveland franchise. Veek knew hoe badly the
Indians needed pitchers and he knew that the alcoholic Black couldn't
help them. But he also knew about A.A.

When the Milwaukee season ended Veeck asked Black to stop off in
Cleveland on the way to his Virginia home. He and his business manager
talked long and earnestly with the wayward pitcher. They found only one
encouraging sign: Black admitted despairingly that the stuff had him
licked.

"Not if you can say that," Veek assured him.

He sent for some representatives of Alcoholics Anonymous. They told Don
that every one of them had been a drunken sot who had been restored to a
respected place in the community through the understanding offices of
A.A. With a shrug that said: "What can I lose?" Don agreed to give it a
trial.

Veek obtained a winter job for him in Cleveland and the A.A.
organization went to work.

Don made his first semi-public appearance at a dance given by Veek. Some
acquaintances failed to recognize the good-looking clear-eyed man who,
accompanied by a pretty young woman, smiled a hello, asked if he might
sit at their table, and ordered a coke.

The acquaintances responded with a vague "good evening," prepared to
resume sipping their highballs and then, with a "double take" straight
from the Hollywood studios, saw that the late arrivals were Don Black
and his wife, Betty.

Don's first pitching assignment in the 1947 season was against the
Detroit Tigers. He won 5 to 3, but it was a tough game. In one of the
middle innings, when he was engaged in pitching his way out of a jam, a
press box cynic speculated: "I wonder what he'd give for a slug of
bourbon."

Black answered the question later with a smile.

"All I wanted in that situation was a fresh stick of chewing gum.
Bourbon doesn't even tempt me."

Later he was subjected to a stiffer test when he lost a succession of
extremely well pitched games through the batting weakness of his
teammates. But A.A. was still on the job to encourage him.

"I'm living a new life," Black said recently. "I'm beginning to
appreciate friendships I almost ruined. Physically, I'm 100 percent
improved. I'm grateful to a lot of folks in and out of A.A. who helped
to keep me from sliding all the way down."

Betty Black's eyes were moist as she added her testimony:

"It's hard to put into words. Just say were happy now."

With the 1948 season well under way. Black was pitching well for
Cleveland and still a total abstainer.

Black is not the first ball player to be saved by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Rollie Hemsley was a notorious drunkard when, several years ago, he
placed himself in the hands of A.A. At that time there was no A.A. group
in Cleveland, and Hemsley had to go to Akron to meetings. Today
Cleveland has more than 70 groups with membership up to 300 in each.

Like Black, Hemsley gladly surrendered the anonymity to which he was
entitled, and through the publicity attending his reclamation was
largely responsible for saving many prominent Clevelanders from
alcoholism. Both players agree with medical authorities that alcoholism
is a disease and that no stigma attaches to one who allows it to be
known that he has been cured.

It is a peculiarity of A.A. that its members make no effort to sell
total abstinence.

"If you can drink and handle it," they say, "you're lucky. We wish we
could."

Don Black doesn't even wish he could. He isn't interested.

American Weekly, September 12, 1948

 

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