Writer Charlie Vascellaro connects Arnold Hano and Mark Harris

Last week I attended the NINE Baseball Conference for authors and researchers. Some of the finest baseball writers, researchers and academics convene in Tempe for three days during Spring Training to present papers on a wide variety of subjects. One such attendee was author and freelance baseball writer Charlie Vascellaro.

I happened to meet Charlie in the research library of the Hall of Fame in fall of 2013, and he is a kindred spirit: Charlie loves baseball and appreciates the irreverent as well as the scholarly side of the game and the human qualities of our national pastime. He is very familiar with Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers and he was kind enough to sit for an on-camera interview.

Charlie is a former student of another exceptional author, Mark Harris, who wrote Bang the Drum Slowly, which is one of Arnold’s favorites. He considered Hano and Harris to be in the same vein as writers with their conversational style.

I’ve asked certain interviewees to read their favorite Hano passages, and Charlie did not disappoint, selecting a section of Hano’s account of Willie Mays’ iconic catch and throw.

C Vascellaro M Harris Bang drum

Color them brave

A problem cropped up in the middle of the project. I had conducted five hours of interviews with Arnold and his wife, and countless more researching the man. There was very little conflict and I was worried we’d end up with a hagiographic portrait of a man who could do no wrong. I told Arnold and Bonnie I was not interested in making such a film, and they quickly agreed.

That meant we were going to need to do an interview on some difficult subjects: aging, death and dying. We would also take a look at regret, along with a particularly painful subject regarding one of their children.

I also needed Arnold to talk more in depth about his brother, Alfred, three and a half years older, whom he described as “the greatest big brother in the history of the world”. Alfie treated his younger sibling like “a favorite pet”, building a treehouse for Arnold and teaching him the ways of the world. 2nd Lt. Alfred Hano was shot down by the Nazis on a bombing run to Berlin on March 8, 1944. He was a bombardier (see photo), and his plane was 100 miles out from Berlin when they came under fire from anti-aircraft and fighter planes. Alfie helped six of the ten crew parachute out of the plane, which was shot to hell. One of them was badly injured, but he hooked him up to the automatic parachute system and helped him exit the B-17. The wounded plane would crash, killing Alfred and the three other officers on board. Arnold got bereavement leave from his post in the Pacific, and he and his father met his brother’s flag-draped casket at an air force base on the east coast.

Alfred’s casket was one of many soldiers filling the hangar along with other relatives greeting the dead. Arnold and his father wept, and before this interview ended, so did I.

The Hanos are a filmmaker’s dream. They are all about the truth and honesty. They also respect the creative process and have been wonderful partners in this remarkable journey.

This weekend’s interview with Arnold and Bonnie Hano yielded some very powerful material, and will likely be at the core of the film. I look forward to sharing the inspirational lives of these remarkable individuals, for there’s much to learn from them.

Bonnie and Arnold still Alfie B17 squad120 copy

Hano celebrates 93rd birthday by tossing first screwball in 74 years!

Casey Stengel would have said it best: “Amazin’!”.

Last Friday I visited with Arnold and his wife Bonnie in Laguna Beach to go over details of an interview shoot with them the following day. Earlier this year, Arnold told me he wanted to throw a screwball and get it into the documentary. Since rain was in the forecast Saturday, I suggested we shoot it that afternoon.

Arnold played semi-pro ball before he served in WWII. The left-hander threw a nasty screwball that got him a spot on the Long Island University roster as a walk-on, after he made the coach look silly flailing after a couple of his screwgies.

We cruised over to nearby Bluebird Park and I set up a camera behind Arnold and a another behind the catcher (me). I first had him explain what a screwball is and demonstrate the proper grip. Being 93 years young, we cut the distance between us to about 20 feet.

Then, he went to work. A pitcher’s scowl came over his face. He imagined Hall of Famer Monte Irvin digging into the box.

He loosed his arm up and I found a small, makeshift plate. I went into the crouch, gave him a target, and he threw 5-6 screwgies with distinct rotation on them. He then announced a curve ball was coming, and darned if he didn’t get a different rotation on that one as well. He was also throwing strikes. Not bad for a guy who is legally blind with wet macular degeneration, not to mention having two crushed vertebrae in his back.

Arnold was a bit miffed with himself for not being able to throw harder and got some good breaks on the ball. I told him he’d earned a pass since he’d not thrown a screwgie in some 74 years, to which he begrudgingly assented.

It was quite a thrill to catch the pride of Long Island University a couple days shy of his 93rd birthday, and the footage came out very well. Backlit by a descending sun, Hano looked heroic, and Monte Irvin didn’t stand a chance.

.Arnold MCU ball MCU ball Still frame test