The events I am about to describe took place two thirds of a century ago, in the early nineteen fifties. I assume that the statute of limitations has long since expired, therefore, I feel free to at last reveal my awful secret.
I am a hardened criminal.
It all began with Ellis Kinder, who had no idea he was involved. Kinder, a late bloomer, was thirty-one years old when he made his big league debut with the old St. Louis Browns, but he developed into a very good pitcher with the Red Sox. He won twenty-three games in 1949 and later became an elite relief pitcher. He also developed a fondness for amber-colored beverages, once famously falling off the mound while warming up at Fenway Park.
One day, as a prank, another kid in the neighborhood, Walter Pierson by name (I’m damned if I’ll take the fall for this alone), and I decided to start an Ellis Kinder fan club, but (here’s where the plot thickens) we started it in the name of a third kid who lived right across the street from me, Dana Gillis. Dana had no idea that he was the target of our skullduggery.
Sport Magazine, a monthly, was at that time the country’s premier sports periodical (Sports Illustrated was not yet on the scene), and it printed fan club news in a catch-all column each month. My co-conspirator and I wrote to Sport announcing the new club for Kinder would offer free membership, an autographed photo of Kinder himself, and a monthly newsletter, none of which we had either the means or the intention of providing.
We signed Dana’s name, gave his address and put it in the mail.
Then we waited.
Each day after school I raced to the local drug store to see if the new edition of Sport was on the newsstand. Finally, one day it had arrived. I quickly thumbed through it to the section on fan clubs, and there it was! The whole thing, the offer of free membership, the autographed photo and all.
I bought a copy and pranced through the neighborhood showing it happily to everyone I encountered. We had pulled off the perfect scam. Dana even thought it was kind of funny. I basked in the glory of it all.
And then, a few days later, the mail started to arrive at the Gillis house. It came, literally, by the bagful. Apparently a lot of kids thought the opportunity to get a free autographed picture of Ellis Kinder was pretty cool. Mail trucks were pulling up in front of the house. Dana didn’t seem to mind but Mr. And Mrs. Gillis were not amused.
There was no denying my involvement. I had, after all, spent several days shouting it from the rooftops. Finally, Mr. Gillis decided to teach me a lesson. I was summoned to the Gillis house. Mr. Gillis informed me in somber tones that I had used the United States mail to defraud people. That, he went on, is a federal offense, a crime punishable by serious jail time. If anyone complained about not receiving the promised benefits of the sham fan club, he said, his voice lowering dramatically, he would have no choice but to turn me in to the FBI. Then he dismissed me.
To say I was shaken is an understatement of epic proportions. For weeks I lay in bed at night, convinced that at any moment the Feds would storm the house, slap on the handcuffs and haul me off to the Big House. If a siren was heard in the distance I was sure that it was coming for me.
Gradually, as the weeks and months went by, and it became apparent, either that no one had complained or that Mr. Gillis had not given me up to J. Edgar Hoover, my fears began to abate. Maybe it was the perfect crime after all.
I’m sure that Ellis Kinder never knew about the scam perpetrated in his name, and I don’t expect him to find out now due to the fact that he’s been dead for almost half a century.
Dana Gillis and I, who have known each other since we were three years old, are still friends. We have lunch on a regular basis and often laugh about the episode.
As for my co-conspirator, Walter Pierson, we lost contact with one another years ago. For all I know he’s in the witness protection program.