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Winning by Striking Out
It could happen only in Brooklyn. Nowhere else in this broad, untidy universe, not in Bedlam nor in Babel nor in the remotest psychopathic ward nor the sleaziest padded cell could The Thing be.
Only in the ancestral home of the Dodgers which knew the goofy glories of Babe Herman could a man win a World Series game by striking out.
Only on the banks of the chuckling Gowanus, where the dizzy-days of Uncle Wilbert Robinson still are fresh and dear in memory, could a team fling away its chance for the championship of the world by making four outs in the last inning.
It shouldn't happen to a MacPhail! As Robert W. Service certainly did not say it:
Oh, them Brooklyn Wights have seen strange sights. But the strangest they ever did see, Today was revealed in Ebbets Field When Owen fumbled strike three!
Among all the Yankee fans in the gathering of 33,813 who watched the fourth game of the World Series, only one was smiling when Tommy Henrich faced Hugh Casey in the ninth inning with two out, nobody on base, the Dodgers in front by one run, and a count of three balls and two strikes on the hitter.
That one gay New Yorker was Jim Farley, whose pink bald head gleamed in a box behind the Dodger dugout. He sat there just laughing and laughing—because he hadn't bought the Yankees, after all.
Then The Thing happened.
Henrich swung at a waist-high pitchover the inside corner. He missed. So did catcher Mickey Owen. Henrich ran to first. Owen ran after the ball but stopped at the grandstand screen.
That was Mickey's biggest mistake. He should have kept right on running all the way back home to Springfield, Missouri.
That way he wouldn't have been around to see and suffer when Joe DiMaggio singled, Charley Keller doubled, Bill Dickey walked, Joe Gordon doubled, and the Dodgers went down in horrendous defeat, 7 to 4.
Out of the rooftop press box in that awful instant came one long, agonized groan. It was the death cry of hundreds of thousands of unwritten words, the expiring moan of countless stories which were to have been composed in tribute to Casey.
For just as Owen has taken his place among the Merkles and Snodgrasses and Zimmermans and all the other famous goats of baseball, so now Casey belongs with the immortal suckers of all time.
The all-American fall guy of this series—round, earnest Casey—was only one pitch short of complete redemption for his sins of yesterday.
Remember that it was he whom the Yankees battered for the winning hits in the third game of the series. It was he whom Larry MacPhail castigated for failing, in MacPhail's judgment, to warm up properly before relieving Fred Fitzsimmons yesterday.
Now he was making all his critics eat their words. He was making a holy show of the experts who snorted last night that he was a chump and a fathead to dream that he could throw his fast stuff past the Yankees.
He was throwing it past them, one pitch after another, making a hollow mockery of the vaunted Yankee power as each superb inning telescoped into the one before.
No one ever stepped more cheerfully onto a hotter spot than did Casey when he walked in to relieve Johnny Allen in the fifth inning.
The Yankees were leading, 3 to 2, had the bases filled with two out, and the hitting star of the series, Joe Gordon, was at bat.
Casey made Gordon fly to Jim Wasdell for the final putout, and from there on he fought down the Yankees at every turn.
He made Red Rolfe pop up after Johnny Sturm singled with two out in the sixth. He breezed through the seventh despite a disheartening break when DiMaggio got a single on a puny ground ball that the Dodgers swore was foul.
Leo Durocher said enough short, indelicate words to Umpire Larry Goetz on that decision to unnerve completely anyone within earshot. But Casey, determined to hear no evil and pitch no evil, shut his ears and shut out the Yanks.
In the clutch, the great Keller popped up. The ever-dangerous Dickey could get nothing better than a puerile tap to the mound.
So it went, and as Casey drew ever closer to victory the curious creatures that are indigenous to Flatbush came crawling out of the woodwork. They did weird little dances in the aisles and shouted and stamped and rattled cowbells aloft and quacked derisively on little reedy horns.
Their mouths were open, their breath was indrawn for the last, exultant yell—and then The Thing happened.
Far into this night of horror, historians pored over the records, coming up at last with a World Series precedent for "The Thing."
It happened in the first game of the 1907 series between the Cubs and Detroit, when the Tigers went into the ninth inning leading, 3 to 1. With two out and two strikes against pinch-hitter Del Howard, Detroit's Wild Bill Donovan called catcher Charley Schmidt to the mound for a conference.
"Hold your glove over the corner," Donovan said, "and I'll curve a strike into it."
He did, but Schmidt dropped the strike, Howard reached base, and the Cubs went on to tie the score. The game ended in darkness, still tied after twelve innings, and the Cubs took the next four contests in a row.
That's about all, except that it should be said that experts certainly knew their onions when they raved about the Yankee power. It was the most powerful strikeout of all time. —October 1941
Oh, Those Wondrous Rookies
By now it must be clear to all readers of the sports pages that Florida and California are places where ball players of the Cobb-Wagner-Ruth kidney hang from every tree like bunches of bananas. Never within living memory has there been another spring when so many total strangers played such incomparably wondrous baseball in print.
Managers count that day lost when they fail to think up a dozen new superlatives to describe some lop-eared newcomer who not only hits like Ted Williams, throws like Dom DiMaggio, runs like George Stirnweiss and fields like Terry Moore, but also can cook, sew, sing, play the piccolo and talk Sanskrit like a native.
Thus Mel Ott takes a gander at young Bill Rigney in the hotel lobby and forthwith announces that here is the greatest shortstop he's ever seen, not excluding Travis Jackson, Glenn Wright or Slats Marion. Joe Hatten takes his first turn at throwing for the Dodger scrubs and the telegraph wires erupt quotes: "Best rookie I ever saw ... speed, curves, control, change of pace ... can't miss."
Dick Sisler hits like Charley Keller and Bill Wight is another Lefty Grove and Bill McKechnie says his man, Ed Shokes, is "a Marion or a Joe Gordon" around first base and fellow travelers with the Red Sox call Sam Mele "our other .400 hitter." Leo Durocher's bright and roving eye even found a "new Paul Waner" on the Montreal squad.
It is noted, however, that the Phillies were willing to fork over more than $7,500 for Rollie Hemsley, who is in his thirty-ninth year and has played seventeen uncommonly full seasons behind the plate. And that Pinky Higgins and Ken Keltner and Dick Bartell are expected to play third base again this year, and Spud Chandler and Red Ruffing will be out there pitching and the top man on Cincinnati's mound staff is Bucky Walters, thirty-six.
The South is crummy with young phenoms and boy wonders this spring, but when the championship season opens the managers will depend, for the most part, upon players whose major-league quality has been proved in the major leagues.
This doesn't necessarily mean all the managers will be eating all their pretty words all summer. Some rookies will live to justify at least some of their praises and possibly the year's crop of first-rate operatives will be uncommonly large.
Probably one reason for the exuberance of the managerial statements is the happy contrast between this spring's camp and those of the last three years. Even those who ordinarily like to reserve judgment on rookies go all starry-eyed and mush at the sight of able-bodied citizens on the field once more.
It may be, too, that more finished ball players are reporting as recruits this year than in pre-war camps. A kid who was almost ready for a major-league trial before the war has had three or four years to mature and develop.
If he had come up in 1942 the critics might have said, "He's got promise but he's a couple of years away." Now he has been away that couple of years, and even if he didn't play much baseball in the service, he was subjected to physical training which kept him fit.
Professional baseball men are leery of accepting service league records as proof of a youngster's class, since those games weren't played under championship conditions. But the chances are most Army and Navy players competed with better talent than the big leagues had. Some must have developed.
The Dodgers' Hatten, for instance, is twenty-eight, a comparatively advanced age for a rookie. He showed promise when the Dodgers first saw him four years ago. If he is endowed with one-tenth the native ability his cheering section claims for him, he simply had to improve in the interim.
If the rookie crop is bigger than usual this year, so is the harvest of injuries. Hardly a day goes by without additions to the hospital lists—Joe Gordon with a severed tendon in his left hand, Hoot Evers with a broken leg, Rigney with a sprained ankle. Some went to what seemed extreme lengths to meet misfortune, like Rigney, who stepped on a loose baseball.
However, an authority on the subject reports that Fred Fitzsimmons still holds the unlikely injury title, although Dizzy Dean once made a strong bid for this distinction when he was attacked by a telephone in his hotel room. Sitting in a rocking chair one spring, Fat Freddy bent to snatch a newspaper from the floor and rocked on his pitching hand.
—March 27, 1946
Plagiarists from the Polo Grounds
The Dodgers should sue. What happened in Ebbets Field yesterday had the Brooklyn copyright stamped all over it. It was redolent of Flatbush. It fairly smoked with the rich, aromatic, pungent, pervading bouquet of the Gowanus. But the perpetrators were Giants, low, skulking plagiarists from the Polo Grounds.
One customer and one center fielder caught batted balls with their profiles; the Dodgers stole five bases, including home plate, four of them in one inning; a Brooklyn base runner was ruled out on an interference play without a murmur of protest from stands, field or dugout; a Giant runner went gamboling dreamily around the bases on an infield pop and got himself doubled off the bag by 180 feet; Ernie (Wingfoot) Lombardi laid down a bunt and had it beaten easily when it rolled foul, then he outsped an infield single. Through it all, a lone trumpeter played a brassy paean of joy, and toward the end a male quartet made with the tonsils under the stands.
Neighbors, summer is back in Brooklyn.
It was opening day in Ebbets Field, but not just an ordinary opening day, assuming any ball game in Brooklyn can be ordinary. This was a Dodgers-Giants opener, which is like crepe suzette for breakfast, or, a circus opening with the tigers uncaged.
As you came up out of the subway, and later when you turned into McKeever Place, cops grabbed you and demanded, "Got a ticket, bud?" Later it developed that the crowd of 31,825 was somewhat less than capacity, suggesting that the law was there not to turn away loiterers but to mooch an extra ticket for Mayor William O'Dwyer.
That pillar of horse-race society, New York's first gentleman of the turf, occupied a box seat beside the Dodgers' dugout. This couldn't have happened in the day of Commissioner Landis, who tolerated no union between baseball and the horsey set.
Bill-O stood up with his hat on and brandished a baseball aloft in his right fist while flash bulbs blazed. Then he stood up with his hat off, revealing an almost unnecessarily wide part of his coiffure and brandished the ball some more. Then he threw the ball, a weak little blooper that plopped almost unnoticed on the turf.
By this time the band was parading to the flagpole, flanked by enough military to occupy Formosa. The players didn't march, having had enough of that these last four years.
On the first play of the game, the Giants' Bill Rigney stretched a single, sliding into second just as the ball arrived. "Safe," said George Magerkurth, a large umpire. From the stands came the poignant, haunting, melodious mating call of the Greenpoint jungle.
"You," Billy Herman advised Mr. Magerkurth, with simple dignity, "are a short word of Anglo-Saxon origin."
"And," said Pee Wee Reese, more in sorrow than in anger, "a blind, bug-eyed one into the bargain."
"Now," Mr. Magerkurth mused, "I know I'm in Brooklyn." Some of Mr. Magerkurth's fondest memories concern Brooklyn. It was there a customer leaped from the stands a few years ago, a small customer in a large rage, who clambered aboard Mr. Magerkurth's wishbone and struck him with repeated blows.
No such indelicacies marred this lawn party, however. The utmost in punctilio was observed as each side was retired scoreless for two innings. The Giants' Harry Feldman was a no-hit pitcher for this space, and his success was seized upon as evidence by those who contend Mel Ott (benched with a gimpy leg) is a better manager in the dugout than in the field.
"See," they argued, "how much more effectively Mel thinks sitting down."
At that point the Dodgers scored five runs on five hits, including a triple by Billy Herman, who first bounced a foul off a patron's nose. It was time for a statement by Ott regarding Feldman.
"Ugh!" Ott said, putting it in a nutshell. In came Mike Budnick, to be succeeded soon by Jack Brewer. Brewer was the pitcher when a ground ball hit by Reese caromed off Babe Young's features in center for a triple and Brooklyn's sixth run.
Jack was still pitching in the fifth. That was the inning when Pete Reiser walked, stole second, ran to third as Lombardi's throw bounced into the outfield, then stole home; when Gene Hermanski walked and stole second; when Carl Furillo singled Hermanski home, and stole second. The thefts were committed against Brewer, not Lombardi.
With one out and two on base in the sixth, Buddy Kerr bunted and was thrown out. Walker Cooper then batted for Brewer.
"What kind of strategy is that?" a witness demanded. "Bunting when they're eight runs behind!"
"I think," a man said, "Ott feared a double play. Wanted to be sure to get a pinch hitter up there, so he wouldn't have to look at Brewer again before June."
—April 19, 1946
Social and Slightly Revolting
Baseball's social revolution turned out to be one of the politer social affairs of the season with results which were moderately revolting to those who fancied the ball players were going to get a new Bill of Rights.
Meeting by invitation of their bosses to formulate demands for a more abundant life, the player delegates sat and listened while they were told what to demand, then obediently did as directed. Except that they demanded nothing at all; they merely made recommendations. The National League meeting here was run by Ford Frick, president of the league, and when it was over he dictated the handout telling the press what happened. The players didn't open their mouths.
All of which makes it fairly evident how this bloodless "revolution" has been engineered from the top. The owners, clearly disturbed over the double-barreled threat of the Mexican League and the baseball labor movement, sought to forestall trouble by tossing the help a bone. They decided in advance how little they could offer and get by with it. Then they called in the hired men and made a pretense of asking them what they wanted.
There has been much talk about formation of a company union to hold the field against any independent labor organization. But it seems unlikely now that the players will bother to organize at all. Chances are they'll accept the benefits handed to them—which do not, in fact, amount to much more than the increases that inevitably would be demanded after this obscenely profitable season—and settle back into the old rut.
Certainly the committees chosen to represent the players in further conversations aren't the sort calculated to agitate for bigger and better gains. All three of the National League delegates are in the $15,000 to $20,000 salary class with nothing to gain by way of minimum-wage agreements and such.
Of the six representatives named from the two leagues, only the Cardinals' Slats Marion is young enough so that he could hope to get anything out of a pension system. The Dodgers' Dixie Walker and Boston's Billy Herman and Joe Kuhel, Mel Harder and Johnny Murphy, of the American League, are close to the end of the string. They don't want to make any trouble in the little time they have left.
What ball players refused to realize is that they could form their own organization and call their own tune. The owners know they couldn't buck organized labor on the field, and their hasty efforts to placate the players show they know it. In Pittsburgh, where organizational work was farthest advanced, the club is pleading that unionization would be "completely destructive of the game of baseball." There never has been a child labor law proposed whose opponents didn't bleat that it would destroy their business.
Big league ball players in the main are unschooled, self-centered and reactionary. Their anti-labor attitude is perhaps natural since they reached the top because of individual talents and individual effort. They are all capitalists or would-be capitalists. So they snoot unions, refusing to see beyond their batting averages.
Probably the owners would have made some changes in the player contract this year even if the Baseball Guild hadn't come along to betray signs of unrest in the ranks. Lawsuits with the Mexican League have brought the validity of the standard contract under fire and impelled the owners to strengthen their legal position, just as the National Football League altered its contract form when war with the All-America Conference developed. The invitation to the players to participate in proposing changes is pap for noisy brats.
Not that the "demands" as dictated don't represent gains for the players. A $5,500 minimum wage would involve many substantial increases. There are more $2,500 rookies in the majors than the fans imagine. A $5-per-day allowance for spring training expenses (when no salaries are paid) is no more than fair. However, both these points would be taken care of in many instances through the salary increases which would have to be given next year.
There is no reason why a sound pension plan can't be worked out. But not by ball players or baseball writers. Actuaries would have to figure out a scale of payments for the majors and minors, for players whose career is short and those who give long service. Substituting sixty days' severance pay for the ten-day release clause doesn't afford job security, of course. It only greases the slide, easing the departing player's exit.
Probably the biggest reform proposed is a rule providing that when a club asks waivers on any player the waiver request cannot be withdrawn if another club puts in a claim. Fans are not advised to give odds that this rule will pass. It would put unwelcome obstacles in the path of owners who dote on evading the waiver rule to smuggle fellows like Hank Borowy out of the league.
—July 31, 1946
They Can't Lose for Winning
Among the people who are supposed to be competent judges—meaning baseball managers and players and umpires and writers and fans and the neighbor who is getting rich running hot toilet tissue and Rinso—the consensus is that the Dodgers are not good enough to win a pennant.
This practically guarantees the National League championship to the Cardinals or Cubs except for one purely technical detail: i.e., the fact that the Dodgers are, and have been, and give every appearance of intending to remain in first place.
What keeps them up there is one of those questions like how long is a piece of string. On the surface, they appear to have four ball players. There is a Mr. Pete Reiser who is, gimpy shoulder and all, about as fine a ball player as a human being can be. There is a Mr. Dixie Walker, having pretty close to the best season of a blameless life. There is a Mr. Pee Wee Reese, a peerless shortstop and incomparably discerning literary critic. There is a Mr. Ed Stanky, a compact little bundle of distilled malice.
Along with this quartet, there is an assortment of characters who wander into the lineup and out again, and a slew of pitchers who win one day and are strictly dog-meat the next. It is a virtual certainty there won't be a twenty-game winner in the lot, and it could very well be nobody will win more than fifteen. The leader of this band is a little lefthanded cutie of the sort scouts make a career of ignoring.
What the Dodgers have is a strong weakness for winning. Call it chutzpuh or opportunism or elan or moxie or, to go first class like Funk and Wagnall, the guts of burglars. Whatever the word is, they've got it. And they win the big ones.
That was the point Tuesday night when the Cardinals came to Ebbets Field. St. Louis was second by two and a half games. A sweep of the three-game series would mean first place for the Cards. They tossed in Howie Pollet, whom the Dodgers hadn't beaten, against Rube Melton, who hadn't beaten anybody. And the Dodgers won the big one, 2 to 1. This was the key game. It made the series a "lock" for Brooklyn. It robbed yesterday's St. Louis victory of its meaning. It left the Cards with no place to go but away, still in second place.
Brooklyn was lucky to win, which is no rap. In a game as tightly contested as this, it usually is the luckier team which wins. Pollet had beautiful control and walked only one batsman, yet it was his wild pitch that put the winning run in position to score.
He'd given a sample of his control just before. Reese had opened the home seventh with a triple and Pollet, pitching with painful caution to Reiser, missed the plate with his first three throws. Nevertheless, he had enough to work the count to three-and-two and then make Reiser pop up. After Walker singled Reese home for a tie, Pollet threw one into the dirt and Dixie took second, whence he scored when Furillo's drive bounced into the left field seats. Save for the wild pitch, Walker would have been stalled at third on Furillo's ground-rule double.
Everybody wrote that Stanky saved the game in the ninth. He did. With Stan Musial on second, Whitey Kurowski on first and one out, Harry Walker slashed one over the mound, which Stanky chased into short center, overtook, and flung backwards as he raced toward the fence. His under-arm throw forced Kurowski.
Sometimes you see an infielder run down a ball like that, but not once in a hundred times can he complete a play on it. True, the ball ticked Hank Behrman's glove, which slowed it down just enough to give Stanky a chance. But the point was, the little guy never quit on the ball, hopeless though the effort seemed.
There was an earlier play that stirred less comment but was equally important. After Slats Marion opened the sixth with a walk, Pollet grounded to Reese. The ball hopped high as it reached Pee Wee—and for a second or so he couldn't pluck it out of his glove. Still groping for the handle, he ran to cover second himself, stepped on the bag, then got the ball free and threw for a double play. Red Schoendienst then doubled, but instead of setting off a big inning the hit only got him exercise.
This pedestrian took a ride yesterday in the glittering maroon Cadillac of another of baseball's proved pros, one Leroy Satchelfoot Paige, who pitches for the Kansas City Monarchs against the New York Black Yankees in Yankee Stadium tonight.
The Satchel, who's been wheeling the high hard one through there for nineteen years, says he's only thirty-nine and good for six, seven more years of almost nightly work averaging four innings per hitch eight months a year. He's a blithe and cocky sliver of midnight without a touch of gray in mustache or poll.
"It's runnin' a club makes you gray-headed," he says. "Could you age whisky like you age a manager, you have 2,000 proof inside of a week."
Kansas City pays Satchel $1,000 a month plus ten per cent of gates in all big parks, bringing his possible earnings to $20,000 and up. He'd still like a big league chance but not at a rookie's salary.
"Ain't no doubt I could win pitchin' relief every day. Name off one of you guys can hit three deliveries like I throw, overhand, sidearm and underhand."
His first manager, Bill Blakewell, taught him control, making him warm up with a baseball as his target instead of a plate. "If I'd be five inches off center, why, that'd still be a strike but he'd give me hell. Today I can lay a cigaret paper down and pitch across it seven times out of eight. Never been sore but once down in Mexico in 1937. Like Joe Louis, only one arm like this comes along in fifty years."
—August 1, 1946
Model Ball Player
By special arrangement with the Hudson Tubes, an expedition to this model political community was made today to get a look at Jackie Robinson, the model Negro infielder of the Dodgers' model Montreal farm. It was a brief look because Robinson, having jimmied an ankle sliding into third base, didn't play against the Itsy-Bitsy Giants. It is possible to report, however, that he looked good retrieving balls for the batting practice pitcher, being blessed with the sort of contours that make baseball rompers seem stylish.
Although he had been injured several times this season, Robinson is the second batter in the International League with an average of .352, the second base stealer with thirty-one thefts and, playing second base instead of shortstop for the first time in his life, constitutes one-half of the league's deftest double-play combination.
He is a major attraction at home and on the road and a major cog in a machine that had a thirteen-game lead this morning. He just got through winning three of Montreal's four games in Newark. The Royals have drawn 365,000 paid admissions on the road this year and expect home crowds to pass 500,000. At this time last season they led the league by fifteen games and had played for 124,000 witnesses on tour.
Clay Hopper, the Royals' manager, was warming up for a hitch on the mound while Robinson piddled around the infield, limping noticeably.
"Yes," Hopper said, "I think he's a major leaguer. He goes hard all the time and he has great hands for an infielder. He seems a little frail, though. Gets hurt. Maybe because he goes so hard."
Robinson, who weighs 190 pounds and was a rugged halfback at U.C.L.A., chuckled at the word "frail" when he came off the field. After his chores behind the rubber he strolled into the outfield to shag a few flies, flung a ball to a crowd of clamoring kids in the bleachers, and paused on the way in to autograph score cards for two Negro fans.
"I'm not brittle," he said. "Football never hurt me. Anybody hitting a bag the way I did the other night would have hurt his ankle. Anyhow, that ankle always has been bad. It's been broken but I played six years of football with the ankle taped and it never bothered me."
Last winter he told Al Laney that racial discrimination wouldn't disturb him; his only doubt then concerned his ability to play well enough.
"I know now I can play International League ball," he said.
He hasn't heard what plans Brooklyn may have for him for next year, although now and then Hopper has told him scouts for the parent club were watching him. For that matter, Branch Rickey brings his brain bund to most of Montreal's night games in Jersey City and Newark.
As for his color:
"There's been no trouble at all. I haven't heard anything worse than you hear in college football. In any game they'll call you names if they think they can rile you. That's just competition. Same as they get on Ed Stanky, of the Dodgers. Syracuse was a little rough early in the season but when I didn't pay any attention they dropped it.
"Then one day in Syracuse I hit a home run and that seemed to get 'em started again. I was talking back until I realized I was just encouraging 'em. One of the umpires got kind of sore and shouted something to the Syracuse bench and I told him to forget it. That was all."
He shares the club's accommodations everywhere save Baltimore, where he occupies a different hotel. This, he concedes, might create a problem on a club with a number of Negro players.
"Depends on the type of fellow. I don't drink or stay out late and I don't think Hopper knows where I stay in Baltimore. But if a manager had a lot of players living out like that, he might have trouble controlling some of them."
"Some people," he was told, "think the battle against Jim Crow is won. Now that you've made the grade, they believe there'll be no further argument about it."
"I think it's won, for now," he said. "But it could easily start all over if something should happen."
"Do you see any material difference between this baseball and the Negro National League?"
"Only in the organization of teams, accommodations, parks and such. The baseball here is better than down the line. That is, there are more good players. Negro kids used to give up in school or on the sandlots, figuring there was no future for them. Now I think they'll produce more good players."
"Did it bother you when Montreal's exhibition games in the South were canceled because of you?"
He laughed. "Not me. It wasn't my problem. They have their laws down there. I don't happen to think much of 'em, but as long as they have 'em you have to observe 'em."
Since the season opened, Robinson has not hit less than .330. He is not a powerful hitter, "legs out" a good many hits on sheer speed, excels at beating out bunts. He has made 106 hits and scored seventy-eight runs in 301 chances, with three triples, three home runs and fifteen doubles. Batting second, he has knocked in forty-four runs. He was shifted from shortstop to second base because his arm isn't particularly strong.
Club followers believe pitchers throw at him occasionally, but probably no oftener than at other dangerous batters. One day when he was pinked on the wrist and the umpire called it a foul ball, the first out of the dugout to protest the decision was a Texan.
In the recent Newark series he doubled in the ninth to win one game, saved another with a diving catch of a low line drive near first base when the bases were filled, doubled in the tenth to win a third game. He enjoys playing before big crowds, such as he saw in college, seems to rise to these occasions. Trapped in a run-down on the baseline one day, his sparkling footwork kept him jockeying safely until almost the entire Baltimore team got into the play. When he finally was retired, a full house in Montreal cheered as though for a home run.
—August 4, 1946
A Man Who Knew the Crowds
When the iceman cometh, it doesn't make a great deal of difference which route he takes, for the ultimate result is the same in any case. Nevertheless, there was something especially tragic in the way death came to Tony Lazzeri, finding him and leaving him all alone in a dark and silent house—a house which must, in that last moment, have seemed frighteningly silent to a man whose ears remembered the roar of the crowd as Tony's did.
A man who knew the roar of the crowd? Shucks, Tony Lazzeri was the man who made the crowds and who made them roar. Frank Graham, in his absorbing history of the Yankees, tells about the coming of Lazzeri and about the crowds that trooped into the stadium to see him, the noisily jubilant Italian-American crowds with their rallying cry of "Poosh 'em up, Tony!"
"And now," Frank wrote in effect, "a new type of fan was coming to the stadium. A fan who didn't know where first base was. He came, and what he saw brought him back again and again until he not only knew where first base was, but second base as well."
It was a shock to read in the reports of Lazzeri's death that he was not yet forty-two years old. There are at least a few right around that age still playing in the major leagues. One would have guessed Lazzeri's age a good deal higher because his name and fame are inextricably associated with an era which already has become a legend—the era that is always referred to as the time of "the old Yankees."
You can't think of Tony without thinking also of Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel and Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt and Lou Gehrig and Mark Koenig and Benny Bengough and Wiley Moore, all of whom have been gone from the playing fields for what seems a long time.
And you think of Grover Cleveland Alexander, too, for it was Lazzeri's misfortune that although he was as great a ball player as ever lived the most vivid memory he left in most minds concerned the day he failed.
That was, of course, in the seventh game of the 1926 World Series when the Yankees filled the bases against the leading Cardinals, drove Jesse Haines from the hill and sent Rogers Hornsby from his position at second base out toward the Cardinals' bullpen where Alexander drowsed in the dusk.
Everyone knows that story, how the St. Louis manager walked out to take a look at Alexander's eyes, how he found them as clear as could be expected and sent Old Pete in there to save the world championship by striking out Lazzeri. Come to think of it, Alex wasn't a lot younger then than Tony was when he died.
It was after that game that someone asked Alexander how he felt when Lazzeri struck out.
"How did I feel?" he snorted. "Go ask Lazzeri how he felt."
Tony never told how he felt. Not that it was necessary, anyway, but he wasn't one to be telling much, ever. He was a rookie when a baseball writer first used a line that has been worn to tatters since. "Interviewing that guy," the reporter grumbled, "is like mining coal with a nail file."
Silent and unsmiling though he was, Lazzeri wasn't entirely devoid of a taste for dugout humor. Babe Ruth, dressing in haste after one tardy arrival in the stadium, tried to pull a shoe out of his locker and found it wouldn't move. He didn't have to be told who had nailed it to the floor.
When other players found cigarette butts in their footgear or discovered their shirts tied in water-soaked knots or were unable to locate their shoelaces, they blamed only one man.
Lefty Gomez used to tell of the day, long after Lazzeri's experience in the 1926 World Series, when he lost control and filled the bases. Lazzeri trotted in from second base to talk to him. Lazzeri always was the man who took charge when trouble threatened the Yankees. Even in his first season when he was a rookie who'd never seen a big league game until he played in one, he was the steadying influence, the balance wheel. So after this incident Gomez was asked what words Lazzeri had used to reassure him in the clutch.
"He said," replied Lefty, who didn't necessarily expect to be believed, "`You put those runners on there. Now get out of the jam yourself, you slob.'"
They chose Lazzeri "Player of the Year" after one of his closing seasons. They could just as well have made it "Player of the Years," for in all his time with the Yankees there was no one whose hitting and fielding and hustle and fire and brilliantly swift thinking meant more to any team.
Other clubs tried to profit by those qualities of his when he was through. He went to the Cubs and the Dodgers and the Giants. None of these experiments was particularly happy; none endured for long. He managed Toronto for a while and then just before the war he went back home to San Francisco. That was the last stop.
—August 9, 1946
Mr. Horwitz Meets Mr. Williams
Boston—back in 1938 when Ted Williams wasn't a national institution like Yellowstone Park or even a New England gentleman of letters like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a wandering baseball writer named Al Horwitz encountered the young man en route to his first major league training camp in the custody of Bobby Doerr.
The three rode through the South talking, naturally, of the gentle art of massaging curves, and the rookie Williams, naturally, held up his corner of the discussion. Held it up so ably, in fact, that Mr. Horwitz regarded him slantwise and remarked that there were some pretty fair country hitters on the Red Sox.
"Wait," he said, "until you see Jimmy Foxx hit."
Mr. Williams leaned back and turned a tranquil gaze out the window.
"Hmmmm," he said, "wait until Foxx sees me hit."
Today Mr. Foxx, currently a golden voice on a Boston radio station, saw Williams hit. It wasn't the first time nor is it likely to be the last. It was just a typical Williams stroke in a typical Williams spot, with Johnny Pesky on base and the Yankees threatening to make a contest of their match in Fenway Park. Ted took three called balls from Tiny Bonham and urged the three-and-oh pitch on a level, evil line into the distant bleachers high over the bullpen.
This made the score read 4 to 1 for Boston and simplified Dave Ferriss's task of preparing the ground for Larry MacPhail's 1947 reconstruction project. After this 7-to-4 dismantling, the razing of the Yankees was deemed complete.
Newspaper advertisements of games in Fenway Park stress the point that the Sox have nothing to sell except baseball—"no fireworks, no nylons, no bathing beauties."
Never willing to be outdone, the Yankees responded with no pitching, no hitting, no throwing and no fielding.
There has been a curious reluctance in baseball's tall forehead department to put the imprimatur of greatness on chubby Joe Cronin's team. The Sox have been compared, to their disadvantage, with the champion Yankees and Athletics of the last fifteen years, and even today an expert insisted they weren't fourteen games better than the rest of the league. They just happen to be foreseen games ahead in the standings, except in a Boston paper that has invented a mathematical system that puts them twenty-eight games ahead.
Watching them these last two days in comparison with their closest pursuers, one wonders what they're expected to do besides win. From this corner of the Fenway rooftop, the Sox not only look like several of Tom Yawkey's millions, they also give signs of being ready to boss the clambake for some years to come, for their farms are developing some estimable products named Mele, Albright and such.
Before the war, the Sox had been built up to a level not hopelessly far below that of the Yankees. Whereas fellows like Joe Gordon and Joe DiMaggio seem to have lost something in the armed forces, players like Williams and Johnny Pesky, being a few years younger, appear to have brought back everything they took away.
The Yankees stood pat and waited for their veterans to return. The Red Sox caulked the pre-war seams, adding Ferriss to the pitching staff, Rudy York at first base, Hal Wagner behind the plate and Wally Moses in right field.
To say that all have been helpful is like saying a million dollars is cute. This also goes for another post-war pick-up, Rip Russell, an experienced hand at first base, third and the outfield. When Cronin asked him which position he played best, Rip smiled pleasantly and said, "none of 'em."
As for the threadbare argument about Cronin's proper ranking among managers, here's the record for 1946: There have been four key games which the Six simply had to win. They won 'em all.
The Yanks won their first game here, 12 to 5. This looked like the business the old Yanks always gave their most menacing rivals. Well, this Boston team came back and won the next day, 12 to 5.
Later the Sox won fifteen in a row but were stopped by Bonham, 2 to 0. Now, the experts said, the honeymoon was over. Next day Spud Chandler pitched a three-hitter, but so did Boston's Mickey Harris. In most such struggles, the proof of a champion is in the defense. This time it was the Yankees who cracked, and lost, 3 to 1.
Inevitably, the Sox had to hit a slump. On a Western tour, they lost six out of seven games, went into Cleveland to face Bob Feller. Cronin had the gambler's nerve to lead trump. He pitched Tex Hughson, who beat Feller, 1 to 0.
Finally there came a visit to Detroit after the Sox lost two series out of three in Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis. It was August, the month when Ferriss is supposed to faint at the first sniff of pollen. Dave followed his sensitive nose out to the hill and slammed the door on the Tigers.
Cronin remarked today that Ferriss, big, quiet, friendly but intensely combative, has the ideal baseball temperament. Doerr is much the same sort. As for Pesky, his implausibly apt name recalls a personal memory. A small boy in Green Bay, Wis., was helping a gentleman named Leo Van Der Plas feed a pen of pigs. The boy and man stood watching the snorting melee around the trough.
"They sure named them right," Leo mused, "when they called 'em pigs. Ain't they the most hoggish things you ever saw?"
—August 18, 1946
It Doesn't Sound Like Greenberg
The report is that Hank Greenberg will retire after this season, and if this is so then baseball is about to lose one of the greatest players of our time, one of the most unselfish team men, one of the finest gentlemen. Since he joined the Detroit Tigers in 1933, nothing has gone into the record of this big, quiet, courteous man which wasn't a credit to him, unless it is the published reason for his decision to quit.
Hank has been having an indifferent season. He has heard more jeers than cheers from the Detroit public that used to worship him. The story is that he is fed up, that he has said it's a great game when you're hitting .350 but a miserable life for the fellow batting .250.
That's true, of course. And yet it doesn't seem like Greenberg to quit just because the sledding is a little tough. It doesn't sound like the fellow Al Simmons was talking about when it was announced that Hank, discharged by the Army, was coming back to the Tigers.
"This is the test," Al said, "for all ball players past thirty who have been away for more than a year. Hank has more equipment than the rest of 'em, more natural ability. He'll come back in good shape, because he's always kept himself in shape. And he'll be out there working at 8 o'clock every morning if necessary to get back on his stride.
"If he doesn't make it, the rest of 'em might as well not try. They better just take what pay they're entitled to and go home to the farm."
Simmons's words were recalled the day Greenberg returned to the Tigers' line-up. It was a day that won't be forgotten soon by anyone who was present. There was a double-header with the Athletics and Hank's appearance had been advertised, bringing out a crowd that filled big Briggs Stadium.
Tempestuous applause saluted announcement of his name in the batting order and even more tumultuous cheers welcomed him home on his first trip to the plate. He hit two or three baleful line drives on his first trip to the plate. Then he got hold of a pitch by a left-hander named Charley Gassaway and drove it into the left field seats on a line as flat as old beer.
What one remembers is not so much the look of him as he loped around the bases nor the unrestrained joy of the crowd. Rather, it was the undisguised pleasure that the other players showed, not only the other Tigers but the Athletics as well. Detroit had won the game before Hank connected, so the hit didn't affect the outcome. Members of both teams crowed about it for hours, and even Gassaway went around with his chest out as though being on the receiving end of that comeback blow were the biggest thing that ever happened to him.
This day saw a sample of the respect in which Greenberg has been held by the men of his sport, a respect he earned fairly, just as he always earned his big salary. He worked hard to become the best first baseman in the game and then, when he had established his right to that ranking beyond dispute, he gave it up and worked even harder to become an outfielder because his team needed him there.
He earned the honors that came to him when he was twice selected for the league's "most valuable" player award, and no other player ever was heard to begrudge him his position as the most highly paid operative since Babe Ruth. On the contrary, there was unanimous sympathy for him when he was called up for pre-war military training a few weeks after starting work on a $55,000 contract. The war came along before he could get back to baseball and he re-entered the Army and stuck until the job was done.
If he regretted the sacrifice he had to make at the peak of his career, he gave no sign. He has a sense of dignity that always has become him. At World Series, for example, he has been pestered to pose for photographs with Hollywood hams or others trying to gain personal publicity.
On more than one such occasion he refused quietly, explaining that since he didn't go up onto the stage to crowd into the ham's act, why should the ham be allowed on the field to louse up his game?
No one questioned his right to return to the Tigers at his pre-war scale of $55,000. He batted .311 as the Tigers struggled for the 1945 pennant and it was his home run with the bases filled which won the championship on the last day. Except for his three-run homer which won the second game of the World Series, Detroit wouldn't have had a chance for the world title. The Cubs probably would have won the first three games and finished the job in the sixth.
So Hank received a contract for this year that is supposed to pay him $60,000. Baseball has done pretty well for him and he has done very well for baseball. He is in his thirty-sixth year, which is up there close to the retirement age. Some of his old physical hurts must come back to plague him now and then. Financially he is in a position to quit. And yet, wouldn't you hate to see a guy who has been that sort of guy just take the $60,000 and walk out without trying to give his club one more good year?
—August 27, 1946
Posted April 6, 2000
Red Smith was in a class by himself. Other sportswriters may have loved the game of baseball just as much, but no one else came close to matching his sense of artistry, his love of the playful metaphor, or his absolute commitment to excellence that he brought to every column. He was a true professional. Part of the joy of reading 'Red Smith on Baseball' is the element of surprise, so that decades-old columns read as fresh as the day they were published. Red Smith was a writer's writer--his love of the written word is apparent on every page. He was thus able to transcend the limitation of the sportswriting genre. If you're a baseball fan, you're in for a major treat. But even if you have absolutely no interest in the sport and couldn't tell the difference between a fly ball and a line drive if you're life depended on it, you will still be able to appreciate Smith's huge talent. After all, great writing is great writing no matter what the subject.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.