For many decades, Arnold Hano was one of the best magazine writers in America. He is best known for his slender jewel of a book, “A Day in the Bleachers,” which he wrote on impulse after witnessing Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series.
But he is so much more than that, a 1930’s guy who still talks about “the social contract” – the relationship between individuals and society.
“He met and talked with Babe Ruth, JFK and John Wayne, saw Mays’ iconic catch, Larsen’s perfecto, and successfully battled racism, land developers, big corporations, and the federal government. says Jon Leonoudakis, a California-based film-maker who was so taken with Hano’s body of work that he has put together a documentary about him.
“His story has flown under the radar of popular culture for nearly a hundred years -- until now,” Leonoudakis added.
Hano is 93 and living in Laguna Beach, Calif., with his wife Bonnie. They have been together for 67 years as he wrote about protecting wildlife from Disney and other developers.
Two baseball stars, Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou, testify in the film about Hano’s fair depiction of Latino players.
The Hanos also demonstrated against prejudice in their adopted beach town. And they joined the Peace Corps in their 60’s and built schools in Costa Rica.
The film-maker became entranced with Hano and began interviewing him, with Hano insisting there was no story. (Larry David would play him in the bio-pic.)
Leonoudakis rounded up a gaggle of admiring colleagues (including me) and added an artistic blend of original jazz, original art (not the usual sports schlock) and touching photos, including Arnold and Bonnie Hano, young and old.
The couple was back in New York the other day (at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse) to publicize the documentary. She was there on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 29, 1954, when Hano – without any assignment or credential -- decided he would walk to the Polo Grounds for the opening game of the Series between the Giants and Cleveland.
Bonnie Hano, as wives do, told her husband not to be silly. He was never going to be able to walk up and buy a ticket. He did not listen to her, and stood two hours on line and paid $2.10 (he remembers all that stuff) to sit in the bleachers, the left-field side, so he could call balls and strikes from 500 feet away.
He started keeping score -- that’s what people did at ballparks before selfies -- and taking notes in the margin of his paper (The Times.)
Top of the eighth. Tie game. Nobody out. Runners on first and second. Then Willie Howard Mays began running toward Arnold Hano to track down a mammoth drive by Vic Wertz. Hano watched as Mays, arms outstretched, caught the ball as it soared over his shoulder, and then, in one fantastic powerful whirling motion, turned and dispatched the ball to second base, on a powerful arc.
Larry Doby did move from second to third, but Al Rosen had to go back to first because of Mays’ howitzer shot. .
(“Wertz flew to center field,” tersely reports the play-by-play on the invaluable Retrosheet.)
Hano watched the Giants win, 5-2, on Dusty Rhodes’ homer in the 10th. Then he went home and typed up his report, which turned into a small book that did not sell much at first but has become one of the classics of the sport.
I wrote about the book on the 50th anniversary of the Mays catch, in 2004:
Arnold and Bonnie Hano downgrade the book as something short of literature. They do have their opinions, which Hano has injected into the copious details and color and quotes -- one of the best dossiers of sports magazine articles, ever.
Now he has been captured in a knowing 53-minute film. Leonoudakis is seeking space on television and festivals and archives devoted to baseball – and journalism, and America.
The film is film is available on DVD from the film’s website:
It is also available for streaming:
Oh, yes, and check out the cover art (above). It figures in the delightful coda to the documentary. Carl Hubbell. That’s all I’m saying.