To say that Clarence (Lefty) Blasco is simply looking for a picture of Pete Lamere is not at all accurate. Not unless you also believe that the FBI just looked for Patty Hearst, and Tom Lasorda merely looks for Italian food.
Blasco, 64, has been searching the earth for more than 30 years for a picture of Pierre (Pete) Lamere. Not a picture of Lamere shaking hands with a president or a picture of Lamere standing atop Mount Everest. Any picture of Lamere will do. At this point, Blasco might be thrilled to death to get a stick-figure sketch on a bar napkin with the words "Pete Lamere" scrawled at the bottom.
Who, you ask, is Pete Lamere? He was a catcher who played in three major league games. Two with the Chicago Cubs in 1902 and one with Cincinnati in 1907. His major league statistics are 2-for-11 at the plate, two errors, one passed ball. Sort of a turn-of-the-century Bob Uecker.
Where, you ask, is Pete Lamere? He is dead. Been dead since 1931.
Why, you ask, does Blasco's urge to locate this man's picture make a salmon's urge to swim upstream seem no more than a whim? Because if he gets that picture, Blasco will have a photograph of every Chicago Cub. Pay attention here. He means every Chicago Cub. Ever . Between 1900 and 1986, 1,235 men have worn a Chicago Cubs uniform. Blasco has a photograph of 1,234 of them.
He needs Lamere.
Oh sure, he can always fall back on his photo collection of every Cleveland Indians player since that team joined the American League in 1901, all 1,216 of them.
Or he can relax with the knowledge that he has in his possession perhaps the only complete photo guide of every All-City football team in the history of Erie, Pa.
But Blasco, who grew up in Erie and said he developed his strong attachment to both the Indians and Cubs as a child, won't rest, not even on those lofty achievements. Not until he has a Lamere, whose brief major league stint was discovered by Blasco during an examination of several baseball record books during the 1950s.
Blasco, who retired from American Sterilization Co. in 1983 after 42 years with the firm, stood in his den in Van Nuys recently, looking through black-framed glasses at stacks of loose photographs and even higher stacks of photo albums. This is both his hobby and his obsession. There is no golf or fishing for Blasco.
In one special book, he has written, in pencil, the name of every Chicago Cub and Cleveland Indian of whom he has a photo. Beside each name is the man's birth date, place of birth and the circumstances of the picture. Some are in the minor league uniform of the Maine Guides. Or the Buffalo Bisons. Or the Peoria Chiefs. But all played with either the Cubs or Indians.
And so did Pete Lamere.
"I know everything you want to know about Pete Lamere," Blasco said. "Just everything. He was born in December, 1873, in New York City. He died Oct. 10, 1931, in St. John's Hospital in Brooklyn. His wife's name was Ellen, and they had no children. His mother was named Catherine and his father was Edward. Edward B. Lamere. He had two brothers, Edward and Henry, and a sister, Josephine. Ellen, his wife, died March 5, 1964, in Melrose, Mass."
You thought Blasco was kidding when he said he knew e verything about Pete Lamere? He wasn't.
He knows that Lamere played in 71 games as a catcher for New London, Conn., of the Eastern League and batted .294 in 1898. And that he played in 18 games and batted .257 for Providence of the Eastern League in 1899. And that in 1903, Lamere was the catcher for Poughkeepsie in the Hudson River League season opener. The starting pitcher for Poughkeepsie that day? Ernie F. Lindemann Jr.
There is more. Much more. Lefty Blasco does indeed know everything about Pete Lamere. And he has been close, oh so close, to getting a picture.
"He played for the Providence Grays in 1899, and a friend back East found a picture years ago of the 1899 Providence Grays," Blasco said. "He mailed it to me. I was so excited. I got the picture, and Lamere wasn't in it. He must have missed the photo day or something. That's as close as I've come."
Blasco's baseball journey through the 20th Century has not, however, gone on without its bright moments. You don't accumulate pictures of every Cleveland Indian and darn near every Chicago Cub without some pretty big moments.
Take for example his long search for a photo of J.A. Costello, who is listed in the record books as having batted just once in the major leagues, for the Indians in 1912. Blasco couldn't find his picture. Anywhere. And for good reason. There was no J.A. Costello.
"The guy's name was really Kenneth L. Nash," Blasco said. "They brought him up from the minor leagues, but he didn't get to start, so he was mad. When the manager finally sent him up to pinch hit, he gave the umpire the name J.A. Costello. That's how it was recorded.
"I eventually found him, he was a special justice in Boston, and he laughed about it. He said, 'OK, I admit it. It was me who went up as Costello.' He thought it was funny."
Blasco, who had spent many years tracking down J.A. Costello, thought it was about as funny as pneumonia. Which brings up another big moment in his journey.
"A guy named Tom Phillips played with the Indians in 1919," he said. "The only thing I could find out was that he lived in Phillipsburg, N.J. So I sent a letter to the postmaster there and asked if he could find Tom Phillips. The postmaster had never heard the name and had no record of him, but a woman in the post office overheard him talking about it and told him, 'I do. He's from Phillipsburg, Pa., not New Jersey. I was supposed to marry him Saturday. He died Tuesday of pneumonia.'
"So I wrote to the woman and she sent me a picture of Tom Phillips and his death notice."
Wouldn't Rod Serling have loved that one?
But with every triumph, there is another reminder of Pete Lamere. Or more accurately, no Pete Lamere.
Lamere's major league career started in 1902 when the Cubs went to New York for a game. Catcher Frank Chance--who would later become famous as the first baseman in the Tinker-to-Evers-to Chance double-play combination--was injured. The Cubs were told that Lamere was available for a nominal fee and they put him in a uniform. And on Sept. 10 and 11, he was the Cubs' catcher. Five years later, he played his next and last major league game because of similar circumstances. Cincinnati was in town and needed a catcher for one game. It suited up Lamere, then a semipro catcher. He went 0 for 2 on Aug. 20, 1907, against Brooklyn, and never played another game in the major leagues.
And Blasco hasn't rested easily since the early 1950s, when he began his Lamere photo hunt.
"When I found out in about 1958 that he had two brothers and a sister, I got excited," Blasco said. "But then I found out they were dead, too. But I got their death certificates and found out that they had children. But I never found them, either."
Blasco has checked out the newspapers in the cities where Lamere played. Again, nothing.
He also turned to fellow members of the Society for American Baseball Research. They also were not of much help. But he has learned through SABR meetings that he is not alone.
"There's one guy who is alphabetizing the names of everyone who ever played professional baseball," Blasco said. "That includes the major leagues and the minor leagues. Every one. Another guy listens to old radio tapes of games, starting when radio was first invented. He sits at home with a computer and computes every pitch. Whether it was a ball or strike, high or low, inside or outside. And if it was hit, where it was hit. He said he's up to about 1962."
Blasco, who has spent more than three decades chasing a photo of Pierre Lamere, said: "Those guys are crazy. That's a bit excessive, I think."
To keep his collection up to date, Blasco writes to each major league club and asks for photos. In the spring, they begin trickling in to his mailbox, to be entered into Blasco's book, still in pencil.
On the Cubs roster, for every picture of a Ryne Sandberg there is a Pickles Dillhoefer (1917). For every Shawon Dunston or Rick Sutcliffe, there is a Vito Valentinetti (1956), or Mordeci (Three-Finger) Brown (1904) or Rollie (Bunions) Zeider (1916) or Bill (Reindeer) Killefer (1918).
On the Indians photo roster, for every Andre Thornton there is a Frank (the Human Flea) Bonner (1901) or Wilbur (Raw Meat) Rodgers (1910) or Merton Merill Meixell (1912).
But nowhere is there a Pete Lamere. And occasionally, in his darkest moments, Blasco is haunted by one thought: "Sometimes I don't think there is a Pete Lamere picture out there. I really don't think there is one. It's very, very possible in that era to have lived your whole life without ever having had your picture taken. Sometimes I don't think he was ever photographed."
At the turn of the century, photography was still in its infancy. Cameras were big and bulky. The most common were the so-called dark cloth cameras with which the photographer would cover himself and the camera in a light-proof cloth and then expose the film by hand. For indoor pictures, there were no flash bulbs or strobe lights. Flash powder was used to illuminate a subject. Unfortunately, the explosive powder also resulted in many mangled hands and fingers and the light could cause temporary blindness.
One could not blame Lamere if he opted during his life not to bother with having a photo taken of himself.
Blasco's wife, Marie, has watched the search for Lamere since it began. The couple has been married for 37 years, but Lefty ("With a name like Clarence, it's a damn good thing I was left-handed and got a nickname," Blasco said) knows she's not as, well, let's say involved, as he is.
"One of my great fears," he said, "is that when I die she'll come into this room and say, 'What is all this junk?' and throw it all out."
One might have predicted long ago this kind of fanatical collector's life for Blasco. It was 1933, and the 12-year-old Blasco had 95 of the 96 baseball cards with the pictures of the current crop of major leaguers. His friend, Ollie Hunter, had the 96th--Tony Lazzeri. Blasco wanted it. So he made a trade. He got Tony Lazzeri and Ollie got the World War I army uniform of Blasco's father. Without the approval of Blasco's father.
Ordinarily, a provision of such a major trade would include a beating to be named later. But Blasco said his father didn't mind a bit.
"My mother was really mad, but Dad thought it was OK," Blasco said.
Fifty-three years after that trade, Blasco searches desperately for one picture, a single, stinking picture of Lamere.
And he knows the search may never end.
"It's real frustrating," he said. "Some days I get the feeling that if I dug up Pete Lamere's casket, he wouldn't even be in it."