Some guys just stick in your head forever, and Sammy Khalifa is one of those guys for me.
In 1986, I was an inveterate Topps collector. Every spare dollar I had went straight to J.D.'s Sportscards; in return, I received wax packs of Topps cards, and immediately went home to keep working on completing my set.
I don't know that I'd ever noticed Sammy Khalifa before seeing Topps #316. But how could you not notice Khalifa then? There had never been a player named Khalifa, or anything like Khalifa. Was it too much to hope that Sam Khalifa had actually been born in the Middle East? Well, yes. Khalifa was born in California. And the back of the Topps #316 doesn't have anything to say about his heritage; I dug out my 1986 set, and here's the extra information offered on the back of that card:
THE FIRST BROTHER PITCHING DUO IN PIRATES CLUB HISTORY WAS HARRY AND HOWIE CAMNITZ WHO TOOK MOUND IN 1909 SEASON.
Oh. Okay. At some point, I believe I did discover that Khalifa's father was an Egyptian-American. But that's where Sammy Khalifa stood in my mind for about 25 years: the (sorta) Middle Eastern Pirates shortstop who didn't last long in the majors.
Until the other day, when I read this piece in The New York Times and discovered a few more things about Sam Khalifa. For one, his father was murdered in 1990. An arrest was made in 2006, and the suspect's trial finally began last month ...
As opening arguments in Francis’s murder trial began on Dec. 11 in Pima County Superior Court here, Sam Khalifa, the son of the victim, sat in the mostly empty gallery. He is 49 now and drives a cab here. But at one time, he was the starting shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Despite his middle-age paunch and the fatigue he wears on his face, Khalifa still resembles the handsome, dark-featured 22-year-old on his 1986 baseball card. In the mid-1980s, Khalifa was the rare Muslim baseball player and, according to Major League Baseball, the very first son of an Egyptian to play in the big leagues. His boyhood narrative included a year spent playing on a makeshift sand field in Tripoli, Libya.
I don't have any grand point to make, except maybe that every baseball player isn't a millionaire. You probably knew that already. I just wanted to recommend the piece.