They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers

They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers

by Norman L. Macht
They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers

They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers

by Norman L. Macht


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Noted baseball historian Norman L. Macht brings together a wide‑ranging collection of baseball voices from the Deadball Era through the 1970s, including nine Hall of Famers, who take the reader onto the field, into the dugouts and clubhouses, and inside the minds of both players and managers. These engaging, wide-ranging oral histories bring surprising revelations—both highlights and lowlights—about their careers, as they revisit their personal mental scrapbooks of the days when they played the game.

Not all of baseball’s best stories are told by its biggest stars, especially when the stories are about those stars. Many of the storytellers you’ll meet in They Played the Game are unknown to today’s fans: the Red Sox’s Charlie Wagner talks about what it was like to be Ted Williams’s roommate in Williams’s rookie year; the Dodgers’ John Roseboro recounts his strategy when catching for Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax; former Yankee Mark Koenig recalls batting ahead of Babe Ruth in the lineup, and sometimes staying out too late with him; John Francis Daley talks about batting against Walter Johnson; Carmen Hill describes pitching against Babe Ruth in the 1927 World Series.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496214171
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 04/01/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 896,770
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Norman L. Macht is the author of more than thirty books, including Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball (Nebraska, 2007); Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, 1915–1931 (Nebraska, 2012); and The Grand Old Man of Baseball: Connie Mack in His Final Years, 1932–1956 (Nebraska, 2015); as well as numerous biographies for middle school readers including  Cy Young, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. For more information about the author visit

Read an Excerpt


Joe Adcock

Coushatta, Louisiana, January 25, 1993

The 6-foot-4 right-handed-batting first baseman hit 336 home runs in his seventeen-year career (1950–1966). He broke in with Cincinnati, but his biggest years were in 1953–1962 with the Milwaukee Braves, pennant winners in 1957–1958.

Before we sat down to talk, we drove around Adcock's 640-acre Red River thoroughbred ranch. During my visit he fielded phone calls for some horse trading. Visiting small grandchildren popped into the den occasionally from the adjoining kitchen.

My grandfather owned this farm originally and sold it in 1927. I began buying it back in 1951. I had owned some Black Angus cattle and some Appaloosa horses I was showing and selling and financed the purchase from that. I had as many as ten English pointer hunting dogs at one time. Still, the best dog I ever owned was a setter. He's buried out there.

[Adcock pointed to a tall reddish horse.] I named him Touch 'Em All. That's what the first base coach would say to me every time I passed him after I hit a home run. [Then we drove to a small country eatery, where he was greeted as "Joe Bill," for some genuine chicken gumbo.] It's not pure if it's got sausage in it. [We returned to the farm and settled in the den to talk.]

Our high school basketball team won the state championship, and I went to LSU on a basketball scholarship. Didn't play much baseball when I was young.

If anybody had offered me a contract with the Cardinals, I would have signed it. That's all we knew around here on the radio. In 1934 my dad borrowed $100 and with two other men went in a Model A Ford to the World Series in St. Louis. I was seven. He brought me back a little souvenir bat with Paul Dean's name on it. I still have it. He told me it was not a Dizzy Dean bat 'cause they'd already sold them out. Turned out Sportsman's Park was my favorite place to hit in.

Cincinnati scout Paul Florence signed me. The New York Knicks wanted me to play pro basketball, and the Reds paid me not to play. I wasn't going to play no way, but I took the check when they handed it to me after my rookie year at Cincinnati.

The Reds sent me to Columbia, South Carolina, then to Tulsa. I was never in a hurry to leave the ballpark after a game; never in much hurry to get there either, to tell you the truth. The Tulsa manager, Al Vincent, often came over and sat and talked to me after games. One night he says to me, "You're the only guy on the club can make the major leagues. You got what it takes." He taught me how to run the bases. They could outrun me on a straightaway but not running the bases. One day in Ebbets Field I was in the passageway between the dugout and clubhouse and met Brooklyn GM Branch Rickey. "Joe," he says, "the first time I saw you, I recognized you as being a ballplayer. You had spring in your legs. You could jump like a deer." That was what he said made a ballplayer.

Bill Terry made a first baseman out of me. He came to the Reds' spring training in Tampa my first year there in 1950 and did nothing but work with me every day for a month, throwing the ball at me every which way. Since I was a right-handed first baseman, the 3–6–3 double play was tough, but that's tough for anybody to make. I had good hands, wouldn't trade with anybody.

One day I cheated on a double play throw to me. The umpire was near second base; we didn't have four umps. The runner had it beat, but I caught the ball and threw it up in the air a little like I had caught it in plenty of time, and the umpire calls him out. My foot had been off the base. Later that ump was behind the plate in a game; I came up to bat, and he said, "Joe, you better swing at anything that comes close because you showed me up." I said, "I didn't show you up. You showed yourself up. You made the call."

I learned in sports you win some and lose some, and there's nothing you can do about it. In '56 with Milwaukee we had a one-game lead over Brooklyn with three games left. We finished 1–2 in St. Louis while they won three against the Pirates, and that cost us the pennant by one game. We came back in '57 and '58 and won it.

Red Schoendienst was a great second baseman — smart, did things that don't ever show up in the box scores. Game 5, '57 World Series, Burdette versus Ford in Milwaukee. Red's looking in at the signs the catcher is giving and hollers over to me at first base, "Take three steps to the line, Joe." And on my third step the batter hit a shot toward the right field corner, and I jumped and got it. That turned the game; it was 1–0 for us. People sitting in the ballpark had no idea that went on. My dad was sitting there, and I told him how Red won that game, not my catch.

I drove in the only run in the game. I was a dead pull hitter, but Al Vincent had told me I had to learn to hit to right. He taught me how to put my hands out in front of my body and push it yonder a way. He had me out there forty-five minutes every afternoon the last two weeks of the season. "But don't ever use it unless you have a chance to win a game," he told me. "Keep it as your best shot to break up a game." Whitey Ford had me out twice with that slider coming in on me between the letters and the belt. I had hit ground balls to third and short. Now I'm up [with Eddie Mathews on third]. I knew he was coming back with that slider, and when he jammed me again, I just pushed a dying quail out there to right.

That ability to hit to right field came in handy when I broke up Harvey Haddix's twelve-inning perfect game. [Haddix, then with the Pirates, had pitched twelve perfect innings before the leadoff hitter in the thirteenth reached on an error, was sacrificed to second, and Aaron was intentionally walked.] Haddix was throwing his slider on the outside of the plate, hitting the outside corner with it, and getting me out all night. Struck me out twice with that pitch. I knew I was going to get it in that thirteenth inning. I was going to right field with it and hit it on the nose out of the ballpark. I didn't get a home run on it because Aaron passed somebody on the base paths, but it won the game for us.

The better the pitcher, the better a hitter I was. The pitchers who didn't have the real good stuff, they got me out. I didn't bear down hard enough on them. Bob Gibson was as fine a pitcher as you'll ever see. One night in St. Louis, Eddie Stanky was the manager. Bases loaded. Aaron's the hitter ahead of me. Gibson shakes the catcher off, again, and a third time. Here comes a changeup. Aaron pops it up to second base. I walked up to the plate, and I said to myself, "I don't know when I'm going to get it, but he's going to throw that changeup sure as two and two is four." Before the second pitch he shook his head, started to shake it again, and went into his windup, and I said, here comes that change, so help me God. I hit the top of the center field wall with it with the bases loaded, and he had us beat 2–0. Three runs score and I'm standing on second base, and here comes Stanky, just shaking on the mound, and I hear him yelling at Gibson, "Goddamn, you get the best hitter in baseball out, and you come along with this guy here who's a guess hitter, and he's beaten you."

The next trip into St. Louis we run into about the same situation. Close ball game, and Gibson threw one right behind my shoulder, right back to the screen. I was looking for that knockdown off of him, the way he was moving his glove and all. Otherwise he would have nailed me. I get up out of the dirt, determined to hit one right back and knock him off that mound. I was muttering to myself. He threw a slider away from me, and if I didn't hit a line shot right between his legs, I'm not standing here right now. I touched first base and called for time, claiming I got a bug in my eye. I walked toward the mound and got within ten feet of Gibson and I said to him, "I'll tell you one thing, you son of a bitch; you ever come close to me again, I'm gonna kill you. But I'm gonna break your arm before I kill you, so you can have something to remember me by." First baseman Bill White came running over. "Hey, you are mad," he said. I said, "You son of a bitch, I'll break your neck now." He went back to first base.

Gibson was a fine pitcher, so fine that why did he have to lower himself to do what he did? When you see him, ask him. [NM: Not me.] About ten years ago I went to a card show in Oklahoma City. I don't go to those things, but I wanted to see Warren Spahn and Allie Reynolds, and Gibson was there. I didn't know he'd be there or I probably wouldn't have gone. I wasn't uncomfortable with the man. We met in the airport, and I shook hands with him.

The night Ruben Gomez drilled me was the first game my wife ever saw in her life. We were not married. I'd been telling her, "Joan [pronounced Jo Ann], when you going to come to the ball game?" One night, after we'd beaten the Giants, she and I were out eating, and I said, "Why don't you come to the ball game tomorrow night? Gomez is pitching, and he can't get me out." She said, "What do you mean, he can't get you out?" I said, "I hit him real good. Come to the game." She said, "Well, I might come. You think you'll get a hit?" I said, "Look, I hit this guy."

So I picked her up at four o'clock, and she took me to the ballpark, and I showed her where my parking space was, [so she could park there when she came back at game time], and would you believe I hit a home run off Gomez with two on the first time I'm up, and the next time up I think I doubled, and we're leading 5–0, although we wound up getting beat 6–5. My next time up Gomez shook off catcher Bill Sarni five-six times. I stepped out of the box, stooped down and got a little dirt on my hands, and said to Sarni, "Say, Bill, you tell that son of a bitch to throw one of his two pitches. Let's get this game going." Gomez heard me I know, and he drilled me right in the ribs. I dropped my bat and went down to first base and stood on the bag and hollered at him, "You son of a bitch, I'll break your arm," and I'm running at him, and I got a few feet from him, and he had another ball, and he rears back and he nailed me on the right thigh and ran for the dugout.

I jumped in the dugout behind him and then it got tough. He came out of the clubhouse with an ice pick in one hand and a butcher knife in the other. He's standing no farther than from me to you. "I'll kill you." But there's plainclothes detectives all over that ballpark, and there's a little fellow in a blue suit, shirt, and tie, and he reached in between me and Gomez and pulled out a snub-nosed .38 pistol and pushed it right in Gomez's stomach, right there in the dugout. I'm out of the game. I go up to the clubhouse and [general manager] John Quinn is sitting in my locker.

"Joe," he said, "I wish you'd have caught him. What would you have done?"

I said, "I wanted to grab his arm and break it over my knee."

He said, "Go on and get out of the ballpark."

I thought Joan would be waiting in the car. I went downstairs, through the tunnel and back out to the car, and she wasn't there. I looked around and didn't see her. I went back inside and asked a coach to go out and take a look in the wives' section for her. He looked and said she's not sitting with the wives. I went back out to the car and looked closer and there she was with her face down on the seat. She said, "You take me home now, and I won't be back. I didn't come out here to see you fight." She never went back to a regular season game that year, but she went to the World Series in '57.

For days after the incident our club was swamped with hate mail out of New York. So when we go into New York next time and we get off the plane, they tell me I'm going to have two FBI men in front of me and one behind. They had adjoining rooms to me and my roommate, ate with us, and went everywhere with us.

I could always hit the Dodgers pitchers. I can still see the pitches I hit for the four home runs and a double at Ebbets Field. I hit a home run off Don Newcombe first time up — a line shot down the left-field foul line. He tried to jam me, and there isn't a man made can jam me.

I can still see the pitch I hit into the Polo Grounds center-field bleachers [475 feet] off Jim Hearn. He had jammed me before too. The next spring we traded for Giants catcher Sam Calderone, and he told me that in the clubhouse after that game Hearn said to him, "No SOB is gonna hit a ball that far off me." The next time I faced him he had hit me and broke my wrist, put me out the rest of the year. And that's how I met my wife, an X-ray technician. It was a bad break, and the doctor would not guarantee I would ever swing a bat again. Every day for two, three weeks I had to go in there for new X-rays. After a month I went home to Coushatta. I fished every day, casting, using my wrist; never did tell the doctor. I had to change my batting grip. I took a twelve-pound weight with a bat handle stuck through it, and I worked with that twenty times twice a morning and the same in the afternoon. After that I held the bat with my fingers, and it made me a better hitter

I had an idea what I was doing at that plate. I looked for pitches. I'd deliberately swing at a bad curve ball and look for that same curve, knowing I'm going to get it again. I've swung at balls in the dirt, knowing I'm going to get that pitch back within the next two.

I studied pitchers. Made it a habit to try to find out everything I could about each one. It was all in my head. No computers. On a 1-1 count you got this pitch before. Maybe you won't see a 1-1 count the next time, but in trouble you'll see that guy come back with the same thing. Sal Maglie, a great pitcher, got beat by me on a home run, 1–0, when he tried to jam me. He never jammed me again. He stayed on that outside corner, short-armed it right on that black every time. Perfect control.

If I had one fault, I didn't bear down against the weaker clubs like I did the good ones.

I played with a lot of great ballplayers.

Henry Aaron was a natural born hitter as far as I was concerned and one of the best I laid eyes on, but he did what I was taught not to do with a bat. He held it up there, and he buggy-whipped it and popped it like a whip. If I had been moving that bat up there, I don't know what I would have done. Couldn't even foul the ball probably. I kept the bat still.

Eddie Mathews was the best third baseman I ever laid eyes on. Red Schoendienst is my second baseman. Roy McMillan was the only shortstop I saw who could go in the hole twice in one game and throw out Richie Ashburn, and nobody else in the league could do that to Ashburn. No bat, but in the field he was superb. Johnny Logan didn't have a good arm, but he played the hitters. He stood in front of more line drives and one-hoppers than anybody you ever saw. I kept telling him, "Someday I'm going to reach up and catch your throw with my bare hand." He would say, "You do, and I'll bite you."

We got Enos "Country" Slaughter one year, and I'm rooming with him, and he's sitting up till 4 in the a.m. talking about turkey hunting, and I'm saying, "Hey, Eno, let's get a little sleep before the sun comes up." They called him the bald eagle.

If I had to win one game, I'd go to Lew Burdette. You had to beat him. He didn't beat himself. Spitter and all. He had a good one. Unless it was Ernie Banks up there with the game on the line. Banks was a low-ball upper-cut hitter, and he could jump on that spitter. Keep the ball from the waist up, Banks couldn't hit Molly Potts.


Excerpted from "They Played the Game"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Norman L. Macht.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Lineup
1. Joe Adcock, 1950–1966    
2. Richie Ashburn, 1948–1962    
3. Elden Auker, 1933–1942    
4. Dick Bartell, 1927–1946    
5. Ray Berres, 1934–1945    
6. Bill Bruton, 1953–1964    
7. Ralph “Putsy” Caballero, 1944–1952    
8. Jimmy Cooney, 1917–1928    
9. Johnny Cooney, 1921–1928    
10. Tony Cuccinello, 1930–1945    
11. John Francis Daley, 1912    
12. Joe DeMaestri, 1951–1961    
13. Woody English, 1927–1938    
14. Ferris Fain, 1947–1955    
15. William “Dutch” Fehring, 1934    
16. Dave “Boo” Ferriss, 1945–1948    
17. Harry Gumbert, 1935–1950    
18. Harvey Haddix, 1952–1965    
19. Carmen Hill, 1915–1930    
20. Sid Hudson, 1940–1954    
21. Travis Jackson, 1922–1936    
22. George “High Pockets” Kelly, 1920–1930    
23. Don Kessinger, 1964–1979    
24. Mark Koenig, 1925–1936    
25. Ted Lyons, 1923–1946    
26. Mike Marshall, 1967–1981    
27. Barney McCosky, 1939–1963    
28. Gil McDougald, 1951–1960    
29. Sam Mele, 1947–1956    
30. Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, 1952–1962    
31. Rocky Nelson, 1949–1961    
32. Hal Newhouser, 1940–1954    
33. Bill Nicholson, 1936–1953    
34. Mickey Owen, 1937–1954    
35. Mel Parnell, 1947–1956    
36. Claude Passeau, 1936–1947    
37. George Pipgras, 1923–1934    
38. Johnny Roseboro, 1957–1973    
39. Hal W. Smith, 1955–1964    
40. Billy Sullivan Jr., 1931–1947     
41. Bobby Thomson, 1946–1960    
42. Bob Turley, 1953–1963    
43. Broadway Charlie Wagner, 1938–1946    
44. Monte Weaver, 1931–1939    
45. Ted Williams, 1939–1960    
46. Gene Woodling, 1943–1962    
47. Don Zimmer, 1954–1965    

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