In my office is a picture of a young man wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball hat and uniform. He is smiling, absolutely beaming with delight.
The name of the young man is Glenn Mickens.
On that picture, he wrote this inscription: “To Bill Buley – A friend and a fine editor.” — Glenn Mickens, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1953.
It is a prized possession that I am proud to display, and one that will remind me of one good man I came to know on Kauai after moving here in April 2013, and a man I will miss.
Glenn Mickens passed away Tuesday night. He was 88.
Glenn had a short Major League Baseball career, but imagine pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers at the age of 22. He did. He played with Jackie Robinson and some of the game’s greats in the one season he was with the Dodgers and the seasons he spent in the minors. Glenn sometimes downplayed his MLB career, but I reminded him, “You have to be a great player just to reach the big leagues. Very few actually get there. You did.”
I think he appreciated that.
We exchanged emails about baseball, about the Seattle Mariners and my hero Ken Griffey, and about the Los Angeles Dodgers, his favorite team. Glenn knew baseball and he understood the importance of pitching, that it was the key to winning.
But Glenn was about more than baseball. In his time on Kauai (he moved here about 30 years ago), he became a government watchdog and frequent letter-writer to TGI. He kept close tabs on the County Council. Little annoyed him more than county officials talking about expanding bike and walking paths and the bus system to alleviate traffic. In his view, people were not going to give up their cars so they could bike, walk or bus. The only viable long-term solution to ease traffic, he said, was to build more roads. That was it. Build more roads. All this stuff about biking and walking and buses was just putting off what needed to be done. It aggravated him to no end. I told him I agreed. He appreciated that.
His other issue was that AJA (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) baseball on Kauai was restricted to those having Japanese blood. Remember, Glenn was there when Jackie Robinson, a black man, played for the Dodgers in the early ‘50s when the game was dominated by white players. He witnessed the discrimination that Robinson faced and he never forgot it. His long-running argument with AJA was to open the league “to any person, male or female, black, white or yellow, who has the ability to compete in their league.”
“My point is that our AJA baseball league could only be stronger by opening their doors to everyone; to possibly give some kid a chance of sharpening his talents in the high school off-season so he can go to a major college, even with a possible scholarship. Let us never forget that two brothers, Tyler and Kirby Yates from Kauai, reached the big leagues, defying odds in the millions against them to get there,” he wrote.
Every year, Mickens wrote a letter to TGI calling for just that. Every year, it didn’t happen. I once wrote an opinion in TGI calling politely for what Mickens said, to open AJA to all. Perhaps one day it will. He would be pleased.
Glenn Mickens did what few in this world will ever do, play Major League Baseball.
But that wasn’t his biggest or best achievement.
For that, look at his circle of family and friends. They loved him not because he played baseball, sat at council meetings or wrote letters to the local newspaper.
They loved him because he was a man with a good heart who cared about people and tried, in his own way, to make the world a better place. He had a quick smile and genuine laugh and a wonderful sense of humor. He was not an old guy complaining. He was the man who wanted to help, who saw things could be better and said so, was firm about right and wrong and standing up for those who needed it. He’s the kind of man we need in this world.
And as for that inscription Glenn wrote on the picture he gave me, I’ll say this: I don’t know about being a fine editor, but I am proud to be his friend.
Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at email@example.com.