Living With Regret

Ron Berler
4 min readApr 28, 2023
Forty-eight years ago, former Chicago Cubs pitcher Oscar Zamora gifted me the glove of my dreams.

How do you thank someone who has passed?

Óscar Zamora was a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1970s. He wasn’t very good, to put it kindly. During his Wrigley Field tenure, Cubs fans would serenade him as he exited the game, often in mid-inning after having surrendered a blizzard of runs. Here is a sample verse, sung to the tune of the long-ago Dean Martin hit “That’s Amore.”

When the pitch is so fat

That the ball hits the bat,

That’s Zamora!

From the press box where I sometimes sat, he seemed to accept the razzing with equanimity, as if he agreed it was deserved. I was a young reporter at the time, and after games I’d pass him in the clubhouse as he dressed quietly at his locker, while I sought out one or another of his more prominent teammates. Zamora pitched for the Cubs for parts of three seasons, and I can’t remember ever interviewing him for a story or even stopping to chat. He was one in that category — an interchangeable part, a minor actor who wouldn’t last long in the game.

Zamora was 31, in his second big-league season, on the day in May 1975 when we came closest to sharing a real conversation. My target that afternoon, as I strode past his locker, was one of his teammates — a star infielder I knew slightly who would win the league batting title that year. I had a favor to ask.

Like Zamora and his fellow Cubs, I too played the game, though not credibly enough to have made my high school team. Still, baseball was my passion. I played shortstop for a bar-league softball team, and my bucket-list dream was a new glove. Not just any glove — a major league-quality one, made of a grade of leather and stitching so fine, it was manufactured exclusively for professional ballplayers.

No problem, the infielder said. He named a price and I handed him the money. A week later, I returned to the clubhouse and the infielder waved me over. He reached into his locker and tossed me a new glove.

I thought he was joking at first. It was a Wilson A2000 — a popular model readily available in any decent sporting goods shop. Not a pro-quality one. Not at all what I’d asked for, or desired. I stood there silent, head dipped, feeling taken, staring at this unwanted object.

Word spread round the clubhouse about what had transpired. One of the infielder’s teammates, centerfielder Rick Monday, eyed the Wilson A2000 and shook his head. “If you wanted a glove, why didn’t you ask me?” he said, shooting a look at the infielder before returning to his locker.

I was still staring at the retail-store glove when Zamora, the pitcher to whom I’d never spoken, approached. “Here,” he said. “Take this.” In his hand was a Rawlings Heart of the Hide professional-model glove, oiled, perfectly broken in, virtually brand new. “It’s my backup,” he said, meaning the one he used during pregame drills.

I was too stunned at first to speak. I took his gift and turned it gingerly in my hands, as if I were examining a piece of fine jewelry. “I don’t know how to thank you,” I finally managed and kept repeating. The glove was the stuff of my dreams.

You’d think after such unprompted kindness that I would have sought him out regularly in the clubhouse, sat with him at his locker and gotten to know him as a treasured acquaintance, if not as a friend. I certainly had the time and opportunity. But I was 25, self-absorbed, oblivious. To my shame, I never did. By the time I realized my error, my loss, he had left the game. I never saw him again.

Zamora’s glove, though — that was a different story. I would take the field wearing his gift for the next 45 years, until I turned 70, till suddenly ground balls I had once readily handled seemed to come at me like sniper fire. It was time to retire.

Time for the glove to retire too. Over the years it had taken a battering, its leather worn raw and thin, like a faded house stripped of its paint.

I’m 74 now and haven’t played catch since hanging up my cleats. But every so often, I slip on Zamora’s glove and flex it till the pocket brushes my palm, till it feels as it did on the ball field, like a second skin. And I think, too, of the man who’d once worn it and of his selfless generosity.

Last December I sought to contact Zamora, to tell him about the glove and what it still means to me. But mostly, I hoped to get to know him. A Major League Baseball Players Association representative, wanting to help, mailed a letter to his last known address but received no response. Later, I learned he had opened a Miami shoe store after retiring, and I located Cosme de la Torriente, the attorney who had handled his business affairs.

I was too late, de la Torriente told me over the phone. Zamora died of a heart attack two years ago. He was 77.

The attorney and I spoke for almost an hour. Zamora had been not only a client but his friend. He told me Zamora had emigrated from Cuba to Miami as a child and had returned to Miami after retiring from the game. The two had sometimes gone nightclubbing together.

“Óscar knew everybody, and everybody knew him. He loved people,” de la Torriente said. “What he did for you, that was his character. You would have liked him.”

I wish I’d made the effort.

Ron Berler is the author of “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000 Failing Public Schools.” This piece originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

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Ron Berler

Author of “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.” Has written for the New York Times Magazine, Wired and ESPN.com.