Special delivery: Local doctor donates rare photo to Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame
When Dr. David Florence was a youngster, he spent 14 months in a Cleveland hospital. An avid sports fan even then, the Akron, Ohio, native spent most of that time listening to Cleveland Indians baseball games on the radio.
"This was before antibiotics," he said. "I was sick and couldn't get out of bed and my whole life centered around the Indians. It was the only thing I had to live for."
Florence remembers listening the day Indians' future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller threw a wild pitch into the stands that hit his own mother.
"He's known for a lot of things today, but nobody remembers that," he said.
Florence, now in his 70s and a resident of Hudson, recently found a way to repay the Indians for helping him through a tough time by giving the team a picture of former Negro League legend Leroy "Satchel" Paige in his Indians uniform, autographed by another Negro League legend and former Major League coach and manager, Buck O'Neil, with the words, "Good hit Jim."
Paige was the first black pitcher inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame while O'Neil was the first black manager inducted. The picture, and a plaque detailing the history of the photo, will be hung in the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame at Jacobs Field.
The story of how Florence came to possess the picture dates back to the late 1950s, when his friend and colleague at Minnesota Occupational Health Specialists in St. Paul, Dr. Jim Anderson, played amateur baseball in the Dakotas.
"Paige, after he retired from the Indians, came to the Dakotas to assist and teach the players," Florence said. "He was in his 50s then and was pitching against Jim and Jim got a good hit. Buck O'Neil was there and also knew Jim and later signed the photo, 'Good hit Jim.'"
Anderson went on to become a physician with the Minnesota Twins, and the office he shared with Florence was full of old photos of Twins and other major league baseball players, including the photo of Paige autographed by O'Neil.
"The picture I kept looking at was the one of Satchel Paige," Florence, the lifelong Indians' fan, said. "I told him if he ever wanted to sell it I would buy it."
Anderson was diagnosed with leukemia about two years ago and has had to cut back on his practice since then while undergoing treatment.
"About six months ago, I walked into the office and he handed me the picture and said, 'it's yours,'" Florence said.
Florence said his sister, an 82 year-old nun in Cleveland, "who knows everybody," sent a letter to the Indians telling them about the photo and the story behind it. They asked Florence if they could have it for their hall of fame and he quickly agreed.
"I want it to be a gift from Dr. Anderson," he said.
The photo is also part of a new autobiography of Paige by author Larry Tye entitled, "Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend."
"It's a great book," Florence said. "This picture is with about 30 others in the midsection of the book."
Florence said his story, and the history surrounding the photo of Paige, are prime examples of the positive effects sports plays in life.
"It keeps people going in tough times," he said. "Life is not easy, and life is not fun for a lot of people. Sports are something to get excited about. It's healthy and it stimulates the body and the mind. I know first-hand."
Visitors to the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame will soon find out as well.