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Photo is my link to legend

January 15, 2004|by ANDY MASON

When two and two finally were put together for me last week, they added up to the six degrees of separation between me and Babe Ruth.

Years ago, while digging through my parents' attic, I stumbled upon an absolute treasure - a vintage photo of four fraternity brothers sitting in a room at the Delta Upsilon house at Colgate University, circa 1925.

It's been a priceless wall hanging to me ever since, mostly because it's the only picture I own of my grandfather, Richard Mason, who died in 1970, nearly two years before I was born.

My grandfather is seated to the far left in the photo. The guy sitting closest to him, second from left, appears to be his good friend, Paul Hopkins.

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It took Hopkins' recent death, and some research and investigation, for me to realize his identity - and his claim to fame.

Hopkins died Jan. 2 at Middlesex Hospital in Deep River, Conn. He was 99.

He also was the nation's oldest former major league baseball player.

Pitching for the Washington Senators, Hopkins made his big-league debut at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 29, 1927, three months after he and my grandfather graduated from Colgate.

Hopkins was called into the game with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning to face Ruth, who greeted him with his record-tying 59th home run of the season. The next day, Ruth hit his record 60th, a number that stood for 34 years.

My father recently told me that was always a family story when he was growing up, that his dad was good friends with the guy who gave up Babe Ruth's 59th homer.

My dad said he even met Hopkins once when he was 9, when he accompanied my grandfather to the Colgate Class of 1927's 25-year reunion.

But the story eventually faded away, probably because my grandfather no longer was around to tell it.

On page D8 of The Herald-Mail's sports section on Sunday, Jan. 4, we, like many papers in the country, ran a few paragraphs about Hopkins' death.

Hopkins made only 11 appearances, going 1-1 in his two-year big-league career, but he was newsworthy because he had outlasted all of his former peers and was on the infamous end of a famous home run.

Apparently, in recent years, he'd even thrown out a first pitch at Camden Yards before an Orioles-Yankees game and was a guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

And his picture is hanging on my wall, which my dad brought to my attention after The Herald-Mail story triggered his memory. He said he thought Hopkins was in that old photo I had found years ago, but he wasn't exactly sure which one of the other three guys he was.

I had to know.

After a few hours of Internet surfing, I was on the phone with Hopkins' son, Peter, in Westbrook, Conn. He gave me his e-mail address and I sent him a scanned copy of the photo.

He responded with a positive ID, even though he said he couldn't be 100 percent sure, because the photo was taken before he was born and probably because the scanned copy wasn't quite as clear as the original.

But 90 percent sure is still good enough for me to claim the small-world effect between me and the Great Bambino.

I've often pondered the question: Which people, alive or dead, would I most like to meet?

Knowing what I do now, I'd probably put Hopkins on that list, somewhere below Babe Ruth, who, at best, is a distant runner-up to my grandfather.

Some day, though, maybe we'll all be able to get together for a game of catch.




Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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