Jim Basso: The Old Man and The Baseball Sea.

Jim Basso, Houston Buffs, 1946-48.

Jim Basso lived as the personification of the career minor leaguer back in the pre and post World II years. He loved baseball, he played the outfield well, he hit with some punch, he didn’t really have much education or a lot of skills that gave him a good or passionate alternative to the game, and he always dreamed of breaking into the big leagues with some team, somewhere along the way by just hanging in there long enough, showing up every spring, whether he was hurt or not, and giving it his best, no matter where he was playing.

The big leagues never happened for Jim Basso. Sadly, he went to his grave, forever regretting the fact that he never got so much as a single time at bat with any big league club in a regular season game.

“It would’ve meant a  lot to me,” Jim once told me. “Just to know that I had gotten into into the big record book as one of the few players who made it to the big leagues would’ve meant everything to me.”

It wasn’t meant to be, but it surely wasn’t because Jim Basso didn’t have the tools or performance record to at leat earn a trial in the bigs. He simply played in the era of great major league club exclusivity. With only sixteen total big league clubs in both major leagues until expansion started in 1961, Jim Basso belongs to a large, not-so-exclusive legion of lost opportunity. A lot of ball players who would at least get a playing look today never even got there back then. With the reserve clause governing all player movements prior to free agency, a lot of players also missed the majors because the parent club either couldn’t find roster room or didn’t want certain players from falling into the hands of their big league rivals. We will never know for sure how many players actually had their MLB careers denied by a parent club that may have been hoarding talent in the minors in self-defense.

James Sebastian (Jim) Basso (BR/TR, 6’0″, 185 Lbs.) was born in Omaha, Nebraska on October 5, 1919. Signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, but eventually winding his way into the systems of the Reds, Braves, and White Sox, Basso compiled a 13-season minor league record (1941, 1946-57) and a three-season stint as a member of the Houston Buffs (1946-48). Jimmy didn’t even get into a game from the roster of the ’48 Buffs before he was dealt away, but he stayed long enough to make the Houston area and his place in Pearland a permanent residence beyond baseball.

Jim Basso was a pretty fair country hitter. His career batting average was .297 with a slugging average of .464. He racked up 1,815 total hits that included 335 doubles, 57 triples, and 191 home runs. Wow! Do you think a guy with Basso’s stats might have gotten an AB or two in the big leagues somewhere in 2010?

For better, but mostly worse, Jim Basso played hurt.

“You had to play hurt back then,” Jim often said. “If you took a day off to nurse an injury back in my day, you knew that you just might wake up the next morning to find somebody else wearing your jock strap. You couldn’t let that happen. You had to play, even if it made things worse on your injury.”

Jim Basso also played a few winters in Cuba during his career. He even managed to meet Ernest Hemingway when the great American writer invited Basso and some of his teammates over to the house for drinks in the evening.

One day, late in Jim’s life, I drove out to Pearland with former Buff Jerry Witte to visit. During our stay, Jim said he wanted to show me his workshop in the garage so we walked out in the back to see the place in the detached building that held it all. It was quite nice, but the summer heat had turned the place into a boiler room.

It was then that I looked over to a work shelf and spied a single book in place. Since it was a book, I had to walk over and see what it was.

It turned out to be a first edition copy of “The Old Man and the Sea” and it had been personally autographed “To my good friends, Jim and Connie Basso! Affectionately, Ernest Hemingway.”

Ernest Hemingway & Jim Basso in Cuba, 1952, (center); unidentified ballplayers on flanks.

“Jim,” I cried out a little too school marmishly. “You’ve got to get this book inside and out of this light and heat right away!”

“Yeah?” Jim asked.

Yeah!” I affirmed.

Once I explained the problem, Jim jumped on it himself. He picked up the book and took it inside. Then he told me the story of how he and his wife Connie had met Hemingway in Cuba, and how he and his fellow ball players had enjoyed drinking and talking baseball with the great author in the Cuban evenings at Hemingway’s home.

Jim Basso passed away on May 21, 1999 in Pearland, Texas at the age of 79. He took with him so many good stories, a heart of gold, an unending passion for the game of baseball, and that awful nobody-could-take-it-from-him regret that he never got that time at bat in the majors.

Since the Hemingway book discovery, I’ve thought of Jim Basso as the living baseball symbol of the old fisherman in Hemingway’s book. For many years, Jim Basso went down to the Sea of Baseball every morning, always hoping to catch the big fish of big league opportunity. He never even hooked his dream monster, but he never gave up. It was not within his heart to do so. He kept going back to the sea each day for as long as he could. And then he went home each night to sleep. And to dream again of the lions. And to wake up later and read the box scores in the newspapers. And to learn the  latest stories of the great DiMaggio.

Goodnight, Jim Basso, wherever you may now be. To those of us who knew and loved you, you will always be one of our major leaguers. No matter what.

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18 Responses to “Jim Basso: The Old Man and The Baseball Sea.”

  1. Jack Murphy Says:

    Bill, Great piece on Basso and Ernie … “Hotdog and Sassafras Tea”Jack

  2. David Munger Says:

    Good article. I was fortunate enough to have heard some of Jim’s
    stories in person. Great guy.

  3. Bill McCurdy Says:

    E-Mail of 4/18/10 from Bill Hickman (SABR) …

    Hi, Bill –

    Some years ago, I created a list of players who had made it onto major league spring training rosters, but hadn’t played in regular season major league games. The list includes an outfielder named Sebastian Basso born 10/5/1919, who was on the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1947 spring training roster. He had played for Houston in 1946. That clearly was Jim Basso, although I had not known his name to be Jim until you posted your article today. I see that baseball-reference.com lists his full name as James Sebastian Basso. Much enjoyed your article and thanks for one more piece of good work on your part.

    There are two Hall-of-Famers on my spring training roster list. Earl Weaver was a second baseman on the 1952 Cardinals’ spring roster. Basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Sharman was an outfielder on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ spring roster three different years — 1951, 1952, and 1953.

    Bill Hickman

  4. Bill McCurdy Says:

    E-Mail from of 4/18/10 from Bob Sullivan …

    Bill, this was one of your best stories, you are of the age where if these are not told now, they never will.

    Hope to see you on Thursday at the St Thomas 56 luncheon.

    Bob (Sullivan)

  5. Bill McCurdy Says:

    E-Mail of 4/18/10 from Jenifer Jarriel …

    Bill: Thanks for the nice story about Uncle Jim. He had nicknames for everyone, and he called me Peanut in the Shell, because he would always bring pistachios to the house for me and all the sisters to enjoy, and I seemed to enjoy them the most! Take care!

    Jenifer (Jarriel)

  6. Bill McCurdy Says:

    E-Mail of 4/18/10 from Zita Witte …

    Thanks for keeping these memories alive. I think about the strength of character of men like Uncle Jim and mourn the loss all over again. I am so blessed to have had the time I did with him.

    Love,
    ZW (Zita WItte)

  7. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Reply to Bill Hickman’s E-Mail of 4/18/10 …

    Thanks, Bill. Because of your strategic search for “Sebastian Basso” in your own past research, I’ve amended the article to idenitfy todays’s subject in one place to read as “James Sebastian (Jim) Basso.

  8. Vito Schlabra Says:

    Hey Bill,
    Jim Basco was a friend of mine from long ago. I met him back in 1965-1966 when I sold autos for Ray Jensen Buick on Richey street in Pasadena. The Meadowcreek Bowling alley was next to the dealership and I lived in the neighborhood. Jim was the manager and I would go their evey day for coffee or lunch. The guy that owned the cafe inside was Vito Marchis another Italian. I was told that Vito could have been a pro golfer. Jim lived in Pearland and I moved their in 1973. I was a Little League manager for 4 years and would see Jim quite often because is son played ball. My team the Rangers senior minors won the title in 1975 with 17 wins and 1 lost. Pearland the next few years were the state baseball champs. Jim was a great old guy to be around and was a neat human being.

    Vito Schlabra
    Georgetown, Texas

  9. Danny Basso Says:

    Hey Bill Just read the story about my Dad you wrote. I just want you to know I appreciate it. Its very touching to here what other people say about dad.He was a talented baseball player and for what ever reason did not play a formal game in the big leagues which he regretted his whole life.I can tell you this,as his son it did not make any difference to me. I can maybe share with your readers why.I remember the times when he took me to buff stadium to sell scorecards for a allstar game. I remember the times he took me hunting and fishing. I remember how I couldn’t sleep at night when I knew the next day after school Uncle Jerry Witte ,my Dad and me were going dove hunting in manvel.I cannot tell you how many times I fell asleep on the chair next to him and uncle jerry at “Big humphreys” Pizza place on park place while they shared old baseball stories. Those are a few of the things I can recall.I know Dad probably wanted people to remember him as a big league baseball player because that was his trade. I would like people to know that he was a pretty darn good father also and most of all My Best Buddy.thanks again Bill!

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Beautifully spoken, Danny! Yep. Your dad was a great man. He didn’t need a big league time at bat to be the big league human being and kind, loving, funny soul he was to family and friends.

  10. Ken Dupuy Says:

    You are quite the story teller! Jim seems to have been an amazing guy to warrant such an article as you wrote. Keep up the great stories.
    Ken Dupuy

  11. Susie Basso Hutchinson Says:

    Bill what a wonderfull article about my Dad. You see I can talk about the fishing trips and dove hunting trips as well as Danny can, because he never treated me any different than the boys. (I was his only daughter) I wore shorts under my school uniform knowing my Dad was picking me up after school to go fishing or hunting. As a young child both he and I sat at Hobby Airport watching planes land and take-off. Back then it was a dream of mine to just be able to take a look inside one of them. I was facinated by them. Well one day, he made my dream come true. He walked up to a pilot and explained the situation and I got to go inside one of them! Yes he was a good baseball player, but as Danny said, he was a wonderful father. One of my regrets is that he quit his first love, baseball, when I was born. It was out of my control but always in the back of my mind. It was nothing unusual to see three televisions going all at once in our living room with three different games on them. He may not had been able to play, but the love of baseball was never lost. Again, thanks for a wonderful article.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      You Basso kids were truly blessed, Susie. Wish we could’ve met earlier in life too. I’m also an older East Ender, just a little older than you guys, but someone who grew up following the likes of Jerry Witte, Larry Miggins, Frank Mancuso, Solly Hemus, and another great fellow named Jim Basso. In our own ways, we all loved the game – and we valued loyalty to family and friends above all personal considerations. Our buffao mascot always stood tall and strong for me as the symbol of those qualities. – Wish I had known all the stories you could have told here about your dad. I just gave it the best shot I could. It pleases me to know that you and Danny liked what I wrote. I considered your dad a very good friend.

  12. Rachel Hutchinson Says:

    Bill, Thank you so much for the article. My grandfather was a very important man in my life. I remember baseball games and screaming out “cold beer, cold beer here.” Those memories are the best ones.

  13. weldon "nig' Aycock Says:

    JIm played for the Temple Eagles ,Temple Tx, class D league in the early 50,s. This little town had never seen such talent, us teenagers
    had lots of fun finding the home run balls he hit. Back then we had to return them to the club but Jim would always find a way to give a batting practice ball after the game. we all loved him and were sure he would make to “bigs” when he went to the Buff’s. I have thought of him often,He was a special person.

    • Charlie Edwards Says:

      Jim Basso was also a very well respected manager of Meadow Creek Bowling Lanes. He ran a very successful operation. I knew him along with Jerry Whitty and Jerry Bermeister, other former Buffs that managed bowling centers.

      Weldon, remember me? From the old Rice days. Give me a call sometimes.
      713-520-9155

  14. Rachel Nicole hutchinson Says:

    I am now a 33 year old grown woman, my pawpaw was a giant to me. I remember looking through his scrap books,on his knee in the “shop” Watching baseball and going to games and shouting “cold beer , cold beer here.” In my squeaking but loud voice, my mother not happy and shooting Stern looks. I remember his laugh and his smile, and everything being right with the world. This brings me back to a joyous part of my childhood. I thank you for this.
    RNH

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