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We Would Have Played for Nothing: Baseball Stars of the 1950s and 1960s Talk About the Game They Lovedby Fay Vincent
An All-Star lineup of former major leaguers remembers what baseball was like in the 1950s and 1960s. Whitey Ford, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Bill Rigney, and Ralph Branca tell stories about baseball in New York when the Yankees dominated and seemed to play either the Dodgers or the Giants in every World Series. By the end of the fifties, the two National League
An All-Star lineup of former major leaguers remembers what baseball was like in the 1950s and 1960s. Whitey Ford, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Bill Rigney, and Ralph Branca tell stories about baseball in New York when the Yankees dominated and seemed to play either the Dodgers or the Giants in every World Series. By the end of the fifties, the two National League teams had relocated to California, as baseball expanded across the country. Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, Braves mainstay Lew Burdette, home-run king Harmon Killebrew, Cubs slugger Billy Williams, and Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson share great stories about milestone events, from Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on the field to Frank Robinson doing the same in the dugout. They remember the teammates and opponents they admired, including Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Don Newcombe, and Ernie Banks.
For anyone who grew up watching baseball in the 1950s and 1960s, or for anyone who wonders what it was like in the days when ballplayers negotiated their own contracts and worked real jobs in the off-season, this is a book to cherish.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Serious baseballers will lap up the revelations like suds from an overpriced ballpark brew." Bill Lubinger, The Plain Dealer
"Engaging...[a] loving, valuable addition to baseball historiography." Booklist
Read an Excerpt
Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times couldn't have been more prescient when he once wrote, "In the future, Brooks Robinson will be the standard every third baseman will be measured by."
Robinson was a fixture at third base for the Baltimore Orioles for twenty-three seasons (1955-77), where he not only won fans but also sixteen Gold Glove Awards for defensive excellence. Nicknamed "The Human Vacuum Cleaner," he set defensive career records for third basemen for games, putouts, assists, chances, double plays, and fielding percentage.
"The baseball park was no place for his performances. He should have played at Carnegie Hall," wrote Atlanta sportswriter Furman Bisher. Another writer, Red Smith of the New York Times, agreed, "When you see Brooks Robinson walk onto the field you know that nature designed him expressly to play third base."
Robinson's prowess with a glove was never more evident than in the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, where he made a number of sparkling plays in front of a national audience in the five-game triumph.
"We lost the World Series because we made fundamental mistakes," said Reds manager Sparky Anderson. "We kept hitting the ball to Brooks." Reds player Pete Rose was equally impressed, stating, "That guy can field a ball with a pair of pliers." Longtime O's PA announcer Rex Barney may have stated it best during Robinson's 1970 Fall Classic heroics: "He's not at his locker yet, but four guys are over there interviewing his glove."
Robinson was more than a defensive stalwart, though, as he finished his career with 2,848 hits and 268 home runs (at the time of his retirement a record for AL third basemen). Robinson also won the 1964 AL MVP Award, when he set career highs in home runs (28), RBIs (118), and batting average (.317), and the 1970 World Series MVP Award, when he hit .429 with two home runs and six RBIs.
Robinson, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, received glowing remarks from fellow Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor, who was also known for his glove work: "I once thought of giving him some tips but dropped the idea. He's just the best there is."
My dad was a pretty good semipro player back in Little Rock, Arkansas. I ended up going to the same high school, playing on the same American Legion team that he did. He was a good player, and in fact, in 1937, I believe, or could have been '38, he played softball, fast pitch, for International Harvester, and they went to the world's championship in Soldier Field in Chicago. They got beat, 2-1, for the world's championship. He always encouraged me to play. I can remember throwing the ball around and shagging balls, and then when I got to be about eight or nine years old, I was a batboy for several of the teams that he played on. He was a fireman in Little Rock for over thirty years. That was my first love and only love as far as sports go.
I could always catch the ball, of course. When I got higher, professionally, hitting became a little tougher. It took me a while to get the hang of that. I was a good hitter in American Legion baseball, very average speed, very average arm, but the thing I had going for me was the fact that I could catch the ball. When I signed professionally in 1955, no one wanted to give me a lot of money. That was the time when if you got more than $4,000, you were a bonus player and had to go directly into the major leagues, and no one wanted to offer me a lot of money. I signed for $4,000, and that was my salary for the first year. But I think that benefited me, to go and play with guys my own speed instead of being in the major leagues for two years, which I saw stunt a lot of players' growth for that particular time. So I was fortunate in that respect.
I was ambidextrous to a certain point. I eat left-handed, write left-handed, play Ping-Pong and tennis and shoot left-handed, so from here down, I'm pretty well coordinated. But I can't throw left-handed at all. I do everything else left-handed, and I'm sure that helped me as far as being able to get the glove in the right spot and make the plays.
I was a big baseball fan. In the eighth grade, we had to write a booklet called My Vocation what do you want to do when you grow up? And I wrote it on becoming a professional baseball player. That was my dream, and I had some big decisions to make. I had some scholarships to college to play basketball, and I had to talk my mother and dad out of that to sign professionally. As I say, no one really wanted to give me a lot of money, but they wanted to sign me. I ended up signing with Baltimore through a good friend of my family named Lindsay Deal, a baseball player who played for Paul Richards when Paul managed the Atlanta Crackers. Lindsay's family went to church with my family. And so he wrote Paul Richards a letter saying, "Paul, there's a kid here who we think might be able to make the big league someday. Would you send someone in to scout him?" This was 1955, I guess, the second year the Orioles came to Baltimore. They were the old St. Louis Browns in '53 and then they moved to Baltimore. So Paul Richards took over, and he sent a couple of fellas to look at me. And I ended up signing with the Orioles because that was the quickest way to the major league. That's what he sold me on: we don't have any players, and you're going to get a chance to play early here in your career. Consequently, I got a chance to play when I was eighteen.
I think my mother and dad probably kept me on track better than anyone else that, and the fact that I played sports. When I played sports, I just knew that you didn't drink not that I didn't have a drink once in a while and you didn't smoke. I mean, that was really what sports were all about, and the only way you could compete and be at your best was to do the right thing and be in the best shape. But I think my parents, more than anyone else, were really the guiding light in my life. I had a brother who was five years younger than me. He was a football player; he went to the University of Arkansas and played football. We were into a little mischief, but I think overall we didn't give my mother and dad a lot of problems, simply because we were into sports and we knew that if we wanted to excel in sports, well, we had to do certain things and abide by certain rules. But my parents were very influential in keeping me that way, I think.
I played my first fifty games professionally at York, Pennsylvania, as a second baseman, and then George Staller, who was my manager, and Paul Richards felt in the long run third base might be my best position. Third base is a reflex position, whereas at second base you have to cover a lot more ground. They just saw me as a third baseman, thinking I might get a little stronger and learn to hit. And that was the best thing that ever happened to me, that move to third base.
York, Pennsylvania, was in a Class-B league. I did very well, there, then came back to Baltimore and got to play the last two weeks in 1955. The first game I played in was against the Washington Senators. I think Chuck Stobbs was pitching for the Senators. Anyway, I got two base hits, knocked in a big run. We won the game, and I can remember running back to the Southern Hotel and calling my mom and dad. I said, "Guess what, Mom? I just played my first big-league game, got two hits." I said, "Man, this is my cup of tea. I don't know why I was in the minor league." The next twenty times I went to bat, eighteen to be exact, I went 0-18. I struck out ten times out of those eighteen, and I learned a pretty good lesson right there. These guys are way ahead of me. I got a lot of more work in front of me to be an accomplished major-league baseball player.
After the '55 season was over, the Orioles sent thirteen players out of their organization, all not married, down to Colombia, South America. We played in Barranquilla and Cartagena. They had two teams in Barranquilla and two teams in Cartagena. I was eighteen years old, and I was in South America playing. We lived in a big, big house and had several maids who cooked for us. Tito Francona was there, and he went on to have a very fine major-league career. Also Wayne Causey, who played in the major leagues for a while. So we had a few guys who ended up making it to the majors. I played in South America in '55 and in '56. I came back, knew I was going to be in Double A, which was San Antonio in the Texas League. So I went to San Antonio that year, and after the season was over, I came back to Baltimore and finished the season.
In '57, I made the Oriole team. I was the starting third baseman opening day. In fact, that's when my relationship began with George Kell, another great baseball player, a third baseman, a Hall of Famer. George kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, not only in baseball, but also off the field. I remember he took me to my first stage play in New York, George and his wife. He was kind of my mentor, I guess you could say. And it was his last year. He retired after that year. But opening day of '57, George played first and I played third against the Washington Senators in old Griffith Stadium. And then after that, let's see, about two weeks into the season, I hurt my knee. I had a knee operation. I was out two months, went down for a month, came back, and ended up going to Cuba to play winter baseball. That was really the best winter league at that particular time. So I spent the whole winter in Cuba playing on a team called Cienfuegos. And then in '58, I was back with the Orioles. I was there the whole year. I never really distinguished myself. I played in 145 games. I think I ended up hitting .238. And then I had an Army obligation. I was being drafted for two years, or I could go in the Arkansas National Guard for six months' active duty and five and a half years in the Reserve. So I went into the Arkansas National Guard. I went for six months' active duty, then I spent five and a half years in the National Guard. But anyway, I got out after serving, right when the season started in '59. I missed spring training, of course. But I'd worked out, and I thought I was ready to play. Paul Richards was the manager. About a month into the season, he said, "Well, we're going to send you down to the minor leagues." And that was probably the worst feeling I think I'd ever had. I mean, it probably, ego-wise, I mean, here's someone who spent 1958 in the big leagues and you're saying, "Okay, you got a full year under your belt. Now '59 is your breakout year." And all of a sudden, I'm going to Vancouver. That really took me back a little, but it turned out, honestly, to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Going to Vancouver, I did real well out there. I had hit .330-something. They brought me back right before the All-Star break, and I came back to stay. But when I got back, it was like night and day as far as being a hitter. I ended the season real strong, and I just think probably that confidence-wise, physically, I got a little stronger and I became a better hitter. And that was the key to everything right there. And, of course, 1960 was the first good year that the Orioles had. We had a lot of young players that year and we almost won that year, almost beat the Yankees. But that was the first good year, the first big year that I really had in Baltimore in baseball.
Paul Richards is really the best baseball man I have ever met. I mean, he was like God to me. He just knew more about the game than anyone I've ever met. He knew about each position, and he just was ahead of the game. And I guess the only knock on Paul Richards was, well, you know, he never won. But he put together the White Sox team, back in the 1950s. They won in '59. Paul had left there in 1954, come to Baltimore, and kind of set the tone of what was going to happen. But Paul was a real stickler. He felt like, well, you get good pitching, get good defense, and you're going to be in most of the game and hopefully you'll score some runs. He knew a lot about pitching. He was unbelievable. Earl Weaver was a big fan of Paul's. Paul kind of tutored him in his minor-league career as a manager and, of course, Earl's in the Hall of Fame now.
When I got back after the All-Star Game I played in 1959, I think I ended up hitting close to .290 the rest of the year. I was a much better hitter, a much better player. And then 1960 started, and we had the "Baby Birds." Players like Chuck Estrada, Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, and Jack Fisher. These guys were terrific. There were four guys who could throw hard, they could knock the bat out of your hand. We just had a real good year. Gus Triandos was there, and I'm trying to think who else was on the team. Ronnie Hansen was the Rookie of the Year that year. I came through the minors with Ronnie. We challenged the Yankees. They came to Baltimore on Labor Day in 1960. We were one game behind, and we swept the three-game series. We were two games ahead. Went away for two weeks to play other teams, went back to New York, I think there were about fourteen games left; they beat us four in a row, and that was it. They went on to win the rest of their games. I think they ended up winning fifteen in a row. I finished third for MVP that year behind Maris and Mantle. Maris was the MVP, Mantle was second, and it was the first time that three players, I think, had gotten over two hundred votes for the MVP of the league. But I was thrilled because I had a big year, and it couldn't have been better.
It was my first All-Star Game appearance that year. I was a backup to Frank Malzone of the Red Sox. They had two games that year. Two All-Star Games in '59, '60, '61, and '62. I was a backup to Malzone in '60, but I did win the Gold Glove that year. That was the first of sixteen in a row from '60 through '75.
There were two guys that I always tell people gave me a hard time. They were basically the same type of pitchers. Frank Lary used to pitch for the Detroit Tigers. He was known as "the Yankee Killer." He beat the Yankees with consistency. He was very intimidating, too. Earl Wilson was the same way. There's some pitchers out there Don Drysdale, for example they're going to pitch outside, but when they come in sometimes, they don't care if they hit you or not. They just want to let you know that they're out there. Frank Lary was that type of pitcher. He bore inside all the time then. He had those quick little breaking balls, seemed like he was one pitch ahead of you all the time. And Earl Wilson was the same way. In 1955, he pitched for the Barranquilla, Colombia, team. We got to wear batting helmets that year. The first season I played in '55, we had the felt hats with the little plastic inner liner. But we went to South America, and they sent us the helmets. Would you believe that Earl Wilson hit me right in the head with a pitch? He threw hard, too. Hit me right in the head, and it bounced all the way over the backstop. So when I hit off him the rest of my career, I probably had that in the back of my mind. He was very tough on me. Mel Stottlemyre, another guy, sinker or slider, kept the ball down. Two outstanding pitchers.
I always had that little hand-eye coordination. I can't tell you how many times I've been up with a golf ball against the steps, the short hop, taking the tennis ball against the barn or throwing it. And that probably had something to do with me being able to catch the ball, but everyone knew I could catch the ball. The big question mark was, would Brooks Robinson ever hit major-league pitching? Fielding became my forte more than anything else. It was something that I always enjoyed doing. I worked on it. I always felt that the backhand play is probably the toughest play for most fielders because they really don't see the ball well backhand. And so I worked on certain things that I didn't do well, but it pretty much came naturally to me.
There were several things I worked on the slow hit, the topped balls, or bunts. I used to line up about ten or twelve balls in a row. You just come in and pick one up and you'd make another step and pick one up and throw it, and I worked on it that way. I made a play in the World Series in 1970 that was very unusual. Lee May hit the ball over the third-base bag, which I caught in foul territory, and just got down on and threw it on one hop to Boog Powell and got Lee May out. Most of the time when you make that play, you get the ball, you stop, you plant, you make the long throw. This time, I just got it and threw it. I can't even remember making that play maybe one time like that in my whole career, but it just happened that way.
In 1960, we played two All-Star Games. We played in Kansas City, and then we went to New York. I got on the plane after the first game, and Ted Williams was talking to Nellie Fox and trying to tell Nellie he'd be a better hitter if he stood off the plate a little, and back in the box some. Ted started talking about the slider breaking at 59.6 feet, and I'm listening to this. I'm thinking that I'm never going to be able to hit major-league pitching. He's talking about things I've never heard about. But that was a big thrill being on the team with Ted Williams that year. We didn't win too many games. In fact, one of the records I'm not too proud of, I hold the record for playing in the most losing All-Star Games. I played in eighteen games; we tied one, won two, and lost fifteen.
The American League did struggle, and it's a fact that they didn't sign the black players; they weren't in a hurry to sign them. When the NL signed them, they got the best. Guys like Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks. I don't really know how these guys felt. I never really sat down to talk to them. We'd go to the Sir Walter Raleigh and pick up the black guys and they picked us up at the other hotel. Their primary job was to play baseball, and they probably didn't think a whole lot about it either. I can't say that. Maybe they did think about it. They probably did. But you look back on it now, and you say, "Boy, that was terrible."
Frank Robinson coming over, well that's the greatest thing that ever happened to the Orioles. He made us a real winner coming over. He really fit in well. We had enough good guys on that team, and we had a lot of fun that first year winning the world's championship when he came. But I think we all understood one another a lot better after he got there. He did go through some tough times there in Baltimore, but it made it a lot better for a lot of the other athletes that followed him, I think.
Frank came over in '66. We had a fairly young team that year. We had a rookie catcher, Andy Etchebarren, a rookie second baseman in Davey Johnson, a second-year outfielder in Paul Blair in center field. So we had a young team. Jim Palmer came on board and Dave McNally also. We had a young pitcher named Wally Bunker. I don't think we had over a 15-game winner, but we were basically an offensive team that year. We had three guys that drove in over 100 runs Frank, Boog Powell, and myself. We just kind of outclassed everyone that year. And, of course, we went to the World Series and played the Dodgers as underdogs, and won four in a row. I think the Series ended where we had the worst team batting average for a winning team, and they had the worst team batting average for a losing team in World Series history. There wasn't much happening after the first inning of the first game. Frank and I hit back-to-back home runs in that first game. Moe Drabowsky came on in relief that first day to strike out seven of the first nine guys he faced, I believe, and then of course the next three games were shutouts. The second game was the last game that Sandy Koufax ever pitched. They made six errors behind him and we won 6-0, I believe. Then we won the last two games, 1-0, 1-0. Frank was the MVP, but that was the start of some nice years for us. In '67, we didn't do well. In '68, Detroit won. Frank got hurt in '67; I believe it was the added concussion that he played with most of the year, and that hurt us a lot. And then, of course, we got in the World Series in '69, '70, and '71. But our pitching really became a force in '69. Mike Cuellar joined us from Houston. And for at least three or four years, you could put Cuellar at the top. He was just as good as anybody who pitched. And, of course, in '71, we had the four 20-game winners. Pat Dobson joined us in '71, and the four guys won 20 games. That will never happen again. They were very competitive; they just wanted the ball every fourth day. Now you got guys who pitch every fifth day or sixth day, but that's just the way the game has changed. These guys, they loved to work on four days, and they wanted to be the best. Those were great teams. We lost two out of three of those World Series. We lost to the Mets in '69, which was a big upset, and then we were the underdogs in '70, and then we're supposed to beat Pittsburgh in '71 and they beat us. In baseball, you get the recognition when you win, and we lost two out of three of those World Series. But just getting to a World Series is exciting. Just look back at all the players in the history of the game who would never get a chance to be there Ernie Banks or Billy Williams or Ferguson Jenkins or George Kell.
The thing that was so nice about me being with George Kell in the '57 season and he grew up like sixty miles from me was his career ended then. Then, in '83, I went into the Hall of Fame through the regular voting and George went in through the oldtimers, the Veterans Committee. So here, we're on the stage together going into the Hall of Fame together, which made it that much more exciting. He led the league in hitting one year, beat out Ted Williams. He was a terrific hitter, good fielder. He ended up going to Chicago and Boston, then ended up his career in Baltimore. We became real close during those years.
I think the manager is a major ingredient in a winning ball club, I really do. I think that there is so much a manager can do. After watching the manager for so long, the players begin to see what difference a manager can make. Players recognize in a hurry managers who cannot manage, who cannot run the game the way it's supposed to be run and make the moves. There are certain things that managers do during the season to win ball games, and you've got to be pretty consistent. You've got twenty-five guys, and you've got to be able to make every guy feel important. I think that's what the great managers do. Earl Weaver, whether you'd be the twenty-fifth guy on that team or you were the star of that team, he treated everyone the same. Everyone knew their job, everyone knew when they were going to be called on, everyone knew that they had to be ready. In that respect, a manager can do things to gain the players' confidence.
Paul Richards was a disciplinarian. It was my way or the highway. That's just the way he operated. But he had a lot of young players. He taught me things about the game of baseball that I never even thought about when I was a youngster rundowns and cutoffs and he just knew every phase of the game.
He just couldn't put up with mental mistakes. But when you make a bad throw or miss a ground ball, that's part of the game. But he was a terrific judge of talent. He resurrected so many pitchers' careers. Billy Loes, when he came down to Baltimore. Skinny Brown. Connie Johnson, who became an outstanding pitcher with the Orioles. We had guys that he was able just to resurrect their pitching careers, which I thought was phenomenal.
We had catchers Clint Courtney and Gus Triandos, and that's when Paul Richards came up with the large mitt to catch Hoyt Wilhelm. The day that Gus Triandos would come to the park and Wilhelm was pitching, Gus was in another world. I mean, he just hated it. He knew that he was going to be running back to the backstop many times during the game to pick up the ball because Wilhelm had such a great knuckleball. You're just not going to catch it all the time. And of course, Hoyt Wilhelm's in the Hall of Fame, too. But we had Clint Courtney, and they always used to say when Courtney was going after a pop-up with that big glove, he looked like a guy carrying a pizza trying to catch a ball. Yeah, Paul Richards was very innovative.
A lot of guys drank. No drugs. I can't remember drugs until the 1970s. But there were probably a lot of alcoholics in baseball back in the 1950s, and no one really thought too much about it. No one called it to their attention, but there were a lot of players that I certainly know abused themselves. Today, you're liable to see players go out of their way to really corner certain players that they think are not taking care of themselves, more so than back in the old days. The players today are more attuned to what's going on. And when they see guys not taking care of themselves, and the fact that it might cost them a game might cost them a championship guys will say, "Look, this has got to stop. You're costing me money, and this is the way it's got to be." But back in the 1950s and 1960s, I don't think you had that.
I can honestly tell you that Earl Weaver gave me more laughs than anyone that I ever played with or have ever been around in the game. Just to watch him and his antics during the game. For instance, we'd get to a ninth inning or the bottom of the ninth and we needed one out or we were one pitch away from winning. He'd go down in what we call the "hole" there. He didn't want to see the outcome of the pitch. He wanted to listen to the crowd to see if the pitcher got the batter out or not. Things like that. I saw him one time when we were playing in Cleveland. It was a balk or something like that. Here came Earl, and oh, he was at it again. All of a sudden, bang, he was going back to the dugout. I don't know where he went, but he went to the clubhouse. He got the rulebook and came back out and he was running. He said, "This is it." The umpires are shaking their heads. Finally, he just took the rulebook and he tore it up and just pitched it up in the air and said, "Well, if we're not going to play by the rules, we don't need this book." He gave the umpires a hard time, but they really respected him because, I'll tell you, they knew that he knew the rulebook better than they did. And they respected him for that, but they didn't allow it.
I signed twenty-three one-year contracts. That's just the way they operated. They wouldn't give a two-year contract. So you know who had the advantage. The general manager was a professional in negotiating and they always had the answers. I remember when Lee MacPhail [the general manager] was there. Lee MacPhail is the most wonderful guy in the whole world. I remember talking to Lee, and he was saying, "Well, Brooks, I was a general manager with the Yankees. And I didn't pay Mickey Mantle that much money in his third year." And I'm saying, "Well, I don't know. I don't care about Mickey Mantle." He said, "Well, I couldn't give you more than Mickey Mantle got." I'll tell you one more little story here. I held out for a whole week in Florida for $500. And you know, the owners weren't that smart, because they didn't know we would have played for nothing. But anyway, we went to Florida. You're always anxious to get to Florida to get to spring training. You're taking the kids out of school. Put them in school there, maybe. I went down without being signed. I held out for a whole week. Finally, Harry Dalton [the general manager] called me and said, "Well, we got to get this thing straightened out. Come on in now, and sit down here and talk to me." So I went over, and this is in Miami Stadium. I went in and said, "Harry, I deserve $500 more." You know, me being an outstanding defensive player, didn't that mean anything? He says, "Well, how many hits did you get? How many home runs?" Defense was way in the background. Anyway, Harry said, "Well, I just can't pay you that." I said, "Harry, I deserve it." He said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I'm going to do." He said, "I'm going to leave the room for ten minutes, and you sit here and you think about it, and when I come back, we'll make the decision." He left the room. I'm sitting there just waiting for him to come back. Finally, Harry came back and said, "Well, how do you feel?" I said, "Harry, I deserve the $500." He said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I'm going to do." He said, "I'm going to give you that $500. But just remember, when we negotiate next year, you took advantage of me this year." So he made me feel bad, and I don't let Harry forget that. When I talk to him, I said, "Harry, you remember that week I held out for $500?" And he feels bad about it, too. He's seen what has happened in the game of baseball.
I started making $100,000 after the '70 World Series. The most I ever made was like $130,000, and that was in '76. And then the last year, I was player-coach in '77, and the Orioles said, "Well, you're a player-coach. Anybody can be a player-coach. We're going to cut you to $60,000 or $70,000." And that's when Marvin Miller, who was the head of the Players Association, said, "Well, you can only take a 25 percent cut." So anyway, I ended up playing for $100,000 that year. That was the last year I was active.
My wife, God bless her soul, she always thought, "Well, you deserve more. You should get more." And I wish I had been a little more hardheaded. I always see Dave McNally, one of my favorite people and also a great pitcher. Dave was one of those guys that just went in and said, "Well, I'm not signing until I get this." The rest of us, we kind of gave in and wanted to play and wanted to get to spring training. Dave said, "No, I'm not signing." In fact, Dave was one of the guys that became the first players in the history of the game not to sign a contract. They tried to offer him more money later on to sign, but he said, "I'm not signing. The heck with it." But that's another story.
When the 1960 season was over, I got married. I looked for a job. I worked for a fellow named Larry Willis, I believe. He had a process called Martin Hard Coating. Something they put on the bottom of skis at one time. I worked for him doing some public-relations work. Then I went to work for the Orioles. During the winter, I'd go to about five or six banquets a week for $25 dollars a banquet, I believe it was. So I did have a little job during the wintertime, and that was what I was concerned about more than anything else. Early in my career, I played winter baseball two years, but also went back to college two years, too.
We had an Orioles basketball team that played probably fifteen or twenty games a year in the off-season. I did a little running. Never lifted a weight in my whole life. One day when I was doing the television games, I looked at Scott McGregor, our pitcher, and I said, "You know, I wish I'd just got into some program, a Nautilus program when I was in my early thirties. I could've probably played longer." He started laughing and said, "Well, you played almost twenty-three years. How long do you want to play? You're in the Hall of Fame; what more do you want?" It was almost taboo for players to lift weights. But there's no doubt in my mind that players today are bigger and stronger. They do the right things and they keep in better shape than we were. We went to spring training to get in shape; when they come to spring training now, most of them have really worked out all winter and are in much better physical condition. I think baseball players are probably the worst-conditioned athletes of all the major sports. I was the oldest guy in the league when I retired. I was forty years old, and I could still catch the ball and throw guys out. But where you lose it, you just lose strength. You hit the ball and it doesn't go as far. You just don't have that speed, too. And that was where I lost it. When the hitting left, it was all over for me.
After Frank Robinson came over, he just really fell in love with the Orioles, and we fell in love with him, too. And one of the things we did during the season and the preseasons was these kangaroo courts that we had. We got an old mop and Frank put it over his head here. He was the judge. We had three or four different awards. We had a baserunning award for I can't think of the fellow's name, but he was the most atrocious base runner in Orioles history. We had an old shoe that we gave away. We had a whoever-had-the-weakest-swing-that-night award. You know, you might break a bat or something and it dribbles to the pitcher. We had a weak-swing award. We had two or three or four awards that we would pass out. We only did this after we won; we didn't do it when we lost. But when we won, we would fine guys for saying crazy things or palling around with the other team or looking up at the scoreboard and saying, "Well, I thought there was two outs and there was only one." Just crazy things that they bring up. And then of course, we would keep these fines, and then I think we donated them to charity when the season was over. I don't know how much money; it wasn't a lot of money. But every time we won, we'd have this kangaroo court. It lasted about fifteen minutes and we got a lot of laughs. It was a good thing to bring the team together. We had a group of guys who really liked one another, which I think is important.
Boog Powell is the only guy in the infield that never won a Gold Glove on our team, and he never let us forget it. Every time we'd make a bad throw, he'd come in and mark it up on the wall. When the season was over, he'd say, "Well, I only saved you fifteen errors, Brooks, on those short hops you threw me over there." Boog was a great target to throw to. He had a great pair of hands. They don't give the big guys enough credit a lot of times, but Boog was outstanding. And, of course, we had Davey Johnson, who was a rookie in 1966. Davey won some Gold Gloves. We had Luis Aparicio at shortstop. He came over in 1963 I believe, in a trade, with the White Sox. We talk about Mark Belanger and the great fielder he was. I have a hard time separating those guys. They were so great. The routine ground ball is an out, and that's really what you want from your shortstop, just make the routine plays every time they hit it to you because you're going to get more ground balls than anyone else. Those guys Luis and Mark did it as well as anyone could do it. I was at third, and then we had Paul Blair in center field, who was just as good an outfielder as you'll ever want to see. I'm a little prejudiced because I've played with these guys and seen them day in and day out, but he could do it as well as anyone.
Jim Palmer and Weaver were always at odds. It was unbelievable. They gave us a lot of laughs. It was one of those love-hate relationships. They'd be yelling at one another, and the next day, they'd be playing golf. I remember one game where Palmer came in and told Weaver about the eighth inning, "Look, I've had it. I've had it. I'm not throwing that well." And Weaver said, "What? You're throwing as good as anybody we got in the bullpen, so you're going to go back out there." Palmer went back out, and first pitch he threw to Sal Bando in the ninth inning, Bando hit a home run. So Palmer turned around, he was looking at Weaver. "See, I told you. I don't have it anymore." I saw when Palmer came in one day, he had a little run-in with Weaver. Palmer's locker was right next to Weaver's office. So Palmer just cleaned out his locker and moved down the clubhouse to the other end so he wouldn't have to look Weaver right in the eye.
When I tell people the true superstars of the game, it's Mantle, Aaron, Mays. These guys could do everything the game demands hit, hit with power, run, field, throw. Do it just about anytime they want to do it. I got to see Roger Maris hit numbers 59 and 60, I believe. Looking back on it now, it's a little sad that he really didn't enjoy it as much as he should have. But these guys just amazed me, and you could always expect the unexpected from them. I hit a home run in Baltimore where Mickey Mantle broke his ankle. And he went under the fence and broke his ankle. I hit that ball. But I saw him when he came back after a layoff and he hit a pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning to win the game for the Yankees. So they just did things that no one else can do. And, of course, Maris, the MVP in '60 and '61. He is a guy who probably didn't get the recognition that he deserved. Here was a guy who could run. He could throw. A heck of an outfielder and hitting the home runs. I think people look at him as "Well, he just had that one year." But here is a guy who was the MVP twice in a row, ahead of Mickey Mantle. But those guys, they amazed me. The true superstars of the game.
I got to play against Ted Williams his last year, in '60. In fact, I was there when he hit the home run the last time up. They were playing the Orioles in Fenway Park, and that's still a big thrill because I see that little film clip all the time. I'm just kind of standing there. He's looking like this big horse coming around second base. The strange thing about it is that on his previous time up he hit a ball that was actually out of the ballpark. And I think it was Al Pilarcik, playing center field for the Orioles, who jumped up and grabbed the ball, and he was out. The next time up, he hit the home run. And although Boston had three more games, that was his last time up. He didn't go to Yankee Stadium for the last three. He finished the year in Boston.
I would say Williams was the most respected player that I've known in my lifetime. That's a great tribute to him. I guess every generation likes to think their generation is the best. I look at the 1960s and 1970s: to me, I think I played at the best time with the best players. That's just my judgment. We're talking about guys like Koufax, who just dominated the game. Then you think about a guy like Juan Marichal, who dominated the game but wasn't quite Sandy Koufax, although he was right there. If he had been in the American League, he'd probably have won that Cy Young Award four times in a row. I didn't mind hitting off of Koufax as much as I did Drysdale. Drysdale was another one of those intimidating pitchers it was like he didn't care if he hit you or not sometimes. Koufax had the velocity and the curveball and he came from the same spot all the time, whereas Drysdale kind of sidearmed you and was big and rangy. So I didn't really like to hit off him. Another guy whose career almost paralleled mine is Carl Yastrzemski, just a great day-in-day-out player who worked, worked, worked, and became a superstar. Bob Gibson was another great pitcher. If you had one game to win, this is the guy you'd want to see on the mound. Bob Gibson he was a competitor.
Whitey Ford was a great pitcher. Whitey kept the ball down. Good curveball. Had a spitter once in a while for you that he could throw anytime. He could throw any pitch, any time for a strike, and that's one of the secrets to pitching: when you're two and nothing, three and nothing, you don't have to lay the fastball in there. You could throw a changeup, a curveball. He had great players behind him, but Whitey Ford was the master. And left-handed hitters against him were almost an automatic out. I don't think Jim Gentile ever got a hit off of Whitey Ford. Whitey was just this consummate pro who went out there every fourth or fifth day.
Tom Seaver was a lot like Denny McLain as far as throwing hard. Smooth. And if you wanted your kid to be a pitcher, I'd say look at Tom Seaver. Look at Robin Roberts. These are the guys you just want to watch throw. They do everything. Their fundamentals are terrific.
Roberto Clemente was a great player. You had to put him with the other great players of the game. Playing in Pittsburgh, he probably never got the publicity the other guys did. The only thing that he didn't do as much of was hit home runs. He was basically a doubles, triples hitter, line drives that was really his biggest asset. The reason I admire him is because I didn't get to play against him except in spring training, the World Series, All-Star Games. You hear how great these players are. And then you get in the World Series, the showcase of baseball. And you have these players like Roberto do the very things you hear he can do against you. And you just admire a guy like that because that's as good as it gets right there. Roberto was the MVP in the '71 World Series, which we played against Pittsburgh. His arm was better than anyone's. I saw him make a play in that particular series where he caught a ball in the right-field corner. I think Frank Robinson was on second. But he just whirled around and threw the ball like a strike. Just a great arm. I think it bothered Roberto, God bless his soul, that he didn't get the publicity that the other guys did because, I think, deep down he felt he was on a par with them. He was a great, great player.
I got to hit against Warren Spahn in spring training. And he never forgot it because I hit a home run off him. Spahnie is one of those guys who's got that photographic brain. I'll see him, and he'll say, "I remember the first time I saw you. I threw you a fastball. And I think that's why you hit a home run." He never forgets it. Jim Palmer with the Orioles he could tell you whoever hit a home run. He can remember back to when he started. He knows what pitch it was, what the count was. And I'm saying, "I don't believe this." But he does it. That's part of what made them the great pitchers that they are.
Mike Schmidt is the greatest who's ever played third base. When you combine power and defense, I mean, here's a guy who won a lot of Gold Gloves and probably his offense has a tendency to overshadow his defense, but he could do it all. And so I put Mike right there at the top.
I learned a lot of things from failure. When you play 162 games, I don't think any sport emulates life like baseball. You play football once a week or basketball twice. But you start playing baseball, you play every day, day in and day out. And you understand in a hurry that you're going to have bad days and bad nights. You're going to have bad weeks, and you just have to make up your mind that, hey, tomorrow's tomorrow, and you forget about it. You know, when I think about it, I think my love for the game overrode everything else. I'm in the Hall of Fame. I don't think I'm there because of my great ability, but I think my love for the game probably overrode everything else. I was playing big-league baseball every day, and I never wanted to do anything else but be a big-league player. That helped put the bad days in perspective and the good days in perspective.
When things are not going too good, well, you just keep looking up and keep going. And that's really what the game is all about. You got to be able to put things out of your mind and come back the next day and get ready to play. I never really got too excited about things or never got down too deep. My twenty-third birthday, I was 0 for 23. I remember that. I hadn't had a hit in twenty-three times. When we played Oakland, I made three errors in one inning. And the only positive thing that happened that night was Frank Robinson hit a home run in the ninth inning off Rollie Fingers and we won the game. But the next day, the headlines were "Robinson Makes Three Errors in One Inning." I said, "Well, if they'd hit me two more balls, I'd have made five errors." If you play this game a long time, somebody's going to get you or you're going to get them. It's not going to be all great things happening to you all the time. And you learn to live with those things. The Mets beating us in '69, that was a real shock because that's really the best team I ever played on, the '69 team. We won 109 games, and we lost our last five out of six, I believe. We could have won 115 or 116 games that year, and we won 109. We won the first game in the World Series and then we lost four in a row. I was a little in shock because we'd only been in one World Series and we'd won four in a row. So you just can't savor things too long in this game. You just enjoy it and let it go, because you know you're going to be back out there the next day.
In the 1969 World Series, we were heavily favored to beat the Mets. But I think most people don't realize or forget that the Mets won 100 games that year. So they had a pretty good ball club. You run Jerry Koosman and Gary Gentry and Tom Seaver out there every three or four days, you're going to win a lot of games. The guy who surprised us more than anything in that series was Gentry. He threw a lot better than we thought he could throw. And, of course, they made a lot of plays. Tommie Agee in center field. I mean, I hit the balls. Ron Swoboda remember the catch Swoboda made? That would have been a two-run triple. It ended up being a sacrifice fly, but that could have changed the outcome of that game. That was a World Series that I would say was good for baseball. I guess it was good that the Mets won. But it was a real shocker for us to lose that World Series. And then the next year, we came right back and won over 100 games and went into the World Series against Cincinnati. And we really took advantage of Cincinnati's pitching that year. They had a pitching staff that was pretty beat up. People don't remember in that World Series that Woody Woodward hit me a lit- tle twenty-four-hopper. I got to it and made a high throw to Boog Powell for an error, and I'm saying to myself, "Here we go again." Just like '69, you know what I mean? But everything else after that was pretty upbeat. And after about the third game, I had a chance to make a lot of plays. And I'm saying to myself, boy, this is just unreal. I can't keep this up. I had a lot of plays down there and then made the plays. And I was also hitting well, too. I tell people I played almost twenty-three years professionally and I don't think I ever had five games in a row where I had a chance to do the things that I did in that particular World Series. It was just a once-in-a-lifetime five-game series, and it happened to be the World Series. That's the only way I can explain it. All the writers were waiting on me to come to my locker. And Rex Barney, [the Orioles announcer and] a great man, said, "Well, don't worry about him. Just interview his gloves. They're a lot better, and that's who's doing all the work."
I was happy to see that Series get over because I know that I couldn't keep going and doing the things I was doing with the five-game series it ended up being. In '71, we were favored to beat Pittsburgh. We won the first two in Baltimore. We just blew them away. Went out to Pittsburgh. They won the first game, and then the second game was the first night game in World Series history. They won that game, and then they won the third game. We came back to Baltimore, and I hit a sacrifice fly in the tenth inning to win that game, 3-2. Frank scored from third base. And then the next day, they beat us 2-1. Clemente had a home run, Steve Blass pitched a great game, and they were the world's champions.
Earl Weaver, our manager, was always a proponent of the three-run homer. He disdained the bunt. He thought that was a terrible play. He thought hitting and running was a terrible play. And we had a few guys on that team that could hit and run. But he just didn't like that because there was too many negative things that can come out of bunting a guy over. And also you're giving away an out. "You only get three outs an inning," he said. "You're giving away one. I don't like it." Same for hitting and running. So anyway, we just felt like we could've won a lot of games if we got a guy over, got him in scoring position. So we had a meeting at Paul Blair's. We'd decided, "Well, let's go to Blair's house and talk about it." So all the players came to Blair's house and we said, "Well, we've got to get guys in scoring position, move them over where they have a chance to score." So we decided that when we got a guy on first from then on, we'd just bunt him over. If Earl gave you the hit sign, just bunt him over. It took Earl about three or four games to finally figure out what the heck we were doing in that situation. And I think he ended up saying, "Well, you'd better be right. If you don't follow these signs, you'd better be right." That was one of the times that, I think, the guys got a little upset at Earl. But it worked out well. And Earl loved us all anyway.
The umpires that you probably don't hear a lot about are usually the ones that are the best umpires. And it's pretty unanimous around the league with all the players; they all know the best umpires. They know which umpire gives you the best job behind the plate. A fellow who's in the Hall of Fame, Nestor Chylak, in my time was probably the best umpire that I've seen. Ed Runge was another. We all knew that he had a monstrous strike zone. If it's close, you better swing. He just wanted the game to be speeded along. But Nestor Chylak was really the best umpire in my days. Ed Hurley, another umpire, was a little confrontational, I guess with a lot of the players. But you knew which umpires you could say something to.
Al Barlick, it was this unanimous. You talk to any player and they'd say, "Al Barlick's the best." Jocko Conlan was one of the best. You get a reputation and deservedly so. You earn it. Everyone really knows who the best umpires are. And then consequently, most of them are in the Hall of Fame.
Today's players have the same dream that I did, to be a big-league player. Their philosophy is "Look, with all this money out there, I'm just asking for it." If we lived in a society where the importance of your job dictated how much you're going to make, then the baseball player would be at the bottom of the heap, I think. People who work in cancer research or AIDS research or teachers or policemen or firemen would make the most money. But that's not reality. We live in a society where entertainers and athletes are going to make more than anyone else; it's just a fact of life. They know it's crazy. They make these humongous salaries and they just kind of laugh. Can you believe it? But I'm happy I played. It worked out great for me. I do think that back when I played, the owners should have been a little more enlightened. But their philosophy when I played was "Look, this reserve clause has been around for a hundred years. You'd better like it, because that's the way it's going to be." I think there's many times that deals could have been struck that would have been much better for the game economically and for the players, too, as opposed to what's going on now.
I was a part of the first baseball strike in 1972, which lasted three or four days of spring training and three or four days during the season. It's like comparing apples and oranges now. But Marvin Miller came on board, I guess a few years before I really got interested in the players' association. Robin Roberts and Bob Feller and a couple of other players were instrumental in getting Marvin. But I thought Marvin had pretty good insight into what was going on. Marvin saw that there was some inequities, that the players should be getting a little more of the pie, I guess you could say. I don't know the criteria for the Hall of Fame, but if you're looking for someone who had a real impact on the game, Marvin Miller would certainly be a gentleman who should be considered. He got the confidence of the players, and he said, "Well, this is right and this wrong," and they believed him. So he had a big impact on the game of baseball.
This is a controversial question that comes up all the time when the guys play too long. I've looked through the record books, and I'll tell you that just about every player played too long. Everyone thinks that they can still do it. Everyone thinks that they've found a fountain of youth, or everyone thinks they've made some adjustments in their swing and they're going to come back and do it. And I thought so, too. I probably played too long. But I loved it, and I never want to do anything else. In that respect, my answer to that question is "Look, I think it is such a business now, I think that you should play as long as you can. And they will let you know when you should retire." In 1975, I didn't play well. Didn't hit at all. So I came back thinking I could still play, but I couldn't. I called Seattle, I called Toronto this was in '77 thinking that I might make a move up there, might be able to do something in the organization when I did retire. And the best thing that happened to me was to get no response from those two teams, and come back to Baltimore and finish up my career. I came back as a player-coach, but I really came back to play. About the middle of the season, I was not playing, and I said, "Well this is it, you know, my career is over." And I just kind of lost interest, which I never thought I would, but I couldn't wait until the season was over and I got out. I retired probably around the first of September when we had to have a final roster.
There's some differences in the game today as opposed to when I played. There seems to be more offense. These things all run in cycles, I guess, but we've certainly seen offense in the last ten or fifteen years. In my opinion, the ball has juiced up some, the players are stronger, the ballparks are smaller, and you just got more guys hitting home runs. What's happening in the game is unbelievable. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds it's hard to keep up with. But as I've said before, the guys all had the same dream that I had. But I think the game has changed. The money has changed the game a great deal.
Now, with the designated hitter, you don't see bunting, which should be the easiest art form there is, just to reach out and bunt the ball. It's kind of a lost art. You don't see a lot of hitting and running anymore. And in that way, the game has changed a certain degree. The way that the pitchers are used now, every fifth or sixth day, you have the middle reliever, you have the left-handed specialist, the right-handed specialist, the short relievers. So, in those respects the game has changed.
I don't have any problem with the designated hitter. Look at all the other sports; it's offense, offense, offense. People are geared for seeing teams score. Personally, I have kind of been for the designated hitter, because I think it gives you more runs, more hits, more everything. Whatever it is, it should be uniform. That's the thing that I say. If you're going to go back the old way, that's fine. But for one league to have one set of rules and the other league have another set of rules just crazy. I don't understand it, but that's the way it is.
I look back and I can't believe that I played that long, and I can't believe that I went to bat over 10,000 times. It just doesn't seem like that happened, really. I honestly believed that I overcame a lot of things just by my love of the game.
I'd like to be remembered as someone who had a dream and never wanted to do anything in his whole life except be a professional baseball player, someone who loved the game with all his heart. That's the way I want to be remembered. I'm in the Hall of Fame because I think my love for the game overrode everything else. I didn't have the ability that a lot of guys had, but I just think that the fact that I went out there and got better and worked hard and had a love for the game put me in the Hall of Fame.
Copyright © 2008 by The Baseball Oral History Project Foundation
Meet the Author
Fay Vincent is a former entertainment and business executive who served as the commissioner of baseball from 1989 to 1992. This volume is the third in a series drawn from his Baseball Oral History Project. The previous two volumes, The Only Game in Town and We Would Have Played for Nothing, include ballplayers’ reminiscences of the 1930s and 1940s, and the 1950s and 1960s, respectively.
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The concept, the players involved, the era - all led me to eagerly look forward to this book. Quite honestly, I was disappointed. Players in their own words, and we're talking Berra, Mantle, Killebrew, Ford, Brooks and Frank Robinson, etc., all talking about the game during the 1950s and 1960s, their respective introductions to the game and the major leagues, experiences, players they found to be the best of their times.....a winning combination. However, I think Vincent does and inadequate job of editing to provide a smooth flow to the reader. The book was simply choppy throughout, in my humble opinion. It isn't a terrible book by any means, it just was not at all up to what I expected and wanted.
I enjoyed reading the 'old' players give their accounts of life in baseball. Although I would have loved to see Red Sox players on the cover, this book is true baseball like I remember it growing up. This is a solid book. I rank this one right up there with two other new books: 'The 33-Year-Old Rookie' and 'Working at the Ballpark.' As a youth baseball coach, I look for advice, techniques, and life's lessons that I can pass along to my players. These books do that.
I read a lot of sports books, and believe baseball books are the best written and most insightful. Not sure why this is so, but baseball has such an understated complexity which, when expressed by those in the game, is cherished even on the smallest of matters. We are blessed that Fay Vincent made the effort to talk to old-timers that a lot of us grew up with in the 50's and 60's, plus Mr. Vincent is donating all his proceeds to charity. This book, along with the new 'Working at the Ballpark' by Tom Jones, not the singer, are the most relevant baseball books to come along in a long while.