I thought Elijah “Lucky” Miller would live forever. I met him when he was 99, though he looked to be more like 70. He was the perfect example of the maxim I learned from my friends: Black don’t crack. More importantly, he didn’t act like someone nearing the end of his life.
At 104, that had changed. His memory was finally failing and his stories of his time as a backup batboy for the Homestead Grays were getting a little jumbled. In every other telling, Satchel Paige had his fielders sit down, then turned and struck out Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson. This time, it was Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson and Willie Stargell. I tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it, picturing the 1930s Negro League sluggers consoling the leader of the 1970s Pirates at his inability to get an easy hit.
Past and present were colliding and no matter how many times Elijah recited his alphabet backwards — a trick I think kept his mind sharp — he couldn’t stop it. In October 2010, Lucky’s son-in-law, Joe Hines, warned me that his health was failing. I planned to visit him in the hospital the morning of Oct. 13, then head to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Pirates’ victory over the the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. For 20-some years, fans have gathered at what’s left of the Forbes Field Wall to listen to the radio broadcast of the game. This time, the game’s hero, Bill Mazeroski ,and other Pirates from that era would be there. I envisioned stopping back afterward and telling him all about it.
But life doesn’t happen like a movie. Joe called me the afternoon of Oct.12 to say that my friend had passed away. I felt stupid for hoping that a life of 104 years could last just one more day. Instead of an obituary, I wrote this: