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Anyone Seen Pierre Lamere? : Lefty Blasco Needs Just One More Photo to Complete His Collection of Every Cub

June 18, 1986|RICH TOSCHES | Times Staff Writer

"I eventually found him, he was a special justice in Boston, and he laughed about it. He said, 'OK, I admit it. It was me who went up as Costello.' He thought it was funny."

Blasco, who had spent many years tracking down J.A. Costello, thought it was about as funny as pneumonia. Which brings up another big moment in his journey.

"A guy named Tom Phillips played with the Indians in 1919," he said. "The only thing I could find out was that he lived in Phillipsburg, N.J. So I sent a letter to the postmaster there and asked if he could find Tom Phillips. The postmaster had never heard the name and had no record of him, but a woman in the post office overheard him talking about it and told him, 'I do. He's from Phillipsburg, Pa., not New Jersey. I was supposed to marry him Saturday. He died Tuesday of pneumonia.'

"So I wrote to the woman and she sent me a picture of Tom Phillips and his death notice."

Wouldn't Rod Serling have loved that one?

But with every triumph, there is another reminder of Pete Lamere. Or more accurately, no Pete Lamere.

Lamere's major league career started in 1902 when the Cubs went to New York for a game. Catcher Frank Chance--who would later become famous as the first baseman in the Tinker-to-Evers-to Chance double-play combination--was injured. The Cubs were told that Lamere was available for a nominal fee and they put him in a uniform. And on Sept. 10 and 11, he was the Cubs' catcher. Five years later, he played his next and last major league game because of similar circumstances. Cincinnati was in town and needed a catcher for one game. It suited up Lamere, then a semipro catcher. He went 0 for 2 on Aug. 20, 1907, against Brooklyn, and never played another game in the major leagues.

And Blasco hasn't rested easily since the early 1950s, when he began his Lamere photo hunt.

"When I found out in about 1958 that he had two brothers and a sister, I got excited," Blasco said. "But then I found out they were dead, too. But I got their death certificates and found out that they had children. But I never found them, either."

Blasco has checked out the newspapers in the cities where Lamere played. Again, nothing.

He also turned to fellow members of the Society for American Baseball Research. They also were not of much help. But he has learned through SABR meetings that he is not alone.

"There's one guy who is alphabetizing the names of everyone who ever played professional baseball," Blasco said. "That includes the major leagues and the minor leagues. Every one. Another guy listens to old radio tapes of games, starting when radio was first invented. He sits at home with a computer and computes every pitch. Whether it was a ball or strike, high or low, inside or outside. And if it was hit, where it was hit. He said he's up to about 1962."

Blasco, who has spent more than three decades chasing a photo of Pierre Lamere, said: "Those guys are crazy. That's a bit excessive, I think."

To keep his collection up to date, Blasco writes to each major league club and asks for photos. In the spring, they begin trickling in to his mailbox, to be entered into Blasco's book, still in pencil.

On the Cubs roster, for every picture of a Ryne Sandberg there is a Pickles Dillhoefer (1917). For every Shawon Dunston or Rick Sutcliffe, there is a Vito Valentinetti (1956), or Mordeci (Three-Finger) Brown (1904) or Rollie (Bunions) Zeider (1916) or Bill (Reindeer) Killefer (1918).

On the Indians photo roster, for every Andre Thornton there is a Frank (the Human Flea) Bonner (1901) or Wilbur (Raw Meat) Rodgers (1910) or Merton Merill Meixell (1912).

But nowhere is there a Pete Lamere. And occasionally, in his darkest moments, Blasco is haunted by one thought: "Sometimes I don't think there is a Pete Lamere picture out there. I really don't think there is one. It's very, very possible in that era to have lived your whole life without ever having had your picture taken. Sometimes I don't think he was ever photographed."

At the turn of the century, photography was still in its infancy. Cameras were big and bulky. The most common were the so-called dark cloth cameras with which the photographer would cover himself and the camera in a light-proof cloth and then expose the film by hand. For indoor pictures, there were no flash bulbs or strobe lights. Flash powder was used to illuminate a subject. Unfortunately, the explosive powder also resulted in many mangled hands and fingers and the light could cause temporary blindness.

One could not blame Lamere if he opted during his life not to bother with having a photo taken of himself.

Blasco's wife, Marie, has watched the search for Lamere since it began. The couple has been married for 37 years, but Lefty ("With a name like Clarence, it's a damn good thing I was left-handed and got a nickname," Blasco said) knows she's not as, well, let's say involved, as he is.

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