Read an Excerpt
Baseball's Best Barbs, Banter, and Bluster
By Dick Crouser, Mark Anderson
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2004 Dick Crouser
All rights reserved.
The Players, Part I: You Just Can't Count on Pete
Who is the king of the witty baseball retort? Well, no matter how you feel about Pete Rose, you have to admit that he ranks right up there in the sharp-tongue department. In fact, let the record show that only once in his 24-year career was he caught speechless.
Day 1: Left fielder Alex Johnson and Rose, playing center, converged on a fly ball. As the ball popped out of Johnson's glove, Rose grabbed it for the out (possibly the only 7-8 putout in the history of baseball).
Day 2: A line drive was hit right at Johnson and he dropped it. Without missing a beat he turned over toward Rose and yelled, "Where were you?!"
Pitcher Sal Maglie was called "the Barber" because of his readiness to administer a close shave to any batter digging in on him. As any National League hitter from the fifties can attest, the nickname was well earned. Part of Maglie's knockdown procedure was to throw not one but two brushbacks at a hitter. "The second one," he explained, "lets him know you meant the first one."
For all the great numbers outfielder Gary Sheffield has put up, his personality still gets him a few detractors. The San Francisco Chronicle's Tom Fitzgerald is one of them: "Sheffield is such a fine player that three cities are named after him," he wrote. "Gary, Indiana; Sheffield, England; and Marblehead, Massachusetts."
Through the 2000 season, outfielder Luis Polonia's lifetime batting average was just a hair under .300, but according to former teammate Dennis Lamp, his fielding was a bit shaky. "If you hit Polonia a hundred fly balls," he said, "you could make a movie out of it and call it Catch 22."
Gates Brown's path to a 13-year career in the big leagues was a bit unorthodox. The Tigers signed him right out of prison in the early sixties. Invited back to his old high school for a success-story speech, Brown was asked by the principal what he had taken at Crestline High. "Overcoats, mainly," said Gates.
With the DH in force, pitcher Jimmy Key wound up his 15-year American League career in 1998 with just two official at-bats. That might explain his faux pas in a spring -training game while with the Blue Jays. Called upon to pinch hit when no one else was available, he lined a shot into right field but was thrown out at first. "They told me to hit," he said. "Nobody said anything about running."
Ex–Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine signed with the Mets for the 2003 season and, in his first outing, was facing only his second hitter when the notorious New York boo-birds turned on him. An onlooker called it the shortest honeymoon in history not involving someone named Zsa Zsa.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler reported on some early 2003 progress in the negotiations between Pete Rose and commissioner Bud Selig to lift Rose's ban from baseball. Ostler reported that Pete's latest counteroffer was that he would agree to be reinstated if Selig would admit that he once sold used cars.
Barry Bonds has received his six MVP Awards on the basis of his performance, not his personality. He once discussed a recent slump while seated at his locker. "It was a terrible experience," he said. "It was awful, I felt so depressed." Then, turning to a teammate at the next locker, he said, "You must feel like that all the time."
First baseman Zeke Bonura, who was traded from Jimmy Dykes' White Sox to the Washington Senators in 1938, was considered the slowest runner in the history of baseball. He was perhaps not the most quick-witted, either. The first time the teams played each other after the trade, Bonura tried to steal home and was thrown out by 30 feet. Why did he even try? "I saw Dykes give the steal sign," said Bonura, "and I forgot I didn't play for him anymore."
Outfielder Billy Williams gave lots of pitchers plenty of trouble during his 18-year career, but the Pirates' Steve Blass felt constantly picked on. Blass once pitched the first game of a Cubs holiday doubleheader that started at 10:30 a.m. Remarking on the game, he said, "I gave up three hits to Billy Williams and it wasn't even noon yet!"
Pitcher John Rocker's outspoken opinions have made him less than popular with minorities. When he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2001, a group of Native Americans expressed their displeasure. Rocker's reaction: "Tell them to go back where they came from."
Nick Etten played first base for the Yankees during the WWII years. He was a respectable hitter, but he never really sparkled in the field. Once, as he dove for a ball, his glove came off but the ball stuck in the webbing. Sportswriter Joe Trimble said, "Nick Etten's glove fields better with Nick Etten out of it."
It's all relative, according to sportswriter Scott Ostler. In 2001, when Randy Johnson blew Todd Helton away on three pitches clocked at 100, 100, and 99 mph, Ostler wrote, "The cunning lefty sets up Helton with fastballs and then gets him with a change-up."
Back when few big-league players had a college education, catcher Moe Berg was a notable exception. He had degrees from both Princeton and Columbia Law School — and an anemic .243 lifetime batting average. "He could speak eight languages," said teammate Ted Lyons, "but he couldn't hit in any of them."
Rex Barney came up to the Dodgers in 1943 with a blazing fastball and unlimited potential. He retired in 1950 without ever learning to control his impressive heater. Sportswriter Bob Cooke delivered the postmortem: "Rex Barney would have been the league's best pitcher if the plate were high and outside."CHAPTER 2
The Hall of Famers, Part I: Leo's Mom
Leo Durocher did not get into the Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his .247 batting average over 17 years in the majors.
Officially, he was voted in by the Veterans Committee — as a manager.
But you and I know that he really got in because of his sharp tongue and fierce competitive nature. How fierce? Let's hear it from the scrappy old shortstop himself.
"If my mother is rounding second, I'd trip her. I'd help her up, brush her off, and tell her I'm sorry. But Mother doesn't make it to third base."
That's Leo the Lip. Shall we move on to the wit and wisdom of some of his Hall of Fame playmates?
Ted Williams didn't seem to have any weaknesses at the plate, and he absolutely feasted on pitches down around the knees. So when Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau called reliever Red Embree in from the bullpen to pitch to Williams and Embree asked, "Can I pitch him low?" Boudreau said, "You can if you want to, but as soon as you release the ball you'd better run and hide."
Star Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez lived in mortal fear of burly Red Sox slugger Jimmy Foxx. Once, in 1938, with Foxx digging in in a crucial situation, Gomez shook off four straight signals from catcher Bill Dickey. Finally, Dickey went to the mound and said, "OK, wise guy, what do you want to throw?" "What's your hurry?" said Gomez. "Maybe he'll get a phone call or something."
Maurice "Mickey" McDermott had an up-and-down career, pitching for six different American League teams as well as the National League's Cardinals. His one year with the Yankees, 1956, was in the "down" column and, once, stumbling into the team's hotel lobby at 4:00 a.m. and running smack into manager Casey Stengel, he figured it was all over. "Are you drunk again, Maurice?" asked Casey. "Yes, I am," said McDermott. "So am I," said Stengel. "Good night, Maurice."
Willie Mays' most memorable moment was his incredible catch of Vic Wertz's 460-foot blast in the 1954 World Series. The pitcher, Don Liddle, had come in just to face Wertz and threw one pitch. One pitch. And he was immediately replaced after the catch that resulted. As Liddle entered the dugout he said, "Well, I got my guy."
When Hall of Famer Stan Musial took his lifetime .331 batting average to the plate, National League pitchers trembled. But the Dodgers' Preacher Roe had his own system for dealing with Stan the Man. "I usually walk him on four pitches," said Roe, "and then try to pick him off first."
Joe DiMaggio was named to the American League All-Star Team every year he played for the Yankees — 13 times altogether. He also posted an astounding .579 lifetime slugging average. And that was fine with manager Joe McCarthy. Asked if DiMaggio knew how to bunt, McCarthy said, "I will never find out."
Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville was a scrapper, on and off the field. Bill Veeck recalled Maranville stumbling out of a hotel bar and insulting a cab driver, who then beat him up. Same result with the second cabbie in line. Same with the third. What was he doing? "Trying to find one I can whip," he explained.
The day that Lou Gehrig hit four dingers in one game, he pulled the first three into the right-field stands off George Earnshaw of the Philadelphia Athletics. As Gehrig came up for the fourth time, manager Connie Mack brought in Roy Mahaffey to pitch and suggested that Earnshaw watch how the reliever handled Gehrig. When the Yankee slugger hit Mahaffey's first pitch into the left-field stands, Earnshaw said, "I see. He made him change directions."
Eppa Rixey broke in with the Phillies in 1912 and pitched in the National League for 21 years, but he never mastered his violent temper. A die-hard Southerner, he especially hated the Yankee Civil War song "Marching Through Georgia." Once, hearing it whistled in the opponents' dugout, he wheeled and fired the ball at the whistler. "It ain't that the song makes me mad," he explained. "It makes me mad that they think it makes me mad."
If things ever got dull in spring training, the sportswriters covering the Yankees headed right for Yogi Berra's locker. Once, when asked by a scribe what his hat size was, Yogi replied, "I don't know. I'm not in shape yet."
In 1930, Cubs manager Joe McCarthy put on a little demonstration to try to reform his hard-drinking, heavy-hitting outfielder, Hack Wilson. He dropped a worm into a glass of water and the worm swam around. He dropped the same worm into a glass of gin and the worm died. What did Hack learn from that? "If you drink gin," said Wilson, "you won't get worms."
Over a 20-year career, outfielder Paul Waner sported a .333 lifetime batting average and led the National League in hitting three times. According to some teammates, he also led the league in boozing. When Waner was with the Braves in 1942, manager Casey Stengel was especially impressed with Paul's grace on the base paths because, according to Casey, "He could slide without breaking the bottle in his back pocket."
Hard-nosed pitcher Early Wynn was offended when Washington's weak-hitting Jose Valdivielso lined one off his chin, resulting in 16 stitches. For the rest of his career, Valdivielso never batted against Wynn without getting hit or knocked down. "The mound is my office," said Wynn, "and I don't like it messed up with blood."
Reggie Jackson didn't accept the huge offer he got to play in Japan in 1988, but he thought about it. "They say it gets lonely there," he said. "But for that kind of money I could buy some friends and take them with me."
When Hank Aaron hit home run number 715 to break Babe Ruth's record, Dodgers left-hander Al Downing was the victim. Years later Downing was asked how that historic moment had affected his life since then. "In little ways," said Downing. "For example, I never say 'seven-fifteen' anymore. I say 'quarter after seven.'"
Nineteen eighty was the year George Brett almost hit .400. It was also reliever Dan Quisenberry's second year up with the Royals, and he was very much in awe of his teammate Brett. How did the team get along during Brett's several injuries that season? "Our goal was to get as many rainouts as possible," said Quisenberry.
In 1962 Casey Stengel was the first-ever manager of the expansion New York Mets and surprised everyone by taking catcher Hobie Landrith with his first draft pick. Why? "Because if you don't have a catcher," explained Casey, "you get a lot of passed balls."CHAPTER 3
The Coaches, Scouts, and Managers, Part I: They Had Him Scouted
OK, here's a challenge for you.
Walk down any big-city street and ask the first hundred people you meet what was the highlight of Twins coach Al Newman's big-league career.
The odds are that only if you're lucky enough to run into his mother will anyone give you the right answer. Which is: he hit one homer, in his second season, and then went the remaining six years of his career without hitting another.
Mom might even be able to repeat Newman's excuse for this ignominious feat.
"I just never got my pitch," he explained.
But playing a good game doesn't qualify anybody for inclusion within these hallowed pages.
Talking a good game does.
Carry on ...
OK, what does a bench coach really do? Don Zimmer gives us an example of how it worked when he was with the Yankees: "If Joe Torre called for a hit-and-run, and it worked, I'd pat him on the back and say, 'Smart move.' If it didn't work, I'd go down and hang around the water cooler."
Ellis Clary played for the old Washington Senators and then coached, managed in the minors, and scouted for the Twins for 40 years. Who was the worst prospect he ever saw? "I once scouted a pitcher who was so bad," said Clary, "that when he came into a game, the grounds crew dragged the warning track."
In the mid-eighties Jackie Moore briefly managed the Oakland A's. Very briefly. So when he was asked whether he considered himself an interim manager, his answer was both correct and prophetic. "In the majors," he said, "all managers are interim."
Pirates manager Bill Virdon was not the excitable type, but he made an exception about a spectacular catch that the Cardinals' Lou Brock made against his Pittsburgh team. "I don't believe it," he said. "Brock could never do that again — not even on instant replay!"
Things did not go well for manager Billy Gardner's Twins in the eighties. Injuries, off years, and pitching problems conspired to keep his team mired deep in the standings. "The way things are going for me," he said, "if I bought a pumpkin farm, they'd cancel Halloween."
Harvey Kuenn's .353 batting average led the American League in 1959, and his .303 lifetime average proved that hitting was no great problem for him. Switching to managing the Milwaukee Brewers proved an easy task, too. "All I do is write their names on the lineup card and let them play," he said. "I haven't misspelled a name yet."
Most big-league managers know that being hired is just the first step toward being fired. (OK, Connie Mack lasted 50 years as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, but he also owned the team.) Tony LaRussa said, "When I first became a manager, I asked Chuck Tanner for advice. He told me, 'Always rent.'"
The Seattle Mariners finished last in the A.L. West in 1983 — again. So when Del Crandall was named manager midway through the season, a local critic had this reaction: "Being named manager of the Seattle Mariners is like being named the head chef at McDonald's."
In the spring of 1986, after 10 years of faithful service, catcher/outfielder John Wathan and the Kansas City Royals cut a deal. At a hastily called press conference, the club announced that right now — as of this moment — Wathan was no longer a player; he was a coach. Wathan then stepped to the microphone and said, "The game has changed a lot since I played."
When the Mets came into existence in 1962, everyone predicted they would finish in last place. And, at 60 games out, the Mets didn't disappoint them. But manager Casey Stengel never gave up. At midseason a reporter asked Stengel where he thought the club would end up. "We will finish," said Casey, checking the schedule, "in Chicago."
In 1980 the San Francisco Giants were stumbling along under .500, and manager Dave Bristol was not happy. "There'll be two buses leaving the hotel for the ballpark tomorrow," he said. "The two o'clock bus will be for those of you who need a little extra work. The empty bus will leave at five o'clock."
Once when Mets manager Yogi Berra brought in reliever Tug McGraw to replace Tom Seaver, he said, "Can you get 'em out?" "Jeez, Yogi," said McGraw, "you just took out the best pitcher in baseball. If he can't get 'em out, what do you expect from me?"
In 1962 Alvin Dark, manager of the Giants, had two major accomplishments: he led his team to the N.L. pennant and he was right on with one prediction. Seeing then-rookie Gaylord Perry flail away in batting practice, he said, "We will have a man on the moon before Perry hits a home run." Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Thirty-four minutes later Perry hit his first homer.
Excerpted from Baseball's Best Barbs, Banter, and Bluster by Dick Crouser, Mark Anderson. Copyright © 2004 Dick Crouser. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.