Terry Pluto is a sportswriter from northeastern Ohio. He may be best known for Loose Balls and Tall Tales; oral histories off the ABA and NBA respectively. But he is a generalist and has covered all Cleveland sports. He also wrote The Curse of Rocky Colavito about the Indians. When he first started covering sports and I started following them as a second grader, the Indians had a powerless second baseman named Duane Kuiper. If you’ve read much Joe Posnanski, you are probably familiar with Pluto and Kuiper. The Kuiper belt was his lone major leaguer home run in 1977. The game was televised, which wasn’t always the case back then. They show it on Giant broadcasts occasionally, to poke fun at Kuiper who is a San Francisco color guy. He had a sense of humor about his banjo hitting. He posed for his 1983 Fleer bubble-gum card with a broken bat slung upside down on his shoulder.
In 1949, a 43-year old man was stargazing in his backyard in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While looking at the sky, he saw several rectangles of light that looked like yellow-green windows. This wasn’t uncommon in that time or place. The Roswell incident took place the same day as the 1947 All Star Game and the Lubbock Lights would appear a couple of summers later. But this was no ordinary UFO observer. This was Clyde Tombaugh.
Twenty years earlier, Tombaugh was a researcher at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. He discovered Pluto in 1930. Originally considered a planet, it has been downgraded to a dwarf planet and is the largest object in the Kuiper Belt. He was working as a researcher because his dreams of going to college had been dashed when hailstorms ruined his family’s crops at their farm in Burdett, Kansas. He was able to go after school after discovery. The Tombaugh family moved to western Kansas from Streator, Illinois while Clyde was in high school.
Streator is a coaltown about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago. Another native is Clay Zavada; the Arizona reliever with the Rollie Fingerstache. Zavada was drafted by the Diamondbacks, but quit baseball after his father died unexpectedly. He went back to college and got his degree in business. For the hell of it, he decided to give baseball one last try and pitched for the Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League. The Diamondbacks picked him up again and he reached the majors in 2009. Zavada underwent Tommy John surgery last year and is suffering from shoulder soreness, He’s one of the few players who didn’t report in “the best shape of his life” this spring.
But Tombaugh may have a more direct connection to the 2011 National League West. In a chat, Dodger opening day starter Clayton Kershaw claimed that the astronomer was his great uncle.